REVERSELS – Album Review: “LaSabre”

As EclecticMusicLover, I’m always on the lookout for artists who push boundaries and venture outside the mainstream in the creation of their music and/or identity. Furthermore, as a gay man, it warms my heart to discover LGBTQ+ artists who not only have the courage and fortitude to put themselves out there, but also make music that’s really good. With that in mind, I was pleased to learn about queer doom pop band Reversels when their publicist reached out to me about them and their new album LaSabre, which dropped July 23rd.

Based in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina, Reversels consists of Frankie ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd (vocals, keys and synths) and Story (vocals and guitar). Frankie is a classically trained pianist who previously toured as part of the rock band The Winter Sounds, as well as performing in churches, burlesque shows and on children’s programs. Story has performed in a variety of genres with numerous bands, including dark western with Death & the Reverend, post rock with From the North, and art punk with Minge. As Reversels, the two create dramatic, genre-bending electronica music awash with alternative, goth, darkwave, psychedelic, industrial, pop and rock’n’roll elements. Frankie identifies as transmasc (they/him), and Story identifies as non-binary (they/them). The two met at a burlesque after-party in late 2017, and bonded over their love of music and shared experiences of having both been raised in different cults.

Frankie grew up in a fundamentalist religious cult that glorified limitless procreation, and pressured fathers to have vasectomy reversals. The children born after these procedures were reversed became singers in the leader’s “Reversal Choir,” and were told they owed their existence to him. Frankie elaborates: “Homemade dresses, homeschooling, the exclusion of all music but classical and hymns, and glorification of the patriarchy are some of [the cult’s] defining features. Also, the teaching that it’s a sin to *not* have as many children as one can possibly have. The cult leader, Bill Gothard, taught that anyone who had had a vasectomy was called by God to have it surgically reversed and bear more children into infinity. This led to many large families with a dozen or more similarly-named and dressed children. This also led to my little sister, seven years younger than I, and now one of my best friends. During the cult’s annual gathering, cult families amassed in their matching navy and white homemade clothes to hear the cult leader spout misogynistic, authoritarian rhetoric. We also all took our seats in that large stadium, once a year, to hear the Reversal Choir: an eerie choir of children who existed because Bill Gothard had convinced their parents to get vasectomy reversals.”

Seeking to undo and overcome the harmful predatory, misogynistic, homophobic, and authoritarian teachings of their youth, Pretty Boy Floyd and Story named their act ‘Reversels’ to signify their mission of fomenting change toward an opposite direction and course of action, spelling it with an ‘e’ “to keep it cute”. Through their colorful music and bold, in-your-face lyrics, they aim to poke us out of our complacency by pushing back on constraints of gender, power dynamics and sexual taboos. Their hope is to “sing-into-being a world of gender diversity, sexual positivity, individual growth, and healing” as they “advocate for the underdog and the demonized, rejecting oppression and celebrating life & death in all of their majesty.” 

The duo released their debut album Galaxie in November 2018, and followed in June 2019 with Crane, Breed. Now they’re back with LaSabre, their most ambitious work yet, with 13 tracks exploring their ongoing themes of queer love and loss. The album opens strong with “Gravitron“, a dramatic and powerful celebration of love and lust, and one of my favorite tracks. Starting off with a mix of swirling synths and guitar notes, the song quickly explodes into a maelstrom of pulsating psychedelic synths, thunderous percussion and gritty riffs, dramatically conveying the intense euphoria of unbridled sexual desire. I love the contrast between Pretty Boy Floyd’s beautiful lilting falsetto and Story’s deeper, commanding vocals as they sing “Lay your magic body heavy down upon me, In my ready arms, protecting you from harm. Tell me that you want me.”

The colorful, trippy and sexy video produced for the track shows Reversels performing the song, interspersed with scenes of two men, played by trans actors, passionately kissing and exploring each others bodies.

Azael” quickly follows, a darkly beautiful cinematic feast for the ears featuring a complex array of both spooky and magical psychedelic synths, overlain with heavy, fuzz-coated guitars. Pretty Boy Floyd’s lovely, ethereal vocals contrast nicely with the harsher instrumentals, softly crooning the lyrics that speak to a character named Azael’s sexual yin and yang: “You put on your makeup, both a warrior and a queen. Mastering the magic that we’ve all been kept from seeing. Are you male or female, are you somewhere in between? Make me filthy also make me clean.”

It’s Story’s turn to shine on the darkwave gem “Relentless“, their deep, sensual, and almost menacing vocals conveying a strong sense of foreboding. Another favorite of mine, “Absurdity” has a dark, goth rock vibe with symphonic overtones, thanks to Reversels’ rich blend of otherworldly industrial and orchestral instrumentals and their gorgeous choral harmonies. The lyrics address the absurdities and mysteries of life that often defy reason or logic: “No sense in trying to understand the point of all of our lives. Lie down, take in the mystery. Unknown absurdity thrives.”

Torch Song” is a smoldering song of carnal desire sung with raw, animal-like ferocity by Story that brings chills. Sung from the perspective of a drag queen, the lyrics speak to the promise of satisfying another man’s sexual fantasies: “I’ll be your toy. I got what you need. I’m just a boy. You’re just like me. I’ll help you burn.” In the video, which was filmed by Marquana Michael Burgess, directed by Story, edited by Danny Boyer and produced by Jennifer Love Lee, the drag queen singing the song is played by Natasha Noir Nightly, and the dancers are Clara Zander and Rebecca Miller. Story and Pretty Boy Floyd portray two men watching the proceedings.

The Real Pretty Boy Floyd” is an ode to the famous bank robber Charles Arthur Floyd. Born into poverty in Oklahoma in 1904, he led a life of crime starting in his late teens, and is believed to have killed at least 10 people before being shot and killed by federal agents in 1934. Over the years, he’s endured in American popular culture as both a notorious gangster and as a tragic and altruistic figure. While he did indeed rob many banks and killed in the process, he also reportedly provided food to at least a dozen families who would have otherwise starved during the depression. And when he robbed banks, he allegedly destroyed mortgage documents, making it impossible for those banks to foreclose on poor farmers and homeowners. He was often protected by people across many states who referred to him as “Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills” or “Sagebrush Robin Hood”, because he stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He’s been immortalized in song by Woody Guthrie, and referred to positively by John Steinbeck in his seminal novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The great tracks keep on coming. On the brooding goth rocker “SoftBoy Rabbithole“, they touch on the good and bad aspects inherent in each of us. Along a similar vein, the dreamy, atmospheric “Dreamland” is a celebration of queer and trans love: “Queen inside a king. She’s inside all things. We’re inside a dream Infinitely possible ways to love another being. All that’s wanted is allowed, Trading organs, feel new things.” Another favorite of mine is “Cupcake“, featuring terrific guest vocals by Asheville rapper/emcee Vvitchboy, and trumpets by Jay Widenhouse. The song has a delicious trap beat, overlain with ominous industrial synths, wonderful blaring trumpets and soaring vocal harmonies that give the track a dark, cinematic vibe. Though somewhat ambiguous to me, the lyrics seem to speak to finding respite from life’s problems by indulging in carnal desires: “Drown in my madness, but I can’t contain it. Refrain from engaging with haters, and faithless. Don’t make me a martyr, I’m tryna live greater. We making out- banging these dryads and Satyrs. Worship at the altar of decadence. We’re having dessert, what did you make? We have offerings of sweetest debauchery. We got swords, cunnilingus, and cupcakes.”

Reversels channels a bit of Marilyn Manson on the gothic shock rock-esque “Boom Kitty“. With its intense and spooky industrial synths and blaring horns, this would make a great soundtrack for a horror film. Story and Pretty Boy Floyd’s dual growling vocals sound downright diabolical. “Skin” features a mesmerizing repetitive piano chord, overlain with dramatic gnarly guitars that sound fucking spectacular. Story’s raw, impassioned vocals are pretty terrific too. One of the more melodic tracks on LaSabre, “Dissolve/Resolve” has a more upbeat tempo, highlighted by beautiful strings and the duo’s lovely vocal harmonies. The closing track “My My” touches on the subject of sadomasochism, namely, how far two people are willing to go in order to fulfill their sexual fantasies: “If you wanted more of me it could be a tragedy. It would be the death of me to keep you satisfied. But if you must have more I guess you could put me to the test.” The song has a brooding, atmospheric vibe that turns more intense in the bridge, courtesy of Story’s blistering guitar solo.

What more can I say about this amazing album? While the subject matter may turn off some listeners, there’s no denying that Pretty Boy Floyd and Story are very good at what they do. Their songwriting, musicianship and vocals are outstanding, and I applaud their boldness and courage to explore provocative topics head-on with unflinching honesty and candor.

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ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Sunny Side”

Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (full name Andrew Neil Maternick) is one of the more unique artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog. I first wrote about him in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak (which you can read here). Andrew is considered an “outsider” music artist similar to the late Daniel Johnston, and in fact, ranks as the #1 Best Outsider Artist on Ranker, just above Johnston (click this link to see the full list). The now 33-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.

I wrote extensively about his experiences in my previous review, but will summarize here to provide a bit of context. After growing up as a fairly typical kid and high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

He was subsequently released and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d written since his 2009 accident. Andrew writes his honest, deeply personal songs entirely by ear, first creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar, then recorded songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would later upload to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.) Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them.

In 2018, Andrew recorded his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. He entered the studio again in 2019 to record what would become his third album Freak, and as he was wrapping up the recording he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.

His cancer thankfully now in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, which is being released digitally on June 15th via Tree Heart Records. The album will become available on CD on June 30th, along with a limited press vinyl version scheduled for release in October. The songs have a mellower and more lo-fi folk sound than the ones on Freak. About Sunny Side, Andrew states “I believe the album will appeal to people who really dig the lo-fi, outsider vibe. I hope my music will be recognized as something genuine; something that people can relate to and let them know they are not alone in this jello world.” The imaginative artwork for the album cover was created by Boston artist Daniel Benayun.

The album kicks off with “Gamblin’ Man“, a pleasing folk tune with an allegorical story about a reckless soul who always lives life on the edge. Andrew’s knack for writing seemingly simple yet profound lyrics with a powerful message is exemplified in these verses: “Out in the desert sun I made friends with a scorpion. We talked about how we feel, then I said shuffle up and deal. We played till the sun went down, full moon was wearin’ a crown. I cheated, gave myself some kings. Then I felt how a scorpion stings.”

On the optimistic title track “Sunny Side“, he advises us to not wallow in our problems, but instead try and find something good in every situation: “I buy flowers. She asked what for. Just in case the undertaker comes knockin’ on my door, cause tomorrow’s no guarantee. Let’s take our sorrow, and drown it in the sea. So keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side. Keep on the sunny side of life./ This life is a gift. It makes me high, high, high like a cliff.” He continues along a similar vein with the grunge-tinged “Lemonade“, urging us to make lemonade out of those lemons life sometimes throws our way: “Make lemonade. Realize that we got it made. Make lemonade. Don’t be afraid. Even in hell, be thankful for shade./ Live with love, the world is ours.”

Andrew’s strong sense of spirituality, love and faith in humanity is expressed on several tracks. On “One Big Family“, he sings of how, despite our differences, we’re all human beings deserving of love and respect: “We are one big family. And you have a brother, a brother in me. Tough times do not last. Tough people do. And I feel so much tougher when I’m loved by you. And no one’s perfect yet; we all have flaws. But we still deserve gifts from Santa Claus.” He uses “Heaven” as a metaphor for love and empathy, rather than a biblical place: “Heaven, where hate is not allowed. Heaven, another word for love. Heaven, it’s not below, it’s not above, it’s in your heart.

On the lovely, nearly six-minute long ballad “Awoke“, he sings of overcoming his past mistakes and feelings of hopelessness by accepting God’s love: “So many nights I wanted to cry. Wanted to fly away. This dream trope has come to an end. Stars explode, but you’re still my friend. And I’m still your friend. Cause I awoke to God’s mercy. We’re all thirsty for love.” And on the folksy final track “Thank The Lord“, he gives thanks for all the things that are important to him, and the positive role music plays in his emotional well-being: “Thank the lord for my friends. Thank the lord for family. Thank the lord for the music that lives inside, inside of me.”

Conversely, perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Anymore“, where Andrew questions his faith, self-worth and direction in life: “You can lie, and say it’s all part of God’s plan. Cause I don’t want to grow up, I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to shut up, I don’t want to be told what to do, anymore. I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to go on. Just so tired of being so strong. Don’t know what to do anymore./ You can blame, you can blame me for not being a good man.” Musically, his strummed acoustic guitar is accompanied by some somber but lovely keyboards that create a haunting soundscape for his introspective and melancholy vocals.

Dog Without A Bone” is about having pretty much everything one could want in life, with the exception of a romantic partner to spend time with. Andrew uses clever and pretty direct metaphors to describe the feeling that something crucial to his well-being is missing: “Got a million reasons to live. I’m giving everything I have to give. Yet I’m so tired of being alone. Just a dog with no bone. A drunk without a drink. A cloud without a sky./ I have a lot, but I want more. Is there someone out there that could make me sore.” And once you’re in a relationship, conflicts and disagreements will undoubtedly arise, which he cheekily addresses on the charming “Kinda Turns Me On“: “When you get so mad, it kinda turns me on. Tell me what I did wrong. Cause baby it turns me on. Honestly, I want to grow old with you. Live the American dream, red, white and blue. Have a bunch of kids, and grandchildren too.”

