ALEX SOUTHEY – EP Review: “Common Fantasies”

Canadian singer-songwriter Alex Southey is a thoughtful and talented artist who makes some really outstanding music. Originally from Vancouver and currently based in Toronto, the busy artist has released a lot of music over the past four years, including three albums, three EPs and numerous singles. His style can generally be described as alternative indie folk, but it’s much more than that, as his sound is varied and eclectic, drawing from rock, folk, singer-songwriter and shoegaze elements. Like all creative artists, he’s not afraid to explore and experiment with his music, and as a result, each of his albums and EPs sound quite different from one another. I’ve featured him twice on this blog, most recently in September 2021, when I reviewed his exquisite EP My Nights On the Island. Last month (December 2022), Alex returned with a new EP Common Fantasies, containing six wonderful tracks.  

Alex recorded the EP with the help of fellow musicians Christina Dare on bass & backing vocals, Gab Lavoie on Korg synth & piano, and Craig McCann on drums & percussion, all of whom played on four of the tracks (they also support him for live shows). Production, mixing and mastering were handled by Alex Gamble.

Before I discuss the songs, I’ll share what Alex wrote about his evolving creative process for the EP: “There were a lot of iterations of this EP in my mind at different times. There’s a version where it’s a full album; another where it’s a double album! There’s a version where it’s just three songs. There’s also an option where – why put it out at all? (A classic part of the process, I realise over and over and over). This is the version I went with. I felt like by placing together two delicate acoustic songs along with four bigger, grander songs there’d be this push and pull of inertia. All my big ideas would have remained totally abstract if it wasn’t for Alex Gamble, Christina Dare, Gab Lavoie, and Craig McCann, who were able to come in and help shape these blue prints into songs with real personality. This happened all the way from practices to live shows to rehearsals for the studio, to the studio, to the mix after the studio.

Photo by Ryan Brough of Zeebrah Media

Common Fantasies opens with “Come and See“, a mostly instrumental track that starts off with a pleasant little acoustic guitar riff accompanied by soothing synths, before bursting into a riotous cinematic soundscape of explosive percussion and dramatic synths. Alex croons “Come and see“, then his vocals soar to an impassioned falsetto with the music, leaving us breathlessly anticipating what comes next! He answers with the electrifying title track “Common Fantasies“, a glorious mélange of blazing gnarly guitars, driving rhythms and smashing drums. Alex and company really let loose here, making this one of the hardest rocking songs I’ve heard by him. I’m not quite sure about the song’s meaning, but the lyrics seem to address the conflict between self-preservation and giving oneself over completely to another in a romantic situation: “I’m caught in the in-between. Loving you and loving me. I’m right where the lightning strikes, like my anger might. And these are high highs. Sucker. And common fantasies.”

Soften” is simply stunning, with a lush synth-driven melody overlain with marvelous jangly and chiming guitars, dreamy piano keys and snappy drums. But as beautiful as the music is, it’s Alex’s plaintive vocals that really resonate with me. I love his singing voice, which goes from an emotive croon to airy falsetto, all the while raising the hairs on the back of my neck. Christina’s backing vocals are wonderful too, adding tremendous emotional heft to the song. The lyrics seem to urge us to be kinder to the earth and, by extension, ourselves: “Soften the earth so we can grow up here. Caught in the surf. Caught it in just the right way. And if you believe, they’ll teach you to serve. Teach you the right way to pray.

The languid and gentle “Twist It” is the first of two mostly acoustic tracks on which Alex played all the instruments – guitar, Roland Juno-60 analog synthesizer and piano. He describes it as “kind of a mini cliff hanger song in a way. At the end you feel an instinct to lean forward and there is nothing to catch you.” The lyrics start off with Alex taking a rather defiant stance “I don’t like to wait. Won’t learn your name. But I can always listen“, but by the end of the song, he’s come around to a more amenable approach: “We’re cool. It won’t hurt to wait. And it won’t hurt to listen. So seal your fate and come on and twist it.”

Open Season” is another terrific hard-driving rocker that starts off with a bit of a Foo Fighters vibe (at least to my ears), but once those sweeping synths kick in, the song transitions to more of a new wave feel, only to be shattered by a blistering guitar solo at the end. And yet again, the lyrics are somewhat ambiguous to me, but my take is that they speak to issues of honesty and trust in a romantic relationship: “You don’t lie the way I do. In the blink of an eye. Let’s share clothes and attitudes, and swap our half lines.”

The EP closes with “You Want It Brighter“, a poignant track consisting of just Alex’s pleasing acoustic guitar work and melancholy vocals. He states that he “wrote the majority of ‘You Want It Brighter’ (which is a for-no-good-reason play on ‘You Want It Darker’, a late Leonard Cohen thing) maybe two or three years ago at an ex-partner’s place.” The bittersweet lyrics speak of a relationship that’s over, with the protagonist coming to terms with having to be the one who leaves his home and son behind: “I will wait. I will sit awhile and watch as the sun sets on my son. And I admit it’ll take a while to live in – and out – of this place./ And you’ll stay. And I’ll go ‘Cause you asked for this.”

To sum up, Common Fantasies is another superb effort by Alex, and I think it’s one of my personal favorites of all his releases. He’s an outstanding songwriter and musician, with a distinctive vocal style that effortlessly flows from comforting croon to emotion-packed rawness to soaring falsetto, all of which are on fine display. He and his fellow musician collaborators have much to be proud of here.

Those of you living in, or planning to visit, Ontario in February can catch Alex at one of these upcoming shows:

Connect with Alex on  Facebook / Instagram

Stream his music on  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube

Purchase on  Bandcamp

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 21 – 5ON5, Brian Lambert, Wild Horse

It’s been over two and a half months since my last Fresh New Tracks post, as I haven’t felt much enthusiasm for writing about music, but I thought it was time to try and get back into the groove. Accordingly, today I’m featuring three new singles by three very different artists I’ve previously featured on this blog. They are, in alphabetical order, German collective 5ON5, Texas singer-songwriter Brian Lambert, and British indie pop-rock band Wild Horse.

5ON5 – “Balloon”

Based in beautiful, cosmopolitan Berlin, Germany, 5ON5 is a collaborative music project comprised of four distinctly unique artists spanning two generations and coming from completely different music backgrounds. The brainchild of Max Koffler, a singer-songwriter, musician and producer with over 20 years experience in the music industry and two solo albums to his credit, 5ON5 also includes singer-songwriter and producer $INAN (aka Sinan Pakar), rapper and visual artist Maxx B, and singer Yumin. Their unusual name 5ON5 was inspired by Max’s music label sonsounds, and reflects the group’s eclectic blend of music genres and styles, including EDM, synth pop, hip hop and alternative rock. I’ve previously featured Koffler’s music on this blog twice in 2018, as well as two of 5ON5’s singles, “Runaway” in 2021, and most recently last January, “Don’t Dance” (which was one of my most-read reviews of 2022). They followed with four more singles in 2022, and now kick off 2023 with their latest single “Balloon“, accompanied by an animated video, which dropped January 12th.

