GHOST FAN CLUB – Single Review: “Speak to Me”

Ghost Fan Club

While most singer-songwriters tend to express themselves through their music to one degree or another, Tyler Costolo really bares his heart and soul on his songs. And like a number of musicians, The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has chosen to articulate his feelings through song under a unique moniker to identify his music project. In Tyler’s case, there are two of them: Two Meters, which he created in 2018, and more recently, Ghost Fan Club, which he started earlier this year.

The music he creates as Two Meters has an edgier, more experimental vibe, with unconventional melodies and time signatures, heavily-textured guitars, harsh industrial synths and unusual lo-fi ambient sounds. Together with his distinctive off-kilter and monotone vocals that go from gentle whisper to impassioned screams, Two Meters’ songs are haunting, sometimes beautiful, and often startling. Under Ghost Fan Club, which he calls his “emo partner to Two Meters”, Tyler explores his softer side, with music consisting of mostly strummed acoustic and electric guitars, accompanied by more understated synths, drum fills and vocals. But with both projects, his deeply personal and honest lyrics explore the dark themes of loss and death.

He’s released a few singles as Ghost Fan Club, his latest of which is the poignant “Speak to Me“, which dropped August 14. Released through the independent label Knifepunch Records, the song was written recorded, produced and mixed by Tyler in his bedroom. It’s a very short track, running only one minute, twenty seconds, but makes quite an impact in that brief time. The song was inspired by Tyler’s memories of his mother: “One thing I didn’t consider when my mom passed away is that I’d eventually forget the sound of her voice.”

The song has a languid, moody vibe, but with an air of hopefulness. Over a reverb-heavy jangly guitar riff, Tyler layers sparking synths and gentle percussion to create a haunting, yet enchanting soundscape. With his soothing, breathy monotone, he expresses out loud his mental conversation with his deceased mother, telling her that he misses her and wishes he could hear her voice: “When I wake up I miss you most. I stay haunted by your Ghost. Speak to me, so I don’t forget your voice.” It’s positively sublime.

Connect with Ghost Fan Club: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS – Single Review: “Rock That City”

Philip Morgan Lewis3

British singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis is one of the more creative and adventurous artists I know of. The London East Ender isn’t afraid to explore a wide range of genres and influences for the creation of his own eclectic sound. Drawing from alternative rock, blues, garage rock, folk, R&B and EDM, he crafts exciting blues-soaked rock that nicely complements his distinctive raspy vocal style. He’s one of those artists you immediately recognize upon hearing his songs.

He’s released a fair amount of music over the past decade, beginning with his 2013 EP Karma Comedown. He then released a number of singles, and in late 2017 dropped his brilliant album Grief Harbour, which I reviewed. In 2019, he took a stylistic departure from his usual comfort zone and released a fun album House Works, featuring eight House/EDM tracks. He then followed a few months later with a fantastic bluesy single “Blowtorched Dreams”. Now Philip is back with a great new single “Rock That City“, released on July 13th via label Tx2 Records.

Written and recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown, the song is an ode to many of the social things we’ve all been missing these past several months. Philip says it’s “all about release and freedom”, and the lyrics speak to breaking loose and having a fun night on the town: “Gonna rock that city where life’s so crazy / And I go make it right / Gonna rock that city tonight.” A talented multi-instrumentalist, he plays all the instruments himself, and does a fine job here delivering some  bluesy rock’n’roll. With it’s strong, driving beat, buzzing bassline and grungy guitars, the song reminds me a bit of the great Black Keys song “Fever”. His unusual raspy vocals register in the higher octaves, resulting in a unique style and sound unlike any other singer I’ve heard.

The accompanying video was artfully filmed in black and white on the streets of London during the lockdown. A number of famous sites featured in the video that are normally filled with tourists were totally devoid of people. Philip is shown making his way through buildings, parking garages or the streets, completely alone.

Connect with Philip: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music
Purchase:  Amazon / Deezer / BandcampGoogle Play

KIDSMOKE – Album Review: “A Vision In The Dark”

Kidsmoke album

Kidsmoke is an exceptionally talented indie dream rock band based in the city of Wrexham in northeast Wales. On June 19th, after many months of hard work, they released their debut album A Vision in the Dark via Welsh label Libertino Records. Like so many bands, they’d planned to tour over the summer to promote their album, but those plans were dashed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, they decided not to delay the release of their album, and just wanted to get it out so their fans would have some new music to look forward to. And what a beautiful album it is, featuring 11 superb tracks. Their lush and beautiful guitar-driven sound is strongly influenced by such bands as Joy Division, The Cure, Wilco and The National, among others.

Formed in late 2012 by Lance Williams and James Stickels, who’d been friends since their school days, Kidsmoke was named after a song by one of their favorite bands Wilco. They released their first EP Higher in 2013, followed by a second EP So Long, Emptiness in 2015. Various members came and went, but the band finally came into its own with the addition of Sophie Ballamy and Ash Turner in 2016. Since then, the lineup has been Lance on Lead Vocals & Guitar, James on Bass & Vocals, Sophie on Guitar & Vocals, and Ash on Drums. The band continued to release numerous singles, along with an EP Save Your Sorrow in 2017, and had the experience of a lifetime when they performed at SXSW (South By Southwest Film & Music Festival) in Austin, Texas in 2019.

Kidsmoke

A Vision in the Dark opens with “Passenger” a lovely, uptempo song that sets the tone for the album. Its sunny, upbeat instrumentals, highlighted by jangly guitars and snappy drumbeats, contrast with the rather poignant lyrics “I’m moving on to God knows where, I’m dressed to kill the time I’m moving on, I’m a passenger.” Lance explained that the song is “about losing your direction in life, being swept along with the crowd and feeling helpless to stop it.” The song was chosen for NPR’s Austin 100 playlist.

The warm, summery vibe carries over to the next track “Layla’s Love“, with its swirling guitars and dreamy, ethereal melody. Lance states that the song “is a retrospective story of a relationship, where one partner begins to dwell upon the many ‘what ifs?’ we all face.” The male character in the narrative ultimately realizes that, though not perfect, the relationship remains strong and they’re still together: “Baby, the sun won’t rise over you. But I know we are still together. Layla’s love is the only love I’ll never lose.” I love the interplay between Lance and Sophie’s enchanting vocals as they sing “You gave me everything I had (I hope I did). Everything I wanted (you know I tried). But sometimes everything just isn’t enough.” This beautiful song stayed stuck in my head long after hearing it, and is one of the highlights on the album for me.

Kidsmoke continue to deliver the breezy feels on “Colourfield“, with its chiming guitars and cheerful, bouncy bass line, “Higher“, a beautiful reworking of a song from their first EP, and “She Takes You Under“, where they seem to pay homage to The Cure with bouyant jangly guitars and sparkling synths. Lance and Sophie’s vocal harmonies are particularly wonderful here, as well as on the brief but enchanting “Kaleidoscope“. The track is a chorus from an old song the band had previously written but never recorded, and serves as an interlude between side 1 and side 2 of the album.

Another standout track is “Rising Sun“, a high-energy tune with a retro 80s new wave vibe. The fast-paced driving rhythms and exuberant guitars are fantastic, and as always, the vocal harmonies are sublime. The lyrics speak to pushing back against others’ expectations, even when they’re coming from people who are closest to you: “Your days are done. I turn the black to blue. I turn the night to day. I’m the rising sun. I feel your love, I don’t want to follow.

The hauntingly beautiful “Take Me to the River” is another re-imagining of an old song from their debut EP Higher. A fan favorite, Kidsmoke decided to re-record it for the album. The song was featured on an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror, and is about being led astray from one’s path by negative influences. The bouncy, guitar-driven melody contrasts with the dark lyrics that seem to touch on a relationship doomed by the suicidal tendencies of one of the partners: “If I leave you, I’ll miss you, I’ll never make you mine. We’re sinking fast. We’re running out of time.” The richly layered guitars and pulsating bass are wonderful.

They continue to dazzle us with dreamy melodies and exquisite guitar work on “Still Dreams“, a deeply personal song Lance wrote based on his own experience having to come to terms with a life-changing event that made it hard for him to face the world. He elaborates “The song is about the expectations from family, friends or work to ‘get back to normal’ after something traumatic has happened. The overarching sentiment is about giving people the time they need to heal.”

Kidsmoke slows things down with “Little Easy“, a gentle song of thanks to someone for their love and support: “Little easy. You’ll never know how much you mean to me. You play the part, you play it right.” With its languid beat, mix of acoustic and electric guitars, and lovely vocal harmonies, the song has an early Fleetwood Mac feel, at least to my ears. About the inspiration for the song, James explains “I felt a little bit directionless at the time; I’d moved back home to Wales from Manchester for a job that didn’t work out and I was missing city life. I always aim for emotion in my music, but this one felt a bit more genuine…I just wrote how I felt.”

They save the best for last, closing out the album with “The Bluest You“, my favorite song of them all. Being a lover of music who cannot write a note of it, nor play a single instrument, I’m always awestruck at how people can create such gorgeous melodies, then bring them to fruition with various instruments. What Kidsmoke has achieved with “The Bluest You” is nothing short of spectacular, creating a song of such incredible beauty and depth that it renders me speechless. The glorious swirling guitars are as dreamy as they come, and James and Ash keep the spellbinding rhythm with their pulsating bass line and perfect drumbeats, respectively. Once again, I must make note of the stunning vocal harmonies delivered by Lance, Sophie and James. This song is honestly one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a long while.

I’m not the only one for whom this song is a favorite. Lance said “This song is a live favourite of ours”, while James noted “This is my favourite track. I originally intended for it to be an instrumental – thankfully I soon decided against that idea. I knew from the moment it was written that it was destined to be the last track on the album.”

The song lyrics address mental health, specifically the effect someone’s issues have on loved ones around them. Lance explained: “It is a fly on the wall look into a household where one person’s depression is affecting everyone else who lives there. The song doesn’t address the feelings of the person suffering with depression, it is a sort of commentary from the viewpoint of the rest of the family.”

I’ve gushed about A Vision in the Dark throughout this review, so I don’t know what more I can say except that it’s an absolutely stunning album from beginning to end, and ranks among the very best releases I’ve heard so far in 2020. Listening to it is an immersive experience, as one gorgeous track flows into the next, keeping the listener in a continuous state of thrall. Other than for the minute-long interlude piece “Kaleidoscope”, the other ten tracks could all be hit singles, they’re that good.

Follow Kidsmoke:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

SORICAH – EP Review: “Let the Fire Burn Free”

Soricah

Soricah is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer whose music is influenced by her rich international and multi-cultural heritage. Being of Irish/Mauritian ancestry and having spent various times of her childhood and adulthood living in Ireland, Africa, Mauritius and London, her exposure to a wide range of music and people give her music a unique sound that’s a blending of genres and styles. Formerly a member of the band Rebekah Met Sarah, Soricah has also performed as a solo artist in London and Ireland. She has supported musical acts such as The Palma Violets and renowned cellist Jo Quail, and has been a frequent collaborator with members of The Artist Community of Studio 180, and the East London artistic warehouse scene. She’s also been featured on a number of projects with different artists, and her collaborations have been aired on Freakfm, BBC Radio One and a variety of Irish and International radio stations.

She currently splits her time between Kent, England and Dublin, Ireland, and recently dropped her debut EP Let the Fire Burn Free, featuring four tracks written and sung by her. She also played acoustic guitars on the tracks, and co-produced the EP with Daniel Doherty, who played electric guitar, bass and drums. Gary Molloy played cello and piano, and the songs were mastered by renowned British mastering engineer Pete Maher. The artwork was designed by Valerie Pezeron.

The first track “Waiting” is a beautiful song, with a sultry melody that conjures up images of a beach bathed by warm tropical breezes. Both musically and vocally, the song has a definite Lana Del Ray vibe. A distinctive element is Gary Molloy’s gorgeous fluttering cello, which gives the track a haunting, dreamlike sound. Soricah’s strummed acoustic guitar and smooth, sensuous vocals are complemented by Daniel Doherty’s sultry bass line and crisp percussion. The lyrics speak of intense passion and longing for someone, which Soricah seductively croons “Come a little closer. Feel my body move. My heart is beating faster, waiting for you/ You take me away into the stars is where I’ll stay. Waiting for you, waiting for you.”

Back to Him” is an interesting song, and a perfect example of how Soricah skillfully blends a mix of cultural elements into her music. The song has a delightful, exotic-sounding Latin or gypsy folk melody. The colorful and spirited acoustic and electric guitars are fantastic, and I love Daniel’s distinctive bass line and assertive drumbeats. The lyrics are also interesting, spoken to a lover – either a man or woman – who appears to be confused and conflicted about their sexuality: “You change your faces every day. One minute you’re in love, then you’re running away. Back to him.”

On the title track “Let the Fire Burn Free“, Gary’s vibrant cello takes a starring role, giving the song a lush classical feel, though the lively guitars, bass and drums keep it in folk-rock territory. The song seems to be about freeing oneself from the judgments of others that diminish your own sense of self-worth: “How could you blame yourself, when it was good it was the best. And how could you be such a mess, when you tried to be honest? And how could you cause so much stress, with the family there’s no contest.”

Juliette” is a lovely song of affirmation and self-worth, with lyrics assuring a woman that she doesn’t need a man to make her whole: “And Juliette, you don’t need no Romeo. You’d be better off alone.” The beautiful tinkling piano keys and soaring cello are the musical highlights here, and Soricah’s warm vocals are sublime as always.

Let the Fire Burn Free is a wonderful little EP with four excellent tracks, each having a distinctively different sound. Through a rich mix of stylistic elements and lush instrumentation, Soricah and her fellow musicians have crafted a highly satisfying work.

Follow Soricah:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

BRYDE – Album Review: “The Volume of Things”

Bryde

I was not familiar with the music of Welsh-born and now London-based artist Bryde before my fellow blogger Robert Horvat (whose blog Rearview Mirror is outstanding, so do check it out) asked that I consider reviewing her new album The Volume of Things.  Despite Robert’s confidence, after blogging about music for more than four and a half years, I’m still terribly insecure about my writing, and often feel out of my league when it comes to discussing music. I also often struggle with album reviews, as I find capturing the essence of the songs and what the artist or band is attempting to express through those songs can be a daunting task.

With that in mind, as I customarily do for all artists and bands I review, I listened to Bryde’s back catalog to more fully acquaint myself with her music in order to at least try to sound halfway intelligent in my review of her new album. And I can unequivocally state that I was immediately impressed by her strong, deeply meaningful songwriting, exquisite melodies, richly-layered guitar work and enchanting vocals.

Bryde is the artistic moniker of singer-songwriter and guitarist Sarah Howells, who’s been writing and recording music for over ten years. She started out as one half of alternative folk/pop duo Paper Aeroplanes, who together released a number of wonderful singles, EPs and albums between 2010 and 2015. Also in 2015, she began recording and releasing a series of singles and EPs as Bryde, culminating in the release in 2018 of her marvelous debut album Like an Island. The album is a dramatic collection of 13 stunning tracks exploring darker themes inspired by a break-up, all expressed with a heavier and edgier, yet still fragile, alt-rock sensibility. The lead single “To Be Brave” has been streamed more than 3.2 million times on Spotify.

Now she’s returned with her sophomore album The Volume Of Things, which dropped May 29th. The album was partly inspired by the emotional burnout she experienced following the release of Like an Island, which led her to explore a new paradigm of self-healing. She describes the work as “the calm before the storm – before a new calm I’m working towards.” That said, the record sees her return to a somewhat gentler, more folk-oriented approach, though the tracks still exhibit her passionate songwriting and skill for delivering a rousing, guitar-driven rock song.

