Back in November 2017 (hard to believe it’s been nearly four years!), I first wrote about the young German artist Lowry Lane and his wonderful debut single “Find a Way” (you can read my review here). Based in Regensburg, an historic mid-sized city in eastern Bavaria, Lowry was born Paul Friebe, but chose to name his solo music project after English painter L.S. Lowry as a way of exploring “his musical self discovery, which aims to recklessly unfold the inherent conflicts he finds within himself and in the world around him.” He names an extensive and eclectic list of artists and bands as influences for his melodic and complex style of alternative rock, including The Smiths, Fugazi, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Libertines, Joy Division, The Cure, Nirvana, Wavves, Pavement, The Strokes and Kurt Vile.
The earnest and talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist followed his debut single with “Why Bother” in early 2018, and had planned to release a full-length album later that year. However, his struggles with personal and financial issues, as well as trying to juggle university studies with making music, led Lowry to put the album on hold, though he continued writing and recording new songs. Now, I’m happy to report that Lowry’s back with new music, and sounding better than ever. In July, he dropped “New Waves”, his first single in more than three years, and quickly followed a month later with “Ghosts”, then “Angel Falls” on September 10, which I’m reviewing today. The songs will be included on his forthcoming debut album Lonely War, due out later this year. I’m fortunate to have been allowed a preview of the album, and it’s quite marvelous.
Many of the songs on the album deal with darker topics like failed relationships, loss and mental health, while still offering glimmers of hope and optimism, and “Angel Falls” is no exception. The lyrics may be open to one’s own interpretation, but my take is that they’re about someone who’s losing touch with reality, and possibly having a mental breakdown or experiencing a drug overdose: “Messy wiring, Flashing images, Neurons firing, Hidden messages, Thoughts expiring, Brain cells in distress, Oh so tiring, Oh so limitless.” Lowry then softly repeats the line “I’m coming home” numerous times, which is barely audible against the droning bass, guitars and synths before he sings the chorus: “Voices in the walls, Haunting silent calls, Echo through the halls, Another angel falls.“
To drive home his message, Lowry uses a rapid driving beat that to my ears sounds like a glorious hybrid of new wave and punk, with elements of Joy Division and early The Cure. He’s a fine guitarist, and I love his edgy mix of psychedelic and jangly riffs, which are perfectly layered over a chugging bassline, assertive drumbeats and ominous swirling synths, all creating a dark, almost menacing soundscape. His vocals are understated, and sung in a somewhat monotone manner, expressing just the right amount of emotion for the music and lyrics. It’s a superb track.
As a music blogger, I’ve gotten to know hundreds or perhaps even thousands of musicians and bands over the past six years, many of whom I’ve written about on this blog. And like many relationships – whether casual or deep – that each of us form throughout our lives with neighbors, classmates, co-workers, social media followers or even fellow bloggers, the same goes for artists. For a variety of reasons, we sometimes just connect with certain people on a deeper, more meaningful level and, over time, develop a genuine friendship based on mutual admiration and respect.
One such artist I’ve grown quite fond of is Axel Jane Olsson, who along with his brother Adam make up the Swedish act Jaded Jane. Since learning about them in early 2019, I’ve come to admire these guys, both for their wonderful, uplifting music and the positive vibes they spread through their kindness, love and joy. Originally from Gothenburg, Sweden, and now split between Gothenburg and Glasgow, Scotland, the duo celebrate humanity and diversity through their music, writing compelling songs with positive, life-affirming lyrics and delivered with gorgeous piano-driven melodies and lush soundscapes. The brothers are hard-working and prolific musicians, and have released six outstanding albums since 2015, most recently Everythism in April, along with numerous singles. I’ve previously written about them three times, including an extensive artist spotlight and interview in April 2019, and a review in April 2020 of their gorgeous song “Heaven is Heart” (which ranks #71 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list). You can read those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the end of this post.