The song, which was produced by Koffler along with Steve van Velvet, and mixed and mastered by Jeson Huang, seems to be about going on a journey without any particular agenda “I don’t know where we’re meant to fly so purposeless, so purposeless…” One of the things I like most about 5ON5’s music is how well their individual voices harmonize together, and I love the song’s airy dance groove, spacey synths and delicate mix of chiming and twangy guitar notes.

The colorful video, created by Max Klumker, shows animated versions of the four band members singing and dancing against a glorious ever-changing backdrop of figures, ranging from Mary Poppins and Easter Island statues to astronauts and lovable aliens, floating through the skies in hot air balloons, spaceships or by their own accord.

Connect with 5ON5:  Facebook / Instagram  

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

BRIAN LAMBERT – It’s Good

Brian Lambert is an engaging, thoughtful and extremely prolific singer-songwriter and musician based in Denton, Texas. He’s been writing and recording music for many years, and says he’s “reinvented himself more times than he can count.” He even tried his hand at country music for a while, but came to the realization that it just wasn’t for him. More recently, he’s been making indie rock music inspired by some of his favorite acts like Spoon, Gang of Youths, Soul Asylum and the Replacements. He used to play gigs all over the DFW metroplex, but with Covid putting a halt to that, in 2021 he challenged himself to writing, recording and producing a new song every week for a year, an ambitious feat he went on to accomplish! He’s continued to write and record songs both as a solo artist and in collaboration with a host of other musicians he’s met on Twitter. One he’s worked with the most is Marc Schuster, a singer-songwriter and musician from the Philadelphia area who’s also an educator, author, literary critic, blogger and visual artist. Together they’ve collaborated to create a separate music act The Star Crumbles, and last September, they released their fantastic debut album The Ghost of Dancing Slow (which I reviewed). Now Brian returns with his latest single “It’s Good“, which dropped yesterday, January 27th. 

The song is a collaboration with Schuster as well as fellow musician Mike Mosely, who performs under his own musical moniker Jr Moz Collective. Brian elaborates: “I had Covid over Christmas, and had some pretty wild dreams. In this particular dream, I got the chords to a song, and whenever that happens, it seems to make sense to get up as soon as you can, and grab your guitar and write it down. Lyrically, I wasn’t exactly sure where to go with it, so I decided to write a letter to my 11-year-old self. I cut a demo, and sent it to my friend Mike Mosely, who said ‘cut the song today’“. Even though Brian’s voice was still gravelly due to the effects of Covid, he went ahead and recorded the song anyway. He also played acoustic guitar and keyboards, with electric guitars and bass played by Mike and drums by Marc.

The result is a really compelling tune with a bit of a roots rock vibe, highlighted by some fine guitar work. The heartfelt lyrics, which Brian’s ravaged vocals make all the more poignant, offer encouragement to a young boy in that awkward transitional period between his childhood and teen years: “And you are, whatever you think you are. As bright as a shining star. Yeah, it’s good.” The video shows Brian driving around town and visiting vintage and resale shops in what I’m guessing are in and around his hometown of Denton.

Connect with Brian:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

WILD HORSE – “Cougar”

Hailing from East Sussex, England is the talented and very charismatic young pop-rock band Wild Horse, consisting of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin and long-time friend Ed Barnes. Now in their early 20s, the guys are seasoned musicians who’ve been writing and recording songs since forming in 2013, when they were barely teenagers. Both Henry and Jack are multi-instrumentalists who play guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as sing vocals, while Ed plays drums and percussion, sings backing vocals and plays guitar on a few tracks. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters who’ve penned hundreds of songs over the years, with five albums, three EPs and numerous singles to their credit. I’ve been following them for over five years, and love their music. I have reviewed two of their albums, DANCE!! Like An Animal in 2019, and When the Pool Is Occupied in late 2021, as well as one of their singles “Bitter” last September (which you can read here) The song spent two months on my weekly top 30 last fall. They’ve been releasing new singles every few months, and their latest is “Cougar” which also dropped yesterday, January 27th. 

Despite their young ages, Wild Horse are not afraid to tackle mature subjects, and “Cougar” is perhaps their most ‘adult’ song yet. The band explains: “‘Cougar’ is a tale of a lonely housewife who starts using psychedelics and visiting younger men to escape the pain of real life and her failing marriage. Told from the point of view of one of her conquests, the funky indie pop track expresses secret desires, bitter regrets and sweet oblivion. The song’s ending refrain of “how sweet the sound” features the soulful gospel vocals of Jalissa Livermore and reminds everyone that even if you know it won’t end well, you can’t turn back. It simply feels too good.”

It’s a terrific song, and I love the sensuous groove, lush synths, sparkling keyboards, snappy drums, and funky guitars. Jack’s plaintive vocals nicely convey the conflicting emotions expressed in the lyrics “Cougar, You tell me that you’re married. You say it’s not a problem. He’s always working out of town. You tell me that you want me. You’re getting yourself ready. And like a deer under the headlights I find myself drawn into your life. This isn’t gonna end well. That man has left you broken. Confined inside these four gold walls.”

Connect with Wild Horse:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

BEACH WEATHER – Single Review: “Homebody”

In the space of only six months, alternative pop-rock trio Beach Weather have become one of my favorite bands. I first learned about them last summer when I heard their song “Sex, Drugs, Etc.”, which I loved at first listen. Though the song was originally recorded in 2016, and included on their debut EP Chit Chat, it wasn’t released as a single back then, and largely went unnoticed. After releasing a second EP What a Drag, the band went on hiatus as the three members, Nick Santino, Reeve Powers, and Sean Silverman, relocated to different cities and began working on their own solo projects.

As luck would have it, they decided to reunite in late 2021, and began work on their forthcoming debut album Pineapple Sunrise, due for release on March 3rd. In the meantime, “Sex, Drugs, Etc.” went viral on TikTok in the summer of 2022, and started getting airplay on AltNation and many alternative radio stations. The song eventually went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. It’s also spent 20 weeks and counting on my own Weekly Top 30, three of them at #1, and ended up ranking at #3 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.

They released “Unlovable” last August, their first new release in five years. They followed in November with the melancholy but beautiful “Trouble With This Bed”, which just entered the top 10 on my Weekly Top 30. Today they’re back with their latest single “Homebody“, and I love it aleady! It’s more upbeat than their two previous singles, with a sunny vibe and infectious toe-tapping groove. Like all their songs, though, the instrumentation, musicianship and production values are top-notch, particularly the breezy synths and lively percussion. And lead singer Nick Santino’s vocals have an earnest, yet casual quality that’s incredibly appealing. All four singles will be included on Pineapple Sunrise.

About the song, Santino told Substream Magazine: “Homebody is a song about being a homebody. That’s about it. Who wants to go out and see people you don’t really like when you could just have your own party for one, roll a joint, order some tacos and watch YouTube all night. We think people are really going to relate to this one. It’s one of our new favorites.”

Been a downer for a minute
Sunshine in my eyes
Got me blurry all the time
Primadonna in my feelings
Just a kick back kid in the low lights

Homebody
Just a homebody
Let me slide for a while
It’s my own party
Homebody
Just a homebody
Let me slide for a while
Slide for a while

I can take it I can leave it
Cause I’m already bored
And it’s seven in the morning
Burning messages I
Can’t remember if I
Forgot or I’m ignoring

These days
I been fading away
And I wanted to stay
Don’t keep calling me, calling me nah ah
These days
I can dream out the day
In a lavender haze
Don’t keep calling me, calling me nah ah

Beach Weather have also released a delightful video to accompany “Homebody”, directed by L.A.-based photographer and content creator Guadalupe Bustos. With a nod to the 60s, the video shows the guys cavorting around the house in vintage robes as they go about their day as homebodies.

Follow Beach Weather: TwitterInstagramFacebook 

Stream their music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudAmazon Music / YouTube

DARKSOFT – Album Review: “Beigeification”

I love dream pop with an alternative bent, and the music of singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Darksoft fits the bill quite nicely (and his first name also happens to be Bill!). Originally from Seattle, where he was active in the local music scene both as a solo artist and a collaborator with other musicians, he relocated in late 2021 clear across the country to Portland, Maine. Deftly blending elements of dream pop, shoegaze and alternative rock, he creates music that’s both sumptuous and pleasing. His compelling lyrics, addressing timely and relevant issues related to technology, social media and disillusionment, are delivered with his enchanting and soothing ethereal vocals. The imaginative, talented and creative artist has released four concept albums thus far, the latest of which is Beigeification.

I previously featured him and his music three times on this blog in 2019, first when I reviewed his brilliant debut album Brain, a concept work named for the very first computer virus to attack the internet back in 1986, with each track titled after infamous viruses that followed. I later reviewed two singles, “WannaCry”, which addressed the deep cultural and political divide in America, fed by our tendency to stay stuck in our own echo chambers, and “Cybersecurity“, which questioned whether all our data floating around out there in cyberspace was somehow being kept safe. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.) He followed with Meltdown (which includes the two aforementioned singles) in 2020, then Cryo in early 2022. They’re all excellent albums, but Beigeification is my favorite of them all.

Released on January 13th via Darksoft’s own label Look Up Records, Beigeification was produced and recorded entirely by him, mixed by Brian Fisher (Hibou, Éclo, Eastern Souvenirs), and mastered by Stefan Mac (Cold War Kids, No Vacation, Sea Lemon). He describes the album as “a postmodern dose of beigey moods and pastel phrases to match the disillusionment of our age.” For the album cover, he decided to use only a single beige color. He further elaborated in an Instagram post on his thoughts and inspiration for creating the album:

When producing an album, I find that having a consistent theme is really helpful to inform the overall sound, lyrics, progressions, melodies, and instrumentation. For lyrics, I’m using a lot of ‘thought-terminating cliches’. These annoying, overused phrases and idioms have the effect of ending a conversation, because they are vague, universal truths. What’s also interesting is that grammatically they say absolutely nothing but they carry a lot of weight in context. Examples are ‘it is what it is’, ‘you gotta do what you gotta do’, ‘win some lose some’, ‘only time will tell’ and ‘to each their own‘.

This theme has been fun to play with, and I think fits the general attitude after watching the world over the past few years. I don’t want to encourage inaction, but when so much negativity piles up, it’s like ‘whaddya gonna do?’ To stay sane and functional as a digital being, you sort of have to accept that an endless barrage of bad news will always be at your fingertips, and then focus on what matters to you. Also, remember when everything got beigeified? Perhaps your parents painted the walls beige to increase the ‘resell value’ of their home (even if they weren’t selling it). Or think of Carmela Soprano’s Etruscan-themed living room, or how beige was used for conformity reasons on workplace PCs for most of the 20th century. I want these songs on Beigeification to carry nothing too heavy, say something without saying anything, and sit in the background of everyday life, like how sand fits around your toes at the beach, passive like the color beige, and worn-out like these idioms.

Every song on Beigeification uses only one chord progression over and over! I was trying to simplify with less is more. I realized I could just add or remove layers to change the vibe. Or change the playing/strumming slightly or use different chord inversions. This approach keeps things cohesive and was totally different from how I used to write, which was different chord progressions from section to section. It’s more carefree. It is what it is.

The album contains nine wonderful tracks, starting with “It Is What It Is“, which was also released as the first single. The song has a fun, bouncy vibe, highlighted by Darksoft’s beautiful jangly guitar notes and breathy vocals singing the cliche lyrics he alluded to above: “Say what you will. When you know you just know. All’s well that ends well. What goes around comes around.” The charming video for the song, showing him barefoot and dressed all in white, doing a simple dance move in front of empty, nondescript office parks around Portland, Maine, was filmed on VHS recording equipment, giving it a vintage lo-fi quality.

Only Time Will Tell” has an 80s new wave sound that calls to mind some of the music of Joy Division, New Order and The Cure, but with a modern twist. I love the lush jangly and chiming guitars and snappy percussion, and Darksoft’s silky vocals are both comforting and sensuous. The lyrics speak of being patient and taking things slowly and deliberately, aware that ‘good things come to those who wait’: “You got to learn to walk before you learn to run. Everything will come to the one that waits. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Only time will tell.”

Next up is the languid “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do“, a song so beautiful and soothing that I’m now besotted with this album. Once again, Darksoft’s guitar work is gorgeous, as are the sparkling synths and gentle percussion, and his layered breathy vocals are sublime. The way he strings together so many trite cliche sayings into something beautiful and compelling is quite clever: “You gotta do what you gotta do. You gotta be who you gotta be. Do or don’t, live or die. You never know until you try.” The beautiful video, directed by Brett Davis Jr. and filmed by Gerald Davis, shows Darksoft singing the song at Two Lights State Park and Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

The great songs keep coming. “Win Some Lose Some” is a return to the breezy new wave vibe we heard on “Only Time Will Tell”, which nicely serves to reinforce the ‘c’est la vie’ sense of resignation over life’s hiccups that Darksoft is getting at on the album – “Reap what you sow. Take what ya get. Better luck next time. Win some lose some. Win some lose others. If it’s not one thing then it’s another.” “Whatever It Takes” has a lively, toe-tapping beat, neat fuzzy guitars and colorful synths, and, as always, beautifully-layered sensuous vocals.

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but my gosh, “Stones Unturned” is so gorgeous I can barely contain myself. Darksoft’s delicate jangly guitar work is stunning, accompanied by ambient sounds of a distant thundershower and beautiful swirling synths. His comforting ethereal vocals have been electronically altered in spots, giving them a fuzzy, otherworldly feel. The lyrics seem to be about – to use yet another cliche expression – ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’: “Some stones are best left, left unturned. Some words are better left unheard. Somethings you don’t need to see. Some views look better from dreams. Sometimes the road less traveled is leading nowhere.”

A fantastic dominant bassline takes center stage on “There’s Always Something Going On“, a song about how there will always be some unpleasant issue or problem to deal with in life: “There’s only so much I can do. There’s always something left undone. Even after we’re all dead and gone. There will be something going wrong.” And on the peppy “Fast Lane“, Darksoft sings of the perils of living recklessly: “It’s a short way down, but a long way back. Take a shortcut in the fast lane and you just might crash.” The album closes with “Such Is Life“, a pleasing song of resignation that sometimes shit happens in life, and we just have to accept it and do the best we can as we move on: “Such is life. Guess that’s the way it’s gonna be. C’est la vie.”

