US3R & Jasper Mitchell – Single Review: “Forever Blue”

I love when artists collaborate on music projects, as the talent and creative energy each bring to the mix often results in some really terrific work. Last week I featured such a song by L.A. artists Harley Bird and Barren Gates, and am now pleased to feature another collaborative effort, this time by Seattle-based singer-songwriter and composer US3R, and Minneapolis-based synth artist and composer Jasper Mitchell. They teamed up to create a deliciously chill song “Forever Blue“, which dropped March 15th.

Us3r
US3R

US3R (pronounced ‘user’, and the artistic moniker of a very nice guy named Kristian Alexander) makes synthwave-inspired electronic pop, dream pop and house music. I had the pleasure of meeting him and his lovely wife last December when they were in the Coachella Valley to visit family and friends before the Christmas holidays. (Kristian grew up in Cathedral City, where I now live.) I asked him about his name US3R, and he said it was inspired by his work in the IT industry: “I’ve been a computer guy since I was very young. In computer terminology/operating systems, there are references to “user” in a million different forms. It felt like an archetypal term that represented computer culture… and also in hacker culture, we have a tendency to talk in “leet speak” (where you swap numbers for letters), so, ‘US3R’ is a reference to the hacky nature of my music.

US3R has had a very busy year, first releasing his debut album 1985 in May (2019), then following up in December with his second album INFLUENCE, a brilliant work addressing modern influencer culture and the loss of intimacy in the digital age. Both are outstanding, and I urge my readers to check them out on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review. In February and early March, US3R embarked on a North American tour covering Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Hollywood, NYC, and Toronto, before it was abruptly halted by the Coronavirus outbreak.

Jasper Mitchell
Jasper Mitchell

Jasper Mitchell likewise creates dreamy chillwave, synthwave and atmospheric electronic music. He released his debut EP Awakening in 2018, and followed a year later with his stunning album Her, both of which I also highly recommend.

Like many collaborations, “Forever Blue” was recorded and produced in different locations. Mitchell came up with the initial music concept, then sent it to US3R, who wrote the lyrics and made some chord changes. He recorded the vocals while in Southern California last December, then sent his vocal recording to Mitchell in Minneapolis, who did the production work on the track. They then worked back and forth over the internet until they got the song just right.

US3R states that the song is about driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in California from Santa Monica to Malibu, “reminiscing about a woman that used to sit in the passenger seat, and every time you do the drive it brings up old feelings.” He adds “Its about reflecting on your life in the face of mortality. We ironically wrote this before Coronavirus happened, but it seems very relevant all of a sudden.”

Employing a colorful mix of warm, sparkling synths, set to a languid trip hop percussive beat, Mitchell artfully creates a captivating atmospheric soundscape evoking a sun-kissed day along the California coast, but with an underlying air of melancholia. US3R has a silky-smooth vocal style that’s immensely pleasing, and the perfect voice for a chillwave song. His soft, almost breathy croons beautifully convey the wistful emotions expressed in the bittersweet lyrics: “If I died tomorrow would I be happy with it all? / I’ve had some good times / There’s so many things I saw / I don’t wanna go / There’s still so much i wanna see / I need to know are you the one who’s saving me? / Forever blue, when I look at you.”

It’s a gorgeous track. Nice work guys!

Connect with Us3r:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud  / YouTube
Purchase:  Google PlayBandcamp

Connect with Jasper Mitchell:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Google Play

MISSIO – Album Review: “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man”

MISSIO

It’s not often that I love an entire album at first listen, but that was exactly the case with The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man by MISSIO.  I was literally stunned by this brilliant and totally original collection of songs the instant they hit my eardrums, and the last time I can remember that happening to me was four years ago with twenty one pilots’ Blurryface. As far as I’m concerned, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is a certifiable masterpiece, and hands down the best album of 2019. I can listen to it over and over, and it knocks me for a loop me every single time.  It was released this past April, and I’m finally getting around to sharing my adoration for it.

MISSIO’s unique and eclectic sound is a glorious mash-up of alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dream pop, drawing the best from all three and more to create some of the most exciting and meaningful music I’ve heard in a while. Based in Austin, Texas and comprised of singer-songwriter/producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler, MISSIO burst onto the music scene in 2017 with their outstanding debut album Loner. The album generated several singles, including “Middle Fingers” (my first introduction to the duo) and the mesmerizing “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea”.

Their name, originally chosen by Brue who first named his solo act MISSIO, comes from the Latin word for “mission.” It had special meaning for him, as it represented the period in his life when he was recovering from addiction, and he even had the word tattooed on his arm. Many of the tracks on the latest album deal with drugs, emotional pain, and the struggles of overcoming addiction in general. The songs were written by Brue and Butler, with assistance on most tracks by Dwight A. Baker, who produced and mixed the album. Several fellow Austin musicians also contributed to some of the tracks.

The album kicks off with “Underground“, a killer track that instantly hooked me with its irresistible hip hop beat, infectious melody and trippy vibes. The way MISSIO incorporates a rich array of synthesizers, instruments and textures to create a dense, sweeping soundscape is really impressive, and I absolutely love Brue’s distinctive vocal style that registers in the higher range, just below a falsetto. He earnestly croons of his frustration that success and money haven’t brought the happiness and peace of mind he expected: “I’m down. I should be on top, but I’m always underground. Things are lookin’ up, but I’m making myself drown. High anxiety that money just compounds. I’ll be right here, just waiting underground.

Next up is “Temple Priest“, a bombastic orgy of trap heaven. In the parlance of today’s youth, this song is fucking SICK! The track opens with Brue shrieking “That’s why they call me temple priest, muthafucka!“, then we’re hit upside the head by a volley of grinding industrial synths and crushing trap beats. Brue snarls the lyrics that (according to his tweets) speak to his feelings about “American religion and all the judgmental assholes out there. Find truth on your own terms. Don’t ever feel forced to believe something because of your upbringing. Don’t listen to artists/celebrities forcing shit down your throat either.” Amen to that! The track features some fine guest vocals by Austin rappers Paul Wall and Kota the Friend. It’s one of my favorites on an album filled with favorites!

Before I’m able to fully process the brilliance of “Temple Priest”, MISSIO unleashes “Rad Drugz” on my senses, and I’m now giddy from the sheer pleasure of listening to such sonic brilliance. Its exuberant, hard-driving EDM beat and infectious melody sharply contrast with the blunt lyrics about being hopelessly addicted to drugs and the highs they bring. Brue laments “Come on let’s be realistic ’cause I am not a role model. I’m just trying to get through my day. I take for granted the best that I’ve been handed. And not to make excuses, but what would help is my medicine./I can’t get enough. Too high to get up. I keep fucking up my life with rad drugz!” The dark and violent video shows the guys partaking in a brutal torture experience provided by the Rad Drugz Corporation, seemingly wanting to undergo pain and suffering as a form of sado-masochistic punishment for their addiction.

By the time “I See You” arrives, I’m helplessly in love with this magnificent album – and band! What a gorgeous song this is, at once sad yet hopeful, and brimming with emotional intensity. Lush, swirling synths and beautiful piano keys provide a dreamy backdrop for Brue’s stirring vocals. The heartwarming lyrics can be interpreted as being directed either to a loved one or to oneself, reassuring the intended that they are understood, supported and loved despite their shortcomings. “I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. What a mess you’ve made of everything. I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. And I’m hoping that you will see yourself. Like I see you./Even when you cry, and even when you’re shy, you mean everything to me. Even when you lie and even when you hide, you mean everything to me.” “I See You” is currently enjoying a long stay atop my Weekly Top 30, and is one of my favorite songs of the year.

MISSIO strikes a chord with me on the provocative “P.O.L.I.T.I.C.S.“, a denunciation of the divisive political climate in America today. To a rapid, head-banging beat, Brue sings “I don’t drink the Kool-Aid ’cause I’m out of my mind. /I don’t need your attitude, your tone is rude. Did your mama give you that mouth?/ This friendship is worse than P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S.” The breakdowns, deep bass beats and synth manipulations on this track are fantastic. “Dizzy” is a dark, trippy number, with distorted industrial synths, deep bass and pounding drumbeats. The lyrics speak to the irresistible seduction of substance addiction, no matter how bad it is for you: “I’ve been feeling self-destructive but I love it. I can’t help myself. Your taste is so seductive. I’m feeling dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy.

The great songs just keep on coming. “Misfit Lunatic” serves up heavy industrial synths and some deep-ass bass drops, and the seductive little Middle Eastern synth melody is a nice touch. Another favorite is “Audi A4“, a deliriously uptempo song about the joys of driving down the highway with the windows down and blasting your favorite tunes. “Music makes my heart beat on its own. Cancels out the issues back at home. I like to roll the windows down ’cause you know I wanna make a scene. Gotta press repeat of some Snoop D-O double G!

Keeping the vibe on an upbeat note, “Shimmy” is a sexy trap song about getting drunk and getting it on. “3 A.M., the room is spinnin’, we should do some sinnin’. You know I wanna, wanna. Make this feeling last forever, we should be together. You know we’re gonna, gonna.” The song was co-written by MISSIO and Austin hip hop duo Blackillac, who also provide some terrific vocals.

Things turn introspective on “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To?“, a beautiful but bittersweet song that touches on the struggle couples experience when they drift apart. Man, the lyrics are so fucking relatable, describing feelings I’ve certainly felt more than once myself: “I am lonely when you’re in the room. And I’m tired, too. It’s the distance that’s dragging us down. I’m not blaming you. It’s like we’re screaming with no sound.” The dreamy synths give the track an 80’s new wave vibe reminiscent of songs by The Psychedelic Furs, A-ha and Joy Division. It was co-written by MISSIO and Austin indie rock band The Wind and the Wave, who also provide lovely vocals that harmonize beautifully with Brue’s.

One of the darkest songs on the album is “Black Roses“, in which Brue delivers a scathing denunciation to an abusive mother and adulterous father: “I am your son, you are my mother. I’m on my own, you’re not my lover. Don’t tell me how to live. I am your son, you are my father. You led us like lambs on our way to the slaughter. Who do you think you are?/ I am your son, she’s not my mother. You think she’s perfect, to me, just another. Do you think it’s okay? But I am your son, for worse or for better. Despite the fact that you a homewrecker. I guess that’s who you are.” The menacing synths and thunderous percussion perfectly dramatize the anger and resentment expressed in the bitter lyrics. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family, this song deeply resonates with me.

The powerful title track “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man” was inspired by a time MISSIO were driving in a snowstorm in Washington state. Despite feeling exhausted and his voice sore, Brue marveled at the beauty of the landscape he saw from the window, and quickly became grateful for what they had achieved with their music. The words “the darker the weather, the better the man” came to mind as he thought about his introvertedness and tendency to self-sabotage. According to Butler (as quoted in an article by Substream Magazine), the message they wanted to convey in the song is “Sometimes the world might deal you a rough hand, but if you can find purpose in [dark] times, to make yourself a better person and come out all the better for it, then that’s pretty much the best place you can be in.”

The album closes with the hauntingly beautiful instrumental “Esperanza En La Oscuridad“, which is Spanish for “Hope In The Darkness.” It’s a dramatic and stunning composition that feels almost spiritual, with glittery synths that build to an explosive crescendo, bringing chills to my body and tears to my eyes, before calming down to a whisper at the end. It’s a spectacular conclusion to a spectacular album that I cannot gush about enough. As I stated at the beginning of this review, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is one of the finest albums I’ve heard in a very long while. MISSIO is one of the most innovative and creative music acts around today, and they’ve earned a spot among my favorite bands, quite possibly of all time.

Connect with MISSIO:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Google Play / Amazon

1i2c – Album Review: “Winter”

1i2c

Many artists choose to identify themselves by imaginative names that they feel help to define their sound or the image they wish to project, rather than their given names. Some that I’ve featured on this blog with particularly interesting names include Two Feet, Draft Evader, Ghostly Beard, Puzzle, Swilly, Melotika, Krosst Out, Twintwo, Random…, Infected Sun, DVR, 9fm, Cheddr, Def Star and Manipulant. Today I feature another one – a British composer and producer of instrumental electronic music who calls himself 1i2c (one eye to see).

Heavily influenced by the music of some of his favorites artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Depeche Mode, The Prodigy and Royksopp, 1i2c is an imaginative and innovative composer whose music spans across a wide range of styles within the electronica genre. Born John Whitaker, the man is a prolific artist, having produced a tremendous output of music over the past three years, beginning with the release in January 2016 of his debut album The Great Distraction. In December (2018) he released his tenth album Winter, which, interestingly, also dropped on the 10th.

All of his releases have essentially been concept albums based on an overriding theme, with the sounds and titles of each track reflecting the theme indicated by the album title. For example, Power Struggle contains industrial techno songs with titles like “Electron”, “Incandescent” and “High Tension”, while Horror Show features songs with more of a psychedelic goth and darkwave vibe, titled “Monster”, “Lunatic Waltz” and “Doorway to Hell.” As we would expect, Winter features appropriately-named tracks such as “Cold Season”, “Chill” and “Deep Freeze”.

1i2c is adept at creating music that compels the listener to develop strong mental images of the subjects at hand. The album opens with “Northern Hemisphere“, a hypnotic track with a repetitive driving beat and glittery synths that conjure up images of an icy starlit night filled with Northern Lights. “Cold Season” starts off with a grinding synth that seems to evoke a creaking piece of machinery, struggling to start in the frigid air. One started, everything settles into a smooth soundscape of cool, gently pulsating synths. The stunning video shows sweeping vistas of snow-covered landscapes, gently falling snow and remarkable footage of bubble slowly being overtaken by feathery ice crystals.

Fallen Leaves” is an enthralling melodic track with shimmery synths floating above a sensual throbbing beat, while dramatic soaring synths convey the fearsome power of nature on “Avalanche“. “Memories” features richly textured intricate synths set to an exuberant beat, with lots of pleasing flute sounds and crisp percussion. The majestic “Chill” delivers colorful keyboard synths fluttering above a sturdy foundation of darker beat-driven synths.

On “Winter’s Fury“, 1i2c employs fuzzy echoed synths to evoke the drama of a winter storm raging outside, while delightfully upbeat plucky synths give the feeling of being cozy, safe and warm inside. The track is marvelous, building to an exhilarating crescendo that imparts a sense of joy, making it one of my favorites on the album. The 7-minute long “Blizzard” delivers frenetic swirling synths and galloping beats that capture the danger and terrible beauty of a winter snowstorm that won’t let up.

The melodically complex “Silent Day” is anything but, with a contrasting mix of gritty and crystalline sweeping synths set to a strong drumbeat and deep bass. “Deep Freeze” is more experimental, with elements of rock and jazz that make for quite an interesting track. Harsher industrial sounds are paired with electric guitar and layered over an energetic galloping beat that builds to an exciting finish. The final track “Ebenezer” features fuzzy pulsating synths fluttering above a dense throbbing beat. The music intensifies as the song progresses, with added sounds of bells and what sounds like an advancing swarm of bees. Not sure what that’s meant to convey, but it sounds fantastic.

Winter is a terrific album, filled with well-crafted tracks that should appeal to lovers of electronic music – or anyone moved by beautiful instrumentals. 1i2c is a skilled composer and producer with an impressive catalog of outstanding albums, and I urge my readers to give some of them a listen.

Connect with 1i2c on Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

CHEDDR – Album Review: “Three Sheets: To the Wind”

Cheddr is the music project of Jeff Hines, a talented and innovative composer and producer of electronic music. Based in the state of Connecticut, Jeff has written and played music for over 20 years. But recent improvements in the technology of music production have enabled him to work on this music anytime and anywhere, which has in turn led him to become extremely prolific over the past year, recording and releasing numerous singles, albums and EPs. He released Bear Beat Vol. 1 in October 2017, and Bear Beat Vol. 2 in May 2018, then quickly followed with Three Sheets: To the Wind a few weeks later. In August he dropped yet another EP For the Skies, but I will be reviewing Three Sheets: To the Wind.

Cheddr image

Influenced by Tycho, Bonobo, Emancipator, Gramatik, Ratattat and Madeon, Jeff likes to think of him self as a post rock composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. Encouraged by recognition he’s received from independent music supporters from around the world, he’s continued to produce increasingly more advanced and complex music, which has been featured on music programs in the U.S., UK and Germany.

Before getting into Three Sheets: To the Wind, let me state right here that, though I’ve written about a number of artists who create electronic music, I’m far from being an expert about it and all its microgenres, which can get pretty esoteric and abstract. It seems the more I read about it, the more confused I become, but I’ll try my best to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

The track listings differ between Spotfy, Soundcloud, Bandcamp and iTunes, but I’ll discuss them in the order they appear on Soundcloud for the convenience of my readers. Cheddr kicks off the album with “Falling Into You,” a rather brooding but bewitching chillwave track with fuzzy, almost spacey synths overlying a deep bass-driven beat. Sparkling piano keys and soaring string synths are gradually added, transporting us into a dreamy soundscape we’re hesitant to leave.

As the second track “Unification Theory” envelops my eardrums, I’m struck by his skill at drawing out such interesting and exquisite sounds from his synthesizers, and weaving them together into gorgeous chord progressions and captivating melodies. The intricate sequenced piano and lush strings are breathtaking, and he adds lots of assorted otherworldly synths and deep bass to create a complex and stunning track that’s one of my favorites on the album.

The mesmerizing “Our Hearts are Beating Together” features sampled electronically altered female and male vocals, in a style that Cheddr states are “hypnagogic, approaching vaporwave.” (According to Wikipedia, vaporwave is defined by its appropriation of 1980s and 1990s mood music styles such as smooth jazz, R&B and lounge music, and typically involving sampling or manipulating tracks via chopped and screwed remixing techniques.) In addition to the vocals that chant the title words “Our hearts are beating together,” the track features glittery sequenced piano and lush synths.

Cheddr’s lovely sparkling pianos are a dominant element on the next three chillwave tracks. On “You’ll See,” he adds extra layers of delicate piano over the main riff, along with fuzzy, almost psychedelic-sounding synths. “Reach In” features a throbbing bass line and a mix of glittery and siren-like synths, and “The Winding Road” is brimming with pulsating wobbly synths and lots of plucky strings.

The trippy “Vapors” is the most experimental track on the album. It starts off with a similar vibe as most of the other tracks, with chill piano chords and delicate xylophone synths set to a languid beat, but gradually, Cheddr introduces quirky distorted and spacey synths that change the complexion of the song to one of discordance and unease, as if to symbolize having ‘the vapors.’ It’s a beautiful song nevertheless. The final track “Understory” has a solemn vibe, with a somber piano riff that continues throughout the song. At approximately one minute in, dark synths are added, then a rat-a-tat tat drumbeat kicks in. More synths are added as the pace quickens, then we’re hit with a brief flourish of mournful distorted electric guitar before the track closes with the same somber piano riff that opened the song.

I’ve listened to a lot of Cheddr’s music, and though I do like his Bear Beat Vol. 1 and 2 albums, I feel he really takes things to the next level on Three Sheets: To the Wind. His piano-driven melodies are glorious and more fully-developed, and I love all the lush and varied synths that he uses to create different moods, sometimes within the same song. If you like electronic music, this is an album you should add to your collection.

Connect with Cheddr:  Website / Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes