pMad is the solo music project of Irish singer-songwriter Paul Dillon, a lifelong lover of music who’s been involved in songwriting and performing for years. Based in County Galway, Paul was previously a member of the bands Starve the Barber and The Suicidal Dufflecoats, and currently a member of The Greeting, as well as his project pMad. His eclectic sound, which is a dramatic and fascinating blend of darkwave, post-punk, alternative and goth rock, is heavily influenced by some of his favorite acts like The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, Sonic Youth, Suicidal Tendencies, The The and Tom Waits.
When the pandemic lockdowns impacted his and just about every other artists’ ability to make and perform music, Paul created a “The Best of Irish Indie” page on Facebook, in which he ran a series of ‘Best of Irish’ polls. The response was so positive, he was newly energized and inspired to rework and record some of his previously-written songs, along with some newly-written ones. Without ever being in the same room together, he took advantage of modern recording technologies to create a number of singles remotely in collaboration with Zedakube Recording (Ireland), Protonaut Studio (Germany) and Elith Mastering Labs (Mexico). He released his debut single “Who Am I” last December, then followed in February with “Medicine”, and “Broken” in April (which I reviewed in a Fresh New Tracks post). He subsequently dropped a six-track EP Broken in May, featuring four songs and two remixes, then another single “Horror” in June, and today returns with his latest single “Sisters“.
Like most of pMad’s songs, it’s dark, brooding and intense, but I loved “Sisters” upon my first listen. Even my husband, who’s not much into goth or alternative rock, liked it the moment he heard it. What a magnificent song it is, driven by a deep, chugging bassline, and awash in ominous darkwave synths, layered guitars and pulsating drums. There are so many brilliant instrumental textures and elements, such as the contrasting shimmery and gnarly, reverb-soaked guitars and dramatic swirling synths, all creating a darkly beautiful cinematic soundscape for pMad’s arresting monotone vocals that come across as simultaneously menacing and hopeful.
About “Sisters”, pMad says it speaks of “those we love gone too soon. They don’t go away very far, they walk beside us every day… having left such an impression on us! They are still loved, still missed and a very important influence on our lives.” He elaborated further in an interview for the NenesButler Presents Music blog: “The inspiration for ‘Sisters’ was my youngest sister Keira who just dropped dead one day! Too young and too good to die, yet she did. We mourned, but the world will spin with you or without you. So, life goes on but she left an indelible mark in my life, like my father and relations and friends that have died. She was a cool, calm character and had some great sayings and thoughts on life. Of course, like me and any of us, she was not perfect, and had a few of her own demons to conquer too. She always saw the good in people, [and] the one great thing she always said, if someone was mean to her or anyone, was ‘be kind to them, you don’t know what they are going through right now’.
“Sisters” is fantastic, and I think it’s the best single released yet by pMad! He plans on dropping more singles in the coming months, and his album Who Why Where What is scheduled for release in November.
The fabulous artwork for the single was created by Little Bird Design.
KÅRP is a rather enigmatic band based in Gothenburg, Sweden who make fascinating electronic music they describe as “death disco”. Fronted by breathy-voiced singer Anna-Maria Lundberg, their dark, ethereal sound has been compared with fellow Swedish acts The Knife, Kite and Lykke Li. Their love for the paranormal, outer space and the apocalyptic state of current affairs are recurring themes in both their music and lyrics. They released their debut single “Therapist^2” in 2017, followed by several more singles that culminated in the release of their beautiful self-titled debut album KÅRP in 2019. They dropped the single “Left Handed” in 2020, then in December 2021, they released “It Looks Bad”, the first single from their planned triptych of EPs to be released throughout 2022. The first of the three EPs KRIS, released on January 27, is the subject of today’s review.
The triptych series are intended to represent the three stages of the apocalypse: Chaos, Silence and the New World Order. KRIS explores the downfall of society, with all it’s attendant chaos and disorientation, and thus sounds the darkest of the three. KÅRP elaborates: “The world is burning. The police are shooting innocent people to death. Natural disasters and wars are forcing families to flee for their lives. The barbed wire gets sharpened by the wealthy nations’ borders and a pandemic is closing our societies down in a way that’s never been seen before. We started working on this trilogy after the release of our debut album in 2019. At that time you could sense the downfall like a darkness at the end of the tunnel. We soon realized that the apocalypse was already here. That’s why the first leg of this triptych of EP’s is pretty dark sounding. The next one will be slightly more mellow. And on the last one, we’re allowing ourselves a few major chords and some hope.“
The EP opens with the enchanting title track “Kris“, relatively brief piece that seems to serve as an introduction to this first installment of the triptych. KÅRP layers skittering eerie synths over a undulating synth bass groove to create a lovely but unsettling backdrop for Anna-Maria’s bewitching ethereal vocals. As its title suggests, things turn decidedly darker on the next track “It Looks Bad“. The harsh industrial synths are both spooky and beautiful, hovering over a powerful beat and heavy, pulsating rhythm, nicely conveying a sense of global upheaval. Anna-Maria laments to her child of the impending chaos and uncertainty that’s about to turn their world upside down: “Oh sweetheart, what to do with your pictures from school. The butterfly collection and your wild diaries, the family tree.Bring out the matches ‘cuz nobody will be here. No more grounds to stand on, nothing to grow here.”
I can’t quite make out the meaning of “Humdrum“, but it’s a sonically gorgeous track, with a colorful soundscape of intricate spacey synths, galloping beats and Anna-Maria’s fervent ethereal vocals. And on the marvelous “Honey Play“, KÅRP reaches deep into their sonic arsenal to produce a haunting, cinematic song befitting a soundtrack for an epic sci-fi or apocalyptic film. The sweeping industrial synths, powerful driving rhythms, and Anna-Maria’s soaring vocal harmonies are spectacular. The lyrics speak of standing up to dark forces trying to divide us: “I’ve already decided you can’t force me. You don’t understand all that matters. I’ve already decided you can’t force me. Youwant us to play under your division.”
I’m a big fan of electronic music, and KÅRP makes some of the most dramatically beautiful that I’ve heard in a while. KRIS is a stunning work, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the next two installments of their tryptich.
Paris Alexander is a creative and talented singer-songwriter, composer and electronic music producer based in Brighton, England. He’s been a long time collaborator with British singer-songwriter, producer and muse Tina Eirene (with whom he’s also romantically involved), as well as Norwegian coldwave/post-punk artist Antipole, with whom he co-wrote, sang vocals and played synths on, and produced three albums together (one of which, the 2017 release Northern Flux, I featured on this blog). Alexander and Antipole have also worked together on numerous projects with other artists, and Alexander has worked with fellow Brighton electro-rock band IAMWARFACE (one of my favorite British bands who I’ve also written about many times) and London electro-psych band Leg Puppy.
In late 2019, Alexander released two excellent darkwave singles, “Tense” and “Druids”, both featuring vocals by Eirene. Then, this past February, he began releasing a series of new singles, “Renaissance”, “Devour”, and “Lost in the City” (the latter of which I also reviewed). All three of those singles are included on his wonderful debut album Renaissance, which dropped September 17th. The album was co-written and co-produced by Eirene, who also sings vocals on most tracks, and recorded, mixed and mastered at Alexander’s Blue Door Music Studios in Brighton.
About the album, Alexander explained to me that the title “Renaissance” is intended to symbolize “a positive change in life and an onward journey,” as well as the fact that this is his first solo album (albeit with Eirene). Delivering 38 minutes of shimmery darkwave grooves in ten outstanding tracks, Renaissance has a retro late 80s feel in the vein of bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode and New Order, yet sounds current and original. One of the characteristics I especially like about the album is that, similar to The Cure, many songs feature beautiful jangly and chiming guitars which lend great texture and drama to their overall sound.
The album opens with the title track “Renaissance“, a brooding song with a mesmerizing fast-paced driving beat that sets the tone for what’s to come. Alexander explained that the melodramatic lyrics are a metaphor for an internal crisis that’s producing an anxiety attack: “The mine exploding in my face was my first clue. Dreams shattered, burning pain. My hands are tied, my heart is cold. Burn down, the ashes, left with nothing. Nothing. My hands are tied, my heart is cold.” His rich baritone vocals sound like a glorious mash-up of David Bowie and ABC’s Martin Fry, while Eirene’s sultry, otherworldly croons lend added mystery to the proceedings.
From that point on, each track seems to flow seamlessly into the next, transporting me to a dark but dreamy place. The hauntingly beautiful second track, “Son Chemin“, is one of my favorites. Loosely translated, the song’s title means one’s way or path forward, which seems to signify an emergence from the personal hell first described in the opening track “Renaissance”. Against a backdrop of lush atmospheric synths, the interplay between the throbbing synth bass groove and the delicate mix of moody and chiming guitars is quite marvelous.
As noted above, I’ve previously written about “Lost in the City“, a darkly beautiful song about the cold and anonymous aspects of urban life, and how despite living amongst lots of people, we can sometimes feel very isolated and alone. I love the assertive stomping beat, hypnotic bassline, moody swirling synths and bold jangly guitars. The accompanying video, beautifully filmed in black and white by Eirene, features scenes along and around the Thames River in historic South East London. The black and white tones and brooding skies nicely capture the darkwave elements of the music and lyrics.