I don’t know what more I can write about Beigeification that I haven’t already gushed about, other than to say that I think it’s one of the best albums of 2023 so far. I love it so much I bought my own copy on Bandcamp, and so should you!

Connect with Darksoft on Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music on SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud 
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

CATCH THE SPARROW – EP Review: “Winter Flowers”

Catch The Sparrow is the music project of Dutch-born and now England-based composer, singer-songwriter and arranger Suze Terwisscha van Scheltinga. I learned about her when her mother reached out to me after reading my review of the song “Mayfly” by British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt, whom Suze has performed with. Her mother alerted me to Catch The Sparrow’s new EP Winter Flowers that was released on December 2nd of last year, which I’m finally getting around to writing about.

According to her bio, as a child Suze loved writing stories and making music, and upon realizing it was possible to combine both passions, she began writing songs. By the time she was 16, she started performing her own original songs while accompanying herself on piano. She studied at the Utrecht Conservatoire, majoring in Jazz & Pop vocals, and during her time there, she started playing with a band as a way to fully explore new sounds and rhythms. After graduating in 2019, she made the bold decision to relocate to the UK, to study Folk and Traditional music at Newcastle University under the guidance of Emily Portman and Imogen Gunner. Influenced by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Lisa Knapp, Joanna Newsom and Fiona Apple, her compositions transcend boundaries of style and genre in a compelling blend of folk, jazz and pop.

She’s already making a name for herself in the British music scene. Under her artistic moniker Catch The Sparrow (which was inspired by a lyric in the Crosby, Stills & Nash classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”), she released her debut single “Painting the Roses Red” in December 2020. She followed in February 2021 with the similarly-titled album Painting the Roses Red, a collection of eight beautiful jazz-infused tracks. Shortly after earning her Master’s degree at Newcastle University in 2021, she saw her song ‘Winnowing’ chosen as one of the highly recommended entries of 2021’s Tune Into Nature Music Prize, and in April 2022 she was selected as one of ten emerging female composers to write for Issie Barratt’s jazz ensemble INTERCHANGE.

As she immersed herself in the culture of Northeast England, Catch The Sparrow discovered the charms of Northumbrian small-pipes (bellows-blown bagpipes from North East England that have been an important factor in the local musical culture for more than 250 years). Inspired by them, along with the traditional folk music she’d studied at Newcastle University, she wrote five songs for Winter Flowers that, in her own words, “reflect the ever present gloom and uncertainty without losing its glimmer of hope.” The EP was produced by David de la Haye, and features contributions of local musicians Ceitidh Mac on cello, Andy May on Northumbrian small-pipes and harmonium, and Mera Royle on harp.

Catch The Sparrow has the voice of an angel, and she layers her enchanting vocals to great effect, especially on the opening track “Farewell/Here’s The Tender Coming“, where she addresses a rather dark subject with beauty and grace. Like several tracks on Winter Flowers, this is actually a combination of two tunes that are are deeply rooted in the Northumbrian folk tradition. She explains: “The first tune ‘Farewell’ was lifted from the The Northumbrian Pipers’ Third Tune Book. The lyrics I wrote for this plaintive little melody, simply described as ‘a slow highland air’, depict the moment of parting and its aftermath. ‘Here’s The Tender Coming’ is a traditional Northumbrian song that recalls the practices of the notorious pressgangs that used to frequent the port of Newcastle during the Napoleonic wars.” (Press gangs were groups of soldiers or sailors used by the British Royal Navy as a harsh means of recruiting able bodied men into naval service, often against their will and by violent coercion. The practice of impressment – also known as Shanghai-ing or crimping – was common in all the world’s ports until about 1820, and was widely used, as recruiting sailors voluntarily was difficult due to the poor conditions on board ships, not to mention the dangers of serving in the navy, especially in times of war.)

“Farewell”, a wistful tune featuring layered a capella vocals accompanied by ambient sounds of gently crashing waves, is sung from the perspective of a newly-impressed sailor bidding goodbye to his loved one “Fare thee well, my sweet lassie. Fare thee well, I must depart.” “Here’s The Tender Coming” is sung from the perspective of the woman being left behind, lamenting the taking of her man, and warning other men to hide from the impressors: “See the tender lying, off at Shield’s Bar. With her colours flying, anchor at the bow. They took my bonny laddie, best of all the crew. Hide, canny laddie, hide theeself away. Hide till the frigate makes for Druridge Bay. If they take ye hinny, who’s to win our bread? Me and little Jackie better off be dead.”

The video for the song shows Catch The Sparrow singing the song in St Andrew’s Church in Newcastle, accompanied by Ceitidh MacLeod on cello and Mera Royle on harp. Instead of sounds of crashing waves, we hear Catch the Sparrow playing the gently droning shruti box (an instrument similar to the harmonium that originated in India).

Game of Chance” is a melancholy but lovely song, with delicate harp, harmonium and shruti box accompanying Catch The Sparrow’s bewitching vocals. She explains her inspiration for writing this song: “While working on this project, I stumbled by chance on Tish Murtha’s photo series Youth Unemployment, in which she portrays Newcastle’s youth during the Thatcher years. I was struck by the desolation and raw beauty of the pictures. The photo of ‘Cuddles playing cards’ became the inspiration for this particular song. The traditional Northumbrian tune ‘Small Coals an’ Little Money’ serves as a base layer for the song.”

Using card game metaphors, the lyrics seem to speak to the contrasting notions of privilege and luck, and dealing with the hands we’re dealt in life: “I have a lump of coal. It’s the only treasure I own. Daddy says I cannot go, but someday I’ll join him below. Down below, down below. Go ask the devil, ‘cause the devil might know. Deal a hand, deal a hand. We all play a game of chance. I have a deck of cards. Queen of flowers, one-eyed jack. Lucky, he who deals the hands. Took the red ace, left the black.

Halfway into the EP, we’re treated to “Interlude“, a one-minute long tune consisting of Catch The Sparrow’s layered a capella blend of humming and scat vocals, accompanied by jaunty hand claps. This is followed by “Border Spirit/Before the Flood“, another traditional folk couplet. “Border Spirit” is an instrumental-only tune, comprised of Northumbrian small-pipes and what sounds like shruti box and lasting just under two minutes, which then segues into “Before the Flood”, a beautiful piano-driven song highlighted by melancholy Northumbrian small-pipes and Catch The Sparrow’s soothing layered vocals. I’m struck by how much she sounds British or possibly Scottish, rather than Dutch.

The final track is the third couplet on the EP, featuring the title song “Winter Flowers“, a delicate piano ballad extolling the resilience of flowers able to survive the harsh conditions of winter: “See these flowers grow undeterred by the frost and snow. Hardy little souls, the cold does not faze. Beautiful and bright how they bask in the bleak winter’s light, unafraid of life’s changes.” The second part of the track is “Liberty For The Sailors“, a traditional song celebrating the return of the sailors. Catch The Sparrow’s lilting a capella vocals are accompanied by crashing waves, bringing this charming little EP full circle.

Connect with Catch the Sparrow: FacebookInstagram

Stream her music: SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

The Ocean Beneath ft. Jessica Blaise Ward – Single Review: “Fluorescent Light”

The Ocean Beneath is the electronic music project of British musician, composer and producer Matt Burnside. Drawing on influences ranging from house to disco, rock to drum and bass, the Leeds-based artist combines 80’s synthpop elements with modern recording techniques, analogue synthesis and huge melodic grooves to create music that sounds retro, yet exciting and current. Like many electronic artists, he often collaborates with other musicians and vocalists, and has released an impressive amount of outstanding music since 2019. I’ve previously written about some of his releases, and you can check out those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.

Also based in Leeds, Jessica Blaise Ward is a multi-faceted Renaissance woman of sorts, Not only is she a professional composer who’s written music for audiobooks, video games and soundtracks, she’s also a pianist, vocalist, and a senior songwriting lecturer at Leeds Arts University, with a special interest in pop music of the 1980s and 1990s. Her solo work has ranged from cinematic (her 2019 single “Ghost”) to synthwave (“Strangers in the Dark” also in 2019) to synthpop (“Futures Promise” in 2021). She’s also collaborated with numerous artists and musicians on multiple projects, including ghostwriting for Manchester metal band 40,000 Leagues, and co-writing albums with former punk artist Andrew Bishop. She’s currently synth player and vocalist for band The State of Georgia.

“Fluorescent Light” was co-written and produced by The Ocean Beneath and Jessica Blaise Ward, and mastered by Stephen Kerrsion. The beautiful artwork was designed by kiki_and_elvis_create. About the song, Burnside says its “a synthwave nostalgia trip touching on our courage, inner strength and determination. It’s about showing the world what you’ve got and taking ownership of your own story. Do it with your head held high and your intentions strong. ‘Fluorescent Light’ is an anthem for empowerment, positive action and making the world in your own design.

The song opens with gauzy atmospheric synths that slowly build with added percussion as Jessica emphatically sings in her clear, arresting voice: “With a soul so bright, in the name of fight or flight, I made a promise to never let the world take my hand. And I made a deal in fluorescent lights, that I would make the world in my own design.” As the song progresses, the powerful beats and swirling darkwave synths ebb and flow in the verses and choruses, ultimately erupting into a gorgeous sweeping cinematic soundscape in the final chorus, Jessica’s vocals soaring to an impassioned crescendo that raises goosebumps. It’s a magnificent song!

Here’s the song on Soundcloud:

And on Bandcamp:

Connect with The Ocean Beneath: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp

Connect with Jessica: TwitterInstagram

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

BURN THE LOUVRE – Album Review: “Silhouettes”

Burn The Louvre are a Canadian indie rock duo based in Hamilton, Ontario, and consisting of Jordan Speare (vocals, guitar, ukulele, drums & percussion) and Sean Cooper (guitar/vocals). I first featured them on this blog this past April, when I included one of their songs “Driving in the Rain” in a Fresh New Tracks post. I provided some background about how the act began as a duo consisting of Jordan and his brother Dylan, and released two EPs in 2014 and 2017, But by 2018, Burn the Louvre became Jordan’s solo project, at which time he began work on a full-length album Silhouettes with the help of his friend Andrew Billone, of indie rock band Silvertone Hills, on lead guitar and bass. The album was recorded, mixed & mastered by engineer/producer Mickey Ellsworth, who also played synthesizers and additional percussion, and sang backing vocals.

Rather serendipitously, after he and Mickey finished recording Silhouettes in late 2018, Jordan received an email from guitarist Sean Cooper, in response to an old “musicians wanted” ad he’d forgotten to take down. The two immediately hit it off, and began jamming together on the already-recorded songs. Jordan recalls “The way he was able to come up with his own unique leads to songs that were already recorded, giving them different nuances while maintaining the vibe of each song…I mean, I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad practice. I felt this was a perfect opportunity to re-imagine Burn The Louvre as a duo and I am very happy he wanted to be a part of this.”

Photo of Jordan and Sean by iamnenkan

In early 2022, they decided to finally release Silhouettes, initially as 11 separate singles at the rate of one song per month over a period of 11 months, beginning in January with “Wish We Were”. They ended with “Honolulu”, which dropped simultaneously with the full album on November 29th. The songs, all of which were written by Jordan, explore the emotional minefield of young romantic love and relationships with extensive, relatable lyrics, delivered in his laid-back conversational singing style, and accompanied by catchy melodies and fine guitar work. Burn the Louvre’s music style is hard to classify, but can best be described as a pleasing and eclectic blend of punk, pop, rock’n’roll, singer-songwriter and folk.

The title track “Silhouettes” is one of more melodically interesting, starting off with an energetically-strummed folk guitar that’s soon joined by a tasty bass groove. The song seems to end at around 1:46 minutes, then starts up again and continues for 30 seconds until it seems to end yet again, only to start back up at a slightly slower pace. Jordan has an interesting sing-song vocal style, with an offbeat sensual drawl that’s quite endearing. Here he emphatically croons the lyrics about a doomed love affair: “Silhouettes in the yellow moon. Fell a little too hard and they split in two. Raw, a little out of tune. Beautiful and broken, but try not to swoon. Oh you…was disinterested until I heard her say ‘So nice to finally meet you’. Autumn eyes and sweet perfume. My heart might’ve skipped just a beat or two. That little black dress and those ruby shoes. Okay…was all that I could say. I sense there’s heartache on the way.

On “Wish We Were“, Jordan wistfully sings of a simpler, more innocent time when he was younger and things didn’t seem so heavy and problematic: “Well sometimes, I wish that we were younger. Turn nineteen in the early summer, with nothing but blue skies and moonshine spilling outside on a Wednesday night. Alone in the dark, such a beautiful sight. If only sometimes. But if we’d met before. Would you still be knocking on my door if you lived down the street? Would you just want to be friends with me? I’m wishing I could have the time back that I borrowed. Yesterdays are overrated, show me the tomorrows.” I love the song’s upbeat bouncy groove and jangly guitars.

On the lovely ballad “Driving In The Rain”, Jordan sings of driving through a rainstorm to see his girlfriend, with whom he has a troubled relationship: “I’m 15 minutes out, the sky is darker than her hair. And all Beck’s “Modern Guilt” has got me way too self-aware. The weather’s getting worse, man it’s really coming down. It’s just the second verse, but I think I’m gunna drown. Conventional conversation is ringing in my ears. I want to kiss her in the rain, so I can’t see the tears.” And “Lost With You” has a retro early 60s “malt shop” vibe, with a fun rockabilly quality in the guitars.

One of my favorites is “Nice Guy“, a lively post-punk rocker that has Jordan lamenting about how his good manners seem to go unappreciated by a girl he likes: “Really think that you don’t like me. Well, I’m sorry if I’m just too polite. Really wish that I could be an asshole. Blame my Mum, she’s the one who raised me right. But I’m sick of being the nice guy. I’ll give you my coat when it’s cold outside. Yeah, I’m so sick of always being the nice guy. It’s a phase I still haven’t got over, I’ll try, yeah I’ll try.”

