Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 29 – Jigsaw Sequence/Machina X, Johnny Ritchie, Novus Cantus, Thunder Fox, Western Jaguar

Friday, May 26th was one of the biggest days for new music releases I can remember, at least in terms of artists and bands I follow, and from what I could tell, at least nine of them released new singles. Because I like all these artists and their songs and want to show them support, I’ve decided to feature them all in a Fresh New Tracks post. To make it easier on me, as well as not overload my readers with too many songs all at once, I’ve broken them into two separate posts. I published the first one two days ago, and this is the second, which includes Scottish synthpop artist Jigsaw Sequence with British electro-pop artist Machina X, American singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie, American Baroque pop duo Novus Cantus, Australian soul-funk-pop-rock band Thunder Fox, and Canadian alt-rock band Western Jaguar. I’ve previously featured all these acts on my blog, with the exception of Jigsaw Sequence. And true to my blog’s name, each of these five songs couldn’t be more different from one another.

Jigsaw Sequence + Machina X – “Late to the Party”

Jigsaw Sequence is the music project of Scottish synthpop artist Richard Tracey, and Machina X (aka Annie) is an electro-pop artist based in Yorkshire, England. The two talented individuals have been making music both as solo artists and in collaborations with others, and recently teamed up to write and record a great new synthpop dance single “Late to the Party.” The song and collaboration marks a resurgence for Annie, after she experienced a bit of a slump, as she recently acknowledged on Twitter: “In the last 6 months I’ve thought a lot about closing the door on making music because it feels so much harder than it did. Thank you Jigsaw Sequence for believing there was more inside, and collaborating with me.

In contrast to the exuberant, pulsating dance beat and luxurious retro 80s synth grooves, the lyrics are rather bittersweet, speaking of living in denial about a relationship that’s breaking apart, hoping things will turn around. Machina X’s lilting vocals are wonderful and heartfelt as she sings “Behind a mask where no-one sees. Hiding for the sake of sanity, ‘cos hearts like mine bruise easily when they’re washed up on the shore. Late to the party. Always early to leave. Scared by the truth, but always wanting to believe.”

Johnny Ritchie – “Chirp”

Johnny Ritchie is an engaging, intelligent and wildly imaginative young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who I’ve previously featured three times on this blog. Originally from Indiana, Johnny’s now living in Spokane, Washington. With a lifelong love for music, he began learning to play piano and drums as a child, then went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago, and in 2020 earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as giving lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation. He also writes and records music in which he fuses alternative and experimental rock with neo-psychedelia and contemporary jazz to create incredibly fascinating and sophisticated soundscapes.

Ever-creative and continually willing to push musical boundaries, every new release of his sounds totally original and distinctive. His latest single “Chirp” is an unusual instrumental piece that couldn’t be any more different from his previous alternative psychedelic hip-hop single “Elite Deviance”. Already his fourth single of 2023, with another one on the way in a couple weeks, “Chirp” is the first that Johnny’s both recorded and produced entirely by himself. Featuring a relaxing synth groove, accompanied by deep bass and punctuated by a sharp percussive beat and beguiling piano trills, the song also features delicate bird chirps throughout that lend a charming atmospheric air to the proceedings. Johnny never fails to dazzle my senses with each release, and I cannot wait to hear what new experimental sounds he comes up with next!

Novus Cantus – “Caterpillar”

Novus Cantus is an innovative music act comprised of brothers Alexander (vocals and guitar) and Christian Herasimtschuk (drums and percussion). Based in the Hudson River Valley roughly halfway between Albany and New York City, the duo draw from a broad and eclectic mix of influences ranging from traditional ethnic music like flamenco and Hungarian folk, to classical Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, to alternative rock, in the creation of their uniquely enchanting and exotic sound. They’ve been performing and recording together since 2010, and have released a fair amount of music. I’ve written about them four times over the past five years, most recently when I reviewed their hauntingly beautiful Civil War-themed song “Georgia”. 

Now they’re back with “Caterpillar“, a bewitching song originally written for a children’s concert last year that the brothers decided was too good to not release as a single. The lyrics tell the story of a humble-looking caterpillar who starts out crawling upon the ground and feeding on plants (“and I walked in the cool of the night“), then climbs into the trees to become a chrysalis (“and I slept in the cool of the night“), finally emerging as a beautiful butterfly (“and I flew in the cool of the night“). The most striking aspect of the song for me are the beautiful sounds from a Wot, a Thai pan flute played by Christian. I love how his fluttering notes evoke the sounds of a butterfly’s wings unfolding for the first time. Of course, Alex’s lovely acoustic guitar and warm, emotive vocals, accompanied by Christian’s percussive beats, are really wonderful too.

