ELLIE FORD – Album Review: “Light. Repeated.”

Ellie Ford album art

British singer/songwriter Ellie Ford is quite possibly the only harpist in the music world to head up a band. In addition to being an accomplished harpist, the multi-talented Brighton, England- based artist also plays guitar and sings like an angel, using her voice almost like another instrument. Assisting Ellie in the creation of her uniquely innovative Alternative Folk music are Fred Hills (drums & percussion), Andrew Stuart-Buttle (violin, mandolin, bass and backing vocals), Harry Haynes (guitar and backing vocals) and Freya Bowes (clarinet and backing vocals).

Ellie Ford band

Ellie first graced the airwaves in 2013 with her debut EP Show Night In, then followed up with a full album The Other Sun in 2016. Now she’s back with a lovely new album Light. Repeated., which dropped on 17 May. Featuring eight exquisite songs, the album sees Ellie further exploring themes of life, love and relationships through her poetic lyrics, unconventional melodies, richly layered instrumentals and the marvelous interplay between her glorious harp and enchanting vocals. Listening to the album is an immersive experience, and it’s easy to become enveloped by the enthralling soundscapes she and her band so skillfully weave.

The album opens with “Gold“, a captivating song in which Ellie’s shimmery harp strings take center stage, but with ample help by Freya’s clarinet, Harry’s strummed guitar, Fred’s gentle percussion, and Andrew’s violin, which gives the track a bit of a Celtic vibe. Ellie croons in her lilting vocals, “Kicking and calling and bracing for falling as I leave. But for a little gold, I could tide it over.”

Next up is “Light. Repeated.“, a bewitching tune that’s probably my favorite track on the album. The highlights for me are Fred’s hypnotic, seductive drumbeats and Freya’s jazzy clarinet, but Andrew’s bass, Harry’s guitar and that infectious rattle are all pretty terrific too. And it goes without saying that Ellie’s harp adds a magical component. Freya’s soulful clarinet takes a starring role on “Tired Eyes” with Ellie’s harp strings providing a strong counterpoint. The interplay between her fluttering vocals and Freya’s gorgeous clarinet notes is breathtaking, and the guitars, deep bass and drums are perfection.

My Bird Won’t Sing” is a re-imagining of a song that was originally included on The Other Sun. The previous acoustic version featured only Ellie’s vocals and her strummed guitar, but for this new version she lengthens the track by one and a half minutes, and gives it the full instrumental treatment by her band, yet keeping the vibe decidedly understated. The result is an intriguing song that holds our interest with unexpected melodic shifts that almost border on progressive jazz. Ellie’s ethereal vocals are sublime as she sings the lyrics that seem to speak of the thin line between reality and escape:  “My bird won’t sing. Have no idea what it means. And that’s OK, I don’t mind./ My diamond ring shines like the real thing. And that’s OK, I don’t mind. Comin’ off a little blind. What are we doing? Don’t you know that’s the ruin of our kind? I’m beginning to think that I might have lost my mind.

Ellie Ford by Chloe Imbach

The beautiful songs keep on coming. Another favorite is the bittersweet “All That is Left“, which features some of the most enthralling instrumentals of any song on the album. The mix of harp, piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, drums, and what sounds possibly like dulcimer, are absolutely stunning, and so are the vocal harmonies between Ellie and the guys. The lyrics speak to a relationship that’s over: “There will come a day when you’ll return. Dirt in your hair and your clothes all torn. And I’ll be gone. And all that is left, will be left to the dogs.” As its title suggests, “A Strange Brood” is a languid, brooding song lasting nearly six and a half minutes. Its  mysterious, spacey synths, tinkling piano keys, bluesy guitars, plucky harp, deep bassline and lots of crashing cymbals make for an enthralling listen.

Woods” starts off with an Eastern European Folk vibe, thanks to the Gypsy tones of Andrew’s violin and Freya’s clarinet, accompanied by Ellie’s plucked harp strings. But with the addition of heavy electric guitars and pounding drums in the bridge, the song transitions to a more intense rock feel. Album closer “The North Wind” really showcases the incredible synergy between Ellie’s harp playing and unique vocal style, and how she so beautifully complements one with the other. Other instrumentation on the track includes guitar and Fred’s kick drum and percussion, as well as the introduction of Andrew’s violin at the end.

I’ll admit that Light. Repeated. took a couple of plays to really grow on me. Though the songs sounded lovely and interesting when first hearing them, their complexity and unusual melodic structures required more than just a casual listen for me to fully appreciate. There’s an incredible amount of nuance and depth to the music and lyrics that are revealed with each successive listen, and even after hearing some of the songs five or six times, I discovered new sounds and textures. The production and song arrangements are flawless, and I’m impressed with the skilled instrumentation by the supporting musicians who help Ellie bring her magical songs to life.

Connect with Ellie: Facebook / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

ANDY K LELAND – Single Review: “A Chair is a Chair”

Andy K Leland Chair Art

Like most singer-songwriters, Italian indie folk artist Andy K Leland is a poet of sorts, penning lyrics loaded with meaning and expressed mostly through his pleasing acoustic guitar and quirky, off-beat vocal style. Andy – who was born Andrea Marcellini – refers to himself as Andrea’s “shadow-self, and the two selves fear each other.” That dichotomy is clearly evident in his songs, where his sometimes dark, depressing lyrics sharply contrast with his simple, catchy melodies and mellow lo-fi vibe. Despite his cynical, often bleak lyrics about life and relationships, his songs seem to tell us to not take life too seriously, or at the very least resign ourselves to life’s inevitable travails without losing our minds in the process.

