GRACE-ATTALIE – Single Review: “Polluted: The Medley”

Though the music I’ve written about on this blog has more often than not involved various forms of rock, folk, electronic or pop, as EclecticMusicLover I do like to feature other genres as well, especially from countries outside the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Today I have the pleasure of featuring singer/songwriter Grace-Attalie, a young woman with one of the most amazing and distinctive vocal styles I’ve heard in a long while. Originally from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and now based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Grace uses her soulful voice like a musical instrument, producing exquisite vocal sounds and textures with such incredible depth and emotional range that they leave me speechless.

In December 2018, she released her marvelous debut EP Polluted, featuring three excellent songs drawing from soul, jazz, Latin and African music influences. Now, she’s released a new medley of the three tracks, entitled simply “Polluted: The Medley“, along with a video of her performing the song with musicians Ngwato Mapalakanye on guitar and Joe Simoz on drums. The video was beautifully filmed in subdued light with cool blue tones by photographer and cinematographer Ryan Jarrett.

Though each of the three songs – “Eggshell”, “Standards” and “Sombre Storm” – are distinctly different, they’re artfully melded together seamlessly in the medley to flow as one flawlessly smooth and gorgeous composition. Simoz taps out the sultry tempo that hovers somewhere between a Latin and African-flavored jazz beat. Backed by airy synths and a sensual bass line, Mapalakanye’s strummed electric guitar notes are sublime, and a perfect complement to Grace’s lush vocals that go from breathy purr to deep smoke. It’s an absolutely captivating track.

To more fully appreciate Grace-Attalie’s astonishing vocal talents, spend a few extra minutes and listen to the three wonderful original songs here:

Connect with Grace-Attalie on Twitter
Stream “Polluted” on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

DEREK SCHMIDT – Album Review: “Major Arcana”

Derek Schmidt Major Arcana

Derek Schmidt is an imaginative and talented queer composer, songwriter, and sound designer based in San Francisco, and he’s created one of the most uniquely wonderful and ambitious musical works I’ve ever come across. With over 15 years experience working and performing in the Bay Area in solo performances and as front man for three different acts – folk band All My Pretty Ones, queer electronic band Adonisaurus, and Oakland electronic band Partyline  – Derek has produced numerous albums across many genres, and has been a featured composer on independent film and performance art projects, including the feature length film Home And How To Break It. Most recently, on March 1st he released an opus concept album Major Arcana, a monumental 22-song interpretation of the trump cards (or major arcana) of the tarot deck.

The album was a five-year-long undertaking made possible through the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Individual Artist Grant, one of the city’s most prestigious awards for individual artists. Each song explores one of the 22 trump cards, from 0 The Fool to 21 The World (Universe). As Derek explains: “Each card is a meditation on the symbolism within that card, as well as my own personal relationship to the card. Utilizing samples as a form of sympathetic magic, a mixture of both personal and more transcendent lyric writing, acoustic and electronic arrangements in combination with lush harmonies, Major Arcana has become a set of exploratory rituals attempting to capture the wisdom of each card, for myself and for everyone.

Derek Schmidt2

With a running time of one hour and 38 minutes, listening to this album is an immersive experience. If you allow yourself the freedom to do so, you can easily get lost in its enthralling soundscape of electronic dream pop magic. Musically, the album features a bold array of synthesizer sounds and textures, complemented by Derek’s enchanting ukelele. I’ve never fully appreciated just how beautiful music from a ukelele can be, but Derek draws forth sounds that are exquisite and utterly charming.

I generally tend to discuss or at least mention every track on my album reviews, but with 22 of them on Major Arcana, doing so would turn this review into a thesis. So, I’ll instead touch on some of what I consider to be highlights or my personal favorites. The album opens with “0 The Fool”, named for the first card of the tarot deck. One of my favorite tracks on the album, it perfectly showcases Derek’s skill at using synthesizers to create richly complex musical compositions. He employs all sorts of exotic and quirky synths, pulsating drumbeats and clicks, over which he layers his lovely strummed ukelele, and the result is an absolutely captivating song. Derek’s pleasing vocals have an earnest vulnerability as he sings: “Before I begin, and after I’m gone. That’s where I’ll be. That’s where I belong. Not afraid anymore, my arms open wide./ What is real, always was. And cannot be destroyed. And a fool for me. I’m a fool for you.”

Derek continues to explore each card in the tarot deck, artfully tailoring the synth sounds and song lyrics to the card’s themes.  Swirling spacey synths highlight “I The Magician” and “II The High Priestess”, with the latter featuring sharp thunderbolt-like sounds that conjure up images of spells being cast. The exuberant horn synths at the beginning of “IV The Emperor” symbolize the power and majesty of the position, and Derek’s ukelele riff later in the song is sublime.

On “VI The Lovers”, Derek uses sunny, whimsical synths as a backdrop for his lyrics extolling the joy of his love affair: “I love to love my lover so. To understand all that I don’t. It’s his fluency, won’t scare me. We laugh like kids, we find out things./ Where I am and where do you begin?” “IX The Hermit” sees him pondering loneliness and isolation: “It all comes down to a room of one’s own./ And all I need is a little more time. A few more hours in the day, and then I’ll turn to everything I’ve put aside. / Rearrange the furniture and open windows, give yourself some air.” And on the gorgeous “XI Lust”, he expresses ardent desire and passion through dramatic, soaring synths.