His clever songwriting is strongly evident on “Easy“, a song about how love and relationships could be easy and stress-free, but we often have a way of over-complicating things: “Well, it could all just be so easy. Uncomplicated, apparent, simple too. It could all just be so easy. I’m so easy, yeah but so are you. Open my mouth, make a fool of myself. Could almost hear her falling back in love with someone else. You’re my last cigarette, it’s too bad for my health. Your love is cancerous and I’m just trying to kill myself.” The jangly and shimmery guitar work is terrific, accompanied by nice bass groove and subtle keyboards and percussion.

Dumb” is a rousing rock’n’roll gem, with twangy guitars and a catchy, toe-tapping beat. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics speak of wishing his ex-girlfriend ill: “I’d rather see you under the sea than see those big green eyes staring back at me. I’ll give your best to your new boyfriend, and let him know that he won’t ever see your face again“, but then admitting his threats were meant in jest: “I’d never hurt you, honestly. I’d never hurt you purposely, You’re lucky I’m not as dumb as I thought I was.” And on the sweet jangle pop song “Hey Stacey“, he sings of how he loves and misses her: “Hey Stacey, is there something wrong? You know I’d do my very best to make it right. I really thought that you might like this song. It’s kinda dumb, but it’s the best I’ve got tonight./ Trying so hard not to blow it. But has anybody ever told you you’re beautiful, but you don’t even know it?

Alison” is another sweet tune, this time with a bit of a doo wop vibe and featuring added vocals by Stephanie Deshane. The poignant lyrics speak of two wounded souls, seeking a bit of love and solace in each other’s arms, even if only for a night: “And Alison, you know I’ve been struggling trying to put my life together. She laughs and says, ‘mine’s not much better’. But Alison, I want to thank you for listening. Now, she’s not likely to stay, but I know I won’t soon forget her.

The final track “Honolulu” is a deeply personal one for Jordan. He explains: “‘Honolulu” is a song I wrote for my first girlfriend Gillian for her birthday. We’d always joked about running away to Honolulu one day, so I wrote this song about the idea of doing just that. To be honest, I really wasn’t the best boyfriend, but I did some things right and this song is definitely one of them. After opening the album with ‘Silhouettes’, which is a song about the aftermath of our relationship from my perspective, I felt it was fitting to close the album with ‘Honolulu’, a song about when times were great.” Appropriately, the song opens with a Hawaiian ukulele riff, accompanied by subtle bass notes. Halfway into the track, the tempo ramps up to a jaunty, head-bopping groove, with a strummed guitar joining the ukulele and bass while Jordan croons “Well I can’t say, I’ve felt this way before. My heart is on fire, yeah. It’s not a holiday, this is a getaway. Gill, hop on the plane and we’ll leave right now for Honolulu… feels so far away.”

Silhouettes is an enjoyable album from start to finish, filled with charming songs dealing with the ins and outs of love in a lighthearted, realistic way. Jordan and Andrew’s guitar work is terrific throughout, and the songs are all expertly-crafted and engineered, giving the album an outstanding quality of sound. Nice work guys!

Connect with Burn the Louvre:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

RUSTY SHIPP – Album Review: “Dark Side of the Ocean”

One of the more uniquely interesting acts I’ve featured on this blog is Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp. The brain child of front man Russ T. Shipp (his actual birth name is Russell Thomas Shipp), Rusty Shipp is a self-described “Nautical Rock’n’Roll” band, with a sound influenced by, in their own words, “the melodic chord progressions of The Beatles, the surf guitar of Dick Dale, the grunge rock of Nirvana, and the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin“. As their name would suggest, their music is characterized by a dark, immersive sound, unforgettable melodies, electrifying guitar work, and Shipp’s vibrant tenor vocals. Like many a band, they’ve experienced numerous changes in lineup since forming in 2014, and now consist of the aforementioned Russ Shipp on guitar and vocals, AJ Newton on drums, Dave Gajda on lead guitar, and Doug Webster on bass.

Photo by Chad Fenner

Rusty Shipp released an EP Hold Fast to Hope in 2014, then followed in 2017 with their highly-acclaimed debut album Mortal Ghost. They dropped several singles throughout 2019, which culminated in the release that November of their phenomenal second album Liquid Exorcist, which I reviewed. In keeping with their nautical theme, the album is a concept work built around the subject of sea mine terrorism. This past January, starting with “Bottom of the Barrel”, they began releasing what would become a series of nine singles at the rate of one per month. All of those songs and more are featured on their latest album Dark Side of the Ocean, which dropped October 28th.

An ambitious work, Dark Side of the Ocean (its official title is Cosmic Innuendo, Vol 1: Dark Side of the Ocean), is another nautically-themed concept album, this time exploring the balance between dark and light, descent and ascent, and men and angels. About the album, Shipp explains: “While it was written and recorded during the pandemic, instead of following the natural response of the world to react to the crisis with fear by retreating into our comfortable “Us and Them” sects and blaming “Them” as the problem and the bad guys, this album tried very hard (as challenging as it was at the time) to focus on the commonalities and good that still exist in all people and the hope that still exists for our world to bring us all together and get all our needs met.

Shipp wrote the lyrics, co-wrote the music with band drummer Newton, and did the arrangements. The album was produced by Stephen Leiweke at Yackland Studio in Nashville, and mastered by Alex McCollough. The gorgeous artwork was created by Hein Zaayman.

With a few nods to Pink Floyd, including its title, the album is divided into two parts: The first half (consisting of 21 ½ minutes), called “DESCENT”, follows the descent of a drowned sailor, sinking past undiscovered creatures and mysteries to the bottom of the ocean, where his soul is intercepted by a group of sea angels and taken to their underwater kingdom. The 2nd half of the album (also 21 ½ minutes long) is called “ASCENT”, and explores this angelic kingdom, ruled by Poseidon, the king archangel of the ocean. After debating the danger involved, the angels decide to ascend and discover why men’s souls are sinking from the ocean’s surface with increased frequency, with feelings of duty to help these men in the world above the waves, which the angels ironically call “Heaven.” Read the full story here.

The album opens with the title track, a 33-second-long spoken word introductory piece accompanied by eerie underwater sounds and a building guitar riff, informing us that the ocean contains 99% of Earth’s living space, yet 80% of it has never been mapped, much less explored. We have better maps of the surface of the moon than of the ocean floor, and with scientists estimating that there are as many as 90% of ocean species still undiscovered, one has to wonder what else could be down there at the bottom of our planet…the dark side of the ocean.

Those grungy, jagged riffs are quickly joined by a torrent of aggressive drumbeats as we’re launched headlong into “Living Waters“. Shipp passionately sings of the life-giving power of water, despite the fact that it’s also taken the life of many a sailor: “Let the living waters flow and bring the world to life. Trickle down the darkest cracks that never get the light. Weaving in and out of every creature on the Earth. Pull us all into the harmony that we’re created for.