Like a lot of artists I’ve reviewed lately, I’ve previously featured Andy several times on this blog, and you can read some of my reviews of his music by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post. He’s now released a wonderful new single “A Chair is a Chair“, and it’s one of his best songs yet. It still has the charming signature lo-fi acoustic vibe of all his music, but features added instrumentals in the form of mellotron and ambient drone guitar, played by guest musician Simone Laurino, giving the track a lovely, poignant and fuller sound. Andy recorded the song on his old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, but the sound quality is quite good.

Regarding the song’s meaning, Andy told me “I wrote the first two lines of the verse right after an old weird memory about a chair came back. Don’t really know why that memory showed up… but that’s how it started. I can say that the song is totally about a dream I haven’t had yet. That’s pretty much it!”

Concentrate
Get your head
Hold it tight
Hold it tight
Release your head
Grab a chair
Use your brain man
Use your brain

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Up to you
Up to me
What could we do friend?
What would we do?
If you prefer now
Go out tonight
Stay put and beg your God to
Drift us apart, us apart

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Welcome all that’s my garden
Very nice place to be
The air is cool
So
Come lie down…

The trippy video, which was also directed and produced by guest musician Simone Laurino, shows a variety of psychedelic, sci-fi and kaleidoscopic images that represent the kinds of surreal things the mind would imagine in a dream.

Follow Andy:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on:  Bandcamp / iTunes

GUY PAUL THIBAULT – Album Review: “The Road Between”

Guy Paul Thibault Album

When I last featured Canadian singer/songwriter Guy Paul Thibault on this blog back in September 2017, he had a few months earlier released his wonderful album It’s About Time, an appropriate title given the span of 17 years since his previous solo album. (You can read my review here.) Now the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia-based musician returns with a superb follow-up effort The Road Between. Listening to his pleasing style of rock-infused Americana/Alt-Country music, it would be easy to assume he’s from somewhere like Nashville, Tennessee, rather than the maritime provinces of eastern Canada.

Over the past two years, Guy Paul has received numerous accolades, including being named 2018 Artist of the Year on New Vision Radio (New Jersey), one of the Top 40 Indie Artists of 2017 on several Ontario, Canada radio stations, having several of his singles appear on numerous Indie Music charts in Canada, the U.S., UK and Australia, and having It’s About Time named one of the top albums of 2017 by The Halifax Musicphile.

Guy Paul played most of the instruments on The Road Between, although Shawn Cherry played drums, and Ian Lewer played bass on the opening track “Anymore”. Guy Paul sang all lead vocals, and Carolyn Cherry sang most of the backing vocals, except for those on “Talk to Me” and “No One Understands”, which were sung by Lisa Comeau-McDow. Guy Paul’s daughter did all the hand claps and played tambourine.

The album features nine tracks that address love and relationships, and all the attendant joy and heartache they bring. Case in point is album opener “Anymore“, a poignant Alt-Country tune about feelings of betrayal and sadness over a love affair that went south. Against an urgent backdrop of really fine electric and slide guitar work, Guy Paul laments “You don’t know where I sleep at night anymore. You don’t know what it’s like in my life anymore. Why don’t you love me anymore?”

The Country-rock tinged “Dangerous Strangers” speaks to an illicit affair about to go down between two people – one with a faithful wife back home, and another seeking revenge on the man who cheated on her: “For a minute think you saw, what was really on my mind. A touch of evil, it could be a simple little crime. You can only think of him, how he broke your heart. Are you gonna do to him what he did to you.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Talk to Me“, a powerfully moving song about a couple struggling to communicate through the wall that’s built up between them: “Talk to me about anything you want. Just look at me like you sometimes care. Tell me what it is that you want. Show me that you’re somewhere in there.” The dramatic instrumentals, especially the intricate guitar work, are fantastic, creating a palpable tension that’s a perfect accompaniment for Guy Paul and Lisa’s beautiful, impassioned vocals.  The piano-driven ballad “Take Me” touches on the passage of time and how lovers can drift in and out of your life: “Funny how time flies. In her world and in mine. Children, death and love crimes. Chances that seemed to rush by. /  Only love can save my soul, from years of pain untold. Love me if you can. She said ‘Try to be my man’.

Another highlight for me in an album filled with them is the haunting “Who Are You“. The track opens with a mournful organ riff and drumbeat, followed by an achingly beautiful twangy guitar riff. Soon, Guy Paul’s resonant vocals enter the scene, backed by Carolyn’s soft croons as the instrumentals build, creating a lush, moody soundscape. The lyrics speak of a couple who’ve become strangers to each other after years of disappointment and hurt: “Cause here is the moonlight. And these are our scars. Though you lie here beside me, I can’t tell who you are.” This track really showcases Guy Paul’s skills for songwriting and crafting gorgeous melodies.

