ELLIE FORD – Album Review: “Light. Repeated.”

Ellie Ford album art

British singer/songwriter Ellie Ford is quite possibly the only harpist in the music world to head up a band. In addition to being an accomplished harpist, the multi-talented Brighton, England- based artist also plays guitar and sings like an angel, using her voice almost like another instrument. Assisting Ellie in the creation of her uniquely innovative Alternative Folk music are Fred Hills (drums & percussion), Andrew Stuart-Buttle (violin, mandolin, bass and backing vocals), Harry Haynes (guitar and backing vocals) and Freya Bowes (clarinet and backing vocals).

Ellie Ford band

Ellie first graced the airwaves in 2013 with her debut EP Show Night In, then followed up with a full album The Other Sun in 2016. Now she’s back with a lovely new album Light. Repeated., which dropped on 17 May. Featuring eight exquisite songs, the album sees Ellie further exploring themes of life, love and relationships through her poetic lyrics, unconventional melodies, richly layered instrumentals and the marvelous interplay between her glorious harp and enchanting vocals. Listening to the album is an immersive experience, and it’s easy to become enveloped by the enthralling soundscapes she and her band so skillfully weave.

The album opens with “Gold“, a captivating song in which Ellie’s shimmery harp strings take center stage, but with ample help by Freya’s clarinet, Harry’s strummed guitar, Fred’s gentle percussion, and Andrew’s violin, which gives the track a bit of a Celtic vibe. Ellie croons in her lilting vocals, “Kicking and calling and bracing for falling as I leave. But for a little gold, I could tide it over.”

Next up is “Light. Repeated.“, a bewitching tune that’s probably my favorite track on the album. The highlights for me are Fred’s hypnotic, seductive drumbeats and Freya’s jazzy clarinet, but Andrew’s bass, Harry’s guitar and that infectious rattle are all pretty terrific too. And it goes without saying that Ellie’s harp adds a magical component. Freya’s soulful clarinet takes a starring role on “Tired Eyes” with Ellie’s harp strings providing a strong counterpoint. The interplay between her fluttering vocals and Freya’s gorgeous clarinet notes is breathtaking, and the guitars, deep bass and drums are perfection.

My Bird Won’t Sing” is a re-imagining of a song that was originally included on The Other Sun. The previous acoustic version featured only Ellie’s vocals and her strummed guitar, but for this new version she lengthens the track by one and a half minutes, and gives it the full instrumental treatment by her band, yet keeping the vibe decidedly understated. The result is an intriguing song that holds our interest with unexpected melodic shifts that almost border on progressive jazz. Ellie’s ethereal vocals are sublime as she sings the lyrics that seem to speak of the thin line between reality and escape:  “My bird won’t sing. Have no idea what it means. And that’s OK, I don’t mind./ My diamond ring shines like the real thing. And that’s OK, I don’t mind. Comin’ off a little blind. What are we doing? Don’t you know that’s the ruin of our kind? I’m beginning to think that I might have lost my mind.

Ellie Ford by Chloe Imbach

The beautiful songs keep on coming. Another favorite is the bittersweet “All That is Left“, which features some of the most enthralling instrumentals of any song on the album. The mix of harp, piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, drums, and what sounds possibly like dulcimer, are absolutely stunning, and so are the vocal harmonies between Ellie and the guys. The lyrics speak to a relationship that’s over: “There will come a day when you’ll return. Dirt in your hair and your clothes all torn. And I’ll be gone. And all that is left, will be left to the dogs.” As its title suggests, “A Strange Brood” is a languid, brooding song lasting nearly six and a half minutes. Its  mysterious, spacey synths, tinkling piano keys, bluesy guitars, plucky harp, deep bassline and lots of crashing cymbals make for an enthralling listen.

Woods” starts off with an Eastern European Folk vibe, thanks to the Gypsy tones of Andrew’s violin and Freya’s clarinet, accompanied by Ellie’s plucked harp strings. But with the addition of heavy electric guitars and pounding drums in the bridge, the song transitions to a more intense rock feel. Album closer “The North Wind” really showcases the incredible synergy between Ellie’s harp playing and unique vocal style, and how she so beautifully complements one with the other. Other instrumentation on the track includes guitar and Fred’s kick drum and percussion, as well as the introduction of Andrew’s violin at the end.

I’ll admit that Light. Repeated. took a couple of plays to really grow on me. Though the songs sounded lovely and interesting when first hearing them, their complexity and unusual melodic structures required more than just a casual listen for me to fully appreciate. There’s an incredible amount of nuance and depth to the music and lyrics that are revealed with each successive listen, and even after hearing some of the songs five or six times, I discovered new sounds and textures. The production and song arrangements are flawless, and I’m impressed with the skilled instrumentation by the supporting musicians who help Ellie bring her magical songs to life.

Connect with Ellie: Facebook / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

JADED JANE – Artist Spotlight & Interview

I’ve commented previously on this blog about my continual amazement at the sheer magnitude of enormously talented musicians around today who are creating incredible music. In such a seemingly overcrowded industry, it’s inevitable that so many of these musicians and bands struggle to get their music heard, despite the ready availability of a staggering amount of it that’s free for the taking (which as we all know is another entire set of issues). That’s where music bloggers like myself come in, writing about indie artists we like and helping to spread the word about their music and hopefully gain them a few more followers and fans. With that in mind, today I have the pleasure of introducing to my readers the remarkably talented and undeniably charismatic Olsson brothers Axel and Adam who call themselves Jaded Jane.

Jaded Jane 2

Originally from Gothenburg, Sweden, but now split between Gothenburg and Glasgow, Jaded Jane seeks to celebrate humanity and diversity through their music, writing compelling songs with positive, life-affirming lyrics. Drawing upon a wide range of influences such as pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip-hop, they create beautiful, piano-driven melodies and lush soundscapes. Since 2015 they’ve produced four excellent albums, and are now recording their fifth, due for release later this year. I reached out to Jaded Jane to talk about themselves and their music, and was happy Axel agreed to share some of their story.