This is perfectly exemplified on the beautiful opening track “Silence“. The song opens rather tentatively, with Bryde softly crooning “So, I was restless as a child. Full, like a rain cloud, this desire” accompanied by shimmery guitar notes. Then it blossoms into a glorious, exuberant anthem with driving rhythms and lush guitars as she plaintively sings of seeking inner peace and contentment though the love of another: “Can I come in, can I be part of this silence? And leave here with my heart on the outside. Can I come in, can you satisfy this feeling? I want it to be more than redeeming.

On “The Trouble Is“, Bryde implores to a lover who’s unable to find contentment in life, always feeling that things never live up to their expectations: “I think that trouble is what you want. I think the struggle is just what gets you off. We’re in the same America. Looking for some way to get it right. The things you think to yourself at night.” The song has a comforting vibe, with a wonderful, head-bopping melody, vibrant 80s-flavored synths and a fantastic bass line. But the highlights for me are her sumptuous mix of fuzz-coated and swirling guitars, as well as her captivating vocals that harmonize so beautifully with her guitars.

Done” sees Bryde confronting someone who’s broken her down and killed her spirit until she’s finally done with the relationship:  “…steal all my dreams, insist I ought to have none. Stayed on my hands til they’re numb. My defenses crumble one by one. Stay strong, and stay well. Think I forgot what it was like, this effortless hell. To be here, with you there. Deaden my eyes, poison my mind by daring to dwell in possibility.” She continues with this theme on “80 Degrees“, desperately trying to bring closure to the lingering pain and bitterness over a failed relationship. The biting lyrics are a perfect example of her songwriting brilliance: “And of all the things that you didn’t throw, your fancy gifts were the first to go. Now the charity shops round here know me by name, think I’m insane. / All the things we said we wanted, don’t want them anymore.”

As the album progresses, I’m struck by the superior quality of every track. The hauntingly beautiful “Flies” has a captivating guitar-driven melody that’s absolutely stunning. The music builds to a dramatic crescendo in the bridge – guitars and Bryde’s vocals blazing – then calms at the end as she softly croons the refrain “Negative thoughts divide and multiply like flies.” She taps into her pop-rock alter-ego with the exuberant radio-friendly gem “Paper Cups“. With an infectiously bouncy beat that aims straight for the hips, the song is a delight from start to finish. The chugging, jangly guitars are wonderful, as are her lilting vocals as she sings to someone with whom she’s found comfort: “Call it what you want. Tell me things too loud to hear. Collect all my words in paper cups.” Be sure to check out this cool 360° video.

Bryde takes a darker turn on the haunting, grunge-infused “Hallelujahs” and the moody but beautiful “Another Word for Free“. I love the mesmerizing synths, and her vocals have an almost ethereal quality as she softly croons “Would you be the weight off my shoulders?” She picks up the pace on “Handing It Over“, with fuzz-coated jangly guitars layered over an exuberant uptempo rhythm.

Outsiders” is another hauntingly beautiful track, and one of my favorites on the album. Bryde bares her heart and soul here, entreating to someone she loves who doesn’t share her intensity of feelings: “And I want something more than whatever it is you came here for. You say that no one knows just what they want, but I do. I do. I want you.” The wobbly, mysterious synths are bewitching, and her breathy heartfelt vocals convey a strong vulnerability and sense of longing expressed by the lyrics.

The album closes with the stunning title track “The Volume of Things“. Bryde sings the lyrics that seem to be about the challenges of being completely honest, both to others and to ourselves: “We shed our coats as the temperature rose like a lump in my throat. A voice drowned out by the volume of things I won’t talk about.” Her gently strummed guitar is positively sublime, punctuated by beautiful notes of twangy guitar. Three quarters of the way into the track, a military-style drumbeat enters as the music swells to a sweeping, cinematic crescendo. It’s a magnificent finish to a truly spectacular album.

Follow Bryde:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

AGENT JOHNNY RED – Album Review: “Run Against the Sequence”

Agent Johnny Red album art

Agent Johnny Red is an electronic musician, singer-songwriter and composer based in Portland, Maine. He’s been fairly prolific in his music output over the past five years or so, recording and releasing several singles, EPs and compilations, most of which are available on his Bandcamp page. At the end of May, he dropped his first official album Run Against the Sequence, a concept work inspired by his own personal life experiences.

He explained that the album “is about how humans get stuck in recurring behavior patterns or programs that are based upon past events. This is an album about Agent Johnny Red running against the sequence or patterns that were ultimately controlling his life. Addiction to bad relationships, food and drugs are all part of the sequence.” He added that the word ‘Against’ stands for how difficult it is to overcome these bad habits: “Kind of like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, no matter what you do you can’t escape it. But the character in this story does eventually escape at the end.”

The album opens with sounds of a man speaking the words “I won’t deny that there’s some strange, evolutionary process going on, but mankind won’t be destroyed. The fact that you and I are already here today is evidence of that“, and thus begins the first track “Just keep Repeating“. Agent Johnny Red uses an array of dark, yet beautiful swirling synths set to a pulsating EDM beat to create a mysterious atmosphere that conveys a feeling of being in a kind of twilight zone. Eventually, the man’s voice returns to say “Another day is done all over again.” “Figure out this Mess” has an equally ominous vibe, with harsh swooping and pulsating industrial synths forming a psychedelic backdrop for Johnny Red’s droning moody vocals.

