I love the quirky and colorful names that musicians often come up with for their music projects, and one of the best I’ve seen lately is Soda Cracker Jesus, the new brainchild of longtime Tacoma-based singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. Lane is also front man and ringmaster of psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. The wildly imaginative, talented and seasoned artist has been a mainstay in the Northwest music scene for years. Besides Strangely Alright, he was previously a member of Tacoma punk band Baby Knockorsand 80s rock band Strypes. More recently, he helped produce the new album Butterfly Hand Grenade for up-and-coming rockers Stargazy Pie, and is an active mentor in the successful Ted Brown Music Program, where he helps aspiring northwest musicians hone their craft.
Lane created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his “more punky power pop side”, with music influenced by acts like the Beatles, Kinks, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, XTC and more. He’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. He recently confided on Facebook, “I’ve come to the point in my life where I know for me that happiness comes from the inside. It’s not about being the greatest or the best, but about having gratitude for what I have, appreciating the people and love in my life and continuing to try to treat people like I’d like to be treated. And all those things help me feel creative and free to share who I really am.” It’s in this spirit that he wrote “My Anthem“, which he’s released today, April 1st, as his debut single.
The aptly-titled song is a euphoric power pop anthem and foot-stomping banger, with a joyously upbeat old school punk-infused vibe that nicely conveys Lane’s hopeful message. In addition to singing vocals, he played all instruments, mixed, and produced the track, and Todd Ensminger did the mastering. I love his chugging riffs of gnarly guitars and aggressive pounding drumbeats, and his always colorful vocals are emphatic and animated, perfectly complementing the song’s powerful driving rhythms. The lyrics speak to having an optimistic, open-minded and courageous philosophy for living your best life possible, and with gratitude, which Lane sings with such conviction and joy that we can’t help but be swept up alongside him: “I can hope and I can dream. I can fight and I can scream. Look to the light I won’t disappear. Never have to run away from anything I got no fear. Clear and Real and Free. Ya ya ya ya ya This Is My Anthem.“
I’ve been following Canadian artists Krosst Out and Melotika for more than four years, and it’s been gratifying to watch them grow both artistically and professionally. Krosst Out is the musical alter-ego of singer-songwriter and rapper Aaron Siebenga,, who grew up in a small town not far from Toronto, and melds hip hop with grunge, alt-rock and punk to create his own unique contemporary sound. Melotika is the alter-ego of Mel Yelle, a Montreal-born sultry-voiced singer-songwriter who makes intriguing electro-pop.
The hard-working and creative duo met in Toronto, but are now living in Montreal. They’re both successful artists in their own right, as well as a delightfully charming and hilarious couple I’ve grown quite fond of over the years, and have featured them both numerous times on this blog. Last October, I reviewed Krosst Out’s debut album Phone Calls With Ghosts, a deeply personal work addressing youthful mistakes, broken relationships, and the reality that nothing will ever again be what it once was. (You can read that review here.) And just last month, I chose Melotika’s latest single “Beautiful Disguise” as my New Song of the Week, which you can read about here.
Now the two are back with a hot new collaborative single “Runaway“. The song was recorded at Phase One studio in Toronto under the guidance of long-time collaborators Jor’Del Downz and Sean Savage. Drums were played by Spencer “Taabu” Heaslip, who also mixed and mastered the track. With “Runaway”, Krosst Out and Melotika wanted to create a dynamic, punk influenced hip hop ballad reminiscent of the late 1970’s London punk scene. Krosst Out explains “I’ve been calling it 1977 punk meets rap, or Sid and Nancy meet hip hop.I wrote this at the same time I was writing my album Phone Calls With Ghosts, [but] in the end, I just felt like this song deserved to be a stand alone track. ‘Runaway’’s message is one that all can relate to, especially during these times; it’s one of escapism, running away from a place you no longer want to be in. There’s times where we do just need to pick up and run away from everything. If you find yourself in a place you don’t want to be in, pick yourself and run away from that spot, put yourself someplace better. It’s meant to be this cross between both happy and melancholy. The beat was an anthem type feel that gets you amped up, but my chanting of ‘I don’t want to be here’ gives you the feeling of hopping on the next train to anywhere, running away.”
The song opens with a flurry of spritely skittering synths, then expands with a layer of brooding synths as Melotika croons her lyrics followed by Krosst Out, who raps his lines as a deep trip hop beat kicks in. Soon the melody ramps up into a frantic punk beat at they both shout “I wanna run away, I gotta run away, I’m gonna run away!” This back and forth continues throughout the song, providing alternating moments of frenzied tension with calmer interludes of introspection that convey a cool sense of self-awareness and humor.
The two have made a crazy-fun video that nicely showcases their strong charisma and zany playfulness.
Sub Urban is the music project of New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and producer Daniel Virgil Maisonneuve. The highly imaginative and insanely creative 21-year-old exploded onto the alternative music scene early last year with his breakout hit “Cradles”. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart, and has been streamed 330 million times on Spotify. He followed up in March 2020 with his outstanding debut EP Thrill Seeker.
Regular readers of this blog know I’m a huge fan of the artist Two Feet, a massively talented New York-born and now Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and guitarist who’s song “Fire” is currently enjoying a long run at #1 on my Weekly Top 30. I love all his music, and have written about him numerous times. Over the past few months, he’s collaborated with other artists such as electronic producer Gryffin on “I Want Love”, electro-pop band SHAED on “Part Time Psycho” and now Sub Urban on a trippy new song “PATCHWERK“.
The song, which was written and sung by both Sub Urban and Two Feet, and produced by Sub Urban, has an eerie, yet oddly sexy vibe. The skittering trip hop beat, discordant melody and piercing, goth-like synths are incredibly dramatic and deliciously creepy, unlike anything I’ve heard before. Two Feet sings his verses in his signature seductive vocal style, whereas Sub Urban’s go from spookily breathy to electronically-altered otherworldliness, perfectly complementing the unsettling music. The lyrics are rather ambiguous and abstract, but seem to speak to living an empty, hedonistic existence: “Cause I’ve got no soul. Live in a hole I dug. And I’ll fall apart if I don’t get it./ I’m sewing the patches right onto my skin. I’m counting the dollars to buy me out. I’m losing myself to the competition. At what point did I start to think that I’d win.“
Every bit as eerie as the song is the accompanying video, which features a surreal mix of classical Greek imagery, kabuki-inspired choreography, and macabre body horror. The video was conceived and created by Sub Urban, directed by Andrew Donoho and produced by Valerie Bush of Huffman Creative. As with the song itself, Sub Urban wanted to produce a video that was different and shocking, drawing inspiration from Tim Burton films, as well as his mother’s Japanese and Chinese dramas. In the Official YouTube Premier for the video, he stated that he wanted it to “feel scary and uncomfortable and inhuman, as I thought that those kabuki characters in my mother’s films made me feel as a child.” He went on to say that the first thing he visualized was Two Feet singing as a Greek bust, then later immersed in a pool of wine, like a drunken Greek god. Sub Urban himself portrays two characters – a man like one from a Renaissance painting, only whose body is a creepy patchwork of stapled-together pieces, and a bald, alien-looking kabuki character all in white. Check it out:
The Left Backs are an indie rock band originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland and now based in Liverpool. They were formed in 2015 by three lifelong friends Lucas Macpherson (vocals and bass), Max Lozowsky (guitar) and Benjamin Watt Doak (drums), who later relocated to Liverpool to attend university. Influenced by some of their favorite bands The Strokes, Nirvana, The Libertines and The Ramones, they make infectious, high-energy punk rock. Their songs have received airplay on BBC Introducing, and they’ve had the pleasure of performing at Threshold Festival and the renowned Sound City in their adopted home of Liverpool.
In 2017 they released their terrific debut EP The Morning After the Night Before, then followed with a number of singles, the latest of which is “The Feeling“, which dropped March 26th. With the pandemic lockdown preventing them from recording in studios, the guys decided to create their own studio in their apartment so they could record and produce their music themselves. Their last single “Welfare Lady” was the first to be recorded in their home studio, and “The Feeling” is the second. About the single, the band states “‘The Feeling’ comes at just the right time, not only dropping a couple of days before some UK social restrictions are lifted, but also it’s upbeat sound coupled with it’s feel-good nostalgic imagery make it the perfect soundtrack to the summer months being just around the corner.”
The song is a rousing, grunge-soaked banger, featuring a bombastic torrent of gnarly guitars dripping with reverb, giving it a lo-fi, yet intense, garage rock vibe. Max lives up to his name as he shreds his guitar to the max, letting loose with a blistering solo in the bridge, while Benjamin smashes his drum kit with equal fervor. Lucas lays down a punishing bass line as he wails the sparse lyrics “You know the feeling. But you can’t remember when. You want to feel it again!” It’s totally badass from start to finish!
Tshepang Ramoba (aka RMBO) is a singer, songwriter, drummer, producer and film music supervisor based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He’s also a member of the South African alternative band BLK JKS (pronounced black jacks). He discovered his love for music and drumming rather serendipitously while in detention in high school. One day the detention teacher was absent, so the detainees were sent to the after school contemporary music class. Ever the showman, Ramoba went over to the drum-kit and started banging away in an effort to annoy his detainers, only to have his remaining detention sessions turned into contemporary music lessons by the school principal. He later studied African music and jazz at FUBA School Of Drama And Visual Arts, eventually earning a diploma in sound engineering there. He began studying for a post graduate music degree at Tshwane University of Technology, but left to embark on a world tour with his band BLK JKS.
As his music career advanced, he’s received several accolades, including being voted Best Musician by Billboard at the SXSW festival in Texas, winning the SAMA for Best Alternative album as part of BLK JKS, and doing a collaborative performance with Alicia Keys for a World Cup opening concert. He’s also played alongside The Roots.
Ramoba has an eclectic sound, in which he melds Afrobeat, alternative rock and electronic with traditional South African and World music. He’s released quite a bit of music as a member of BLK JKS, as a producer in collaboration with other artists, and as a solo artist. In 2019, he released an enchanting four-track EP Sešate, and has just dropped a wonderful new single “Bana Baka“. The song came about when he was asked to create the new theme song for Takalani Sesame, the South African version of the children’s television program Sesame Street. On “Bana Baka”, he tells a story about losing his kids to a Giant named Ledimo, but his ancestors said he will find them at the farms. He explains his inspiration for the song: “The song was inspired by the fact that I always wanted children since I was 16; I actually dreamed of having 13 to be exact. Reaching the age of 35 without even one influenced me to record the song”.
Though Ramoba grew up speaking the Sowetan colloquial language Tsotsi Taal, he sings “Bana Baka” in his native language of Sepedi, which he learned from his grandmother. Though I cannot understand the lyrics, the colorful instrumentation and fascinating vocals he’s included make for a delightful and compelling listening experience. I love that beautiful repetitive guitar lick that continues throughout the track, accompanied by a subtle, pulsating bass line driving the song forward while all sorts of exotic percussive sounds and scratching dance around it. Ramoba has an emotive and pleasing vocal style that goes from baritone to near falsetto with ease as he sings his verses. I’m not certain who sings the lilting back-up vocals and choruses, but they sound like a mix of male and female voices.
As a lover of music, I listen to a lot of it, often for several hours a day. As a music blogger, I also learn about at least one new artist or band a day too. And every now and then, I come across a particularly good one who’s been around for several years, wondering how I could have possibly not known about them earlier. One such act is Michigander, an alternative rock project from Michigan (obviously) who makes some of the most consistently good melodic rock I’ve heard by any act in a long while. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bingeing on their back music catalog, and can honestly say that I love every one of their songs – a rarity for even some of my favorite artists and bands. They dropped their latest EP Everything Will Be OK Eventually on March 19th, and I love it so much that I want to shout about it from the rooftops.
