BLOOM DE WILDE – Album Review: “The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe”

Bloom de Wilde album art

Bloom de Wilde is a London-based singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist with a fascinating and eccentric avant garde sound. Born in the Netherlands to a Dutch artist mother and an Indonesian father who lead his own traditional Indonesian music ensemble known as Gamelan, Bloom’s experiences growing up in a multi-ethnic environment led her to develop an innovative and imaginative approach to her music. Drawing from an eclectic mix of influences by some of her favorite artists such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Björk, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Nina Simone and Toxic Chicken, Bloom fuses elements of dream, ethno and experimental art pop, folk and jazz with unconventional melodies and a rich mix of instruments to create exuberant, colorful soundscapes that transport us to exotic, faraway places. Moreover, her unusual and distinctive vocal style has earned her comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Kate Bush and Björk.

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Bloom has been writing and recording songs for several years, and some of her older tracks can be found on her Soundcloud account. In July 2019, she began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Soul Siren”, which won both the International Songwriting Award for best female singer songwriter, and the UK Songwriting Competition for Best Video. That October, she followed up with “Rock, Plant & Animal”, a hopeful ode to nature and earth. That song won the Alternative Friday Award for best Folk & Art-pop track. She later released two more singles “Atlas Cassandra” and “Do & Be”, and on June 12, dropped her debut album The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe.

Released via Dream Society Records, the album features those four tracks plus two others. I asked her why she’s calling it an album when it contains only six tracks. She responded that “format-wise it’s an EP, but content-wise it’s definitely an album.” The songs were written and arranged by Bloom, who sang all vocals and played several instruments including piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, guitar, harmonium, glockenspiel, organ and synth programming. The tracks were co-produced by her and Nick Trepka and Sam Ritchie, who also played some of the instruments. In addition, ten other musicians played various instruments on the album, including flugelhorn, kora, viola, violin, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, tuba and double bass, all contributing to the songs’ lush, dreamy sounds.

About the album, Bloom explains: “These songs have all been inspired by the human beings and cats that are closest to my heart; and as we are all the Universe perceiving itself through infinite subjective perspectives, I feel it is via the Heart that the Universe speaks. In these strange and challenging liminal times, I feel it is possible for us to create a new reality – a life-sustaining harmonious world where people are kind and generous to all earthlings, human or animal, and look after the planet and it’s plant life with love and care. This album is an invitation to celebrate life in all its wondrous, colourful exuberance. Let’s sing, dance, dream, paint, play and meow a new world into existence.

Bloom opens her album with “Soul Siren“, a delightful song of love. Employing an exotic and lush array of instruments, highlighted by soulful trumpet and shimmery notes from a West African kora, she fashions an enchanting backdrop for her quirky vocals. She uses her voice like another instrument, reaching almost childlike high notes as her voice sweetly coos, then soars with an emotion-filled confidence in the choruses.  She sings of her strong emotional and physical connection with her beloved – she’s the siren to her soulmate: “I will show you all the secret hearts I’ve hidden in my chest. We could now do all the things that we always wanted to, but never dared. I’m all yours, your Soul Siren.”

On the pleasing and catchy “Do & Be“, Bloom urges us to just live our lives as simply and honestly as possible, keeping in touch with the real world and the natural beauty around us, and not overthink everything: “Sleepers should be dreamers, oh i know It’s so obvious it drives me crazy.” The colorful and whimsical video she made for the song showcases her creativity and playfulness.

Atlas Cassandra” has a rather dark spiritual vibe, with Bloom sounding like a high priestess as she croons against a dramatic and mysterious backdrop of tinkling xylophone, somber drumbeats and soaring strings. The captivating “Rock, Plant & Animal” is a beautiful, uplifting tribute to earth and nature. She explained her inspiration for the song: “I wrote this song for my children, about this living Earth I love so dearly, and all the precious life upon it. I believe everything in this world has a living essence, a soul, and all is connected. We are all One – Rock, Plant and Animal.” (You can read my detailed review here.)

The exuberant anthem “Animal Spirit” was written in 2018, and in a sense could be considered Bloom’s theme song. It expresses her philosophy – her inherent ‘animal spirit’ if you will – of her reverence for earth and all living things, and how she chooses to conduct her life on this planet, promoting respect for life in all its myriad forms: “I won’t stop, I’ll never give up. I’m inside this eternal movement. I will not be held back by darkness or heaviness. Never, never cease to be driven by the heart, by the art, the magic and the marvellous.”

Pale Moon, Golden Light” is a tender and languid ballad, with a more stripped-down sound consisting of only piano and light percussion. Bloom softly croons to a boy with assurances that her love can calm the savage beast in him: ” What’s the matter with you boy? Madness strikes under your window with a sword. Climbing up & down the ladder. Who is there? I’m there. / Could it be that you’re the one for me?

The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe is an utterly enchanting and eccentric little album that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard by any other artist. Bloom de Wilde is a brilliant, creative and innovative artist, though I can imagine that her style and sound might not appeal to everyone. But if you like music that’s colorful, avant garde and thoroughly unique, you will enjoy this album.

Connect with Bloom:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

SURRIJA – Album Review: “Surrija”

Surrija Albumcover

This past January, I introduced my readers to Surrija, the music project of the hyper-talented singer-songwriter Jane Lui, when I reviewed her marvelous single “Nothing Love”. The song was the lead single of her self-titled album Surrija, which dropped April 3rd. Born and raised in Hong Kong, and now based in Los Angeles, Lui began studying classical piano at the age of five, and that traditional training, combined with her love for the music of artists like Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Björk, helped shape her unique sound and music style. She has a gorgeous and unusual singing voice, and uses it almost like another instrument in her arsenal, seducing us with tender whispers one moment, then startling us with a feral urgency the next.

Recording under her given name, Lui produced three studio albums between 2004 and 2010, along with numerous singles and covers, which you can find on her SpotifySoundcloud, and YouTube pages. Despite her success, however, she felt constrained, and wanted to make music that more closely reflected what she refers to as her “slightly feral tendencies.” It was with this new approach that Lui rebranded herself as Surrija. In 2016 she spent time in Barcelona, Spain, where she initially found inspiration from Picasso’s artistic output during his own years spent living there. But eventually, she became fascinated instead with his famous lovers and muses who he kept in the shadows, often preventing them from realizing their own potential. Wanting to tell their story, she began researching about some of them and writing songs for what would become her debut album Surrija. As a concept album, Surrija is a complex and remarkable work, with a lot to unpack. Not being a musician, I approach this review with a bit of trepidation, as I hope to adequately articulate at least some of its many nuances.

The first album cut and lead single “Nothing Love” actually predates her time spent in Barcelona, as it was written in 2013. The song – and the entire album actually – is a musical feast for the ears, with an impressive array of instruments, synths and sounds. Starting with a foundation of stuttering dubstep beats, Surrija and her team of musicians layer a rich and colorful kaleidoscope of sounds and textures to create a dramatic and rather chaotic soundscape that thrills and surprises at every turn. Surrija plays the Moog synthesizer, electric organ, piano and mellotron, Matt Chamberlain plays drums, mixed percussion and modular synths, Maxwell Gualtieri plays electric guitar, Sophocles Papavasilopoulos plays piano and clarinet, and Christine Tavolacci plays the enchanting flute that’s one of the song’s highlights for me. Lui told the webzine Clout: “‘Nothing Love’ is about the kind of heartbreak that hurts so much it feels absurd”, and her fervent vocals most definitely convey that kind of emotional intensity.

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Albert Chiang, Surrija, Maxwell Gualtieri & Sophocles Papavasilopoulos

Next up is “Barcelona“, one of my personal favorites on the album. Like most of the tracks, it was co-written by Lui and Albert Chiang, and while the lyrics are ambiguous to me, the song’s arrangement and Surrija’s captivating vocals are incredible. The song starts off almost tentatively, with wobbly industrial synths set to a slow dubstep beat as Surrija’s softly croons. Subtle keyboards and haunting guitar notes enter as the song builds, soaring to a dramatic crescendo in the chorus as she passionately sings “I’ll be waiting in Barcelona”, covering me in goosebumps.

