Artist Spotlight: NEIL BILLINNESS

Neil Billinness is a musician who likes to do things his way. He writes, records and produces his own unique style of electronic music and, preferring a more ‘organic’ sound that’s not too polished, his songs are not mastered. Neil, who lives in Rosyth, England, started writing songs as a teenager, when he was inspired by 80’s artists Howard Jones, OMD, The Human League, Tears For Fears, David Bowie, Prince, Madonna, and even ABBA (all artists I also happen to love). His grandparents bought him his first keyboard, which was the impetus he needed to channel that creative inspiration.

Neil spent some time as a member of the bands Turbo and Ebon Night beginning in high school. He states that while he enjoyed those stints, the songs and styles he wanted to write were not always well-received by other band members, which frustrated his creative energies. For many years while building a career, he put his music on the back burner, but starting around 2011, he took up songwriting again in earnest, seemingly making up for lost time. He set up a home studio and embraced sequencing, sampling and programming, rather than playing everything manually, which has helped him produce music more easily. Still, Neil says he’s “a perfectionist when it comes to recording and writes and records at a pace that would make Kate Bush look prolific.” (Neil also has a wicked sense of humor.)

neil-billinness

Neil established an independent label NeRo Music with his late partner Robert, who he says was a continual inspiration to his songwriting, and an honest critic. Neil’s debut single “Passing Thoughts” was released in January 2016 and, tragically, Robert passed away suddenly the day after the song was released. The song calls to mind the sounds of OMD and New Order, with sharp, chiming synths and a strong pulsating beat. Neil’s vocals have a hazy, otherworldly quality as he sings “So many memories, so many fears. A bunch of photographs from through the years. I’d like to see you once again. So I could show you just how much I’ve changed.

His wonderful follow up single “Discotheque” was a newly recorded version of the song that reached number one on the Unsigned Top Chart in late Dec 2015-early Jan 2016. This incredibly catchy EDM track, about escaping the cares and worries of everyday life and letting loose at the disco, features lush synths set to a hypnotic dance beat that aims straight for the hips. The colorful and stylish psychedelic-looking video was produced by mixing video clips of Neil’s family and friends dancing to the song with live footage of him singing it.

Neil has a strong love for Science Fiction films, which has also greatly influenced his music. Many of his songs fuse mysterious, otherworldly Sci-fi synths with EDM grooves to create really compelling instrumental music. He released some of his new and earlier recorded tracks on a few EP’s, including A New Direction, Just Me, the song Do It All Again, which includes three remixes, and the three-part song Phase Three. A New Direction and Phase Three are the most futuristic-sounding collections of his songs. Their tracks are very Sci-fi, with computerized voices talking over highly synthesized instrumentals. “The Vision” from A New Direction has a great dance beat vibe that reminds me a bit of Madonna’s “Vogue.”

Just Me features four ambient instrumental tracks, one for each season. My favorite is “Autumn” with it’s complex, multi-textured synth arrangement that contrasts between the upbeat sounds of summer’s last gasp and the brooding approach of winter.

Despite the setbacks of Robert’s death and some health issues this year, Neil is working on producing a full album which will contain his two singles along with a number of re-recorded older songs. He hopes to release the album, which will be dedicated to Robert, early in 2017.  Follow Neil on Twitter , Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe to his YouTube channel. Stream his music on Soundcloud and Spotify, and purchase on iTunes or  Amazon.

Top 20 Songs for December 18-24, 2016

1. STARBOY – The Weeknd, Daft Punk (3)
2. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars (4)
3. SAY MY NAME – (IAM)WARFACE (1)
4. WASTE A MOMENT – Kings of Leon (2)
5. MY NAME IS HUMAN – Highly Suspect (9)
6. WELCOME TO YOUR LIFE – Grouplove (6)
7. CLEOPATRA – The Lumineers (7)
8. SURE AND CERTAIN – Jimmy Eat World (8)
9. FEEL INVINCIBLE – Skillet (5)
10. BAD DECISIONS – Two Door Cinema Club (12)
11. BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd, Gucci Mane (19)
12. CHANGES – MUTEMATH (10)
13. THE SHAKES THAT YOU MAKE – Dyslexic Postcards (15)
14. BELONG – Shelita Burke (16)
15. OBSOLETE – Agony in the Garden (17)
16. DON’T WANNA KNOW – Maroon 5 featuring Kendrick Lamar (20)
17. LIFE ITSELF – Glass Animals (11)
18. BANG BANG – Green Day (13)
19. HEATHENS – twenty øne piløts (26th week on list)
20. MOVE – Saint Motel (N)

EP Review: BILLY MOON – “That Which You Can’t Throw Away”

I recently discovered the Canadian singer/songwriter Billy Moon when I was contacted about reviewing his latest EP That Which You Can’t Throw Away, which dropped in September. Billy hails from Hamilton, Ontario, and plays a terrific and thoroughly engaging mix of alternative garage, post-grunge punk rock. As he states in his Facebook bio, “Stop listening to bad music, and listen to ShittyRocknRoll (the name of his pretty respectable 2013 debut EP). After an invitation like that, how can you possibly resist?

Hallmarks of Billy’s infectious music are his honest, straightforward lyrics, fine guitar work and beguiling vocals. His unique sound is influenced by such bands as JEFF the Brotherhood, Diarrhea Planet, Makeout Videotape, PS I Love You, Frank Zappa and Surfer Blood. That Which You Can’t Throw Away features five great tunes that address the ups and downs of love and youthful angst, while showcasing his creative songwriting and musicianship. Let’s dig into the songs.

billy-moon

The first track “Butterfly – Boyfriend’s Car” starts things off with Billy singing “I just want to cut the brakes on your boyfriend’s car. Listen to you cry as I hold you in my arms.” The buzzing bass riffs on this track are extremely good, as well as on “Long Drawled Out Story That Goes Nowhere – Sam + Alex” – a song about a couple who can’t decide whether or not they want to be together.

The wonderful track “Different Song (Same Girl)” speaks to the awkward, heart-tugging experience of meeting someone and immediately falling for them, hoping they feel the same about you. The song has a bit of a throwback doo-wop surfer vibe that conjures up images of a romantic summer evening by the beach. Billy’s heartfelt vocals perfectly convey his vulnerability: “Oh would you be so kind, as to tell me I’m fine. /I got a brand new leather jacket, that covers up all the holes in my shirt. Don’t be nasty. Say you like it.” His beautiful falsetto vocals in the chorus are sublime.

My favorite track on the EP is “Roads,” a tasty post-grunge tune with a catchy hook and languid beat. Our ears are treated to more of Billy’s awesome fuzzy guitars and compelling vocals. His falsetto and guitars in the chorus remind me a bit of Tame Impala (whose sound I adore). The lyrics address feelings of wasting time and not getting anywhere as the world passes you by. “Seems all the kids went out to Bangladesh. While I just stay at home and bang my head. Always in motion and always at rest. To sounds of people so alive some day. Somebody tell me what the fuck did I do with all my friends.” The imaginative video shows Billy sitting next to his little camper at night, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer as he sings the song. An animated video plays on an inset in front of the camper, almost like a big flat screen TV.

Ghosts” offers up more exceptional post-grunge sounds and powerful lyrics. “I am armed and I’m defenseless. Blind and naked in the dark. And all we do is try. We thrash around in the dark trying to find room. Trying to find walls. Something to hold on to./I think so much, but I’m not getting any smarter.” The guitar work in the final third of the song is brilliant.

All in all, That Which You Can’t Throw Away is a first-rate EP. Support Billy by following him on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.  Stream his music on Spotify and Soundcloud, or purchase on Bandcamp .

Featured Song and Video: CALLING ALL ASTRONAUTS – “Life As We Know It”

UK band Calling All Astronauts are a London-based three-piece who play complex and dark politically-charged Electronic Goth Post-Punk music.  They’ve established a reputation in the alternative underground not only because of their often provocative lyrics, but also their ability to mix electro, rock, goth, post-punk and dubstep into their amazing music style. Band members include vocalist/songwriter/programmer and producer David B, guitarist JJ Browning, and bassist Paul “Buzz Saw” McCrudden

calling-all-astronauts-copy

In a divergence from their usual darker sound comes their latest single “Life As We Know It.” Taken from their superb highly topical album Anti-Social Network, it’s a really outstanding EDM track featuring gorgeous synths and chiming guitars set to an addictive driving beat. David’s rough monotone vocals contrast with the smooth clear instrumentals, creating a bit of tension that adds to the overall quality of the track. I liked it so much upon my first listen that I had to feature it on this blog.

The terrific video produced for the track features a beautiful young woman dancing to the song in various indoor and outdoor settings, as well as a few other women shown dancing in brief scenes. I promise you’ll end up hitting replay.

To learn more about Calling All Astronauts, check out their website, follow them on  Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Stream their music on Spotify and purchase on iTunesAmazon, Bandcamp or EBay.

Top 20 Songs for December 11-17, 2016

1. SAY MY NAME – (IAM)WARFACE (1)
2. WASTE A MOMENT – Kings of Leon (2)
3. STARBOY – The Weeknd (4)
4. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars (5)
5. FEEL INVINCIBLE – Skillet (3)
6. WELCOME TO YOUR LIFE – Grouplove (7)
7. CLEOPATRA – The Lumineers (9)
8. SURE AND CERTAIN – Jimmy Eat World (10)
9. MY NAME IS HUMAN – Highly Suspect (11)
10. CHANGES – MUTEMATH (6)
11. LIFE ITSELF – Glass Animals (8)
12. BAD DECISIONS – Two Door Cinema Club (14)
13. BANG BANG – Green Day (12)
14. HEATHENS – twenty øne piløts (13)
15. THE SHAKES THAT YOU MAKE – Dyslexic Postcards (17)
16. BELONG – Shelita Burke (18)
17. OBSOLETE – Agony in the Garden (19)
18. STARS – Wons Phreely + the Horses (15)
19. BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd featuring Gucci Mane (N)
20. DON’T WANNA KNOW – Maroon 5 featuring Kendrick Lamar (N)

Featured Song & Video: SHMOO – “pLaStIc SuRgErY”

Shmoo is a UK duo consisting of two brothers – David and Neil Newport – who’ve been making an exciting style of Electronic Dance/House music for some time. They just dropped their marvelous new single “Plastic Surgery,” along with one of the most delightfully entertaining videos I’ve seen in a long while.

shmoo

The guys artfully employ sweeping synth arpeggiators and smooth Moog bass lines to create an otherworldly vibe. Broken beat drops are then added, moving the song forward with a hypnotic driving rhythm guaranteed to set your hips in motion. Their mesmerizing vocals are spliced with the spoken vocoder for the chorus ‘plastic surgery,’ giving the track a bit of an eerie sci-fi feel. This is an awesome song that had me hitting replay.

The fun and clever video tells a story in which Shmoo are recreated as plastic figures who go on an adventure through a fantasy world, where they encounter characters from Star Wars, Transformers, Thunder Cats, He-Man and Zoids. The guys end up at the Star Wars Cantina, where they’re led to a stage and begin performing the song with other characters.

Learn more about Shmoo by following them on  Facebook,  Twitter and  Instagram. Subscribe to their YouTube channel and stream their music on  Soundcloud and  Spotify.  Purchase “Plastic Surgery” and their other music on Bandcamp,  iTunes or other music platforms.

Album Review: ASHES IN THE SKY – “Relentless”

Metal and Hardcore Rock – and all their variations such as Post-Hardcore, Metalcore, Death Metal, Death Core, Nu Metal, Groove Metal, Doom, etc. – continue to remain popular, with a steady number of talented bands making those types of music coming onto the scene. As a result of discovering several really good hardcore and heavy metal bands, I’ve become a bigger fan of those genres myself. One such band I recently discovered when their bassist contacted me about reviewing their album is Ashes In The Sky, a five piece hard rock/metal band from Long Island, New York. They released their album Relentless in July 2016, and it’s quite appropriately titled, with 11 intense, ball-busting tracks that will have you shouting fuck yeah!

Formed in 2010, Ashes In The Sky now consists of twin brothers and original members Patrick and Anthony “Javs”  Javino, and their ‘three best friends’ Dave Lombardo, Anthony Villani and Andrew Kohn. Javs plays lead guitar, Patrick hits drums, Anthony plays bass, Andrew sings lead vocals and Dave plays rhythm guitar and provides the brutal screams. They’re all from Long Island and share a strong passion for music. Like many bands, their sound is influenced by some of their favorite artists, most notably Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet For My Valentine, Disturbed, Pantera, Trivium, Drowning Pool, Queen, and even The Beatles.

ashes-in-the-sky

Relentless opens with the gorgeous one and a half minute intro track “Spread the Ashes (A New Fire).” A simple, haunting piano movement starts things off, then strings, guitars and percussion usher in a sweeping rock melody that builds until it explodes into the blistering second track “Here to Stay.” Metallica’s influence is really apparent in this song, with a barrage of rapid-fire machine-gun guitar riffs, pummeling bass and hammering drums. Andrew Kohn passionately sings, with Dave Lombardo screaming the refrains: “No more fighting now, we are all here to stay / Conflicted by your laws no, I will always remain.

The band launches a full-frontal assault on the title track “Relentless.” The song truly lives up to its name, with guitars so hard-hitting and dense that they feel and sound like heavy percussion. Patrick Javino’s speaker-blowing drums ramp up the song’s intensity to even greater heights, and the ear-splitting vocals are downright fearsome. This merciless track will blow the hair right off your head! The guys don’t skip a beat with “Euthanasia,” a bombastic hardcore anthem about fighting against mind-control. With their furious vocals, Kohn and Lombardo spit the lyrics  “Don’t be a pussy, what the fuck’s it gonna do? / Why can’t I just say goodbye? You made me control everything yet nothing at all. Before me there lies a path of destruction.” The song’s bridge contains a military-style chorus “I don’t know what I’ve been told. Your prophecies are getting old.”

The next several album cuts fuse melodic arrangements with the band’s signature heavy metal instrumentals. “Coward” is more straight-up hard rock, with stunning, complex guitar riffs, power drums, crashing cymbals and soaring vocals that implore “You’re nothing but a fucking coward, using love to get your way. So please don’t ask me if I think that you’re the one to blame.” This is one of my favorite tracks – if it’s even possible to have a ‘favorite’ as every track on this album is pretty phenomenal.

Empty Space” is a great melodic track, with more of the band’s killer guitar work and a combination of both heartfelt and fierce vocals. The compelling lyrics speak to feelings of loss from a failed relationship: “I’ll say anything to make you stay. But words won’t fill this empty space / What is my purpose? What am I fighting for?” “Rain” starts off with a beautiful, rather mournful melody accompanied by multi-textured guitars, strong percussion and Kohn’s impassioned vocals, backed by guest vocalist Lauren DeLorenzo. Halfway through, we’re hit with a sudden blast of staccato guitars and guttural screams, then an onslaught of incredible guitar solos guaranteed to raise goosebumps.

The band unleashes its sonic fury in “Torn Away,” one of the standout tracks on the album. This jaw-dropping song kicks major ass! The guitars and percussion are nothing short of monumental, and the vocals are classic hardcore. As if Kohn and Lombardo’s powerful vocals aren’t fearsome enough, Kohn’s brother Tim’s guest vocals on this track are positively brutal. They scream “WHY!? Did it have to end this way?  (Couldn’t I make it okay?) All that’s loved is lost as I am torn away.” By song’s end I’m left speechless. I love the powerful video showing the band performing the song in a barn.

The final three tracks – “What Makes a Man,” the bombastic “Ene(me)” and “Fractures” – serve up more helpings of the band’s rapid-fire shredded and distorted guitars and heavy bass, along with both emphatic and hardcore vocals. All three songs are great, each clocking in at more than five and half minutes. “Ene(me)” is particularly brutal.

Ashes in the Sky is one of the better hard rock/heavy metal bands I’ve come across, and Relentless is a superb album, without a single throwaway song. Support these guys by following them on  Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to their YouTube channel, which features several videos of Tony Javs performing guitar cover solos of heavy metal songs. Stream their music on Spotify or Google Play, and purchase on iTunes or Amazon.

Artist Spotlight on L.A. band SIFTING

I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to the fantastic metal rock band Sifting by fellow blogger LIFELIFETHRUMUSIC. Currently based in Hollywood, California, Sifting was originally formed in Caracas, Venezuela in 2010 by singer/songwriter Eduardo Osuna Gil. The band started recording their first songs in 2011 around the time the band Bullet for My Valentine chose them to open a concert in Caracas. Their debut single “All the Hated” was released that year on the famous line-up of games ROCK BAND® for the main gaming consoles worldwide. Their first album, also called All The Hated, was released in 2013 after Gil relocated to Los Angeles and reformed the band with new members Chris Eklund on lead guitar, Victor Ladines on bass and Abelardo Bolano on drums.

In a great interview with LIVELIFETHRUMUSIC (which you can read here) Eduardo discussed the origin of the band’s name: “Sifting is a word that gives meaning to the action of purifying, separating and cleaning things in order to get the best of them. This project uses this theory, always seeking to purify every aspect of what we are as a band, improving each day as musicians, as a group, as a part of society. In every lyric, arrangement and performance of our music we always seek to leave a message that teaches and encourages our followers and fans to improve and evolve every day, trying to make a real positive contribution to our environment.

sifting

The band’s music is characterized by complex, highly melodic arrangements with outstanding intricate guitar work, strong, driving beats and powerful vocals – all of which I love. Their excellent debut single “All the Hated” has all those ingredients in spades.

In 2015, the band released a 3-track EP Blurry Paintings, which includes the monumental track “Alone,” an eight-minute long tour de force. As beautifully articulated by Gil, the song is “packed with all kinds of emotions and transitions, progressive instrumentals, huge solos, incredible synths and orchestra arrangements, and thoughtful lyrics.” The song is literally a rock symphony. Eklund’s guitar solo midway through the song is breathtaking, and Bolano’s drums practically blow out the speakers. The compelling lyrics speak of man’s destructive instincts: “It’s so irrational to lead Mankind into its bitter end / And they still won’t listen / We won’t be forgiven / We’ve been left alone…

Sifting has been recording new songs for their upcoming album Not From Here that they expect to release in early 2017.  Three tracks that have already been finished are “Nothing But Us”, the title song “Not From Here,” and “Gloom.”  “Nothing But Us” bursts open with Gil’s aggressive vocals and furious guitars riffs set to heavy percussion. The powerful lyrics speak to standing one’s ground and staying true to oneself, not allowing others to push you around or make you into something you’re not: “I know the things they think about me / Though the words hurt, I don’t care / Go on push me around now, you can’t bring me down.

“Not From Here” is another epic song, with over six minutes of thunderous guitar riffs, pummeling bass and strong drums. At times, the highly complex guitars remind me a bit of the legendary band Boston. Gil’s raw vocals snarl and scream, backed by his band members’ soaring choruses.  This is an awesome track.

Their latest track “Gloom” is a lovely, bittersweet rock ballad about the heartache and feelings of rejection when a former love doesn’t want to continue the relationship. The great guitar riffs in the song have a bit of a Journey vibe, and Gil’s heartfelt vocals convey a deep sadness.

Sifting is a really talented group of musicians, and I look forward to their upcoming album Not From Here. To learn more about the band, check out their website and follow them on Twitter,  Facebook and Instagram. Steam their music on Spotify, and purchase on iTunes or Amazon.