On “Lightning in a Black Hole“, Johnny Red seems to be speaking to someone who can save him from himself and his troubles: “Tell me what you want me to be. I’ll tell you I’m all that I can ever be. / I just want to go out for a drive. Just to see the sky. I know it’s crazy, but we’ll be fine if we forget about time.” I really like the lush combination of synth sounds and textures he uses in this and other tracks, and how well his music pairs with his vulnerable, rather melancholy vocals.

The album features a number of terrific instrumental tracks, including “Videodrome“, with its fascinating mix of synthwave, sci-fi, EDM and dubstep elements; the uptempo and otherworldly “Destination of Red“; the mesmerizing, psychedelic and spacey “Save Some Space“; the techno-heavy “Survival is Changes“; and one of my favorites “Don’t Destroy the Water“, a wonderful futuristic fantasia of swirling sci-fi synths and haunting female chorale-like vocal drones, set to captivating dubstep beats.

The title track “Run Against the Sequence” encapsulates everything the album is about, which is the struggle to reach a point of mental clarity and emotional freedom from bad habits and addictions that have kept you enslaved: “Every step that I take will get me closer to awake. Every love that you find will get you closer to rewind. I know that time’s confusing. What if it’s an illusion?” Musically, the song has a haunting piano-driven melody, with a colorful mix of wobbly and stabbing synths, accompanied by hand claps.

Hack Time (You Work Harder)” has an eerie, almost goth-like vibe, with throbbing industrial synths set to a hypnotic rhythmic beat. The tinkling piano keys add a nice textural contrast, keeping the track from sounding too dark.  Johnny Red’s electronically-altered echoed vocals sound pained as he laments of wanting to feel better and be free of his demons and addictions that offer only temporary relief from the pain: “Break free from the things in your brain. / You fell asleep at the wheel. You’re happy when you can feel. You’re happy when you heal. / I just wanna move around the sequence. I just wanna hack time.” It’s another one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Save the Light” is the point of escape, when Johnny finds the truth in the pain of not succumbing to addiction. His vocals are auto-tuned, giving them an even more haunting feel as he sings of being trapped by his addiction, and wanting to break free. ‘Seven seas’ are a metaphor for his freedom: “Back when you thought you could be everything, you saw something great in the seven seas. You ran benediction through your head but addiction had you dead. But you were here and you were sure that if you come back to the seven seas. Come back and let me be. I believe this is a dream come true.” He realizes he needs to be strong, keeping freedom from addiction at the forefront of his goals: “Think the way that you can feel. Fight the urge to make the deal. All these scars that will not heal are just dreams, they are not real.”

Yet he continues to struggle with self-doubt and guilt over pain he’s caused others: “No I don’t want to go back home. I want to stay on this earth. I wanna stay on this earth but you keep killing it. I am telling you I don’t want to see them die. I don’t want to see them cry just so I can feel alive.” He ultimately comes to the realization that he wants to live a life free from addiction: “And if I save the light, then the dark might take me tonight. And on the seven seas everything might be alright.” Johnny Red uses complex and lush industrial and psychedelic synths and some lovely guitar notes to create a somber, yet hopeful mood. It’s a magnificent and moving track.

The album closes on a more upbeat and positive note with “A Puzzled Picture“. The track has a lighthearted vibe, thanks to a lively mix of skittering spacey synths. The man’s spoken voice we heard on the opening track returns to offer a few lines of wisdom, though I’m unable to make out exactly what he’s saying.

Not being a musician, nor very knowledgeable about music theory, technique or mechanics, it’s often hard for me to fully articulate what I hear when listening to electronic music. That said, I have nevertheless written about quite a lot of it, and can confidently state that Run Against the Sequence is in the top tier of electronic music albums I’ve reviewed. Agent Johnny Red is a highly creative, talented and imaginative composer, as well as thoughtful songwriter, and should be very proud of his latest work. This is an album that requires a couple of close listens to fully appreciate all of it’s many nuances, but you will be rewarded for your effort.

Follow Agent Johnny Red on Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on BandcampSpotify / Google PlayApple Music

HAN BLOOM – Album Review: “Higher State of Mind”

Han Bloom Higher State of Mind

Han Bloom is a classically trained pianist, composer and singer-songwriter based in London, England. Strongly influenced by modern jazz, progressive rock and experimental music, she uses her classical training to musically explore themes of interest to her such as society, politics, culture, ideology, conformism and big brother, among others. In her bio, she states that she “always strives to be as original and free thinking as possible. Creativity is the answer.” Sounds like a winning combination to me.

With that in mind, Han recently released her ambitious debut album Higher State of Mind, which dropped on May 1st. She wrote all music and lyrics, played piano and all other keyboards, programmed all instruments (other than the drums that were played on some tracks by Eddie Van Dorgen), sang all vocals, and produced, mixed and mastered the entire album herself (with the exception of one track “Free Me Now”, which was produced by Harry Powell). With 13 tracks and running an hour in length, there’s a lot to listen to, but I’ll touch on the songs that really clicked with me.

The album opens with “Bach Got Funked Up“, a fascinating instrumental track that fuses contemporary classical, modern jazz and experimental elements. Employing an array of ominous wobbly and spacey synths and jazzy piano chords, Han creates a trippy and mysterious soundscape that whets our appetite for what’s to come. Next up is “Burn“, a bewitching track that starts off quietly, with distant sounds of storms accompanied by the most delicate of keyboard synths. As her low-key, quirky vocals enter, the tempo changes to a toe-tapping beat, with jazzy piano, organ, cool synths and gentle percussion. I like the whispy little ‘whoosh’ snare sounds she uses to convey a feeling of water being softly poured onto a smouldering fire.

Blasphemy” resonates strongly with me, as I like Han’s biting lyrics touching on the hypocrisy that so often exists in religion and democracy: “Don’t tell me with your shit decree, excuse my Christianity. Don’t tell me about blasphemy, when you don’t know how to live in peace. Don’t tell me with your shit decree, about democracy, cause you don’t know nothing about me. But it don’t matter, so I won’t shatter, But they don’t listen, so I keep on living in sin, gladly.” I really like the song’s cool, jazzy grooves, and the deep synth bass,  moody piano keys and tapping percussive beats that make it a great listen.

One of my favorite tracks is “Finer Things“, both for it’s great tongue-in-cheek lyrics and mellow, jazzy vibe. Han’s conversational-style vocals and nimble piano work give the song a fun, casual quality that makes it sound like a live recording of a performance you’d hear in an intimate little nightclub. In fact, I think her music style is well-suited for that format, and it would be fun to see her perform live. About the song, she says “‘The Finer Things’ is a disposable comedic tribute to Frank Zappa that utilises the ridiculousness and profound impact of ‘influencers’ and ‘influence culture’, and the subsequent snowflake generation that it resonates with.”

I love the lines decrying influence culture and the fact she’s doesn’t quite measure up to their shallow definition of success: “Hello, my name is Hannah Bloom, and this song is about the death of influence culture…hopefully. I wanna shop at Liberty, but they welcome me bitterly, ’cause I ain’t got no money. I’m sorry, ’cause in my disposable song, don’t get me wrong. I like the finer things and I sure do love the joy that it brings. I love Pucci, Emilio Pucci…so much better than Gucci. So tutti frutti, but instead I’m wearing Tom Sweeney, which is for men.” Exasperated, she later asks “Can somebody please explain to me what an influencer is? “Cause in my mind it just makes sense that they’re professional beggars. And a lot of people would say the same thing about musicians. And they do say the same things. But we actually do stuff, and we’re just undervalued, whereas influencers are like super valued in society. And it’s like please stop making our generation stupid and meaningless.” I couldn’t agree more!

On “Free Me Now“, Han uses a greater electronic approach and somewhat darker tone to address the subject of addiction. In her notes about the track, she states that she developed the song’s framework off a Korg Tribe drum pattern machine she’d been experimenting with. She then layered delicate piano and organ keyboards to create an enchanting soundscape for her airy vocals. About the song’s meaning, she explains: “Lyrically it depicts a prior relationship with addiction that I needed to express in a raw and free form; hence the experimental instrumentation found in this track.” Her blunt lyrics get straight to the point: “I have an obsession. Addiction, yeah. My mind is imprisoned. Loneliness is not your friend. Free me now. You gotta let me out. Free me now. I don’t wanna be a burnout.

On the moody “These Games” – which Han says was inspired by the George Orwell classic 1984 – she rejects the expectations and ethical wrongs of social conditioning practiced by Western societies, pressuring us to conform to a specific set of social norms, and leaving us often feeling like our lives are unfulfilled. Han croons “So she goes to work for the man. Hiding his sweet lies, pulling the wool over their eyes. She says ‘I don’t know why I do it. And I don’t know how I do it. But I need to survive’. / So he says he stayed at work late today. Hiding his bitter lies. Wasting his own time, and he knows he’s not right to do it. But he just can’t say no ’cause money’s his goal. / And I see it happening every single day. And I don’t know why they play these games with themselves.” The song has a languid, piano-driven melody, with delicate synths, subtle organ notes, and Eddie Van Dongen’s gentle percussion.

My absolute favorite track is album closer “Light and Love (Coda)“, a stunning eight-minute-long instrumental that really showcases Han’s impressive compositional and piano-paying talents. She weaves a rich tapestry of ambient and glittery atmospheric synths, then adds vibrant piano keys to create a breathtaking contemporary classical piece that can easily hold its own among the works by many of today’s classical composers. I would love to see her put out an entire album of this kind of instrumental music.

I’ll be honest that it took a couple of plays for this album to grow on me, as the melodies are more experimental and free-form than typical pop, folk or rock music, requiring a more careful listen to fully appreciate its many nuances. I love when artists fuse multiple elements and genres into their music, and I applaud her courage to experiment with her sound and create a style uniquely her own. If you like music that strays from the conventional, with more contemporary, experimental and progressive jazz, pop and rock vibes, delivered by some really superb piano work, then you will enjoy Higher State of Mind.

Follow Han:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

CHANTY TRÈS-VAIN – Album Review: “AUTREFOIS”

Chanty Tres-Vain Autrefois

Chanty Très-Vain is a creative, hard-working and super-talented young English singer-songwriter and guitarist now living in Berlin, Germany. Her pleasing, accessible style of music draws upon an eclectic mix of folk, Country, alternative rock and art pop, and her honest, poetic lyrics express sentiments and situations we can all relate to. She released her debut EP Daffodils in 2016, which was produced by her brother Minky Très-Vain, front man of the London scratch rock band Brain Ape (who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog). In 2018, Chanty began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Home” and following up with three more – “Miss My Friend”, “Cup of Tea” and “From Hello”.

