Berlin, Germany-based music collective 5ON5 is a collaborative project comprised of four distinctly unique artists spanning two generations and coming from very different music backgrounds. The brainchild of Max Koffler, a singer-songwriter, musician and producer with over 20 years of experience in the music industry and two solo albums to his credit, 5ON5 also includes singer-songwriter and producer $INAN (aka Sinan Pakar), rapper and visual artist Maxx B, and singer Yumin. Their unusual name 5ON5 was inspired by Max’s music label sonsounds, and reflects the group’s eclectic blend of music genres and styles, including EDM, synth pop, hip hop and alternative rock.
Last August, they released their enchanting debut single “Runaway”, which was actually a ‘maxi-single’ featuring an original version of the song and a special party remix (you can read my review here). 5ON5 followed in late November with their second single “Ayo”, and are now back with their third release “Don’t Dance“, which drops today, January 7th. Written and produced by Max and Sinan, the track was mixed by Jeson Huang and mastered by Chris Gehringer at Sterling Sound.
I love any song with a dance beat, whether it be disco, EDM, dance-pop or house, so “Don’t Dance” is right up my alley. And despite it’s title urging us not to, the song most definitely compels us to sway our hips with a hypnotic, head-bopping deep bass groove, over which 5ON5 layer a colorful mix of skittering synths, humming keyboards and throbbing percussive beats. The distinctive vocals of each of the four members, some of which have been electronically altered, are wonderful, and I especially love their beautiful harmonies in the choruses. The combination of the sophisticated instrumentation and captivating vocals make for a really great dance track.
As to the song’s meaning, my take is that it’s generally about trying to come to terms with a relationship that can never be, however, Max told me the lyrics are open to one’s own interpretation. He also stated that the song has an unintended side story; during the period in which they finished recording the song and wrote their press release, clubs in Berlin had recently reopened, only to partly close again, but only for dancing. In other words, people were allowed to meet in clubs, but weren’t permitted to dance. He added “this song isn’t particularly about that, but these are the times wherein people don’t dance, or only in secret.”
Put 'em waves on you to slide every night
I put 'em waves on you to slide every night
And I don’t dance anymore
No I don’t want to dance
And I don’t dance anymore
No I don’t want to dance
want to dance
Now we out here cuttin' dem ties
We got no place, nowhere to hide
Why you so afraid of love songs
and push ‘em till tomorrow
Flying high like a satellite
so we choose darkness over light
Can’t act on what I don’t know
so I rather stay solo
Would you love me if I told you I would never dance
Would you love me if I cry for you
All our dreams are lost forever in the neverland
and will never ever come back to you
Back to you
So wonderful in review
Wonderful in review
Wonderful in review
I don’t dance any amore (wonderful in review)
I don’t dance any amore (wonderful in review)
The accompanying animated video for the song was created by Joong Hyun Cho, and shows the members of 5ON5, as well as Vane and Eli The Kid, as animated versions of themselves dancing to the music.
I’ve commented more times than I can remember on this blog about the staggering amount of musical talent that continues to emanate from the United Kingdom. One of the many British acts I’ve been following for more than four years is the charismatic young rock band Wild Horse. Based in Heathfield, East Sussex, the talented trio consists of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin, and their long-time friend Ed Barnes. Now in their early 20s, the guys are already seasoned musicians who’ve been writing and recording songs since forming in 2013 when they were barely teenagers. Both Henry and Jack are multi-instrumentalists who play guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as sing vocals, while Ed plays drums and percussion, sings backing vocals and plays guitar on a few tracks.
While presenting a fun, lighthearted image with their high-energy and eclectic punk-infused style of blues rock, the guys take their music very seriously. Their dedication and drive, fortified with thoughtful lyricism, ace musicianship and a mature approach towards the music business, have taken them far and brought them both critical acclaim and a loyal and growing fan base. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters who’ve penned hundreds of songs over the years, and now have five albums to their credit.
Their debut album It’s Begun, featuring songs recorded when their average age was only 14, was released in January 2016 by a New York-based record label they were signed with at the time. (Henry sang lead vocals on that album, where he sounded alarmingly like a young Mick Jagger.) Working independently since 2017, the guys subsequently released three EPs from late 2017 to early 2018, then followed that June with their second album Songs About Last Night. They’ve continued to drop a new album every year since then. In April 2019, they released their third album DANCE!! Like An Animal, which I reviewed, then followed up in July 2020 with their fourth album WE ARE IN AN IDENTITY CRISES…BUT WE LOVE IT, featuring 16 tracks. Now they’re back with their fifth album When The Pool Is Occupied, which dropped November 18th. Their most ambitious work yet, the album contains a whopping 18 tracks!
Before I get to my review, I want to include a few thoughts about the album the guys shared in an interview for Brighton and Hove webzine BN1. “The album name ‘When the Pool is Occupied’ is actually a metaphor for self-love. We realised that this was the theme of the album quite late into the making of it. When we started writing the album, we were not in the best place personally, with lockdown giving us anxieties about the future and the direction we were going in our lives. As we neared the end of making the album we were in a much better place, as the whole process actually taught us a lot about ourselves, and we decided to make it our most honest record. So the album has become a musical imprint of our journey to self-love and happiness, which we hope everyone who listens will be able to relate to!
This album is definitely more mellow and that is down to a few things. Firstly, we didn’t want to be perceived as just a rock band anymore, and wanted to push the boundaries as much as we possibly could. We wanted our first record back after covid to be one that would make people dance, hence the strong disco and 80’s influence. Also, we took a new approach to writing and creating music in not only taking the reins on production, but also because Jack (our main songwriter) taught himself piano over lockdown and began writing songs on [piano], which gave us a whole new feel. From there, synths became a much more integral part of our sound, and we became really obsessed with creating an atmosphere in our music. Our previous albums were all recorded quite quickly, whereas this one took us over a year. The main difference is that every single tiny note and lyric on this album had so much thought put into it, which is why we’re so proud of it.”
Well, let me say that Wild Horse has created a near-epic album running just over an hour in length, and featuring 18 wonderful tracks that span across genres from rousing post-punk bangers to angst-filled piano ballads to bouncy dance-pop gems. The songs explore issues related to growing up in the modern world, relationships, struggles with addiction and mental health, and the long journey towards self-acceptance and self-love.
Opening track “Happy Love Songs” is a short and bittersweet piano-driven tune that sets the tone for the album. In his quirky endearing vocals, Jack plaintively laments “Why are there never happy love songs anymore? It takes two to fall in love, but it only takes one to fall apart. And then there’s never.” The song immediately segues into “Freaky Together“, a catchy, lighthearted earworm celebrating the liberating freedom of a no-strings-attached approach to relationships and life (ah, the joys of youth). The guys layer jangly guitars and woozy synths over a delightfully funky bassline and thumping drumbeats to create a fun and sexy dance beat that aims straight for the hips. Jack croons “Baby, I know that you could never need me. But come on let’s get down and dirty. Oh yeah, Oh, give it to me.” The sweet video nicely showcases the guys’ youthful charm and charisma.
The guys keep the lively vibes going with the delectable “Pornstar Martini“, an irresistibly bouncy mashup of punk, disco and funk, then later slow things down with “Coffee In The Morning“, the first of several romantic piano ballads. Jack’s heartfelt vocals are raspy and vulnerable as he sings of his ardor and desire to a potential romantic partner: “I’m sitting in my dirty University room. Haven’t slept for days now. And I was hoping that you could come around and stay, for 17 days.” But once they’ve become a couple, cracks appear in their relationship, which are explored on the lovely but bittersweet “Feel“: “I wanna talk to you about last night. You know I hate it how we always fight. But if you saw the world through my eyes, then you would understand about the way I feel.” And on “Symphony of Broken Hearts“, Jack sings of the pain he’s feeling over a broken relationship: “You said forever, and then you couldn’t stay. You said forever, until you walked away. And now I’m lying on my own, feeling sorry for myself.“
One of my favorites on the album is “Anxiety“, a joyful, upbeat song about the emotional roller-coaster ride we willingly take when attraction for another hits us like a ton of bricks, rendering us helpless in the throes of passionate longing. I love the exuberant synths, funky dance grooves and the guys’ beautiful vocal harmonies. Jack’s plaintive vocals sing of emotions we’ve all felt at some point in our lives, fearful we’ll make a fool of ourselves: “Petrified by the things you say (petrified). I only met you yesterday (yesterday). But really I’m fine. I’m just going with the groove. Only been preparing for like 24 hours through.”
Another favorite is the ebullient and sexy “Pray 89“, in which the guys sing the praises of a seemingly more innocent time (although those of us who were already adults in 1989 know it really wasn’t) and the freedom of living a life where self-love without emotional attachments is prioritized, but with an appreciation of the beauty in other people. The lyrics include the album’s title: “You bring the fire and sexy eyes. I bring the smoke to stay alight. When we go party we’ll do it right, like we belong in ‘89.Dance on the table to New Order’s new song. And we’ll be feeling alright when the pool is occupied.”
The guys’ willingness to venture out of their musical comfort zone is exemplified by the bluesy hip hop track “Confidence“, on which Henry’s backing vocals are more prominent. On the poignant “Just About Enough”, they turn tinkling piano keys into a true percussive instrument as they combine them with assertive strummed guitar notes and pounding drumbeats to become a powerful driving force, before finishing things off with gorgeous bluesy guitars, accompanied by Jack’s fervent vocals. And on “OneNight Robbery“, Jack does a decent job rapping some of the verses letting a former girlfriend know he doesn’t appreciate how she used him and only wanted his money after all the nice things he did for her.
Hands down the most charming track on the album is “Record Collection“, a delightful pop-rock song with a retro 60s power pop vibe. The sweet lyrics speak of connecting with someone you meet on a night out and taking them home, not because you want to have sex with them, but because you like their taste in music and want to share your record collection with them: “I don’t wanna be your lover. I just wanna show you my record collection. I don’t wanna get under the covers. I just wanna know if you like Mott the Hoople. I don’t wanna touch your hand. Just tell me your favourite band. Oh, the only thing I’m turning on is the record player.” I love the jangly guitars on this song.
“Kelsie” is a shining example of how a kiss-off song can still sound sweet. “Kelsie, you’re much happier on Twitter. But you want me back on tinder. And I just laugh and smile ‘cause I’m finally over you. Have you noticed I don’t care what you do? When you tell me you’re getting drinks bought for you. Shit, me too.” The track has a mellow, head-bopping melody with subtle hip hop elements, making for a really pleasing tune. The guys close the album on a positive note with “Thank You (It’s Gonna Be Alright)“, a minute-long piece with a church-like organ riff accompanied by Jack’s echoed vocal repeating the words “It’s gonna be alright“, followed by “The pool is occupied.” As the music abruptly ends, he says “And that was the album, thank you very much. Woo!”
Woo indeed! What a fun, delightful and brilliant album this is! With WhenThe Pool is Occupied, Wild Horse pushed themselves into expanding their songwriting and sound in the hopes of making their most honest record yet, and I think they’ve succeeded quite nicely. It showcases their continued growth and maturity as songwriters and musicians, while their sense of humor and playfulness remains fully intact.
It’s been a while since my last installment of Fresh New Tracks, and truth be told, I’ve been rather hesitant to do more of these posts, as I suspect a lot of artists don’t appreciate sharing the limelight with others. That said, there’s just so much great music being released nearly every day, and my time to write posts and reviews is limited, so combine them I must.
For my latest installment, I’ve chosen new singles by three of my favorite indie artists, all prolific musicians who possess really beautiful singing voices – Australian singer-songwriter G. Samedi, American singer-songwriter The Frontier, and Canadian-American singer-songwriter Shimmer Johnson. I’ve previously featured each of them on this blog numerous times, and love their new songs so much that I have to share them.
“Rearview” by G. Samedi
G. Samedi is the music project of Sam Dawes, a remarkably talented and dangerously charismatic singer-songwriter from Sydney, Australia. He’s also lead vocalist and songwriter for the wonderful soul/funk/jazz/pop band Thunder Fox, who I’ve written about several times as well. He has a distinctive soulful and silky vocal style that effortlessly glides from smooth, sultry croons to a plaintive falsetto and back again. Drawing from R&B, soul, trip hop, electronic and alternative rock elements, Sam creates moody and sensuous soundscapes for the expression of his bold lyrics addressing the darker and more introspective aspects of love and relationships. He writes all his own music and lyrics, records and programs all instruments, sings all vocals, and produces and mixes all tracks. The only think he outsources is the mastering.
While still actively involved with Thunder Fox, who will be releasing their second album next month, Sam began recording and producing some of his songs as a solo artist in early 2020. In less than two years, he’s released an astonishing 10 singles, one of which, “Icarus”, I reviewed this past May. His latest is “Rearview”, which dropped October 16th, and it’s another stunning & dreamy track. I love all the colorful instruments and sounds he incorporates into the song, highlighted by sparkling synths, enchanting organ, and a mix of shimmery and gnarly guitar notes. As always, his layered vocals are smooth, sensuous and incredibly emotive.
Regular readers of this blog know I’m a huge fan of The Frontier – aka Jake Mimikos, who’s based in Fairfax County, Virginia. Jake is an enormously talented guy with a kindness and sense of humor to match, and I’m quite fond of him both as an artist and human. Since 2015, he’s released an impressive amount of music both as a solo artist and as a band under The Frontier moniker, and we’ve been following each other on social media for nearly that long. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is always incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted. As with many singer-songwriters, Jake’s songs are often inspired by personal experiences, and deal with love, relationships and loss. He prefers to write lyrics that are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend. I’ve loved all of his songs, and have featured several on this blog, most recently “Shattered”, which I reviewed this past July. Two of his singles, “Dark Places” (from 2019) and “Can We Go Back” (from earlier this year) reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30, while “Sleep” (released in late 2020) reached #2.
On October 15th, he dropped his latest single “On the Other Side”, a beautiful song with heartfelt lyrics directed at a former romantic partner that’s hurt him, and who he now wants to try and get over: “Gotta get my head right, gotta get you out of my mind. Tell me what it feels like on the other side.” About the song, Jake told the blog Cool Top 20 “The music for this song came to me, oddly enough, when I was creating a video on Tik Tok. At the time, I was just messing around and posting little videos of me playing with my looper pedal. One of the loops I created had this really cool lead part over this simple progression. When I heard it I knew instantly I wanted to develop it a bit more and turn it into a song. You can hear the lead guitar part over most of the song in the background. It’s really simple, but to me it was the coolest thing hearing it come together.” It sounds very cool indeed Jake!
Let’s kick the mood into high gear with a hot new dance-pop song, “Starts with You” by Shimmer Johnson. Originally from Edmonton, Canada and now based in Los Angeles, Shimmer has an incredibly beautiful and resonant singing voice. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals are strong, but with a raw vulnerability that beautifully conveys the subtle yet powerful emotions expressed in her heartfelt lyrics, enabling us to connect with her songs on a deeply personal level. In addition to her amazing vocal talents, she’s also a fine guitarist and pianist, and has collaborated with several songwriters and producers to create an impressive repertoire of outstanding songs over the past few years. She started out singing Country songs, but eventually transitioned to a more adult contemporary pop sound.
I’ve featured Shimmer several times on this blog, most recently this past June when I reviewed her powerfully moving single “It’s Fate’s Turn”. Her latest single “Starts with You”, released on October 15th, sees her venture into dance-pop, and I absolutely love it! Co-written by Shimmer, her husband Corey, and Ted Perlman, the song features an infectiously upbeat dance groove guaranteed to have even the biggest wallflowers on their feet and swaying their hips. It’s essentially a song of love that starts off with the singer feeling a bit unsure about her new lover’s intentions: “All alone feeling emptiness. She’s leaving. He won’t see me. What I need, I can’t breathe” but ends up with her feeling happy and secure: “He does see me. What I need to be free (Feel this moment). He helps me see all the things I can be.” I love the funky little Nile Rodgers-like guitar riff and Shimmer’s smooth, breezy vocals. It’s a great track that’s already one of my favorites of her many songs, and I’m certain it will be a hit.
Since the release of their spellbinding debut single “Lisbon” in March 2020, British electronic pop band NOPRISM have been on a creative tear. Formed in early 2020 and based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, NOPRISM are comprised of Andrew Young, Mark Nelson, Phil Taylor and Alex Hindle. Influenced by a wide and eclectic array of artists ranging from The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire to Daft Punk, Chaka Khan and Talking Heads, they create exciting and innovative electronic pop music loaded with infectious funky grooves and intoxicating dance vibes. Their songs have garnered both critical and popular acclaim, with their single “Happiness” earning praise by Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon as “perhaps the best new song ever” on his Wooosh! Radio show.
Despite the limitations imposed upon them by the Covid pandemic, they managed to make good use of their down time by recording and releasing seven singles, the latest of which is “Animosity“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song addresses the contradictions between the joys of love, and the sacrifices we sometimes make to have it. Band vocalist Andrew Young elaborates: “I’m always fascinated (obsessed) about the idea that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the idea of love is no different. Very often you see people giving up important things or opportunities in their lives for the sake of love. But obviously it’s why we’re all here, and the positives that it brings is what makes us human.We decided to write a song for voguing to, but with our own imprint on it.“
Inspired by the campy vogue music played on the wonderful MJ Rodriguez/Billy Porter TV show Pose, the band initially wrote the song as a distraction during the first lockdown, then put it out on Spotify under a pseudonym. After the song started getting airplay on BBC radio, they quickly realized they had a potential hit on their hands. Consequently, they pulled the song, re-recorded it with the full band, had it remixed and re-mastered, and released it under their own name. This new and improved version of “Animosity” is what we’re now blessed with.
The guys start with a strutting bass-driven groove, fortify it with energetic thumping drums and swirling cinematic synths, then add layers of funky and bluesy guitars to create a soulful and sensuous dance track that aims straight for the hips, while at the same time producing a lush wall of sound that beautifully captures the joy and euphoria of love. The guys’ pleasing vocal harmonies are wonderful too, adding to the song’s overall jubilant vibe. It’s a marvelous song.
The stylish video, shot in black and white, shows a group of beautiful and exotic-looking young people posing and vogueing to the song.
When I first featured the beautiful and talented Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter BUEL exactly four months ago, I fawned over her brilliant reimagining of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (read my review here). With her distinctive and beguiling vocals that range from smoky purrs to sultry vulnerability, combined with a sophisticated pop-rock style, she’s captured the attention of music critics and fans alike, garnering airplay on radio stations across the U.S. and in the UK. Her video for “Lemon Smile” won an award at the 2021 London Music Video Festival.
Now BUEL is back with a another marvelous single “Small Talk“, along with a stylish and entertaining video. The song addresses the superficiality of small talk people often make to fill the time and airspace when there’s no meaningful connection between them. She elaborates “Small Talkis about the ingenuine daily conversations between people. Even though it’s pretty common and seen as an innocent aspect of our daily lives, I observed that oftentimes it tends to make people feel uncomfortable because talking to someone without giving any depth and sharing words to pass the moment can only be kind but not real.”
I love how the song opens with BUEL’s breathy gasp, accompanied by airy, otherworldly synths, setting a sultry tone for what’s to come. Soon, she croons “Some are scared of silence, when I need it so bad. And I’m calculated nihilist for the questions you ask to evaluate my life. Innocently creeping in, just to say ‘Hi, I’m alive, are you too?’ The way you look has left me blind. Are you too? I like you. Small talk, can find you anywhere.” Musically, the song features a slow, seductive dance beat, with a wonderful pulsating bassline creating a sultry smoldering groove that aims straight for the hips. The instrumentals are punctuated with exquisite keyboards, percussive synths and guitar notes, resulting in a beautiful and compelling soundscape for her enchanting vocals.
“Small Talk” is another winning single by BUEL, and if she continues turning out music this good, her star can only continue to soar.
New music continues to gush forth from the creative juices of too many artists and bands to mention, and here are three great new tunes, all released on March 12th, by (in alphabetical order) French dance/rock band DeStijl, featuring British singer Liam Croker, British singer-songwriter Flo Gallop, and Florida alternative pop-rock band Infinite Eights.
“F.O.S. (Howie B Remix)” by DeStijl featuring Liam Croker
DeStijl is a dance-rock band originally from Montpellier, France, but now split between Montpellier and Manchester, England, where their new lead singer and drummer reside. Their music is strongly influenced by such bands as New Order, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Editors, Primal Scream, Doves, Kasabian and Massive Attack, and they’ve released six albums over the past 25 years (with a 10-year break lasting roughly from 2000-2010). Liam Croker is frontman and lead singer for Manchester-based electro/dance-pop/funk bandThe Winachi Tribe, whose terrific music I’ve written about several times on this blog. Howie B is a legendary Scottish composer, producer and DJ who’s worked with artists such as Björk, U2, Tricky, Massive Attack, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Soul II Soul an Robbie Robertson.
De Stijl and Liam Croker collaborated on the electro/dance-pop track “F.O.S.” (along with a few other songs released in 2020), and have now released an exciting new remix by Howie B. The single will be included on a forthcoming collaborative EP by DeStijl and Liam, due for release later this year. The track was produced by Howie B and mastered by famed mastering engineer Peter Maher.
“F.O.S.” (full of shit) is a cheeky take-down of the egotistical blowhards Liam’s met over the years who are full of themselves – essentially full of shit. The original version is a great song, with an infectious and strong pulsating dance groove, punctuated by spacey synths and shimmery guitars. For the remix, Howie B shaves 47 seconds off the song, and modifies the dance beat with trip hop elements. He also emphasizes the spacey aspects, adding subtle industrial synths that give the track a darker, somewhat more menacing vibe. Liam’s saucy croons have a bit more echo, adding to the track’s overall air of mystery.
London-based singer-songwriter & self proclaimed comedian Flo Gallop was raised around music. Her father was a songwriter, so she grew up learning to emulate him, scribbling words into her diary that she would eventually translate into songs. Drawing influences from some of her favorite artists like Oasis, The 1975, Bastille, and Tom Odell, she writes honest lyrics set to catchy, upbeat melodies. A natural-born artist and sociable soul, she loves to perform – something that’s been impossible over the past year of lockdowns and such. Like all musicians, it’s driven her crazy, but that hasn’t stopped her from writing and recording songs.
She’s previously collaborated with the likes of Tom Fuller and Will Thompson, but in late January, Flo released her debut single “21”, then followed a month later with a Rob Savage-produced remix of the song. Now she’s back with her new single “Can’t Be Friends“, a fun and flirtatious track about falling for the wrong person, and blithely ignoring the consequences. In an interview with the webzine PopDust, Flo confided: “The song was written when I was in that headspace of just not being able to cut someone out who was no good for me. It’s also about making the excuse of ‘being friends’ when you know that’s just never gonna happen with that particular person, but you use it as your defense to keep seeing them.” I can attest to the folly of this approach, as I’ve ‘been there, done that’!
The song has an infectious, trap beat-driven groove, highlighted by a great little guitar riff, and accompanied by shimmery synths, a tasty thumping bassline and snappy drums, all of which build to an exuberant crescendo in the chorus. Flo has a distinctive and lilting vocal style, which she uses to great effect in expressing a playful sense of both resignation and exasperation over her inability to quit the guy who’s never gonna be right for her: “We always played this game, until we’re fighting fires again. It’s how we know we’re both to blame. This is why we can’t be friends. You always blurred the lines and I can never cut these ties.”
Formed back in 2012 while young teenagers, Infinite Eights is a charming and talented indie alternative pop/rock band based in Tampa, Florida. They were one of the very first bands to follow me on Twitter back in the fall of 2015, when I was just starting out as a music blogger and still a complete unknown. At the time, two of the band members, Parker Wilkson (guitar, keyboards & vocals) and Tyler Hanks (drums & percussion) were still in high school, and Davin Norman (bass) was in college. I was impressed by the excellence of their songwriting and musicianship, as well as their kindness, professionalism and gracious humility, rare qualities in musicians that young.
In addition to their studies, they’ve released numerous singles over the years, as well as a six-track EP Unfound in 2015. They’ve performed in several music festivals alongside some of the biggest names in music, and have opened for Kaleo, AJR, In the Valley Below, and The Relationship. I’ve featured them twice on this blog, the first time in April 2016 (which you can read here). It’s been a pleasure watching them grow and mature as musicians, and their music keeps getting better and better.
Infinite Eights have just dropped their latest single “Nausea“, delivering more of their signature gorgeous melodies and dreamy instrumentation we’ve come to love and expect from them. Parker has become a programming wizard, producing a lush, swirling soundscape of glittery synths, over which he layers intricate guitar notes, while Davin and Tyler drive the pulsating rhythm forward with their commanding bass and drums, respectfully. Parker’s warm vocals have also matured quite nicely too, and he’s never sounded better. His plaintive soaring falsetto in the choruses is beautiful and deeply moving. Though I cannot make them all out, the lyrics seem to speak to the stomach-churning emotional roller coaster aspects of love and relationships. Parker told me he drew inspiration from Jean Paul-Sartre’s novel of the same name: “The song is an exploration of the feelings that arise when a period of existential dread is punctuated by an encounter with a potential romantic partner. Those feelings may be best summed up as ‘parasitic’ – attaching yourself to someone as a means of finding direction and escaping a sense of purposelessness.”
I follow thousands of indie artists from around the world, and have featured several hundred of them on this blog over the past five and a half years. One that I’m particularly fond of is Canadian artist Melotika, the alter-ego of singer-songwriter Mel Yelle. The hard-working, charismatic and personable artist began her music career in Toronto, releasing her first music in early 2018, but moved back to her home town of Montreal last summer. Her distinctive, sultry vocal styling, exotic beauty, and strong sense of individuality and determination coupled with an endearing vulnerability, set her apart from a lot of other female artists. Her honest and relatable lyrics touch on the universal subjects of relationships and love, as well as timely issues such as the minefield of social media and how pressures to conform can affect our emotional well-being.
I’ve featured Melotika’s music on this blog several times over the past three years, when I reviewed her singles “Unaware Part II [Blindside]”, “Bittersweet Reality“ and “Bury the Bones“, a dark, haunting song about a woman who’s a psychopathic killer. And just last month, I featured a collaborative single “Eternal Eclipse” that she recorded with German electronic music producer Lazer Squad as one of four fresh new tracks. Now, the prolific artist returns with her latest single “Beautiful Disguise“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Released on February 12th, it’s the lead single from her forthcoming album Dancing Without You, due for release this coming fall. She wrote the lyrics, and the music was composed by her frequent collaborator Sean Savage, who also mixed and mastered the track.
A concept album, Dancing Without You will be a collection of songs that Melotika states are “sort of like a personal diary exposing super vulnerable moments of my life, through alternative electro pop dance music. If I were a teenager, this would have been the perfect pop album to listen to.” Especially fond of artists like Blondie, Eurythmics, Madonna and Depeche Mode, she wanted to capture the essence of their 80s dance-pop/new wave sound for “Beautiful Disguise”, and I think she and Sean succeed quite nicely. The mesmerizing song features a lush palette of shimmery, almost haunting synths and bold hand claps layered over a hypnotic dance beat. Melotika’s rich, sultry vocals were run through tape, providing a captivating vintage texture that’s quite appealing.
“Beautiful Disguise” is based on a song Melotika first wrote in her late teens. She shared some details about it on her Facebook page: “The original song was called ‘Misery’ then switched to ‘Victim’ for some time. The song was a generic angsty break-up type song. Last year when I looked back at it, I decided to reinvent the song and add some more fictional story telling. I thought that a typical break up song would be cliché and over done, so I created a tale about a beautiful forbidden lover, and breaking free from the toxic situation. The lyric ‘The devil inside of me is the devil inside of you when you got nowhere else to go’ refers to the concept ‘misery loves company’. Do we fall in love with bad people or are we obsessed and fall in love with the drama?“
The song at #94 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Dreams” by Beck. Born Bek David Campbell in Los Angeles in 1970, the eternally youthful singer-songwriter, musician and producer has been making great music ever since the unexpected success of his breakout single “Loser” in 1994. Over his long, innovative and prolific career, he’s recorded and released an astonishing 14 studio albums, continually experimenting with an eclectic myriad of genres including alternative rock, folk, country, hip hop, soul, funk and electronic.
“Dreams” was released in June 2015, a few months after his Album of the Year Grammy win for Morning Phase. Beck stated he wanted to make a record that “would be good to play live“, and did he ever! The song is exhilarating, with a fantastic guitar-driven groove, cool psychedelic synths and the kind of strong thumping drum beat that I adore. The song was ultimately included on his 2017 album Colors.
One of the albums I’d want to take along with me to that proverbial desert island is Rhythm Nation 1814, the fourth studio album by Janet Jackson. At the time of the album’s release in September 1989, I wasn’t what you’d call a huge fan of hers, though I’d really liked her hit songs “What Have You Done For Me Lately”, “Nasty” and “When I Think of You” from her hugely-popular 1986 breakout third album Control. In fact, I actually resented her a bit for a short while due to the fact that “Miss You Much”, the lead single from Rhythm Nation 1814, kept my then-favorite band Tears For Fears’ single “Sowing the Seeds of Love” from reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. (“Sowing the Seeds of Love” and “Miss You Much” were released a day apart in late August 1989, and both entered the Top 40 on September 9th.) But as Jackson continued to release a succession of superb singles from the album, I got over my juvenile grudge and grew to love it, eventually purchasing the CD.
Rhythm Nation 1814 is a concept album that Jackson’s label A&M Records was initially set against. Like many music labels (and movie studios) who tend to want to repeat what successfully worked before, A&M wanted her to record another album like Control, but she wasn’t having it. Troubled by stories about crime, gangs, drug abuse and other tragedies she saw on the news, she wanted to make an album that touched on socially conscious themes, with a positive message of unity.
Given her popularity and youth (she was 23 at the time), Jackson believed that, through her music, she could reach a younger audience who may have been unaware of what it meant to be socially conscious. She herself was inspired by musicians like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, and U2, however, she felt their music appealed primarily to adults who were already invested in social change. In a 1989 interview with USA Today, she stated: “I’m not naïve; I know an album or a song can’t change the world. I just want my music and my dance to catch the audience’s attention and hopefully motivate them to make some sort of difference“.
For the recording of Rhythm Nation 1814, Jackson once again collaborated with songwriters and record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the geniuses behind the massive success of Control. Jackson does not possess a particularly strong singing voice, so the duo created a sound and style for her that played to her talents and rather limited mezzo-soprano vocal range. Over the course of her career, she’s received criticism for the limits of her vocal abilities, especially when compared with some of her contemporaries like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey who had powerhouse voices. That said, her vocals seem most effective either on strong anthems where she can boldly belt out the lyrics, or on tender love ballads where her soft, sultry purrs work especially well. Also, because her voice did not translate particularly well to on-stage live performances, Jackson enhanced her act with elaborate dance routines. Normally, I’m not impressed by that kind of thing, but in Jackson’s case, I make an exception because of her strong charisma and likability.
The album title was a combination of a theoretical utopian nation inspired by the unifying power of music, represented by “Rhythm Nation”, with “1814” representing the year the national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written. The trio co-wrote six of the album’s songs, while Jackson solely wrote “Black Cat” and Jam and Lewis wrote the remaining five. The album was recorded in Minneapolis over a period of seven months, during which Jackson, Jam and Lewis chose to isolate themselves, without interference or involvement by anyone from A&M Records. The album was produced primarily with synthesizers and drum machines, specifically the use of sample loop and swing note and synthesized percussion techniques that had become popular by the late 1980s.
The album contains a total of 20 tracks, 12 of which are actual songs, with the other 8 consisting of interludes lasting anywhere from a few seconds to over a minute. These interludes serve as connectors or transitions between songs or groupings of songs. The tracks were sequenced beginning with those addressing societal injustice and transitioning to songs about love, relationships and sexuality. Musically, the album encompasses a variety of styles, such as new jack swing, pop, hard rock, dance and industrial music, which gave it wider appeal across multiple radio formats. And though some of the tracks sound fairly similar, with rather ubiquitous beats and melodies, they’re still incredibly upbeat and fun.
Although the album’s concept was initially met with mixed reactions, its production values and overall song quality earned it widespread critical acclaim. Rhythm Nation 1814 peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Rolling Stone ranked the album at #277 on its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2012. Seven of its singles – “Miss You Much”, “Rhythm Nation”, “Escapade”, “Alright”, “Come Back to Me”, “Black Cat” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” – reached the top five on the Hot 100, making it the only album in history to achieve this. Four of them reached #1, and it’s also the only album in history to produce number one hits in three separate calendar years – 1989, 1990 and 1991.
The album opens with “Interlude: Pledge”, a 47-second spoken word piece where Jackson essentially explains the album’s intent, then launches into “Rhythm Nation”, an electrifying dance anthem with heavy industrial beats built around the punchy bass groove of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. Jackson commandingly exhorts us to come together for justice: “People of the world unite / Strength in numbers we can get it right, one time / We are a part of the rhythm nation.” The song was the second single released from the album and peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
One of the most poignant songs on the album is “Livin’ In A World (They Didn’t Make)”, inspired by the tragic 1989 shooting at a school in Stockton, California. The lyrics speak to the innocence of children, and that hate is something they’re taught by adults. “Escapade” is a joyously upbeat and celebratory anthem that always lifts my spirits, and is my all-time favorite Janet Jackson song. Set to an exuberant hip-swaying dance beat and colorful instrumentals, the hopeful lyrics speak to forgetting one’s problems, letting loose and having a good time: “Come on baby, let’s get away / Let’s save our troubles for another day / Come go with me, we got it made / Let me take you on an escapade.” It was the third single released from the album in January 1990, and the second to reach #1.
The hard-rocking “Black Cat” was a stylistic departure for Jackson, and was produced by Jellybean Johnson, who along with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, was a former member of The Time. With its aggressive driving beat and metal rock guitars, it sounds like a song Def Leppard or Mötley Crüe could have done. Jackson snarls the biting lyrics warning a rebellious friend about their self-destructive substance abuse habit. The song was the third single from the album to reach #1.
“Love Will Never Do (Without You)” is another standout, with its strong sensual beat and rousing choruses, not to mention the great trumpet flourishes played by Herb Alpert, who Jackson had previously worked with on his 1987 hit song “Diamonds”. It was the seventh single to be released from the album, more than a year after its initial release, and you’d have thought that by now, interest would be waning. But not at all, as the song would become the fourth from the album to hit #1, in January 1991.
The final three tracks on the album are sensual slow burns, featuring sultry melodies and lush orchestration, with her vocals sounding softer and silkier than ever. My favorite of the three is the gorgeous and bittersweet “Come Back to Me”. I’ve always been a sucker for lush orchestration and soaring strings, and this song has them in spades. Jackson’s gentle vocals are perfect for this type of song, in which she softly laments with a palpable sense of heartache and despair over a lost love affair that she hopes can be rekindled. The song’s arrangement is first-rate and the stirring cinematic strings are really stunning. “Come Back to Me” was the fifth single released from the album, and peaked at #2, held down by Mariah Carey’s monster debut hit “Vision of Love”. So now I found myself rooting for a Janet Jackson song to reach number one!
The album closes on a steamy note with “Someday is Tonight”, a song about submitting to carnal desires. The song is downright sexy, and is to Jackson’s discography what “Love to Love You Baby” was to Donna Summer’s, if you get my drift. She coos and purrs her way through the song, accompanied by sultry beats and strings, and highlighted by Herb Alpert’s smoldering trumpet solo. The song was a precursor to Jackson’s evolving music style that would see her more fully explore sexual themes on her following albums Janet and The Velvet Rope. Both of those albums would receive massive critical and commercial acclaim, with Janet becoming her best-selling album. For me, however, Rhythm Nation 1814 remains her finest work.
Sofia Katsaros is a lovely and engaging singer-songwriter based in Athens, Greece. This past April I featured her sultry dance single “Perfect”, a collaboration she did with Italian composer and producer Chris Keya. Now she returns with a new single “Aphrodite,” an infectious dance pop song that’s both entertaining and life-affirming, with a positive message of female empowerment. For this song, she teamed up with the renowned New York-based producer Alvin Anthony, who produced her 2019 single “With You Here Tonight”. Together, they co-wrote the music and lyrics, and Anthony produced, arranged, mixed and mastered the track.
Acknowledging the myriad difficult times we’re all currently going through in this world, Katasaros and Anthony wanted the song to convey the following message:
“Aphrodite, goddess of erotic love and beauty, was one of the ancient Greek gods of Olympus. Love and desire were her powers, and she had a special belt that could enchant anyone to fall in love with the person wearing it. Like Aphrodite, all women are also powerful and should not settle for less than what they deserve, or become victims to abusive relationships. Our goal is to help all women understand they have an inner goddess Aphrodite that they carry inside them. It’s time to unleash your special powers and say NO to a partner that does not respect or treasure you, and say YES to a partner that knows your extraordinary worth and value, and who will treat you like the goddess you really are. Know your own worth and own your inner goddess of beauty, desire and love. Love yourself and let your inner goddess Aphrodite give you the relationship that you deserve.”
Starting with a sensual house-style dance beat that aims straight for the hips, Anthony layers sparkling techno synths, creating an exotic vibe that’s the ideal backdrop for Katsaros’ vibrant vocals as she channels Aphrodite. With an air of cool defiance in her voice, she gives a man who disrespected and tried to control her the kiss off.
Listen up carefully; Show you just how I feel, You tried to capture me, And tried my heart to steal. Don’t try and tie me down, And don’t lock me in a cage! I am a lioness… And I will roar in rage. ‘Cause I’m no match for you I’m wild and mighty I’m Aphrodite
Loving, the likes of you ain’t worth it no more, Living, a lie I just can’t bear it no more I’m fire, I’m much too hot for you to feel I’m gone, I won’t be there for you babe.
Need someone passionate to show me just how they feel Need him to capture me and try my heart to steal Can’t wait to light his fire and be with him all day I’ll be the spark that ignites his most eternal flame ‘Cause I’m no match for you I’m wild and mighty, I’m Aphrodite
Katsaros is an active member of the charity LA FAMIGLIA RADIO – CHARITY WEB RADIO LA FAMIGLIA PAIDI. The charity buys food with donations and money they receive from sponsors, and distribute the food to families in need. All proceeds from sales of “Aphrodite” will be donated to the charity in order to help them continue their wonderful work of supporting those less fortunate, in their time of need.