EML:  Hello Axel. Thank you for agreeing to talk with me. First off, by way of introductions, tell me a little about Jaded Jane – when did you guys form the band, and how did you and your brother Adam decide on the name “Jaded Jane”?

Axel:  Thanks Jeff. I am super glad to be part of your music blog. Jaded Jane and the musical adventure of brothers Axel and Adam Jane Olsson began in our early youth, being the sons of musician Christer Olsson (Plums, Noll 31, Scandinavian 5) and a mother with a passion for music. Growing up to the sounds of Motown, The Beatles and Michael Jackson, to name a few, it was only natural for us to develop a keen sense of melody, harmony and originality. We grew up in the Gothenburg, Sweden suburb of Hammerhill, and our path eventually lead us to New York & Los Angeles, where we spent ten years back and forth immersing ourselves with some of the most inspiring musicians on Earth. The name Jaded Jane came to me in a dream in 2013, when I was living in New York. The name deals with the jaded aspect of the modern human being. Jaded Jane is also a song from our debut album Diversity, and is about life, death and meaning. The name ‘Jane’ has an androgynous quality that is inclusive and gender neutral.

EML:  What prompted you to make those moves from Sweden to Los Angeles and New York, and why did you choose to leave New York for Glasgow, rather than return to Sweden? Does Glasgow have a more thriving music scene?

Axel:  It’s been a long road moving back and forth to New York, Los Angeles and now Glasgow. We came home to Sweden for a few years after New York, and then we ended up collaborating with a few Scottish artists which led us to Glasgow. It is a vibrant music city, with areas that remind me of Brooklyn, NY.  When you are moving to a new city you are putting yourself in a whole new world, which sculpts you into another story and adventure, I have always been excited about learning and growing on all fields as a human being. So I am now in Glasgow, while Adam is still based in Gothenburg.

EML:  Your music is beautiful and uplifting, and your songs offer positive, life-affirming messages. What is the inspiration behind your music and sound?

Axel:  That means a lot to hear that the songs & music spread those messages. We feel that the music we create is greater than us and has the power to heal by touching people on a deeper level. By being brutally honest with ourselves, we allow others to feel that side of us. The things that are the most personal are ultimately the most universal. My inspiration comes from experiencing all of life’s challenges, both the highs and lows.  From a young age, me and Adam starting asking questions about our society, and felt an urge to share our musical stories with other people in hope that it will touch and lift someone who is low.

EML:  Do you both write the songs and lyrics together? And do you both play all the instruments and synths yourselves, or do you work with other session musicians to help create your music?

Axel:  I have written all the songs on the albums released thus far, and we do play all of the instruments. However, on the new album “117” we’re currently working on, Adam is featuring two of his new songs. Adam plays fretless bass, guitar and sings, and I play the piano, synthesizers and also recording and producing the tracks. We previously collaborated with guitarist Mike Stern on our first album Diversity, and L.A.-based soul singer Frank McComb on The Puzzle, an album we made prior to becoming Jaded Jane. But our journey really took off in a new direction while meeting our third member Åke Linton, a sound artist from Sweden who is now part of creating the soundscapes and sounds of Jaded Jane.

EML:  The track “Crystal Stair” on your latest album Salvation is an intriguing song. How did you discover that speech from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and why did you choose to build a song around it?

Axel:  The whole Salvation album was recorded live in a studio in Gothenburg, on Queen’s old console and the song “Crystal Stair” was just a small improvised part that came from one of the sessions. Both me and Adam have always been inspired by Martin Luther King, and we thought it’d be cool to have his voice on top of the melodies and sounds of the improvised piece.

EML:  I was touched by your recent Instagram post about your struggles and frustrations with trying to make it in this very tough music business. Your music is so wonderful, and you guys need to be heard by a larger audience, which is why I’m happy to feature you on my little music blog. That said, one of the issues I think is that today, most people seem to prefer hip-hop, Country or rock music, rather than beautiful, piano-based easy listening compositions like yours. Yes, there is still a niche for your genre of music, and there are successful artists making music similar to yours such as James Blake and Sufjan Stevens, but they often collaborate with hip hop or other artists to appeal to a wider audience. You’ve stated that you would like to collaborate with other artists, and in fact have a couple of times, like you did with rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) on the track “Life” from your album “One Way”, but that it’s been a struggle getting more artists to collaborate. Any thoughts?

Axel:  You are very right, It is a big challenge to get people to listen to a full song nowadays, even though you spent your whole life building and working on your craft, The masses seem to react to the loudest playing songs. I am looking forward to writing and recording more with similar minded artists, The struggle in paying rent and earning money for food has and I am guessing will always be there when it comes to true artistry, I am a full time busker / street performer in Glasgow at the moment, and that has definitely made me humble in how hard it can be to earn money; it gives you a whole new respect for how to use them.

The music business is a tough field to be in, I have always felt and I know Adam felt it too. We are outside of the business, however, we the songwriters and artists are what makes it possible to make a business out of it, so I am determined to find out what’s going on.

EML:  Your press release states that you’re managed by Scirca Music Group. Some artists & bands choose to hire a management company or PR firm to help them, while others wish to do everything themselves. Have you found it helpful to work with a manager?

A year ago I reached out through social media in search for a music publisher and manager, which got me in contact with the newly started Scirca Music Group. It has been a learning experience for both me and Adam and for the management company, as they are just starting out. I would like to encourage other artists to learn about how it all works, and how it is built up, that is the key to understanding and hopefully knowing where you want to go from there.

EML:  What are you guys working on now? Any plans for another album?

Axel:  As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been recording a new album “117” to be released later this year. It’s being recorded and mixed by our Sound Artist Åke Linton. I’m singing & playing on an old upright piano, and Adam is playing a Spanish nylon guitar & also singing some vocals. The last pieces of the songs on ”117” are being recorded with string arranger & producer Mattias Bylund adding a cello to the songs by cellist David Bukovinszky. Last but not least, I am laying down the bass lines on a 1976 Moog Synthesizer and warm analog pads on a 1980s Korg Polysix. We just shot the first music video for our upcoming single ”Trapped”. It was exciting and it turned out great.

EML: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Jaded Jane that I’ve neglected to ask?

Axel:  Yes, we want to share our message of “Ignorance Separates, Music Unites”. We want to take a stand even more, making it clearer that we are for all human beings,  especially the ones without a voice. Equality, Humanism, and Reverence for the Beauty and Majesty of Nature are all subjects we care about.

We are from the “hood” of our hometown and we wish to display a different side [to that part of the Gothenburg area] than what is mainly portrayed in media with their car fires, etc. The growth of racist/nationalistic political parties such as SD* is something that we want to be an antidote for. We’ve always stayed clear of politics in our music but when it comes to these ethical & moral values we want to be very clear that we stand for diversity, equality and lifting positive stories about the “hood” which almost always have been a place of brotherhood and acceptance for us. Yes there are problems, but there need to be a more nuanced and balanced portrayal in media. We want to do our part as a counterweight to the negative.

* SD stands for Sweden Democrats, ironically, a socially conservative and far right-wing populist political party.

So lets dig a bit into Jaded Jane’s wonderful catalog and get a feel for their music. They released their debut album Diversity in 2015, a genre-bending work featuring eight tracks drawing upon pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip hop elements. As the title suggests, the songs address uplifting themes of embracing diversity and working together to make the world a better place. Every track on the album is superb, but my favorites are the lovely ballad “Jaded Jane”, the anthemic “After”, “Meaningful Destiny”, with its beautiful piano and shimmering guitar, the funky “The Cure”, with guest vocals from rapper KJ Denhert, and the soulful and fun “Walk the Walk”. Their musicianship and knack for writing infectious melodies that hook us in right from the start are impressive, and I love Axel’s casual vocal style that frequently breaks into a crooning falsetto.

In February 2017, they released their fantastic second album One Waywhich saw them branch out and further experiment with their sound by incorporating more complex and multi-textured synthesizers, deep bass lines and trap beats into their soulful mix. The highlights here are “Tell Me What”, with spacey synths and a funky bass line that’ll rock your world, “Breathing”, with colorful psychedelic synths and guitar chords that are fucking magical, and “Life”, a brilliant track featuring killer rap verses by British rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) that beautifully complement Axel’s falsetto vocals. The uplifting lyrics speak of not letting your past troubles define you or keep you from realizing your dreams: “Living life just watch me risk it, made mistakes but don’t regret ’em / I put on a happy face to hide where I come from / Put your knife down, listen to my rhyme / Everything’s gonna be alright.

Only eight months later, Jaded Jane dropped yet another album Always & Forever, once again going off in another direction with their sound. This time, Axel’s beautiful piano playing takes center stage, with the songs all featuring sublime piano-driven melodies that take their music toward an ambient, easy-listening vibe. In describing his inspiration for the album, Axel wrote as if speaking to his father: “When I sat down by the piano I could feel your presence. I let the songs happen the way they were meant to. Through music we can communicate with another world, here it is, and it is for you, in the here and now and in the hereafter.” The beautiful title track “Always & Forever” is a moving tribute to their father. “Hard to believe that you are gone this time. Oh give me strength to carry on. Easy to smile when you are by my side. You’ll live forever in my heart.” The video was filmed on a snowy night in Gothenburg.

The opening song “Serendipity” is a serene, 13-minute long piece of atmospheric heaven, with extended runs of delicate piano, guitar and whispery synths that are mesmerizing. The song begins as an instrumental-only track that seems to end at around 3:45 minutes, then starts back up at 4:00, this time with Axel’s tender vocals singing the praises of their father: “It was your light. It was your love, that shone through all of us.” This portion of the song ends with a gradual fade-out of reverb at around 8:45, only to start back up at 9:30 with sparse piano keys, accompanied by strummed guitar and whispery synths that throb until the end of the song.

Jaded Jane Salvation

Their fourth and most-recent album is the gorgeous Salvation. Released in November 2018, the album continues with what Jaded Jane refers to as their “exploration of soulful soundscapes of consciousness” that we loved on Always & Forever.  The entire album flows like an atmospheric river of mesmerizing piano-driven sound, enveloping and transporting us to a comforting place of love, peace and serenity. The beautiful title track “Salvation” has simple, spiritual lyrics that speak to finding peace of mind and salvation in the hereafter: “I’ll stay right here, through my last tears. Ain’t got nothing left to fear. Salvation. It’s the longest street, I will follow thee to another space and time. I will walk this road, never looking down, to the place that we’ll call home.”

Another standout track is “Ethereal”, which lives up to its name with breathtaking atmospheric music. Axel’s piano work is absolutely stunning, backed by sweeping glittery synths, gently thumping drumbeats and Adam’s subtle guitar notes.

“Orion” is a beautiful instrumental track, consisting of only delicate piano, gentle drumbeats and whispy ambient background synths. Though over five minutes long, it seems much shorter. The track segues uninterrupted into album closer “Crystal Stair”, with a continuation of the gentle drumbeats and whispy synths. At one minute, words from a famous 1960 speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Spelman College enter: “Your life’s blueprint must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice. Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them. Don’t allow anybody to cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice. However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live.

The track encapsulates the message of love, tolerance and social justice that Jaded Jane seeks to spread by Salvation, and with all their songs. I greatly admire these guys, both in terms of the wonderful music they make, and the positive vibes they spread through their kindness, love and joy. I cannot wait to hear their new album.

Connect with Jaded Jane:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT – EVERY LOVELY THING

I’m always intrigued by the names musicians and bands come up with for themselves, especially when they’re interesting, clever or unusual. I recently ran across an act with a particularly nice moniker – Every Lovely Thing, an aptly-named music duo from Dayton, Ohio consisting of singer-songwriters Marianne Kesler and Kate Stanton. Long-time friends, the two share a passion for music, and one day in 2015 while having coffee together they decided to collaborate on writing a song. Marianne was already an established singer-songwriter, having written and recorded her own songs, but it was the first time she collaborated with another to write songs, and it was a totally new experience for Kate.

One song eventually turned into twenty and, now that they had a repertoire of songs, they decided they needed a name for their project. In an interview with Ohio-based webzine The Crazy Mind, the ladies explained the inspiration behind their name: “Our tagline is ‘songwriting duo creating beauty out of brokenness one note at a time’ and the name Every Lovely Thing is echoing that concept. It came to mind while reading lines from the Bible, “ … Whatsoever things are lovely … think on these things”.” Their pleasing sound can be best be described as ambient dream pop, characterized by beguiling melodies, delicate instrumentation and sublime, harmonizing vocals. Kate plays piano, keyboard, and synths, while Marianne plays acoustic guitar on most songs. Kate sings lead vocals on many of their songs, with Marianne providing the counter-parts and harmonies.

In August 2016, they headed to St. Louis to record their first single “Running” with producer Ben Kesler at Red Pill Studios. The song was released later than month, with the accompanying video released on October 1st. It’s an arresting song with a quiet intensity. The simple but hauntingly beautiful piano-driven melody, accompanied by gentle percussion and spare synths, create a somewhat somber, yet hopeful mood for the poignant lyrics. “Thinking of who I used to be. My brokenness is all I see. I keep pretending to be free. The past has made a fool of me. / How far? How long? I keep running.” They explain that the song is about toxic relationships, but rather than the term “running” meaning to flee from problems, it’s intended to represent “a healthy acceptance of ourselves, and of moving (or running) toward the freedom of positive life-affirming boundaries.”

Their follow-up single, “Not the Only One” was released in April 2018. About this track, the ladies state: “We feel the song is very accessible … probably everyone can relate to feeling like they are the only one in some situation during their life. One favorite line is ‘weighed down with sorrow so much deeper than our own’.” The enchanting song has a similar haunting quality as “Running,” with Kate’s delicate piano notes, but this time includes Marianne’s soothing acoustic guitar and pleasing drums played by Luke DeJaynes.  Kate’s vocals are soft and lovely, and when combined with Marianne’s backing harmonies, the result is an incredibly moving and beautiful song.

The ladies have recorded a number of songs, five of which are available for streaming or purchase on Bandcamp, and have been performing them and additional songs at gigs in and around Dayton. Here’s a video montage of a performance in Springfield, Ohio in October 2017:

They just released a new video of their latest single “Can You Show Me,” and strike gold once again with their compelling lyrics, sweet melodies and gorgeous vocal harmonies. Marianne’s acoustic guitar takes center stage on this song, accompanied by Kate’s delicate keyboard and other synth sounds. The song speaks of searching for  spiritual guidance to help overcome fear and self-doubt, and guide one’s path forward in life:

Black hole blinding vision obscured 
Panic rising terror incurred 

Fallen trembling shaken and stirred 
Waking wanting awaiting your word 

Watching wondering 
Longing listening 
Breathing, beholding everything that’s You … 

Where will I go? 
How will I know? 
Which way leads home? 
Can you show me? 

The lovely video for the track, which they produced, shows scenes of Marianne wandering around her town as if in search of something, discovering clues painted on rocks hidden in various spots.

Every Lovely Thing are two very talented singer-songwriter-musicians who together create beautiful, uplifting music that’s pleasing to the ear and soothing to the soul. I look forward to following Kate and Marianne on their musical journey, and hearing their new song creations.

Follow Every Lovely Thing on Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music  
Purchase on Bandcamp / cdbabyiTunes / Amazon

LOUIE JAMES – Single Review: “Real Friends”

Louie James3

Louie James is an outstanding young singer/songwriter from Wakefield, England who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite artists. I featured him on this blog only a month ago, when I reviewed his lovely acoustic single “Yellow Doors” (which you can read here). Now this prolific artist is back with a moving new single “Real Friends,” along with a brilliant companion video. On “Real Friends,” Louie departs from his usual mellow acoustic style, employing layers of glittery synths to create a beautiful and haunting track.

In the verses, Louie sings in his gentle vocal style, accompanied by delicate electronic synths that convey a sense of sadness amid the lovely sounds. His vocals become more impassioned in the choruses as the synths swell into a lush soundscape brimming with emotional intensity.

The mournful lyrics speak to a bitter realization that the friends you thought you had don’t really care about or support you:

Who needs enemies with friends like these?
Talk all the shit you want
They’re out for blood and…
A lonely life when you trust no one.

Walk around with a chip up on your shoulder
21 but I don’t feel any older
Run me off, take another stab shot
Tear it all down, this is everything that I’ve got

Real friends are with me til the end but…
Woke again to another fatal head shot
Don’t forget me, this thing you’re making
Real friends but I know you’re only snaking

The video opens with Louie staring into a mirror, crossing out the eyes of his forlorn reflection with lipstick. As the video continues, he’s shown singing while soaking in a bathtub or standing in front of the mirror, where he writes “Real Friends” on the glass with lipstick, eventually crossing out the words. I love the song and video!

Connect with Louie:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

FRED HILLS – Single Review: “Ketu”

Fred Hills is a creative and talented freelance drummer and composer from Brighton, UK, and he’s just released a captivating new instrumental single “Ketu.” A graduate of the British Institute of Modern Music in Brighton, Fred combines his love of jazz, rock, prog, electronica, folk and world music with inspiration from his favorite artists, as well as his travels, to create compositions filled with colorful rhythms and melodic ‘open-handed’ beats. Fred has collaborated and performed in the UK and Europe with a number of musicians and groups, including The Slytones, Hot Moth, Time for T, Ellie Ford, Michael Baker and Mara Simpson.

Fred told me that “Ketu” was inspired by his travels around India in late 2017. In their premier of the song’s video, the online music webzine Arctic Drones notes that the song was also inspired by “his experience with Hindu astrology, which sparked an interest in how lunar and solar energy systems may affect someone both mentally and physically. Fred stated that “Ketu” represents karmic collections – both good and bad – tangible and supernatural influences.” He adds that “Ketu” is an instrumental song built on an expansive emotional spectrum, mixing ambivalence and enchantment, hope and discovery.” The track was co-produced by Fred and Alex Barron, who also played bass and did the mixing and mastering.

The song opens with mysterious synths and a delicate guitar riff, then Fred’s intricate drums enter as the synths and guitar expand with the introduction of Alex’s bluesy bass notes. Fred’s arresting drum work, which the track is built around, has a quiet intensity that’s incredibly dynamic, yet never overpowering. The sparkling synths are gorgeous, and his jazzy guitar riffs are fantastic. In the video, Fred appears to be almost in a trance-like state as he plays the drums, which is the same feeling I get while listening to this gorgeous and mesmerizing song. Watch, listen, and see for yourself:

To learn more about Fred, check out his Website

Connect with him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Check out more of his music on Soundcloud
Purchase “Ketu” on Bandcamp

TEISAN – Album Review: “Headspace”

Teisan2

TEISAN is an exceptionally talented and prolific young singer/songwriter from Mannheim, Germany. He started playing guitar at the age of 14, and quickly began writing songs in a predominantly ambient acoustic style. His songs tend toward a more introspective side, with deeply personal lyrics delivered with smooth, heartfelt vocals. In his bio, he states “I like to make music about things I experienced in my life. What I write down in the lyrics helps me in dealing with past events.” In early 2016, when he was only 17, he released an excellent debut album Different Point of View, then quickly followed that August with a five-song EP Wait For Autumn. In October 2017, he released his second album Impatience, and this past August (2018) dropped his third full-length album Headspace, an ambitious and stunning work featuring 14 tracks.

With the new album, TEISAN explains that he “wanted to be more creative with his music by experimenting with new sounds and melodies.” The title Headspace symbolizes exploration into someone’s head, “going deeper into a personality and diving into a new world that only exists in their mind. This year was really stressful for me. I had to work on some personal stuff and didn’t have much time for music. But that’s what I needed the most in that time. So I tried to fit it all under a roof and realized it doesn’t matter how much stress I’m in – I need music and the process of music making [is] a way to relief this stress.”

The album starts off with the brief title track “Headspace,” which at first sounds like an instrumental only song, with shimmery synths highlighted by sweeping strings and tender piano keys. But a more careful listen reveals that what sound like spacey synths are actually TEISAN’s heavily distorted vocals. Next up is the sweet acoustic ballad “Anchor Pt. 2,” which I reviewed in June. Delicate, airy synths are layered over a pleasing acoustic guitar riff, along with sounds of finger snaps, gentle percussion and added subtle guitar chords that create a serene and beautiful backdrop for his soft and earnest vocals.

TEISAN uses synthesizers and acoustic guitar to great effect in the creation of gorgeous soundscapes on most of the album’s tracks, and a perfect example of this is the beautiful “Fade Into Me.” The lush, multi-textured synths are sublime, with delicate piano keys and subtle guitar notes that make for a captivating listen. The spare lyrics on this track are loaded with meaning: “Maybe I’m giving up on my life. Maybe… , but I’m giving it time.” On “Coins,” he weaves together beautiful sweeping synths with rather harsh industrial sounds to create feelings of discord, yet manages to add calm with his soothing acoustic guitar. So too with his vocals, that start off as a soothing falsetto as he croons “Sinking down,” but turn raw and impassioned as he confronts the one who caused him pain: “It’s so hard standing next to you, you think you can tell me that. I remember the times in my head, I was paralyzed and you didn’t help.”

Oceans” is a short and simple, but moving, track with only piano and subtle background synths providing the riveting sounds for TEISEN’s bittersweet lyrics: “Another sleepless night alone, you only open up when the bottle loses weight.” Such a great lyric there! He continues with the themes of sadness and loss, and trying to move on after a failed relationship on the mellow “I’m Okay, I am Alright,” and the wistful “Strangers In A Parking Lot,” a lovely song with acoustic guitar and the gentlest of synths. TEISEN’s vocals have a pleasing vulnerability as he sings “I count the stars, you count what’s yours, and it’s tearing me apart. And all I wanna be is in your arms, like we were never lost.

Keeping with the subject of exploring the mind’s deepest thoughts, TEISAN senses a former loved one’s presence on “In My Room,” and thinks of a girl he’d just as soon forget on the folk track “Daydreams“: “Take back the seasons to relive, it never happened, didn’t exist. You know I can’t resist the pity to forget, I couldn’t remember you as well.” One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Hate Me and Run Away,” a short but captivating song with a marvelous jazzy piano riff and bluesy guitar notes. The lyrics are simple but powerful, and his slightly distorted, breathy vocals have an air of cool detachment that makes them all the more compelling: “I’m trapped inside my head, all the time that I spend for you, it is all gone, all gone. Hate me for this, I’m begging you, please hate me for this.”

Crystals (Groundlevel)” has an almost psychedelic-rock feel, with sweeping spacey synths, distorted guitar, a strong bass riff and heavier percussion. I even detect traces of what sounds like sitar. TEISAN’s breathy vocals are slightly altered, adding to the otherworldly vibe that’s quite marvelous. “Ice Red” is an interesting song, both musically and lyrically. It starts off with a church organ, then transitions to layered acoustic guitars with gauzy synths. The lyrics seem to speak of helping someone in need of healing support, though the singer’s not sure he’s up to the task: “Maybe you need someone to lead, maybe even a place to hide. We can put our anger aside to make things right. All my friends are deep underneath, happiness is all make believe, I can’t put my sadness aside to make things right.” But then he acknowledges the support he was given, and decides he needs to repay the favor: “I’m seeing you’re constantly feeling so down – I can’t leave you behind. ‘Cause you stitched all my wounds, and I made a wish and you filled me with love, so I can sleep in the nights.” “Moon and Sun” is a lovely folk rock song that made me think of John Mayer, a good thing as I’m a big fan of his.

TEISAN returns to experimentation in big way for the album closer “Headache.” The track starts off with numerous skips that give the feeling your listening device or CD player has developed a malfunction, then at 15 seconds it all settles down and we hear his smooth vocals and acoustic guitar, but with unusual assorted background noises that suggest dissonance as he sings about changing. At the one minute mark, the song transitions yet again, this time to a hauntingly beautiful piano riff, backed by atmospheric echoed synths that gradually fade to the outro. What a superb ending to a magnificent, stunning album!

Headspace is a gorgeous album – dare I say, a masterpiece – and I continue to be blown away by TEISAN’s skill at writing such compelling, poetic lyrics and composing incredibly beautiful instrumentals, and his arrangements and production values are impeccable. For a man of only 20, his music and lyrics exhibit a remarkable maturity. This young man is destined for greatness, and his music needs to be heard by millions of ears.

He touches on his future music plans: “I don’t know which way I’ll go on my next album – if it’s some old work I want to get out, or if it’s new stuff – but I sense it that the next one is going to be more “me” . I’ve been reading a book called “Nada Brahma” and It’s quite interesting and changing my perspective when it comes to the world and of course music.

Connect with TEISAN on  Facebook / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on Bandcamp or YouTube

9fm – EP Review: “Little House”

9fm - Jarrod Pedone

I recently learned about an outstanding musician who goes by the artistic name 9fm – short for Ninth Floor Mannequin – after he posted his music on my friend Roy’s music sharing website Chatsong. 9fm is the moniker for the solo music project of New Jersey-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone, and I was instantly moved by his arresting sound the moment I heard it. He melds folk with alternative rock, injecting bits of synth pop here and there to create incredibly pleasing music that seems to draw influences from such artists as Fleet Foxes, Paul Simon and Sufjan Stevens. And not only is his music brilliant and captivating, his poetic lyrics are so deeply compelling and filled with meaning that they seem almost Shakespearean. He’s just released a five-track EP Little House, and it’s marvelous.

Before getting into the EP, a bit of background about Jarrod to provide some context for his music, in his own words:

Before 9/2/12, I was a full-time musician, recording engineer and composer. On that evening while out for a run, I was struck by an intoxicated driver. I suffered a laundry list of injuries, the most concerning of which was the traumatic brain injury. When I eventually woke up, I learned that outpatient physical and mental therapy understandably left something to be desired in regard to musician’s skills recovery. I naturally resumed my career path. Little did I know that creating music was now going to be by far the most significant source of therapy that I’d experience.”

9fm2

9fm writes, performs, records, mixes and masters all this own original music, and to my ears, I’d say he’s recovered from his injuries quite admirably. He released his debut album Green & Blue for Blackness in 2016, and followed in late 2017 with the EP 5 Characters (In Search of an Exit), both of which are superb. Little House dropped on September 3.

The title track “Little House” kicks off the EP with layers of shimmering synths and fuzzy guitars set to a galloping drumbeat, gently transporting us into to a dreamy soundscape. Jarrod’s warm vocals are lovely, and even more so when backed by his own soaring harmonies as he plaintively sings of letting down his guard and being honest with his true feelings – that he wants to settle down and be married to the one he’s loved for a long while: “To say it all aloud. The things that I had thought for years. I wouldn’t want a change. I wouldn’t change. I want a little house & rings.”

Tin God” sees him coming to the realization that his lifelong quest to be the best, to be on top, to win, has come at a price, and in the end, did not bring the happiness he’d expected: “The goal was clear from day one. Perfect the game, sharing first place with no one./ Sleep in the hall. No time at all for love now. A legend or a tin god. I risked my life for just one try to dethrone. Well in the end, I did win best of all time. Not worth my time, you keep it, you can keep it.” The track has a progressive rock feel, with reverb-heavy chiming guitars, industrial sounding synths, assertive percussion and echoed vocals. I love the rather haunting melody that weaves throughout the song.

And speaking of melodies, “Allow Me” has one that’s absolutely captivating, in stark contrast to the song’s dark theme. The track opens with glittery, pulsating synths, then expands into a gorgeous soundscape of delicate guitar chords and sparkling keyboards, led by a gentle, driving beat. Jarrod’s layered harmonic vocals are beautiful, bringing chills as they soar. The biting lyrics speak to the facades people create to mask their fears, phoniness and uglier sides, and that doing so only diminishes them: “Lies & smiles are all we are. I think that I can’t keep up. Allow me to let loose, to scream it all. It feels so good to yell out all the truth & the hate that we hold.

Good People Bad” was inspired by a Twilight Zone episode called “The Shelter.” In a nutshell, a group of neighbors are at a dinner party at the home of the only family to have installed a bomb shelter (nuclear war hysteria was rampant in the late 50s-early 60s). After hearing a news bulletin warning of an impending nuclear attack, the neighbors panic and turn against the family that installed the shelter and, eventually, each other. (Quite frankly, this episode should be required viewing for everyone right now.)  Once again, the song’s hauntingly beautiful melody and music contrast with the dark lyrics. “The radio sent us all a noose. We pass it around ’til it’s right. The power of numbers can drive good people bad. Left no choice but to fight.”

The meaning of the final track “Absences V2.0” was a bit ambiguous to me, with my best guess being that it’s about how we identify ourselves and others through the prism of all the factors that comprise our belief systems and biases. But 9fm told me it relates to his accident, specifically about getting blood transfusions and how he lost some of his senses that were damaged: “We exaggerate the loves we lost on the way. Missing less each day, the pain, smell, touch & taste. The times that we had seems like they were fine. The saying isn’t true. Absences & hearts go fine.” Musically, the song is the most experimental of the five tracks, with mesmerizing chord progressions, otherworldly synths, and interesting guitar work.

To sum up, I can’t gush enough over this beautiful little EP. I love everything about 9fm’s songs; his lyrics, melodies, instrumentals, vocals, track arrangements and overall production values are all exceptional. I am a dedicated fan!

Connect with 9fm:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloud / iTunes
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

THE PUSS PUSS BAND – Single & Video Review: “We Should Be”

Puss Puss Band We Should Be

I’m back in Wales (having just featured Welsh band Dying Habit), this time to talk about the lovely new single “We Should Be” and it’s delightful video from The Puss Puss Band.  Based in Cardiff, and consisting of multi-instrumentalists Asa Galeozzie and Lee Pugh, the band is named for Asa’s cat Puss Puss. Both are accomplished musicians who’ve worked with numerous artists and bands in the UK and Welsh music industry over the last ten years as writers & session musicians. They perform every aspect of their music: songwriting, instrumentals, vocals, arranging, engineering, producing and mixing. Asa plays guitar, bass, percussion, piano and melodica, while Lee plays lead guitar, bass and piano, as well as sings lead vocals.

In April 2017, with help from seasoned musician John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, the guys released their beautiful debut album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea. I reviewed the album along with an interview with Lee, which you can read here. Over the past six months or so, they’ve been writing and recording songs for a second album, and “We Should Be” is the first single. It’s a wonderful song, delivering the pleasing jazz and folk-infused pop we’ve come to expect from these talented guys. And once again, Mr. Bundrick lends his expertise on the keyboards.

The bittersweet song is about missing someone and wishing they were back in love with you so you could be together. Layers of gently strummed guitar, crisp percussion and delicate synths create a sparkling backdrop for Lee’s smooth, breathy vocals that convey a sad resignation as he sings the poignant lyrics:

Lighted excited waiting in the rain
Two minutes ‘til I see you again
Near misses, longed for kisses
An everlasting wait
The magic word that is her name

We stole our days away
Wishing by the sea
Wrapped up in you
Wrapped up in me

The way you see the world
Is just the same
It’s just the way you feel about me that’s changed

But we should be….
We should be in love
We should be in love…
See you’re all I’m wishing on

Dying, just trying to find
The words to say
The few minutes that I’ll see you today
Near misses, longed for kisses
An everlasting wait
The tragic word that is my name

If the way you see the world
Is just the same?
Maybe there’s no need…
To hurt in vain?

Is it right?
To close up tight?
To feed this cold divide…
Between you and me?
Is it so hard to see?…
That we should be

We should be…
We should be in love…
We should be in love…
You’re all I’m wishing on
We should be….in love

The video is one of the most delightful I’ve seen in a long while. It shows a man in a cat suit (played by Lee) sitting or standing in various locations on a busy street in Cardiff, holding a large flip chart printed with words that are directed at his love interest. By and by, he walks past a busking musician (played by Asa) and throws a few pieces of dry cat food into his guitar case. I love the scenes where he’s chasing pigeons, riding the merry-go-round, and when he sits on the bench, offers some of his food to a man who politely turns him down, then proceeds to eat it out of the bowl. At the end, the busker sees him sitting forlornly on the ground next to the merry-go-round, offers his hand, and they walk off together down the street holding hands. What a sweet story, and I love both the song and video!

Connect with The Puss Puss Band:  Website / Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music on Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes

RANDOM… – Album Review: “Long Ago When Tigers Smoked Pipes”

Random... Album Art

Hailing from Rotherham, England, the music project known as Random… (Random dot dot dot) creates multi-textured synthesized music that ranges from dark and politically topical to catchy EDM. Born Ben Ellison, the enigmatic Random… describes himself thusly: “Random… is reclusive, innovative and slightly insane. Those lucky enough to have met him will testify that his view of the world is warped, dark, but always entertaining.”  Who am I to argue with that?

In May 2016, Random… released an EP Headspace, which featured spoken words by poet Wayne Dyson, and in April 2017 he released a remarkable full-length album Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness, an ambitious work released through Velvet Moron Records. The album was produced with contributions from two poets, Gav Roberts and Wayne Dyson, along with guitarist Mr Jiggs. I reviewed the album, which you can read here. Now, Random… is set to drop a new album Long Ago When Tigers Smoked Pipes, also to be released on the 20th of August through Velvet Moron Records.

The new album is once again a collaboration, this time with poet Gav Roberts. They explained their working relationship and creative process for the album:

Random… met rather, well, randomly and they clashed heads from their two very different fields of creativity almost instantly. Having a mutual respect for each other’s work, Ben appreciating Gav’s poetic ramblings and Gav in turn enjoying the unique sounds that Ben creates. They are very much 50/50 doing their own thing and not interfering in each other’s work. Ben doesn’t like writing words and Gav can turn any musical instrument into something with the musical quality of your average Ikea table.

Indeed, the vast majority of what Gav records are poems that would otherwise grow old in notebooks, never to be opened, so he is overjoyed that Ben wraps them up in music.  Both of them are neither precious nor pretentious about their work, both believing that creativity is an entirely selfish process that a human must go through in order to ease the mental passage through this mortal coil. ‘Long ago when tigers smoked pipes’ is the Korean equivalent of ‘Once upon a time’ and that is what Random… have created, a story, a journey through their lives.

OK, so let’s get into the album, shall we. The first track “The Possibility of 0 or 6” opens with spacey, sci-fi sounding synths and a monotone piano chord, then a pulsating beat ensues. The instrumentals expand into a melodic soundscape as Roberts describes a scene on a platform of a train station, where a woman becomes fascinated with a man pacing back and forth counting. “To wait, on a platform alone with him she feels cursed. Just her and the crazy finger-counter, counting numbers backwards, forwards on his fingers he counts. / So on and so on, til the initial fear she had when she first saw him turns to passive intrigue. / Eventually, one cancellation and several delays announcements later, a full 45 minutes after fear forgot … she observes the pacing man. He’s a friend of hers now. / She’s totally transfixed with the possibility of 0 or 6.” It’s a fascinating and mesmerizing track that seems shorter than its 4:11 minute length, holding my attention from start to finish.

Gingerbread” is a dark track about a doomed relationship in which the woman tried to make the man into something he wasn’t – the opposites that initially attracted them to each other now repel. The ominous synths beautifully convey the biting resentment expressed in the lyrics: “Within months, I was on a choke-chain of my own making. Wearing clothes that you had bought me, dressed up like some kind of mannequin… I started looking like a really ugly ken doll as the gingerbread-cutting phrases came thick and fast. ‘You drink too much, you smoke too much.’ So Julie I drank less, and I smoked less, but what you didn’t realize was that the opposites were attracting less and less.

Supernova” is a hauntingly beautiful and epic track, with dreamy, otherworldly synths. Roberts speaks of going against all common sense and good judgment, submitting himself fully to the passionate urges of love: “I am carefully turning supernova. Here, in the rain. For I have stood here a time or two, thinking of you with a wish or two, chanced away upon a fellow shooting star. I must congratulate you. And I must conclude that I am joining them in their letting go of the ability to hold on to anything, never mind, everything, never mind plans. The scientists have advised against it, and they have done extensive research and they have told me to stop thinking of you this time or two. But, I don’t want to. I’ve told them to fuck right off.

The lively title track “Long ago when tigers smoked pipes” has a rapid EDM beat that has a sort of African jungle vibe, replete with animal-sounding synths – but of course! It’s  predominantly instrumental, but halfway through Roberts says “This party isn’t over, it’s merely changed form.” Then, toward the end, we hear an echoed voice state “Long ago, when tigers smoked pipes, there was a world that lived in harmony. Without war, disease.” It’s a great song.

We Occupy” is a hard-hitting protest song of sorts, encompassing many aspects of the human condition from suffering to triumph, and everything in between. Here’s a sampling of the compelling lyrics: “We occupy the shit jobs, the shop floor shelf-stocking rat race. / We occupy fragility in nursing homes and hospitals. / We occupy the uniforms that treat our dying loved ones with respect. / We occupy lives senselessly lost to war. / We occupy an education system manipulated to manufacture robot people with robot souls.  But we will not listen anymore. We have given up on your promise of a house on the hill at 2.4. We occupy free thought, free religion, free love, freedom of any kind.”

Roberts assures a friend or loved one of his unconditional support on “Let Me Know,” a brief track with a languid beat and wobbly synths that feels more like a soothing interlude. Next up is “Sometimes making something leads to nothing,” one of the more unusual and arresting tracks on the album. The track begins with strange, sci-fi synth sounds, then the music settles into a synth-driven melody with guitar, strong bass, and sharp percussion, the eerie synths continuing throughout the song.

The equally unusual and engrossing video shows a man pushing a large block of ice for what appears to be miles through the streets of Mexico City. As he continues on his journey, the block of ice eventually shrinks down to a small chunk, which he nudges along with his foot, until it completely melts away.

The final track “It depends on YOU” is a dire warning about the growing trend toward authoritarianism now happening in many parts of the world, including Europe and the United States. The dark, sinister-sounding synths really make the disturbing words seem all the more chilling:

In our world, there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph and self abasement
The sexual instinct shall be eradicated
We shall abolish the orgasm
There will be no loyalty except loyalty to the party
But always, there will be the intoxication of power
Always and every moment there will be the thrill of victory
The sensation of trampling on an enemy that is helpless
If you want to picture the future
Imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever
The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one
Don’t let it happen.
It depends on YOU

It’s a pessimistic end to a album that at first glance seems rather pessimistic on the whole, yet there are several glimmers of hope and optimism to be found. Random…’s masterful synths are the perfect accompaniment for Roberts’ dark but poetic words, and together they’ve created an enthralling and deeply contemplative work. The album will be available soon on many streaming and download platforms. Random… will give all of the profits from sales of the album to charity and is currently talking to a local independently run charity that helps people with mental health issues.

Track listing:

  1.  The Possibility of 0 or 6
  2.  Gingerbread Man
  3. Supernova
  4. Long ago when tigers smoked pipes
  5. We Occupy
  6. Let me know
  7. Sometimes making something leads to nothing
  8. It depends on YOU

Connect with Random…: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Soundcloud
Purchase:  Amazon / iTunes

MANIPULANT – Single Review: “What Good Are the Stars?”

Manipulant WGATS art

Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based artist Manipulant (aka David Speakman) is an imaginative and intensely creative multi-instrumentalist/composer of electronic music that he refers to as “scientific sound spaces.” He’s also prolific. In 2016, he released his debut album Méthode de Narration, and followed up a year later with the superb Eclectro, which I reviewed and you can read here.  He released a five-track EP Perspective earlier this year, and on July 4th, he dropped his latest work, an EP of sorts with the single “What Good Are the Stars?” as the main track, plus three remixes.

“What Good Are the Stars?” is mysterious and sublime, with a glittery soundscape of swirling synths that seem to float above the subtle bassline. A gentle hypnotic drumbeat  keeps the languid pace, and a delicate but haunting repeating piano riff adds a sense of unease to the mesmerizing track. Manipulant’s smooth, echoed vocals have an otherworldly feel as he sings the lyrics that question his inability to be with a loved one:

What good are the stars?
What good is the sky?
What good is the moon?
What use are these eyes if they can’t see you?

What good are the clouds?
What good is the rain?
If it’s not allowed to wash away pain
What good are the stars?
When they don’t know where you are?

What good are the clouds?
What good is the rain?
If it’s not allowed to wash away pain
What good are the stars?

Next up is the “Beltism Burnt Umber Mix,” which opens with an echoed and grainy background beat overlying the same hypnotic drumbeat and piano riff as in the main track. The synths are not as pronounced on this mix, though they’re a bit more psychedelic, and the bass is somewhat deeper. Nevertheless, this remix is still haunting and mesmerizing.

Each track seamlessly transitions into the next, and the third one is “Alternative Vocal Mix featuring Jennifer Doll.” It’s essentially the synth-heavy main track with added vocals by guest artist Jennifer Doll. Her soft, ethereal vocals take a starring role, harmonizing beautifully with Manipulant’s faintly audible background vocals. The final track is “Anisotropic Mix,” a trippier, bass-heavy remix with eerie-sounding synths that impart an almost sci-fi vibe. All four tracks are pretty terrific.

To learn more about Manipulant, check out his Website
Connect with him on: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on: iTunes Bandcamp