HAN BLOOM – Album Review: “Higher State of Mind”

Han Bloom Higher State of Mind

Han Bloom is a classically trained pianist, composer and singer-songwriter based in London, England. Strongly influenced by modern jazz, progressive rock and experimental music, she uses her classical training to musically explore themes of interest to her such as society, politics, culture, ideology, conformism and big brother, among others. In her bio, she states that she “always strives to be as original and free thinking as possible. Creativity is the answer.” Sounds like a winning combination to me.

With that in mind, Han recently released her ambitious debut album Higher State of Mind, which dropped on May 1st. She wrote all music and lyrics, played piano and all other keyboards, programmed all instruments (other than the drums that were played on some tracks by Eddie Van Dorgen), sang all vocals, and produced, mixed and mastered the entire album herself (with the exception of one track “Free Me Now”, which was produced by Harry Powell). With 13 tracks and running an hour in length, there’s a lot to listen to, but I’ll touch on the songs that really clicked with me.

The album opens with “Bach Got Funked Up“, a fascinating instrumental track that fuses contemporary classical, modern jazz and experimental elements. Employing an array of ominous wobbly and spacey synths and jazzy piano chords, Han creates a trippy and mysterious soundscape that whets our appetite for what’s to come. Next up is “Burn“, a bewitching track that starts off quietly, with distant sounds of storms accompanied by the most delicate of keyboard synths. As her low-key, quirky vocals enter, the tempo changes to a toe-tapping beat, with jazzy piano, organ, cool synths and gentle percussion. I like the whispy little ‘whoosh’ snare sounds she uses to convey a feeling of water being softly poured onto a smouldering fire.

Blasphemy” resonates strongly with me, as I like Han’s biting lyrics touching on the hypocrisy that so often exists in religion and democracy: “Don’t tell me with your shit decree, excuse my Christianity. Don’t tell me about blasphemy, when you don’t know how to live in peace. Don’t tell me with your shit decree, about democracy, cause you don’t know nothing about me. But it don’t matter, so I won’t shatter, But they don’t listen, so I keep on living in sin, gladly.” I really like the song’s cool, jazzy grooves, and the deep synth bass,  moody piano keys and tapping percussive beats that make it a great listen.

One of my favorite tracks is “Finer Things“, both for it’s great tongue-in-cheek lyrics and mellow, jazzy vibe. Han’s conversational-style vocals and nimble piano work give the song a fun, casual quality that makes it sound like a live recording of a performance you’d hear in an intimate little nightclub. In fact, I think her music style is well-suited for that format, and it would be fun to see her perform live. About the song, she says “‘The Finer Things’ is a disposable comedic tribute to Frank Zappa that utilises the ridiculousness and profound impact of ‘influencers’ and ‘influence culture’, and the subsequent snowflake generation that it resonates with.”

I love the lines decrying influence culture and the fact she’s doesn’t quite measure up to their shallow definition of success: “Hello, my name is Hannah Bloom, and this song is about the death of influence culture…hopefully. I wanna shop at Liberty, but they welcome me bitterly, ’cause I ain’t got no money. I’m sorry, ’cause in my disposable song, don’t get me wrong. I like the finer things and I sure do love the joy that it brings. I love Pucci, Emilio Pucci…so much better than Gucci. So tutti frutti, but instead I’m wearing Tom Sweeney, which is for men.” Exasperated, she later asks “Can somebody please explain to me what an influencer is? “Cause in my mind it just makes sense that they’re professional beggars. And a lot of people would say the same thing about musicians. And they do say the same things. But we actually do stuff, and we’re just undervalued, whereas influencers are like super valued in society. And it’s like please stop making our generation stupid and meaningless.” I couldn’t agree more!

On “Free Me Now“, Han uses a greater electronic approach and somewhat darker tone to address the subject of addiction. In her notes about the track, she states that she developed the song’s framework off a Korg Tribe drum pattern machine she’d been experimenting with. She then layered delicate piano and organ keyboards to create an enchanting soundscape for her airy vocals. About the song’s meaning, she explains: “Lyrically it depicts a prior relationship with addiction that I needed to express in a raw and free form; hence the experimental instrumentation found in this track.” Her blunt lyrics get straight to the point: “I have an obsession. Addiction, yeah. My mind is imprisoned. Loneliness is not your friend. Free me now. You gotta let me out. Free me now. I don’t wanna be a burnout.

On the moody “These Games” – which Han says was inspired by the George Orwell classic 1984 – she rejects the expectations and ethical wrongs of social conditioning practiced by Western societies, pressuring us to conform to a specific set of social norms, and leaving us often feeling like our lives are unfulfilled. Han croons “So she goes to work for the man. Hiding his sweet lies, pulling the wool over their eyes. She says ‘I don’t know why I do it. And I don’t know how I do it. But I need to survive’. / So he says he stayed at work late today. Hiding his bitter lies. Wasting his own time, and he knows he’s not right to do it. But he just can’t say no ’cause money’s his goal. / And I see it happening every single day. And I don’t know why they play these games with themselves.” The song has a languid, piano-driven melody, with delicate synths, subtle organ notes, and Eddie Van Dongen’s gentle percussion.

My absolute favorite track is album closer “Light and Love (Coda)“, a stunning eight-minute-long instrumental that really showcases Han’s impressive compositional and piano-paying talents. She weaves a rich tapestry of ambient and glittery atmospheric synths, then adds vibrant piano keys to create a breathtaking contemporary classical piece that can easily hold its own among the works by many of today’s classical composers. I would love to see her put out an entire album of this kind of instrumental music.

I’ll be honest that it took a couple of plays for this album to grow on me, as the melodies are more experimental and free-form than typical pop, folk or rock music, requiring a more careful listen to fully appreciate its many nuances. I love when artists fuse multiple elements and genres into their music, and I applaud her courage to experiment with her sound and create a style uniquely her own. If you like music that strays from the conventional, with more contemporary, experimental and progressive jazz, pop and rock vibes, delivered by some really superb piano work, then you will enjoy Higher State of Mind.

Follow Han:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

NOVUS CANTUS – EP Review: “2018 Fall EP”

Novus Cantus

This past May, I featured the band Novus Cantus on this blog when I reviewed their beautiful song “In the City.” A unique act from Poughkeepsie, New York – who look and sound like they should be from a Mediterranean country – Novus Cantus (Latin for “new music”) is a collaboration of brothers Alexander (vocals and guitar), and Christian Herasimtschuk (drums and percussion), with assistance by Greg Hayden on bass. Their exotic, captivating sound draws from an eclectic mix of influences such as traditional ethnic music like flamenco and Hungarian folk, classical Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, and rock, particularly that of Jethro Tull, but also Gipsy Kings and even Metallica. They’ve been performing and recording together since 2010, and I encourage my readers to check them out on your favorite streaming service, some of which I’ve listed at the end of this review.

They’ve just released a new EP simply titled 2018 Fall EP, a collection of four songs including “In the City.” “Journey” kicks things off with the lush sounds of Alex’s strummed guitar and dreamy flute notes that give a feeling of being in a mist-filled South American rain forest. The track then settles into a captivating soundscape of Spanish guitar and fluttering flute as Christian bangs out the beat on his conga and bongo drums. Alex’s deep, rich vocals are sublime as he sings of his uncertainty as to which road to take on his life journey: “Why do I hesitate, why do I wait? The earth is here. How will I know? I want to know.

The aptly-titled “Storm” opens with the sound of falling rain, then our ears are greeted with sonic lightning bolts in the form of Alex’s energetic Spanish flamenco-inspired guitar riffs and Christian’s furious banging of his conga and bongos, while Greg keeps things grounded with his bass. Alex’s fervent vocals match the fiery passion of the music, and I could listen to this electrifying and bewitching song go on for an hour!

In the City” is an enchanting, optimistic song celebrating the dichotomies and drama of the city, and the diversity and resilience of it’s residents that allows them to flourish despite the odds. I’m guessing their lyrics extol the virtues of New York, but they could really apply to any large city anywhere in the world.  “In the city, on the sidewalk, a lengthy story unfolds.
As trees came down, buildings were born, the perfect angles of chiseled stone. The wilderness has long since been gone but the spirit remains in the form of people willing to transform City life into a vital storm.”

The song opens with sounds of a rushing subway train, then Alexander’s gorgeous and intricate Spanish guitar washes over us, accompanied by Christian’s robust beating of his conga and bongo drums, evoking the spirit and drama of the city and its people. In addition to Greg’s bass, the guys employ other instruments like flute and Maracas to add texture and dimension to the track. Alexander’s vocals have an exotic quality that, combined with the instrumentals, gives the song an international feel.

Everlasting” is yet another gorgeous track, and Alex never fails to dazzle with his skillful, intricate guitar work. The song has a slower, more relaxed Latin-inspired tempo than the other tracks, but retains the intensely passionate feels Novus Cantus injects into all of their music. Christian employs gentler, crisper percussion on this track, and the brothers’ vocal harmonies are marvelous. I love all four songs on 2018 Fall EP, and adore these guys, who are as gracious and kind as they are talented.

Novus Cantus is completely fan-supported, meaning they’re not beholden to a label, so please consider supporting them by following them on social media and purchasing their music. The more fans they have, the more they can compete for gigs in your area. Also consider donating to their music efforts via their Patreon site.

Connect with Novus Cantus:  Website / Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  cdbaby / Reverbnation / iTunes

NOVUS CANTUS – Single Review: “In the City”

Novus Cantus

As EclecticMusicLover, I like to feature many different kinds of music on this blog. With that in mind, I’m pleased to review the wonderful new single “In the City” by Novus Cantus, a unique band from Poughkeepsie, New York who look and sound like they could be from Spain or Greece. Novus Cantus, Latin for “new music,” is a collaboration of brothers Alexander (vocals and guitar), and Christian Herasimtschuk (drums and percussion), with assistance by Greg Hayden on bass. Their innovative, melodically beautiful songs draw from an eclectic mix of influences such as traditional ethnic music like flamenco and Hungarian folk, classical Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, and rock, particularly that of Jethro Tull, but also Metallica and Alice in Chains. They’ve recorded a number of superb tracks over the past few years, and I strongly encourage my readers to check them out on your favorite streaming service, some of which I’ve listed at the end of this review.

“In the City” is a beautiful, optimistic song celebrating the dichotomies and drama of the city, and the diversity and resilience of it’s residents that allows them to flourish despite the odds. I’m guessing the city they sing about is New York, but the lyrics could really apply to any large city anywhere in the world.

In the City, on the sidewalk
An urban scene does play
People motioning toward the crosswalk
By the redwood made by man
Apartment windows reveal the fallacy
Of rich and poor living in harmony
Unaware of their great inequality
Existing in homogeneity

I’ve roamed among the barren forests
Of the streets of urban nothing
And yet, life does seem to flourish in the city
The habitat of humanity.

In the city, on the sidewalk
A lengthy story unfolds
As trees came down, buildings were born
The perfect angles of chiseled stone
The wilderness has long since been gone
But the spirit remains in the form
Of people willing to transform
City life into a vital storm.

I’ve roamed among the barren forests
Of the streets of urban nothing
And yet, life does seem to flourish in the city
The habitat of humanity.

The song opens with sounds of a rushing subway train, then Alexander’s gorgeous and intricate Spanish guitar washes over us, accompanied by Christian’s robust beating of his conga and bongo drums, evoking the fiery passion and drama of the city and the people in it.  In addition to Greg’s bass, the guys employ other instruments like flute and Maracas to add dimension to the track. Alexander’s fervent vocals have an exotic quality that, combined with the instrumentals, gives the song a dynamic, international vibe. It’s brilliant!

Novus Cantus is completely fan-supported, meaning they’re not beholden to a label, so please consider supporting them by following them on social media and purchasing their music. The more fans they have, the more they can compete for gigs in your area. Also consider donating to their music efforts via their Patreon site.

Connect with Novus Cantus:  Website / Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes

CARBONWORKS – Video Premier: “End of the World Suite Part 3: The End”

CarbonWorks is not your typical band. It’s more a collective of talented session musicians, headed by its creator and guitarist Neal Barnard – who also happens to be a world-renowned medical doctor. Based in Washington, D.C., the band’s music is a unique fusion of rock, contemporary classical, jazz, blues and avant-garde, giving their sound an uncommon breadth and depth. With delicate melodies over driving rhythms, blues overlying classical strings, and frequent use of non-English lyrics, their songs defy categorization. As Neal Barnard explains, their unconventional time meters “tilt the song ever so slightly and give you that little jolt between the ears.

CarbonWorks2

The band released their extraordinary debut self-titled album CarbonWorks in December 2016 to rave reviews, and have been periodically releasing a new video for one of the album tracks.  In May 2017, I premiered the video for their gorgeous track “Monaco,” and am now delighted to premier their new videos for “End of the World Suite Part 3: The End” as well as “End of the World Suite Part 4: Winged Victory.” As indicated by their titles, the beautiful tracks are the completion of an ambitious four-part suite.

“Part 1: The Beginning of the End” is a mix of contemporary classical and rock, while “Part 2: Love and Illusion” combines classical, folk and jazz elements. For “Part 3: The End,” progressive jazz is the predominant element. The generous use of strings, including violin, cello and bass, combined with the gorgeous jazzy saxophone, guitar and drums, result in a truly stunning track. Barnard describes the track thusly: “Part 3 (“The End”) launches with cool bebop bass played by Jeff Reed. Russell jumps in on sax, with Mike on drums and me on guitar. Then the strings come in bringing a baroque element that somehow works with the driving jazz.” Although it’s six minutes long, it’s so wonderful that it seems over far too soon.

The suite ends with “Part 4: Winged Victory,” a brief but lovely track with a complex mix of classical and rock overtones, and features the dan tranh, a traditional Vietnamese instrument that’s similar to a Japanese koto. It also features sublime vocals sung in Latin by Italian singer Naif Herin, who ends with the words ” Beati pauperes spiritu, Beati pacifici,” which translated means “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peacemakers.”

Both videos show the band performing the songs, which I always enjoy seeing.

Connect with CarbonWorks:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Soundcloud / Pandora / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes / Amazon

Video Premier: CARBONWORKS – “Monaco”

CarbonWorks is not your typical band. It’s more a collective of talented session musicians really, headed by its creator and guitarist Neal Barnard – who also happens to be a world-renowned medical doctor. Based in Washington, D.C., the band’s music is a unique fusion of rock, contemporary classical, jazz, blues and avant-garde, giving their sound an uncommon breadth and depth. With delicate melodies over driving rhythms, blues overlying classical strings, and frequent use of non-English lyrics, their songs defy categorization. Regarding the band name, in an interview with the website All Access Music, Barnard explained: “Well, ‘The Beatles’ and ‘The Rolling Stones’ were already taken. And at the base of it all, we are carbon, and these are our works.

The band released their debut self-titled album CarbonWorks in December 2016 to rave reviews, and have been releasing a new video of one of the album tracks every month or so. Their latest is a stunning video for the equally stunning instrumental track “Monaco.”

Musically, the electrifying song features Barnard playing a Steinberger guitar, an unusual instrument with no head and almost no body, built from a single piece of graphite/carbon fiber. It has a whammy bar which allows him to make the siren-like descending sounds on the track. Also featured on the track is the dan tranh, a traditional Vietnamese instrument that’s similar to a Japanese koto, played by Chau Nguyen. It sits on a stand like a piano and is played sort of like a harp. The other musicians playing on this track include Allegra Havens on violin, Jeff Phelps on cello, Shea Roebuck on bass and Mike Stetina on drums.

Barnard stated he was inspired to write the song while in the Monaco train station, “when over the loudspeaker came a little four-note chime to announce a message about upcoming trains. And those four notes got stuck in my brain and eventually became a song. You’ll hear Chau play them.”

The music video was actually filmed in the beautiful principality of Monaco. Barnard is shown starting on a run before dawn, then the camera films scenes of what he would observe from his own eyes as he runs the course of the Monaco Grand Prix. The video goes back and forth between footage of the race track and scenes of the band performing the song. At the end of his run, he collapses in front of the Chapel of Sainte-Devote—the hazardous corner where many Formula One cars have crashed or spun out.

To learn more about CarbonWorks, check out their website.

Connect with them:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  YouTube /  Spotify /  Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes /  Amazon