Now Jaded Jane is back with a beautiful new single “Bogotá“, which dropped September 10th. The song is a collaboration with soulful-voiced American singer-songwriter Olivia Ruff, her father Michael Ruff (a Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter and BMI and Cable Ace Award winner who’s worked with such notable artists as India Arie, Bonnie Raitt, David Sanborn, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Kenny Loggins, Ricky Lee Jones, Diane Schuur, John Lee Hooker and The Jacksons), and Swedish drummer Per Lindvall, who’s played drums for many Swedish artists and bands, including ABBA, as well as in the Michael Ruff Band.
An uplifting song about living in the present and recognizing yourself in a loved one’s smile, “Bogotá” was written by Axel in 2017 while on a plane to Colombia. For the song’s recording, he sang lead vocals, played Moog bass and various instruments, his brother Adam played acoustic guitar, Olivia Ruff sang backing vocals, Michael Ruff played piano, organ and synths, and Per Lindvall played drums. Others involved in the recording and/or production include Rubens Millet Herrera on percussion, Jerry Sillah and Bylund Strings & Horns on vocal recordings and edits, and Åke Linton on engineering and sound mixing. The beautiful artwork for the single was designed by Tora Söderberg.
The song has a breezy retro 80s pop vibe, thanks no doubt to the influence of Michael Ruff and his experience working with many artists from that time period. But it also sounds refreshing and current, with a sunny, almost exotic feel. The combination of Michael’s sparking keyboards and Axel’s pulsating Moog bass, accompanied by Per’s gentle drumbeats, make for an incredibly pleasing listen and a perfect backdrop for Axel and Olivia’s captivating vocal harmonies as they sing of love’s simple joys: “Bogotá, I see heaven in your eyes. Bogotá, you find ways to make me smile. Tonight we’ll stay in this moment, to share the purest love we have. In love, together we are strong“.
One of my favorite indie bands is Brooklyn, New York-based Mars Motel. Formed in 2017 by singer/songwriter and guitarist Sarik Kumar, their beautiful music melds a dreamy 90s Brit-pop vibe with an immersive, guitar-driven wall of sound, and highlighted by Kumar’s captivating vocals that remind me of Young the Giant’s Sameer Gadhia. They’ve undergone a few changes in lineup over time, and are now a duo consisting of Kumar and bassist Justin Lieberthal. I previously featured them on this blog twice in 2019, when I reviewed their gorgeous singles “Coming Up For Air” (which ranks at #16 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list) and “My House is About to Fall Apart”, almost two years ago to the day. You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.
After a nearly two year absence, Mars Motel is back with a brand new single “Don’t Move on Yet“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. It’s their first official release since their debut album Passenger X in October 2019, and sees them going in a slightly different direction in terms of their sound and music style. “Don’t Move on Yet” has a somewhat more introspective, laid-back feel, while still featuring their signature exquisite melodies, outstanding instrumentation and stellar arrangements. I’m glad they’re still making music, and that they haven’t lost their touch.
The music was written by Kumar and Lieberthal, and the lyrics by Kumar and his long-time friend Samuel Arnoqyan, with whom he’s been collaborating since their high school days, but never on a Mars Motel song. For the song’s recording and production, they enlisted the help of Los Angeles-based drummer Dana LaMarca to play drums, and their friend Matt Maroulakos who produced, mixed and engineered the track. Mastering was done by Mike Piacentini.
The song is haunting and beautiful, with a languid groove propelled by Liebenthal’s marvelous smoldering bassline and LaMarca’s measured, perfectly syncopated drumbeats. Kumar’s intricate chiming and psychedelic guitars are gorgeous, accompanied by spacy atmospheric synths that give the song a bit of an otherworldly feel, especially toward the end. As always, Kumar’s vocals are lovely and heartfelt as he plaintively sings the simple, yet powerful lyrics spoken from a man to his partner, trying to reason with her that he works long hours in order to make them a better life, and pleading with her to not abandon him: “I explained I worked all for you. All for you. You say that’s all I ever do. Ever do. Don’t you see that it’s only me, trying to say. And how can I show you why you should stay? Don’t move on yet.”
The arresting video was created by Noah Wilskey.
Mars Motel will be performing the single at a show on September 17 at the Mercury Lounge in New York. Check this link for ticket info.