He lightens the mood with the celebratory “Day Drinking“, a fun rock’n’roll tune about just forgetting one’s problems and spending the day with a loved one like you’re on holiday.  Things turn serious again with the darkly beautiful “No One Understands“, an ode to someone who’s stood by you through good times and bad: “And no one understands but you. Why I do the things I do. And no one comprehends the secret wars that I have led. No one understands but you.” Once again, Guy Paul is joined by Lisa Comeau-McDow, and their vocal harmonies are sublime. The guitar solo in the bridge is pretty wonderful too.

Don’t You See Me Cry” is one of the more rock-oriented tracks on the album, with lots of great intricate guitar work, accompanied by some terrific piano keys. Instrumentally, this is one of the standouts on the album, and the distorted guitar riffs are particularly good. The dark lyrics seem to speak of someone who was already feeling bad, and put his hopes on a woman who ended up only hurting him more:  “I was such a strong man with no love left in his eyes. Well you changed all that and now I could just die. Don’t you see me cry.” The album closes on a bittersweet note with “Catch My Fall“, a song about a young runaway who he allowed into his heart and life, but was too young and unsettled to stay with him: “Much too young and always on the run. The rhythm in her feet always pulled her towards the sun. She couldn’t stop, just couldn’t settle down.”

Guy Paul’s songs have a way of boring themselves into your mind and soul, staying with you long after hearing them. I found myself liking this album more with each listen, discovering new sounds in the music, and deeper meanings in the compelling lyrics. I appreciate that he included them on his Bandcamp page, which also made my job of discussing each track easier. If you’re a fan of Americana and Country-rock, you will enjoy The Road Between.

Connect with Guy Paul:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Google Play / Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp / cdbaby

CARY BALSANO – Single Review: “Versailles”

Cary Balsano Versailles

Cary Balsano is a handsome and talented young singer/songwriter of Italian origin who’s now based in Liverpool, England. I last featured him in September 2017 when I reviewed his beautiful single “Horizon” which you can read here. He’s just dropped another lovely single called “Versailles“, a tender and moving song that speaks to coming to terms with addiction.

The instrumentals are simple, consisting of Cary’s beautiful strummed acoustic guitar, accompanied by subtle bass and a spare kick drum keeping the beat. Cary’s gentle vocals are earnest and heartfelt as he sings about his and his love interest’s addictions – to drugs and to each other, as a way of dulling their pain and insecurities. To me, Cary’s naming the song ‘Versailles’ would seem to be a metaphor for a desire to make a peace accord with their demons and each other.

You are the fire
You are desire
The city lights have gone too far
You are craving a gram

This is a way we live our pain
A crying shame
Breathing our lies
Victims of life
So come to Versailles
And I never want to let this go

You are my lust
You are covered in dust
And I still feel the same old pain
It’s you and me and our fame

We’re all in the same boat
Living in fear of living

Connect with Cary:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify and purchase on iTunes

Artist Spotlight/Review: DUNKIE

dunkie singles

Dunkie is the music project of Welsh singer/songwriter Anthony Price. Hailing from the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Anthony has written and recorded songs for several years, and more recently, has been working on his forthcoming debut album Working to Design. It’s a concept album of sorts, with all the songs partially inspired by the books and works of Richard Matheson.  It’s also an ambitious labor of love, as Anthony has toiled countless long hours getting each track perfect, as well as making imaginative videos for some of the songs.  He’s released four tracks thus far, beginning with “Can a Song Save Your Life?” in May 2018, and subsequently dropping another single every two to three months. The songs were all written by Anthony and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by Wayne Bassett at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales. Besides Anthony and Wayne, an assortment of other musicians and vocalists performed on each track, as will be noted below. Also, an interesting aspect of the creation of this album is the use of dramatic artwork by Welsh artist Michael Gustavius Payne for each single.

Can A Song Save Your Life?” is a lovely, optimistic song with a rich and eclectic mix of instruments that make for an interesting and enjoyable listen. For this track, dunkie consists of Anthony Price on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and keys, Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, EBow, electric guitar and percussion, Charlotte Jayne on violins and trumpets, and Lucy Athey and Mark Purnell on backing vocals. Anthony’s tenor vocals are heartfelt and pleasing.

Anthony describes the song’s meaning: “The concept behind this song is trying to find a little hope; when all really seems a little lost. When the deepest, darkest moment seems to smother over you, when it suffocates you. ‘You don’t know how IT began…’, but then the littlest gesture lifts, the smallest moment lifts, a piece of music, a film or song you love just lifts you. You step back that one little moment and look around. I hope this makes a little sense and someone understands. I hope you’ll find it in yourself as I thankfully have.”

About the fascinating and charming video, he explains: “Over some two years ago I had written a few video concepts for my songs. I knew I wanted people to be wearing masks. I loved the metaphor of hiding behind many a mask. Oscar Wilde once said ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth’. The ‘dunkie’ name and music is my mask. So I wanted to represent the mask in these videos. In particular I wanted to represent them by the use of Wintercroft Masks. Each mask is a downloadable PDF template, each mask has to be created individually, and each mask can take about 2-4 hours each to create (longer if you’re me!!). Added here was the decorative design I wanted to include by adding my own song lyrics, in multiple languages (and the entire pages of Crime and Punishment) upon each mask face.”

Sugar” is a sweet (no pun intended) love song of thanks to a partner who has stood by you through good times and bad, with unconditional love. Anthony’s gentle vocals and guitar work are sublime, and he’s assisted on this track by Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, percussion and programming, Dave Healey with additional electric guitar, and Lucy Athey, who provides lovely and ethereal backing vocals.