As would be expected, “XII The Hanged Man” is dark, with moody synths, a mournful backing chorus and a pensively strummed ukelele, accompanied by a funereal march drum roll. Derek sings of things from the point of view of a man about to be executed: “Hanged man sees it differently. Upside down, blood rushing to my head. Unfriendly faces become smiles instead. How many times have I been here before? Caught up, emotionless and always wanting more.” “XIII Death”, on the other hand, is not at all depressing, and in fact is one of the more beautiful songs on the album, with glittery, uplifting synths and Derek’s soaring ethereal vocals. He envisions life’s end as a new beginning: “A great unknown, behind the door. The ocean floor. A mystery yet to solve. The ones unmet. The tears unshed.”

A standout track is the mesmerizing and powerful “XIV Art”, for which Derek has created a fantastic video with the help of visual artist Video Hole (J Mason Buck).

Another of my favorites is “XVI The Tower”, one of the more musically complex tracks on Major Arcana. It’s a rather melancholy song, yet contains many beautiful and melodic passages that continually surprised and held my interest at it unfolded. And “XVII The Star” is pure delight, with its spacey sci-fi synths, sweeping melodies and lovely ukelele. “XVIII The Moon” is another highlight, and was the first song Derek wrote for the card cycle. In an interview with webzine Out Loud Culture!, he explained: “I was inspired by the meaning of the card, which usually involves ideas around intuition, illusion, and a general mystery. To me the moon is an ever present set of symbols like all of the cards that capture some aspect of the human condition. It’s a playful card but it can be bewildering, and I loved writing a song about that mystery. It was like a meditation.”

Closing the album is “XXI The Universe”, an appropriately epic six and a half-minute-long fantasia of glorious sound. Derek pulls out all the stops in creating a song of such incredible beauty and nuance that it takes my breath away. He uses a dazzling array of intricate synths ranging from glittery keyboards and shimmery strings to sharp industrial, sci-fi and atmospheric sound effects. All of this is of course accompanied by his beautifully strummed ukelele and richly-layered ethereal vocals. It’s one of the most spectacular tracks on the album, and a fitting conclusion to this magnificent and monumental work.

Connect with Derek:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream on Spotify
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / cdbaby

TED KENNEDY – Single Review: “Not Enough”

Ted Kennedy is a producer/composer of electronic music based in Toronto, Canada. He’s been producing and recording music for several years, and released his first EP Late in 2014, and followed two years later with a second EP Lost, both of which contain some very solid tracks. He also curates a weekly live show called Frequencies, featuring live sets from forward-thinking electronic artists, producers, and MC’s. The shows take place on the third Thursday of every month at Handlebar in Toronto.

After a bit of a hiatus, Ted is once again recording more songs, and released a new single “Forty” earlier this year. Now he returns with another single “Not Enough“, which dropped on April 12. About his latest single, Ted told me “Like a lot of music I have been writing recently, ‘Not Enough’ is inspired by the sounds of Toronto’s underground electronic music scene. Curating Frequencies, I’m constantly blown away by the amount of talent here. It’s tough to be an artist in this city; rents are high, venues are closing, and platforms big enough to give artists any meaningful exposure are nearly non-existent. Everyone has day jobs, roommates, and bedroom studios. Despite the challenges, artists put in the work and create great things. This song is inspired by those artists, their sounds, their creativity, their energy. I just hope I did them justice.”

On “Not Enough”, Ted employs a strong thumping EDM beat and moody, pulsating synths that give the track a bit of a Depeche Mode vibe. In fact, his deep, sultry vocals even sound a bit like Dave Gahan’s here. The driving dance beat is hypnotic and seductive, compelling us to move as it carries us away to a dark, yet dreamy place. Throughout, Ted uses deep bass and fuzzy, otherworldly synths to give the track added texture and depth. I found myself getting lost in the music, not wanting the song to end.

The lyrics speak of a love affair in tatters, in which the love they had is no longer enough to sustain the relationship:

Damn taste of love is all I know
It’s always on, not enough
Your love is my own ruin
A quiet knot undone

Our love is all in cinders
Our love is not enough
I’m always in the windows
I’m always on the run

Ted will be performing “Not Enough” at Handlebar on Thursday, April 18 as part of his Frequencies series.

Connect with Ted on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud

MADE OF EYES – Single Review: “Room to Breathe”

As I’ve noted in some of my recent posts, a great many artists and bands that I’ve previously featured on this blog are releasing new music in 2019, and another is the Scottish alternative rock band Made of Eyes. I last wrote about them way back in November 2016, when I was blown away by their gorgeous emotionally-charged single “Wishing Well” (you can read that review here). They subsequently released their EP Bonds in 2017, which included “Wishing Well” and three other excellent tracks. Following that release, the Glasgow-based act went through a period of transition due to the departure of two of the band’s four members, resulting in a what front man JR refers to as a ‘mental hiatus’. In 2018, they acquired a new bassist, so the current lineup now consists of JR Campbell on guitar & lead vocals, Jason Stewart on lead guitar & vocals, and Liam Browne on bass.

Made of Eyes has just released their first single “Room to Breathe” as a newly-configured band. With their new single, the band states they “aim to mark a new direction, delivering a pop element, experimenting with dreamy chords, electronic sounds and memorable melodies.” Listening to “Room to Breathe”, I say they succeed quite nicely. The song is somewhat more pop-oriented than their previous harder-hitting songs, though it still features their signature dynamic guitar work and strong percussion. Opening with an airy synth, the song quickly expands into a beautiful soundscape of chiming guitars and lush, shimmery synths, backed by a pulsating bass line and galloping percussion. The layered guitar work is really impressive, threading its way among the sweeping synths and powerful drumbeats.  JR’s resonant vocals are filled with raw emotion as he sings to a loved one about trying to recapture the spark that initially drew them together, in the hope of saving their troubled relationship:

It’s been a weight on my shoulders for days
It’s been the choices we failed to make
We’re like a book with a missing page
Unless we find it, we can’t be saved

And I believe in you
And I believe in us, I believe in trust
And it’s you and I tonight
And these moments will pass by
And just remember the promises
That you made to me
We needed room to breathe

It’s a great song, and an excellent harbinger of more great music to come from Made of Eyes. Nice work guys!

Connect with Made of Eyes:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

JADED JANE – Artist Spotlight & Interview

I’ve commented previously on this blog about my continual amazement at the sheer magnitude of enormously talented musicians around today who are creating incredible music. In such a seemingly overcrowded industry, it’s inevitable that so many of these musicians and bands struggle to get their music heard, despite the ready availability of a staggering amount of it that’s free for the taking (which as we all know is another entire set of issues). That’s where music bloggers like myself come in, writing about indie artists we like and helping to spread the word about their music and hopefully gain them a few more followers and fans. With that in mind, today I have the pleasure of introducing to my readers the remarkably talented and undeniably charismatic Olsson brothers Axel and Adam who call themselves Jaded Jane.

Jaded Jane 2

Originally from Gothenburg, Sweden, but now split between Gothenburg and Glasgow, Jaded Jane seeks to celebrate humanity and diversity through their music, writing compelling songs with positive, life-affirming lyrics. Drawing upon a wide range of influences such as pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip-hop, they create beautiful, piano-driven melodies and lush soundscapes. Since 2015 they’ve produced four excellent albums, and are now recording their fifth, due for release later this year. I reached out to Jaded Jane to talk about themselves and their music, and was happy Axel agreed to share some of their story.

EML:  Hello Axel. Thank you for agreeing to talk with me. First off, by way of introductions, tell me a little about Jaded Jane – when did you guys form the band, and how did you and your brother Adam decide on the name “Jaded Jane”?

Axel:  Thanks Jeff. I am super glad to be part of your music blog. Jaded Jane and the musical adventure of brothers Axel and Adam Jane Olsson began in our early youth, being the sons of musician Christer Olsson (Plums, Noll 31, Scandinavian 5) and a mother with a passion for music. Growing up to the sounds of Motown, The Beatles and Michael Jackson, to name a few, it was only natural for us to develop a keen sense of melody, harmony and originality. We grew up in the Gothenburg, Sweden suburb of Hammerhill, and our path eventually lead us to New York & Los Angeles, where we spent ten years back and forth immersing ourselves with some of the most inspiring musicians on Earth. The name Jaded Jane came to me in a dream in 2013, when I was living in New York. The name deals with the jaded aspect of the modern human being. Jaded Jane is also a song from our debut album Diversity, and is about life, death and meaning. The name ‘Jane’ has an androgynous quality that is inclusive and gender neutral.

EML:  What prompted you to make those moves from Sweden to Los Angeles and New York, and why did you choose to leave New York for Glasgow, rather than return to Sweden? Does Glasgow have a more thriving music scene?

Axel:  It’s been a long road moving back and forth to New York, Los Angeles and now Glasgow. We came home to Sweden for a few years after New York, and then we ended up collaborating with a few Scottish artists which led us to Glasgow. It is a vibrant music city, with areas that remind me of Brooklyn, NY.  When you are moving to a new city you are putting yourself in a whole new world, which sculpts you into another story and adventure, I have always been excited about learning and growing on all fields as a human being. So I am now in Glasgow, while Adam is still based in Gothenburg.

EML:  Your music is beautiful and uplifting, and your songs offer positive, life-affirming messages. What is the inspiration behind your music and sound?

Axel:  That means a lot to hear that the songs & music spread those messages. We feel that the music we create is greater than us and has the power to heal by touching people on a deeper level. By being brutally honest with ourselves, we allow others to feel that side of us. The things that are the most personal are ultimately the most universal. My inspiration comes from experiencing all of life’s challenges, both the highs and lows.  From a young age, me and Adam starting asking questions about our society, and felt an urge to share our musical stories with other people in hope that it will touch and lift someone who is low.

EML:  Do you both write the songs and lyrics together? And do you both play all the instruments and synths yourselves, or do you work with other session musicians to help create your music?

Axel:  I have written all the songs on the albums released thus far, and we do play all of the instruments. However, on the new album “117” we’re currently working on, Adam is featuring two of his new songs. Adam plays fretless bass, guitar and sings, and I play the piano, synthesizers and also recording and producing the tracks. We previously collaborated with guitarist Mike Stern on our first album Diversity, and L.A.-based soul singer Frank McComb on The Puzzle, an album we made prior to becoming Jaded Jane. But our journey really took off in a new direction while meeting our third member Åke Linton, a sound artist from Sweden who is now part of creating the soundscapes and sounds of Jaded Jane.

EML:  The track “Crystal Stair” on your latest album Salvation is an intriguing song. How did you discover that speech from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and why did you choose to build a song around it?

Axel:  The whole Salvation album was recorded live in a studio in Gothenburg, on Queen’s old console and the song “Crystal Stair” was just a small improvised part that came from one of the sessions. Both me and Adam have always been inspired by Martin Luther King, and we thought it’d be cool to have his voice on top of the melodies and sounds of the improvised piece.

EML:  I was touched by your recent Instagram post about your struggles and frustrations with trying to make it in this very tough music business. Your music is so wonderful, and you guys need to be heard by a larger audience, which is why I’m happy to feature you on my little music blog. That said, one of the issues I think is that today, most people seem to prefer hip-hop, Country or rock music, rather than beautiful, piano-based easy listening compositions like yours. Yes, there is still a niche for your genre of music, and there are successful artists making music similar to yours such as James Blake and Sufjan Stevens, but they often collaborate with hip hop or other artists to appeal to a wider audience. You’ve stated that you would like to collaborate with other artists, and in fact have a couple of times, like you did with rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) on the track “Life” from your album “One Way”, but that it’s been a struggle getting more artists to collaborate. Any thoughts?

Axel:  You are very right, It is a big challenge to get people to listen to a full song nowadays, even though you spent your whole life building and working on your craft, The masses seem to react to the loudest playing songs. I am looking forward to writing and recording more with similar minded artists, The struggle in paying rent and earning money for food has and I am guessing will always be there when it comes to true artistry, I am a full time busker / street performer in Glasgow at the moment, and that has definitely made me humble in how hard it can be to earn money; it gives you a whole new respect for how to use them.

The music business is a tough field to be in, I have always felt and I know Adam felt it too. We are outside of the business, however, we the songwriters and artists are what makes it possible to make a business out of it, so I am determined to find out what’s going on.

EML:  Your press release states that you’re managed by Scirca Music Group. Some artists & bands choose to hire a management company or PR firm to help them, while others wish to do everything themselves. Have you found it helpful to work with a manager?

A year ago I reached out through social media in search for a music publisher and manager, which got me in contact with the newly started Scirca Music Group. It has been a learning experience for both me and Adam and for the management company, as they are just starting out. I would like to encourage other artists to learn about how it all works, and how it is built up, that is the key to understanding and hopefully knowing where you want to go from there.

EML:  What are you guys working on now? Any plans for another album?

Axel:  As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been recording a new album “117” to be released later this year. It’s being recorded and mixed by our Sound Artist Åke Linton. I’m singing & playing on an old upright piano, and Adam is playing a Spanish nylon guitar & also singing some vocals. The last pieces of the songs on ”117” are being recorded with string arranger & producer Mattias Bylund adding a cello to the songs by cellist David Bukovinszky. Last but not least, I am laying down the bass lines on a 1976 Moog Synthesizer and warm analog pads on a 1980s Korg Polysix. We just shot the first music video for our upcoming single ”Trapped”. It was exciting and it turned out great.

EML: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Jaded Jane that I’ve neglected to ask?

Axel:  Yes, we want to share our message of “Ignorance Separates, Music Unites”. We want to take a stand even more, making it clearer that we are for all human beings,  especially the ones without a voice. Equality, Humanism, and Reverence for the Beauty and Majesty of Nature are all subjects we care about.

We are from the “hood” of our hometown and we wish to display a different side [to that part of the Gothenburg area] than what is mainly portrayed in media with their car fires, etc. The growth of racist/nationalistic political parties such as SD* is something that we want to be an antidote for. We’ve always stayed clear of politics in our music but when it comes to these ethical & moral values we want to be very clear that we stand for diversity, equality and lifting positive stories about the “hood” which almost always have been a place of brotherhood and acceptance for us. Yes there are problems, but there need to be a more nuanced and balanced portrayal in media. We want to do our part as a counterweight to the negative.

* SD stands for Sweden Democrats, ironically, a socially conservative and far right-wing populist political party.

So lets dig a bit into Jaded Jane’s wonderful catalog and get a feel for their music. They released their debut album Diversity in 2015, a genre-bending work featuring eight tracks drawing upon pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip hop elements. As the title suggests, the songs address uplifting themes of embracing diversity and working together to make the world a better place. Every track on the album is superb, but my favorites are the lovely ballad “Jaded Jane”, the anthemic “After”, “Meaningful Destiny”, with its beautiful piano and shimmering guitar, the funky “The Cure”, with guest vocals from rapper KJ Denhert, and the soulful and fun “Walk the Walk”. Their musicianship and knack for writing infectious melodies that hook us in right from the start are impressive, and I love Axel’s casual vocal style that frequently breaks into a crooning falsetto.

In February 2017, they released their fantastic second album One Waywhich saw them branch out and further experiment with their sound by incorporating more complex and multi-textured synthesizers, deep bass lines and trap beats into their soulful mix. The highlights here are “Tell Me What”, with spacey synths and a funky bass line that’ll rock your world, “Breathing”, with colorful psychedelic synths and guitar chords that are fucking magical, and “Life”, a brilliant track featuring killer rap verses by British rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) that beautifully complement Axel’s falsetto vocals. The uplifting lyrics speak of not letting your past troubles define you or keep you from realizing your dreams: “Living life just watch me risk it, made mistakes but don’t regret ’em / I put on a happy face to hide where I come from / Put your knife down, listen to my rhyme / Everything’s gonna be alright.

Only eight months later, Jaded Jane dropped yet another album Always & Forever, once again going off in another direction with their sound. This time, Axel’s beautiful piano playing takes center stage, with the songs all featuring sublime piano-driven melodies that take their music toward an ambient, easy-listening vibe. In describing his inspiration for the album, Axel wrote as if speaking to his father: “When I sat down by the piano I could feel your presence. I let the songs happen the way they were meant to. Through music we can communicate with another world, here it is, and it is for you, in the here and now and in the hereafter.” The beautiful title track “Always & Forever” is a moving tribute to their father. “Hard to believe that you are gone this time. Oh give me strength to carry on. Easy to smile when you are by my side. You’ll live forever in my heart.” The video was filmed on a snowy night in Gothenburg.

The opening song “Serendipity” is a serene, 13-minute long piece of atmospheric heaven, with extended runs of delicate piano, guitar and whispery synths that are mesmerizing. The song begins as an instrumental-only track that seems to end at around 3:45 minutes, then starts back up at 4:00, this time with Axel’s tender vocals singing the praises of their father: “It was your light. It was your love, that shone through all of us.” This portion of the song ends with a gradual fade-out of reverb at around 8:45, only to start back up at 9:30 with sparse piano keys, accompanied by strummed guitar and whispery synths that throb until the end of the song.

Jaded Jane Salvation

Their fourth and most-recent album is the gorgeous Salvation. Released in November 2018, the album continues with what Jaded Jane refers to as their “exploration of soulful soundscapes of consciousness” that we loved on Always & Forever.  The entire album flows like an atmospheric river of mesmerizing piano-driven sound, enveloping and transporting us to a comforting place of love, peace and serenity. The beautiful title track “Salvation” has simple, spiritual lyrics that speak to finding peace of mind and salvation in the hereafter: “I’ll stay right here, through my last tears. Ain’t got nothing left to fear. Salvation. It’s the longest street, I will follow thee to another space and time. I will walk this road, never looking down, to the place that we’ll call home.”

Another standout track is “Ethereal”, which lives up to its name with breathtaking atmospheric music. Axel’s piano work is absolutely stunning, backed by sweeping glittery synths, gently thumping drumbeats and Adam’s subtle guitar notes.

“Orion” is a beautiful instrumental track, consisting of only delicate piano, gentle drumbeats and whispy ambient background synths. Though over five minutes long, it seems much shorter. The track segues uninterrupted into album closer “Crystal Stair”, with a continuation of the gentle drumbeats and whispy synths. At one minute, words from a famous 1960 speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Spelman College enter: “Your life’s blueprint must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice. Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them. Don’t allow anybody to cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice. However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live.

The track encapsulates the message of love, tolerance and social justice that Jaded Jane seeks to spread by Salvation, and with all their songs. I greatly admire these guys, both in terms of the wonderful music they make, and the positive vibes they spread through their kindness, love and joy. I cannot wait to hear their new album.

Connect with Jaded Jane:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

ROADKEEPER – Single Review: “Old Man’s War”

Roadkeeper

It always makes me happy when I discover a new band and instantly love their music. I was so impressed by the beautiful songs of the band Roadkeeper that I had to write a review of their latest single “Old Man’s War“. The Tyler, Texas- based group was formed less than a year ago by producer/vocalist John Eric Hetherington and drummer Nick Cogdill, who both previously played in the post-punk group Knifight, as well as guitarist Trevor Tull and bassist Daniel Griffith, all of whom are long-time friends. Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio – dubbed ‘Yacht Country’ – and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament.

Blending dreamy shoegaze with dramatic psychedelic rock, Roadkeeper crafts exquisite songs that envelop us with complex melodies and lush soundscapes, while delivering compelling lyrics that give us something to think about. Beginning in the fall of 2018, they released a series of singles, starting with “God in the Light of the Bar”, a laid-back song with shimmering guitars, horns and breezy synths, and “The Creeps”, a beautiful, anthemic song about emotional manipulation and abuse. In February 2019, they released their mesmerizing third single “Gushers”, which the band explains “deals with recent years’ murders of unarmed black people by police officers, and the way law enforcement and apologists reframe the job of police officer as a war or conflict between the just and unjust. Also how privileged people are starting to reframe their own lives and minor struggles as heroes journeys.”

Now the band follows up with their fourth single “No Man’s War” a melancholy but beautiful song about anxiety and worry over things, both real and imagined. The song starts off with a mix of both chiming and strummed acoustic guitars, as John sings in soft, breathy vocals of his fears:

I’m afraid of so many things
What the hell am I doing
Waiting for a change
People never change
And I’m stuck inside my heart
Waiting for someone to pick me up
And tell me everything’s OK
That it’s only just a dream
Wait and see

The music swells with lush shimmery synths, fuzzy bass and chiming guitars as he tries to convince himself that all is right with the world and he’s got nothing to worry about:

No disease is coming for me
And no conditions waiting to take you from me
And the world is happy
No one is dying
The ice isn’t melting
And everyone can be themselves

The dramatic sweeping synths continue during the bridge, then abruptly end, leaving us with just a simple strummed acoustic guitar as John reaffirms his anxieties and feelings of pessimism in the final verse:

I’m afraid of so many things
Every time I read
What’s breaking in the world
I lose a piece of me
To an old man’s war
They won’t be around to pick it up
When everything falls down

With “No Man’s War”, Roadkeeper continue to bat a thousand, delivering their fourth consecutive win in the form of a perfect song. I’m happy to be following this talented group of guys, and excited to hear what they come up with next!

Connect with Roadkeeper:  Facebook / Twitter  / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

FOSTER THE PEOPLE Release Dark & Surreal Video For “Style”

Foster the People Style Art

Foster the People are one of my favorite bands (see the header photo on my Twitter page), so I’m always thrilled when they release new music and videos. For those not familiar with the band, the members include front man and lead vocalist Mark Foster, drummer Mark Pontius, and multi-instrumentalists Isom Innis and Sean Cimino.

Foster the People

Their latest single “Style“, which dropped on March 22nd, is a departure both musically and stylistically (no pun intended) from their last few singles “Worst Nights”, “Ride or Die” and “Sit Next to Me”, all of which had a more laid-back and upbeat pop sensibility. “Style” is darker in tone, with gnarly synths, buzz-saw riffs and deep, pulsating bass that give the track a gritty, heavier vibe. As the track unfolds and Foster’s fervent vocals enter, a catchy, toe-tapping beat kicks in, along with additional spacey and melodic synths that provide a nice counterpoint to the driving bass line. I’ve had this song on repeat all morning, and can’t get enough of it!

Lyrically, “Style” sees the band taking a stand on issues facing society today, and is a clarion call for people to speak their truths with courage, and rise up against the tyranny imposed by those seeking to keep us enslaved through fear, thought control or craven appeals to greed. About the song, Foster recently explained on Twitter: “I’ve been wrestling with certain themes since we put out “Torches”. I guess it’s my way of processing the law of chaos and random happenings in our universe. There is hope for the underdog. I like to fight from the ropes. I never like to feel like I’m on top of the hill…this song is another facet of that same story. When we face the question of our own mortality, we are free to live our lives without fear.”

The surreal, richly chromatic video for “Style”, which was written and directed by Foster and produced by Sam Canter & Julia Rudyak, opens with Foster sitting with the other band members in a red-lit room, then getting up and walking over to balcony, whereupon he addresses a rapt crowd in a dark warehouse/club (reminding me a bit of Evita speaking to her public from a balcony). Foster sings to the crowd: “We’re born to die so I’m gonna fight for how I wanna live. Spark up the riots, I guess I’m a criminal and futurist. Well the charges I’ve caught won’t stand your trial. You can take it out on me.”

Foster the People Style pic

We’re next transported to the floor of the warehouse, where Foster and the band confront a large, glowing orb surrounded by ornately-dressed people who seem to be worshiping it like a scene out of Game of Thrones. Walking through a line of people with the band members behind him, Foster proclaims: “We’re in the lions den, consumption is our medicine, And so I’m high again, you can say I’m a true American, Well the sweetest revenge is being set free. But you can’t take it from me, yeah.”

Foster the People Paperheads

Meanwhile, a group of men in business suits with stacks of paper for heads are seen walking toward the warehouse, then ram their way into the building. Once the Paperheads are inside, the band pours gasoline onto the orb and sets it afire, whereupon the worshipers flee the building while Foster sings “Take me out, take me out in style. If you’re gonna fight me Fight me in style. If you’re gonna hate me Hate me in style. If you’re gonna love me Do it in style. Yeah, just do it in style.” The Paperheads then take bits of ash from the burnt up orb, place it into an ornate silk-lined box, and take it to a dark, red-lit room where there’s a thin and bald man in leather pants chained to the wall next to a chubby Paperhead sitting in a chair, smoking a large joint. They place a spoonful of ash into a chalice and feed it to both men, at which point the video abruptly ends. Could the ash represent truth or something that will enable free thought? Watch the fantastic video and decide for yourself:

Connect with Foster the People:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify /  Apple Music /  Google Play /  YouTube
Purchase:  iTunes /  Amazon

DAY – Single Review: “Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound”

Day single art

Like many people, British singer/songwriter James Day, performing under the artistic moniker Day, has become weary of the deep political divide that’s plagued The United Kingdom over the past several years with regard to Brexit. Wanting to spread a message of hope and understanding, he released a new single “Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound” in March 2019, along with a video showing him performing the song in the studio and on the streets of what I’m guessing is London, along with images of different cities and peoples throughout the UK and Europe. Taking a neutral stance, Day advocates that people must come together for the greater good, and that democracy must always prevail to ensure the continued trust of the people in their democratically elected government.

Day3

About the song, Day explains “‘Keep The Euro, Keep The Pound’ is about our modern world, it’s togetherness, love, hope ingenuity and inventiveness. Over the past 12 months we’ve been touring Europe and doing art and music. Learning the different cultures and traditions and seeing the history and landmarks whilst interacting with the locals who all are so friendly. Europe is such a rich and diverse mix of cultures and traditions, steeped in history that captivates tourists the world over every year by it’s beauty and ability to intrigue romantics. Visiting Malta, Milan, Sicily, Cyprus, Barcelona, Malaga, Bruges, Paris, Kiev, Lviv, Kharkiv and London to name a few, the 12-month tour of Europe was eye opening and enriching, and helped ideas flow for the new album called ‘Day the Album’ that we are currently working on.”

Musically, the song is a catchy rock tune with some nice guitar work, accompanied by subtle bass and snappy drumbeats. Day’s vocals are commanding as he passionately urges people and politicians to stop fighting with one another, find common ground and complete the will of the British voters.

So why’s it so hard to complete?
Are we controlled by the elite?
Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound
I’m sure we’ll find some common market ground

People want their country back
The farmers want their farms
The fishermen to fish again between Dover and France
It’s easy to forget, that just with half a chance
We liberated all of it by entering through France

Why we diluting all the truth and screening bad press news?
No use in going a second round
We gotta find us some common market ground

Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound
I’m sure we’ll find some common market ground

People got their voices so, give ’em sound
stead of controlling situations by just keeping ’em down
Keep society together with the freedoms they’ve earned
and improve their way of living with the lessons we’ve learnt

We’ll trade with you anyway, just gotta go our own way.
Live in the future, ain’t to live in the past
It’s your people gonna make the EU last

And see the gathering crowd, why don’t you give ’em sound?
They all got choices, they all got voices
and they can make their countries proud

Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound
I’m sure we’ll find some common market ground

Connect with Day:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase on  Soundcloud / iTunes 

RUBBER CLOWN CAR – Album Review: “Horse Logic”

Rubber Clown Car album

One of my absolute favorite-named bands has got to be Rubber Clown Car.  Based in Oswego, Illinois, on the far western outskirts of greater Chicago, they were one of the earliest bands I featured on this blog, three years ago in April 2016. The band is the brainchild of singer/songwriter Dirk Prysby, a wildly imaginative and zany guy who creates songs that are thoroughly original, sometimes serious but often hilarious, and unlike anything else you’ve ever heard. He also happens to be a thoughtful and creative lyricist who’s quite skilled on the six-string. His quirky, off-kilter vocal style wouldn’t get him very far on The Voice or American Idol, but that’s okay, as it’s perfectly suited for their eccentric songs. Besides Dirk, Rubber Clown Car includes Fred Beasley (drums, backing vocals, guitar) and Tony Pantalones (bass, keyboards and everything else).

Rubber Clown Car

Their sound has been compared to a mixture of XTC, Bob Mould, the Damned, the Who, GBV, the Replacements, and Matthew Sweet, with one reviewer observing they’re like “the Beatles on Quaaludes”. Formed back in the mid-2000s, Rubber Clown Car started out making fairly straightforward music drawing from rock, grunge and punk elements. Their first release was the excellent 2006 album Make the Noise, featuring one of my favorite of their songs “Home in the Suburbs”, a clear-eyed commentary on the American Dream. They subsequently began experimenting with their sound and lyrical themes, incorporating more psychedelic and alternative elements into their music. This can be clearly heard on their follow-up 2008 release Music “They” Don’t Want You To Hear, with songs like “The Boy With the Plexiglas Head” and “Gene Pool Party”. Since then, they’ve been prolific in their output, releasing eight more albums, including such wonderful titles as Jesus is not a Weapon, Cake Solves Heartaches and Let’s Go Bowling.

Their latest effort is Horse Logic, an ambitious and trippy tour de force featuring 18 tracks, which dropped in March. It’s perhaps their most experimental and eclectic work yet, with songs ranging from rock to psychedelic to blues to ballads, and everything in between. Employing lots of unusual sound effects and discordant melodies, and incorporating snippets of song, voice, sound, and spoken-word contributed by several of the band’s Twitter friends, they’ve created interesting and sometimes outlandish compositions. Because it’s such a long album with so many tracks, I’ll discuss what I feel are the highlights, along with a few others that provide a good representation of the work.

Kicking things off is the delightfully psychedelic “Where Have All the Mushrooms Gone?“, an appropriately-titled song that sounds pretty much like what I would expect an hallucinogenic trip on magic mushrooms to sound like. It begins with a woman in a distinctly British accent saying “Right. So, what shall I see?” followed by sounds of a horse neighing a response to her question. We’re then greeted by an onslaught of exuberant cinematic rock, accompanied by dramatic soaring choruses, bouncy xylophone, and a colorful assortment of weird sound effects you might hear in a carnival funhouse, along with more of those neighing horses. The guitars, bass and percussion are all perfection, more than ample proof that Rubber Clown Car are incredible musicians. Dirk croons the whimsical lyrics that include “Rub-a-dub, where the dub, where do I put my bubba? Wubba wubba it’ll come out if ya scrub it. And the clouds all turn to oil. Telepathic banana.” The song closes with horses neighing in rather diabolical-sounding tones.

The next track “Unusual Ducks and Rainy Days” is even trippier, opening with a creepy voice declaring “I don’t want a goddam robot serving me a chicken!” A slow drumbeat kicks in along with riffs of funky guitar and bass, and Dirk’s quirky vocals backed by his own choruses. From there on out, the song becomes an extended psychedelic trip that lasts nearly 11 minutes, growing increasingly strange with the addition of all sorts of crazy carnival, barnyard and zoo sound effects, including honking horns, buzzing mosquitoes, monkeys and elephants. Through it all, the guys lay down some fine bluesy guitar runs.

Abruptly changing the vibe, the band turns wistful and serious on “Girl I Left Behind“, a sweet but melancholy song about a lost love. The twangy guitars and keyboard synths are really wonderful, and Dirk’s heartfelt vocals are great, with nice backing vocals by the Inflateable Girls, who also appear on several other tracks on Horse Logic. “Sandbox” sees the band getting in touch with their playful inner child:  “Didn’t matter what anyone would say. We only want to play in our sandbox.” Musically, the song features a catchy tempo, upbeat jangly guitars and effervescent spacey synths, accompanied by sounds of children having fun at a playground.

The lovely title track “Horse Logic” is a brief instrumental interlude with beautiful jangly strummed guitar and sweeping string synths creating an enthralling atmospheric soundscape. Next up is “Action Brats“, one of the more bizarre tracks on the album. It starts off with the opening lines from the Elvis Presley classic “Heartbreak Hotel” sung by The Quiet Professor (the band’s and my Twitter friend Logos Pilgrim, who’s an author, artist, blogger and singer). Then a repetitive thumping drumbeat and funky bass line take over, accompanied by an eerie assortment of sounds, including creepy childrens’ voices, gregorian chants, and munchkin-like noises. The track ends with a snippet from what sounds like a Japanese song. That magic mushroom trip that started off the album is now on full-blown steroids!

Dirk sings the blues on “The Hanging Mess“, baring his soul with heart-wrenching vocals lamenting his fragile state: “Blue, oh I don’t know which way to turn / I just can’t get through to you.” The bluesy, twangy and distorted guitar work is really outstanding. “Evil Shrimp” is another bizarre track that had me thinking ‘what the hell?’, yet loving it’s great hard-driving noise rock vibe. The song features some terrific gnarly guitar work and snappy percussion, accompanied by sounds of wailing police sirens and strange muffled vocals that are completely unintelligible.

One of the best rock tunes on the album is “Our Magic Sauce“, a musically complex track featuring a killer psychedelic guitar solo by British musician Leg Puppy. There are some background murmuring vocals that are indeciferable, so this is essentially an instrumental track. On the folk-rockish “Turn the Wheel Earl” Dirk yearns for home, sampling lines from the Beatles “A Hard Days Night” (“when I’m home, everything seems to be right“) and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” (“home, where my thought’s escaping“).

My personal favorite on the album is the captivating ballad “Sleep Tight“. The jangly and chiming guitars are gorgeous, and I’m elated that the band did a duet with The Quiet Professor, who has a voice like spun silk. Her vocals harmonize beautifully with Dirk’s as they croon “Your heart will be broken a thousand times. By words unspoken or a thousand lies. You’ve got it all behind you, dream away, dream away.” The charming video for the song was created by another Twitter friend of the band’s and mine – Sherry Ruth.

Closing the album is “Cabbage” a quirky two-minute long rock’n’roll ditty that ends things on a fun, upbeat note. The song consists of just strummed guitar and Dirk crooning “If you wanna be my baby, this is what you gotta say”, followed by a lot of melodic gibberish. At song’s end, he exclaims “Woo, that was in interesting tune!

I think Horse Logic is brilliant, and their best work yet.  Rubber Clown Car won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re the type of person who goes for music that’s offbeat, completely original and fun, you’ll enjoy this album. I certainly do!

Connect with Rubber Clown Car on  Twitter 
Stream:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp  / iTunes / cdbaby

THE IVINS – Single Review: “Certain”

Certain (Cover Art)

Two years ago, Nashville, Tennessee alternative rock band The Ivins blew me away with their monumental debut album The Code Duello, which I had the pleasure of reviewing. Now they return with a hard-hitting new single “Certain“, which I’m certain will further advance their star within the Nashville music scene and beyond. The Ivins is comprised of the handsome Ivins brothers Jim and Jack (with Jim on guitars & vocals and Jack on drums), Hatton Taylor on lead guitar, and Regan Akers on bass & vocals.

The Ivins Promo 2

“Certain” was recorded in Nashville with producer Matt Leigh at the legendary Tracking Room (U2, Beach Boys, Bon Jovi). Jim told me that, musically, the track is a re-imagining of an ancient Lebanese folk song. For the video’s premiere on the website Pure Grain Audio, he further explained “The song’s creation actually stems from an audition we had for a cultural emissary program with the U.S. State Department, where we were asked to update an old international folk song. We chose ‘Bektob Esmak,’ a folk song from Lebanon, and off we went. The audition never panned out, but [we] knew we had a great skeleton of a song.”

Also in the Pure Grain Audio article, Jim described the song’s meaning: “’Certain’ is a commentary on the world of infinite options in which we live in 2019. Whether its jobs, relationships, music, what-have-you, at our fingertips all times, we have an unending sea of options for whatever we want out of life. Some people really take to this, and relish in never committing to anything, hence the lyric in the song, ‘Connection calls for arson, potential hangs a noose.’ Me, on the other hand, I crave certainty. I need it. It is my safety blanket. But certainty is scary, and sometimes it can bring you down a path you never thought you’d travel. For me, the lifestyle of unlimited options is the one that is claustrophobic and that’s why the hook of the song is, ’my one wish is to be certain’.”

The song storms through the gates with an explosion of blistering guitars, rumbling bass and thunderous drums, letting us know from the get-go that we’re in for a real ripper of a tune. After 30 seconds, the tempo calms as Jim starts to sing “Paralyzed, paralyzed by choice.” From there, the music alternately swells to a raging storm in the choruses, only to slow back down in the verses, keeping us on the edge of our seats as the track unfolds. The guys’ impressive musicianship is on full display here as they deliver a flawless performance, their respective instruments totally in sync to create an exhilarating and powerful track that raises goosebumps. During the song’s most dramatic moments, Hatton rips his guitar until it wails, while Jack is a literal beast on his drum kit. This photo perfectly captures the ferocity of Jack’s power drumming, which is also clearly evident in the video of their electrifying performance.

Jack Ivins drums

The Ivins will be performing at their home base of The Basement Nashville to rock New Faces Nite on Tuesday April 9. They also have a show at The Back Corner in Nashville on April 24.

Connect with The Ivins:  Website /  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  YouTube /  Spotify /  Apple Music
Purchase it:  iTunes /  Amazon