New Song of the Week – ROADKEEPER: “Enemy Mine”

One of my favorite American indie bands is alt-rock quartet Roadkeeper, who since forming in 2018 have released a string of exceptional singles. Based in the eastern Texas city of Tyler, the band consists of songwriter/producer John Hetherington (vocals, synths, rhythm guitar), Trevor Tull (lead guitar), Nick Cogdill (drums) and Daniel Griffith (bass), all long-time friends. Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio, and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament. Blending dreamy shoegaze and dramatic psychedelic rock with complex melodic structures, they craft lush soundscapes that are a perfect backdrop for their intelligent, socially conscious, sometimes political, and always topically relevant lyrics that give us something to think about.

I’ve featured them three times on this blog over the past two years (you can read my reviews under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this article). I love all their songs, but two that stand out for me personally are “Old Man’s War”, a beautiful track about anxiety and worry over things, both real and imagined, and “Downs”, stunning song about impostor syndrome and not finding one’s place within the cultural and sociopolitical milieu. “Downs” went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranked #15 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list. Now they’re back with their 7th single “Enemy Mine“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. While still featuring their dream rock elements we’ve come to love from Roadkeeper, the song is darker and more sonically intense than their previous singles, befitting the politically-charged lyrics.

The band doesn’t shy away from making their progressive-leaning views known, and states that the song “is about the far right radicalization of vulnerable young people in the U.S. by white nationalist professional pundits who are fed viewers and readers by algorithms on social media and YouTube. There is an organized effort to convert impressionable young people into radical white supremacists and encourage them to undertake radical action against marginalized people and progressive political movements. ‘Enemy Mine’ is about the dissonance between the perceived realities of radical white supremacists and that of everyone else.”

The track opens with ominous cinematic synths that build for nearly a minute, then pounding drumbeats ensue along with wailing guitars, only to calm back down as John begins to sings the verses in his beautiful falsetto. John and Trevor’s blend of jangly and psychedelic guitars are enveloped by shimmery synths, while Daniel and Nick drive the rhythm forward with their thumping bass line and aggressive drums. Everything erupts into an electrifying crescendo of wailing guitars, screaming synths and explosive percussion in the bridge, continuing through to the end of the track for a powerful climax to a gorgeous rock song.

 Even words we never say 
 Turn their heads from soft to something strange 
 Waiting on some kids to sign on 
 Twisting up their roots to point their sharp to Zion 
  
 Their undeveloped brain’s distastes 
 For things they’ve never seen are set in place 
 It’s such a shame 
  
 Bitter little loners 
 Look to those who look like them to find themselves 
 Born without a purpose 
 Led to think they’re worthless until now
 Feed their doubt 
  
 Give them some kind of god to worship 
 Weapons always find their way to 
 Enemies’ front lines 
 Spreading lies, blacking flags 
  
 Even if they hesitate there’s 
 No way that they’re ever coming back 
 Safe behind the soft glow waiting 
 Self appointed sergeants have their backs 
  
 Faceless basement 
 Terrorist replacements 
 Holy war, hiding places 
 The worst of them will steal our words  

The dramatic video, produced by Robert Woodward, shows digitally-altered footage of recent political protests juxtaposed with old footage of 50’s films, atomic blasts, space exploration and scenes of the band performing the song.

Connect with Roadkeeper:  Facebook / Twitter  / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

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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Stream their music on Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes 

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #25: “The Less I Know the Better” by Tame Impala

The song at #25 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “The Less I Know the Better” by Tame Impala. The achingly beautiful song about young lust and love makes me wish I was 18 again, and is so fucking gorgeous it stirs the hopeless romantic in me, bringing a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat every time I hear it.

Tame Impala is the music project of Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker, who writes, records, performs and produces all his own music, although he collaborates with a number of musicians, many of whom are members of his other psychedelic rock band Pond, for live shows. “The Less I Know the Better” is one of the singles from his stellar, critically-acclaimed third album Currents (which ended up on many critics’ best album of 2015 lists). I could just as easily have chosen “Let It Happen”, another equally beautiful song from Currents, for this list, but I think I love “The Less I Know the Better” more.

Parker stated in an interview with Under the Radar that the song “shouldn’t be on a Tame Impala album, because it has this dorky, white disco funk. I wouldn’t call it cheesy, but it’s not trying to be too cool, because the lyrics are pretty dorky and the groove is pretty dorky. But at the same time, for me, I love that kind of music.” So do I. Swirling, glittery synths are combined with a strong bass groove and gorgeous layered chiming and gnarly guitars to create a stunning and dreamy backdrop for Parker’s ethereal falsetto vocals. I love this song so much that I’ve literally listened to it on repeat more times than I can recall. Why this song was not a huge #1 hit is a complete mystery to me. It only appeared on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart, where it peaked at a paltry #35.

The lyrics express the protagonist’s intense longing for a girl he can’t have, which Parker so beautifully expresses with his enthralling vocals:

Someone said they left together
I ran out the door to get her
She was holding hands with Trevor
Not the greatest feeling ever
Said, “Pull yourself together
You should try your luck with Heather”
Then I heard they slept together
Oh, the less I know the better
The less I know the better

Oh my love, can’t you see yourself by my side
No surprise when you’re on his shoulder like every night
Oh my love, can’t you see that you’re on my mind
Don’t suppose you could convince your lover to change his mind
So goodbye

She said, “It’s not now or never
Wait 10 years, we’ll be together”
I said, “Better late than never
Just don’t make me wait forever”
Don’t make me wait forever
Don’t make me wait forever

Oh my love, can’t you see yourself by my side?
I don’t suppose you could convince your lover to change his mind

I was doing fine without ya
‘Til I saw your face, now I can’t erase
Giving in to all his bullshit
Is this what you want, is this who you are?
I was doing fine without ya
‘Til I saw your eyes turn away from mine
Oh, sweet darling, where he wants you
Said, “Come on Superman, say your stupid line”
Said, “Come on Superman, say your stupid line”
Said, “Come on Superman, say your stupid line”

The unusual and entertaining official video brings the song to life with an imaginative and humorous blend of romance, surrealism and colorful animation. It shows a high school basketball player lusting after a cheerleader, who soon begins a relationship with the team’s gorilla mascot named “Trevor”, who’s referenced in the lyrics. The video was filmed in Barcelona at the visual arts collective CANADA, and the two primary characters are played by Spanish actors Laia Manzanares as the cheerleader and Albert Baro as the basketball player.

Rather ridiculously, the video has been age-restricted by YouTube due to a couple of provocative scenes, so click on the “Watch on YouTube” link to watch it.

Or, just listen to the song on this Official Audio:

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

CALLUM PITT – Single Review: “Fault Lines”

Callum Pitt single art

As a music blogger, I’m sent a continuous flood of music by artists, bands, labels and PR reps for my consideration for possible reviews. While a lot of it is decent or even quite good, I cannot possibly write about all that comes my way. But every now and then, a submission stands out among the rest, grabbing my attention or resonating with me in such a way that makes me want to share it with my readers. Such was the case when young British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt reached out to me with his powerful new single “Fault Lines“. I was not familiar with Callum, but after listening to it and his previous songs, I became an instant fan, as I love his music.

Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England, Callum writes folk-inspired alternative and dream rock songs influenced by such acts as The War on Drugs, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. With his soft, pleasing vocals, rich harmonies, beautiful melodies and meaningful lyrics, he’s captured industry attention and built a growing fan base since the release in 2017 of his gorgeous first single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can.” His equally beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed nearly two million times on Spotify, an astonishing feat for an indie artist. He’s followed those two singles with several more over the past three years, as well as a four-song EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. Also in 2019, Callum won the Alan Hull Award for songwriting. The award, named for the Newcastle-born songwriter and founding member of Lindisfarne Alan Hull, recognizes song-writers living and working in the North East.

Callum dropped his latest single “Fault Lines” on July 24th, which was released via Humble Angel Records. Although he’s addressed social and political issues on previous songs, with “Fault Lines” he takes a more direct and outspoken approach. He explains: “‘Fault Lines’ is about polarization. It is directed at the British government and right-wing press who have incited hatred and division in the public through their rhetoric over the past few years in particular, splitting us down the middle as ‘leavers’ or ‘remainers’, demonising immigrants and refugees, and allowing the stain of white supremacy to spread. It encourages ignorance and prejudice to be met with education and conversation.”

Though the lyrics are rather scathing, Callum delivers them with beautiful instrumentation and sublime vocals. His strummed guitar work is really wonderful, and complemented by lovely keyboards and crisp percussion that create a resounding backdrop for his fervent vocals lamenting the current socio-political divide afflicting Britain. The lyrics also describe the situation in the U.S. pretty well, which is why the song resonates so deeply with me. The large ceramic pitcher Callum holds in the photo that’s been broken and glued back together symbolizes our fractured society that can still be repaired if we have the will to come together in open and honest conversation.

Seems like all you do is fight and see the world in black and white
Spinning truths like you can move our minds as wind upon a kite
And we feel so small, like we can’t stem the tide at all
As papers sow the seeds of anger, setting off like a snowball

Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers
Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded
I push my head above the water
Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise

We got fault lines running through our bones
The division grows and leaves these empty holes

We rise and fall under the weight of words that fan the flames of hatred
When we demonise, we form a mind that will not be persuaded
Well I am so small and I can’t change too much at all
I’ve got no answers to these fractures, other than breaking these walls

Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers
Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded
I push my head above the water
Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise

We got fault lines running through our bones
The division grows and leaves these empty holes

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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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YOUNG DECADES – Single Review: “Islands”

Young Decades

Young Decades are a new English rock band based in Manchester who released their beautiful debut single “Islands” on April 24th. Before I get into discussing the song I’ll provide a bit of background on the band members, who’ve had a bit of a journey to get to where they are today. Prior to forming as Young Decades earlier this year, three of the four current band members were part of Liverpool-based band COLOUR, which itself was formed early in the 2010s from the ashes of two previous acts – Liverpool band The Changes, and Manchester band Red Light Motion. As COLOUR, they released a number of terrific singles and EPs, including “Strangers”, “Kafé” and “The Famous Boy Making Things”, winning a BBC award and national radio play along the way.

With their sound moving in new directions in early 2020, the band in short order lost two girlfriends and their drummer, and decided to relocate to Manchester. With a COVID-19 lockdown looming, they rushed to hold auditions for a new drummer, posting ads everywhere they could around Manchester. After only 20 minutes into their first audition with one of Northwest England’s best percussionists in the form of YouTube drummer, Luke Bolger, the decision was made to bring him into the fold. The four immediately reformed as Young Decades, in reference to the first two decades of the century from which the band was formed. The official lineup now consists of James Tidd (vocals), Scott Harvey (guitar, keyboards), Liam Downey (Bass) and Luke Bolger (drums).

Young Decades’ music is a glorious mash-up of rock, synth pop and EDM elements, and “Islands” is the very embodiment of their lush, dreamy sound. The gorgeous song was co-produced by the band and Tom Longworth, and mastered by renowned mastering engineer Pete Maher (U2, The Killers, Nick Cave, The Pixies). The song has a sweeping, synth-driven melody reminiscent of some of The Killers songs that I love. The galloping riffs and thumping drumbeats beautifully evoke the urgency expressed in the lyrics about two people struggling to save themselves by running away to find a place they can be free. I love the richly colorful synths throughout the track, and one of the song’s highlights for me are Scott’s hauntingly beautiful piano keys.

James has a wonderful, emotive singing voice, and his vocals sound amazing as his earnest croons in the verses soar to passionate heights in the chorus, accompanied by stirring harmonies that bring goosebumps. “Islands” is a stunning record, and a spectacular debut for this talented band of musicians.