Satin is a Los Angeles-based alternative rock band, whose music is influenced by a range of rock subgenres, including but not limited to classic, alternative, progressive, hard and even Southern rock. Fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Robert Cross, the group also includes David Bucci (lead guitar), Scott Wintermute (bass) and producer Tim Frantz (drums, keyboards). Cross also plays keyboards and synthesizers. They released their debut album Drop Dead Gorgeous in 2019, and on September 2nd, dropped their follow-up album Origami Heart, which they’ve asked me to review.
The album’s fairly long with 13 tracks, many of them addressing the minefields of love and relationships, and the heartache and pain that result when love dies or things go terribly wrong. But for the most part, the band lives up to their Satin moniker, delivering honest, relatable lyrics with pleasing melodies, tight rhythms, outstanding guitar work and Cross’s mostly laid-back vocal style.
Case in point is the pretty opening and title track “Origami Heart“, with it’s gently upbeat Southern rock vibes. The sweet lyrics celebrate the euphoria of feeling strong romantic love for another: “Oh I can’t escape the joy of being close to your nape. Feeling the softness of your skin as I catch your scent as I breathe in. As I fold you in my arms like an origami heart.” But the euphoria turns to sadness on the lovely Tom Petty-esque “Sabotage“, as Cross laments about how his actions damaged his relationship beyond repair: “It didn’t happen by accident. It didn’t come without cause. But I’ll never hold you again, as our love’s come to end. Yes I’m a master of sabotage.”
Continuing on that theme of feeling remorse, the dark “My Every Nightmare” speaks to the negative outcomes resulting from one’s self-destructive behavior: “Somehow it seems that by chasing my dreams, I made my every nightmare come true.” And on “Useless“, Cross sings of his sad realization that it’s now too late to make up for his bad behavior: “Cuz it tears at me from the inside out, knowing I was so naïve and clueless somehow. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that any love I have for you is useless now.”
Satin dip their toe into prog rock on the stunning “In This Wonderland“, one of my favorite tracks on the album. The layered jangly and psychedelic guitars are gorgeous, and the bass and measured percussion are perfection, flawlessly transitioning from subtle to tumultuous. The lyrics are filled with fairy tale references to describe feelings of losing touch with reality, unable to make sense of anything anymore: “Madness descends and surrounds me like a prison cell, As harlequins all around me chase white rabbits and dragon’s tails. This nonsense is hard to believe So forgive me if I don’t understand Cuz nothing is quite what it seems In this wonderland.”
They channel their harder rock side on “My One and Only“, where they let loose with a volley of heavy riffs and driving rhythms. Similar to “My Every Nightmare”, the lyrics speak of being unable to escape from self-destructive behaviors: “I constantly find myself wasting my precious time engaged in actions destructive to me. Deep down I know I’ve been holding on to something selfishly. My one and only love.” “Music Box” is a brief but grandiose cinematic instrumental interlude that immediately segues into “Love to Be Loved“, a lively head-bopping rocker about wanting another to love you as much as you love them.
Another favorite is “Move On“, a beautiful anthemic ballad with stirring orchestral strings and twangy guitars that lend a bit of a Western feel in the vein of great songs like “Wichita Lineman”. The poignant lyrics speak to coming to terms with the fact that a relationship is over and that it’s time to let it go and move on: “Those times went by so fast and now they’re gone. Left with the right choices and the wrong. And I’ve spent a long time waiting… And now it’s time to move on.”
Album closer “Fearless” ends things on a decidedly pessimistic note. The biting lyrics are somewhat ambiguous in that they could be directed by the singer toward another or perhaps to themselves: “Could you take a look at the lines on your face and recognize them as your own? Could you realize the scars, they can’t be erased? They only get worse as you sit there alone within your home. And there’s not a thing you can do to save your soul. Fearless as you are, you’re still out of control.” This song has a bit of prog rock feel as well, with interesting time signatures and dramatic guitar runs.
I’ll be honest, it took a couple of listens for this album to really grab me, but once it did, I came to more fully appreciate the many nuances of the music, as well as the album’s fine arrangements and production values. This is why I’m a strong believer in giving music a chance before hearing it once and quickly dismissing it. So listen to Origami Heart with open ears and an open mind, and hopefully you’ll come to like it as much as I do.
Dying Habit is an alternative rock band from the Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales, and comprised of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and their best friend Alan Hart (guitar). Formed in 2016, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock steeped in progressive undertones and teeming with complexity and nuance. I’ve followed them pretty much since their beginning, and have written about them several times on this blog, most recently last November when I reviewed their excellent debut album Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.)
In August, Dying Habit returned with a terrific new single “Think“, which will be included on their forthcoming EP Antidotes, due for release later this year. It’s a darkly beautiful banger, featuring the signature melodic time changes, compelling lyrics and brilliant instrumentation we’ve come to expect from these talented musicians. Alan’s intricate guitar work is fantastic, with so many different layers and textures at play – from lovely chiming chords to thunderous fuzz-coated chugging riffs to flourishes of screaming distortion – that it sounds like there are three guitarists instead of only one. Meanwhile, the Jones brothers drive the powerful rhythm forward with a pummeling bassline and explosive drumbeats, all working in a glorious alchemy to create a spine-tingling backdrop for Nathan’s plaintive vocals.
The band states the lyrics describe the thoughts of someone after having killed themselves: “It’s morning. I don’t know. Turning to the light for something. The sunlight is getting in my eyes. There’s only one way this day is going. Memories are coming back but I don’t know what to do. There’s blood on my face and I’m lying next to you. / I think they’re going to take me straight to hell. Demon’s taking over everything. What the hell am I supposed to do. I got a bad feeling.” While the subject is arguably grim, the song is great, and I think it just might be one of Dying Habit’s best yet.
Awen Veleda & The Wandering Lights is a Brighton, England-based music collective that brings together musicians from around the world to create a unique brand of contemporary folk. The project is headed by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mike Five (who also plays guitar for the rock band 1 in Five and co-hosts a music podcast with Dr. Bones). They’ve just released their debut EP An Alien Invasion In The Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude), a concept work exploring how people deal with the unexpected, manage change through their own beliefs and context, and find ways to work together. The name Awen Veleda is a fictitious person, with ‘Awen’ meaning inspiration, while ‘Veleda’ was a 1st century prophetess who was worshipped by Germanic peoples, and her name has come to be synonymous with inspirational wisdom.
The story for An Alien Invasion In The Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude) is set in 9th Century Britain, amid an unexpected and shocking event that unfolds through the voices of various characters, all scrambling to understand the truth and come to agreement about how to deal with it. The collaborative EP is based on an original narrative and accompanying music written by Mike Five, with lyrics and lead vocals by GRIM17. In addition to Mike Five, who played guitars, organ, piano, drums, synths, shakers, tambourines and birdsong recordings, and GRIM17, for this EP The Wandering Lights is also comprised of One Blind Mouse, who performed the string arrangements and also mixed and mastered the EP, Gemma Kirk, who sang backing vocals on “A Message to the King”, Becca Wright, who played fiddle on “The Witan” and “Chieftain Caiside”, Iona James, who sang backing vocals on “The Real Ealdorman”, Ron Bowes, who played harmonica on “The Real Ealdorman”, Sadie-Rei, who sang joint lead vocals on “Lucrezia”, and Rae Cameron, who played flute on “Lucrezia”.
In advance of the EP’s release on Bandcamp on September 3rd, The Wandering Lights have also released music videos for three of the tracks. The EP will be released on all other music streaming platforms on November 5th. They’ve included all the lyrics for each song on their Bandcamp page.
The EP begins with “A Message to the King“, which describes the adventures of two messengers who travel day and night to reach the King with the terrifying news that an army of mysterious mercenaries has invaded the eastern end of the kingdom. But this is no ordinary group of heathens, as they may not even be human. Unsure themselves of what they’ve actually seen, or that anyone would believe them, their message must reach the King at all costs.