Sunny Side is a wonderful album, filled with honest, heartfelt songs about faith, love and hope, and I’m confident all of us can relate to at least some of them. Andrew Neil is a thoughtful songwriter with a special gift for getting right to the heart of things in a way that few other artists can – or are even able – to do. I’ve grown quite fond of him, and hope he’ll continue writing interesting and compelling songs for us to enjoy.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp 

STRANGE SOUVENIRS – Single Review: “Nothing2”

Strange Souvenirs is an electronic/alt-pop duo from Berlin, Germany comprised of brothers Thomas and Matthias Juhnke. In their own colorful words, they “blend influences from 80s new wave, 90s trip hop, post-millennial electronica & indie with science fiction soundtracks, video games and nuggets of nerd culture into a schizoid selection of danceable, delicate and disorienting songs.” Three months ago, I reviewed their enthralling single “Pixels”, and now they’re back with “Nothing2“, their sixth consecutive single release since their December 2019 debut of “Scrape”. The song is a dramatic tour de force, and one of their best yet.

Matthias wrote the lyrics for “Nothing2”, and the music was co-written by him and Thomas, along with their frequent collaborator Cameron James Laing, a talented Berlin-based producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist who also recorded, produced and mixed the track at The Famous Gold Watch Studios in Berlin. Thomas and Matthias programmed the synthesizers and Matthias sang lead vocals. Cameron played acoustic guitar, bass, piano, organ, mellotron, renegade triangle, and the orchestral string arrangement, Gidon Carmel played drums and percussion, Héloïse Lefebvre played violin and viola, Tim Hook played electric guitar and Heidi Heidelberg sang the glorious choir backing vocals. The track was mastered by Davide Ruffini at Wisseloord Studios Hilversum, Netherlands. The cover art “20/20 Eye” was created by Michelle Marie-Lou Nuerk.

The guys state “Nothing2” is “A jilted yet strangely joyful sprawl about feeling nothing at all and everything all at once. A five and a half minute emotional outburst full of misery & magic, gut-wrenching punches, beautiful bruises, abrupt endings & unexpected new beginnings.” Matthias elaborated to me that the lyrics were inspired by two unexpected and unrelated life events in the space of six months that left him at the edges of nothings, but the details are unsavoury and quite distressing, so he kept things intentionally vague. But from what I can discern, they seem to speak of a relationship that ended very badly, and just wanting to make a clean break from the past and move on.

The song opens on a somber note, with strummed acoustic guitar and droning keyboards, accompanied by Matthias’ rather melancholy vocals. Gradually, the music expands with horns and what sounds like mellotron into a more upbeat feel, though the melancholy undercurrent remains. Héloïse’s warbly strings add great texture and an eerie, disconcerting vibe to the proceedings. The song seems to end at 2:21, then abruptly starts back up with greater urgency, as more instruments and synths are added to the mix. Everything continues to build into a magnificent cinematic soundscape that calls to mind some of the mid-career songs by the Beatles. The dramatic music continues for the remainder of the song, conveying a strong sense of cathartic release from troubles of the past. It’s a phenomenal track.

There’s nothing to
Take back or undo
I thought you’d know by now
There’s no point in stalling
There’s no point in stalling

Would you please stop calling me

This is what it all amounts to
When the day is through
This is what it all amounts to
When the night’s through
Absolutely nothing
Absolutely nothing

Would you please stop calling me

There’s nothing to see
There’s nothing to say
There’s nowhere to be
So just go away

We couldn’t see the cracks in the surface
And the nothing seeping through
Watch the walls come down on the life you knew
Here comes the wrecking crew

This is what it all amounts to
When the day is through
This is what it all amounts to
When the night’s through
Absolutely nothing

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DAVID OAKES – Album Review: “The Anomaly”

David Oakes is an imaginative and prolific musician and composer of electronic alternative rock music, ranging from gentle synth-driven compositions to aggressive guitar-driven hard rock, and everything in between. I really like his music, and have written about quite a lot of it on this blog (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post).

Based in the coastal town of Aberporth, Wales, David’s been actively involved in making music since his late teens, when he started playing in various bands. From 2001-06, he and his younger brother were members of the rock band KOTOW, in which he played drums. He went on to study guitar and music theory at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildord, England from 2009-12, after which he started composing and recording music as a solo artist. He released his first album The Juggernaut in 2014, and in the years since, has recorded and released an astonishing nine more albums, the latest of which is The Anomaly, which he released on Bandcamp on April 2nd.

The new album features many of David’s signature electronic and guitar-heavy elements we’ve come to expect, but has more of a cinematic feel than his previous albums, with a sound he describes as “Nine Inch Nails meets Rammstein and Depeche Mode with a Danny Elfman Aperitif!” In fact, The Anomaly would make a great soundtrack to any number of films by Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton. Things kick off with “Intronomaly”, a darkly wonderful piece with an ominous droning sound sort of like an engine, over which David layers a captivating warbling synth riff. It all works beautifully in creating a portentous mood, setting the stage for what’s about to unfold.

Next up is “Enter the Anomaly”, a brief composition highlighted by a brooding piano riff and pounding drumbeats that seem to convey the sense of an invading force, in this case ‘the anomaly’. David hasn’t used piano very often on his previous works, so its addition here is a nice touch. His outstanding guitar work makes a return on “The Anomaly (Part 1)”, accompanied by gnarly industrial synths and chugging rhythms, keeping things firmly planted on a dark path going forward. On “The Anomaly (Part 2)”, he uses unusual guitar chords, pummeling drumbeats, and an almost spooky carnival-type melody, then bathes everything in a fuzzy texture to create a discordant, otherworldly vibe.

“The Anomaly (Part 3)” has a definite film noir feel, thanks to those wonderfully moody piano keys, while “The Anomaly (Part 4)” immediately made me think of Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman, which was scored by Danny Elfman. I could imagine hearing this piece, as well as “The Anomaly (Part 6)”, while watching Jack Nicholson as The Joker wrecking havoc on Gotham City. The dark, cinematic vibes and driving rhythms continue on the next several tracks. David told me his guitar riff for “Part 6” was partly inspired by the Primus song “Welcome to this World”.

One of my favorite tracks is “The Anomaly (Part 7)”, with its rousing, hard-charging beat, grungy guitars and exuberant swirling synths. Though the instrumentals are still pretty intense, the synths and lively melody give the track a somewhat lighter tone. The album goes full circle as those enchanting droning and warbling sounds we first heard on “Intronomaly” make a return engagement on “Exit the Anomaly”. The brief but gorgeous final track “Set a Course…For Home” provides not only closure, but a sense of hopeful optimism, expressed through hauntingly beautiful piano keys, glittery synths and soaring strings. It’s a stunning end to another stellar album by David.

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Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp

TSHEPANG RAMOBA – Single Review: “Bana Baka”

Tshepang Ramoba (aka RMBO) is a singer, songwriter, drummer, producer and film music supervisor based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He’s also a member of the South African alternative band BLK JKS (pronounced black jacks). He discovered his love for music and drumming rather serendipitously while in detention in high school. One day the detention teacher was absent, so the detainees were sent to the after school contemporary music class. Ever the showman, Ramoba went over to the drum-kit and started banging away in an effort to annoy his detainers, only to have his remaining detention sessions turned into contemporary music lessons by the school principal. He later studied African music and jazz at FUBA School Of Drama And Visual Arts, eventually earning a diploma in sound engineering there. He began studying for a post graduate music degree at Tshwane University of Technology, but left to embark on a world tour with his band BLK JKS.

As his music career advanced, he’s received several accolades, including being voted Best Musician by Billboard at the SXSW festival in Texas, winning the SAMA for Best Alternative album as part of BLK JKS, and doing a collaborative performance with Alicia Keys for a World Cup opening concert. He’s also played alongside The Roots.

Ramoba has an eclectic sound, in which he melds Afrobeat, alternative rock and electronic with traditional South African and World music. He’s released quite a bit of music as a member of BLK JKS, as a producer in collaboration with other artists, and as a solo artist. In 2019, he released an enchanting four-track EP Sešate, and has just dropped a wonderful new single “Bana Baka“. The song came about when he was asked to create the new theme song for Takalani Sesame, the South African version of the children’s television program Sesame Street. On “Bana Baka”, he tells a story about losing his kids to a Giant named Ledimo, but his ancestors said he will find them at the farms. He explains his inspiration for the song: “The song was inspired by the fact that I always wanted children since I was 16; I actually dreamed of having 13 to be exact. Reaching the age of 35 without even one influenced me to record the song”.

Though Ramoba grew up speaking the Sowetan colloquial language Tsotsi Taal, he sings “Bana Baka” in his native language of Sepedi, which he learned from his grandmother. Though I cannot understand the lyrics, the colorful instrumentation and fascinating vocals he’s included make for a delightful and compelling listening experience. I love that beautiful repetitive guitar lick that continues throughout the track, accompanied by a subtle, pulsating bass line driving the song forward while all sorts of exotic percussive sounds and scratching dance around it. Ramoba has an emotive and pleasing vocal style that goes from baritone to near falsetto with ease as he sings his verses. I’m not certain who sings the lilting back-up vocals and choruses, but they sound like a mix of male and female voices.

Have a listen to this enchanting song:

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Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud / Deezer

Purchase:  BandcampiTunes

Fresh New Tracks Vol. VI

New music continues to gush forth from the creative juices of too many artists and bands to mention, and here are three great new tunes, all released on March 12th, by (in alphabetical order) French dance/rock band DeStijl, featuring British singer Liam Croker, British singer-songwriter Flo Gallop, and Florida alternative pop-rock band Infinite Eights.

“F.O.S. (Howie B Remix)” by DeStijl featuring Liam Croker

DeStijl is a dance-rock band originally from Montpellier, France, but now split between Montpellier and Manchester, England, where their new lead singer and drummer reside. Their music is strongly influenced by such bands as New Order, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Editors, Primal Scream, Doves, Kasabian and Massive Attack, and they’ve released six albums over the past 25 years (with a 10-year break lasting roughly from 2000-2010). Liam Croker is frontman and lead singer for Manchester-based electro/dance-pop/funk band The Winachi Tribe, whose terrific music I’ve written about several times on this blog. Howie B is a legendary Scottish composer, producer and DJ who’s worked with artists such as Björk, U2, Tricky, Massive Attack, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Soul II Soul an Robbie Robertson.

De Stijl and Liam Croker collaborated on the electro/dance-pop track “F.O.S.” (along with a few other songs released in 2020), and have now released an exciting new remix by Howie B. The single will be included on a forthcoming collaborative EP by DeStijl and Liam, due for release later this year. The track was produced by Howie B and mastered by famed mastering engineer Peter Maher.

“F.O.S.” (full of shit) is a cheeky take-down of the egotistical blowhards Liam’s met over the years who are full of themselves – essentially full of shit. The original version is a great song, with an infectious and strong pulsating dance groove, punctuated by spacey synths and shimmery guitars. For the remix, Howie B shaves 47 seconds off the song, and modifies the dance beat with trip hop elements. He also emphasizes the spacey aspects, adding subtle industrial synths that give the track a darker, somewhat more menacing vibe. Liam’s saucy croons have a bit more echo, adding to the track’s overall air of mystery.

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Follow The Winachi Tribe:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

“Can’t Be Friends” by Flo Gallop

London-based singer-songwriter & self proclaimed comedian Flo Gallop was raised around music. Her father was a songwriter, so she grew up learning to emulate him, scribbling words into her diary that she would eventually translate into songs. Drawing influences from some of her favorite artists like Oasis, The 1975, Bastille, and Tom Odell, she writes honest lyrics set to catchy, upbeat melodies. A natural-born artist and sociable soul, she loves to perform – something that’s been impossible over the past year of lockdowns and such. Like all musicians, it’s driven her crazy, but that hasn’t stopped her from writing and recording songs.

She’s previously collaborated with the likes of Tom Fuller and Will Thompson, but in late January, Flo released her debut single “21”, then followed a month later with a Rob Savage-produced remix of the song. Now she’s back with her new single “Can’t Be Friends“, a fun and flirtatious track about falling for the wrong person, and blithely ignoring the consequences. In an interview with the webzine PopDust, Flo confided: “The song was written when I was in that headspace of just not being able to cut someone out who was no good for me. It’s also about making the excuse of ‘being friends’ when you know that’s just never gonna happen with that particular person, but you use it as your defense to keep seeing them.” I can attest to the folly of this approach, as I’ve ‘been there, done that’!

The song has an infectious, trap beat-driven groove, highlighted by a great little guitar riff, and accompanied by shimmery synths, a tasty thumping bassline and snappy drums, all of which build to an exuberant crescendo in the chorus. Flo has a distinctive and lilting vocal style, which she uses to great effect in expressing a playful sense of both resignation and exasperation over her inability to quit the guy who’s never gonna be right for her: “We always played this game, until we’re fighting fires again. It’s how we know we’re both to blame. This is why we can’t be friends. You always blurred the lines and I can never cut these ties.”

Follow Flo Gallop:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

“Nausea” by Infinite Eights

Formed back in 2012 while young teenagers, Infinite Eights is a charming and talented indie alternative pop/rock band based in Tampa, Florida. They were one of the very first bands to follow me on Twitter back in the fall of 2015, when I was just starting out as a music blogger and still a complete unknown. At the time, two of the band members, Parker Wilkson (guitar, keyboards & vocals) and Tyler Hanks (drums & percussion) were still in high school, and Davin Norman (bass) was in college. I was impressed by the excellence of their songwriting and musicianship, as well as their kindness, professionalism and gracious humility, rare qualities in musicians that young.

In addition to their studies, they’ve released numerous singles over the years, as well as a six-track EP Unfound in 2015. They’ve performed in several music festivals alongside some of the biggest names in music, and have opened for Kaleo, AJR, In the Valley Below, and The Relationship. I’ve featured them twice on this blog, the first time in April 2016 (which you can read here). It’s been a pleasure watching them grow and mature as musicians, and their music keeps getting better and better.

Infinite Eights have just dropped their latest single “Nausea“, delivering more of their signature gorgeous melodies and dreamy instrumentation we’ve come to love and expect from them. Parker has become a programming wizard, producing a lush, swirling soundscape of glittery synths, over which he layers intricate guitar notes, while Davin and Tyler drive the pulsating rhythm forward with their commanding bass and drums, respectfully. Parker’s warm vocals have also matured quite nicely too, and he’s never sounded better. His plaintive soaring falsetto in the choruses is beautiful and deeply moving. Though I cannot make them all out, the lyrics seem to speak to the stomach-churning emotional roller coaster aspects of love and relationships. Parker told me he drew inspiration from Jean Paul-Sartre’s novel of the same name: “The song is an exploration of the feelings that arise when a period of existential dread is punctuated by an encounter with a potential romantic partner. Those feelings may be best summed up as ‘parasitic’ – attaching yourself to someone as a means of finding direction and escaping a sense of purposelessness.”

Follow Infinite Eights on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

THUNDER FOX – Single Review: “Sunday”

Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative band of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who artfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. While their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they all still look like teenagers – their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication, thanks to their great songwriting and musicianship, including having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup.

They’ve been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their devilishly entertaining debut album Love at First Sniff. I became an instant fan and loved the album so much I wrote a review. Since the release of that album, the band experienced a few lineup changes, and now consists of the very talented Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass).

Thunder Fox has been working on a new album, and have dropped three singles thus far – “Communicate” and “Smokin’ on Loosies” (which I also reviewed) in 2020 – and their latest “Sunday” on March 4th. It’s a sweet song of love and devotion to someone who makes you happy to be alive. Lead vocalist and songwriter Sam Dawes explained: “I was inspired to write the song on one of those sunny Sunday mornings when you wake up next to someone you love and the birds seem to sing even sweeter than ever before. It’s about having the whole day to spend with the one you love, doing whatever you want.” The song features many of the band’s signature music touches we’ve come to love – a deliciously sultry vibe, funky laid-back grooves, and bold flourishes of jazzy brass, all coming together to create a warm, sexy backdrop for Sam’s silky and seductive vocals that hover between a come-hither croon and saucy falsetto. I love the song and I love this band!

The sweet video, which was produced by band member Jesse Tachibana, who also directed it along with Lewis Clark, stars Sam as a man walking the streets and alleys of Sydney, gradually removing articles of clothing as he sings. A young woman, played by Natalia Hutchen, starts to follow him, eventually picking up and putting on his discarded white shirt, at which point she walks alongside him as he offers her one of his earbuds.

Follow Thunder Fox:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube / Deezer
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

STRANGE SOUVENIRS – Single Review: “Pixels”

I love many of the names musicians choose for their artistic projects, and a particularly good one is Strange Souvenirs, the Berlin, Germany-based electronic/alt-pop duo comprised of brothers Thomas and Matthias Juhnke. In their own colorful words, they “blend influences from 80s new wave, 90s trip hop, post-millennial electronica & indie with science fiction soundtracks, video games and nuggets of nerd culture into a schizoid selection of danceable, delicate and disorienting songs.” Like some other artists I’ve written about, the two seem to prefer to remain anonymous, as I cannot find any photos of them anywhere. I’m guessing they want their great music to speak for itself, which it certainly does!

Strange Souvenirs released their debut single “Scrape” in December 2019, a fantastic otherworldly EDM track they call “a pummeling techno-infused micro-symphony of self-loathing.” They followed up with three more excellent singles in 2020, and are now back with their fifth offering “Pixels”, a captivating song that conveys a similar haunting moodiness of their previous single “The Way I Fell In”. All five singles will be included on their forthcoming album Spontaneous Mutation, due for release in July.

Like many of their songs, “Pixels” was co-written by Strange Souvenirs along with the help of their frequent collaborator Cameron James Laing, a talented producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist who also recorded, produced and mixed the track at The Famous Gold Watch Studios in Berlin. Thomas and Matthias played guitars, bass and sang lead vocals, Cameron played piano, mellotron and did the exquisite orchestral arrangement, as well as sang backing vocals, and Gidon Carmel played drums. The track was mastered by Davide Ruffini.

About the song’s meaning, they explain that “Pixels” “builds around the idea that we’re all pixels in an ever-changing cosmic mosaic, waiting to randomly attract or repel the other particles on our path as we spiral and drift through an equally beautiful and brutal universe. It’s about the shadows of regret lurking in the corners of our lives, inching forward, drifting back, inching forward, drifting back. On endless repeat.”

The song starts off slowly with a gentle drum beat and haunting piano riff, accompanied by airy synths and acoustic guitar notes, all of which set a rather somber tone. The guys’ vocals are equally gentle and understated, at first coming off as melancholy, but with glimmers of optimism that make them quite pleasing as they softly croon “Ghost in the room reaching out for you / A voice from the past you listen to / A shadow in the corner that knows / There’s a shadow in the corner that grows / Times stretches and slows / Doors open and close / Drifting alone…” The music gradually expands into a stirring atmospheric soundscape, highlighted by beautiful mellotron, lush orchestral strings and a fluttering trumpet that gives the song a wonderful jazzy feel at the end.

“Pixels” is a gorgeous, contemplative feast for the ears that transports us to a dreamy, faraway place. I’ve had it on repeat, and find myself enthralled with every listen.

Follow Strange Souvenirs:  FacebookInstagram

Stream/purchase their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple MusicYouTube / Bandcamp

DUDERAMA – Album Review: “New Views:

Duderama is the instrumental music project of Melbourne, Australia-based Liam Stack and Pierce Brown. The two met in the 1990s while both part of the alt-rock music scene in the capital city of Canberra, and played together in the alt-rock band Narco Wendy and lounge-rock act Coocoo Fondoo. Their collaboration as Duderama began in 2015 when Pierce was living in Melbourne and Liam in Ethiopia. Back in those days, the two created their musical collaborations remotely through phone apps and compressed files that, in their words, “were barely able to squeeze their way through the intermittent (or non-existent) internet of the authoritarian regime at the time.”

Their first release, in July 2015, was the EP The Mask, followed by a couple of double singles and their debut album Peace Fire that November. The duo continued with their prolific music output over the next two years, releasing four more albums by the end of 2017, as well as a couple more double singles and an EP, just for good measure. In July 2019 they released their excellent sixth album Quiet Life, and on January 22nd, they returned with their latest album New View, which they describe as “an elixir for these dark and strange times, where deftly executed and inventive guitar rock interplay can provide a simple joy amidst an era of mass anxiety. A lesson in the joyousness of lo-fi indie rock made with passion.” The guys’ skills for remote collaboration came in handy once again, as the album was recorded and produced during the Covid-19 lockdown. Liam mastered the album, while Pierce designed the art work.

New View features 11 guitar-driven instrumental tracks drawing upon numerous elements of rock, including alternative, progressive, grunge, electronic, psychedelic, and experimental, as well as jazz and funk. They kick things off with “Progtronic Man“, a moody lo-fi track dominated by a super-gnarly droning guitar riff and pulsating bass, punctuated here and there with more melodic guitar notes that add a bit of color to the proceedings. “Deepening Sky” features a funky head-bopping bass line overlain with wonderful jazzy guitar notes, accompanied by the perfect amount of percussion that make it one of my favorites on the album.

The title track “New Views” has a greater sense of urgency, with heavier rhythms, more pronounced synths, and multiple guitar textures, all blending to create palpable tension while still keeping things on an optimistic note. The mood shifts with “No Looking” to a languid, dreamy vibe that conjures up images of a romantic interlude on a sun-drenched tropical island. The warm synths and mix of shimmery and gnarly guitars are all exquisite. “Collapse Away” picks up the pace with an irresistible thumping groove that had me doing a lap dance on my chair! This song has it all: a terrific funky bass line, dynamic percussion, glittery atmospheric synths, and superb intricate guitar work. And speaking of superb guitars, the interplay between the guys’ shimmery and grungy guitars on “Entanglement” is positively mind-blowing.

As it’s title suggests, “Space Yacht” features spacey synths and gnarly psychedelic guitars set to a mid-tempo groove. Those super-grungy, buzzing guitars are back on “Light of a Billion Suns“, heavy, meandering lo-fi track that still manages to sound hopeful, thanks to well-placed melodic guitar notes. “High Life” is a fascinating track, with sort of a low-key Nirvana-esque grunge vibe as its foundation (at least to my ears), and embellished with a mix of late 60s psychedelic guitar notes along with some progressive elements. “Hollow Point” is rather pretty and melodic, with more of the guys’ marvelous intertwining guitar work and some really nice piano keys adding warmth to the track.

The album closes on a high note with “Liquid Beret“, a wonderfully mesmerizing track that’s another of my favorites. I love that powerful walking bass line that gives the song its deep, pulsating groove, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, once again I must gush about the brilliance of the guys’ intricate, multi-textured guitar work. I’m not even sure how to describe it, but that persistent undulating riff is fantastic.

I’ve written about many instrumental albums, a lot of them heavy on synthesized electronic music, which is perfectly fine as I really like that kind of music. But what I especially love about Duderama’s music is how they put their guitars front and center, then build the rest of the music around them. New Views is an outstanding and expertly-crafted work, filled with instrumentally-complex tracks that captivate and surprise with every listen.

Pierce also writes a terrific music blog The Press Music Reviews, so do check it out.

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