I’m On The Run, I’m Hanging On
Just Hold Your Breath, And Grab My Open Hand
A Hurricane, An Aching Pain
Is Closing Down, Shutters On Everything
Oh My Love Is, Ever Burning
Build It High, As the Seasons Turn In
[Oh
My Love] Oh My Love, [Time Is Up] Time Is Come
[Oh My Love] To Build Something From the Sea
Build An Island, Where We Can Be
I Need The Dry Land, Just You And Me

Can We Build That High, Can You Say You’ll Try
Don’t Just Sit And Stare, I Can Almost Feel It
The Cooking Sand, Falling Through My Hand
Like The Time We Waste, Being On A Different Page
Oh My Love Is, Ever Burning
Build It High, As the Seasons Turn In
[Oh My Love] Oh My Love, [Time Is Up] Time Is Come
[Oh My Love] To Build Something, From the Sea

Build An Island, Where We Can Be
I Need The Dry Land, Just to be…
All Ours, It’ll Be All Ours, It’ll Be
All Ours, It’ll Be All Ours, It’ll Be
All Ours, It’ll Be All Ours, It’ll Be
Build An Island, Where We Can Be
I Need The Dry Land, Just to be…

On May 2nd, Young Decades released a special EP Islands Audio Negatives, featuring five alternate versions of the song, including acoustic, instrumental and slowed-down versions the band is calling “audio negatives”. They’re all really beautiful, so do check them out:

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COLD WEATHER COMPANY – Single Review: “Way Up”

Cold Weather Company

I recently learned about Cold Weather Company when they followed me on Twitter and shared their latest single “Way Up“, and I was instantly enchanted with their music. Since then, I’ve been binge listening to their substantial back catalog (they’ve released three albums over the past four years). Based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the alternative folk band formed in 2013, and consists of Brian Curry, Steve Shimchick and Jeff Petescia. All share songwriting and singing duties, with Curry and Petescia playing guitar and Shimchick on piano.

Influenced by the music of such bands as Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes, Dave Matthews, Chad Stokes, Tallest Man on Earth, Coldplay, Keane and The Decemberists, their richly melodic sound is both guitar and piano-driven, with all three of them singing in perfect harmony. They released their lovely debut album Somewhere New in 2015, which had a pure, acoustic sensibility that allowed the guitars and piano to really shine. A year later, they dropped A Folded Letter, another album containing 13 tracks that delivered more of their sublime acoustic guitar/piano compositions. All of the songs are beautiful, but two of the highlights are “Wide-Eyed” and “Gettysburg”. They followed up in 2017 with an all-instrumental version of A Folded Letter, then early this year they released their gorgeous third album Find Light, an ambitious work featuring 16 tracks in which they expanded upon their sound with the addition of more orchestral instrumentation. That album received widespread and very well-deserved acclaim.

In August, they released their latest single “Way Up”, and it’s a real stunner of a tune. The song opens with the tinkling of piano keys, then expands into a breathtaking soundscape of strummed guitars, gentle bass and some of the most enthralling piano I’ve heard recently. I’m not sure which band member is singing the lead vocals, but they’re positively captivating. And as always, the guys’ vocal harmonies are exquisite. I love this song.

The band states that “Way Up” “is about finding a new perspective, and seeking hope when things are looking bleak. We could all use a little bit of that sometime.” We sure can!

Soon I’ll find my peace with time and break this (Break this hold, break this hold, from sea)
Cause I’m not foolish, I was made to shake this
No more breathless fights adrift in missteps
Oh, I’ll rise
All I ever needed is the current to survive

I found my way up, I saw the ocean meeting the sky
I found my way up, I saw the ocean meeting the sky

No more restless nights of drifting listless in my mind
Cause all I ever needed is the current to survive
I found my way up

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New Song of the Week: MARS MOTEL – “My House is About to Fall Apart”

Brooklyn, New York-based Mars Motel make some of the best alternative dream rock of any band around today, and are having quite a busy and successful year. In May, they released the stunning “Coming Up For Air”, the first single from their forthcoming album Passenger X, due out later this year. I reviewed that song, which has spent the past three months and counting on my Weekly Top 30. Two months later they released a second single “D’Ya Wanna Get Lost With Me?”, and recently played a triumphant show at the Bowery Ballroom in Lower Manhattan. They now return with their third single “My House is About to Fall Apart“, which I’ve selected as my New Song of the Week.

Formed in 2017 by singer/songwriter and guitarist Sarik Kumar, Mars Motel also includes Wes Wynne (Guitar), Justin Lieberthal (Bass) and Craig Stauber (Drums). Their beautiful music melds a dreamy 90s Brit-pop vibe with an immersive, guitar-driven wall of sound influenced by the likes of Pink Floyd, Radiohead and The War on Drugs, and I love it!

Kumar explains that “My House is About to Fall Apart” is about a relationship on the brink of failure, but could also apply to the world as well – “that strange moment when you know it’s going to collapse, but you are still on the ride down.” Musically, the song has a languorous tempo, highlighted by shimmering synths and gorgeous layers of jangly and chiming guitars that create a lush, dreamy soundscape. The subtle bass and thumping drumbeats, accentuated with lots of crashing cymbals in the dramatic chorus, keep the perfect rhythm moving forward. Kumar’s lovely and powerful vocals beautifully convey a sense of sad resignation as he plaintively sings “I need to find a peace of mind I’ve lost. It’s deep inside, buried inside I know. My house is about to fall apart.”

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CRYSTAL CITIES – Single Review: “Under the Cold Light of the Moon”

Crystal Cities Single Pic

‘Dream Rock that sounds like Death Cab For Cutie had a War On Drugs with The Beatles.’ That’s how Australian band Crystal Cities describe their enchanting sound, and it’s spot-on. Their wonderful songs feature thoughtful lyrics and stunning melodies delivered by superb instrumentation and vocals. In March 2017, the Sydney-based three-piece released their outstanding and critically acclaimed debut EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now. The gorgeous title track and lead single “Who’s Gonna Save Us Now”, which I featured on this blog that April, reached #1 on the Unearthed Overall Charts within a few days of its release, and ended up on my 100 Best Songs of 2017 list. Now they’re back with a stunning new track “Under the Cold Light of the Moon“, the lead single from their forthcoming album of the same name, set for release on 31 May.

Crystal Cities is comprised of the very talented Geoff Rana (Vocals, Guitars), Jared King (JK) (Bass, Backing Vocals) and Daniel Conte (Drums). Since the release of their EP, the guys have had a productive two years and have come a long way, from a garage in Sydney to Abbey Road Studios in London. First, they signed a record and publishing deal with global music company Audio Network (one of a group of companies owned by Toronto, Canada-based multinational mass media and entertainment company eOne). Second, through that partnership, the band had the opportunity to record their debut album Under the Cold Light of the Moon at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios.

According to Rana, the new single “was inspired by the plight of young North Korean girl Yeonmi Park who escaped North Korea in search of freedom.” After seeing her moving speech at the One Young World Summit 2014 in Dublin, Ireland, where she told the audience “When I was crossing the Gobi desert, scared of dying, I thought nobody in this world cared. It seemed that only the stars were with me. But you have listened to my story. You have cared. Thank you very much”, Rana felt compelled to interpret her story through a song.

Crystal Cities Yeonmi Park

And what a beautiful, uplifting song it is! Starting off with a faint whisper of synths and delicate tapping of cymbals, a chugging riff of jangly guitar, set to a thumping drumbeat, soon enter the mix along with Rana’s raspy, yet lovely vocals. The music gradually builds as layers of guitar and percussion are added, backed by lush orchestral strings that create a stirring, cinematic soundscape for the hopeful lyrics:

Made my way out through the desert
Made my way across the sand
Under cover of the night I’m face to face
I’ve been thinking of a place
I’ve been making my escape
Under the cold light of the moon

Rana’s intricate guitar work is gorgeous, while King and Conte keep a tight rhythm with their defty-played bass line and drums. The song, along with the rest of the album, was flawlessly mastered by Paul Stefanidis at Viking Lounge Mastering, engineered by Adam Alexander and John Romeo (assisted by Tayla Gibbs), and mixed by L.A.-based engineer Paul Lani (David Bowie, Prince, Megadeath). Regarding the provocative photo for the single and album which shows the guys blindfolded, Rana explained: “This album will have plenty of lyrical references to themes of escape, resistance, and limited/restricted views. Having us positioned in a sort of prisoner-like scenario with blindfolds on seemed a great way to represent these themes.” The photos are courtesy of Amy Benjamin Photography.

The beautiful animated video for the song tells the adventure of Yeonmi Park’s harrowing nighttime escape. It was created by Jordyn-Rae Morrison (The-F0X).

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