Thank you for whispering ‘I love you’ 
Thank you smiling when you are down 
Thank you for sharing your life with me 
I’m thankful dreams like these have come 
Thank you for today 
I’m thankful that you stayed 
I’m thankful sugar melts away

Rabbit Hole” is a poignant song that seems to be about coming to terms with loss. Anthony wistfully sings: “Tumble and fall, this rabbit-hole is funnel-webbed and soaring. I fear I’ll never reach this endless horror I fold upon myself…  Another pill dissolves; I’m crawling faster to the edge. To the edge for you.” The track has a serene, rather bittersweet melody with gentle guitar, synths and percussion, and the vocal harmonies are really nice. For this track, Anthony sang vocals and played acoustic guitar, Rob Lear sang backing vocals and played Moog, electric guitar and percussion, Dorian Richard Holmes played bass, and Jennifer Drew played drums.

The video shows an extended family coming together for a picnic to remember a loved one, a child perhaps? Anthony leaves the interpretation up to the listener: “I’d love to hear your thoughts on the concept/theme and what it evokes in you. Both lyrically and visually, ‘Rabbit Hole’ covers the same subject, so we’re not too far from the same page. I’ll leave it at that.”

(W.A.L.L.S.) Within a Little Love Song” is a beautiful love song with more of a rock feel than the other three tracks, thanks to a greater prominence of electric guitars. But it still has the pleasing qualities that all of dunkie’s songs possess, with rich instrumentation and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The lyrics are a reminder to a loved one that even though you may not say it as often as you used to, your love for them is as strong as ever:

(You know) yesterday I loved you 
(Don’t forget) I have and always will 
(But through) the years I spoke it lessened 
(Know this) my love’s never subdued 

So I’ve found these words to sing 
And they’re all for you, they’re all for you 
My need to show within a love song – within a love song

For this track, Anthony sang vocals, played acoustic and electric guitar, bass, harmonica and percussion, Wayne played electric guitar and synths, Paul Maskell played additional electric guitar, Karl James played drums, and Matt Williams sang backing choral vocals.

All four tracks are wonderful, and if the rest of them are even half as good, then Working to Design is going to be an incredible album. I love dunkie’s calm, lovely sound and could listen to their songs over and over.

Connect with dunkie on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google PlaySpotify / Soundcloud

STUART BLANCE – Album Review: “Utopia”

stuart blance (2)

Stuart Blance is a talented and thoughtful singer-songwriter from Perth, Scotland. (He also happens to be a terrific landscape and events photographer.)  He’s been writing and recording songs since 1999, and in 2001 he released his debut CD Utopia, an ambitious work featuring 13 tracks covering genres ranging from folk and Americana to pop and rock. In the years since, he has performed in venues throughout Scotland and also in London, and recorded several singles, three of which are included on his 2018 EP On Your Side.  Given the renewed interest in his music, Stuart felt the time was right for Utopia to be heard again, and so the album was re-released in digital form in December 2018, and I have the pleasure of reviewing it today. The songs all sound as fresh and relevant now as they did when they were recorded nearly two decades ago.

Stuart’s engaging music style is characterized primarily by gently-strummed acoustic guitar, often accompanied by percussive synths and occasional subtle bass notes. His contemplative lyrics touch on oft-covered subjects of life, humanity, heartache and pain, with the goal of sharing uplifting messages of hope and optimism. This is clear on the opening track “Lifeline“, where he urges us to stay true to ourselves in finding our way forward in life: “You’ve got it all, don’t throw your life away. And you’ll see where your path lies. Just follow your lifeline. The future lies ahead, it’s yours to keep.” So too on the title track “Utopia” a pleasant folk song where he extols the virtues of positive thinking and striving to be a good person: “You may be a dreamer, seeing good when it’s not there. Or maybe a believer in being kind and fair. Even if you’re feeling low, always try and smile.” And on Burnout“, he gently advises us to not push ourselves to the breaking point: “Slow down, take a short break. Just take your time. Enjoy the ride. You’re heading for a burnout.”

Several of the tracks on Utopia are really lovely and deeply moving. One of my favorites is “Memories“, a beautiful song with strummed guitar and delicate atmospheric synths that create a haunting, yet enthralling soundscape for Stuart’s calm, soothing vocals. He wistfully sings about revisiting past experiences that shaped his life: “Memories keep flooding back. Creeping into places that I haven’t been to in quite a while. Diaries kept for years on end. Words unheard for decades. Untold secrets brought to life. Oh I feel so at ease about these old memories. Won’t you please reminisce with me about these old memories?

Another favorite is “Slower Than the Flow“, a languid, hymn-like song in which he asks compelling questions for which simple answers continue to elude us: “Why do people go through life with their eyes closed? Why so many people without homes? Why can’t we take some time to look around us? Spare a thought and show someone you care. / Why must we fight like little children? Why must it always end in tears? Why is the root of violence in religion? When will the stigma disappear?

On the amusing “Fact or Folklore“, Stuart playfully ponders a number of fairy tale myths with droll satire: “Did Jack climb his beanstock, was Goldilocks so pure? She slept with the three bears, then went back for more. / Did Humpty Dumpty fall? I heard at first they shot him, then kicked him off the wall. / Climb over the rainbow, we’ll meet the Wicked Witch. She thinks that she’s scary, but she’s a stupid bitch.” And yet another personal favorite is “Anytime“, one of the most interesting tracks on the album from a music standpoint, and also the longest, clocking in at six minutes. The song opens with fluttering spacey synths which gradually fade into the background as Stuart’s pleasing layered acoustic guitar notes and smooth vocals enter the mix. The synths return to the forefront as the guitars fade, and continue through to the end as the song closes on a mysterious and atmospheric air.

Stuart switches gears in a big way on the final two tracks, replacing his laid-back folk persona with a punk-rock alter-ego. “Groovy People” is a simple but fun tune about partying with cool people in a hot club, delivered with chugging riffs of fuzzy guitars and a rousing drumbeat. Stuart’s vocals sound completely different here, with a bit of an early David Bowie twang. Even better is “Comin’ On Up“, where he really lets loose with hard-driving riffs of gnarly guitar and buzzing bass, set to a heavy thumping drumbeat. I really love this track, and want to hear more of this side of him! Some might feel these last two tracks don’t belong on what is otherwise an acoustic folk album, but I think it’s perfectly fine, and makes for a great, upbeat ending to an excellent work.

Connect with Stuart on Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase through his website https://stuartblance.com/store and some songs are also available on Bandcamp

ERIN INCOHERENT – Album Review: “Medusa”

Erin Incoherent LP

Erin Incoherent is a unique artist with a great name and a colossal talent to match. The self-described ‘singer, musician, poet, writer, mental health advocate, model, artist, makeup junkie, loudmouth and strong woman’ is a force to be reckoned with. Ever since her publicist Radio Ready PR contacted me about a possible review of her latest album Medusa, my initial intrigue about Erin and her music has grown into full-blown admiration as I’ve learned more about her. Through her honest, provocative lyrics, her writings for the webzine The Punk Lounge, and her involvement with the Trigger Warning program in Philadelphia, I’ve found her to be an unflinching and outspoken champion for mental health and issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse. She’s also a great vocalist and pretty damned skilled on the guitar and ukelele.

Born Erin Cookman, the young singer-songwriter got her start in Fort Collins, Colorado, writing folk songs and making a name for herself on the local music scene. In 2013, she released her debut album Ha Ha Ha, a collection of eight terrific folk-rock songs featuring only her acoustic guitar and strong vocals. She followed up in 2015 with a second album Miss Shitskey, which included four of the tracks from Ha Ha Ha, and later that year, released a 3-song collaborative EP she recorded with artist CinderBlock, simply titled CinderBlock and Erin Cookman. In December 2017, Erin moved to Philadelphia and in April 2018 dropped her third album Medusa, an 11-song manifesto on anxiety, trauma and pain.

Erin Incoherent

Erin’s music style tends mostly toward folk/indie rock, with punk sensibilities. She played guitar, ukelele, xylophone and sang most vocals on Medusa (with the exception of three songs she co-wrote with CinderBlock, who also sang with her on those tracks).  Tenaya Heredia played bass and Chris Beeble, who also recorded and mixed the album, played drums. The album opens with the title track “Medusa“, a catchy but rather harsh song about drug addiction, with Medusa symbolizing the monster of addiction. Erin’s aggressively strummed guitar and fervent vocals convey the powerful and conflicting emotions expressed in the lyrics:

I’ll take a, laid back, panic attack 
some Xanax mixed with, a tonic and Jack 
two and one makes three, keep your eyes on me 
20mg of Sertraline 

I’ll take one for the anger and one for fatigue, 
one for the restlessness, and one just to sleep, 
and if after half the bottle, your symptoms increase, 
don’t you worry too much, just call me. 

Medusa! Destroy me, my love forevermore 
the most beautiful thing I will see, 
Medusa turn me to stone
oh Medusa, leave me alone!

Ulcer” speaks to the pain and desolation from a failed relationship where love has died. Once again, Erin uses a metaphor, this time a broken home to symbolize her emotional state, and her lyrics paint a stark picture: “and the carpet was torn up to serve as a shortcut for people who’d rather have an easy way out / and the faucets are all rusted, don’t try them, just trust me / the last living occupants died from the drought.” The track opens and closes with a beautiful folk-sounding strummed acoustic guitar, but for the main part of the song, Erin’s more aggressive guitar riffs have a bit of a Spanish vibe.

Erin reunites with the singer/songwriter CinderBlock on three tracks, the first of which “How to Cope” speaks to struggling to keep it together and not let life’s problems from the past bring you back down: “I just need to stay off of that street at least until I’m strong enough to not sink to my knees. But every heartbreak song, like the falling leaves, are drifting through the branches of the very same trees of this rotten town, this rotten old temple.” “Lose Myself” is about weighing the consequences of surrendering yourself to romantic and emotional desires for another, and “Stronger Man” addresses the inability to get over an old flame: “I wrote ‘I miss you’ in your notebook, cause most days I do. And I don’t wanna see you, but it’s all I’m looking forward to. I remember drinking whiskey, making love, and making plans. I guess I’ll never be the stronger man.” Erin and CinderBlock’s vocals complement each other beautifully, melding together into sublime harmonies on all three tracks.

On “Destroy“, Erin sings of the damage she’s caused to a relationship, and wanting forgiveness yet knowing it may already be too late for that:  “I wish you’d forgive me. Cause I fucking hate this. The end of the rope, yeah, we’ve tied both the nooses unless you’ll have mercy AND JUST FUCKING SHOOT US! Give me a sign that’s conducive to Spring. Unless it’s too late and I’ve destroyed everything.” Her guitar work on this track is exceptionally good. “Fallen” seems to be about not allowing others’ expectations and possible disappointments in you keep you mired in guilt, and preventing you from moving forward on your own path: “Now I’m left with these scars that will not heal. The pain it devastates, but tell me, is it real? Sworn to a creed, their tired old motif. But this is not my cross to bear.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Echoes“, a dark song about a relationship that’s broken beyond repair. Erin’s skill at writing biting and meaningful lyrics is impressive, and I offer as evidence this line that so poetically expresses how two people who once loved each other could become enemies: “A smoke screen was raised, we could not smudge one another with no time to waste, how easy are foes found in lovers.” Her ukelele on this track is hauntingly beautiful, as are her emotionally raw vocals. And I love the excellent video that shows her singing the song in a graffiti-covered abandoned building that’s as bleak as the lyrics.

Splinter” speaks to the loss of self-esteem inflicted in large part by someone you once held up on a pedestal: “Oh girl, he’s just a splinter, his eyes whisper just a glimmer of the story you once told of gold in him” and the desire to feel good about yourself again: “Please, tell me I can be enough for anybody else. Please, cause I was so much happier when I could love myself.” Self-esteem takes a nosedive on the grim “Cheerleaders Smoke Crack“, another song about the struggles of addictive behaviors, with some brutally frank lyrics:

I watched myself burn out on the wrong side of the tracks,
I hitched a ride back, then watched myself fall off the wagon
It’s no use, I’ve tried, to hide in plain sight
This weight in my heart makes me try
a suicide attempt 26 stitches wide

Punk rockers, they never survive
They either burn out young or they change their mind
Not a safe place to be, for you or me
And junkies, they never grow old,
They either clean up their act or they overdose
And I guess, as long as they’re happy, I don’t mind

Alcoholics, truth be told, 
They only see their future in a bottle of Skol 
And I don’t wanna know those fools no more, 
I don’t wanna be that fool no more

And you scared me nearly half to death, 
You don’t look the same since you’ve been smoking meth, 
But we all have different ways that we lose sleep. 
We all have different ways that we lose…

The final track “Disturbia Suburbia” is also pretty unsettling. Erin plays ukelele, guitar and xylophone on this track, accompanied by a bouncy melody that sharply contrasts with the troubling lyrics about how suburbia is not all sunshine and green lawns: “An old friend killed himself before the start of Spring, I wonder if he left the weight of the world or if the weight of the world just left him hanging. / Leave it to me to get strung out, and freak everybody out then say, ‘I won’t do that again’. These days there’s nobody here, it feels surreal, so many years spent with kids I don’t even think I know, do they know me?  Disturbia Suburbia, and I hope we all get out, and I hope we all feel free.

Erin Incoherent covers a lot of heavy subject matter on Medusa, but it’s all deeply relatable and compelling, and sounds fantastic too. She’s an incredible songwriter and lyricist, and her guitar and ukelele playing are first-rate. I also like her strong, clear vocal style, which makes listening to her songs a real pleasure. All in all, I give a big enthusiastic thumbs up on this album.

Follow Erin on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

ANDY K LELAND – Single Review: “Ticking Madness”

Like most singer-songwriters, Italian folk artist Andy K Leland is a poet of sorts. He pens lyrics loaded with meaning and delivered with a droll sense of humor, and expresses them through only his acoustic guitar and sparse vocals. Though he hails from the Adriatic coast of Italy, he sounds like he’s from the English Midlands, especially given his artistic moniker. In his bio, Andy – who was born Andrea Marcellini – calls himself Andrea’s “shadow-self, and the two selves fear each other.” That dichotomy is clearly evident in his songs, where his often dark, depressing lyrics sharply contrast with his simple, catchy melodies and pleasing acoustic guitar.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Andy’s sound is his quirky, off-kilter vocal style, in which he clips his words, sometimes dropping a letter or two. It all sounds charming in an off-beat sort of way, and perfectly suited to his mellow lo-fi sound. Despite his cynical, often bleak lyrics about life and relationships, his songs seem to tell us to not take life so seriously after all, or at the very least resign ourselves to life’s inevitable travails without losing our minds in the process.

Andy K Leland2

In early 2017, Andy began issuing a series of singles that were ultimately featured on his debut EP Happy Daze, which he released that September.  (You can read my review of Happy Daze here.) Keeping with his penchant for dark themes set to only an acoustic guitar, Andy’s just released a charming new single “Ticking Madness“, which dropped on December 4. Andy had this to say about the recording of the song on his Facebook page: “I’m broke as fuck and can’t handle any music recording software. Luckily, a friend of mine got me an old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. I instantly fell in love with that machine and started fiddling around with it straightaway! Here’s what I’ve come up with. Sound quality is pretty rough, but really… who cares?! That’s love at first sight.”

Andy explained to me that the song is about time, specifically how quickly it passes (don’t I know it!)  The lyrics are pretty surrealistic, with each verse like a snapshot coming from the subconscious. They were inspired by a couple of events which happened to him over the last nine months that made him aware of how time is passing by so fast. “They kind of changed my perspective about time and… life maybe. This song is some kind of a turning point. As an artist and as a human being. I can say it’s the first time I have ever happened to write down some lyrics and be totally aware of what I really wanted to say.” Andy said he’s quite fond of this song, and I have to say I am too.

At 6.20 in the morning 
I did hear nothing 
When later on he told 
He told me he’s dead 
Now back at 4.12 pm 
I was feeling cool 
Until those stripes they spoke 
They spoke the truth, they all said 

Now you’re a man 
You’re a man 
That’s kind of crazy 
Mate c’mon don’t be lazy 
But that’s alright 
Oh no it’s not 
I love you mum XO 

Well now you are crying on my shoulder 
Feels good as the clock tower with no hands is timing out 
The graveyard of my mind 
Now how, how, how does it feel? 
Now how, how, how do you feel? 
And what will, what will I feel for you? 

Now I’m a man 
I’m a man 
That’s kind of crazy 
Things have grown so hazy 
But that’s alright 
Oh no it’s not 
I love you mum, break 

Ha-ha ha-ha 

Now fuck you all she’s my lady 
But I’m cheeky cheesy I call her baby 
And what if time goes out of mind 
Out of sight? 
Well that’s alright, well that’s alright 
Oh yeah

Follow Andy:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on:  Bandcamp / iTunes

THAT HIDDEN PROMISE – EP Review: “Drifted Hope e.p.”

That Hidded Promise EP Cover

I always find interesting the artistic monikers that musicians come up with for their music projects, and I’ve featured quite of number of such artists on this blog. My latest is That Hidden Promise, whose new EP Drifted Hope e.p. drops today. Based in Somerset, England, That Hidden Promise is the artistic alter ego of singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee, who’s been performing live and recording under that name since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, creates all his own music, including beats and percussion, and plays acoustic and electric guitar.

He’s produced an extensive catalog of alternative rock music over the past seven years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix, resulting in a highly eclectic sound. In May 2017, he released a single “All Things, All Will Come,” an upbeat rock song with exuberant guitar, percussion and synths, which I reviewed. Now, with Drifted Hope e.p., That Hidden Promise delivers five all-acoustic tracks that are darker and more introspective.

He kicks things off with “If I,” a song that seems to ponder the meaning of his existence within the universe, which in and of itself is almost beyond comprehension to me. His strummed guitar chords are strong, clear and lovely, and his vocals earnest as he wistfully sings the thoughtful lyrics:  “If I could sit still for a minute more than I can. Would I lose all of myself for that minute, though now it’s gone, it’s gone. But now, if I had that minute back, what’s the point in that? / Why should I think the universe contracts a while to a single point of nothingness. And is this cycle infinite? Can we know?

The Drop” has a melodic folk-rock vibe, with heavily strummed guitar and slightly off-kilter vocals that seem to channel Bob Dylan. He sings of how he’s done with someone who won’t give him a break: “You know I don’t know what I did to offend you. Seems if you could bring me down you do it. You sneaky little sh**.”  On “The Gallery of Drifted Hope Acoustic,” he laments over past mistakes that have taken his life down the wrong path, negatively impacting friendships and his future: “And I remember when the world seemed bright and new. Now see a gallery of drifted hope, of things I blew away.”

Though essentially an acoustic folk song, “See, Hold It, Feel” has a slight Pearl Jam grunge vibe, at least to my ears. It’s a wonderful and moving track, with some really fine intricate guitar work. “We Can Come Together Acoustic” is an upbeat, hopeful song about putting aside petty differences and focusing on the good in each other: “We can’t do much about deception. We can’t do much about the lies. Misinformation all around us.So put your arms around me, I’ll put my arms around you. And we can dance all night and we can gaze at the moon. And when it’s all said and done, we might not agree. But I believe that we can come together.” Positive words that I could do well to follow myself in these rather divisive times.

Drifted Hope e.p. is a solid work by That Hidden Promise. I really like his contemplative lyrics, and his ace guitar work is sublime. His vocals can be a little flat in spots, but at the same time they reflect an honest vulnerability that’s very appealing, and work well with his emotive acoustic style.

To learn more about That Hidden Promise, check out his Website and connect with him on Facebook & Twitter
Stream his music on  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Tidal / Napster
Purchase on  iTunes /  Amazon / Google Play

TEISAN – Album Review: “Headspace”

Teisan2

TEISAN is an exceptionally talented and prolific young singer/songwriter from Mannheim, Germany. He started playing guitar at the age of 14, and quickly began writing songs in a predominantly ambient acoustic style. His songs tend toward a more introspective side, with deeply personal lyrics delivered with smooth, heartfelt vocals. In his bio, he states “I like to make music about things I experienced in my life. What I write down in the lyrics helps me in dealing with past events.” In early 2016, when he was only 17, he released an excellent debut album Different Point of View, then quickly followed that August with a five-song EP Wait For Autumn. In October 2017, he released his second album Impatience, and this past August (2018) dropped his third full-length album Headspace, an ambitious and stunning work featuring 14 tracks.

With the new album, TEISAN explains that he “wanted to be more creative with his music by experimenting with new sounds and melodies.” The title Headspace symbolizes exploration into someone’s head, “going deeper into a personality and diving into a new world that only exists in their mind. This year was really stressful for me. I had to work on some personal stuff and didn’t have much time for music. But that’s what I needed the most in that time. So I tried to fit it all under a roof and realized it doesn’t matter how much stress I’m in – I need music and the process of music making [is] a way to relief this stress.”

The album starts off with the brief title track “Headspace,” which at first sounds like an instrumental only song, with shimmery synths highlighted by sweeping strings and tender piano keys. But a more careful listen reveals that what sound like spacey synths are actually TEISAN’s heavily distorted vocals. Next up is the sweet acoustic ballad “Anchor Pt. 2,” which I reviewed in June. Delicate, airy synths are layered over a pleasing acoustic guitar riff, along with sounds of finger snaps, gentle percussion and added subtle guitar chords that create a serene and beautiful backdrop for his soft and earnest vocals.

TEISAN uses synthesizers and acoustic guitar to great effect in the creation of gorgeous soundscapes on most of the album’s tracks, and a perfect example of this is the beautiful “Fade Into Me.” The lush, multi-textured synths are sublime, with delicate piano keys and subtle guitar notes that make for a captivating listen. The spare lyrics on this track are loaded with meaning: “Maybe I’m giving up on my life. Maybe… , but I’m giving it time.” On “Coins,” he weaves together beautiful sweeping synths with rather harsh industrial sounds to create feelings of discord, yet manages to add calm with his soothing acoustic guitar. So too with his vocals, that start off as a soothing falsetto as he croons “Sinking down,” but turn raw and impassioned as he confronts the one who caused him pain: “It’s so hard standing next to you, you think you can tell me that. I remember the times in my head, I was paralyzed and you didn’t help.”

Oceans” is a short and simple, but moving, track with only piano and subtle background synths providing the riveting sounds for TEISEN’s bittersweet lyrics: “Another sleepless night alone, you only open up when the bottle loses weight.” Such a great lyric there! He continues with the themes of sadness and loss, and trying to move on after a failed relationship on the mellow “I’m Okay, I am Alright,” and the wistful “Strangers In A Parking Lot,” a lovely song with acoustic guitar and the gentlest of synths. TEISEN’s vocals have a pleasing vulnerability as he sings “I count the stars, you count what’s yours, and it’s tearing me apart. And all I wanna be is in your arms, like we were never lost.

Keeping with the subject of exploring the mind’s deepest thoughts, TEISAN senses a former loved one’s presence on “In My Room,” and thinks of a girl he’d just as soon forget on the folk track “Daydreams“: “Take back the seasons to relive, it never happened, didn’t exist. You know I can’t resist the pity to forget, I couldn’t remember you as well.” One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Hate Me and Run Away,” a short but captivating song with a marvelous jazzy piano riff and bluesy guitar notes. The lyrics are simple but powerful, and his slightly distorted, breathy vocals have an air of cool detachment that makes them all the more compelling: “I’m trapped inside my head, all the time that I spend for you, it is all gone, all gone. Hate me for this, I’m begging you, please hate me for this.”

Crystals (Groundlevel)” has an almost psychedelic-rock feel, with sweeping spacey synths, distorted guitar, a strong bass riff and heavier percussion. I even detect traces of what sounds like sitar. TEISAN’s breathy vocals are slightly altered, adding to the otherworldly vibe that’s quite marvelous. “Ice Red” is an interesting song, both musically and lyrically. It starts off with a church organ, then transitions to layered acoustic guitars with gauzy synths. The lyrics seem to speak of helping someone in need of healing support, though the singer’s not sure he’s up to the task: “Maybe you need someone to lead, maybe even a place to hide. We can put our anger aside to make things right. All my friends are deep underneath, happiness is all make believe, I can’t put my sadness aside to make things right.” But then he acknowledges the support he was given, and decides he needs to repay the favor: “I’m seeing you’re constantly feeling so down – I can’t leave you behind. ‘Cause you stitched all my wounds, and I made a wish and you filled me with love, so I can sleep in the nights.” “Moon and Sun” is a lovely folk rock song that made me think of John Mayer, a good thing as I’m a big fan of his.

TEISAN returns to experimentation in big way for the album closer “Headache.” The track starts off with numerous skips that give the feeling your listening device or CD player has developed a malfunction, then at 15 seconds it all settles down and we hear his smooth vocals and acoustic guitar, but with unusual assorted background noises that suggest dissonance as he sings about changing. At the one minute mark, the song transitions yet again, this time to a hauntingly beautiful piano riff, backed by atmospheric echoed synths that gradually fade to the outro. What a superb ending to a magnificent, stunning album!

Headspace is a gorgeous album – dare I say, a masterpiece – and I continue to be blown away by TEISAN’s skill at writing such compelling, poetic lyrics and composing incredibly beautiful instrumentals, and his arrangements and production values are impeccable. For a man of only 20, his music and lyrics exhibit a remarkable maturity. This young man is destined for greatness, and his music needs to be heard by millions of ears.

He touches on his future music plans: “I don’t know which way I’ll go on my next album – if it’s some old work I want to get out, or if it’s new stuff – but I sense it that the next one is going to be more “me” . I’ve been reading a book called “Nada Brahma” and It’s quite interesting and changing my perspective when it comes to the world and of course music.

Connect with TEISAN on  Facebook / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on Bandcamp or YouTube