The song opens and closes with spacey sci-fi sounds, a nod to the mysterious alien nature of the invaders. But for the bulk of the track, the music settles into a dark and haunting soundscape of mournful piano and stings, accompanied by Mike Five’s strummed acoustic guitar. GRIM17’s vocals are perfect for the song’s dark mood, and Gemma King’s ethereal choral vocals add a wonderful ghostly vibe.
For the official video, Mike Five and Co. overlaid their track onto the original video for “The King” by Italian animator Goga Mason, which was itself a retelling of the classic story of King Kong. Though it’s a fascinating and compelling video, the visuals do not match the storyline of “A Message to the King”, so I’m not sure why they would use it for this song.
On track two, “The Witan“, a quickly-assembled witan advises the King to take immediate action against the invaders, but before he acts he must uncover the facts and separate them from rumor and superstition. (In England from the 6th to 10th centuries, a witan was a wise man who advised the king on specific issues, and often a member of the Witenagemote, or assembly of wise men, which was the forerunner of the future English Parliament.) Led by a dominant thumping drumbeat overlain with moody strings and acoustic guitar and highlighted by Becca Wright’s lively fiddle, the song has an ancient Celtic feel.
“The Red Ealdorman” (an ealdorman, old English for alderman, was an official of Anglo-Saxon England appointed by the king, who was responsible for law, order, and justice in his shire and for leading his local fyrd, or militia) addresses the efforts by a particular official who’s sent by the King to raise the fyrd and gather an army in preparation for battle. Because of the unusual and potentially daunting circumstances behind their mysterious foe, the King will need all the help he can assemble, even from his enemies – in this case a Celtic Chieftain and his tribe. The prominent organ used in the track gives it a gospel feel, while Ron Bowes’ haunting harmonica and Iona James’ lovely backing vocals add a nice folk touch. Also, to my ears, GRIM17’s vocals on this track remind me a bit of U2’s Bono Hewson.
The video produced for this track enlisted the help of The Wandering Lights’ own army of music lovers from around the world, their own personal fyrd, if you will.
“Chieftain Caiside” sees the red ealdorman, aka the crimson man, meeting with the King’s nemesis Chieftain Caiside, and delivering an urgent message of peace and unity, in their common need to defeat a newfound foe. Thankfully, the chieftain is responsive, and promises his support to the King: “The crimson man rides from my sights, with a message I sent that I hope is right. I won’t be the reason for the downfall these kingdoms may yet incur. I’ve heard your words, I’ve heard your words. Uncommon enemies.” Once again, Becca Wright’s rousing fiddle is a highlight of the song.
The final track “Lucrezia” is the most beautiful of the five, and also my favorite. At this point in the saga, the King, struggling to get to the truth, comes to the realization that the unusual challenges he faces will require creative solutions. He concludes that to achieve the greater good, one sometimes has to do something possibly sinful by comporting with beings outside his own religion, and contacts the Priestess Lucrezia to see if her visions can offer guidance – whilst praying to his own God for forgiveness. “Lucrezia, you’ve been light, love and teacher, So much for so long. But once more I must beg your indulgence. Could you lend me your song?” to which she replies with promise of her assistance that also comes with a warning: “King, I lend you arm and leg so you can make amends .Abuse them not. I am nonviolent until you force my hand.”
GRIM17’s vocals are raw, plaintive and heartfelt on this track, and the silky croons of Sadie-Rei (of the California alt-pop/punk band Until Further Notice) are as enchanting as we’d expect from a priestess. I love the sounds of chirping birds, as well as Mike Five’s beautiful acoustic guitar, One Blind Mouse’s somber strings, and Rae Cameron’s captivating flute. It’s a gorgeous ending to Part 1 of this saga, which I’m now eager to watch unfold.
Music collaborations between artists seem to be more popular than ever, especially with recording and production technology that makes long-distance collaborations possible. A fine example is the new single “Take It” by Atlanta-based music project Drawing on Scars and South African singer-songwriter Jodie Reid. It’s their third collaboration together, following “Here Comes Some More” in November 2020, and their haunting single “If Only for a Little While”, released this past April.
Drawing on Scars is the creative brainchild of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Will Thacker, who for the past decade has collaborated with vocalists from across the U.S. and beyond in the creation of superb alternative rock songs. Generally, Thacker writes and performs all the music, and the different vocalists write the lyrics, which they then interpret in their own distinct style. The result is an ever-changing music repertoire that always sounds fresh and unique. Since 2019, Drawing on Scars has dropped nine singles, the latest of which is “Take It”. I’ve previously reviewed two of them, “Rewrite” and “Pressure”, which you can check out by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this post.
Jodie Reid has had music in her blood since childhood, writing her first song at the age of 12 and playing her first live performance while in college, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in Music Performance in 2018. With her strong songwriting and emotive vocal style firmly planted in a sweet spot between a pleasing lilt and impassioned wail, the Johannesburg-based artist has garnered accolades and a growing base of fans. In just two years, she’s already released three albums, most recently Robust Rebellion in July, for which Thacker performed the bass and drum parts.
“Take It” is about choices, namely the difficulty of having to decide which is the better option or road to take, which can sometimes become a paralyzing burden on both yourself as well as those around you. Reid, who wrote the lyrics, elaborates: “‘Take It’ is about a person’s inability to choose a course of action; wanting the best of both worlds but lumbering along without direction. It explores the effects of indecisiveness in close relationships and was inspired by the phrase ‘one lump or two?’ commonly used when a host is offering their guests beverages.”
The song blasts open with a barrage of scorching riffs and pummeling rhythms, before catching its breath as Reid’s vocals enter the proceedings. Sounding a bit like Paramore’s Haley Williams, she ruefully sings “Limp in as I struggle to lift the weight that your shoulders seem to carry, just by your indecisiveness. One lump or two? Given time I just might erase the burden that you bear, or maybe I’ll just yell in frustration waiting for you to choose.” Thacker’s a fine musician, and his hard-driving jagged riffs and chugging rhythms return with full force in the choruses as Reid passionately implores “Oh, tell me how do you take it? When you can’t decide which road you’re going down? Oh, tell me now do you fake it? When someone’s trying too hard to figure you out? One lump or two?”
It’s a powerful rock banger, and with three very different but equally outstanding singles to their credit, Drawing on Scars and Jodie Reid make a highly successful dream team. I hope they’ll continue to collaborate together on many more songs.
Jake LeMond is an earnest, hard-working and talented young singer-songwriter and musician based in Detroit, Michigan. With his skillful songwriting and impressive guitar work, combined with his professionalism, kind and generous personality and good looks, the gentle-voiced fellow has been making a name for himself on the crowded Michigan music scene, both as a solo artist and as guitarist for pop-rock bands Michigander (with whom he recently performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago) and Hickey Eyes, as well as a frequent collaborator with a host of other acts.
Jake’s music is a pleasing style of indie folk, with heartfelt lyrics brought to life primarily with his nimble guitar work and sweet vocals. He released his excellent debut single “5 Months (Up in Smoke)” in January 2017, and in the years since he’s dropped several more outstanding singles. His latest is “Miles“, a stunning love song released on July 28th, and for which he today premiered a wonderful accompanying video. About “Miles”, Jake explains “I wrote this song in about an hour the day after I got back from a month long tour, and it’s about being far away from someone you really care about.”
The song is gorgeous, with lush layers of strummed acoustic guitars, backed by gentle synths and punctuated by heavier guitar notes perfectly paired with bursts of percussion that provide drama as the track unfolds. The arrangement and recording production by Ben Fisher are flawless, as are the mixing by Jake Rye and mastering by The Foxboro. Jake’s soothing vocals are beautiful too, turning more impassioned as he longingly croons “I’m miles, and miles, and miles away from you.”
The delightful video shows Jake searching for something through a vintage collectibles shop, then he suddenly spots a child’s rocking horse. After a bit of back and forth with the guy working in the shop (also played by Jake), he leaves and is shown doing a number of unpleasant odd jobs to earn the money to buy the horse. He returns to the shop, buys the horse and places it in the back of his old white pickup. The video ends with him riding the horse, as if he’s on his way to see his loved one.
While Chicago-based rockers Guardrail don’t take themselves too seriously – they describe themselves as “the world’s first Diet Punk band, just a combination of ‘pop’ and ‘punk’ that uses Splenda instead of real sugar, and because of that, until you get used to us, we’re going to leave a bad taste in your mouth” – they’re quite serious about making the best music possible. Their hard-hitting, high-energy style of rock is a happy blend of punk, pop and metal, which on some songs reminds me of such acts as Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41 and even the Beastie Boys. Formed in 2014, the band has undergone several changes in lineup, and now consists of Kevin Andrew (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar, vocals), Alyssa Laessig (bass, vocals) and Doug Brand (drums). (Ken is also guitarist for Chicago bands The Million Reasons, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog, and Wild Gravity.)
They released their debut EP Wordswords in 2015, which they followed two years later with Par at Best. Since cementing their current lineup in 2018, they’ve released several singles and in September 2020, dropped their third EP Yikes. Now they’re back with a new single “Social Meteor“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. True to form, Guardrail delivers a relentless barrage of jagged riffs, chugging bass and explosive drums to drive home their timely message of our cultural addiction to social media, and its pernicious effect on our sense of identity and self-worth.
Kevin and Alyssa sing the biting lyrics with forceful intensity, powerfully expressing their exasperation with things and feelings of helplessness to do anything about it: “There’s real human contact beyond my fingertips, but I couldn’t give a shit. There’s an object unidentified approaching me (Oh wait!), it’s just my self-doubt and uncertainty. Why can’t I come back down? I’m stuck in the stratosphere. My lack of satisfaction left me stranded out here. How should I know what they expect from me? I’ll just write another paragraph and run away from my fear.”
“Social Meteor” is a rousing banger of a tune, and I think it’s one of Guardrail’s best songs yet. The fun video shows snippets of each bandmembers individually performing the song, as well as serving as judges of a low-budget talent show.
5ON5 is a collaborative music project based in Berlin, Germany, and consisting of four distinctly unique artists who’ve come together to make music that, in their own words, is “a little new, a little naughty, and a bit different.” The quartet itself is a bit different, its members spanning two generations and coming from very different music backgrounds. The brainchild of Max Koffler, a singer-songwriter, musician and producer with over 20 years of experience in the music industry, and who’s previously released two albums Taboo and GAMES as a solo artist, the project also includes singer-songwriter and producer $INAN (aka Sinan Pakar), rapper and visual artist Maxx B, and singer Yumin. Their unusual name 5ON5 was born out of Max’s music label sonsounds, and reflects their eclectic mix of music genres and styles, including EDM, synthpop, hip hop and alternative rock.
Over the past year so so, Max and $INAN have been writing songs for their upcoming EP, which the group then came together to record. The first single is “Runaway”, actually a ‘maxi-single’, featuring an original version of the song, along with a special party remix. Drum production was performed by Steve van Velvet, and piano by Hansol Cho. Both tracks were mixed and mastered by Jeson Huang.
The song is infectious as hell, with a wonderful uptempo groove that finds its sweet spot between dubstep and EDM, though the beat most definitely compels our hips to move. Things start off with a simple keyboard riff, then a dominant pulsating bass line enters, putting the track on a solid footing. As the song unfolds, 5ON5 gradually layers a rich palette of swirling synths, lovely piano keys, crisp percussion and edgy surf guitars to create an enchanting soundscape awash in colorful textures and sounds.
But as good as the instruments are, the contrasting vocals and pleasing harmonies of the four members are the real highlight for me. Max’s echoed vocals are sung mostly in a higher register just below a falsetto, giving his verses a mysterious, almost otherworldly vibe. $INAN mumble raps his verses, then with near-perfect harmony, he, Max, Yumin and Maxx B sing the chorus “Would you run away from me, away with me, away with me, would you run away now?”
The cool animated video shows the band members walking through a landscape by both day and night, fleeing from troubles and ultimately emerging free and into the light.
The party remix was created by Max, and to my ears sounds pretty similar to the original, other than having a somewhat sharper and cleaner sound with sparser synths. The accompanying video is similar to the main version, except that it’s produced in dark blue hues.