On May 8th, she dropped her wonderful debut album Autrefois via her brother Minky’s label Scratch Rock Records. The album was once again produced by Minky, who also played some of the instruments on many tracks, and the drums and percussion were performed by The Siberian Alien (who was drummer for Brain Ape from 2013-15). The album features the four previously-released singles noted above, along with seven new tracks, all exploring such themes as platonic and romantic relationships, cultural identity, heartbreak, and mental health. Chanty states that the album was inspired in part by “times gone by” and her own past: “Each song on ‘Autrefois’ is a moment that changed me in some way. To have these mementos is very important to me, and I’m so glad to have them to remind me of the lessons. They also remind me of the good moments that might otherwise have got lost among the bad.” Autrefois is a French word meaning “once upon a time”.

The first track “Shine” has a rather quirky intro consisting of clicks and what sounds like a kitten or some other baby animal cooing, accompanied by a muffled lo-fi recording of Chanty singing and playing acoustic guitar. After 55 seconds, the song bursts open with fuzzy electric guitars, thumping drumbeats and her clear, fervent vocals singing of a relationship that has survived its ups and downs to become stronger than ever: “Don’t give up, carry on, feel the beauty in the air. Hold my hand, keep me close and I know that I’ll be fine. I know we’ll survive. Cause you and I are stronger than before. You and I shine.”

The moving song “Undone” is a fine example of Chanty’s excellent songwriting and vocal abilities. Over a haunting melody, she’s layered a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, including delicate chiming guitar notes that give the track an enchanting feel during its quieter moments. Her vocals are lovely, going from tender croons to impassioned pleas as she sings to someone struggling with mental health issues: “I know I’m one to talk, I’ve been there, I’m still there… but please, stop blaming the weather. Stop blaming the alcohol. Cause I know you better and your smile is coming undone.”

The delightful “Cup of Tea” speaks to cherishing the little things, both good and bad, about a loved one and feeling really in tune with who they are: “The day you don’t want your morning cup of tea is the day I’ll start to worry. The day you decide to stay inside is the day I’ll drag you out. The little things that annoy me about you, make up who you are. And given the choice, I would not change a thing, flawed as we are.” The song features sweetly-strummed guitars, delicate keyboards and gentle percussion that make for a pleasing listen. Chanty’s produced videos for several of her songs, and one of my favorites is the one for “Cup of Tea”. She designed and created the figures and wonderful dollhouse set for the charming stop motion video:

And here’s a cute behind the scenes video showing her painstaking creative process:

Home” is a poignant song that strongly resonates with me for a couple of reasons. First, I too have lived in several cities I felt close connections with, yet still felt restless while living in each of them. Secondly, I believe that only through people and nations working together in cooperation can we have lasting peace and make progress toward solving some of the major problems facing humanity and the world. I personally mourned both the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. OK, enough of my soapbox.

About her inspiration for the song, in an interview with Music Interview Magazine, Chanty explained: “I am a ‘third culture kid’. I grew up in a culture that is different from my family’s culture. I feel loyalty to both while finding it difficult to answer the question, ‘Where are you from?’ I went through a bit of an identity crisis a few years ago, but found comfort in the fact that no matter what happened, I was still connected to both of them through the European Union. However, in June of 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the union. This inspired ‘Home,’ because the only safety net I had in terms of belonging and the one thing I found comfort in, would soon be gone. The song is me trying to figure out where my loyalties lie, where I should live and where to call home.” She beautifully articulates these sentiments in her lyrics:  “Torn between my family tree and where to find my friends / It’s a country I come back to time and time again / It’s divided, yet united, it’s more than I can say for a place called ‘United’ that tears itself away / Should I go back to the country I never called home? / Go back to the heart of where I feel like I belong?

The video for the song opens with scenes of Chanty feeling restless in her apartment, then transitions to frenetic scenes of six cities she has either lived in or felt a deep connection with: London, Brussels, Brighton, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Berlin.

The bittersweet “Miss my Friend” is one of loveliest tracks on the album, and also one of my favorites. Another deeply personal song for her, Chanty said it describes a very specific evening when she was stuck in a spiral of sadness, anguish, and loneliness. She was missing someone dear to her, but unable to tell them at the time, so wrote a song to express her feelings. The song has a gentle, languid  melody with strummed guitars and restrained drumbeats, forming a somber backdrop for her emotionally-charged vocals that reveal a deep sense of sadness, even breaking at times as she sings “I’d like to think you’re alright now. That you’re healing fine. But there’s one last thing I want you to know. I never wanted to be the source of all that pain. But I tried to do what was right when both of my hands were tied. I hope that you will see that someday, and I just want you to be OK. But I miss my friend sometimes.”

Chanty dials things up a notch on “From Hello“, which has more of a rock feel thanks to a harder-driving beat, more electric guitars, and heavier bass and drums. The faster tempo and her impassioned vocals convey the pain and heartache of realizing a relationship that started out with such promise is now in tatters: “Oh how easy is was to just dive head first. Oh how easy it was to fall for you. Then we woke up and realized that life’s greatest gift is battle lines. To hurry to survive being torn apart, and with one just blow everything fell to dust. Now we see the end of us. We’re drowning at the deep end.”

Promise” is a tender ballad about making a commitment to another to stay with them no matter what, while “Cambre” is a languid, bittersweet song with lyrics reminiscing about happier times. Both songs consist only of Chanty’s lovely strummed guitar and plaintive vocals, though “Cambre” features what sounds like a mellotron later in the track.