This immediately segues into the 49-second-long interlude “What Blows Up (Must Come Down)“, a fantastic barrage of raging surf guitars. Like their previous album Liquid Exorcist, Dark Side of the Ocean contains several instrumental interludes that serve to connect the tracks and move the narrative forward. That interlude then becomes “Bottom of the Barrel“, a gnarly but melodic track sung from the perspective of the drowning sailor, whose soul is reborn into a magical undersea world: “Down at the bottom of the barrel. Still your love is bottomless. The weight of the world is crushing me to a pulp, but it brings my soul to the surface. If I make my bed in Mariana Trench, I’m welcomed to a city that’s lit. Bioluminescence.” The cool video was directed by Shipp’s wife Joy Soleil.

Though Rusty Shipp is not a Christian band per se, Shipp is up-front about his faith, as is evident in many of his lyrics. The 36-second-long track “The Bloop“, which serves as an introductory piece for “Tanninim“, a song about undiscovered sea monsters, includes spoken lines of scripture from Genesis, interspersed with Shipp’s own lyrics: “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life. And God created great Tanninim and every living creature that moveth. Which the waters brought forth abundantly after their kind. And God saw that it was good, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas’.” “Tanninim” has a wonderfully eerie vibe, highlighted by a bold reggae beat driven by Newton’s brilliant drumming, and accompanied by Shipp’s spooky vocals that sound like he’s singing while underwater.

On the hard-driving grungy rocker “What’s Kracken?“, Shipp uses the mythical sea monster Kracken as a metaphor for the truth in a divided political environment where what constitutes the truth is often elusive and up for debate: “A tentacle washed up on shore. The TV says there’s something more ‘Was it just a giant squid or evidence of Leviathan?’ Can anybody out there say ‘What’s Kraken?‘” 

One of the many things I love about this album is how every track sounds uniquely different, with a wide variety of music styles and genres represented. “Fish in the Sea” is in the style of a sea shanty, a traditional work song once commonly sung aboard large merchant sailing ships, while “Angel Aquarium” fuses ska with frantic guitar-driven rock. “DESCENT” ends with “Bioluminescence“, a brief hauntingly beautiful piano ballad reprising the chorus from “Bottom of the Barrel”.

Opening the “ASCENT” half of the album is “King of the Deep“, a funereal-sounding sea shanty that’s one of the most powerful tracks on the album, and also one of my favorites. With verses alternately sung by sailors, angels and Poseidon, the song seems to be an ode to Poseidon himself. I like how the vocals and instrumentals are presented differently for each: the sailors’ are delivered with deep, baritone vocals accompanied by pounding drumbeats and fuzz-coated gnarly guitars, while the angels sound…well, angelic, with Shipp’s near-falsetto front and center, accompanied by lovely synths and delicate guitar notes. And as Poseidon, Shipp’s vocals are more commanding, of course. The song ends in a dramatic chorus of all three entities singing in glorious harmony.

Man Myth Legend” is a roiling punk rock gem fueled by marvelous psychedelia-tinged surf guitars. Man, this band knows how to rock! The lyrics speak to looking beyond our pre-conceived notions about people, keeping us locked in eternal conflict, and instead try to see them as humans not all that different from ourselves: “Tradition tries to demonize what we don’t understand. We need to see them through the love that covers all our skins. Until we’re dining in their homes, these men will be as good as myths and legends. They say the issue’s black and white, but aren’t we all just different shades of gray? If it makes us black and blue, then we’re going the wrong way. But we could bring in an age of peace, joining both our worlds into one. We could be the heroes that make a new end to the legend.

Each of Rusty Shipp’s three albums includes a cover of a classic rock song by a famous band. Their first album Mortal Ghost featured the Beatles song “Helter Skelter”, Liquid Exorcist featured Audioslave’s “Show Me How to Live”, and now Dark Side of the Ocean includes Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them“, from their 1973 masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon. While honoring the song’s compelling melody, Rusty Shipp’s version shaves a little over four minutes off the original, and gives it a harder rock treatment, with a bold mix of jangly and gnarly guitars and more emphatic vocals. The lyrics speak to the stupidity of war: “Us and them. And after all we’re all just ordinary men. Me and you. God only knows, it’s not what we would choose to do. Forward he cried from the rear. And the front rank died. The general sat and the lines on the map moved side to side. Black and blue. And who knows which is which and who is who? Up and down. And in the end we’re spinning round ‘n round.

The darkly beautiful instrumental interlude “Waking Braves” is a playful reimagining of their song “Breaking Waves” from Liquid Exorcist. This is followed by the grungy “Untouchable“, a terrific Nirvana-esque song about a soul with eternal life, free from earthly worries: “I am untouchable ‘cause nothing in this world can touch my soul. I am unconditionally loved, more than my heart could ever hold. I am a part of a plan where I am taken care of forever. I have eternal life, so tell me what is left to fear?” The grungy rock vibes continue on the raucous minute and a half long instrumental interlude “Up the Waterspout“.

The album closes with “The Other Side“, where so many of the elements that make Dark Side of the Ocean such a great album come together into a grand finale. The songs starts off as a slow acoustic ballad, then erupts into a celebratory feast of rousing surf guitars and frenetic ska grooves. The lyrics speak to what I think of as my own definition of Heaven, which is not some magical ‘perfect’ place in the clouds, but rather a sense of happiness and contentment that exists as a state of mind: “People always look for Heaven in the wrong places as if it’s just somewhere you go on retirement vacation. But a wise man once said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within; try looking there and let me know when you find it. We’re going on a search for the real Heaven. A Heaven we don’t have to wait for till our lives are through. We’re finding out the real meaning of salvation, and finding out it’s better than anything we thought we knew.”

I’m not sure what more I can say about Dark Side of the Ocean, other than to reiterate how marvelous it is. Not only are its concept and storyline brilliantly executed, it’s sounds damn good too! The musicians and sound engineers involved in the album’s recording and production did a masterful job, and the result is a work that’s flawlessly arranged and beautifully crafted on every level. Finally, a great deal of credit must go to Russ Shipp’s incredible vision, imagination and talents, both as a songwriter and vocalist.

Connect with Rusty Shipp: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: SpotifyApple Music / SoundclouddeezerYouTube
Purchase on Bandcamp 

DOM THOMAS – Single Review: “Everything I Own”

I recently learned about Welsh singer-songwriter and musician Dom Thomas when he followed me on Instagram. A talented and busy guy, he works as a librarian at Cardiff University, is founder and editor of VAINE Magazine (a Welsh literary and arts magazine for emerging artists and writers), and a poet who’s had one of his works published. He’s been writing and recording songs for his forthcoming EP, and released his wonderful debut single “Everything I Own” on November 11th. I liked it the instant I heard it, so much so that I want to both share it with my readers and give Dom a bit of press.

A deeply personal song, Dom explained in an Instagram post how he came to write “Everything I Own”: “I wrote the song in July 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. I was staying at home with my mum at the time, and I remember having all of my stuff packed up in the middle of the bedroom. And I was there playing this guitar which a friend lent me a few years ago. I remember thinking about how all of my stuff in the world was in that room, and how one of the main things I had (the guitar) wasn’t even mine. I just started thinking about that strange feeling you have sometimes in your 20s when you’re kind of sifting for your purpose in life, and trying to find out who you are. So, this song was the first one I wrote for the EP, and it gave me this idea to write some songs that were really personal.”

For the recording of the track, Dom sang vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars, bass and keyboards, Alec Rees played drums, and Mike Winters played viola. Jordan Roberts and Mark Lowe produced the track, with additional arrangements by Toni Madrid and Jacob Davies, and Eddie Al Shakarchi handled the mixing and mastering. Together, they’ve created a really lovely and melodic song. Dom’s layered guitar work is sublime, nicely accompanied by Alec’s relaxed drumbeats. As the song progresses, the music expands with the addition of Dom’s bold piano keys and Mike’s stirring viola, Dom’s comforting vocals turning more emphatic and emotional as well. Though the song has a rather melancholy undercurrent, Dom’s lighthearted “doo doo doos” in the choruses add glimmers of optimism, giving the song an overall pleasing vibe.

The poignant lyrics speak to feelings of impermanence, sadness, and dreams unfulfilled, whether they be material, artistic or romantic.

Everything I own
Feels like its borrowed
And I can’t give it back
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

Everything I feel
Feels a bit too real
And I can’t turn away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

Everywhere I go,
it feels like I’m followed
And I can’t get away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And everything I touch,
Feels a bit too much
Like it’s turning to stone
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

Everything I know
Fills me with sorrow
And I can’t switch it off
My heart my dreams my love and my soul

And everything I do,
Makes me think of you
And I just can’t forget,
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

The endearing video, directed by Daniel Evans and filmed by Alex David, who also did the editing along with Dan Cuddihy, shows scenes of Dom playing his guitar and singing the song while walking through the streets of Cardiff and the surrounding countryside, alternating with scenes of him setting up and performing at a small auditorium.

Connect with Dom on Instagram

Stream “Everything I Own” on SpotifyApple Music

Purchase on Bandcamp 

SKAR DE LINE – Single & Video Review: “No Eyes in Paradise”

Skar de Line is the solo music project of singer-songwriter, producer and composer Oskar Abrahamsson, a thoughtful, charismatic and innovative artist born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England. Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, he fuses his love for cinematic soundtracks by such composers as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi with hip-hop, alternative rock and electronic metal to create dark, unconventional music that takes the listener on a sonic adventure while giving us a lot to think about. The multi-talented fellow writes, performs, records and produces all his own music, as well as writing, directing and editing all his imaginative music videos.

I’ve featured Skar de Line numerous times on this blog, most recently last May, when I reviewed his single and video for “Reset”, the first chapter in his autobiographical suite of music. The song explores the concept of wanting to become a better person through continually evolving and reinventing oneself, but fearing that nothing will ever be good enough, expressed in the lyric “Every time I open my eyes I kill an old version of mine. But I’m not a murderer, no, I’m a maker./ Every time I close my eyes, I am already set to reset.”  He followed in July with the second chapter “New Silhouettes”, a song about having the freedom to make your own choices in becoming whoever or whatever you want to be, with no limits on how many different options you can choose. Now he returns with “No Eyes in Paradise“, the third chapter of his personal journey of self exploration and the need to understand himself.

With this song, he ponders his own sense of self-worth as an artist, believing that he’s creating works of value and merit, but fearing that if no one else sees nor acknowledges it, does any of it mean anything? He explains: “You can be great, you can want to do well for yourself and for people around you, but if no one saw what you did, did it really happen? If your life work is something that the world does not care about, what is your life worth? And are there any limits to what we can’t do to get that attention, that worth? Throughout the lyrics, there is this growing frustration in the world around me, a feeling that I think every creator recognizes. A feeling that the world does not actually really get you.” For both song and video, he uses classical imagery to bring his message to life. Here’s a photo of him in a setting similar to the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting of Mona Lisa (in which he’s undeniably more attractive):

Though all of his songs have cinematic elements, “No Eyes in Paradise” is his most grandiose and melodically complex yet, blending dramatic choral and symphonic elements with bold hip hop beats and heavy electronics to create a magnificent soundscape. The song opens with a soaring gospel-like choral, then quickly segues into a dark trip hop groove, with harsh industrial synths and finger snaps as Skar de Line raps the opening verses. As the song progresses, the music alternates between trip hop verses and sweeping symphonic choruses, punctuated with delicate piano chords and gorgeous string synths. His emotive vocals go from seductive, slightly sinister rapping in the verses to impassioned entreaties in the choruses, creating a strong sense of tension and emotional angst.

I’ve got this presentation that will surely blow your mind
This is an invitation to a god-damn paradise
The only thing I ask for is another pair of eyes
Cause what you never saw it never happened, right?

No eyes in paradise
No eyes in paradise
No eyes in paradise
No eyes in paradise

As these doors are left wide open
As my world turns in slow motion
As these walls are steeped in gold
Another bottle’s left unopened
Another story on repeat
Another comment obsolete
Another invite went astray
Another offer thrown away

Did I bathe in the light
Turn inside out
Did I repaint the skies
For empty crowds?
Did I wait for too long?
Have you all moved on?
Am I the architect
Left in paradise?

I still got to trust in some kind of order
Some kind of virtue for which you’ll adore me
But I cannot leave it, you need to sign
And I'm getting restless, I'm out of time
How far do you go for wickedness
to stop being sexy and just grotesque?
If there’s a case, I haven’t found it yet
I can’t imagine or believe that this is it

Did I bathe in the light
Turn inside out

Did I repaint the skies
For empty crowds?
Did I wait for too long?
Have you all moved on?
Am I the architect
Left in paradise?

No eyes in paradise
No eyes in paradise
No eyes in paradise
No eyes in paradise

Like a lamb of God, like a torn façade
Tearing up the scars with no regards
Just come inside, I’ll break it down
It’s a god-damn paradise
How far do you go for wickedness
to stop being sexy and just grotesque?
If there’s a case, I haven’t found it yet
I can’t imagine or believe that this is it
If I offered you a piece of the forbidden apple
Would you trust me to repaint the Sistine Chapel?
Does it matter what I do or what I’ve done?
Would you trust me now if I am the only one?

The brilliant video Skar de Line created for the song is his own interpretation of a perfect, but empty, paradise. Throughout the video, he recreates and inhabits some of the most renowned renaissance paintings such as The Last Supper (Leonardo Da Vinci), The School Of Athens (Raphael), and Saint Jerome Writing (Caravaggio), all in his desire to make something special that others will care about. He elaborates: “But like an architect left in paradise, a creator in a world that does not need more creations, I’m feeling like I’m falling behind and running out of time to make a difference. Maybe I’ve gone about it wrong. In the final scenes, as I’m leaving my paradise behind to walk out into the dark night, a thought goes through my head. Maybe it’s all a matter of perspective. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not what I do that needs to change, but rather the world in which I do it in…” His creativity and imagination, as well as technical prowess to be able to produce such a beautiful video, are truly impressive.

“No Eyes in Paradise” is Skar de Line’s finest work yet, and I eagerly await the next chapters in his autobiographical suite.

Connect with Skar de Line: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  Amazon