Michigander is the brain child of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jason Singer. Originally from the central Michigan city of Midland, in 2014 he moved to Kalamazoo, where he started his music career playing in dive bars and open mics. He released his wonderful debut single “Nineties” two years later, followed by several more singles and two outstanding EPs, Midland in 2018 and Where Do We Go From Here in 2019. I first learned about Michigander in late 2019 when I heard his single “Misery”. One of the songs from Where Do We Go From Here, “Misery” spent many weeks on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart, peaking at #20, and has been streamed more than 3.5 million times on Spotify.
Over the years, Singer has been joined by other talented musicians for the recording and performing of his music. The current Michigander lineup includes guitarist Jake LeMond, bassist Connor Robertson, and drummer Aaron Senor. (Senor also has his own music project Dawning, whose gorgeous EP Petals I reviewed last month.) Singer has also recently relocated to Detroit.
Everything Will Be OK Eventually, released through C3 Records, was produced by Singer and long-time collaborator Jake Rye, recorded at Social Recording Company in Adrian, Michigan, and mastered by Mike Cervantes. I think it’s Michigander’s finest work yet, with a fuller, more polished sound, thanks to a greater use of electronic elements than on their previous music. In an article about the EP in BrooklynVegan, Singer explains his approach for the creation of this record: “In the past, I didn’t want to write anything I wasn’t sure we could pull off live. This time, I didn’t care. I incorporated programming and samples that went beyond being a rock band. I became more sure of who I am, what I want to do with music, and how I want to go about it. I tried to be more vulnerable and make something I’m very proud of. I got to add in everything I always wanted to.”
As its title suggests, the EP offers positive messages of hope in these troubled times, delivered with dreamy, upbeat melodies and gorgeous instrumentation. Singer confided on his Instagram page: “I am so happy that these songs are now out in the world for you to hear. Each one of these tracks was a labor of love that my friends and I worked so hard on for over a year. I hope this EP finds a special place in your heart for the years to come. I hope it becomes the soundtrack for this time in our lives as we are slowly healing and returning to some sort of normalcy. I couldn’t have made these songs without the help of my best pals and my incredible team.”
He further elaborates in his comments for BrooklynVegan: “Even though there was so much uncertainty, I found peace in the fact we were all in it together. It was straightforward about the times we’re in, but it was meant to be peaceful. I’ve said the title over and over again to all of my friends; eventually, we’ll get back to normal, and everything will be alright. Personally, I’m very optimistic and hopeful about everything to a fault. You can hear it in the music. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing though.” It certainly isn’t, and the result is a stunning collection of songs that make you feel good, even in the sad parts.
The EP opens with “Better“, an exuberant yet poignant song about loss and wanting to be a better person; “Cause life might be good, but I wish that it would be better. Just want to be better. / Cause you tried to love me and I probably should have let you. Cause things would be better. Things would be better with you.” The song is gorgeous, with a swirling torrent of jangly and chiming guitars, driven by a pulsating bass line and urgent drumbeats, all melding into an electrifying wall of sound. The dual guitars of Singer and LeMond are quite breathtaking.
The touching video for “Better”, which was released concurrently with the EP, shows a man, played by Alex Wells, missing his former wife or girlfriend and trying to straighten out his life and become a better person, while Singer lurks in the background (or foreground) as he sings the song. At first it appears the man missing his wife or girlfriend is making himself better in the hopes of winning her back, but at the video’s end, it’s revealed that she had passed away. About the video, Singer explains: “I’ve wanted to do a video that doesn’t feature me as the focus. So when [director] Tyler [Appel] pitched a story-driven narrative for this one I knew right away it was the right vibe. I think it really captures my personality as the video is goofy but also makes you cry. It’s emotional. ‘Better’ is probably my favorite song off the new EP, it’s the type of song I’ve always dreamed of writing and sounds the closest to what I think Michigander embodies.”
Next up is “Let Down“, the deliriously-catchy lead single for the EP and the band’s highest-charting single to date, peaking at #8 on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart. I love this song, which is currently enjoying a long run on my own Weekly Top 30. The track’s arrangement and production values are superb, and a close listen reveals so many wonderful touches like Senor’s ace drumbeats, LeMond’s rousing guitar solo in the bridge, and the haunting piano keys in the outro. The lyrics speak to those optimistic feelings one gets when meeting a possible new love interest, but also the nagging fear that it won’t work out: “Well I feel like I’ve known you. Even though I’ve only met you. I don’t wanna mess it up, I’m probably gonna mess it up. / Cuz I got high hopes, I got high hopes. But they let me down, they usually let me down.” The sweet video shows Singer’s playful side.
“Saturday” starts off gently, with strummed guitar and delicate percussion as Singer softly croons “Well it always feels like Saturday when I’m next to you. / And it’s all downhill from here, the minute that you walk away.” Soon, the song expands into a beautiful guitar-driven Kings of Leon-esque anthem. Singer’s heartfelt vocals remind me of Sir Sly front man Landon Jacobs as he plaintively sings of his fear of losing the things he values: “I heard my voice on the radio for the third time this week. So scared to death of losing it, I can’t breathe. And It’s all downhill from here, the minute that you realize that we’re all living in fear. And it’s something that we can’t hide. Well I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna let you slip away. Let you slip away.”
The beautiful tunes keep coming with “Headlights“, a bittersweet song about a lost love that Singer co-wrote with LeMond. Once again, the arrangement and instrumentals are stunning, with glittery piano keys and synths, over which LeMond’s layers chiming guitar notes. And as always, Singer’s vocals are deeply moving and lovely as he sings “Cause I can’t get over you. And I don’t think I want to.” “OK” is a bouncy, lighthearted tune with somewhat dark but optimistic lyrics that speak to wanting to be with the object of one’s affection, but also acknowledging that it’s alright to be alone, at least once in a while: “You’re the only one that I want to see right now. But since you’re not here, I think I’ll just go home. Kicking up the dust as I wander around downtown. I’ll do anything to not go home. It’s OK to be lonely. It’s OK to be alone sometimes.” I especially like the interplay between the jangly guitar chords and tinkling piano keys that take the edge off what could be an otherwise melancholy message.
Closing track “Together” is a charming song about coping with the anxiety and isolation many of us experienced at the outset of the global pandemic: “Well oh my god, the world is ending. Do you still want to meet me for dinner?If the world’s gonna fall apart, maybe we could fall together. If the world’s gonna fall apart, I’ll stick with you.” Musically, the song has an exuberant, sweeping melody, highlighted by glittery synths and jangly guitars, giving it a bit of a Coldplay vibe. The blaring trumpet notes add a lovely sophisticated texture to the track as well. At the song’s end, Singer wistfully laments “Wish I could be with all my friends, but I’m feeling all alone again.”
Well, what can I add about this beautiful EP that I haven’t already gushed about? Everything Will Be OK Eventually is a stunning, flawlessly-crafted work, and easily one of the best EPs of 2021. I now count Michigander among my favorite artists currently making music, and look forward to hearing more stellar music from them for years to come.
Michigander will open for Mt. Joy at a socially-distanced Detroit show on May 7 (tickets).
BUEL is a bewitching, smoky-voiced singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, who’s released a number of marvelous singles over the past four years or so. Her recent single “Lemon Smile”, released last October, is a gentle but powerful take-down of phony, duplicitous people, with a mesmerizing, sophisticated synth-pop melody that, to my ears at least, calls to mind some of Madonna’s early songs (not in terms of vocals, but rather in their style and feel). The YouTube video for the song has been streamed over half a million times. Now BUEL returns with a surprising new single – a thoroughly captivating reimagining of the Nirvana classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit“. The song was recorded at Wakeful Studios in Los Angeles, and produced by Burak Yerebakan (who plays guitar for L.A. band Yard of Blondes), who also played the theremin, an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact.
It’s an audacious undertaking to try and cover such an iconic and beloved classic, but she and Yerebakan pull it off with finesse. The song opens with otherworldly, siren-like sounds produced by the theremin, creating a decidedly portentous vibe. Then BUEL’S languid vocals enter along with a deep synth bass-driven trip hop beat, followed by delicate fluttering keyboards and accompanied by an enchanting mix of glittery synths, chiming guitar notes and the spacey warbling of the theremin. Her sultry vocals are gorgeous, with a haunting vulnerability that results in a completely different, but equally compelling, interpretation of Cobain’s provocative and sometimes impenetrable lyrics. Their treatment of the song is more melodic and dreamy, yet still manages to capture the dark rebelliousness of the Nirvana original.
The fascinating video was conceived and directed by BUEL, and shows her and Yerebakan performing the song in what appears to be a vacant derelict meeting hall of some kind, interspersed with scenes of an alien (also played by BUEL) and another shadowy man trying to solve a Rubik’s cube type of puzzle, but ultimately giving up. Watch and listen:
Here’s the original 4:18-minute long version of the song:
Brí is a lovely and talented singer-songwriter from Offaly County, Ireland, who creates hauntingly beautiful and emotionally compelling indie pop with folk and electronic overtones. She released her debut single “Low Supply” in June 2019, then followed in 2020 with “Polite” and “Burying’. On the strength of those singles, Brí sold-out her Whelan’s headline show, received high praise from numerous blogs, gained radio airplay, and was selected to perform at Beatvyne’s Music X Tech Experience. Now she returns with her fourth single “More Than“, which drops today, March 19th. It’s an enchanting slice of atmospheric electro-folk, and I’m happy to make it my New Song of the Week. The song will be included on her forthcoming debut album Hide, due for release in October.
With assistance by her friend Aidan Mulloy on electric guitar and bass, and the production wizardry of Darragh Nolan of Asta Kalapa studios in Wexford, Brí has created a brooding yet soul-stirring soundscape. Floating over an eerily-beautiful, pervasive drone, they’ve layered sparkling keyboards, gentle percussion and Aiden’s gorgeous shimmery guitar notes, all of which create a dreamy atmospheric backdrop for Brí’s soft, ethereal vocals, which she recorded in her bedroom due to Covid restrictions. The captivating music and vocals slowly build into a climactic goosebump-raising cresendo at the end.
As to the song’s meaning, Brí explains: ”‘More Than’ is about craving more than the situation you currently find yourself in. It’s a place where passion and emptiness meet, the point where two conflicting paths overlap and where all that is cloudy becomes clear.” This is beautifully expressed in her thoughtful and honest lyrics: “I can’t be me anywhere there’s not music in the air, I can’t pretend to care about these things that make no difference to me. What about originality? Can I be me? My soul is longing for something more than, more than, more than this.”
The beautiful and haunting video was created after Brí’s initial plans for a big production video fell through. She elaborates: “My original plans for the visuals fell through due to travel restrictions. After a lot of waiting for restrictions to lift, I decided to direct my own music video and my local friend Constance Vance stepped in as my photographer, videographer and stylist. We discovered that she had talent to burn. The photos and video were shot at Charleville Castle, Tullamore. In this video, I long for more than my current situation as I struggle to sit with the spinning wheel which, for me, symbolises that ‘groundhog day’ feeling. Watching this video back reminded me that my passion for songwriting could never have been discovered if there wasn’t firstly a struggle. The very action of writing a song to express this was my answer to feeling the passion and excitement in my life that I was craving. I love the simplicity of that.“
Well, we love your song and video Brí, so please keep making more great music for us to enjoy!