DEBRIS DISCS – Single Review: “We Never Die”

Debris Discs is the solo music project of British singer-songwriter James Eary, former front man of Manchester, England alternative dream pop band Coves & Caves. Last October, I featured his first single “Animals“, and now he’s back with his third release “We Never Die“. It’s a beautiful and poignant song that touches on the notion that love is a powerful and enduring component in the cycle of life. The song is part two of his hope and survival themed audio triptych, the first of which was his previous single “Daniel and the Apocalypse”, which he released in January.

Eary states that the song was inspired by a visit to his grandparent’s memorial bench on a windswept day on the Northwest English coast. “‘We Never Die’ is an attempt to find comfort in the despair of loss. It tells the story of lifetime lovers so entwined they reach their end of days in tandem. They search for solace in the legacy they leave behind and a love that burns in perpetuity. It’s a message to each other and their families that this is not the end. There are no goodbyes.

“We Never Die” is an enchanting dream pop gem, fashioned from a rich palette of swirling glittery synths, subtle guitar chords and gentle percussive grooves. Debris Discs skillfully incorporates all these musical elements into a lush, sweeping backdrop for his sweet vocal harmonies, resulting in an achingly beautiful track that captures the power and romance of an enduring love. He has a marvelous singing voice that registers in the higher range, just below a falsetto, and it’s positively sublime on this track.

It’s ok we never die
They keep our dreams
And our names they engrave in aluminium
On a park bench plaque
For all to see
Who we were, what we did, where we’ve been

Muscles knotted
All our words forgotten
Milky eyes, milky eyes
We’ve come too far
So now we wait for stars
And no goodbyes, no goodbyes

It’s ok we never die
No eulogy
Just a spark, flickers free from the embers
To illuminate and help them see
Who we were, what we did, where we’ve been
Who we were, what we did, where we’ve been

Connect with Debris Discs: Twitter
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

TWO FEET – Album Review: “Pink”

Two Feet 2

Amidst all the bad news of late regarding rogue viruses and collapsing financial markets, one of the few bright spots has been the release of the new album Pink by singer-songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Two Feet. Released via Republic Records on March 13th, I’ve had Pink on repeat for the past several days, and can emphatically state that it’s the best album of 2020 so far. I’m writing this review with a bit of trepidation, as I hope to do justice to this magnificent work.

For those unfamiliar with Two Feet, he’s the musical alter-ego of New York City-based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Zachary William “Bill” Dess, who I think is one of the finest guitarists around today. His songs are slow burns, characterized by soulful, smoldering vocals, intense, bluesy riffs, cool jazz and hip-hop undertones, and booming synth bass grooves that cut straight to our cores. He also writes brutally honest and compelling lyrics that resonate with many of us. As beautifully described in his Google Play bio, “his songs are the soundtrack for staying up late into the night, aching to figure out how to remedy heartbreak, anxiety, and uncertainty.”

Two Feet first gained notoriety in 2016 with the release of his single “Go Fuck Yourself”, which quickly went viral on Soundcloud. He soon followed up with a couple of EPs (the cleverly titled First Steps and Momentum), then hit the big time in the summer of 2018 with his breakthrough hit “I Feel Like I’m Drowning”. The gorgeous song went to #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart, and ended up at #18 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the Decade. That October, he released his extended EP A 20 Something Fuck, which featured “I Feel Like I’m Drowning” and the beautiful track “Hurt People”, a deeply personal and haunting duet with Madison Love.

I had the pleasure of seeing him perform in Los Angeles in November 2018 (you can read my review here). He spent the first few months of 2019 touring with Panic! At the Disco, which exposed him to a whole new audience who hadn’t heard of him previously. I relished reading all the tweets from people who’d gone to see PATD and came away enthusiastic new fans of Two Feet. In fact, I have to say that his are some of the most fiercely loyal and devoted fans I’ve seen for any artist. He’s made a point of being open and honest with his fans and followers about his own personal struggles with depression and anxiety, and engages with them fairly regularly on Twitter. That’s pretty rare for artists once they become well-known, so it shocked the hell out of me a few months ago when he tweeted words of encouragement to me in response to my tweet about feeling depressed and overwhelmed. Needless to say, I was deeply touched, and it made me love him even more.

