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.

Follow David:  TwitterInstagram

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:

Follow Tshepang Ramoba:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram

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.

Follow DeStijl:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

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

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.

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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.

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