VULTURE PARTY – Single Review: “Blood Wolf Moon”

Vulture Party is a Scottish three-piece who, in their own words, play “disquieting Alt Pop for the socially conscious“. Based in Falkirk, a smallish city located roughly halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the band consists of Louise Ward, David King and Dickson Telfer. Having both a male and female vocalist deliver their thought-provoking lyrics also gives their already fascinating sound even greater nuance and depth.

They released their debut single “New Humans” in 2019, followed a few months later with “Sun Dance”, then dropped their eponymous debut album Vulture Party in April 2020, just as the pandemic turned the world upside down and brought everything to a crashing halt. Undeterred, they began writing and recording songs for their second album Archipelago, and in July 2021, they released “Afterlife”, the first of a series of singles to be included on Archipelago. They followed up with “Iso Disco” this past January, and now return with “Blood Wolf Moon“, the third single off the forthcoming album, to be released later this summer on the not-for-profit independent record label Last Night From Glasgow.

About the song, the band explains “‘Blood Wolf Moon’ is a contemporary take on European werewolf folklore where, through isolation and lack of human connection, people were labelled as outcasts, leading to their basic need for love not being met. Our theme for the song and music video is a werewolf searching for human contact and finding love through music and dance. Despite the subject matter, the tune is upbeat and buoyant, influenced in part by European dance and pop.”

Musically, the song calls to mind some of the great European dance-pop songs of the 80s, with its deep, pulsating bass and drum-fueled beat, overlain with sweeping, almost psychedelic synths, sparkling keyboards, edgy guitar notes and crisp percussion. Louise and David’s intertwining vocal harmonies are really marvelous too. I love this type of synth-heavy dance music, and “Blood Wolf Moon” fills the bill quite nicely.

The delightfully silly video, filmed, directed and edited by Neil McKenzie of Keep it Creative, shows Louise as a campy werewolf who’s also a big Dolly Parton fan, sneaking around and trying to take part in a line dancing society event where David and Dickson are participating. She finally succeeds in the end, fitting in with the other dancers.

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JEEN – Single Review: “On and On”

JEEN (Jeen O’Brien) is a talented, successful and established singer-songwriter and musician from Toronto, Canada with quite an impressive resume. According to her bio, her songs have been used in commercials for such companies as Google, Panasonic, Estée Lauder, Kraft, BlackBerry, KIA, Rogers, MasterCard and Molson, as well as various movies and television programs, including Cook Off, Republic of Doyle, Instant Star, Ruby Gloom, Degrassi, Killjoys, Hockey Wives, Workin’ Moms, MTV Catfish, and MTV Are You the One. Though we’ve followed each other on Twitter for a while, she somehow slipped under my radar until a few days ago, when she reached out to me about her latest single “On and On“. I liked it at first listen, and agreed to feature it on this blog.

Before I’m able to properly review music by an artist I’ve not written about before, I check out their website and various social media accounts to learn as much as I can about them (alas, I’ll never be able to shake the research methods I learned in grad school), and try to listen to at least some of their music catalog to better familiarize myself with their sound. In searching through JEEN’s, I was amazed by her tremendous music output over the past eight years. After starting out as a member of Toronto alternative pop-rock band Cookie Duster (who released a fine album When Flying Was Easy in 2012), she went solo and released her debut album Tourist in 2014. Since then, she’s put out scores of singles and four more albums, most recently Dog Bite last October (2021). Her music is so good, I found myself going down a rabbit hole of binge-listening to her back catalog. Her alternative pop-rock music style and sound are somewhat similar to a few other female artists I’ve heard, yet also distinctly her own.

Photo by Laura Hermiston

“On and On” is the first single off JEEN’s forthcoming sixth album Tracer, due for release in October. For the recording of the single and album, which were co-produced by JEEN and her frequent collaborator Ian Blurton, JEEN played rhythm guitar, bass and synths, Ian played lead guitar and Stephan Szczesniak played drums. The song was also engineered and mixed by Ian, and mastered by Brad Boatright. JEEN says the song is “about breaking points and falling down more times than you’re willing to get back up. I wrote this song last year when everything was grinding me down and nothing seemed worth it.”

The song is a lively banger with a hint of punk undercurrent, driven by Stephan’s urgent thumping drumbeats and JEEN’s throbbing bass. Ian and JEEN lay down a colorful mix of grungy and chiming guitars, accompanied by exuberant sparkling synths, creating a rousing backdrop for her echoed, somewhat mumbled vocals, which are backed by her own soaring harmonies as she laments “Everything got so complicated. Every day’s so intoxicating. Anyway I tried a hundred times (and on and on and on). And I think you must be blind, when you say everything’s fine (and on and on and on). Hey I’m sorry that I lost my place, started running but I fell on my face.” I like the gnarly instrumental fade out at the end, as if to signify someone becoming emotionally deflated like a tire losing air.

For the rather trippy video, JEEN’s chosen a fascinating way to show her lyrics, including written in lipstick on a bathroom mirror, in ink on her hand and arm, crumpled scraps of paper, mylar balloons, an old sneaker and concrete walls, and typed out on a computer screen.

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Purchase on Bandcamp 

almost sex – Single Review: “Lucille”

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. 

How can you not be smitten with such a stunning couple!

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 was never on our side. Lucille, goodbye.” Warren’s backing harmonies in the choruses are sublime, making for a really lovely track.

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SKY DIVING PENGUINS – Album Review: “Sky Diving Penguins”

Who would ever expect to find an act with a music style and sound similar to the Beatles in the tiny nation of Georgia? Well, such an act exists in the form of Sky Diving Penguins, the brainchild of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gia Iashvili, who on December 1st released his debut self-titled album Sky Diving Penguins. Based in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Gia is an interesting guy with a fascinating life story, some of which I learned about in a great review by Iain Key for webzine Louder Than War

He grew up in a time when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, and though Western music was frowned upon and even illegal, he managed to get his hands on some Beatles albums, which had a life-changing impact on the impressionable young teen. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, he was able to openly revel in the music of Nirvana, Beck and Elliott Smith, among others, all of which have had a major influence on his sound.

In 2001, Sky Diving Penguins released Outspoken EP to critical acclaim, and were on the verge of signing with a record label when Gia decided to relocate to Japan, where he began studying cinematography and Kyudo (archery). One day, while practicing Kyudo, an arrow accidentally struck his left ear, leaving him deaf in that ear. After a lengthy convalescence, he went off the grid in the Mount Fuji Five Lakes region, where he spent the next eight years in a kind of self-imposed exile. Once he emerged, he moved back to Georgia, where he had a serendipitous encounter in Tbilisi with Georgi Kinkladze, the Georgian former player for the Manchester City Football Club who’d become a cult hero.

After talking and reminiscing about their time in the Red Army together and living in Manchester, Gia felt reinvigorated. He began writing music again, including co-writing the 2016 Georgian Eurovision entry “Midnight Gold” for indie rock band Young Georgian Lolitaz, performing with the band Z for Zulu, and slowly rebuilding his fan base. He recorded the songs for Sky Diving Penguins over the past three years or so, with the help of his friend and producer Mark Tolle, who sadly passed away before the album was completed. Additional production was handled by sound engineer Kote Kalandadze, who also mixed the songs with Tolle. Mastering was done by acclaimed mastering engineer Pete Maher.

For the album’s recording, Gia played guitar, bass, mouth organ, electric piano and percussion, and sang lead vocals, and Dimitri Oganesian played drums. Additional musicians performing on individual songs included Kote Kalandadze on acoustic or electric guitar, Nika Kocharov on electric guitar, Tiko Kvaliashvili on flute, Vako Saatashvili on trumpet, Beka Berikishvili on French horn, and Evgenyi Inchagov on cello. Gia’s wife Maria Charkseliani sang backing vocals.

Sky Diving Penguins features ten tracks touching on the sadness and pain that’s an inevitable part of life, but softened with glimmers of optimism and the belief that things will usually be alright in the end. About the album and it’s quirky cover art, Gia explained: “I always wanted my first album to feature this artwork. It’s a picture of me from when I was a child, holding a toy machine gun; it’s kind of weird and cute at the same time. Every word and every note that I recorded on this album is honest. It took me three years to complete. This is also the last piece of work my producer and friend, Mark Tolle, was involved in. He died a couple of years ago. I wouldn’t change a bit of this album.”

The album opens with “I Don’t Want, I Don’t Care“, a melancholy but lovely song with a strong Beatles vibe. The piano and horns are marvelous, and Gia’s gentle vocals hover in a sweet spot between John Lennon and George Harrison. The lyrics speak to feelings of ennui that keep one from accomplishing anything or moving forward: “I’ve got many things to do, but I don’t do. I’ve got many things to share, but I don’t share. Indifference is everywhere. So I don’t want and I don’t care.”

On “Serotonin“, he successfully melds grungy Nirvana-esque vibes with more lighthearted and melodic Beatles elements, but most of the album’s tracks have a soothing Beatles sound. Case in point are “This Is Breaking Me Apart“, highlighted by enchanting flute and Gia’s delicate heartfelt vocals, and the hauntingly beautiful “Hating Waiting“, which sounds like a song John Lennon could have sung on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Gia’s layered vocal harmonies are wonderful, and I love the horns, xylophone and glittery guitar notes.