Two Feet 3

He started writing songs for Pink in the fall of 2018, some of them influenced by events happening in his life. In September 2019, he began teasing his fans by dropping a series of tracks in advance of Pink’s release, beginning with “Lost the Game” – though it falls squarely in the center of the track listing. In a heartfelt statement, he expresses his hope that the album will touch us in a meaningful way, also recommending that we listen to it in its entirety, from beginning to end: “With the way the world is going right now, I hope listening to it gives you some peace, or makes you cry, or makes you feel sexy, or makes you happy, or briefly brings you to a different world. As long as you feel SOMETHING, I’m good with that. I worked hard on the track list. This isn’t an album of singles, it’s a ‘thing-in-itself’. Please listen in order. Front to back.”

Two Feet records and performs his music with the assistance of his longtime keyboardist/drummer Geoffrey Hufford (aka Huff), who is adept at delivering the deep, floor-rattling synthesized bass that gives his music such incredible depth. This can clearly be heard on the minute-long opening track “Intro“, with chest-thumping beats surrounded by swirling psychedelic synths and Two Feet’s bluesy guitar notes. Up next is the title track “Pink“, a song that beautifully encapsulates the album’s overall theme. He states “A lot of the songs deal with the passage of time and how you interpret it.”, a topic nicely articulated by the song’s introspective lyrics: “25 don’t feel the same way… / And I keep getting older / My mind is getting colder / The things that all once mattered, I know for sure won’t last.” His intricate guitar work is stunning, and even if you didn’t listen to another track on this album, you’d still have to concede that he’s a phenomenal guitarist.

For this album, Two Feet incorporates a wider range of elements into his songs than ever before, resulting in a more diverse and exciting overall sound. “BBY” is a good example of this, with its bouncy EDM beat that builds as the song progresses. Once again, his guitar work is fantastic, and I love the sweeping spooky synths and his seductive, breathy vocals. “Call Me, I Still Love You” is a gorgeous and bluesy instrumental interlude that provides a perfect segue to “You?“, a dark scorching-hot song about coming to the realization that the relationship was always one-sided: “So tell me the truth was it me then, who needed you?” I realize I’m sounding like a broken record, but once again the intricate guitar work is breathtaking, and I love how the music alternates from a sultry vibe in the verses to a bombastic explosion of fiery riffs and earth-shattering percussion in the choruses. “You?” is perfection from start to finish, and easily my favorite track on the album. It spent five weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 30 from late December through late January.

Two Feet had an official video made for the song, but I like this live studio performance better, as it features a killer extended guitar solo that really showcases his fearsome guitar skills. You can hear the original version on the Soundcloud playlist at the end of this post.

On the moody, synth-driven “44 Lies“, he seems to touch on how we delude ourselves in order to help us fit in, feel accepted, feel ‘normal’: “44 lies / Told in your 20s / Keep you alive / Make you feel empty / All of the guys / Wearing the same shoes / Telling me things / Praying they ain’t true.” Figuratively speaking, the melancholy “Lost the Game” represents the emotional low point on the album. The lyrics speak of coming to the painful realization that the relationship is over for good, with no hope of reconciliation: “And what can I do, I do, I do I know it’s over / Cause I lost the game, I can’t get lower / Caused you pain, it’s taking over.” With all hope now gone, “Grey” sees him rationalizing his fate and accepting that he must move on. Likewise, his mood has evolved from black into something a little less bleak – a shade of grey: “Before I fall away I feel like I should say I’ve always liked your eyes / But now I’ve got to leave / It’s okay It’s alright / I feel good I feel fine.” Musically, the song is dominated by a deep, buzzing bassline set to a mesmerizing hip hop beat, over which Two Feet serves up some of his signature bluesy riffs.

The smoldering track “Maria” was apparently a last-minute addition to the album. Overflowing with menacing synths, throbbing beats and haunting choruses, it’s one of my favorite tracks. Concurrent with the album release, Two Feet released a dark and sexy video for the song, his first to actually tell a story to fit the narrative of the lyrics. It opens with an ominous image of just his eyes, then shows him having a drink in a rather seedy bar, along with an assortment of shady-looking characters. Maria saunters into the bar, orders a beer and sensually dances while all the men gaze at her longingly. She eventually goes home with one of the guys as Two Feet laments “Oh oh oh while you’re getting in his bed, I’m alone without a friend tonight / Maria Maria, I tell ya I need ya..” Maria and the guy start to have sex, and she ties him to the bed. Sadly, he doesn’t get lucky, as she ends up stealing his valuables, even ripping his gold chain from his neck and leaving him tied up. We’re left wondering whether she’s just a gold digger who breaks men’s hearts (and wallets), or if she’s working in cahoots with the guy portrayed by Two Feet.

After the intensity of “Maria”, we need a bit of relief, which he nicely delivers with the captivating and soulful instrumental “Felt like playing guitar and not singing part 2“. The song is a nod to a similarly-titled track that appeared on A 20 Something Fuck. “I Can’t Relate” is a lovely, bittersweet tune that sees him revisiting what went wrong in the relationship: “The winter wind when we first fell in love was cold / You touched my face, my mind began to run, yeah / But you don’t care now, you tell me its all set and done / I’m numb ’cause I can’t relate / Oh, I can’t relate to you.”

Another favorite of mine is “We Will Be Alright“, a poignant and hopeful song reassuring a loved one that your love will endure til the end, and all will be well: “And I, I want you by my side / And I, I need you ’til I die / And when that day comes you will be alright / Because we will love through time. The lyrics could represent either a coming full-circle back to the beginning, or else the birth of an entirely new relationship, but either way, it ends things on a more upbeat and positive note. Musically, it’s more low-key and stripped back than most of his songs, with the only sounds coming from his gently strummed guitar and comforting vocals.

The album closes with “Pink Reprise“, a bewitching instrumental track that revisits and continues upon the haunting melody first introduced with “Pink”. It serves as a fitting closure for the album, and a vivid reminder of Two Feet’s spectacular guitar-playing skills. Properly listening to Pink is an immersive experience that needs to be done in a single sitting for maximum enjoyment, and to fully appreciate it’s immense power and beauty. I don’t normally grade albums, but I would give this an unequivocal 10/10.

Two Feet is donating $1 from every sale of Pink to the Siegel Rare Neuroimmune Association, which benefits those diagnosed with rare neuroimmune disorders like his own sister, GG.

Also, if and when the world gets back to some semblance of normality, he will be heading back out on tour starting in late April. Here are the scheduled dates, which as I write this on March 20th, may be subject to change:

Two Feet Tour

Connect with Two Feet:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music / Google Play 

US3R & Jasper Mitchell – Single Review: “Forever Blue”

I love when artists collaborate on music projects, as the talent and creative energy each bring to the mix often results in some really terrific work. Last week I featured such a song by L.A. artists Harley Bird and Barren Gates, and am now pleased to feature another collaborative effort, this time by Seattle-based singer-songwriter and composer US3R, and Minneapolis-based synth artist and composer Jasper Mitchell. They teamed up to create a deliciously chill song “Forever Blue“, which dropped March 15th.

Us3r
US3R

US3R (pronounced ‘user’, and the artistic moniker of a very nice guy named Kristian Alexander) makes synthwave-inspired electronic pop, dream pop and house music. I had the pleasure of meeting him and his lovely wife last December when they were in the Coachella Valley to visit family and friends before the Christmas holidays. (Kristian grew up in Cathedral City, where I now live.) I asked him about his name US3R, and he said it was inspired by his work in the IT industry: “I’ve been a computer guy since I was very young. In computer terminology/operating systems, there are references to “user” in a million different forms. It felt like an archetypal term that represented computer culture… and also in hacker culture, we have a tendency to talk in “leet speak” (where you swap numbers for letters), so, ‘US3R’ is a reference to the hacky nature of my music.

US3R has had a very busy year, first releasing his debut album 1985 in May (2019), then following up in December with his second album INFLUENCE, a brilliant work addressing modern influencer culture and the loss of intimacy in the digital age. Both are outstanding, and I urge my readers to check them out on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review. In February and early March, US3R embarked on a North American tour covering Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Hollywood, NYC, and Toronto, before it was abruptly halted by the Coronavirus outbreak.

Jasper Mitchell
Jasper Mitchell

Jasper Mitchell likewise creates dreamy chillwave, synthwave and atmospheric electronic music. He released his debut EP Awakening in 2018, and followed a year later with his stunning album Her, both of which I also highly recommend.

Like many collaborations, “Forever Blue” was recorded and produced in different locations. Mitchell came up with the initial music concept, then sent it to US3R, who wrote the lyrics and made some chord changes. He recorded the vocals while in Southern California last December, then sent his vocal recording to Mitchell in Minneapolis, who did the production work on the track. They then worked back and forth over the internet until they got the song just right.

US3R states that the song is about driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in California from Santa Monica to Malibu, “reminiscing about a woman that used to sit in the passenger seat, and every time you do the drive it brings up old feelings.” He adds “Its about reflecting on your life in the face of mortality. We ironically wrote this before Coronavirus happened, but it seems very relevant all of a sudden.”

Employing a colorful mix of warm, sparkling synths, set to a languid trip hop percussive beat, Mitchell artfully creates a captivating atmospheric soundscape evoking a sun-kissed day along the California coast, but with an underlying air of melancholia. US3R has a silky-smooth vocal style that’s immensely pleasing, and the perfect voice for a chillwave song. His soft, almost breathy croons beautifully convey the wistful emotions expressed in the bittersweet lyrics: “If I died tomorrow would I be happy with it all? / I’ve had some good times / There’s so many things I saw / I don’t wanna go / There’s still so much i wanna see / I need to know are you the one who’s saving me? / Forever blue, when I look at you.”

It’s a gorgeous track. Nice work guys!

Connect with Us3r:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud  / YouTube
Purchase:  Google PlayBandcamp

Connect with Jasper Mitchell:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Google Play

Top 30 Songs for March 15-21, 2020

1. NOVOCAINE – The Unlikely Candidates (2) 21st week on list
2. EVERYTHING I WANTED – Billie Eilish (1)
3. THE BEST – AWOLNATION (4)
4. WARS – Of Monsters and Men (3)
5. USED TO LIKE – Neon Trees (6)
6. DON’T START NOW – Dua Lipa (7)
7. DANCE OF THE CLAIRVOYANTS – Pearl Jam (8)
8. LIFE IN THE CITY – The Lumineers (9)
9. LOVE YOU FOR A LONG TIME – Maggie Rogers (10)
10. MIGHT BE RIGHT – White Reaper (5)
11. HOW WE LIVE – Mandalan featuring Cadence XYZ (11)
12. VAN HORN – Saint Motel (12)
13. ADORE YOU – Harry Styles (14)
14. MARINERS APARTMENT COMPLEX – Lana Del Rey (13)
15. UNCHAINED – Devon Gilfillian (17)
16. BLACK MADONNA – Cage the Elephant (19)
17. LOST IN YESTERDAY – Tame Impala (20)
18. CAN’T STOP – Vox Eagle (18)
19. COLORS – Black Pumas (21)
20. TEXAS SUN – Khruangbin & Leon Bridges (22)
21. HERO – Michael Kiwanuka (23)
22. YOU? – Two Feet (15) 22nd week on list
23. REASONS I DRINK – Alanis Morissette (26)
24. SHINE A LITTLE LIGHT – The Black Keys (27)
25. OH YEAH! – Green Day (28)
26. ORPHANS – Coldplay (16)
27. OVER AND OVER – Amongst Liars (30)
28. BAD DECISIONS – The Strokes (N)
29. ME & YOU TOGETHER SONG – The 1975 (N)
30. GO EASY – Matt Maeson (N)

THE 86 SPECIAL – Single Review: “Dancing By The Moonlight”

From the ashes of what was the beloved West Sussex alternative rock band Third Time Luckie rises a new band The 86 Special. Calling their sound “modern day pop rock accompanied by 80s synth & stadium rock”, they aim to tickle our earbuds with music that’s retro, yet fresh, and always exciting. The 86 Special is made up of two former Third Time Luckie members Chris Horner (bass & lead vocals) and Carl Swietlik (drums), as well as Matt Dawe (rhythm guitar & vocals), Dom Parris (lead guitar & vocals) and Jake Rae (synth & keys). The band is so new that they don’t have any official photos yet.

They’ve just recorded their first song “Dancing By The Moonlight“, along with a promotional lyric video. It’s upbeat, catchy and fun, with a retro 80s blend of pop, rock and post-punk grooves that call to my mind some of the songs from bands like The Go-Go’s, Huey Lewis & the News and The Cars. The guys serve up a mix of jangly and fuzz-coated guitars, humming bass and snappy drumbeats, creating an exuberant, head-bopping song that’ll have even the worst wallflower heading straight for the dance floor. I especially love Jake’s lively piano keys that are liberally sprinkled throughout the track. Chris’s pleasing vocals are perfect for the song, and nicely accompanied by Matt and Dom’s backing harmonies. Great job all around guys!

The song is scheduled for release on May 18 for streaming and download on all major music platforms.

 

New Song of the Week – JAMES BAKIAN: “Find Me”

James Bakian is an exceptionally talented, hard working and charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, England. He wrote his first song at the age of six, began studying piano at seven, and released his first EP By Your Side in 2016 when he was only 13. He followed up in late 2017 with his appropriately-named second EP Unstoppable, a really fine effort featuring six tracks. Since then, the prolific artist has released an astonishing 18 singles, his latest of which, “Find Me,” drops today, March 13th. I’m pleased to choose the soulful track as my New Song of the Week.

James Bakian 2020

James writes all his lyrics and music, records all the instruments, and produces his own songs. I’ve been following him for over three years, and it’s been gratifying to watch him grow professionally. Now 16, his songwriting, music and vocals get better and better as he matures, and he’s grown from a cute kid into a teen heartthrob. (I’ve featured him three times previously on this blog, and you can check out those reviews, which are listed under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this page.)

“Find Me” is languid and sultry, highlighted by James’ sublime piano keys that have an almost jazzy feel. With his piano riff as a centerpiece, he adds warm, shimmery synths of strings and gentle percussion to create a romantic soundscape for his smooth and soulful layered vocals. As James has matured, his voice has likewise deepened quite nicely. The music, melody and vocals are all incredibly pleasing, resulting in an exceptional track.

The lyrics speak of longing for a girl to the point of obsession, even though she barely knows that you exist:

Just leave me be
I’m doing my own thing
Didn’t suspect that you would notice me
Tryna figure out if I still fit in my skin
And I ain’t tryna change
Take me back
Back to the time when I didn’t have a care in the world and I knew I had a purpose
I don’t wanna live in a world where I can’t share my life with somebody who is worth it

I think I’ve found a girl but she gotta find me
Cause I know that one day ima call her baby
and I’ll tell her what I want whispering it slowly
When I look at that smile I keep going crazy

I keep dreaming ‘bout you
Always longing for you
Ain’t no reason not to
And I’ve been meaning to let you know
I keep dreaming ‘bout you
Always longing for you
Ain’t no reason not to
Oh-oh-oh
I’ll let you know one day as long as you find me
I’ll let you know one day as long as you find me

Girl you got what I been needing
Everything about you turns me on
Do I gotta have an explanation
I’m obsessed with you is that wrong?
Tell me what I need to do
If I wanna spend whole my life with you
I’ve been all alone in my feelings
Ain’t nobody who make me feel like you do

Ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody
Ain’t nobody make me feel like you do
Ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody
Ain’t nobody make me feel like you do

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase on  iTunesGoogle Play

MELOTIKA – Single/Video Review: “Bury The Bones”

Melotika2

Melotika is an indie/alternative pop artist born and raised in Montreal, and now based in Toronto. The alter-ego of singer/songwriter Mel Yelle, her distinctive, sultry vocal styling and exotic beauty set her apart from other female artists. With a strong sense of individuality and determination coupled with an endearing vulnerability, she writes brutally honest and relatable lyrics touching on subjects of relationships, love, and how social media and pressures to conform can affect our emotional well-being.

I featured Melotika on this blog twice in 2018, when I reviewed her previous singles “Unaware Part II [Blindside]” and “Bittersweet Reality“.  On February 18th, she dropped her latest single “Bury The Bones“, a dark, haunting song about a woman who’s a psychopathic killer. The song was co-written by Melotika and New York-based songwriter and producer Gory Gloriana, and produced, mixed and mastered by Sean Savage. About the song, she explains: “‘Bury The Bones’ reveals suppressed dark emotions about an unhealthy, fictional love story. As a society, we have a weird obsession with psychopaths, murder and lust. This song is a creative take on these subjects from the perspective of an individual with an unsettling mind.”

The song opens with sounds of someone digging shovelfuls of earth, backed by gentle, mysterious synths and Melotika’s eerily chants of “do it”, conjuring up images of a black night where something really bad is about to go down. A languid beat kicks in as the music swells with a darkly beautiful mix of contrasting shimmery and gnarly keyboard synths, increasing the sense of unease.

Melotika’s sultry vocals are amazing, conveying a quiet desperation bordering on menacing as she entreats her lover in a thinly veiled threatening manner to not abandon her, or else he will pay:

Stepping by your place, I can’t erase you
Another face, that I cannot replace
Take another toll, tell me you want more
Loathsomeness; I can’t ever love

Don’t ever leave
Don’t let me down
Don’t take the best of me
What goes around comes back around

You may abandon me but
My heart beats steadily for you
Cold dirt can’t hold me down
Walk away and bury the bones

Finally reaching a point of madness, her voice rises to a chilling shriek in the chorus as she implores:

I can never love someone
I’m your contaminated loaded gun
Don’t you ever leave my friend
Don’t you let me down

The dark and brilliant video, written by Melotika and filmed and directed by Eric Soto, brings the lyrics to life in a kind of horror film vignette. A couple, played by Melotika and her real-life boyfriend and songwriter/rapper Krosst Out, are shown walking to and entering her apartment after a night out. We’re shown scenes of them together, juxtaposed with scenes of her in her bedroom, singing the lyrics. They get comfortable, and she goes into the kitchen to arrange the flowers he gave her and pour them glasses of wine while he watches a video of her on TV. Problem is, she’s slipped some poison into his glass, and he soon drops dead. While all this is happening, the camera pans the numerous framed photos of other men on a nearby table. The video ends with yet another man appearing at her door with a bouquet of flowers, and the cycle begins again.

Connect with Melotika on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes or BandcampGoogle Play

BARREN GATES & HARLEY BIRD – Single Review: “Last”

It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to meet a real-life music artist up close and personal, but that was the case this past November, when I had the pleasure of meeting Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and musician Harley Bird. He and his girlfriend are good friends with my nephew, and came along with him to my home for Thanksgiving dinner. Harley’s as gracious and kind as he is talented and handsome, and we had a great time discussing and sharing music. He’s just released a dark and powerful new single “Last“, in collaboration with L.A.-based music producer Barren Gates, which I’m thrilled to feature today.

Harley Bird
Harley Bird

A native of L.A., Harley has been involved with music for many years. He has a beautiful voice and undeniable charisma that make him a successful artist who’s very much in demand. He started out honing his craft by busking on the streets, and was the front man for alt-rock band The Shadow Heist from 2014-16. But his career really took off after he posted his cover of a song he recorded on Instagram. An electronica music producer who saw the post reached out to him about working together on his song that needed lyrics and vocals. Once they released that song, some of the music producer’s peers reached out to Harley about doing collaborations with them, and things spread like wild fire from there. Over the past four years, Harley’s worked with other musicians and producers both in the L.A. area and across the globe on scores of songs that have collectively racked up over 45 million streams on Spotify.

Barren Gates
Barren Gates

Barren Gates (aka Brandon Lutowsky) is a highly accomplished and prolific electronic music producer and composer who’s also collaborated with numerous other artists on more than 40 songs and remixes. He and Harley previously worked together on their songs “Tomorrow” and “S.O.S.”, and “Last” is their latest collaboration. Barren arranged and produced the song, while Harley wrote the lyrics and melodies, played piano and sang vocals. The song has been released through the indie label Valiant Records.

The song opens with the sounds of Harley’s haunting piano chords, then quickly expands into an ominous and captivating soundscape of dark, spooky synths. Eventually, Barren injects a deep, grinding trap beat into the mix, taking the track into even darker territory. At about 1:17, the beats stop and the music calms back down to an interlude of the dark, reverby synths and bewitching piano keys we heard earlier. The music gradually swells, once again exploding into a repeat of the heavy, crushing trap beats that continue through to the end of the song.

With a vulnerable urgency in his breathy vocals, Harley lays bare his soul to a woman he’s strongly attracted to, fearing she may be toying with his emotions in order to use him, but hoping that perhaps her intentions are sincere: “Draw us in and kick us out. Girl you look so fuckin’ proud. Should I stay or should I go? I’ve gotta chase, I’ve gotta know. / I know I’m not the first guy to try tonight. But maybe I’ll be your last.” It’s a brilliant and stunning track.

Connect with Harley Bird: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube

Connect with Barren Gates: FacebookTwitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music

Erki Pärnoja – Album Review:”Leva”

Erki Parnoja LEVA album art

Though the vast majority of artists and bands I’ve featured on this blog have been from the US, UK, or Canada, I always enjoy writing about ones from other nations. In the past week or so, I’ve featured a band from Malta and a music producer from Luxembourg, and am now thrilled to introduce my very first artist from the Baltic nation of Estonia: the astonishingly talented songwriter, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Erki Pärnoja. Based in the capital of Tallinn, Pärnoja plays guitar, bass, keyboards and synthesizers, and creates some of the most exquisite instrumental music I’ve heard in a very long while. Using an impressive array of instruments and textures, he weaves lush, dreamy soundscapes that envelop us in layers of shimmery atmospheric gossamer. Seriously, his music is fucking gorgeous!

He’s been recording and releasing music for the past five years, beginning with his late 2015 debut EP Himmelbjerget. He followed that EP with two stunning albums, the guitar-dominant Efterglow in 2017 and more synth-oriented Saja Lugu in 2018, both of which I’ve immersed myself with over the past several days. The track “Ranna I” from Saja Lugu has been streamed more than 2.3 million times on Spotify. All three works are exceptional, and I highly recommend that my readers check them out on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review.

Now Pärnoja is back with a glorious new album Leva, which dropped on February 12. His previous works have all been instrumental-only, however with Leva, Pärnoja for the first time introduces lyrics and vocals on some of the tracks. Also, while still delivering his signature enchanting melodies and dreamy soundscapes, he now injects a more orchestral perspective, along with more exotic elements that give the album a fresher, more eclectic feel.

The album was recorded in Gothenburg, Sweden in early 2019, and features a number of guest musicians. In addition to Swedish producer/keyboardist Filip Leyman and Danish drummer Ulrik Ording (Pärnoja’s loyal collaborators since his debut album) are Estonian singer-songwriter Anna Kaneelina, Swedish marimba player Love Meyersson, and the string quartet Prezioso. The striking artwork for the album cover was painted by Estonian artist/photographer Riina Varol, and incorporated into a beautiful cover design by Estonian artist Helmi Arrak. Pärnoja has written wonderful little explanations for each of the seven tracks on Leva that provide insight into his creative process, and enable us to more fully understand and enjoy each song. I will quote or paraphrase from them in my own discussions of each track.

The title of the opening track “Maa” is the Estonian word for “land” or “country”, and serves as an introduction to the album, both musically and conceptually. Pärnoja explains: “The whole album is about living and the different lives people lead, and that we can’t really get a look into other people’s worlds. The song gradually reveals a view into one world. It starts off as a harmless dreamy waltz, and moves with baby steps into this vast open field with all the space and possibilities in the world.” His words perfectly describe how the instrumentals and dreamy synths gradually expand into a lush soundscape like a field bursting into color with the first warmth of Spring. Although primarily an instrumental track, he uses his voice almost like an instrument with his lovely ambient background vocals.

The gorgeous Middle-Eastern infused “Fatigue” was inspired by the music of Algerian band Tineariwen, which Pärnoja first heard around ten years ago. It happened to be playing on the sound system in a second hand store in Toronto he walked into, and he immediately loved it. The use of what sounds like a zither or oud, along with Moroccan castanets. give the song it’s enchanting Middle-Eastern flavor. Parnoja states that the song is a kind of tribute to Tineariwen that came to him in one big rush. “The dreamy state symbolizes a need for something more or something better, and the continuous loops are the circles that always try to catch us and take us back to their cycles.”

The title track “Leva” is positively stunning, with layers of strummed guitars, backed by enthralling strings that give the song a haunting, otherworldly feel. The lyrics are in Estonian, a language closely related to Finnish, and beautifully sung by Pärnoja and his wife Anna Kaneelina. Nearly seven minutes in length, “Leva” almost sounds like two different songs, and in fact, the first time I listened to it on my smart phone though earbuds, I thought it was two separate tracks. The first part, which is more gentle and melodic, seems to end at 4:07, then two seconds later the music starts back up with a heavier, electric guitar-driven sound, deeper bass, stronger percussion and more passionate vocals.

About the song, Pärnoja explains: “This is most certainly the song that started it all. It holds the essence of the whole album. It became clear to me that even if you are content with your life, and if everything seems to be in order, you can still be going in circles and not be moving on in life. It might just be that you’re in the same place as you were years ago, and it’s only minor details of your life that have changed. I realised that I want to live more and better and make good use of my time.”

Here’s a lovely acoustic performance of “Leva”. For this version, Pärnoja and Jonas Kaarnamets played guitar, Pärnoja and Anna Kaneelina sang vocals, Peedu Kass played acoustic bass, Kristjan Kallas played drums, and Prezioso played strings.

Island” is a fairly simple, breezy track constructed with recurring cycles of loops, augmented with charming twangy guitars and lots of abstract sounds that convey a sunny, windswept sense of freedom. It’s a wonderful song that just makes me feel hopeful and happy. Next up is “Eha“, a beautiful, sweeping track that reminds me of some of the more atmospheric-sounding songs by Coldplay. The song title translates to “dusk” in English, and Pärnoja states it’s “a dreamy cinematic journey dedicated to a present-day soul. It is a story about the search for inner peace and belonging. It is also a wake-up call to one’s self to take a breath and look around.” He adds that “the occasionally atonal strings symbolise the dissonances we have within just before making a decision for a new direction.” His soft vocal croons are sublime, in perfect harmony with the gently soaring synths and strings as if they’re another component in his colorful instrumental palette.

Another standout track for me is the captivating “Soledad“, which is Spanish for “solitude”. The languid song has a slight Latin sensibility, though in no way does it sound like a Latin or Spanish song. The layered strummed guitars and sparkling keyboards are really marvelous, and this time, the lyrics are mostly in English, and sung by Pärnoja and Kaneelina’s enthralling vocal harmonies. Pärnoja explains the meaning behind the song: “The meaning of solitude has changed a lot for me. Once it used to have a negative meaning, but back then I must have mistaken it for loneliness or abandonment. Now in a time when society is seemingly social to the extreme, I came to re-evaluate the meaning of the word. There is a big contradiction to this, since hidden behind this big socially-connected world, there are a lot of people that are lonely, and not at peace with themselves. Loneliness makes them reach out to another world. ‘Soledad’ is a hymn to solitude – the only place where I personally can grow and make peace with myself.

The artful and compelling video for “Soledad” was produced and directed by  Kärt Hammer, and stars Edgar Vunš as the dancer who interprets the song through his passionate yet graceful movements.

The final track “Saudade” actually has a more pronounced Spanish guitar, which Pärnoja beautifully strums throughout the song. At first, all we hear is his guitar, then he begins to sing in a mournful yet beautiful chant, backed by what sound like his own vocal harmonies. The music gradually grows more animated and the vocals more impassioned as swirling synths are added to create a sparkling, cinematic soundscape. Parnoja states that this track sums up the album, and that the title is basically untranslatable, but represents “the presence of absence. It is a longing for someone or something that you remember fondly, but know you can never experience again.” I’ve experienced such human encounters and moments myself throughout my life, and their memories can elicit intense feelings of joy or sadness.

I feel I’ve used up all the superlatives I can think of to describe Leva, but folks, this is a magnificent work of musical art. With only seven tracks totaling 36 minutes of run time, it’s a bit on the short side for an album, however, each track is so exquisite and powerful that it feels almost monumental in scope. With an EP and three albums to his credit, Erki Pärnoja is without question one of the finest composers and producers of ambient instrumental music around today. I love his music and I love this album.

Catch Pärnoja at one of these upcoming shows:

Friday, April 3 – LEVA release show, Korjaamo, Helsinki, Finland
Saturday, April 11 – Südaöine, EELK Tallinna Jaani kogudus ja kirik, Tallinn, Estonia
Saturday, May 2 – Jazz.ee ja Saare KEK LIVE, SAARE KEK, Kuressaare, Estonia
Thursday, May 7 – Jazz.ee ja Rüki Galerii LIVE, Rüki galerii, Viljandi, Estonia
Friday, May 15 – Jazz.ee ja Haapsalu Jazziklubi LIVE, Haapsalu kultuurikeskus, Haapsalu, Estonia
July 3-4 – VÕNGE 2020. Rändav kultuurifestival, Mulgi elamuskeskus, Sooglemäe, Tõrva vald, Valgamaa, Latvia

Connect with Erki: Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: Google Play / Bandcamp

Top 30 Songs for March 8-14, 2020

1. EVERYTHING I WANTED – Billie Eilish (1)
2. NOVOCAINE – The Unlikely Candidates (3) 20th week on list
3. WARS – Of Monsters and Men (4)
4. THE BEST – AWOLNATION (5)
5. MIGHT BE RIGHT – White Reaper (2)
6. USED TO LIKE – Neon Trees (7)
7. DON’T START NOW – Dua Lipa (8)
8. DANCE OF THE CLAIRVOYANTS – Pearl Jam (9)
9. LIFE IN THE CITY – The Lumineers (10)
10. LOVE YOU FOR A LONG TIME – Maggie Rogers (18)
11. HOW WE LIVE – Mandalan featuring Cadence XYZ (14)
12. VAN HORN – Saint Motel (15)
13. MARINERS APARTMENT COMPLEX – Lana Del Rey (16)
14. ADORE YOU – Harry Styles (17)
15. YOU? – Two Feet (13) 21st week on list
16. ORPHANS – Coldplay (6)
17. UNCHAINED – Devon Gilfillian (21)
18. CAN’T STOP – Vox Eagle (20)
19. BLACK MADONNA – Cage the Elephant (22)
20. LOST IN YESTERDAY – Tame Impala (23)
21. COLORS – Black Pumas (24)
22. TEXAS SUN – Khruangbin & Leon Bridges (25)
23. HERO – Michael Kiwanuka (26)
24. UNEVENTFUL DAYS – Beck (11)
25. 2ALL – Catfish and the Bottlemen (12)
26. REASONS I DRINK – Alanis Morissette (28)
27. SHINE A LITTLE LIGHT – The Black Keys (29)
28. OH YEAH! – Green Day (30)
29. WHITE LIES & PALM TREES – The Lovepools (19) 22nd week on list
30. OVER AND OVER – Amongst Liars (N)