Thunder Fox – “Feels Like Forever”

Mere words cannot express how much I adore Australian band Thunder Fox. The Sydney-based five-piece is one of the most creative, wickedly funny and insanely talented – not to mention sexiest – acts I’ve ever encountered, and have gushed about them and their music numerous times on this blog over the past four years. Now comprised of the charismatic and silky-voiced Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass), they skillfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. And while their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness, 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 released an impressive amount of music since 2015, including three terrific albums – Mother Machine in 2016, Love at First Sniff in 2019, and Sanctuary in 2021 – the most recent two of which I’ve reviewed. One of the singles from Sanctuary, “Head in the Clouds” reached #4 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranks #47 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list. On their new single “Feels Like Forever“, Thunder Fox channels Prince, Morris Day & the Time and James Brown to create a rousing slab of old-school soulful funk. I love the song’s stomping groove, courtesy of Casey’s deliciously funky bass and Max’s spirited drumbeats, and fortified with Sam’s gnarly riffs, Travers’ hot and jazzy sax notes, and Jesse’s bold trumpet blasts. It’s one of the most exuberant songs they’ve released in a long while, and I love it!

Western Jaguar – “Better Daze”

Hailing from the picturesque Fraser River Valley of British Columbia, east of Vancouver, alt-rock act Western Jaguar was born in 2012 when singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Trainor turned to music to get him out of a low point in his life. With the help of an evolving lineup of musicians, Western Jaguar released three stellar EPs and several singles between 2013 and 2019, including their beautiful song “Disappear”, which went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 in 2019. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, bringing things to a halt for just about every musician and band, the social isolation gave Jeffrey time to reflect on how unhappy he’d become as a musician. He’d become fixated on, in his own words, “likes, a following, positive feedback…and became hyper focused on making music other people liked.” By the end of 2020, he decided he didn’t want to make music anymore, essentially walking away from Western Jaguar, which he conveniently blamed on the pandemic.

Thankfully, after a long break he came to realize that, just like in 2012, music could once again lift him out of his slump. He decided to resurrect Wester Jaguar as essentially a solo act, and beginning last November, went to work writing and recording songs in his home studio for what would become his new album Oblivion, scheduled for release on July 7th. For the recording of the album, Jeffrey sang vocals and played most instruments, though his former Western Jaguar bandmates Davis MacKenzie Zand played bass and AJ Buckley played electric guitar and drums, and sang backing vocals on two tracks, and KC Roces played electric guitar on a third track.

The first single from the album is “Better Daze“, a poignant song about going through hard times after a tragedy and trying to get back to better days. Musically, the song has an upbeat dream pop feel, with a breezy melody, beautiful chiming guitars and snappy drums. Jeffrey’s clear, pleasing vocals have a hint of sadness as he sings the lyrics about a woman named Suzie, whose fiance Harold died suddenly after a fall in the shower just before they were due to be married. Suzie falls into a deep depression, and with the best of intentions, her father insists she take medication to help improve her mood. Unfortunately, the drugs only make her feel worse: “Suzie’s felt worse since the medicine. Her lungs are burning and she can’t breath in. Her father insists on the vice, it’s the only way for a normal life. But a normal life was lost last June when Harold fell in the bathroom. She hasn’t taken them for 6 weeks. If only it was that easy. Her father asks if she’s feeling well. She gives him a smile though she feels like hell. She wants him to think that she’s okay, even though she’s thinking of better daze.”

It’s a wonderful, albeit melancholy song, and it’s great to have Western Jaguar back. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the songs on Oblivion.

WISE JOHN – EP Review: “The Mr. Love Sunset Show!”

Wise John is a talented, amiable and relentlessly charming singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who’s originally from Southern California and now based in Brooklyn, New York. I learned about him last fall when I read a post on the Audio Mirage Studios blog about his wonderful song “Marry Another Man”, and became in instant fan. I love his pleasing, laid-back style of soulful folk-rock, characterized by memorable melodies, colorful instrumentation, and intelligent, relatable lyrics delivered with his beautiful warm vocals.

Though he’d long had a love of music in his veins, Wise John pursued a career as a computer/aerospace engineer. He still kept one foot in music, however, and in June 2021, released his terrific debut album A Wonderful World. The following January, finally realizing that the life he’d planned out for himself and worked so hard to achieve was making him miserable, he took a leap of faith and quit his engineering job to pursue music as a full-time career. Since then, he’s released more music, played gigs around the New York area, and has continued to build a base of loyal fans.

On May 5th, he released a delightful EP The Mr. Love Sunset Show! which he calls “a retro love song EP designed to heal your heart and sharpen your soul, rendering the feelings, failings, and fallings of romance from four very different angles.” Featuring four tracks, the EP was written, composed, and performed by Wise John with the help of producers Quinn Devlin and Alex Strahle, mixed by Sahil Ansari, and mastered by Joey Messina-Doerning. The various songs feature contributions from an array of guest musicians and vocalists, including Elise Trouw on vocals and drums, Daniel Chae on strings, Kumara Robideau on bass, Shaun Valentine on drums, Quinn Devlin on bass, drums, piano, electric guitar, alto saxophone and percussion, James Wyatt Woodall on pedal steel, Andy Shimm on bass, Dylan DeFeo on organ, Justin Garcia on guitar, and Keara Callahan, Berit Bassinger, Daniela Silva on backing vocals.

The first track “Afterglow” is a lovely but sad song, with bittersweet lyrics about falling for someone who’s not interested in becoming involved in a committed relationship “You made me say I wouldn’t get confused. It’s only play, I shouldn’t feel so used. A love vacation, a toy you didn’t choose to sleep with. Feeling sick in the afterglow.” The arrangement and instrumentation, highlighted by Daniel Chae’s achingly beautiful strings, create an enchanting backdrop for John’s incredibly vulnerable croons.

Atlanta“, with captivating dual vocals by Wise John and Elise Trouw, tells the true story of how John’s parents got married. Elise sings from the perspective of John’s mother who, frustrated by his father’s (who was then her boyfriend) inability to commit to her, leaves him “I got way too much to lose to let you walk on me that way. So now I’m ridin’ down the road to Atlanta, Georgia towards my peace of mind. Oh I’m ridin’ down the road to Atlanta, Georgia, to leave your halfway love behind.” John sings from his father’s perspective, who after two years has a change of heart: “I’ll speak honestly and tell you I can’t stand being left behind. So now I’m ridin’ down the road to Atlanta, Georgia towards my peace of mind. Oh I’m ridin’ down the road to Atlanta, Georgia to leave my halfway loves behind.” Musically, the song has a soothing guitar-driven melody, and the marvelous pedal steel by James Wyatt Woodall gives it a lovely country folk vibe.

My favorite song on the EP, “Marry Another Man” is a poignant and beautiful love letter to the one that’s getting away. Wise John implores his girlfriend to reconsider her plans to marry someone else: “We could get married in the springtime, or tonight for all I care. Long as I have you for a lifetime. I would speak the vows in city hall with no one there. All that matters is I’m the one to take you home. I’m the one to hold you when we’re finally alone. So please darlin’ don’t marry the other man.” The official video shows Wise John performing the song in Quinn’s living room along with Elise Trouw on drums, Andy Shinn on bass, Dylan DeFeo on organ and Justin Garcia on guitar.

The wonderful lyric video for the song, filmed by Berit Bassinger, shows John as Mr. Love, forlornly walking the streets of New York at night.

The final track “Mr. Love” is a delightfully upbeat ode to Wise John’s alter-ego that, in his own words, “offers a bird’s eye view of the landscape of love from the pits of loneliness to the sunny meadows of romance.” The song is pure pop goodness, with a breezy melody, sunny instrumentals, exuberant vocals and hopeful lyrics: “Who ate all your sad day sorrows? Only Mr. Love can do. Took an endless tune of blue tomorrows, wrote the hook to a dance for two.  When it’s cold outside, you’ll feel warm in the light.”

The lyric video, also filmed by Berit Bassinger, shows Wise John as Mr. Love, walking along the seacoast and spreading his positive love vibes.

I could keep gushing about this great little EP, but since I’ve already overused the words ‘wonderful’, ‘marvelous’, ‘beautiful’, ‘delightful’, etc., just give it a listen and hear it for yourselves. Better yet, fork over a few dollars and buy it on Bandcamp!

Connect with Wise John: FacebookInstagram

Find his music on BandcampSpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS – Single Review: “When You’re Shattered”

British singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis is a creative and engaging artist who’s long been a favorite of mine. Drawing from an eclectic range of music genres and influences, including alternative rock, blues, R&B, soul, jazz, garage rock and folk, the London East Ender crafts his own unique sound. That unique style, combined with his distinctive unusual and raspy singing voice that sounds like no one else, makes his music instantly recognizable as only his. And, as I’ve noted on previous reviews, I like how each of his songs is uniquely different, with every release surprising us with a totally new vibe. Moreover, he isn’t afraid to address the darker side of humanity and the emotional wreckage of failed relationships, love gone bad and our sometimes self-destructive ways, while also offering glimmers of hope and redemption.

Over the past decade, Philip has released quite a lot of music, including his 2016 EP Karma Comedown, two albums, the brilliant Grief Harbour in 2017 (which I reviewed), and the ambitious 18-track opus work Now + Then in 2021, as well as over a dozen singles, a number of which I’ve also reviewed. Two of my favorites are “Come Find Me Back”, which ranks #88 on my 100 Best Songs of 2021 list, and “Redchurch Street Blues”, ranking #63 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.

Now he’s back with “When You’re Shattered“, the first single from his upcoming EP, due for release on June 20th. Philip says the song was quite cathartic for him. “I have written a lot over the past year as I was going through a very rough time. I realised that even though I was struggling, I kept on answering “I’m alright mate” when asked how I felt. This track is about that- don’t even try to hide [your feelings], just let it out and help might come.”

Philip wrote, produced, recorded and mixed the track, played guitar, bass, percussion and keyboards, and sang vocals. His 12 year old daughter Annick, who’s sung on all of this records since she was four, sang backing vocals. The track was mastered by Fred Miller in his Copenhagen studio. Released via Philip’s own label TX2 Records, a cool-looking special limited edition 7-inch 45 rpm red vinyl pressing of the single is also available.

To drive home his point, Philip starts with a strong driving beat, fueled by a bold, thumping bassline. He then layers a marvelous array of blues-soaked grungy guitars, snappy drums and mysterious swirling synths, creating a dark, cinematic backdrop for his emotion-packed vocals that range from sultry croons to fervent entreaties. Annick’s lilting backing vocals, which sound far more mature than a 12 year old, are wonderful, and the perfect complement to her father’s raspy croons. “When You’re Shattered” is another gem in an unbroken string of superb releases by this uniquely talented artist.

Your body’s torn to pieces
Your mind is drifting free
You seek blue ladders
That’ll take you to the sky
Well I tell you baby
Your heart is sick and tired
Keep on pretending sugar
This love will never die

When you’re shattered
When you’re shattered
Shattered deep inside
When you’re shattered
Oh baby when you’re shattered
Don’t even try to hide

Now keep on moving baby
Push on through the crowd
When you think of what you’ve been through
This shuffle brings you down
People tell you what to do
They sell you dirty lies
Say everything's all right
And you know that everything’s all wrong
Cause’ when you’re
Six feet buried deep babe
You sure just waste your time

When you’re shattered
Baby when you’re shattered
Shattered deep inside
When you’re shattered
Baby when you’re shattered
Don’t even try to hide
Don’t even try to hide

When you’re shattered
When you’re shattered
Shattered deep inside
Don’t even try to hide
When you’re shattered
Baby when you’re shattered
Shattered deep inside
Don’t even try to hide
You’re shattered baby

Oh you’re just shattered babe
Oh you’re just shattered babe
Oh you’re just shattered babe

Connect with Philip: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Find his music on Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music / Amazon / deezerTidal

KOYAL – EP Review: “Joyride”

EP art by David Harris

Koyal is an Atlanta, Georgia-based band I recently learned about when one of their members Noah Weinstein reached out to me about reviewing their new EP Joyride, which dropped November 11th. Formed in 2018 while they were still in college, Koyal create pleasing pop-rock infused with an eclectic range of elements, including indie, alternative, rock’n’roll, blues and jazz. In addition to Noah, who plays guitar, drums and sings vocals, as well as recorded and produced the EP, the band consists of Pooja Prabakaran (lead vocals), Henry Wallace (drums & piano), Cooper Billsborough (lead guitar), Ethan Hunt (bass) and Sultan Sayedzada (keyboards).

The band seems to be a pretty cool, well-grounded bunch, with a positive and healthy outlook and realistic approach to the music business. In an interview last month with Shoutout Atlanta, the band explained “We are best friends first and are very kind, motivated, and passionate about music! We manage ourselves, which involves a lot of the less glamorous behind the scenes marketing, booking, planning strategy, producing the music, etc., but all those hours of work helped us transition from a college band to one known in the Atlanta music scene. We really enjoy networking and meeting other creatives! It’s led to so many friendships and helped us be a part of the Atlanta music community.”

They’ve released quite a lot of music over the past three years, beginning with their debut single “Yesterday” in February 2020, just prior to the pandemic outbreak. They followed up that April with their four-song EP Rooftop Hues, then more singles in early 2021, culminating with the release of their debut album Mountain City that July. Their latest release Joyride features four tracks with a jazzier feel than their previous works, and I like it!

Kicking things off is “Past Life“, an upbeat song with an exuberant groove, fortified by gnarly guitars, snappy drumbeats and lots of crashing cymbals, along with a delightful undercurrent of trilling piano keys. The lyrics seem to be about yearning for a simpler time: “I think I knew you in a past life. And I want to know you like I did last time. / And I want to go somewhere unknown. Where it’s you and the moon and me alone.” Most of the vocals are beautifully sung by Noah, while Pooja sings the pre-chorus in the bridge, followed by their dual harmonies in the final chorus. It’s a terrific song.

Tumbleweed” is a jaunty, piano-driven tune, with vocals nicely sung by Pooja. Henry’s piano work is so good, and I love how his notes are in perfect sync with the galloping drumbeats and swirling guitars. I also like how the song changes tempo at 2:30 to a sultry interlude, only to ramp back up at the end to a lively finish, highlighted by a flourish of jazzy saxophone. The song seems to be about two people supporting each other through good times and bad: “When I’m down you put your arms around me. When you’re down I do the same. You’ll see, you and me, and we’ll keep rolling on, rolling on, like a tumbleweed.”

As the EP progresses, each track becomes longer and more melodically sophisticated. “Open Window” has a cool, breezy vibe that reminds me a bit of the late 1950s/early 1960s bossa nova/jazz pop sound of João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim. The high quality of the instrumentation, particularly the piano, guitars and percussion, are evidence of the strong musicianship and impressive technical skills of these young band members. Pooja’s smooth, emotive vocals are wonderful, though I found it hard to understand some of the lyrics she sang.

The final track “I Wanna Believe” is a musical tour-de-force, with a heavier rock sound than the other three songs. The track was mixed for free by Greazy Wil (Wil Anspach) a Grammy winning engineer who ran a competition on TikTok that Koyal entered and won. The song reminds me a bit of “Stairway to Heaven”, in that it starts off slowly then gradually builds in intensity to a roaring crescendo, with three distinct melodic movements.

It opens with the sound of magical synths, followed by delicate chiming electric guitar chords and gentle percussion as Pooja sings to an unseen alien, wanting them to take her away from her earthly problems: “I look up to you. I wish you could take me away. Don’t know where we go, but you’ll help me leave this place. Why can’t I see you? A better version of myself.” Eventually, the music erupts with jagged guitar riffs, heavy thumping bass and aggressive drums as she wails “I wanna believe, in something bigger than myself. I wanna believe! There’s something out there, I know.” The music continues to grow ever more intense with scorching riffs, accompanied by a screaming torrent of psychedelic distortion and explosive percussion, before calming back down in the final 40 seconds to a lovely contemplative piano interlude. Wow, what a spectacular song!

Though it contains only four tracks, Joyride packs quite an impactful punch into its 16 and a half minute run time. The broad range of musical influences, combined with outstanding songwriting, top-notch musicianship and skillful arrangement and production values, all make for a high quality work that’s a joy to listen to. I must say that I’m very impressed with Koyal and their marvelous little EP.

Here’s the EP on YouTube:

And Spotify:

Connect with Koyal: TwitterInstagramFacebook

Stream their music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

MISSIO – Album Review: “VILLAIN”

Am I a villain or a saint?” MISSIO asks on the title track of their brilliant new album VILLAIN. It’s an aural and emotional roller-coaster, encompassing the yin and yang of evil and goodness that exists within most of us. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of the Austin, Texas-based duo, which consists of singer-songwriter and producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler. On the strength of their exceptional music catalog, as well as their honesty and openness with their fans and followers, they’ve earned a place among my favorite music acts of all time, and I’ve featured them several times on this blog. Their edgy, thoroughly original sound is an eclectic mash-up of gritty alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dreamy emo vibes. Matthew’s beautiful, deeply emotive vocals add to their distinctive sound that’s totally unlike any other act.

David Butler and Matthew Brue

Beginning with the release of their debut album Loner in 2017, they’ve consistently put out a tremendous amount of outstanding music, including their magnificent second album The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man in 2019 (my review of that album has garnered over 2,900 views, making it my highest-viewed album review ever). They released their gorgeous fourth album Can You Feel The Sun in October 2020and their fifth and latest album VILLAIN dropped September 23rd. Three of their songs – “I See You”, “Underground” and “Can You Feel the Sun” – have reached #1 on my own Weekly Top 30 chart, with “I See You” also being my #1 song of 2019 and #10 of the entire decade of the 2010s.

Though most of MISSIO’s songs are inspired by personal experiences, both good and bad, VILLAIN is perhaps their most deeply personal and introspective: “This is the first album we’ve chosen to release independently, and we poured our hearts into it. We always aim to write vulnerably about what we are feeling in the moment, and honestly, the last few years have been filled with a lot of difficult moments for us. Therefore, this album was written and inspired from some of the darkest spaces / heaviest emotions that we’ve experienced. It’s an album cultivated over hundreds of hours of internal/external dialogue within ourselves and each other about the meaning of the world and our place in it.

The ten tracks touch on such topics as the conflict between good vs. evil, feelings of self-worth, anger and resentment, and the need for love and acceptance. The title track “Villain” seems to encapsulate all of these: “Complicated and a mess, slightly OCD. Take for granted many things that mean a lot to me. I know, I’ve got a lot to learn. I was raised as a scorpion. Being pulled by the moon in a high tide. That’s why I’m broken. I know, this hurts a lot. It’s not my fault it never was. And I know, I’m tough like stone. But right now, please hug me, I feel alone.” Musically, the song alternates between pensive, atmospheric moods and urgent, beat-driven grooves, nicely conveying the inner conflict touched on earlier.

Here’s a video, released in January 2023, of MISSIO performing the song.

On the menacing trip hop song “Demons“, Matthew starts off lamenting of his shortcomings “I feel I am letting go. And that makes me angry because I’m not who I want to be. It seems like I’m fading. And that makes me terrified because I’m not who I want to be.” But then he seems to take on the persona of the devil as he malevolently snarls, perhaps in reply to himself “Ay boy, what the fuck you think you’re doing here? This is Hell, don’t you know that you were coming here? I’ve been playing with your demons all day.”

MISSIO summon their inner beast on the bombastic “Say Something” and “#gimmeakiss“, which according to Spotify streaming stats are two of the most popular tracks on VILLAIN. Both tracks last barely two minutes, but blast through the speakers like a sonic battering ram of grinding industrial synths and pummeling beats. It’s clear the guys had a lot of fun recording these bangers, which are more frantic than their usual style, and both need to be played at full volume!

I Wanna Fight And You Know It” is an eerie, aggressive song in which Matthew speaks to his darker, more combative side: “People tell me that I may be the disease. Like I’m the crazy bitches in the sea. Maybe all of ’em are right when it comes to being shady. I wanna fight and you know it. I got my fists up tonight and you know it.” And on the anthemic “We Are Who We Are“, Matthew addresses the importance of being true to ourselves, and accepting our imperfections in order to live a life that’s honest and real: “Why do we try to live a lie? It isn’t worth it. Who you tryna please? ‘Cause if it’s me, it isn’t working. We are who we are. That can be hard to accept. We are all fucked up human beings.”

One of the more enjoyable tracks on the album is “Does Anybody Love Me“. I love the infectious upbeat vibe and hearty piano and bass-driven groove. The lyrics speak to overthinking and worrying too much about what others think of you, but also cognizant of the fact that many others do the same: “Does anybody love me? I don’t know. Is everybody lonely? I think so.”

The final three tracks on VILLAIN are more contemplative and melodic, beginning with “Failure to Comply“, a beautiful, powerfully moving song about a narcissist who’s unable to love or show empathy toward others: “What is it you’re looking for? What is it that leaves you wanting more? Will you ever fight for me? Will you ever love someone other than you?” The mournful piano and dramatic, sweeping instrumentals are gorgeous, as are Matthew’s deeply heartfelt vocals. My favorite song on the album, it’s spent the past three months and counting on my Weekly Top 30.

Picture in My Pocket” is a beautiful love song, with a languid, almost jazzy feel. The warm piano keys, subtle percussion and strummed guitar are positively sublime, and Matthew’s gentle vocals have an enchanting ethereal quality as he softly croons “Hang on to love if it’s real. I want to believe. I have this picture in my pocket of a peace I won’t grieve. And then I saw you. And you saw me. And suddenly the world wasn’t as bad as once before.”

VILLAIN closes on a positive note with the stunning and cinematic “To the Universe“. The lyrics speak to living life with an open mind and an open heart, unafraid to take chances and follow your dreams: “Open your mind to ideas that you don’t like. It’s a beautiful world if you quit puttin’ up a fight. You can let your walls down and be who you want to be. ‘Cause it’s a beautiful world, you can scream it when you don’t believe. To the universe, to the universe. It’s where we’re headed.”

Their previous albums are all so exceptional, I wasn’t sure how MISSIO could possibly keep matching their quality, let alone top them. But how shortsighted and wrong I was to doubt them, as once again they’ve gifted us with a phenomenal album in the form of VILLAIN. Every single one of its tracks is outstanding, which is not something that can be said about very many albums. I remain a faithful and devoted fan.

Follow MISSIO:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase on Amazon

dwi – Single & Video Review: “Party4One”

One of the most fascinating artists I’ve come across over the past year is dwi, the music project of Canadian singer-songwriter Dwight Abell. He’s also bassist for Canadian alternative/power pop band The Zolas, who recently completed a tour of Canada and the U.S. Though he’s a devoted husband and father of two young boys living in the suburbs of Vancouver, he lets his creativity and imagination run totally wild with his zany alter ago, making outstanding music that’s innovative, quirky and fun. Last October, dwi released his brilliant debut album Mild Fantasy Violence, which I happily reviewed. One of the album’s tracks, “Good Friend”, spent four months on my Weekly Top 30, going all the way to #1 this past January.

Now he’s back with a marvelous new single “Party4One“, accompanied by a delightfully wacky video. He says the song is “about falling in love with yourself during an intense state of cabin fever. Love yourself, make out with yourself, and for the love of gawd, scare yourself. The weirdos are in charge now!” The song’s a blast from start to finish, with an infectious bouncy groove, highlighted by a chugging bass line, a lively mix of jangly and crunchy guitars, crisp, thumping drumbeats, and swirling psychedelic synths. dwi’s quirky vocals are relentlessly endearing as he sings “Hey reflection, I really like you. Don’t want your friends. Hey man, I think it’s pretty funny given who I am. Nothing can stop me, I’m living in a single player game. You can’t stop me, it’s a party for one.

The hilarious video was directed and produced by Canadian musician and film director Andrew Huculiak, and filmed in a house on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish), and Tsleil-Waututh nations. It stars dwi as an eccentric guy dressed in goth-punk black leather and a plaid skirt, with his hair featuring two tufts molded into devil horns. He enters an old house and proceeds to indulge in all sorts of childish antics, including playing video games with a giant stuffed teddy bear, overdosing on bowlfuls of Froot Loops, covering his face with lipstick in front of a bathroom mirror, and engaging in S&M pretend with the teddy bear. Haven’t we all wanted to run amok and do weird shit by ourselves at one time or another? I love it, and I love him!

Connect with dwi:  Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music YouTube

SOLOVEICHIK – Single Review: “Could It Possibly Be Me”

Soloveichik is the music project of Andrew Solway, a talented young singer-songwriter and musician based in and around Detroit, Michigan. Andrew chose his ancestral name of Soloveichik, which is Russian for “little nightingale”, as his artistic moniker because a nightingale is known for its beautiful and powerful song. As Soloveichik, Andrew has recorded and released numerous singles and EPs over the past two years, as well as his debut album At the Close this past January. His music is a pleasing and somewhat eclectic mix of alternative indie rock, emo and pop, and his relevant, often poignant lyrics are delivered with soft, whispery vocals that remind me a bit of Owl City (aka Adam Young). In addition to his solo music project, Andrew’s also works as a session musician and live pianist in the Detroit area, supporting live acts such as Jacob Sigman, Olivia Dear, Au Gres (who’s music I’ve also reviewed), Little Visits and Aaron Benjamin.

Soloveichik is on a mission to release a new single each month for the next year, and his latest is “Could It Possibly Be Me“, which dropped May 13 (a very busy day for new music releases). The song was recorded at Eureka Records in suburban Detroit with the assistance of longtime collaborator Austin William Stawowczyk, who produced the track, and features Andrew’s hauntingly beautiful repetitive piano riff, accompanied by a stirring cello arrangement by Juliano Bitoni Stewart. Andrew calls it “an unusually personal song, at times blatantly self-critical and blunt“. The lyrics that seem to speak to a lost love or relationship that didn’t work out, and his breathy vocals convey a sad resignation as he reminisces: “I’m alone again. And I still see our cat, but she’s elusive now. I think that I’m next. I just can’t forget easily. You asked me oh so honestly ‘could it possibly be me?’” Though melancholy, it’s a lovely song nevertheless.

Connect with Soloveichik:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp

EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO – Single Review: “Cosmic Joke”

Formed in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic, talented British five-piece Express Office Portico is comprised of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums). In cleverly naming themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, England, it follows that they would not be afraid to address all sorts of relevant and timely issues, including those related to mental health and emotional well-being. Their debut single “I Like it Weird”, released in late January 2021, dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how it can exacerbate feelings of jealousy over past lovers. Their second single “Mishmesh” explored the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits, while their third single “Then Wave” addressed abandonment and trust issues.

I really like their brand of dreamy synthpop with an edge, and have reviewed all three of their previous singles, which you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post. Now they’re back with their fourth single “Cosmic Joke“, which has a mellower vibe than their previous singles, as well as a more lighthearted message. They’ve provided a bit of background on their creation of the song: “‘Cosmic Joke’ came about by trying and failing to work out the chords to the 70s classic “I’d Rather Be with You” by Bootsy Colins. As big fans of artists immersed in RnB and funk like Erykah Badu, Yellow Days and Steve Lacy, we began thinking, how would an Express Office Portico track with these accidental chords sound? ‘Cosmic Joke’ evolved from there, with other influences such as Men I Trust, Beach House, Yellow Days, Rex Orange County & Mac Demarco adding to its creation. We love comedians that go on long rants that are more like philosophical monologues than stand-up. Bill Hick’s famous ‘It’s Just a Ride’ piece, being the perfect example. From here we decided on using this framing device for the track.

The title comes from an idea in philosophy that the entire universe and life in general is just one big joke. A trick played on humanity by existence itself, or God, or whatever you wanna call it. ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more’. The lyrics are essentially about having an existential crisis and the utter confusion of being a conscious human in the physical world. Everyone is searching for meaning, but life is fundamentally meaningless. So, we might as well just laugh about it all, and try to enjoy it as much as we can! During the recording weekend, we booked ourselves an Airbnb to house us all. After a mild night of drinking, our guitarist Roo had a bit too much nicotine, which resulted in a fairly violent bout of sickness, starting with us all sat around the TV. Who knew too much nicotine could do that to you hey?

The song opens with Olly’s assertive drumbeats, then silky keyboards enter along with Ben’s funky bassline and Reuben’s beautiful shimmery guitar as the music settles into a delicious R&B groove. In her sweet, lilting vocals, Tara cheekily croons “Sit back, relax. As the curtains draw, the microphone stands upon the stage floor. Out walks a comedian. The crowd we roar. Out walks a comedian, and they say ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more. Your ticket’s already pulled, so you may as well just laugh and applaud’.” The song is filled with great moments like the quiet little interlude halfway through the song during which Ben’s funky bass really shines, and Tara and Billy’s wonderful harmonies in the final chorus.

With “Cosmic Joke”, Express Office Portico keep their perfect score of putting out stellar singles fully intact.

Connect with Express Office Portico:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / deezer

Purchase on Bandcamp / Amazon 

AVA VOX – Album Review: “Immortalised”

Ava Vox is the music project of Irish singer-songwriter Elaine Hannon, a fascinating and seasoned artist who’s been involved with music for much of her life. Originally from Dublin and now based in County Meath, she started her music career at the age of 17 as vocalist for a band, then in 1986 she formed alternative goth rock/post-punk band The Seventh Veil. Their music garnered airplay on Irish radio and earned positive reviews in local press, and they even won a Battle of the Bands competition. They lasted five years until disbanding in 1991. Hannon spent the next few decades involved with various other music projects, and was in the early stages of forming another band when the Covid pandemic brought everything to a halt (as it did for just about every other artist and band) in early 2020. Unable to perform live or record together, she eventually made the decision that September to create her own solo act under the moniker Ava Vox.

With her distinctive deep vocal timbre and commanding delivery, not to mention her arresting goth persona, Ava Vox is a dynamic and compelling performer. Her music style is similar to that of her previous band The Seventh Veil, namely alternative rock imbued with goth rock and post-punk elements, and steeped in strong 80s sensibilities. She began recording songs remotely with a talented group of musicians from Dublin, Scotland, Brazil and Italy, for what would become her debut album Immortalised, which she released on March 25th. Specifically, piano/keyboards and Hammond organ were played by Ray McLoughlin, who also arranged the strings and co-produced the album, electric guitar by Enda Dempsey, bass by James Blennerhassett, and drums Robbie Casserly.

The album features eight marvelous tracks, five of which were previously written and performed by Hannon and her The Seventh Veil bandmates, along with three covers of iconic songs by The Cure, David Bowie and Soft Cell. She elaborates: “I revisited some songs that were written collectively by me and my previous band. I wanted to give these songs new life again, for the world to hear them. Then these songs would be preserved for evermore” – i.e. ‘immortalised’. As for the three covers, she stated that each of those artists and songs were inspirational for her, and hold a special place in her heart.

The album bursts open with “Crash” a darkly beautiful cinematic rocker and standout track. I love the aggressive, pulse-pounding beat, fortified with gothic industrial synths, powerful galloping rhythms and – most appropriately – a torrent of crashing cymbals. Ava’s commanding vocals raise goosebumps as she issues dire warnings of impending doom. The dramatic video, produced by Isaac Burke, is intended to bring attention to the devastation caused by climate change/global warming. Ava portrays the white witch goddess, symbolizing mother nature, who loves the earth and all its species, and provides us with a glimpse of the present and what the future could be, the potential end of the world/extinction of species and the human race.

All of the tracks on Immortalised are strong. “Silent Tear” and “Alone Again” are beautiful synth and guitar-driven rock songs, with compelling melodies that stuck with me long after hearing them. The latter song describes an abusive relationship, wherein the victim eventually finds the courage to escape from their abuser, but sadly falls prey to the abuser’s false charms and promises to change, returning for more: “It’s here again, in rings of garland. Opened eyes and telling hearts. Punch me, hard against the wall. Kick me, trip me, hush me til I fall.”

Another favorite of mine is “One Sweet Goodbye“, a haunting piano ballad about the searing pain that results from the end of a relationship. Ray McLoughlin’s gorgeous piano and string arrangement create a stunning cinematic backdrop for Ana’s heart-wrenching vocals as she laments “Goodbye, goodbye, I feel as though I will die.” “Heart of Good Intention” is great too, with it’s exuberant organ-based groove that calls to mind the music of early 80s The Kinks.

Ava does a fine justice to the three cover songs: “Tainted Love“, originally written by Ed Cobb and recorded by American singer Gloria Jones in 1964, and later covered in 1981 by British duo Soft Cell, “Life on Mars” by David Bowie, and “Love Song” by The Cure. “Tainted Love” is given a full-band treatment, with piano and Hammond organ played by Ray McLoughlin, electric guitar by Daniel Martin and drums by Jonathan Owens, whereas “Life on Mars” and “Love Song” are more stripped down, with mainly piano by Ray McLoughlin (as well as Hammond organ on “Life on Mars” and a bit of drums at the end of “Love Song”) accompanying Ava’s arresting vocals. “Love Song” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and has been covered by many acts, most notably 311, Adele, Good Charlotte, Tori Amos, Death Cab for Cutie and Nina Sky. Ava’s slowed-down interpretation is quite lovely, and her heartfelt vocals are particularly moving, beautifully expressing the intense enduring love described in The Cure’s lyrics.

I’m glad Ava Vox decided to immortalize her songs with this album, and she and her crew have done an outstanding job in its production and execution. Listening to Immortalised is 26 and a half minutes well spent.

Connect with Ava: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Sky Diving Penguins:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on BandcampWebsite