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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Stream “Nervous”:  SpotifyApple MusicTidalSoundcloud

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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

Stream/Purchase “Do You Feel That?” on SpotifyGoogle PlayApple Music

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.

Connect with Crystal Cities:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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.

Connect with Benjamin:  FacebookTwitter
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud
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.

Follow Kidsmoke:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

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.

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Song of the Day Challenge – Day 10: ABSOFACTO – “Lemon Drop”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that’s been stuck in your head”, and my pick is the delightful “Lemon Drop” by Absofacto. I love the song, which is currently in the midst of a long run on my Weekly Top 30.

Absofacto is the solo project of singer/songwriter and musician Jonathan Visger. He’s been making music for over 15 years, first as a member of Michigan-based indie rock band Mason Proper, and later as a solo artist, and recently scored his first breakthrough hit with his captivating single “Dissolve”. A sleeper hit, the song was originally released in 2015, but went nowhere. In 2017, he signed with Atlantic Records and released his EP Thousand Peaces. “Dissolve” was included on the EP, then re-released as a single in 2018, but once again failed to gain traction, which is hard to believe as it’s such a great song.

Absofacto

In 2019, the song received renewed interest due to a meme on the music and video-sharing app TikTok, and became a surprise hit. It debuted on the Billboard Alternative chart in June 2019, and after a long, steady climb, reached #1 in January 2020. Absofacto followed up with the single “Rewind” in November 2019, then in March 2020, dropped “Lemon Drop”, along with another song “Python”.

On his Facebook account, Absofacto describes his music as “warped cloud odd dream beat / bubblejam / idyllicrunk / spacebass / twilight zoneout / wavewave“, which pretty well paints an accurate and colorful picture of his cool, synthpop sound. “Lemon Drop” is one of his best tracks, with a breezy, uptempo vibe and infectious dance beat. He uses lots of sweet and spacey synths to create a dreamy, atmospheric soundscape for his soft, breathy vocals. They have an ethereal, yet seductive quality that makes them utterly enchanting as he sings to a loved one of his ardor. It’s a fresh and modern take on the age-old subject of romance.

Blond camaro, gold leaf, yellow lemon drop
You’re my one and only, just the way you are
Wanna see the world from the front seat of your car
Tell me you ain’t far, tell me you ain’t far 

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JONNY POLONSKY – Artist Spotlight and Album Review: “Kingdom of Sleep”

Jonny Polonsky

Singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Polonsky has been actively involved in the music industry for over a quarter century, both as a solo artist and as a session musician and member of several bands, however he’s never become a household name. He grew up in the north Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois, where he started playing music before he was ten, and performed in his high school orchestra and jazz band. As a precocious teen, he began writing songs and recording them on homemade cassettes, handing them out to friends and using them as an excuse to go backstage and meet some of the musicians he admired.

One of them was Reeves Gabrels, who was a guitarist for David Bowie and now with The Cure. Gabrels in turn introduced Jonny to Frank Black/Black Francis of the band Pixies, who ended up producing his first demo. That demo resulted in famed record producer Rick Rubin signing Polonsky to his record label American Recordings. Here’s the demo for “In My Mind”, which was later used in 2012 for episode five of the first season of the HBO series Girls.

The demos were eventually released, however, Polonsky re-recorded the songs himself using digital home recording equipment, and self-produced what would become his debut album Hi My Name is Jonny. The album, released by American Recordings in January 1996, showcased his strong songwriting, singing and musicianship, and received critical acclaim from numerous international news outlets including The New York Times and MTV.

Following the record’s release, Polonsky and his live band supported Frank Black on his North American tour, and also played the Second Stage of the 1996 Lollapalooza summer tour. He spent the next several years touring with other acts like Pete Yorn, and working as a session musician for such acts as Donovan. In 2001 he released an EP There is Something Wrong With You, and a year later moved to Los Angeles, where his connection with Rick Rubin led to work as a session musician on albums by Minnie Driver, Neil Diamond, Dixie Chicks and Johnny Cash, among others. In 2004 he released his second album The Power of Sound, and in the spring of 2005 he and his band opened for Audioslave on their North American club tour.

Serendipity and the power of networking paid off once again for Polonsky, as this time his touring experience with Audioslave led to him becoming part of the short-lived band Big Nose with Audioslave/Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford. Big Nose collaborated on two songs with Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan. who used those songs for his music/art project Puscifer. That resulted in Polonsky having a collaborative relationship with Puscifer lasting from 2007 to 2010, during which time he also toured with the band as their guitarist.

Eight years would pass before Polonsky would release another solo album, and in 2012 he dropped his third LP Intergalactic Messenger of Divine Light and Love, a fine work that saw him experiment with more psychedelic and alt rock elements. On his 2015 album The Other Side of Midnight, his music continued to evolve into a darker, more atmospheric sound with greater used of synthesizers and programmed drums, all self-recorded on his laptop. Also, his singing style incorporated more falsetto and whispered vocals.

In 2018, he released his fifth album Fresh Flesh, a fascinating and eclectic work that fused alt rock with post-grunge, psychedelic and shoegaze elements. The album was recorded with his live band in two days at Rick Rubin’s Shangri La Studios in Malibu California, and features guest performances by vocalist Mark Lanegan (formerly of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age), and drummer Kevin Haskins of the band Bauhaus, (and formerly with Love and Rockets and Tones on Tail). The title track “Fresh Flesh” is particularly good, with trippy synths set to a haunting melody, and highlighted by a blistering guitar solo.

On March 6, Polonsky returned with his latest album Kingdom of Sleep, an eclectic collection of eight captivating songs. He delves deeper into dream pop and vapor wave territory here, while retaining some of his signature alt rock and psychedelic elements. It also sees him going full-circle, in a sense, as like Hi My Name is Jonny, Kingdom of Sleep was entirely self-recorded and produced at home. Polonsky moved to Brooklyn, New York in 2018, and no longer has his old band of musicians nearby to record an album with him.

In an interview with The Big Takeover webzine, he explained “I live in an apartment in Brooklyn, so I can’t make a lot of noise, and I’m not in a position where I can spend thousands of dollars in recording studios or in hiring musicians. So that also plays a large role in why I’ve been recording everything on my laptop and most of the drums are electronic. Plus it’s fun. I like these sounds. For this record, I felt like making really pretty, dreamy, beautiful and melodic music that painted a picture. I was listening to a lot of Cocteau Twins and Prince. And David Lynch is always an inspiration. I love his films, but his records are really great, too. They are strange, little worlds you can enter and feel like you are somewhere new, just like with his movies.

Johnny Polonsky Kingdom of Sleep

The album opens with “Ghost Like Soul“, a moody track with languid, psychedelic synths creating an appropriately spooky and mesmerizing atmospheric vibe. Polonsky’s breathy vocals alternate between an eerie, electronically altered monotone to an almost menacing whisper, while guest vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala (of the bands At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta) provides echoed spoken word vocals. The lyrics are cryptic and packed with meaning, and though I’m not sure, the lyrics seem to speak to changing societal and cultural mores, and how those in power use communication and propaganda to influence our thinking: “Seasons change and people get strange / In the courtroom of your mouth, you put all tongues on trial.”

Polonsky changes things up on “Sign in the Window“, a lovely song with a bouncy, driving beat and soaring melody that reminds me a bit of Future Islands’ “Seasons (Waiting On You)”. The smooth synths and gently strummed guitar provide an enchanting backdrop for his breathy vocals as he sings of his love and desire “All I want is for you to be real / And let me heal inside your light.”

On the wonderful Beatle-esque “The Weeping Souls“, he uses lush sweeping strings, keyboards and flute, combined with an exuberant mix of chiming and jangly guitars, and layers them over deep, rolling percussion to create an exhilarating and colorful soundscape. Polonsky fervently sings the rather explicit lyrics: “We live inside of a dream / If you let me in I’ll protect your heart / Turn lead to gold / I live inside of your thighs / Just to make you cum / And avert your gaze from the weeping souls.” It’s one of the standout tracks on the album.

Another favorite is “No Tears“, an achingly beautiful dream pop song with drop-dead gorgeous chiming guitars and magical synths. Polonsky’s breathy croons are positively sublime as he laments of a love that is no more: “Oh what more can you say? / After you cry yourself to sleep / And there are no tears left to weep.” “Take Me Home” has a rich cinematic feel, with dark, pulsating synths, twangy guitar and harmonica giving the song a sweeping Sergio Leone Western vibe. On the sultry “You Turn Me On“, he leaves no room for doubt as to his carnal intentions as he seductively croons “You turn me on / Close the window, shut the blinds, leave your panties and your past behind.

Aenerone” is an enchanting, mostly instrumental track with sparkling ethereal synths accompanying a mesmerizing synth bass beat. The only lyrics are “You / Me / Us / We / All Of Us Are On our own.” “A Willing Eye” seems to speak to the incredible power of love, and opening oneself up in order to be able to love others, and accept love in return: “To realize you’re alive when you’re most vulnerable / Ooh you’re the only want I want /You lift me up above the fear/ To see with a willing eye is all it takes.” Polonsky’s soaring cinematic soundscape is a lush backdrop for his plaintive, breathy falsetto vocals. The song ends on a positive note with him reassuring us that “Love is the force that does surround you“.

It’s an uplifting and beautiful close to a really marvelous album. With Kingdom of Sleep, Jonny Polonsky continues his winning streak of delivering solid, well-crafted albums that reflect his ongoing desire to keep pushing himself into new musical realms. While reaching back to the past for classic stylistic elements, he simultaneously manages to create music that’s fresh, cutting-edge, and always a pleasure to hear.

Connect with Jonny: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon