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.
Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that’s a guilty pleasure”, and my pick is “Tik Tok” by Kesha (who also identified herself as Ke$ha back then). The catchy ear worm was co-written by Kesha and producers Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco, and released in August 2009. It took its time moving up the charts, but once it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 that December, it held the top spot for nine straight weeks. It also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, Germany and 10 other countries.
I love the bouncy, electropop dance beat and hilarious bawdy lyrics about partying, getting drunk and having fun. (Ah, how I fondly remember those days!) Kesha later told Esquire that her inspiration for the song came from her own experiences coming home drunk and stumbling after a night out of partying. The opening line “Wake up in the morning feelin’ like P. Diddy” came from a time where she woke up in a big house (on Laurel Canyon in L.A. where the Eagles recorded “Hotel California”) surrounded by all these “beautiful women”, which led her to imagine P. Diddy being in a similar scenario. And he was more than happy to collaborate on the track, providing his vocals where he responds to her opening line with “hey what up girl“. Kesha’s vocals were heavily auto-tuned, but I think they’re perfectly suited for a song like “Tik Tok”.
On a weird level, the song also touches on female empowerment. In the lyrics “And now the dudes are linin’ up ’cause they hear we got swagger / But we kick ’em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger” and later “Boys try to touch my junk, junk / Gonna smack him if he gettin’ too drunk, drunk“, Kesha makes it clear that she and her girls have the upper hand when it comes to guys, and that they’re not gonna give it up to just anyone. OK, I know it’s a stretch, but work with me here!
A growing trend in music today is the collaboration between artists located hundreds or thousands of miles apart, made possible by the internet and technological advances in music production. I’ve recently featured a few such collaborations, and my latest is the new dance single “Perfect” by the lovely Greek singer-songwriter Sofia Katsaros and Italian musician and producer Chris Keya. Sofia recorded her vocals along with studio instruments in Athens, and Chris produced, mixed and mastered the track at his studio in Rome. He also created an alternative Tech House remix, which I’ve included below.
Born in New York to Greek and Colombian parents, Sofia discovered her love for music at an early age. She relocated with her family to Corinth, Greece at the age of ten, then moved to Athens when she turned 18, and earned a degree at the American College of Greece. She speaks six languages: Greek, English, Spanish, French, Italian and Arabic! She also studied classical and modern song, dance and theater, and started her career in Athens as a professional singer and show woman. She’s collaborated and performed with many famous artists all over the world. In 2016, she returned to New York to further pursue some of her career goals, and while there, she recorded the sultry EDM single “With You Here Tonight” with American producer Alvin Anthony, which was released in July 2018.
She returned to Athens in the summer of 2018, and has written the music and lyrics for six new songs that are being recorded with four different producers from four different countries. The first of these is her collaboration “Perfect” with Italian producer Chris Keya (aka Christian Caruso), which dropped April 9th. Based in Rome, Chris started out as a rock and metal guitarist, but later became fascinated by electronic music and turned to producing music as both a solo artist and for other artists. His sound is a mix of various genres including Techno & House with some Electro touches. He’s a prolific artist, putting out a great deal of music over the past couple of years. A lot of it’s really good, so check it out on one of the music links at the bottom of this review.
About “Perfect”, Sofia explains “It’s a fun dance song that speaks about the concept of true love, and how when love is pure, it protects us from all evil.” She wanted to write a song to cheer people up during these troubling times of killer viruses and widespread political and economic unrest. The track has a sexy Deep House beat, with glossy atmospheric synths and warm keyboards that are quite marvelous. Sofia has a vibrant and soulful vocal style that’s slightly reminiscent of Taylor Dayne, a singer I really love. The single’s aptly-titled, cause it’s perfect.
In the Tech Edit version, Sofia’s vocals are more sultry and smoky, and remind me of Christina Aguilera. Chris employs strong Deep House beats, but this time uses more industrial tech-sounding synths, and adds electronically altered vocals along with Sofia’s that create great dramatic tension that’s sure to make it a big hit in the dance clubs – if and when we’ll be able to return to them!
The lyrics speak to the strength of enduring love, that no matter what problems may come or mistakes her loved one makes, she will always continue to love and support them:
The stars might fall, but when you call I’ll be there ‘cause you’re perfect to me The clouds may cry, turn black at night I’ll keep you dry cause you’re perfect to me The sun up high will shine its light I’ll keep you warm ‘cause your perfect to me The sky holds all the stars above I’ll show you love ‘cause you’re perfect to me
I recently learned about British band Tungz when their PR rep reached out to me about a possible review of their latest single “Can’t We Just Be Friends Again“, and after listening to a few of their songs I’m now a big fan of this charming foursome. Formed in early 2017, and based in Bristol & London, Tungz is comprised of Jamie Maier (guitar, vocals), Nicky Green (keyboards, vocals), Ollie Horne (bass) and Rick Holland (drums). Drawing from elements of pop, funk, soul and disco, they create wonderful music that’s upbeat, melodic and overflowing with smooth, soulful grooves. Having two vocalists also gives their songs extra vibrance and color.
They released their enchanting debut single “Window Love” in 2018, then followed up with the delightful “Fruit”. In October 2019, they dropped their self-produced EP Okay, featuring four outstanding tracks that are far and away better than okay. They now return with ‘Can’t We Just Be Friends Again’, released via their label Heist Or Hit on March 12th.
About the song, the band states “The track is an open dialogue about wanting to snap back to being happy with someone you’ve only ever really been cool with before. [The opening line] ‘This is BS and we said this was golden paradise’ expresses the weird frustration that comes with trying to argue with someone you don’t know how to argue with because you’ve never had need to do so. It’s about two people who’ve never really started an argument trying to end one. This track feels like a statement to us. But it’s also a question. That’s why we left off the question mark. We went heavy on the production – it’s gonna be a nightmare to work out how to play it live.”
Starting with a lively mix of bouncy percussive drum beats as a foundation, the guys add layers of swirling and warbling synths, funky guitars and throbbing bass to create a sexy and soulful sound with a retro 80s vibe. As I listened to the song, I sensed a familiarity that took a bit of thinking, but it eventually dawned on me that it sounds like some of the songs by 80s British bands Go West and Scritti Politti. Jaime sings lead vocals on this track, and I love his smooth voice and fervent delivery that beautifully conveys the urgency expressed by the lyrics:
This is BS And we said this was golden paradise Pretty pointless This isn’t even what we are like
It doesn’t have to be so hard (Can’t you see what you’ve done to me?) Aren’t we both on the same team? (Take a look what you did to me) Can’t we just skip this part (Can’t you see what you’ve done to me?) If we both want the same thing? (Take a look what you did to me)
(Blame myself but it’s bad for my health to blame myself when you’re not blameless either)
Can’t we just be friends again? Can’t we just be friends again? You know it’ll be easier on me
Sadly, due to the nasty virus now plaguing the world, their tour to promote the new single ended after the first show at Bristol venue Rough Trade. They hope to restart the tour this summer, music gods willing.
British electropop/funk band The Winachi Tribe make some of the catchiest and fun music of any artists around today, and I love them! Based in and around Leeds, they draw from a ton of legendary influences such as Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, Primal Scream, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Massive Attack, The Stone Roses, Talking Heads, D’angelo, Prince and Daft Punk to create their infectious funk-infused style of electro/dance pop. In 2018, I reviewed their fantastic song “Transition”, and am thrilled to feature them once again with the release of their latest single “Funky But Chic“, which dropped on March 6th. The delightful song is a marketing collaboration with iconic Italian fashion brand Pantofola d’Oro, and coincided with the release of the very handsome and sporty Pantofola d’Oro Winachi Collection Trainers, pictured in the heading.
Formed in 2015, The Winachi Tribe is comprised of Liam Croker (vocals), Antony Egerton (keyboards, programming), Inder Goldfinger (percussion), Jamie McGregor (lead guitar), Ritchie Rich (bass) and Mr. Whommit (drums) (although their previous guitarist Mike Bee played on “Funky But Chic”). All accomplished musicians in their own right, they’ve collaborated with musicians and producers in both the UK and Southern California, and have released a number of critically acclaimed singles.
As with many of their songs, they start off with a bouncy dance beat that aims straight for the hips, immediately hooking us in and commanding that we get up and get moving! Then they serve up generous helpings of wobbly psychedelic synths, funky guitars, throbbing bass and snappy percussion. The result is a delicious and upbeat tune with more funky grooves than a boxful of Funkadelic records. Liam’s wonderful vocals exhibit equal amounts of humour and sexiness as he croons with a cool and casual air:
I got a pair of shoes I swear that somebody gave me
My mama says I look pretty fruity but in jeans it feels rockin’
I don’t wear nothing that’s too fussy on me
I just want something so I can walk down your street
Eh, come on baby, let’s get on down to the boutique
Let’s bring back something that’s funky but it’s chic
The entertaining video was produced by John X of Earthstar Creation Center, and directed by Pro Direct Select, and shows some of the band members sneaking into a warehouse to steal several pairs of the trainers. They then go on a high-speed chase with a police car through the countryside, finally eluding the police and connecting with a guy played by Liam who’s waiting for their haul in a parking garage.
DVR is a studio music project by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olav Christensen. Originally from Denmark, Christensen is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and writes, records, produces and masters all his music. He’s been recording music for a number of years, sometimes as a solo act, but often collaborating with other musicians as well. His songs are very eclectic (I like that!), ranging from electronica to alternative rock to pop, and everything in between. He began releasing singles in 2015, and dropped his first full-length album California in 2016, then followed up with an EP Down in July 2018, which I reviewed, then an experimental all-instrumental album Instantiate in June 2019. Now he returns with an ambitious concept album All Good Things, in which he explores the state of the world today and imagines the possibility of a terrible outcome.
Christensen explains: “All Good Things” is an imagined snapshot of the moment – of our collective realization – of the end of everything. We all knew it was coming at some point in the future but surely not in our lifetime or our children’s, right? It starts with our leaders failing to lead. Too busy enriching themselves, they march us all steadily towards our own inevitable annihilation. There is a moment of clarity, tangible around the world. It is a moment of precious truth when a single looming event on the horizon, threatens to end all of us. Now, when it is undeniable; we each react in our own way. Do we reflect on our lives? Do we find comfort in each other? Do we just have a party and go out dancing?”
The album opens with the instrumental “Prelude – The March Towards Inevitability“, a quirky, experimental-sounding track that sets a somewhat unsettling mood. While at times feeling discordant and chaotic, the song still has a melodic, almost contemporary classical structure that makes for an intriguing listen that’s actually rather soothing. This discordant, experimental vibe continues with the title track “All Good Things“, as DVR employs a rich mix of spacey, psychedelic synths and sounds, accompanied by a driving percussive beat and additional guitar by Bjørn Ginman. With a gentle soaring chorale sung by Rorie Kelly, Nico Z. Padden and Pauline Salotti as a backdrop, he sings: “So this is how things come to pass. All that remains is dust and gas. And all good things come to an end. Whatever you believe in, whatever you pretend. For what it’s worth, we had a good run right down to the end.”
“Special Friends, Arrow of Time, Entropy” is an unusual track, actually three different songs strung together, and running ten and a half minutes long. It feels almost like a classical piece with three distinct but related movements. The first part, “Special Friends”, features more of those quirky, psychedelic synths, accompanied by Christensen’s daughter Hadley Rose’s baby-like electronically-altered vocals, which are mostly unintelligible. They’re kind of endearing, yet have an almost menacing feel when combined with the music. At around 3:30, the track changes to “Arrow of Time” with a transition to smoother, ethereal synths that give the track a dreamy, atmospheric vibe. Some lovely delicate guitar work is provided by David Rolo. At 6:50, the track abruptly shifts to “Entropy” with the entrance of a voice over by Alan Watts: “Memory, is a dynamic system. It’s a repetition of rhythms. Reality escapes all concepts. You, are just as much the dark space beyond death as you are the light interval called life.” From there the song takes a jazzy turn with some cool guitar work by Andy Pitcher and double bass by Dean Johnson. Later, Watts offers up a matter-of-fact conclusion: “Let go of the breath. You can’t hang on to yourself. This isn’t terrible. But it’s just going to be the end of you as a system of memories.”
“Come Inside” has a Peter Gabriel vibe, both in terms of the song’s structure and melody and DVR’s plaintive vocals. His intricate jangly guitar work is terrific, and so is the smooth bass by guest musician Bobby McCullough. Additional female vocals by Rosie Bans provide a nice contrast to DVR’s. One of the lovelier tracks is “Quiet Breakdown“, thanks to swirling synths, sublime guitar work and the enchanting sape, a traditional lute originating from Central Borneo played by guest musician Rayhan Sudrajat, who also played bass. DVR sings “I’ll come at you lightly, I’ll meet you halfway. I’m headed for a quiet breakdown. I think it won’t be long.”
We’ve now arrived at “Here We Are“, where we’ve made the decision to go out in style and just party. My favorite track, it’s an upbeat dance pop song that contrasts with the rather morbid lyrics about going all-out to celebrate the end of humanity. “Here we are, at the apex of humanity. Standing tall before the fall. Falling over each other to witness the final act. The hottest show in town tonight. Everyone dresses sharp for the end of all mankind. It’s going to be out of sight.” Guest vocalist Courtney Hans sounds like a young Madonna, which is partly why I like this song so much. Additional guitar is by Justin Chamberlin, and Bobby McCullough returns on bass.
“All Good Things – Reprise” is a different take on the title track. The song opens with the sound of a phone busy signal, then a mix of glittery and Polynesian synths enter, along with a voice over of Noam Chomsky talking about the existential threat of global warming and how the current U.S. administration has chosen to not only disregard that threat, but actually accelerate the problem. Once his voice over ends, we hear the lyrics now sung by guest vocalist Aradia. The music gradually swells into a rock feel, with a terrific guitar solo by TJ Dumser, and bass played by Michael Friis. The track finishes with the ominous beeps of the Early Warning System.
“This is the Day” closes the album on a predictably dark note, but with a smooth, soft-rock groove that keeps things from being too maudlin. Guest musician Bjørn Ginman is back, laying down a hypnotic and haunting guitar solo that’s so good. DVR croons with a sad air of resignation “This is the end of the night. Your immaculate decay. And if you’ve ever wondered what that was like, what that would feel like, hey, this is the day. This is the end of the road. You’ve come a long way haven’t you?”
All Good Things is a brilliant concept album that artfully shines a light on the precarious geopolitical situation we now face, while presenting it in an entertaining and enjoyable manner though compelling lyrics and intriguing soundscapes. I love that Christensen collaborated with such a wide range of musicians and vocalists to give his music an incredible variety of styles, textures and sounds.
This past February (2019) I featured New York-based singer-songwriter Karolina Rose on this blog, when I reviewed her gorgeous debut EP INVICTA. 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. During the past six months, she’s been a very busy woman, playing numerous shows to promote her EP, recording new music, and spending the month of August in Europe, where she attended the Midem music conference in Cannes and performed on TV in her ancestral country of Poland.
Today, she drops a brand new single “Greytopia“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. It’s a beautiful, intoxicating track about an idyllic place Karolina has imagined. She explains “It’s a little planet I created where we only support each other and follow our highest path without judgement, swirling emotions included.” The emotions aren’t the only things swirling, as the sweeping glittery synths, throbbing guitar and lively percussive beats dance around Karolina’s sultry vocals. She really has a stunning voice, so silky and vibrant, with the ability to seduce us one moment, then nearly bring us to tears the next with her earnest vulnerability.
The song was written and performed by Karolina, with Simon Kafka on guitar. It was flawlessly produced by Elliot Jacobson, and mixed and mastered by Mike Tuccillo. Together, they’ve all created a stellar track that’s sure to be another hit for this lovely artist.
I came to visit this new land A fairytale in every way The internet here only has positive news Fan girls & boys are lounging, exposing their tattoos
Marble message on the wall We wash our hair with crushed flowers
‘Cause it’s a greytopia Sometimes I’m gloomy, sometimes I’m happy And everything in between In between you and me In this greytopia In this greytopia
Creator made us each this way Named us the originals, molded us from clay To do our highest work, masters of our fate Haters from Earth are waiters It’s always sunny, the post is run by bunnies
Marble message on the wall We wash our hair with crushed flowers
‘Cause it’s a greytopia Sometimes I’m gloomy, sometimes I’m happy And everything in between In between you and me In this greytopia In this greytopia
Black spades, red hearts, Black spades, red hearts, Diamonds, diamonds, diamonds,
‘Cause it’s a greytopia Sometimes I’m gloomy, sometimes I’m happy And everything in between In between you and me In this greytopia In this greytopia
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.”
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!