Marianne Kesler is a Dayton, Ohio-based singer-songwriter with a life-long love for music. A prolific artist, she’s been writing and recording music for over 25 years, and has released five albums and more than 10 singles as a solo artist. She’s also collaborated with numerous other artists, including neo-soul/pop/folk artist Leah Thompson, with whom she co-wrote over 30 songs, as well as her friend Kate Stanton, as part of a duo named Every Lovely Thing, who I featured in an Artist Spotlight nearly four years ago. On top of all that, she’s also written a three-volume trilogy of free verse poetry/prose and photography.
Her pleasing style of folk/pop has earned her comparisons to such artists as Judy Collins, Carole King, Aimee Mann and Sheryl Crow. In fact, she cheekily describes her sound this way: “Imagine if Joni Mitchell got together with Leonard Cohen for a writing session at the coffeehouse where Neil Young and the Counting Crows were playing, folk artist Jan Krist was singing, Tori & Fiona were pouting, Over The Rhine & Aimee Mann opened, and Santana stopped by to play some smokin’ guitar…Yeah, It sounds something like that!“
Today, Marianne has dropped a hauntingly beautiful new single “If I Could Fall Into the Skies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Her first release of 2022, it’s a melodically simple but impactful song, dominated by a somber but lovely piano movement, and accompanied by airy synths that create an enchanting backdrop for her gentle, ethereal vocals. My only criticism, and it’s a minor one, is that I wish Marianne’s vocals were a bit more pronounced, as the bold piano keys sometimes overpower her delicate vocals. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful track.
The bittersweet lyrics speak of wanting to know someone – perhaps a romantic interest, but it could apply to any special friendship – better, but being unable to break through to them:
If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way
I would stay … I would stay.
Staring at the water it appears as though the world is upside down
Summer skies reflected there are shimmering like clouds upon the ground
I could jump right now … If I just knew how
Gazing in your eyes I glimpse a depth I’ve never noticed there before
Subtle undertow beneath the surface has me aching to explore
I could jump right now … If I just knew how
If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way
I would stay … I would stay.Standing on the edge with everything I’ve ever wanted down below
Painfully aware I’ve never told you how I feel or let you know
But I could jump right now … If I just knew how
Catch a falling star … Landing where you are
Starlit skies … In your eyes
Upside down … Spun around
’Til the world seems out of focus as I fall …
If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay.
Marianne created a stunning video to accompany the song, about which she has this to say: “This song was inspired by seeing how the sky was reflected through a window onto my glass top desk ~ looking as though I could fall right into it! I tried to shoot video footage that captured this same ‘world upside down’ reflection (mostly on water) to add visuals to these lyrics of longing.”
Though many singer-songwriters tend to draw inspiration from their own life experiences, few I’ve come across are quite as thoughtful, candid and personal as Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (born Andrew Neil Maternick). Considered an outsider music artist in a similar vein to the late Daniel Johnston, Andrew writes from his heart and soul. The 34-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his faith, strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled him to flourish as an artist.
I’ve featured Andrew twice on this blog, first in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak, then again in June 2021 when I reviewed his fourth album Sunny Side (you can read those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post). I wrote extensively about his life experiences in those reviews, but will touch on a few significant points to provide a bit of context.
After growing up as a fairly typical kid and high school athlete, he suffered a life-altering event in 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that he needed help, rather than being incarcerated.
He was subsequently released and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray later uploaded to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.)
Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. He followed up a year later with his second album Merry Go Round, then quickly went back to work in early 2019 to record his third album Freak. Sadly, as he was wrapping up the recording he was hit with yet another health crises when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.
His cancer thankfully in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, featuring 10 optimistic tracks with a mellower, more lo-fi folk sound. Ever the creative, hard-working artist, Andrew’s now returns with his fifth album Alien, which dropped September 15th. Similar to Sunny Side, the songs on Alien were performed with just Andrew’s vocals and acoustic guitar, giving them a lo-fi folk sensibility. But the subject matter is a bit darker, touching on such issues as mental health, loneliness, suicide, alcoholism and relationships.
In order to get a bit more insight into his inspiration for writing Alien, I asked Andrew a few questions, to which he graciously responded.
EML: Thank you, Andrew, for agreeing to speak with me about your latest album Alien. You’ve experienced more than your fair share of trauma and difficult challenges in your life, and also suffer from depression, which you’ve spoken about pretty openly on social media. Like many songwriters, you draw from your own experiences when writing your lyrics, and as was the case with your previous albums, the songs on Alien address such topics as mental health and emotional well-being, addiction, suicide, loneliness and faith. Does writing and recording songs help bring you a little peace of mind?
Andrew: Yes, writing songs does bring me a little peace of mind. Some songs help me process my grief and sorrow. When I write it is like the hand of my heart reaching out to the world for help, love and understanding; almost always the world reaches back and that feels good. I also hope that my music will help others to deal with their own issues, depression, loneliness. If you think about it, it’s almost like a continuous circle of emotions. You write to help yourself, which directly or indirectly helps others and they in turn help you back with positive feedback. They view my song within their own life experiences and relate in their own way. We all learn from this exchange of melody and lyrics and emotions. Knowing this gives me peace of mind.
EML: The title track “Alien” reminds me a bit of “Freak” in that it seems to speak to embracing one’s identity, warts and all, rather than being ashamed of it. Is that the point you’re trying to make on this song?
Andrew: The point of “Alien” is the truth behind my belief in a universal family. We may come from other places, have different religions, have different governments, eat different food, but at the end of the day I firmly believe we all have hearts with similar desires. These hearts feel and desire love and it’s this desire that illustrates we truly are a family. So, when we see someone different, someone who fits the mold of an alien we should reach out to them with love and understanding.
EML: Two songs in particular, “I Need a Reason” and “Don’t Tell the Doctor”, are pretty heavy and dark, dealing with thoughts of suicide. Your dad told me that “Don’t Tell the Doctor” was inspired by a comment a woman whispered to you during a group therapy session – “Don’t tell the Doctor, but I’m in love with suicide”. What prompted you to write about that experience?
Andrew: I have spent a fair share of time in mental hospitals and have met many interesting characters. During one of my first stays at Virginia Baptist Memorial Hospital I met a young lady named Holly. It is true that we had a group session in which we were supposed to talk about what we love. Her answer was “Suicide”. I, like many in the group, could relate and it’s a moment of genuineness I will never forget. I wonder where Holly is these days, and she will always have a place in my heart.
EML: Not being a songwriter nor musician, I’m always impressed by people who can write compelling lyrics and compose interesting or catchy melodies. Do you generally write your lyrics first, then set them to music, or do you first come up with a melody or guitar riff, then write words to fit?
Andrew: When writing songs, I usually start with strumming some chords on the guitar. Then I hum a tune that fits and then I transform that tune into words. Sometimes I feel as though my fingers are guided on the fretboard. I don’t really know any standard chords or notes or even musical keys, but my fingers seem to find the right sound and melody. I really think melody is important. Melody is something I think is missing from many songs written today. There are lots of “beats” but not really much melody in many contemporary songs.
Once I have a melody, I try to determine what the melody is telling me or saying. The words/lyrics are by far the hardest part of the process. The lyrics are really my notes in a weird way. I write the lyrics so that the melody wraps around them. Sometimes I’ve come up with lyrics when the guitar is not in my hands. I might have a dream or a special feeling and the lyrics just pop into my head. “Mongolia” was a good example of this. In that case the lyrics helped to dictate the melody. I tend to write 2 to 3 songs a month.
EML: From what I can tell, the only sounds we hear on these songs are your voice and acoustic guitar, is that correct?
Andrew: Yes, it was certainly stripped down. Just me and my nylon string ovation guitar. I do not recall any keyboard dubs on the Alien album tracks. We decided to keep it simple and maintain a lo-fi sound. We also wanted to help the subtleties of my guitar playing, which is different than many guitarists, stand out. Over the years, I have come up with my own style of playing and make up my own chord shapes. It’s a very percussive style. My dad says it reminds him of Richie Havens in some ways. I am not really encumbered by the rules, scales, etc. of the instrument. I really think this gives me a certain amount of freedom in writing songs that many songwriters don’t have. They tend to stick to the conformity of the instrument.
EML: Who are some living artists or musicians whose work inspires you, or that you would like to collaborate with if possible?
Andrew: My inspirations are many. The living artists who come to mind are Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana, Richard Thompson, Sanjay Mishra, and Lady Gaga to name a few. I’ve also been listening a lot to Country artists John Anderson and Raelyn Nelson. It would be cool to collab with them, but I realize that is pie in the sky kind of stuff. More realistically, as far as collaboration, I would love to work with and perhaps co-write songs with some rising artists in different genres. One genre in particular I am developing an interest in is Alt-Country, which is a mix of Country, Garage Rock, Blues and Alternative. One up and coming Alt-country artist I would love to co-write a song with is Raelyn Nelson. As you know I was scheduled to open for her Band on 19 August of this year in Hershey PA, but it was cancelled due to an illness in her band. It will be rescheduled hopefully in November. After her manager notified me that they wanted me to open for them, I started listening to the Raelyn Nelson Band music. That listening experience inspired me to write a few Alt-County songs for the show. I would love to release an alt-country album after Alien. This would definitely be a different direction, but I think it’s also a way to reach more people with my music.
Prior to the inspiration by the Raelyn Nelson Band, I had begun to dabble in writing more country-like songs. For instance, I think the songs “Gambin Man” and “Kinda Turns me On”, on my Sunny Side Album have an alt-country feel to them. I think I am going to travel in that direction for the time being. Also, I am on this list on Ranker (Best Outsider Music Artist list). Many of the artists that are listed have passed on now. I really wish I could have worked with Daniel Johnston. But there are a few younger living artists on the list like John Revitte who is an exceptional lyricist, that I would love to collab with. R. Stevie Moore, and Iggy Pop are also on the list, but are really up there in age and I’m not sure if they are still active in music.
EML: Anything else you’d like to say about Alien or yourself that I’ve neglected to ask?
Andrew: No storm lasts forever. Life is good and people are beautiful. I appreciate you taking the time to review my music and get my story out there into this world. Music makes a difference in this jello world. Thanks again and peace out.
Now, let’s get to the album, which opens with the title track “Alien“. As Andrew stated, the song speaks of reaching out to people who are different from us with love and understanding, as we’d hope they’d do for us: “Far from ordinary, makes life kind of scary. I’d have it no other way. We come in peace. Don’t shoot please. It’s alright alien.” On the melancholy “I Need a Reason“, he questions the value of his very existence: “Like a bug stuck in a spider’s web, the more I struggle, the more I’m dead. I am blue, and blue I remain. Will I get conquered by my pain?I need a reason baby, a reason to be here. I need a reason baby, to make it through the year. I need a reason baby, before I disappear.“
While “Mongolia” comes across as a pleasing folk tune, its lyrics are packed with meaning and emotional conflict. It starts off with Andrew listing a few of his psychoses: “I know angels on a first-name basis. And I can’t stare at the walls too long, or else I’ll see faces.” He then describes his wanting to escape to an exotic place in hopes of overcoming some of his shortcomings: “I want to go to Mongolia, Perhaps there I’ll get holier. Holier than the Judas that I am. Holier like Mary’s little lamb.” Continuing on, he acknowledges that he’s too old to be treated like a child, yet still needs emotional support and comfort from his mother: “Mommy please don’t spank me. I’m way, way too old. And I need a blankie, cause this world is so cold. So I wanna go to Mongolia.” Here’s a wonderful live performance of Andrew singing the song in 2021.
As described earlier, “Don’t Tell the Doctor” was inspired from an experience Andrew had in one of his group therapy sessions back in 2009, in which the discussion leader asked them to talk about what they loved. A woman in the group leaned over to Andrew and whispered “Don’t tell the doctor, but I’m in love with suicide“. The song has a languid, rather somber melody, with some really fine guitar noodling. Andrew’s melancholy vocals sing of feelings of hopelessness: “Sometimes I feel like there’s only one way out. That’s when you’ll find me hanging from a cloud. And sometimes I feel like there’s nowhere left to run. I keep my promises, I won’t use a gun.” That line, combined with the almost grungy feel of Andrew’s acoustic guitar, makes me think of Nirvana.
“Fingers Crossed” seems to touch on people’s superficiality and phoniness, and making empty promises but not following through: “Ring, ring, ring, I ignore the call. So leave a message and I’ll call you back. Fingers crossed, yeah we all know that.” On “My Best Friend is Not Whiskey“, Andrew speaks to how alcohol does not solve our problems or make us feel better: “Where’s my fairy tale ending? What the fuck happened to me? Every day I keep pretending that I’m not in misery. Every day I keep pretending my best friend is not whiskey. It’s a thirsty world.” And on the allegorical “The Beat Goes On“, he describes a series of dreams in which he meets an Aztec priestess, has Jesus in a high school class, and is a Samurai warrior addicted to death and glory who ultimately commits hara kiri.
“Remember to Forget” is a sweet song about being supportive and loving to a friend in need: “When you’re cold, I’ll be your sweater. When you’re sad, I’ll make you smile. We’re all in this together, mile after mile. When you need a hug, I’ll be your teddy. Yes, I’ll be your happy thought. Remember, remember to forget, the vampire that bit. Remember, remember to forget all of the bullshit.” And of course, it’s always wonderful getting that support in return: “When it rains, you’re my umbrella. When I cry, you dry my tears. We’re all in this together. You put meaning in my years.“
The album closes with the charming “Black Sheep“, which speaks to how just because someone may be quirky and different, they still have qualities worth loving: “One day, we all kick the can. So girl, won’t you hold my hand. I promise that I am no creep. Yeah, I’m just a black sheep.” Andrew’s percussive style of guitar playing is strongly evident in his heavily-strummed acoustic notes. It’s an upbeat ending that keeps the album from being too overwhelmingly bleak. All in all, Alien is a marvelous little album, and Andrew’s stripped-down acoustic treatment really allows his endearing, heartfelt vocals and relatable poetic lyrics to shine.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, the exceptionally talented and undeniably attractive couple who call their music project almost sex have been on a creative tear since the release of their debut single “Knockoff” in September 2020. In the 16 months since, they’ve dropped nine more singles at the rate of one every 6-7 weeks, the latest of which is “Lucille“. I first learned about them a year ago when I read a great review of their beautiful second single “Charmer” by fellow blogger The Alternative Mixtapes, who posited that “their name is meant to imply that their music is almost as good as sex.” As smitten with them as I now am, he subsequently wrote about them two more times. The duo followed me on Instagram a few months ago, and I’ve decided it’s high time I featured them on my own blog.
Consisting of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Nick Louis and architect, multi-media artist and musician Warren LaSota, almost sex met online through a dating app during the first Covid lockdown in early Spring 2020. Little did they realize at the time that they were forming not only a romantic relationship, but also an artistic one too. Nick and Warren began sharing poetry, song lyrics and music demos back and forth over the internet, and two months later they finally met in person, whereupon they recorded and subsequently released “Knockoff.”
Drawing from elements of folk, post punk, alternative rock, electronica and indie bedroom pop, their sound is richly varied and eclectic. Consequently, none of their songs sound alike, and I love every single one of them. Nick has a distinctive and endearing vocal style that reminds me somewhat of Passenger on songs like “Charmer”, “Swallow”, “Part of You” and “Lucille”, grandson on “Collapse”, and like no one else on the rest. Warren’s bewitching ethereal harmonies nicely complement Nick’s vocals on several tracks.
Their latest offering “Lucille” is the lead single from their forthcoming debut EP We’re Okay, due out on April 1st. Co-written, produced, mixed and mastered by Ken Helmlinger, the song has a rather melancholy vibe, with a languid melody driven by Nick’s strummed acoustic guitar, and accompanied by a subtle but resonant bassline and nice drum fills. Little instrumental touches like the gentle finger-plucked guitar notes and enchanting sounds from what I’m guessing is a mellotron add some interesting textures to the song.
Nick’s warm, vulnerable-sounding vocals convey a sad resignation as he softly croons the lyrics addressing the end of a relationship with a woman named Lucille that wasn’t meant to be, and relieved it’s finally over: “And after all these complications, I really should be grateful it’s the end. / Cause time wasnever on our side. Lucille, goodbye.” Warren’s backing harmonies in the choruses are sublime, making for a really lovely track.
Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (full name Andrew Neil Maternick) is one of the more unique artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog. I first wrote about him in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak (which you can read here). Andrew is considered an “outsider” music artist similar to the late Daniel Johnston, and in fact, ranks as the #1 Best Outsider Artist on Ranker, just above Johnston (click this link to see the full list). The now 33-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.
I wrote extensively about his experiences in my previous review, but will summarize here to provide a bit of context. After growing up as a fairly typical kid and high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated.
He was subsequently released and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d written since his 2009 accident. Andrew writes his honest, deeply personal songs entirely by ear, first creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar, then recorded songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would later upload to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.) Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them.
In 2018, Andrew recorded his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. He entered the studio again in 2019 to record what would become his third album Freak, and as he was wrapping up the recording he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.
His cancer thankfully now in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, which is being released digitally on June 15th via Tree Heart Records. The album will become available on CD on June 30th, along with a limited press vinyl version scheduled for release in October. The songs have a mellower and more lo-fi folk sound than the ones on Freak. About Sunny Side, Andrew states “I believe the album will appeal to people who really dig the lo-fi, outsider vibe. I hope my music will be recognized as something genuine; something that people can relate to and let them know they are not alone in this jello world.” The imaginative artwork for the album cover was created by Boston artist Daniel Benayun.
The album kicks off with “Gamblin’ Man“, a pleasing folk tune with an allegorical story about a reckless soul who always lives life on the edge. Andrew’s knack for writing seemingly simple yet profound lyrics with a powerful message is exemplified in these verses: “Out in the desert sun I made friends with a scorpion. We talked about how we feel, then I said shuffle up and deal. We played till the sun went down, full moon was wearin’ a crown. I cheated, gave myself some kings. Then I felt how a scorpion stings.”
On the optimistic title track “Sunny Side“, he advises us to not wallow in our problems, but instead try and find something good in every situation: “I buy flowers. She asked what for. Just in case the undertaker comes knockin’ on my door, cause tomorrow’s no guarantee. Let’s take our sorrow, and drown it in the sea. So keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side. Keep on the sunny side of life./ This life is a gift. It makes me high, high, high like a cliff.” He continues along a similar vein with the grunge-tinged “Lemonade“, urging us to make lemonade out of those lemons life sometimes throws our way: “Make lemonade. Realize that we got it made. Make lemonade. Don’t be afraid. Even in hell, be thankful for shade./ Live with love, the world is ours.”
Andrew’s strong sense of spirituality, love and faith in humanity is expressed on several tracks. On “One Big Family“, he sings of how, despite our differences, we’re all human beings deserving of love and respect: “We are one big family. And you have a brother, a brother in me. Tough times do not last. Tough people do. And I feel so much tougher when I’m loved by you. And no one’s perfect yet; we all have flaws. But we still deserve gifts from Santa Claus.” He uses “Heaven” as a metaphor for love and empathy, rather than a biblical place: “Heaven, where hate is not allowed. Heaven, another word for love. Heaven, it’s not below, it’s not above, it’s in your heart.”
On the lovely, nearly six-minute long ballad “Awoke“, he sings of overcoming his past mistakes and feelings of hopelessness by accepting God’s love: “So many nights I wanted to cry. Wanted to fly away. This dream trope has come to an end. Stars explode, but you’re still my friend. And I’m still your friend. Cause I awoke to God’s mercy. We’re all thirsty for love.” And on the folksy final track “Thank The Lord“, he gives thanks for all the things that are important to him, and the positive role music plays in his emotional well-being: “Thank the lord for my friends. Thank the lord for family. Thank the lord for the music that lives inside, inside of me.”
Conversely, perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Anymore“, where Andrew questions his faith, self-worth and direction in life: “You can lie, and say it’s all part of God’s plan. Cause I don’t want to grow up, I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to shut up, I don’t want to be told what to do, anymore. I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to go on. Just so tired of being so strong. Don’t know what to do anymore./ You can blame, you can blame me for not being a good man.” Musically, his strummed acoustic guitar is accompanied by some somber but lovely keyboards that create a haunting soundscape for his introspective and melancholy vocals.
“Dog Without A Bone” is about having pretty much everything one could want in life, with the exception of a romantic partner to spend time with. Andrew uses clever and pretty direct metaphors to describe the feeling that something crucial to his well-being is missing: “Got a million reasons to live. I’m giving everything I have to give. Yet I’m so tired of being alone. Just a dog with no bone. A drunk without a drink. A cloud without a sky./ I have a lot, but I want more. Is there someone out there that could make me sore.” And once you’re in a relationship, conflicts and disagreements will undoubtedly arise, which he cheekily addresses on the charming “Kinda Turns Me On“: “When you get so mad, it kinda turns me on. Tell me what I did wrong. Cause baby it turns me on. Honestly, I want to grow old with you. Live the American dream, red, white and blue. Have a bunch of kids, and grandchildren too.”
Sunny Side is a wonderful album, filled with honest, heartfelt songs about faith, love and hope, and I’m confident all of us can relate to at least some of them. Andrew Neil is a thoughtful songwriter with a special gift for getting right to the heart of things in a way that few other artists can – or are even able – to do. I’ve grown quite fond of him, and hope he’ll continue writing interesting and compelling songs for us to enjoy.
There’s a tremendous amount of talent throughout the music world, and I’ve had the pleasure of writing about quite a few truly gifted artists in my five-plus years of blogging. One of the most remarkable of them all is Kristian Møller, a young singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist who’s now based primarily in Copenhagen, Denmark. Not only is he insanely creative and artistically brilliant, he’s also smart, thoughtful, funny and kind. He’s handsome too, though so free of vanity that, unlike a lot of artists who have scores of photos of themselves plastered across their social media accounts, Kristian has almost none. Hence the only photo he provided is the rather spooky avatar of himself that he created, shown above.
I first learned about Kristian in 2017 when he was based in London and a member of the alternative band From the Cave. I featured them and their delightfully eclectic music several times on this blog between November 2017 and April 2019, shortly after which they split up, much to my chagrin. Fortunately, he continued to record music as a solo artist, and over the past three years has released four ambitious, genre-bending albums, beginning in September 2018 with the trippy, experimental work Gamble. He followed with two albums in quick succession in 2019 – Incomplete in August, featuring 16 tracks, and I’m the Fucking Producer in December, containing a mind-boggling 23 tracks! I especially like the title track, a marvelous take down of music producers: “I’m the fucking producer, I’m going to ruin your tune. I take the life out of it, and I make it better, better”, but I digress…
On February 21st, Kristian dropped his fourth album Caldo, an exquisite and loving tribute to his Spanish heritage, specifically, his mother’s homeland of Mallorca, an island in the Mediterranean that’s part of Spain. He explained to me that the album’s title “Caldo” means “broth” in Spanish, adding: “The broth plays a big part in some traditional dishes that my family – and especially my Spanish grandparents – cook.” (He plans to follow up later this year with another album of songs sung in Danish as a tribute to his father’s and his homeland of Denmark.)
The album is nearly epic in scope, running 55 minutes and featuring 18 songs, 14 of which are sung entirely in Spanish, as well as four instrumentals. When Kristian first approached me about reviewing this album, I was a bit apprehensive, as both its length and the fact it was sung entirely in Spanish presented a potentially daunting task. He kindly translated his lyrics into English for me, and once I began listening to the songs, my trepidation quickly evaporated as I found myself thoroughly enchanted by their breathtaking beauty.
Case in point is the opening track “Son Verí“, a beautiful ode to the Mallorcan seaside town where his family has a home: “From the moment I was born, there’s always been a place for me, in Son Verí / In every rock there are stories and thousands of memories that can’t be forgotten.” Kristian’s strummed Spanish guitar is stunning, and his baritone vocals have an earnest vulnerability that’s both comforting and deeply moving. He also creates wonderful, imaginative videos for many of his songs, and the one for “Son Verí” nicely captures the warmth and sun-kissed beauty of his family’s Mallorcan home.
On the next song “Invitación” (Invitation), he continues singing his praises of Mallorca: “I invite you to the view of the cathedral / I invite you to the view of the mountains and the ocean / I invite you to the sun and the nights filled with moonlight / I invite you to the tower of Cala Pi, pa amb oli and olives / We can have dinner together and be joyful people.” Once again, his strummed acoustic guitar work is sublime, only this time complemented by a deep bass groove and a gorgeous atmospheric organ riff.
Besides extolling Mallorca’s virtues, Kristian weaves other subjects such as romantic love, the importance of family, and even his frustrations over the political upheaval that resulted in Brexit, into the narrative of some tracks. On “Tranquila” (Don’t Worry), he sings of his love for another, even though he must leave them: “You know that I’ve enjoyed our time together/ Even though I sometimes lose myself in the things I say, there’s something else that is about to begin / Yet again, I feel the need to make mistakes.” And on “Fuego” (Fire), he compares his passions for – and challenges of – making music with making love: “One hand in hell, another hand in heaven / In the tongue of heat, in the musical notes of pain / The orchestras of the sun live inside of your bedroom.“
Like he did with From the Cave’s music, Kristian skillfully melds together disparate music elements like rock, hip hop, punk and electronic with Spanish folk and flamenco to create his own unique sound. On “Mallorca“, he combines acoustic Spanish guitar notes with a hypnotic dubstep beat to create a contemplative backdrop for his monotonal vocals as he sings of escaping to Mallorca to relieve his stress over worrying about his music career and trying to please everyone: “I’ve attempted it time and time again / I’ve tried it and I always want to be another person just to please everybody / I say “yes” way too quickly / “Yes” – what a load of shit / Here I am, stressed out once again, I need to slow down. Every day I wake up in a hurry to impress / Release yet another song that’s true / I’ve done it more than a hundred times / And so what? In the end, what difference does it make?”
On the rousing “Basura” (Trash), he rails against autocratic leaders like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, and how their divisive rhetoric damages their countries: “People with weird wigs who have presidencies / I want to be better than this / And you can be better than this trash without any shame / We don’t have any other option but to remove these people who don’t have any compassion for the people around them / It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong, they are completely mental.” I love the lively Spanish folk rock vibe and bold, colorful instrumentation and his emphatic vocals. Kristian created a wonderfully trippy animated video showing a fearsome prehistoric-looking creature pulling a large cart containing what appears to be a town square filled with piles of trash and strange robed men with antlers. His avatar stands at a console, controlling the proceedings as they all fly over the countryside, with several plates containing fried eggs circling overhead like flying saucers.
As the album proceeds, the great songs keep coming, including four gorgeous and compelling instrumentals: “Manzana” (Apple), “Agosto” (August), “Aleppo” and “La Casa De Los Abuelos” (The House Of The Grandparents). One of my many favorites on Caldo is “Salsa De Tomate” (Tomato Sauce), a beautiful, uplifting song celebrating the healing powers of food and family: “The plants are growing in your garden and they look like the ones in Son Verí / This black cloud will leave one day / The birds are flying above the wall / We’re people, We’re friends, We’re family.” The song has a powerful, driving beat overlain with enchanting strummed Spanish guitars and haunting flutes that give the song a wonderful Incan vibe. Kristian’s warm vocals are sublime, and the airy, female backing vocals add a nice touch to the song.
“Patatas” (Potatoes) is yet another standout track, with bold strummed guitar notes accompanied by psychedelic synths and snappy percussion that produce a captivating Spanish punk sound. “El Caballero Oscuro” (The Dark Knight) is great too, with its dark, spooky synths, strong driving beat and terrific guitar work. Kristian doesn’t mince words as he tells a lover of his carnal intentions: “I want to be your dark knight / I want to see your face and your ass / I want to return, a tough guy who has a chance of becoming something / In the corner of my mind I’m a good guy who acts way too nicely / And that’s exactly why it isn’t working between us. I’m an animal, In my gut, inside of my medieval soul there’s something else to liberate / Because, I’m the dark knight and today I want to kick it hard.”
The pleasing title track “Caldo” closes the album, summing up its overriding theme of finding solace in the enduring traditions of family, friends and food in a home we love: “Palma de Mallorca /We’re tourists and we’re locals / The broth of life / The broth of tradition / The broth of life.”
I had a lovely chat with Kristian, who graciously answered my questions about his upbringing, career choices and inspiration behind Caldo’s creation.
EML: You are truly multi-cultural Kristian. I know your father is Danish and mother is from Mallorca, which is part of Spain, and I believe you were born in Denmark, is that correct? Where were you raised, and/or did you spend time growing up in both Denmark and Mallorca?
Kristian: I was born in Copenhagen but I spent the majority of my childhood living in Palma De Mallorca. When I turned 12 we moved back to Copenhagen. I’ve been lucky to experience both cultures – the Danish and the Spanish sides – fully. Both my parents speak each-other’s languages fluently so I guess we’ve always had it all very blended together at home.
EML: When you and I first connected, you were living in London. How did you come to live there?
Kristian: Initially I applied for a songwriting degree in Copenhagen, but wasn’t accepted. Then I began looking for other options and we found a songwriting degree in London. I ended up staying in the city for 5 years. I’m glad it turned out that way.
EML: While in London, you had a terrific band From the Cave who played a wonderfully eclectic style of alternative rock with lots of exotic and ethnic elements. I loved your music, and reviewed quite a bit of it before you and your fellow band members decided to call it quits in summer 2019. What made you all decide to end From the Cave, and for you to subsequently relocate from London to Mallorca, or do you now split your time between Mallorca and London and/or Copenhagen?
Kristian: Thanks man. We always loved your reviews and they provided us with a lot of moral support. I think I realized that I wasn’t going to stay permanently in London. It was very expensive to get by. The prospect of a hard Brexit also creeped in on everyone. I realized I could move to our summer house in Spain, without having to pay rent. I felt that quitting everything – including my job at a recording studio – to focus on our own music was a slightly scary but necessary step. There are other aspects to the story that I won’t go into detail with, but I’m very happy that all of us (including past From The Cave members) have been friends first and band-members second. We still keep in touch and I look forward to seeing everyone soon. We really had a great run and so many awesome memories and experiences came from the project. I’m thankful for all of it. I’m now based in Copenhagen but I also spend several months a year in Spain.
EML: Caldo is the first of two albums you’re making that pay homage to your dual Spanish and Danish heritage, and is a kind of beautiful love letter to Mallorca. What inspired you to want to make these two albums?
Kristian: During the 7 years that I lived abroad I found it hard to choose which family I should visit during the holidays. When you have your family spread out over two different countries – and you live in a third place – it becomes a bit tricky. I’m very close to both my families, and it felt wrong not seeing them more often. When I moved to Spain I was finally able to make up for some of the lost time. Eight months later, when the pandemic hit, I had just arrived in Denmark to visit my Danish grandparent. During that stay I wrote the first song of the Danish album which will be released later this year. At the same time, my cousin had been sending me some short stories that he had been writing. They were really honest and beautiful. They took place in our own world, the world of our families. It found it very inspiring to read. In a way I think it also opened a door for me lyrically.
EML: The songs on Caldo are quite beautiful and melodic, nicely conveying images of an enchanting and fulfilling life on Mallorca. Many of the tracks touch on food and its importance to the culture, but others speak of the vagaries of love and passion. What were some of your inspirations for the songs, both musically and lyrically?
Kristian: Thank you, that’s very kind of you. The running theme of food is something – I must admit – I stole from one of my favourite bands: Sleaford Mods. In their album Eton Alive, they use food as metaphor and red thread throughout the album. I think it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. It made me think about the role that food plays in our own family. For us it’s a central gathering point. A ritual where we show love and care for each-other through these traditions. Even meeting up for a coffé has a powerful symbolic value. I try not to be too nostalgic, but I feel like these things are a remedy for coping with the rapid passing of time. At least I feel like daily life is gradually accelerating more and more. This gives these rituals even more importance.
EML: You stated that you wrote, recorded and produced the album in your family’s basement. Did you do everything yourself? A few songs, such as “Salsa de Tomate” have female background vocals. Who sang them?
Kristian: Yes, I did everything here on my own. But I can’t claim that I’ve done it alone. My family have been incredibly supportive throughout the process, and I’ve shared all of the demos and demos and more demos… some more demos…with them on the go. Their company has been fundamental. On top of that my parents paid for some equipment, the guitar that I’ve used on everything on the album, and helped me make the home-studio in our basement. We really went all in on this thing haha! In response to all of that support I’ve given it everything I had. We would go on daily walks and talk through the ideas and the process. The vocals on “Salsa de Tomate” are from my aunt Ñesi. She’s a songwriter herself and she’s preparing the launch of her solo project soon. I’ve heard her new songs and they’re amazing. My two nieces are also singing in the background of the third chorus of the song. My aunt heard them sing the song spontaneously during her recording and then recorded it for me as a surprise.
EML: That was sweet of her! Is there anything you’d like to add that I may have neglected to ask?
Kristian: I would just like to thank you for taking the time to do this review and showing some genuine interest in the project. I really appreciate it and it’s been very fun to answer your questions. I look forward to continuing making music and try to enjoy it as much as possible. Muchas gracias!
Thank YOU, Kristian, for bringing the world some badly-needed joy and pleasure with your beautiful album. Listening to it is an immersive experience, and should be heard in its entirety to fully appreciate the beauty and brilliance of its many musical textures and sounds. In my not so humble opinion, Caldo is a masterpiece, and I implore my readers to do yourselves a big favor by taking the time to give it a full listen, and let its songs envelop you like they do for me!