The pleasing two-minute long “All Goes Back In The Box In The End” sounds a bit like a Bob Dylan song recorded by the Beatles, highlighted by a cheerful mouth organ and fluttery guitar notes. The lyrics advise us to not get caught up too heavily with material things, and to try to keep our perspective on the more important things in life: “You can build the biggest house by the water. You can deny all your friends. Big cars won’t make you feel better, no matter. All goes back in a box in the end.” “About One Hermit” has a quiet introspective feel, with gentle acoustic guitars, horns and strings creating a somewhat melancholy feel. Gia’s vocals sound more like George Harrison here as he sings words of encouragement to another: “This pain won’t last forever. Stupid self-destruction ends. All of us dig at our own pure holes.”

Run Boy” is a bouncy, lighthearted song that continues on the theme introduced on “All Goes Back In the Box In The End”, that we should make the best of this life we’re given: “You dream of the place where ice-cream mountains and melon sun. There’s only weekends. Cops are playing with water guns. And there’s no trouble. Everyone’s a Beatles fan. You got no time boy. Find this place just live and Run boy, life’s not forever. Run boy, you got to get on a bus boy, take it, be clever. Run boy, find the place where you belong.”

Depressed or Bored” is a charming tune, despite its rather dour title. The humorous tongue-in-cheek lyrics speak of a general feeling of discontent with life and perhaps ourselves: “All the questions that I’ve come across, I’m the first in line to get the answer. Wish I was David Hasselhoff, brave, young with toned muscles. Ohhh, depressed or bored.” Once again, I must make note of the strong Beatles vibe, especially in the George Harrison-esque guitars and lilting vocal harmonies. “Headache Will Cause Migraines” is decidedly more downbeat, with lyrics that speak to our sometimes fragile emotional well-being: “Back to my emotions. Rituals of my childhood years. Still get pretty strange notions. But crying with sun-dried tears. Headaches will cause migraines.”

As its title suggests, album closer “Tripping #9” has a delicious psychedelic vibe, with spacey atmospheric synths and watery guitar notes layered over a droning melodic rhythm. The appropriately trippy lyrics are somewhat ambiguous and surreal, but seem to describe conflicting feelings of euphoria and fear: “Air is only distance between me and the stars, but It’s too far. Laughing at the treason. Crying for the sin, where have I been? Mind is the trigger, feeling is the gun. Ever since you’re gone, drink without permission. Glass of diet sky, with no ice.” It’s a haunting and beautiful song.

Sky Diving Penguins is marvelous, and such a delightful listen that made it a joy to review. Gia Iashvili and company have crafted a really brilliant album, and I for one am happy he came out of exile and gifted us with his wonderful music.

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ISOLDA – Single Review: “Night Time”

Isolda is a London-based singer-songwriter and musician who recently dropped her debut single “Night Time” on November 13. It’s a captivating track, and an impressive debut for this promising young artist, who began writing songs as a child. Classically trained on the violin and piano, she spent her formative years playing in orchestras, then later performing her songs at the piano in and around London. Inspired by those classical influences, as well as her interest in EDM, synth pop, psychedelic pop and trip hop, she began experimenting with electronic and acoustic elements to create her own unique sound, even learning to produce her own music in her north London home.

Isolda2

With the assistance of Dave De Rose on drums and Ami Kirby on violin, Isolda recorded her first EP Night Time, from which the title track is the lead single. The EP was mixed by noted sound engineer Shuta Shinoda at Hackney Road Studio, and is scheduled for release in early 2020. About “Night Time”, Isolda explains “The song is a hypnotic electronic beat-driven piece, written on sleepless nights and dreamlike states of realisation as time pulls us further away from the persons we loved and the places we have been. [It’s] a contemplation on the identity lost, and the resulting wakeful alertness that persists when the psyche has been disturbed from such reflection during a dark night of the soul, inspired by the inability to sleep when the past haunts someone as they press on towards an unknown future.”

“Night Time” has a rather unusual opening, starting off with a muffled synth chorus that quickly fades out as if the power source has been cut. After a second of silence, a delicate synth riff begins, then the music swells into an enchanting, ethereal soundscape of lush atmospheric synths. Isolda skillfully chooses from a bold palette of sparkling orchestral and percussive sounds to create a dreamy backdrop for her spellbinding, breathy vocals. She gently croons “And on this long road, no turning back. No, there is no, no, no going back. I was in a lifetime, away. It wasn’t my time to find a way. / It’s the night time, but I can’t get back to sleep.”

The fascinating video shows footage of traveling through city streets at night, interspersed with surreal images of Isolda in different settings that one could imagine her experiencing in a dream. Have a look and listen:

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Stream “Night Time” on Spotify 
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GEORGIA FEARN – Album Review: “Perfect on Paper”

Georgia Fearn pic

Having no musical talents whatsoever, I’m always impressed by people who do, and especially when they’re also quite young. Needless to say, I was blown away when I listened to the debut album Perfect on Paper by Welsh artist Georgia Fearn. Only 17 years old, the singer/songwriter from Carmarthen has a remarkable artistry and maturity far beyond her years. She writes all her own songs and plays guitar and piano, with session musicians playing the other instruments.

Released in March through Grapefruit Records, Perfect on Paper sounds like the work of a seasoned artist, which is actually the case in a sense. Georgia began writing songs at the age of nine, and at 17 she’s an accomplished wordsmith, penning thoughtful and frank lyrics about the joy, pain and complications that arise when we enter into relationships. She’s already performed in many different venues, most notably the famous Cavern in Liverpool, and her songs have received airplay on BBC Wales, and other radio stations in the UK.

Georgia incorporates a myriad of music styles, including pop, rock, jazz, hip hop and even Celtic folk, to create songs that are surprising, unique and always compelling. The superb opening track “L’Amour” beautifully illustrates what I’m talking about. The song features all sorts of interesting sounds and instruments like accordion, banjo, horns and strings, and the result is delightfully saucy track with a sophisticated French vibe. As if all that weren’t enough, she injects a bit of a Celtic feel in the chorus interlude. Didn’t I say that she likes to surprise us?

The lyrics describe a relationship doomed from the start: “You told me you were leaving ’cause I smoked too many cigarettes. I broke the bad habit, and I drove straight to your address. I saw you pressing your lips to someone new. It’s time to break my other bad habit. You.” Bloody brilliant.

Perfect on Paper is an ambitious work with 12 tracks, all of them suberb. “Catch Me If You Can” is an infectiously catchy number that had me humming the melody long after hearing the song. “Misty Mae” was inspired by a character in the TV series American Horror Story. A beautiful mandolin riff and flute lend a bit of a gypsy flair to the rousing track, while distorted electric guitar adds an edgy feel. “Does It Make You Wonder” is a sweeping ballad featuring a haunting piano riff, mournful violins and a military drumbeat. Georgia’s heartfelt vocals are extraordinary as she croons: “I’m living in a glass house, where the person I used to be, she’s buried six feet under. She’s trying to scream. She’s blocked out by the thunder. Does it ever make you wonder, what could have been?

“Sharp Objects” is a dark rock song about the proverbial town without pity. The track opens with what sounds like helicopter blades and men shouting in the distance. Georgia snarls the biting lyrics about hypocrisy and evil that lie beneath a rosy exterior: “Home is where the lies are. Pretty quiet village, that’s where all the scars are. Tiny little village, that’s where all the hate is. / Ooh I’m gonna drown. Something about this nuclear town. Toxic.

And speaking of dark, one of my favorites is the dramatic, searing title track “Perfect on Paper,” about a woman serving prison time for killing the man that done her wrong: “I know he never loved me. He just loved the thought. He thought there was a girl out there who’d do what he wants. She’d smile in a loving manner to her man perfect on paper. Not knowing soon she’d see every awful heartbreaking, sickening, ugly thing he could be.” Wow, those are some of the best lyrics I’ve seen in a while!

Another great track is the bluesy “Master of Jazz.” The sensuous song speaks of the cool allure of a jazz musician who can sweep a girl off her feet: “Heart on his sleeve and mic in his hand. I heard he was a part of some out of town band. He liked to think he was the king of swing. And the king of swing would have you hanging by a string He’s a master of jazz, when he sings you come alive.” The melancholy “Emptiness” is a piano-driven track with mournful violin. The lyrics address the feelings of pain and loss when love has gone: “We judge people for judging, ’cause judging is wrong. The only way to stay OK is writing a song. Food has lost it’s taste. Get me out of this place. If you cut me open, I would bleed his name. It hurts so much.

Georgia injects a hip hop beat and lots of distorted guitar into “No Need to Hide,” while “Always Be Yours” is a lovely, uplifting ballad about how she was saved by another’s love and devotion. The Latin-infused album closer “You Wouldn’t Do This if You Did” is a kiss-off to a lover with a chronic drinking problem: “How am I supposed to love you, when you only see me through bottled eyes. And every time I smell the liquor, a little part inside of me dies. You’re not who you were when I first met you. / I know you don’t love me. Cause you wouldn’t do this if you did.”

Perfect on Paper is a brilliant album, and an outstanding debut from this gifted and promising young artist. I expect – and hope – we’ll be hearing more great music from Georgia Fearn before long.

Connect with Georgia:  Facebook / Twitter
Stream her music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunesAmazon / Klicktrack