A number of songs are named for Picasso’s paintings, muses or lovers, the first of which is “Sylvette“, which is also the title of Picasso’s 1954 painting of a young woman with a pony tail. The model for the painting was a young French woman named Lydia Sylvette David, who worked in a pottery studio near Picasso’s studio. Finding her appearance appealing, he ultimately created 40 works inspired by her. It’s been said that she was an inspiration for actress Brigitte Bardot and the Roger Vadim film And God Created Woman. Now 85, Lydia starting drawing to pass the time while she sat for Picasso, and became an artist in her own right. (Wikipedia) Musically, “Sylvette” has a throbbing synth-driven dance vibe with funky guitars and sharp drumbeats. Surrija’s soulful vocals remind of a bit of Madonna on this track, which actually sounds to me like a song Madonna could have sung in the 90s.

Minotaur” is inspired by Picasso’s fascination with the mythical creature, which was a prominent and recurring motif in his artwork from 1928-1958. The bull is a significant element in Spanish culture, representing power and strength, as evidenced in the rituals of bullfighting and the running of the bulls. For the online art webzine Widewalls, art critic Balasz Takac observed that Picasso “apparently perceived himself as the Minotaur, a creature of huge physical power and sexual energy, which suited his need for expressing the male principal in all of its glory. He somehow saw the battle in corrida through the prism of his own relationships with women. On the other hand, it is also important to point out that the bull is a rebellious and durable animal eager to resist the attacker, which is relevant in the light of Picasso’s political engagement and reaction on the rising Fascism in the 1930s.”

I may be way off, but the lyrics “Behind the terror where the gentle lives / Breathing heavy always counting on the scars and open wounds / She knows those lilies and nightlight” seem to speak to how one of Picasso’s lovers would deal with him in the context of his identity as a Minotaur.

Another favorite track of mine is the enchanting “Dora“, highlighted by beautiful violin, deep, resonant piano keys, and Surrija and Albert Chiang’s exquisite vocal harmonies. The song is named for French photographer, painter and poet Dora Maar (aka Henriette Theodora Markovitch), who had a tempestuous affair with Picasso from 1935-43 (even though he was still somewhat involved with his previous lover Marie-Thérèse Walter). He painted many portraits of her, often depicting her as a tortured, anguished woman, which she did not appreciate. The most well known of these portraits is “The Weeping Woman.” Her sentiments are vividly expressed in the lyrics: “You introduced me to your war / I learned a lot keep folding it in / Take care of the dark / Knife between the roses on the table top / The blood I kept and promised / Like a dream come true / You’re a dream come true.

Serial philanderer and overall louse that he was, Picasso dumped Dora for his next lover Marie Françoise Gilot, with whom he had a stormy affair from 1943-53, and subject of the song “Gilot“. She was also an accomplished artist, but her professional career was eclipsed by her involvement with Picasso. After they split up, he discouraged galleries from showing or buying her work, and tried to block the publication of her memoir Life with Picasso. (Still alive at 98, she later married Jonas Salk, developer of one of the first polio vaccines.) “Gilot” has a harsher, lo-fi sound, with a skittering dubstep beat and spacey synths, highlighted with some somber piano keys. With breathy, ethereal vocals, Surrija softly laments as Gilot, coming to terms with Picasso’s shortcomings and finally choosing to move on: “You could be here with history waiting / Keep still for a moment / ‘Cause I know you and all you want to take / I see you through your loops and endings / Sweet wreckage awaiting / It’s hard but i will walk away.

Turnstile Hostile” seems to address Picasso’s penchant for having a revolving door of lovers, and his mistreatment and ultimate discarding of them: “Turnstile hostile temperamental / We lined up for your blows / Arms up gun point my anger hollowed / Can’t feel the quiet it’s time to go.” The gnarly synths, gritty bass and punchy drums create a discordant vibe that suits the biting lyrics. “Semibelieve” is a rather haunting, ethereal song with ambient psychedelic synths, delicate piano keys and distant sounds of crickets. I can’t figure out what the lyrics are about, but Surrija’s soft, breathy vocals are lovely as she sings them.

Mercy Street” is a beautiful and haunting cover of the song written by Peter Gabriel that originally appeared on his 1986 album So. Though unrelated to the subject matter of the other tracks, it seems to fit the album’s overall theme quite well, The album features two brief instrumental tracks, the first of which “She Learned to Not Be Scared” consists of a pensive but lovely piano melody accompanied by ambient sounds of rain and thunder, broken at the end by sounds of a tape recorder being turned on with some entirely different music playing before being abruptly shut off. The second is “H.U.M.“, which is essentially 30 seconds of deep synth bass.

The album closes with the beautiful piano ballad “Almost Time“, a bittersweet song that seems to speak to broken relationships and the pain they leave in their wake: “Well it’s almost time / Maybe you’ll get lucky / At least in my mind / No answers for I know I’d lose / But i can say ‘least I tried so I can hide.” The only sounds we hear are Surrija’s captivating piano and vocals that start off tender and heartfelt, then rise to an impassioned plea in the chorus that brings chills.

Surrija is a brilliant and innovative work, and one of the most fascinating albums I’ve heard so far this year. Though each track can stand on its own, I think the album should be listened to in its entirety from beginning to end to fully appreciate its beauty, power and nuance. Surrija and her fellow musicians have crafted a stunning work that should make them all quite proud.

Connect with Surrija:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: Google Play / cdbaby

Junie & TheHutFriends – Single Review: “Ammonia Baby”

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I receive a lot of submissions for possible reviews, so it’s always a pleasure to discover artists or bands with a fascinating and totally unique sound. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based indie outfit Junie & TheHutFriends are such a band. Describing themselves as “an art pop musical dumpster fire, operating at the intersection of art, music, and technology” they consist of frontwoman, lead singer and robot enthusiast Junie Grey and her literal band of cloaked “Hut Friends”. Inspired by acts as diverse as Kate Bush and Kool & the Gang, their aim is to “craft a technicolor universe, explored through layered synth pieces, (too many) harmonies and narrative music videos featuring robotic props. Through the use of unorthodox melodic structures, a colorful instrumental palette, arresting vocal harmonies, and lots of unusual sound effects, they achieve their musical objective quite nicely.

Following up on their terrific 2019 singles “AngstMode3000” and “The Witches”, they recently dropped their third single “Ammonia Baby“. The song will be featured on their forthcoming debut EP Diary Of A Chaotic Neutral, to be released this Spring. Starting off with a funky bass line and powerful stomping drumbeat, Junie & TheHutFriends add a lavish array of guitar, strings, horns and hand claps to create a vibrant, trippy soundscape. The richly-textured strings and horns are especially good, giving the song an intriguing experimental art pop vibe that’s both jarring and pleasing. Junie’s layered vocal harmonies are wonderful, sounding like several singers delivering a range of complementing voices.

I’m not certain as to the song’s meaning, but my guess is that it celebrates the singer’s independence and fearlessness, that’s nothing’s going to stop or hinder her from reaching her goals: “Keep them coming, they start running, they got nothin’ on me. I told ya, I’m ammonia!” I think it serves as a great anthem for Junie & TheHutFriends.

Connect with Junie & the Hut Friends: Website / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple MusicYouTube
Purchase: Google Play

BLOOM DE WILDE – Single Review: “Rock, Plant & Animal”

I recently learned about London, England-based singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist Bloom de Wilde when she reached out to me about her new single “Rock, Plant & Animal.” I was enchanted by her fascinating avant garde sound and imaginative approach to her music, and am happy to feature her on my blog. Influenced by her favorite artists such as Radiohead, Erik Satie, Jeff Buckley, Meredith Monk, Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Björk, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, NIna Simone, Moondog and Toxic Chicken, Bloom fuses dream, ethno and experimental art pop, folk and jazz with surrealistic yet uplifting lyrics and unconventional melodies to create exuberant, colorful soundscapes that transport us to dreamy, faraway places.

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Bloom has been writing and recording songs for several years, and some of her older tracks can be found on her Soundcloud account. In July, she released a beautiful single “Soul Siren”, and on October 7th, she dropped “Rock, Plant & Animal”, a hopeful ode to nature and our Earth. The track was written and arranged by Bloom and co-produced by her and Nick Trepka, who also did the mixing. Recording was done at the Cowshed Studio in London by Joe Leech, with assistance by Grace Banks, and mastered by Nick Watson. Bloom sang vocals, played guitar, piano and programming, and had assistance by several musicians, including Nick Trepka on bass and programming, Yuval Juba Wetzler on drums, Sam Ritchie on flugelhorn and trumpet, Jally Kebba Susso on kora (a West African long-necked harp lute), Gazel Algan on viola and violin, and Mao Yamada on double bass.

And what a captivating song it is, with the kora, horns and strings adding a dreamy, exotic lushness to the sound. The rich instrumentation and enthralling melody provide a stunning backdrop for Bloom’s bewitching vocals. Her unusual and distinctive vocal style is somewhat reminiscent of Björk, in that she uses her voice like another instrument. She’s not quite a soprano, but reaches almost childlike high notes as her voice sweetly croons and soars, creating quite an emotional impact.

About the song, Bloom explains: “I wrote this song for my children, about this living Earth I love so dearly, and all the precious life upon it. I believe everything in this world has a living essence, a soul, and all is connected. We are all One – Rock, Plant and Animal. We are all instances of the Universe, perceiving itself from infinite subjective perspectives. With everything that is happening in the world right now, I think it is clear the time has come to change our ways. To approach each day with humble gratitude, our hearts open wide, souls radiating, dancing and dreaming a new world into reality. A harmonious, life-sustaining world, where we look after each other, our animal brothers and sisters, and our Earth mother that nurtures us.”

There lives a humble sound
That renders love and peace
It ripples on the water
And rustles in the trees

We’ll make that sound a yes
We’ll make that sound a yes, yes, yes

Of our beloved earth
As puzzle poem beings
Rock, Plant and Animal all dream
We’ll bravely open doors
Our shadows softy cooing
My darling, you’ve done the wait, now sing
Your true song

And make that sound a yes
And make that sound a yes, yes, yes

The enchanting video was produced by Bloom and Kai Nobuko, and stars Bloom dancing about a forest clearing, wearing a colorful floral headpiece designed by Jimmy Boer. As she dances, bright flowers, butterflies and birds issue from her fingertips. It’s all so wonderfully magical.

Connect with Bloom:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

KAROLINA ROSE – EP Review: “INVICTA”

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Falling in love with a song or artist the moment you first hear their music is among life’s greatest pleasures – certainly for me anyway. And that is precisely what I felt when I listened to the new EP INVICTA by Karolina Rose. Inspired by the music of artists such as Kate Bush, Debbie Harry, Florence Welch, The Cranberries, David Bowie and Madonna, the Brooklyn, New York-based singer/songwriter writes songs about her own experiences and presents them with beautiful commanding vocals.

Born and raised in Philadelphia to Polish parents, Karolina graduated from the prestigious Wharton Business School and had a successful career on Wall Street, which she ultimately left to pursue her dream of making it as a full-time musician. (I can identify with her life-changing decision to leave behind a successful career for which she spent years of study, as I left my job as a city planner to own and operate a bed & breakfast inn.) She began writing songs on her acoustic guitar, and performing them in clubs in and around New York City, gradually building a loyal following. Realizing she needed to take her music to the next level, she teamed up with Grammy Award wining producer/engineer/mixer Andros Rodriguez (Madonna, Shakira, Florence + the Machine) for her debut EP INVICTA, which dropped on February 1st.

Speaking on the meanings behind the title and theme of INVICTA, Karolina explains: “The word ‘INVICTA’ means unconquered, and is found on the coat of arms of Warsaw (the city where my parents come from), so the title represents my strength and who I am. From quitting my job on Wall Street to having to navigate a brand new industry, there was a lot to learn on the journey towards INVICTA’s creation. Following your truth is not always the easy choice. And for that I call the record INVICTA; it is to say ‘I did it’ and I am ready to fight for what I love.”

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The EP kicks off with the anthemic “Crystal Gem“, a hopeful declaration of Karolina’s determination to pursue her dream, no matter the odds. Backed by shimmering synths and a driving dance beat, she confidently sings: “No one can stop me now, from doing what I want to do. How nice it would be, to be taken care of endlessly. ” The track sounds like a song Katy Perry could have sung, only better. “Love Crazy” is a sultry affair that speaks to how we throw caution and common sense out the window when the pangs of love hit us like a ton of bricks. The track features lush swirling synths and fluttering percussion, creating a beautiful backdrop for Karolina’s fervent vocals that convey the blind passion of falling madly in love, helpless to resist its siren call: “Love, it makes you do crazy things. / Nothing else matters.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Going to Berlin“, a fantastic dance pop anthem that tells the tale of a woman who overcomes heartbreak by going off and jet-setting the world’s greatest cities. Karolina explains: “The concept first came to me when I was hanging at the Russian baths in downtown Manhattan with a good friend discussing her growth and how much she’s changed. She had left an old love behind in Europe to move to NYC and fearlessly follow her dreams. She then, of course, went to Berlin…” I love the throbbing EDM beat and Karolina’s wonderful layered vocals, and this lyric is so good: “She was lip-smacking good. Hold her tight if he could. But he lost her. Regret seeps in. She’s not coming back.”

Downhill” is a slow, moody track filled with powerful sweeping synths and mesmerizing percussion. In an interview with webzine CelebMix, Karolina states that the lyrics speak to the “simultaneous feelings of excitement and fear when pursuing something entirely new and unknown.” She passionately sings “I’m on the edge, lost and found. Can you hear the screaming sounds? We reach the skies before we go downhill.”

A standout track is the sad but beautiful “Goodnight, Mr. Moon“, inspired by Karolina’s experiences of exploring grief through dreams and nightmares. On her Facebook page she explained: “I have suffered from nightmares for many years. I often have hallucinations when I sleep. I wake up and see things in my bedroom or projected onto the walls or something within my room takes a different shape and moves. The first verse of the song takes inspiration from one of my nightmares where I woke up and it literally looked as if the moon was projecting a spotlight onto my wall and it looked like a scene was playing out. It may sound magical, but it was quite frightening. I started coming up with the visualization of someone hallucinating in the middle of the night, bringing back their loved one by talking to Mr. Moon. She communicates with her lost love in the nighttime. She processes her grief through dreams. She thinks it’s real until the end of the song when she wakes up from the dream and knows it’s really time to say goodbye.

The dreamy synths, gentle percussion and her mix of soft and soaring vocals are a perfect match for the poignant lyrics: “How do I get it all back? All the pieces of my heart? How do I get it all back? All the pieces came apart. How do I get you back?

The final track “Move With Me” was actually Karolina’s very first single, which she released two years ago, in February 2017. The song has a wonderful throwback 80s New Wave vibe that’s become so popular again recently. I love the bouncy EDM beat that aims straight for the hips, along with the glittery techno synths that remind me of songs by A-ha and New Order. Karolina’s vocals exude seduction as she implores the object of her desire to quit wasting time and get busy loving her: “Check my pulse. Am I still alive? / Do you know you took me by surprise? Fragile, young love. What will be, will be. Move a little bit faster now. Go a little bit faster now. There’s no time to waste, so baby pick up the pace and move with me.

INVICTA is an outstanding EP that beautifully showcases the impressive songwriting and vocal talents of this very lovely artist. Every track is superb, making for a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. I want to give special thanks to fellow blogger Hasan Bayez of SheBOPS for recommending Karolina. Check out his great blog too!

To learn more about Karolina, check out her Website
Connect with her on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / AmazonBig Cartel