It’s back to a harder-edge vibe on “Silence” and “To Goodbye“, both musically and lyrically. Both tracks feature Minky’s gnarly guitar riffs and The Siberian Alien’s frenetic drumbeats, and both speak to problems with commitment and communication that sadly doom far too many relationships. On “Silence”, Chanty laments “You say you never wanna hurt me. But then you just disappear. All those words that you said to me, about how we can make it work. Were those lies, or were you sincere?” “To Goodbye” sees her at the end of her rope, and giving her lover the heave-ho: “I won’t wait around for you to decide when you want to stay and when you want to hide. I won’t stand by and watch you create walls to my heart and tears on my face. I deserve more than the silence you gave. You walked all over the trust that we made. I won’t stick around for you anymore. So take this goodbye. I’ll show you the door.”

Album closer “With You” is an unusual track, with a harsh and reverby lo-fi quality that gives it an unfinished demo feel. Chanty’s echoed vocals sound quite different, and are accompanied by strummed guitar and what sounds like a sharply-plucked string instrument, probably another guitar. I don’t understand why she and Minky chose to record the track in this manner, unless they intended the sound to go full-circle to the album’s beginnings, or simply wanted a more unorthodox sound. Whatever the reason, it pains me to say that I don’t care for it. Otherwise, the rest of Autrefois is outstanding, and a beautifully-crafted album. Chanty Très-Vain is an extremely talented and imaginative musician, lyricist and vocalist, and listening to her songs is a real pleasure.

Follow Chanty:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple Music 
Purchase AUTREFOIS at  Scratch Rock Records

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 14: SHIPS HAVE SAILED – “Rise”

Song A Day Challenge

Sadly, all good things must eventually come to an end, and today is the 14th and final installment of the Song of the Day Challenge I’ve been doing over the past two weeks. The final day’s theme is “Your song of the day”, and my pick is the new single “Rise” by Ships Have Sailed. The Los Angeles-based duo consists of songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Will Carpenter and drummer Art Andranikyan, and I featured them twice on this blog last year when I reviewed their beautiful singles “Escape” and “Skin”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.)

Like many of their songs, “Rise” is an uplifting song of resilience and hope. The song’s lyrics are particularly relevant given the current state of things as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, which has essentially upended everyone’s life. This past March, after much planning and preparation, Ships Have Sailed embarked on what was to be a 10-show tour across the Southwest with fellow L.A. band Quitting Whitney. After playing only the first show in Las Vegas, their tour came to an abrupt halt the next day as the COVID-19 outbreak suddenly began spiraling out of control. They were forced to turn around and head back to L.A., their tour and dreams in ashes. I had purchased tickets to see them at the legendary Troubadour on March 22, and needless to say was terribly disappointed.

Like all musicians and bands, Will and Art were forced to reassess their plans for the months ahead, and decided to release “Rise” as a single. About the song, Will explained: “In the midst of all the chaos that was happening around us, I felt oddly calm. I can remember realizing that our touring plans were likely done at least for six months and quite possibly longer, and knowing we needed to adjust. I’d had this song “Rise” finished for a minute, but it hadn’t really showed me where it belonged yet. I just sort of realized that it was here in this situation we’re all living through where it belongs…in the middle of this chaos, reminding us all that we can, and will, weather this storm.”

The song has more of an alt-rock feel than many of their recent songs, with gnarly synth bass grooves and more aggressive percussion. Will’s vocals are as sublime as ever though. Take a listen:

Follow Ships Have Sailed: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  iTunes  / Google Play / Amazon

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 10: ABSOFACTO – “Lemon Drop”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that’s been stuck in your head”, and my pick is the delightful “Lemon Drop” by Absofacto. I love the song, which is currently in the midst of a long run on my Weekly Top 30.

Absofacto is the solo project of singer/songwriter and musician Jonathan Visger. He’s been making music for over 15 years, first as a member of Michigan-based indie rock band Mason Proper, and later as a solo artist, and recently scored his first breakthrough hit with his captivating single “Dissolve”. A sleeper hit, the song was originally released in 2015, but went nowhere. In 2017, he signed with Atlantic Records and released his EP Thousand Peaces. “Dissolve” was included on the EP, then re-released as a single in 2018, but once again failed to gain traction, which is hard to believe as it’s such a great song.

Absofacto

In 2019, the song received renewed interest due to a meme on the music and video-sharing app TikTok, and became a surprise hit. It debuted on the Billboard Alternative chart in June 2019, and after a long, steady climb, reached #1 in January 2020. Absofacto followed up with the single “Rewind” in November 2019, then in March 2020, dropped “Lemon Drop”, along with another song “Python”.

On his Facebook account, Absofacto describes his music as “warped cloud odd dream beat / bubblejam / idyllicrunk / spacebass / twilight zoneout / wavewave“, which pretty well paints an accurate and colorful picture of his cool, synthpop sound. “Lemon Drop” is one of his best tracks, with a breezy, uptempo vibe and infectious dance beat. He uses lots of sweet and spacey synths to create a dreamy, atmospheric soundscape for his soft, breathy vocals. They have an ethereal, yet seductive quality that makes them utterly enchanting as he sings to a loved one of his ardor. It’s a fresh and modern take on the age-old subject of romance.

Blond camaro, gold leaf, yellow lemon drop
You’re my one and only, just the way you are
Wanna see the world from the front seat of your car
Tell me you ain’t far, tell me you ain’t far 

Follow Absofacto: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram