CRYSTAL CITIES – Single Review: “”Jenny, How Were We to Know?”

Ever since first hearing their stunning and critically-acclaimed debut EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now in early 2017, I’ve been a huge fan of Sydney, Australia-based dream rock band Crystal Cities. With a lush, melodic sound they describe as “like Death Cab For Cutie had a War On Drugs with The Beatles” – all bands I love – it’s no wonder I would love their beautiful music too. The supremely talented and strikingly handsome trio consists of Geoff Rana (vocals, guitars, keyboard), Jared King (bass, backing vocals) and Daniel Conte (drums, percussion). I’ve previously featured them three times on this blog, and ranked their gorgeous single “Under the Cold Light of the Moon” at #10 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019. Their outstanding debut album of the same name, recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, also received widespread acclaim.

It’s an understatement that 2020 presented significant challenges to musicians around the world, and like many artists and bands, Crystal Cities have had to make the most of a difficult situation by being creative in terms of how they record and release new music. Accordingly, they made the bold decision to self-produce, record and engineer their second album Hold Me Close Hold Me Tight, as well as release it as ten individual singles, one at a time. Bassist Jared King explains their thinking behind this move: “I think content and momentum are two very important things to be aware of in the streaming-age. Releasing multiple songs all at once is wasted potential in my eyes. We’ve worked so hard on each and every track on this album so why not let each one have it’s time in the spotlight rather than getting lost in the noise of an entire album release all at once.”

Last August, they released their first single “Don’t Speak Too Soon” (you can read my review here), and followed up over the next few months with “Got My Back to the Wind” and “Shadow of a Doubt”. On January 1st, they dropped the fourth single “Jenny, How Were We to Know?“, and it’s another beautiful gem in an unbroken string of superb singles. The song has a somewhat dreamier vibe than the previous three singles, more in the vein of their earlier songs. But as to be expected, the beautiful melody, swirling guitar work, subtle bass and thumping drums are flawless, and I love Geoff Rana’s warm, pleasing vocals.

The song seems to speak about desire and the uncertainties of love, but the lyrics are intentionally ambiguous. Rana elaborates: “The meaning behind this song is something I’ve chosen to remain a mystery. Being a music artist in 2021, we’re encouraged to share every little detail about our lives with our audience. While this has opened up many opportunities for artists to have unique and personal interactions with fans – something which we encourage and take full advantage of in Crystal Cities – there are some things that perhaps should be kept to ourselves in order to set boundaries and protect and respect the privacy of other people… In this instance, I want the context of this song to be left up to the listener’s own interpretation.”⁣

Have a listen to this captivating song:

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SOFT SHELTER – EP Review: “No Exits”

Soft Shelter is a talented young singer-songwriter, guitarist and music producer based in Southern California, who writes songs that explore such themes as memory, nostalgia, time, relationships, and climate change. His pleasing style of indie dream pop is laced with alt-rock, psychedelic and electronic elements, and delivered mostly with guitar, programmed synths and his soft, breathy vocals. He writes, arranges, produces and mixes all his own music in his home studio.

The prolific artist has released a tremendous amount of music over the past year, starting with his first single “Ashes” in November 2019, which he followed with two EPs and several singles, two of which – his EP Judgment Day and his single “Just a Ride” I reviewed earlier this year. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.). Now the busy man is back with a new four-song EP No Exits, which dropped on December 4th. He recorded the EP in his home studio with assistance by Noah Kastenbaum on songwriting and guitar, as well as backing vocal harmonies on “Those Days” and “No Exits.” Drums on “Butterflies” and “No Exits” were played by Grant Whitson. The EP was mastered by Matt Pereira (aka KOMAK), and the artwork was designed by Nikki Castro.

Opening track “Time (Pressure)” has an edgier rock vibe than Soft Shelter’s more typical sound, highlighted by Noah Kastenbaum’s terrific fuzz-coated electric guitar. I really like Soft Shelter’s languid melody and swirling synths that nicely complement Noah’s bluesy guitar licks. The lyrics speak to the relentless passage of time, and the pressures it places on our psyche and the way we live our lives, sometimes missing out on savoring the good stuff in our rush to the next big thing: “Hey wait – it’s gettin’ late. Don’t go – we’ll miss the show. Can’t sit and waste the time standin’ in that stupid line.”

On the contemplative “Butterflies“, he starts the track with a quote by French actress Anna Karina in the 1962 French film Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live), in which she leaves her husband and infant son hoping to become an actress, but ends up becoming a prostitute. She says “I forget that I’m responsible but I am. No, it’s like what I was saying: wanting to escape is a joke. After all, everything is beautiful, you just have to take interest in things and find them beautiful.” As such, “Butterflies” at first touches on the intense feelings of desire for someone: “She gave me butterflies every time and didn’t have to try. She made me lose my mind every time and didn’t have to try“, but then hits us with a cold reality that those feelings might fade: “How long ‘til you’re bored w/ this metamorphosis? How long ‘til you’re bored w/ this faded elegance?” Soft Shelter uses gentle piano chords and lush synths to create a dreamy backdrop for his soft, wistful vocals.

Those Days” is a lovely, introspective track that Soft Shelter states was “written after an intensely nostalgic experience.” His delicate mix of shimmery synths, piano, horns and xylophone are supplemented with Noah’s subtle electric guitar notes and backing vocals that give the song a gentle anthemic quality. Soft Shelter’s breathy vocals are especially enchanting as he softly croons “Back home after many years. Is it time to face my fears? And before these memories nostalgia takes its toll on me. And what’s past was never meant to last.”

On the title track “No Exits”, he uses a double entendre to reflect on both the anxieties over climate-change and to serve as a metaphor for challenges faced in a long-term relationship: “Oh lord, tell us how we’ve strayed. Would we wanna go back anyway? The hourglass has melted away. The sun’s burning us and we can’t stay.” Musically, the song starts off with strummed acoustic and electric guitars accompanied by gentle bass, keyboard synths and soft percussion that give a mellow folk-rock vibe. Gradually, the instrumentals and vocals build to a harder rock crescendo as the song ends in a flourish of distortion.

No Exits is a great little EP that nicely showcases Soft Shelter’s growth as a songwriter, musician and producer. I like that he’s exploring his rock side a bit more, while continuing to write compelling lyrics that draw from both personal and timely, as well as classic themes.

Here’s a YouTube audio of the entire EP:

Or, listen to individual tracks on Bandcamp:

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New Song of the Week – AU GRES: “Nervous”

Au Gres is the moniker of Michigan-based singer-songwriter Joshua Kemp, who’s just released his charming debut single “Nervous“. With a wry sense of self-deprecating humor, he states that “Au Gres was conceived, like many of us, in a bedroom, on a flimsy desk, with unimpressive equipment.” That may well be, but I say the results are quite impressive. Melding elements of indie rock, lo-fi and synth pop, with “Nervous”, he’s created a delightfully dreamy soundscape for his warm, pleasing vocals. His beautifully strummed acoustic and electric guitar notes are nicely complemented by sparkling synths and gentle percussion, resulting in a really lovely song that I’m happy to name my New Song of the Week.

About the song, Au Gres explained on his Instagram page: “‘Nervous’ is about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It’s awfully fitting, as releasing music often feels vulnerable to me, but some of the best things happen when we let ourselves be vulnerable.” “Nervous” celebrates the relationships that go deeper, for without opening ourselves up and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to another person, a relationship can never fully blossom. This is expressed by the honest and simple lyric “Cause you oughta know, nothing about you makes me nervous. I feel right at home.

I asked Joshua how he came to name his music project ‘Au Gres’. He responded that Au Gres is a town in northern Michigan. “Northern Michigan in general is a special spot for me. My family and I would vacation up north a lot when I was younger. Au Gres has Michigan roots, but it’s also French for “of sandstone” or the clay-like substance found in rivers. I felt like this name gave me permission to mold my sound into whatever I wanted, much like how clay can be molded into different shapes.”

“Nervous” is the first of many songs Au Gres plans to release over the next year or so, and I’m eager to hear them!

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RONNIE THE BEAR – Single Review: “Do You Feel That?”

Ronnie the Bear is the music moniker of Joshua Rukas, a talented and charismatic young singer/songwriter and musician from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He’s also a member of the punk/emo rock band MUSCLEMAN, as well as a former member of alt-rock band Dancing On Pluto, who I reviewed a couple times prior to their splitting up in August 2018. On September 9th, he released his stunning debut single “Do You Feel That?“, the first track from his forthcoming EP.

Josh composes, performs and produces all his own music, as well as the mixing and mastering, and I must say he’s done a masterful job (no pun intended) with “Do You Feel That?” Starting with a languid, seductive synth bass beat, he skillfully layers a lush array of shimmery and grainy-textured synths, accompanied by gorgeous chiming guitar notes, then bathes it all in just enough reverb to create a dreamy, atmospheric soundscape that carries us off to an enchanting faraway place.

He has a smooth and warm singing voice, and his somewhat echoed vocals are really lovely and soothing, perfectly complementing the song’s atmospheric aura. Halfway through the song, he briefly transitions to rapping a verse of lyrics, pulling it off quite nicely. Then, during the final minute, his vocals are electronically altered, giving them an otherworldly feel that enhances the song’s overall dreamy vibe. I love it!

The song seems to be about living life to the fullest and in the moment, being independent and free to make your own decisions, and unafraid of what the future might bring:

It might be time to shake things up a little
No longer feel the danger 
I'm just trying to feel myself a little 
So glad I'm on my own 
I think I want to dance just for a little 
Not a care if it's been raining 
I'll leave my shoes behind and let my body be my guide
I'll get by
 I'm just strolling through life

Follow Ronnie the Bear on TwitterInstagram

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New Song of the Week – CRYSTAL CITIES: “Don’t Speak Too Soon”

Ever since first hearing their stunning and critically-acclaimed debut EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now in early 2017, I’ve been head over heels in love with the music of Sydney, Australia-based dream rock band Crystal Cities. With a sound they describe as “like Death Cab For Cutie had a War On Drugs with The Beatles” – all three bands I love – it’s no wonder I would love their beautiful music too. The supremely talented trio consists of Geoff Rana (vocals, guitars, keyboard), Jared King (bass, backing vocals) and Daniel Conte (drums, percussion).

In 2019, the guys had the opportunity to record their gorgeous debut album Under the Cold Light of the Moon at the famed Abbey Road Studios. The album featured eight stellar dream rock gems, most with lush orchestral arrangements and instrumentation. The dramatic title track “Under the Cold Light of the Moon” was inspired by the story of young North Korean girl Yeonmi Park. who bravely escaped North Korea in search of freedom. I reviewed the song, and loved it so much that it went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranked #10 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. The album helped further cement their reputation as an outstanding group of exceptional songwriters and musicians. In recent weeks, they’ve posted back stories with lyrics for each of the album’s tracks on their Instagram page.

Now, Crystal Cities return with their latest single “Don’t Speak Too Soon“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song, which drops today, August 21st, is the lead single from their forthcoming second album Hold Me Close Hold Me Tight. Both single and album see the band taking a different approach this time around, foregoing the fancy studio and producer and instead choosing to produce the album themselves.

With that in mind, at the beginning of this year, lead singer/guitarist and primary songwriter Geoff Rana decided to learn all the ins and outs of recording. With the help of free educational resources such as YouTube, he began putting his new-found knowledge to work as he tracked “Don’t Speak Too Soon” at his house in Sydney. It was definitely a trial and error experience, and the added responsibility and steep learning curve nearly overwhelmed him. “‘Don’t Speak Too Soon’ is my first attempt at being an engineer and producer. It was a lot more involved than just showing up to the studio to record my parts! I think more hours were spent reading and watching tutorials than actually recording. One of the biggest mental and technical hurdles I had to overcome was losing all my vocal takes and having to re-record them all over again.”

Well, I’d say that Rana did a masterful job, as “Don’t Speak Too Soon” turned out splendid. With the help of renowned L.A.-based mix engineer Paul Lani (David Bowie, Prince), the band has produced another winning single that retains their signature dream rock elements while delivering a more hard-hitting and edgier vibe. The frantic, guitar-driven melody is downright electrifying, and I think it’s the most exciting song Crystal Cities has done yet. Rana sets the airwaves ablaze with blistering riffs of jangly and gnarly guitars. I always thought he was a great guitarist, but here he blows me away with the sheer ferocity of his performance.

Jared King and Daniel Conte keep the powerful rhythm rampaging forward with their hard-driving bassline and smashing drumbeats. I especially love how Conte pounds out a single thumping blow to his drums at various breakpoints in the song to great effect. Then there’s Rana’s hauntingly beautiful vocals that are another highlight for me, as I love his singing voice. With a sense of sad resignation, he passionately laments that perhaps he overplayed his hand in love: “And it burns my eyes down through the bone. Why did I listen to love? Did I speak now too soon?

I’ve loved every single one of Crystal Cities’ songs, and happily add “Don’t Speak Too Soon” to the list. Spectacular job guys!

The cool vintage-looking lyric video was produced by bassist Jared King.

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Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

BENJAMIN BELINSKA – Single Review: “Young in Baltimore”

Ben Belinska

Benjamin Belinksa is an earnest and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and musician based in Newcastle, England. Born in Stoke-On-Trent to Welsh and Polish parents, Benjamin moved to Newcastle when he was 17, but soon thereafter spent time in Glasgow, Berlin, and then Paris, working at a series of menial jobs while also writing music as time permitted. After meeting fellow musician E.A.R in Paris, the two formed the band Paris, Texas, and released two albums with cult producer Kramer (Low, Will Oldham, Daniel Johnston). Eventually, they moved back to Newcastle together, where Benjamin suffered two serious setbacks: First, while rushing to catch a connecting train in York station, he left behind a suitcase containing most of his early songs, which he never recovered. Then, months later, he was viciously assaulted in a random attack by four guys in broad daylight as he was walking home from work, suffering injuries to his eye and throat that landed him in a hospital.

It was during his recovery period that he decided to stop drifting once and for all, and set down roots in Newcastle. He also got the impetus to write songs for what would become his debut solo album Lost Illusions, set for release on August 28. Thinking back on his years of drifting, and how it became an inspiration for the album, he told Ali Welford in an interview for NARC. Magazine: “Drifting is not a bad thing – it allows you to let go of many illusions, but still, they are very attractive. I wanted to grab hold of one again – namely, that I am the master of my own direction. The title ‘Lost Illusions’ is a reference to the childish disappointment that we all go through when we discover that the world is just a lot of silliness. But despite this, it only has one theme – the extraordinary sadness and wretchedness of human life, and my amazement at the fact that this wretched life can nevertheless be so beautiful and precious.”

On July 31st, Benjamin released “Young in Baltimore“, the lead single from the album. Like all the tracks on Lost Illusions, the song was recorded by Benjamin with a back-up band, and mixed and mastered at Soup Studio in London by Giles Barrett and Simon Trought. It’s a charming dream pop track, with a sunny, retro vibe that calls to mind some of the great soft rock and synth pop songs of the 1980s. The song has a lovely, upbeat melody, with a lively toe-tapping beat overlain by chiming synths and warm guitar notes. It all creates an enchanting soundscape that serves as a pleasing backdrop for Benjamin’s gentle, heartfelt vocals as he sings the bittersweet lyrics about a woman contemplating love’s regrets: “When you were young and dumb, he promised to make you his wife. Natural, and he’s cold, you say you’ve wasted your life.” The song also strikes a particular chord with me, as I grew up in San Jose, California, which is mentioned in the lyrics: “Was the winter in San Jose, yeah, the heart attack by the bay? What will you do, your past is blue, and your life is stuck there.”

About “Young in Baltimore”, Benjamin told me “While writing the song, I was thinking about the pressure to conform that we all go through, and how some of us enter into situations, relationships – not out of passion, but out of the illusion that we have no choice. I had moved to a new city, I was working a job I hated. I kept asking myself questions like ‘Have I made the right decision? Should I be doing this? Was it better before, when I was younger?’ I was also obsessed with Robert Frank’s photo-book ‘The Americans’, thinking about the people in those pictures, imagining their lives. I kept coming back to this image of a woman on a train. All of my regret, reluctancy and nostalgia collided with this image. It became a prism out of which another formed; somebody considering the end of a marriage. Only later did I realise it was a symbol of my life at that moment.

As for the bright-sounding music, it’s there to counteract the story. I was living in Glasgow at the time, too. It rains a lot there, so it was also in defiance of that. A rainy place needs sunny music.

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Purchase: BandcampGoogle Play 

KIDSMOKE – Album Review: “A Vision In The Dark”

Kidsmoke album

Kidsmoke is an exceptionally talented indie dream rock band based in the city of Wrexham in northeast Wales. On June 19th, after many months of hard work, they released their debut album A Vision in the Dark via Welsh label Libertino Records. Like so many bands, they’d planned to tour over the summer to promote their album, but those plans were dashed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, they decided not to delay the release of their album, and just wanted to get it out so their fans would have some new music to look forward to. And what a beautiful album it is, featuring 11 superb tracks. Their lush and beautiful guitar-driven sound is strongly influenced by such bands as Joy Division, The Cure, Wilco and The National, among others.

Formed in late 2012 by Lance Williams and James Stickels, who’d been friends since their school days, Kidsmoke was named after a song by one of their favorite bands Wilco. They released their first EP Higher in 2013, followed by a second EP So Long, Emptiness in 2015. Various members came and went, but the band finally came into its own with the addition of Sophie Ballamy and Ash Turner in 2016. Since then, the lineup has been Lance on Lead Vocals & Guitar, James on Bass & Vocals, Sophie on Guitar & Vocals, and Ash on Drums. The band continued to release numerous singles, along with an EP Save Your Sorrow in 2017, and had the experience of a lifetime when they performed at SXSW (South By Southwest Film & Music Festival) in Austin, Texas in 2019.

Kidsmoke

A Vision in the Dark opens with “Passenger” a lovely, uptempo song that sets the tone for the album. Its sunny, upbeat instrumentals, highlighted by jangly guitars and snappy drumbeats, contrast with the rather poignant lyrics “I’m moving on to God knows where, I’m dressed to kill the time I’m moving on, I’m a passenger.” Lance explained that the song is “about losing your direction in life, being swept along with the crowd and feeling helpless to stop it.” The song was chosen for NPR’s Austin 100 playlist.

The warm, summery vibe carries over to the next track “Layla’s Love“, with its swirling guitars and dreamy, ethereal melody. Lance states that the song “is a retrospective story of a relationship, where one partner begins to dwell upon the many ‘what ifs?’ we all face.” The male character in the narrative ultimately realizes that, though not perfect, the relationship remains strong and they’re still together: “Baby, the sun won’t rise over you. But I know we are still together. Layla’s love is the only love I’ll never lose.” I love the interplay between Lance and Sophie’s enchanting vocals as they sing “You gave me everything I had (I hope I did). Everything I wanted (you know I tried). But sometimes everything just isn’t enough.” This beautiful song stayed stuck in my head long after hearing it, and is one of the highlights on the album for me.

Kidsmoke continue to deliver the breezy feels on “Colourfield“, with its chiming guitars and cheerful, bouncy bass line, “Higher“, a beautiful reworking of a song from their first EP, and “She Takes You Under“, where they seem to pay homage to The Cure with bouyant jangly guitars and sparkling synths. Lance and Sophie’s vocal harmonies are particularly wonderful here, as well as on the brief but enchanting “Kaleidoscope“. The track is a chorus from an old song the band had previously written but never recorded, and serves as an interlude between side 1 and side 2 of the album.

Another standout track is “Rising Sun“, a high-energy tune with a retro 80s new wave vibe. The fast-paced driving rhythms and exuberant guitars are fantastic, and as always, the vocal harmonies are sublime. The lyrics speak to pushing back against others’ expectations, even when they’re coming from people who are closest to you: “Your days are done. I turn the black to blue. I turn the night to day. I’m the rising sun. I feel your love, I don’t want to follow.

The hauntingly beautiful “Take Me to the River” is another re-imagining of an old song from their debut EP Higher. A fan favorite, Kidsmoke decided to re-record it for the album. The song was featured on an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror, and is about being led astray from one’s path by negative influences. The bouncy, guitar-driven melody contrasts with the dark lyrics that seem to touch on a relationship doomed by the suicidal tendencies of one of the partners: “If I leave you, I’ll miss you, I’ll never make you mine. We’re sinking fast. We’re running out of time.” The richly layered guitars and pulsating bass are wonderful.

They continue to dazzle us with dreamy melodies and exquisite guitar work on “Still Dreams“, a deeply personal song Lance wrote based on his own experience having to come to terms with a life-changing event that made it hard for him to face the world. He elaborates “The song is about the expectations from family, friends or work to ‘get back to normal’ after something traumatic has happened. The overarching sentiment is about giving people the time they need to heal.”

Kidsmoke slows things down with “Little Easy“, a gentle song of thanks to someone for their love and support: “Little easy. You’ll never know how much you mean to me. You play the part, you play it right.” With its languid beat, mix of acoustic and electric guitars, and lovely vocal harmonies, the song has an early Fleetwood Mac feel, at least to my ears. About the inspiration for the song, James explains “I felt a little bit directionless at the time; I’d moved back home to Wales from Manchester for a job that didn’t work out and I was missing city life. I always aim for emotion in my music, but this one felt a bit more genuine…I just wrote how I felt.”

They save the best for last, closing out the album with “The Bluest You“, my favorite song of them all. Being a lover of music who cannot write a note of it, nor play a single instrument, I’m always awestruck at how people can create such gorgeous melodies, then bring them to fruition with various instruments. What Kidsmoke has achieved with “The Bluest You” is nothing short of spectacular, creating a song of such incredible beauty and depth that it renders me speechless. The glorious swirling guitars are as dreamy as they come, and James and Ash keep the spellbinding rhythm with their pulsating bass line and perfect drumbeats, respectively. Once again, I must make note of the stunning vocal harmonies delivered by Lance, Sophie and James. This song is honestly one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a long while.

I’m not the only one for whom this song is a favorite. Lance said “This song is a live favourite of ours”, while James noted “This is my favourite track. I originally intended for it to be an instrumental – thankfully I soon decided against that idea. I knew from the moment it was written that it was destined to be the last track on the album.”

The song lyrics address mental health, specifically the effect someone’s issues have on loved ones around them. Lance explained: “It is a fly on the wall look into a household where one person’s depression is affecting everyone else who lives there. The song doesn’t address the feelings of the person suffering with depression, it is a sort of commentary from the viewpoint of the rest of the family.”

I’ve gushed about A Vision in the Dark throughout this review, so I don’t know what more I can say except that it’s an absolutely stunning album from beginning to end, and ranks among the very best releases I’ve heard so far in 2020. Listening to it is an immersive experience, as one gorgeous track flows into the next, keeping the listener in a continuous state of thrall. Other than for the minute-long interlude piece “Kaleidoscope”, the other ten tracks could all be hit singles, they’re that good.

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SOFT SHELTER – Single Review: “Just a Ride”

Soft Shelter Just a Ride art

Soft Shelter is a talented young singer, songwriter, guitarist and music producer based in Santa Barbara, California. He writes pleasing indie dream pop songs laced with alt-rock, psychedelic, pop and electronic elements, and featuring thoughtful lyrics sung in his soft, breathy vocal style. Since the release of his first single “Ashes” last November (2019), he’s been a busy guy, dropping a new single or EP every month or so, most recently his three-song EP Judgment Day on May 1st. Now the hard-working artist is back with a lovely new single “Just a Ride“, which dropped June 26. The song was written, produced, and mixed by Soft Shelter, and mastered by Matt Pereira (aka KOMAK). The cool artwork for the single was created by Theo Morrow.

The song addresses the feeling of being blindsided by the discovery that your lover has cheated on you, turning your world upside down and leaving you wondering what you’ll do or where you’ll go next. I like how he uses snippets of voice overs by the late comedian Bill Hicks at the beginning, middle and end of the track. Hicks’ opening line “There is a point—is there a point to all this? Let’s find a point.” really encapsulates the feeling of bewilderment one is often left with at the realization that a relationship we thought was good has suddenly blown apart. Soft Shelter laments in the chorus “I came home and saw you there. You weren’t alone, I had to stare. It’s my time to go, I left at dawn. That life I knew, I’m moving on.” Hicks’ words offer assurance at the end that things will be alright: “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid—ever—because this is just a ride.”

Musically, the song features a rather melancholy but pretty piano-driven melody, accompanied by gentle percussive beats and lovely keyboard synths that soar to a swirling lushness in the choruses. The acoustic and electric guitar notes Soft Shelter injects at various points in the song add a nice textural element that brightens the overall aesthetic of the track, keeping it from becoming too maudlin.

The beautifully-filmed video was directed by Elena Gaeta, and features Soft Shelter performing the song in and atop a gorgeous sage green Mustang convertible as he drives through what I’m guessing is the countryside outside Santa Barbara.

 

Follow Soft Shelter on Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google PlayAmazon

BLOOM DE WILDE – Album Review: “The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe”

Bloom de Wilde album art

Bloom de Wilde is a London-based singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist with a fascinating and eccentric avant garde sound. Born in the Netherlands to a Dutch artist mother and an Indonesian father who lead his own traditional Indonesian music ensemble known as Gamelan, Bloom’s experiences growing up in a multi-ethnic environment led her to develop an innovative and imaginative approach to her music. Drawing from an eclectic mix of influences by some of her favorite artists such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Björk, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Nina Simone and Toxic Chicken, Bloom fuses elements of dream, ethno and experimental art pop, folk and jazz with unconventional melodies and a rich mix of instruments to create exuberant, colorful soundscapes that transport us to exotic, faraway places. Moreover, her unusual and distinctive vocal style has earned her comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Kate Bush and Björk.

Bloom De Wilde2

Bloom has been writing and recording songs for several years, and some of her older tracks can be found on her Soundcloud account. In July 2019, she began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Soul Siren”, which won both the International Songwriting Award for best female singer songwriter, and the UK Songwriting Competition for Best Video. That October, she followed up with “Rock, Plant & Animal”, a hopeful ode to nature and earth. That song won the Alternative Friday Award for best Folk & Art-pop track. She later released two more singles “Atlas Cassandra” and “Do & Be”, and on June 12, dropped her debut album The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe.

Released via Dream Society Records, the album features those four tracks plus two others. I asked her why she’s calling it an album when it contains only six tracks. She responded that “format-wise it’s an EP, but content-wise it’s definitely an album.” The songs were written and arranged by Bloom, who sang all vocals and played several instruments including piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, guitar, harmonium, glockenspiel, organ and synth programming. The tracks were co-produced by her and Nick Trepka and Sam Ritchie, who also played some of the instruments. In addition, ten other musicians played various instruments on the album, including flugelhorn, kora, viola, violin, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, tuba and double bass, all contributing to the songs’ lush, dreamy sounds.

About the album, Bloom explains: “These songs have all been inspired by the human beings and cats that are closest to my heart; and as we are all the Universe perceiving itself through infinite subjective perspectives, I feel it is via the Heart that the Universe speaks. In these strange and challenging liminal times, I feel it is possible for us to create a new reality – a life-sustaining harmonious world where people are kind and generous to all earthlings, human or animal, and look after the planet and it’s plant life with love and care. This album is an invitation to celebrate life in all its wondrous, colourful exuberance. Let’s sing, dance, dream, paint, play and meow a new world into existence.

Bloom opens her album with “Soul Siren“, a delightful song of love. Employing an exotic and lush array of instruments, highlighted by soulful trumpet and shimmery notes from a West African kora, she fashions an enchanting backdrop for her quirky vocals. She uses her voice like another instrument, reaching almost childlike high notes as her voice sweetly coos, then soars with an emotion-filled confidence in the choruses.  She sings of her strong emotional and physical connection with her beloved – she’s the siren to her soulmate: “I will show you all the secret hearts I’ve hidden in my chest. We could now do all the things that we always wanted to, but never dared. I’m all yours, your Soul Siren.”

On the pleasing and catchy “Do & Be“, Bloom urges us to just live our lives as simply and honestly as possible, keeping in touch with the real world and the natural beauty around us, and not overthink everything: “Sleepers should be dreamers, oh i know It’s so obvious it drives me crazy.” The colorful and whimsical video she made for the song showcases her creativity and playfulness.

Atlas Cassandra” has a rather dark spiritual vibe, with Bloom sounding like a high priestess as she croons against a dramatic and mysterious backdrop of tinkling xylophone, somber drumbeats and soaring strings. The captivating “Rock, Plant & Animal” is a beautiful, uplifting tribute to earth and nature. She explained her inspiration for the song: “I wrote this song for my children, about this living Earth I love so dearly, and all the precious life upon it. I believe everything in this world has a living essence, a soul, and all is connected. We are all One – Rock, Plant and Animal.” (You can read my detailed review here.)

The exuberant anthem “Animal Spirit” was written in 2018, and in a sense could be considered Bloom’s theme song. It expresses her philosophy – her inherent ‘animal spirit’ if you will – of her reverence for earth and all living things, and how she chooses to conduct her life on this planet, promoting respect for life in all its myriad forms: “I won’t stop, I’ll never give up. I’m inside this eternal movement. I will not be held back by darkness or heaviness. Never, never cease to be driven by the heart, by the art, the magic and the marvellous.”

Pale Moon, Golden Light” is a tender and languid ballad, with a more stripped-down sound consisting of only piano and light percussion. Bloom softly croons to a boy with assurances that her love can calm the savage beast in him: ” What’s the matter with you boy? Madness strikes under your window with a sword. Climbing up & down the ladder. Who is there? I’m there. / Could it be that you’re the one for me?

The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe is an utterly enchanting and eccentric little album that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard by any other artist. Bloom de Wilde is a brilliant, creative and innovative artist, though I can imagine that her style and sound might not appeal to everyone. But if you like music that’s colorful, avant garde and thoroughly unique, you will enjoy this album.

Connect with Bloom:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

dizmation – EP Review: “Who Are the Experts?”

Dizmation

Dizmation is the solo music project of Irish singer-songwriter and musician Joey Doyle. The talented Dubliner is also front man for the band Fiction Peaks, a wonderful alternative folk-rock group I featured on this blog a number of times in 2016 and 2017. He released his debut EP The Future is a Bubble in March, and followed a month later with the lovely piano instrumental “Paint Clouds”. Now he returns with a new three-track EP Who Are the Experts?, which dropped May 3rd. He’s also a pretty talented visual artist, and created the trippy artwork for the EP cover.

On his Instagram page, Dizmation offers a hint as to the meaning of the songs: “These are our identities being swallowed up by algorithms, to be homogenised.” Each of the three tracks has a completely different music style and sound. The first track “Render” features an urgent piano-driven melody, accompanied by soaring orchestral strings and pulsating waves of distorted synth bass that give the song a beautiful but rather unsettling vibe. Doyle has a lovely voice, which here sounds plaintive and somewhat distant as he sings: “No sense in making sense now / The time awaits all fools / That deeper stain behind us / The truth’s no longer the truth / But sail away so far away / For truth and darkness lies in the light.”

“Shadow Band” is an unusual instrumental track with a fascinating mix of scratchy, undulating lo-fi industrial synths, sharp percussive beats and somber piano keys, punctuated by brief moments of delicate glittery synths. The lovely but rather haunting echoed chorale vocals lend a mystical air to the song.

“Where Life Awaits” is a pleasing folk-style song that starts off with a strummed acoustic guitar and bold hand claps. The music expands to include moody horns and string synths that give the song a poignant feel. Dizmation softly croons the lyrics that seem to speak of trying to break through to someone he cares deeply about: “I tried to know you, to see inside. To light the path where the darkness lies. But every time I’m getting close, all I see is closing doors. But it’s not too far, And it’s not too late. We’re dying to be where, to be where life awaits.”

Who Are the Experts? is a fine little EP that provides a glimpse of Dizmation’s creative imagination and songwriting skills, as well as his strong musicianship.

Follow Dizmation:  TwitterInstagram