Frequent collaborator Antipole contributes some dazzling jangly guitar work on “The Void“, a song awash in dreamy psychedelic synths and moody vocal harmonies. Another favorite of mine is “Devour“, a dramatic and stunning track featuring a sharp, pulsating beat, luxurious cinematic synths, shimmery guitars and enchanting harmonic choruses. The lyrics are rather ambiguous, but seem to speak to searching for a way out of the depths of despair: “I kneel on this dusty floor. Look up through the pane. Light shimmers on my refrain. The dust splinters the light. The moon breaches the night. My arms extend to the stars. My back it holds the scars. Gotta find a way.”
The stellar tracks keep coming on strong, and I’m running out of descriptors and superlatives. “Siren” has a pulsating, almost dubstep-type beat, overlain with mysterious sweeping synths, handclaps, and a repetitive and hypnotic guitar riff, all creating a mesmerizing soundscape. In her best siren-like voice, Eirene breathily croons “You’re the one that always draws the best of me. Hold on to the words that go unspoken. I want the sun to shine through the trees, and the warmth develop my sanity.” The dark and dramatic “Floating Cities” features strong, driving beats, otherworldly synths and the combined vocals of Alexander, Eirene and guest vocalist UIU aka Grey Blatsa, who also played synths.
On the lively “Sound of Vision“, Alexander layers fuzz-coated gnarly synths and chiming guitar notes over a strong, throbbing EDM beat and deep, almost funky bassline. The result is a mesmerizing dance track guaranteed to have you swaying your hips within seconds. Eirene’s bewitching siren-like vocals make a welcome return engagement on this terrific track as well. The charming video they produced for the song features vintage footage of women dancing and doing light striptease, courtesy of Prelinger Risque Archives.
The final two tracks, “Revival” and “Desire“, deliver more hypnotic grooves, darkwave synths and stellar guitar work. “Revival” has a rapid, driving beat and spacey synths, punctuated by beautiful jangly guitars and Alexander and Eirene’s somber vocal harmonies, while the more languid “Desire” features a sultry dance vibe with jangly guitars, swirling atmospheric synths and Eirene’s breathy vocals.
Before I know it, the album’s over, and the first thing I want to do is hit repeat so I can hear it all again. Renaissance is a beautiful, masterfully-crafted work, and one of the finest electronic music albums I’ve written about in a long while. If you’re a fan of darkwave electronic music, or bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode, you will enjoy this album.
As EclecticMusicLover, I’m always on the lookout for artists who push boundaries and venture outside the mainstream in the creation of their music and/or identity. Furthermore, as a gay man, it warms my heart to discover LGBTQ+ artists who not only have the courage and fortitude to put themselves out there, but also make music that’s really good. With that in mind, I was pleased to learn about queer doom pop band Reversels when their publicist reached out to me about them and their new album LaSabre, which dropped July 23rd.
Based in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina, Reversels consists of Frankie ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd (vocals, keys and synths) and Story (vocals and guitar). Frankie is a classically trained pianist who previously toured as part of the rock band The Winter Sounds, as well as performing in churches, burlesque shows and on children’s programs. Story has performed in a variety of genres with numerous bands, including dark western with Death & the Reverend, post rock with From the North, and art punk with Minge. As Reversels, the two create dramatic, genre-bending electronica music awash with alternative, goth, darkwave, psychedelic, industrial, pop and rock’n’roll elements. Frankie identifies as transmasc (they/him), and Story identifies as non-binary (they/them). The two met at a burlesque after-party in late 2017, and bonded over their love of music and shared experiences of having both been raised in different cults.
Frankie grew up in a fundamentalist religious cult that glorified limitless procreation, and pressured fathers to have vasectomy reversals. The children born after these procedures were reversed became singers in the leader’s “Reversal Choir,” and were told they owed their existence to him. Frankie elaborates: “Homemade dresses, homeschooling, the exclusion of all music but classical and hymns, and glorification of the patriarchy are some of [the cult’s] defining features. Also, the teaching that it’s a sin to *not* have as many children as one can possibly have. The cult leader, Bill Gothard, taught that anyone who had had a vasectomy was called by God to have it surgically reversed and bear more children into infinity. This led to many large families with a dozen or more similarly-named and dressed children. This also led to my little sister, seven years younger than I, and now one of my best friends. During the cult’s annual gathering, cult families amassed in their matching navy and white homemade clothes to hear the cult leader spout misogynistic, authoritarian rhetoric. We also all took our seats in that large stadium, once a year, to hear the Reversal Choir: an eerie choir of children who existed because Bill Gothard had convinced their parents to get vasectomy reversals.”
Seeking to undo and overcome the harmful predatory, misogynistic, homophobic, and authoritarian teachings of their youth, Pretty Boy Floyd and Story named their act ‘Reversels’ to signify their mission of fomenting change toward an opposite direction and course of action, spelling it with an ‘e’ “to keep it cute”. Through their colorful music and bold, in-your-face lyrics, they aim to poke us out of our complacency by pushing back on constraints of gender, power dynamics and sexual taboos. Their hope is to “sing-into-being a world of gender diversity, sexual positivity, individual growth, and healing” as they “advocate for the underdog and the demonized, rejecting oppression and celebrating life & death in all of their majesty.”
The duo released their debut album Galaxie in November 2018, and followed in June 2019 with Crane, Breed. Now they’re back with LaSabre, their most ambitious work yet, with 13 tracks exploring their ongoing themes of queer love and loss. The album opens strong with “Gravitron“, a dramatic and powerful celebration of love and lust, and one of my favorite tracks. Starting off with a mix of swirling synths and guitar notes, the song quickly explodes into a maelstrom of pulsating psychedelic synths, thunderous percussion and gritty riffs, dramatically conveying the intense euphoria of unbridled sexual desire. I love the contrast between Pretty Boy Floyd’s beautiful lilting falsetto and Story’s deeper, commanding vocals as they sing “Lay your magic body heavy down upon me, In my ready arms, protecting you from harm. Tell me that you want me.”
The colorful, trippy and sexy video produced for the track shows Reversels performing the song, interspersed with scenes of two men, played by trans actors, passionately kissing and exploring each others bodies.
“Azael” quickly follows, a darkly beautiful cinematic feast for the ears featuring a complex array of both spooky and magical psychedelic synths, overlain with heavy, fuzz-coated guitars. Pretty Boy Floyd’s lovely, ethereal vocals contrast nicely with the harsher instrumentals, softly crooning the lyrics that speak to a character named Azael’s sexual yin and yang: “You put on your makeup, both a warrior and a queen. Mastering the magic that we’ve all been kept from seeing. Are you male or female, are you somewhere in between? Make me filthy also make me clean.”
It’s Story’s turn to shine on the darkwave gem “Relentless“, their deep, sensual, and almost menacing vocals conveying a strong sense of foreboding. Another favorite of mine, “Absurdity” has a dark, goth rock vibe with symphonic overtones, thanks to Reversels’ rich blend of otherworldly industrial and orchestral instrumentals and their gorgeous choral harmonies. The lyrics address the absurdities and mysteries of life that often defy reason or logic: “No sense in trying to understand the point of all of our lives. Lie down, take in the mystery. Unknown absurdity thrives.”
“Torch Song” is a smoldering song of carnal desire sung with raw, animal-like ferocity by Story that brings chills. Sung from the perspective of a drag queen, the lyrics speak to the promise of satisfying another man’s sexual fantasies: “I’ll be your toy. I got what you need. I’m just a boy. You’re just like me. I’ll help you burn.” In the video, which was filmed by Marquana Michael Burgess, directed by Story, edited by Danny Boyer and produced by Jennifer Love Lee, the drag queen singing the song is played by Natasha Noir Nightly, and the dancers are Clara Zander and Rebecca Miller. Story and Pretty Boy Floyd portray two men watching the proceedings.
“The Real Pretty Boy Floyd” is an ode to the famous bank robber Charles Arthur Floyd. Born into poverty in Oklahoma in 1904, he led a life of crime starting in his late teens, and is believed to have killed at least 10 people before being shot and killed by federal agents in 1934. Over the years, he’s endured in American popular culture as both a notorious gangster and as a tragic and altruistic figure. While he did indeed rob many banks and killed in the process, he also reportedly provided food to at least a dozen families who would have otherwise starved during the depression. And when he robbed banks, he allegedly destroyed mortgage documents, making it impossible for those banks to foreclose on poor farmers and homeowners. He was often protected by people across many states who referred to him as “Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills” or “Sagebrush Robin Hood”, because he stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He’s been immortalized in song by Woody Guthrie, and referred to positively by John Steinbeck in his seminal novel The Grapes of Wrath.
The great tracks keep on coming. On the brooding goth rocker “SoftBoy Rabbithole“, they touch on the good and bad aspects inherent in each of us. Along a similar vein, the dreamy, atmospheric “Wonderland” is a celebration of queer and trans love: “Queen inside a king. She’s inside all things. We’re inside a dream Infinitely possible ways to love another being. All that’s wanted is allowed, Trading organs, feel new things.” Another favorite of mine is “Cupcake“, featuring terrific guest vocals by Asheville rapper/emcee Vvitchboy, and trumpets by Jay Widenhouse. The song has a delicious trap beat, overlain with ominous industrial synths, wonderful blaring trumpets and soaring vocal harmonies that give the track a dark, cinematic vibe. Though somewhat ambiguous to me, the lyrics seem to speak to finding respite from life’s problems by indulging in carnal desires: “Drown in my madness, but I can’t contain it. Refrain from engaging with haters, and faithless. Don’t make me a martyr, I’m tryna live greater. We making out- banging these dryads and Satyrs. Worship at the altar of decadence. We’re having dessert, what did you make? We have offerings of sweetest debauchery. We got swords, cunnilingus, and cupcakes.”
Reversels channels a bit of Marilyn Manson on the gothic shock rock-esque “Boom Kitty“. With its intense and spooky industrial synths and blaring horns, this would make a great soundtrack for a horror film. Story and Pretty Boy Floyd’s dual growling vocals sound downright diabolical. “Skin” features a mesmerizing repetitive piano chord, overlain with dramatic gnarly guitars that sound fucking spectacular. Story’s raw, impassioned vocals are pretty terrific too. One of the more melodic tracks on LaSabre, “Dissolve/Resolve” has a more upbeat tempo, highlighted by beautiful strings and the duo’s lovely vocal harmonies. The closing track “My My” touches on the subject of sadomasochism, namely, how far two people are willing to go in order to fulfill their sexual fantasies: “If you wanted more of me it could be a tragedy. It would be the death of me to keep you satisfied. But if you must have more I guess you could put me to the test.” The song has a brooding, atmospheric vibe that turns more intense in the bridge, courtesy of Story’s blistering guitar solo.
What more can I say about this amazing album? While the subject matter may turn off some listeners, there’s no denying that Pretty Boy Floyd and Story are very good at what they do. Their songwriting, musicianship and vocals are outstanding, and I applaud their boldness and courage to explore provocative topics head-on with unflinching honesty and candor.
Paris Alexander is a singer, songwriter, composer and electronic music producer based in Brighton, England. He recently dropped a mesmerizing new single “Lost in the City“, which I like so much that I have to share it with my readers. Co-produced by fellow Brighton singer-songwriter and producer Eirene at Alexander’s Blue Door Music Productions, the track is the third single from his forthcoming album Renaissance, due out later this year.
The talented musician has been a long time collaborator with Eirene, as well as Norwegian coldwave/post-punk artist Antipole, with whom he co-wrote, sung on and produced three albums together (one of which, the 2017 release Northern Flux I reviewed). Alexander and Antipole have also worked together on projects with other artists, remixing songs for such acts as Clan of Xymox and She Past Away. Additionally, Alexander has worked with London electro-psych band Leg Puppy on some of his music.
Starting with an assertive stomping drumbeat, Alexander layers a hypnotic bassline, moody swirling synths and bold jangly guitars that immediately make me think of The Cure. Some of the guitar work was played by Simon Meek, with added drums by Martin Meadows. Alexander’s deep baritone vocals have an ominous haunting quality, nicely conveying a rather dystopian vibe befitting the dark lyrics about the cold and anonymous aspects of urban life – how despite living amongst lots of people, we can sometimes feel very isolated and alone. The combination of living in a densely built environment with little or no natural spaces, and feeling overwhelmed by technology, only serves to exacerbate one’s sense of isolation and disconnection, of feeling ‘lost in the city’.
We’re lost in the city Going nowhere so fast We’re lost in the city Little do we care We’re lost in the City Techno, nostalgia, round cars, designed beer We’re lost in the city
Our brains are gone Lost to receivers, transformers, flat screens We’re lost in the city Strobe light flashing away Inner world far from here A world of rich hue
Get lost in yesterday In the city or in our minds Hang on to the thread of hope We’re desperate to find……(repeat)
We’re lost in the city….(repeat) Lost in the city
The darkly beautiful video was filmed in black and white by Eirene along, and in the vicinity of, the Thames River in historic South East London. The black and white tones and brooding skies beautifully enhance the darkwave elements of the music. Particularly interesting is that the scenes are all nearly devoid of people, adding to the overall sense of coldness and isolation expressed in the lyrics.
Oui Plastique is a Danish electronica act consisting of Martin Nyrup and James Thomas. From what I can tell based on information provided in their social media accounts, the duo are seasoned musicians, songwriters, composers and producers who first collaborated with each other in 2017 on the Perpacity/DVL album Convergence (Perpacity is an electronic act comprised of Nyrup and British musician Ian Harling, and DVL is a British electronica artist). A short time later, Nyrup and Thomas joined forces to create Oui Plastique, and this past March, they released their debut single “Failure” a dark and brooding track that’s garnered airplay on radio stations across the globe, including the UK, Spain and Australia.
Now the guys are back with “The Fear“, the second single from their forthcoming debut album Fraternity of Strangers, due for release later this year. The single (and album) are being released through ScentAir Records. The lyrics were written by Thomas and the music composed by Nyrup, who also mixed, mastered and produced the track.
About the song, Thomas commented: “Writing ‘The Fear’ was one of the most fun songwriting experiences I’ve had, but also one of the most challenging. With Martin having outdone himself once again with regard to writing the music, I knew I’d have to step up my game and really do this track justice by writing some vocals that really work well. I’m really happy with how it turned out.” Nyrup adds: “I think ‘The Fear’ is one of our strongest tracks so far. It shows our evolution and development in terms of structure and production, and strengthens our identity as a group. It really represents us well, and I’m excited to see how it is received.”
Well, I think they’ve succeeded in their mission, as “The Fear” is absolutely brilliant. The song opens with sounds of someone turning the dial on a radio in search of a station, which are soon replaced with swelling synths and Thomas’ droning vocals. Forty-five seconds in, the music bursts forth into a stunning cinematic soundscape that would make Ennio Morricone envious. The darkly dramatic swirling synths are incredible, and complemented by gorgeous, deeply resonant piano chords and intense jangly guitars. Thomas’ fervent vocals turn even more passionate in the choruses, bringing chills. The song is a breathtaking darkwave masterpiece.
The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, but my take is that they’re about a relationship that has deteriorated beyond the point of repair, with both parties feeling emotionally disconnected and dead inside. In the bridge, a woman recites the lines “It was nothing like I expected. It was beautiful. I wouldn’t change a thing“, accompanied by sounds of a hospital heart monitor stopping, as it to signify her or the relationship’s death.
Verse I: Inside it seems As unnerving as you It burns my eyes Like I’m staring into the sun Verse II: I’m beside myself Cos I die every day A blacked-out shell Unemotional and distant now Chorus: Mesmerising absolute The fear that comes from you Wide awake beyond your dream and it’s Too late to follow me
The beautiful artwork for the single was created by Janne Ervø.
Los Angeles-based alt-rock band ASHRR make some incredibly captivating music that’s strongly influenced by such acts as Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem. Comprised of singer-songwriter Steven Davis and artist/producers Ethan Allen and Josh Charles, the seasoned and highly-accomplished trio collectively have a long and impressive musical pedigree. Bringing together their diverse musical background and eclectic, wide-ranging experience, the three joined forces in 2018 after meeting through mutual musician friends, with the aim of collaborating to create the kind of music they all wanted to make. Charles explains “Our collective love of analog synth pop, classic new wave melodies and songwriting, and taking modern production to the limits, defines us. We all come from different backgrounds, which is what can be heard inside the music.”
In October 2018 they released their beautiful debut single “Don’t Wait Too Long”, which premiered on NPR and garnered regular airplay on famed Los Angeles alt-rock radio station KROQ. They dropped their self-titled EP ASHRR a few months later, then followed in May 2019 with their outstanding debut full-length album Oscillator, which contained all the tracks from their EP, plus five new tracks. That October, they released an enchanting single “Sacrifice“, which I reviewed, then followed with three more singles, the latest of which is “Otherside“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
Released via Wehearnoise Records, it’s a darkly beautiful song that seems to address feelings of breaking free from the isolation of being in lockdown, and celebrating the joys of once again openly socializing with friends and loved ones: “Locked up inside another sundown, Let’s take a ride to the ghost town / I wanna be alive, shining on my face in the morning light. I still need you so…Come out in the open, meet me on the otherside.”
To convey their hopeful message of emerging from the darkness into the light, ASHRR builds upon a strong pulsating beat with a palette of bewitching darkwave synths in the style of Depeche Mode, then layers a rich mix reverb-soaked fuzzy and jangly guitars. The result is a brooding yet optimistic backdrop for Davis’s mesmerizing vocals as he sings the hopeful lyrics.
Iza Grau is a dark wave rock band based in Modena, Italy, who recently released their outstanding debut album, Vastness Hurts. (It dropped Friday, April 3rd, which seems to have been a big day for new music releases, as this is the fourth in a series of seven reviews I’m writing for music released that day.) It’s an astonishing work that I loved at first listen, and am pleased to now share it with my readers. The album contains nine stellar tracks, all of them dark, complex, melodic and thrilling, with influences that call to mind The Cure, Depeche Mode and Interpol, three bands I dearly love. In their own words, their music “draws its influences from the obscure imagery of the industrial / new wave movement of the last century, combined with visual inspirations such as Wim Wenders’ Berlin and the claustrophobic spaces of ‘Possession’ by Zulawski.”
Making this awesome music are Luca Amadessi (vocals), Sergio P. Cardinali (guitar), Alessandro Stefani (guitar), Roberto Fordiani (drums) and Giuseppe Longone (bass). Released via Cleopatra Records, Vastness Hurts was recorded by Simon Maccari at Peak Studio in Rubiera, Italy and mastered at by Giovanni Versari at La Maestà Mastering Studio in Forlì. The interesting cover art “You and whose army” for the album was created by Giacomo Vanetti.
The album kicks off with “Naiad“, and within seconds of hearing those haunting guitar notes, ominous synths and deep, buzzing bass, I’m hooked. Amadessi’s smoky vocals hover in a sweet zone between seductive and menacing as he croons “All your nightmares turned out to be your lovers, your lovers tonight.” His vocals rise to impassioned wails as the music explodes in the final chorus with screaming guitars and dramatic synths that leave me covered in goosebumps.
I’m barely able to catch my breath before “The Grace Within Nocturnal Animals” arrives on an exhilarating wave of driving beats and dazzling guitar riffs. With its retro 80s new wave grooves and descending guitar lines, the song has a brooding Depeche Mode/The Cure vibe, and I love it! The dual intricate layered guitar work by Cardinali and Stefani is spectacular, dancing over Longone’s smoldering bass line. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. And speaking of great bass lines, Longone’s driving bass on “Cage of Blessing” is a thing of wonder. Once again the guitar work here is breathtaking, with frantic riffs of resonant jangly guitars that seem to pay homage to The Cure. Fordiani smashes his drums like a raging beast, and Amadessi’s powerful vocals are spine-tingling.
As the album unfolds, the great tunes keep coming on strong. “Recoil” is a dark, melodically beautiful hard rock song with stunning guitar work. Amadessi’s sultry, passionate vocals sound better than ever as he fervently sings “Changing evermore / Till you destroy your lies / Till your pain becomes a cross, and you’re about to die.” The anthemic “Inviolate” delivers raging riffs of gnarly and chiming guitars, nimble bass grooves and a thunderous mix of crashing cymbals and pummeling drums. By now, I’m in absolute awe of Iza Grau’s jaw-dropping musicianship.
“Northern Lights” starts off with distant-sounding psychedelic synths, then watery riffs of jangly guitars wash over us, plunging us headlong into a mysterious and beautiful soundscape as Amadessi ominously croons “Your life remains forever in the frail form of whirling waves / Waiting for a slow dive / It’s a slow dive into your fleshy rage.” Many of Iza Grau’s dramatic lyrics are rather allegorial and enigmatic, in their words “influenced and shaped by the theme of ‘the double’ that governs the forces of nature and humanity.”
“Burn Everything” has an Interpol sound to my ears, and in fact, Amadessi’s moody, droning vocals remind me a bit of Paul Banks, but with an Italian accent. Another favorite of mine is “Endless Dance“, a dark and spooky track with ghostly synths, haunting riffs, buzzsaw bass and pummeling drumbeats, all accompanied by Amadessi’s menacing vocals that turn downright scary at the end.
The album closes with the title track “Vastness Hurts“, a melodically complex and gorgeous song that borders on symphonic rock. The intense, sweeping instrumentals and progressive metal elements create a breathtaking cinematic soundscape that’s truly spectacular. I’m sounding like a broken record and running out of superlatives, but yet again I have to reiterate that the powerful and intricate guitar work is fucking phenomenal. It’s a grand finish to a magnificent album that I happily label a musical masterpiece. Vastness Hurts is a remarkable work, and an impressive debut for this incredibly talented band.
Melotika is an indie/alternative pop artist born and raised in Montreal, and now based in Toronto. The alter-ego of singer/songwriter Mel Yelle, her distinctive, sultry vocal styling and exotic beauty set her apart from other female artists. With a strong sense of individuality and determination coupled with an endearing vulnerability, she writes brutally honest and relatable lyrics touching on subjects of relationships, love, and how social media and pressures to conform can affect our emotional well-being.
I featured Melotika on this blog twice in 2018, when I reviewed her previous singles “Unaware Part II [Blindside]” and “Bittersweet Reality“. On February 18th, she dropped her latest single “Bury The Bones“, a dark, haunting song about a woman who’s a psychopathic killer. The song was co-written by Melotika and New York-based songwriter and producer Gory Gloriana, and produced, mixed and mastered by Sean Savage. About the song, she explains: “‘Bury The Bones’ reveals suppressed dark emotions about an unhealthy, fictional love story. As a society, we have a weird obsession with psychopaths, murder and lust. This song is a creative take on these subjects from the perspective of an individual with an unsettling mind.”
The song opens with sounds of someone digging shovelfuls of earth, backed by gentle, mysterious synths and Melotika’s eerily chants of “do it”, conjuring up images of a black night where something really bad is about to go down. A languid beat kicks in as the music swells with a darkly beautiful mix of contrasting shimmery and gnarly keyboard synths, increasing the sense of unease.
Melotika’s sultry vocals are amazing, conveying a quiet desperation bordering on menacing as she entreats her lover in a thinly veiled threatening manner to not abandon her, or else he will pay:
Stepping by your place, I can’t erase you Another face, that I cannot replace Take another toll, tell me you want more Loathsomeness; I can’t ever love
Don’t ever leave
Don’t let me down
Don’t take the best of me
What goes around comes back around
You may abandon me but My heart beats steadily for you Cold dirt can’t hold me down Walk away and bury the bones
Finally reaching a point of madness, her voice rises to a chilling shriek in the chorus as she implores:
I can never love someone I’m your contaminated loaded gun Don’t you ever leave my friend Don’t you let me down
The dark and brilliant video, written by Melotika and filmed and directed by Eric Soto, brings the lyrics to life in a kind of horror film vignette. A couple, played by Melotika and her real-life boyfriend and songwriter/rapper Krosst Out, are shown walking to and entering her apartment after a night out. We’re shown scenes of them together, juxtaposed with scenes of her in her bedroom, singing the lyrics. They get comfortable, and she goes into the kitchen to arrange the flowers he gave her and pour them glasses of wine while he watches a video of her on TV. Problem is, she’s slipped some poison into his glass, and he soon drops dead. While all this is happening, the camera pans the numerous framed photos of other men on a nearby table. The video ends with yet another man appearing at her door with a bouquet of flowers, and the cycle begins again.
Though a relatively new band formed just last year (2018), Los Angeles-based ASHRR collectively have a long and impressive music pedigree. Comprised of singer-songwriter Steven Davis and artists/producers Ethan Allen and Josh Charles, the accomplished trio have a seasoned and eclectic musical background, combining their wide-ranging experience and diverse stylistic influences. Davis has headlined at the famed Rainbow Room, sharing the stage with Diana Krall and Tony Bennett, co-written songs with pop legend John Oates, and had his music featured on several TV shows and films, including Criminal Minds. He’s released numerous albums, including his jazzy, easy-listening What Happened to Romance and This is Christmas in 2015, a collection of great standards The Way You Look Tonight in 2016, and his tribute to 80s pop-rock classics Departure in 2018.
Allen is a record producer, mixer, engineer, writer, and multi-instrumentalist musician originally hailing from Austin and New Orleans. His credits include Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ben Harper, The 88, Tricky, Luscious Jackson, The Cult, Gram Rabbit, Sheryl Crow, Tim Finn, Brant Bjork, Donita Sparks, Meg Myers, Patty Griffin and Better Than Ezra, as well as many licensing placements in film and television.
Charles is a critically acclaimed piano prodigy, guitarist, singer, producer and songwriter, mentored by the legendary Dr. John. He has recorded for Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, Island Records and Elektra Records/Warner Music Group, and has produced/co-produced and written/co-written seven albums, including his own Love, Work & Money (2010) and 1974. He’s also produced exclusive sound content for Native Instruments and Splice, and has had many of his songs played on radio, film and TV, including several cuts with the aforementioned John Oates.
ASHRR joined forces after meeting through mutual musician friends, seeking to collaborate to create the kind of music they all wanted to make. Charles explains “Our collective love of analog synth pop, classic new wave melodies and songwriting, and taking modern production to the limits, defines us. We all come from different backgrounds, which is what can be heard inside the music.” Their sound is strongly influenced by Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem, among others.
In October 2018 they released their first single, the captivating “Don’t Wait Too Long”, which premiered at NPR.org and garnered regular airplay on famed Los Angeles alt-rock radio station KROQ. They dropped their self-titled EP ASHRR a few months later, then followed this past May with their debut full-length album Oscillator, which contained all the tracks from their EP, plus five new tracks. In October (2019) they released a stellar new single “Sacrifice“, which I’m reviewing today. The song was co-written by all band members, vocals were sung by Davis, and instruments played by Allen and Charles, except for Blair Sinta on drums and Grant Curry on electric bass. Allen and Charles produced the track, which was then mixed by Allen and mastered by Dave Collins.
The uplifting song seems to me to be about looking back on one’s life, realizing that all the hurdles we faced, all the pain we may have experienced, were worth going through to get where we are now, to be the better person we’ve become. Davis’ rich, beautiful baritone vocals are backed by a dreamy soundscape of sweeping orchestral synths. Sinta and Curry provide a mesmerizing rhythm accompaniment with their jubilant percussion and resonant bass lines, respectively. It’s a gorgeous song.
The rain it will come And the wind it will blow You wanna stay true Don’t forget what you know
Haunted with memories Blinded by noise Too much to take A crack in the voice You lost the hope in your eyes Was it worth the sacrifice
Preachers preach Poets rhyme The years tick slowly out of time Angels watch while devils stare We took the poison without care The ferryman will name his price We all know the sacrifice
Innocence is all you have when you are young Darker days have come to pass And we are stronger looking back now on all those dreams denied It was worth the sacrifice