KAROLINA ROSE – EP Review: “INVICTA”

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Falling in love with a song or artist the moment you first hear their music is among life’s greatest pleasures – certainly for me anyway. And that is precisely what I felt when I listened to the new EP INVICTA by Karolina Rose. Inspired by the music of artists such as Kate Bush, Debbie Harry, Florence Welch, The Cranberries, David Bowie and Madonna, the Brooklyn, New York-based singer/songwriter writes songs about her own experiences and presents them with beautiful commanding vocals.

Born and raised in Philadelphia to Polish parents, Karolina graduated from the prestigious Wharton Business School and had a successful career on Wall Street, which she ultimately left to pursue her dream of making it as a full-time musician. (I can identify with her life-changing decision to leave behind a successful career for which she spent years of study, as I left my job as a city planner to own and operate a bed & breakfast inn.) She began writing songs on her acoustic guitar, and performing them in clubs in and around New York City, gradually building a loyal following. Realizing she needed to take her music to the next level, she teamed up with Grammy Award wining producer/engineer/mixer Andros Rodriguez (Madonna, Shakira, Florence + the Machine) for her debut EP INVICTA, which dropped on February 1st.

Speaking on the meanings behind the title and theme of INVICTA, Karolina explains: “The word ‘INVICTA’ means unconquered, and is found on the coat of arms of Warsaw (the city where my parents come from), so the title represents my strength and who I am. From quitting my job on Wall Street to having to navigate a brand new industry, there was a lot to learn on the journey towards INVICTA’s creation. Following your truth is not always the easy choice. And for that I call the record INVICTA; it is to say ‘I did it’ and I am ready to fight for what I love.”

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The EP kicks off with the anthemic “Crystal Gem“, a hopeful declaration of Karolina’s determination to pursue her dream, no matter the odds. Backed by shimmering synths and a driving dance beat, she confidently sings: “No one can stop me now, from doing what I want to do. How nice it would be, to be taken care of endlessly. ” The track sounds like a song Katy Perry could have sung, only better. “Love Crazy” is a sultry affair that speaks to how we throw caution and common sense out the window when the pangs of love hit us like a ton of bricks. The track features lush swirling synths and fluttering percussion, creating a beautiful backdrop for Karolina’s fervent vocals that convey the blind passion of falling madly in love, helpless to resist its siren call: “Love, it makes you do crazy things. / Nothing else matters.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Going to Berlin“, a fantastic dance pop anthem that tells the tale of a woman who overcomes heartbreak by going off and jet-setting the world’s greatest cities. Karolina explains: “The concept first came to me when I was hanging at the Russian baths in downtown Manhattan with a good friend discussing her growth and how much she’s changed. She had left an old love behind in Europe to move to NYC and fearlessly follow her dreams. She then, of course, went to Berlin…” I love the throbbing EDM beat and Karolina’s wonderful layered vocals, and this lyric is so good: “She was lip-smacking good. Hold her tight if he could. But he lost her. Regret seeps in. She’s not coming back.”

Downhill” is a slow, moody track filled with powerful sweeping synths and mesmerizing percussion. In an interview with webzine CelebMix, Karolina states that the lyrics speak to the “simultaneous feelings of excitement and fear when pursuing something entirely new and unknown.” She passionately sings “I’m on the edge, lost and found. Can you hear the screaming sounds? We reach the skies before we go downhill.”

A standout track is the sad but beautiful “Goodnight, Mr. Moon“, inspired by Karolina’s experiences of exploring grief through dreams and nightmares. On her Facebook page she explained: “I have suffered from nightmares for many years. I often have hallucinations when I sleep. I wake up and see things in my bedroom or projected onto the walls or something within my room takes a different shape and moves. The first verse of the song takes inspiration from one of my nightmares where I woke up and it literally looked as if the moon was projecting a spotlight onto my wall and it looked like a scene was playing out. It may sound magical, but it was quite frightening. I started coming up with the visualization of someone hallucinating in the middle of the night, bringing back their loved one by talking to Mr. Moon. She communicates with her lost love in the nighttime. She processes her grief through dreams. She thinks it’s real until the end of the song when she wakes up from the dream and knows it’s really time to say goodbye.

The dreamy synths, gentle percussion and her mix of soft and soaring vocals are a perfect match for the poignant lyrics: “How do I get it all back? All the pieces of my heart? How do I get it all back? All the pieces came apart. How do I get you back?

The final track “Move With Me” was actually Karolina’s very first single, which she released two years ago, in February 2017. The song has a wonderful throwback 80s New Wave vibe that’s become so popular again recently. I love the bouncy EDM beat that aims straight for the hips, along with the glittery techno synths that remind me of songs by A-ha and New Order. Karolina’s vocals exude seduction as she implores the object of her desire to quit wasting time and get busy loving her: “Check my pulse. Am I still alive? / Do you know you took me by surprise? Fragile, young love. What will be, will be. Move a little bit faster now. Go a little bit faster now. There’s no time to waste, so baby pick up the pace and move with me.

INVICTA is an outstanding EP that beautifully showcases the impressive songwriting and vocal talents of this very lovely artist. Every track is superb, making for a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. I want to give special thanks to fellow blogger Hasan Bayez of SheBOPS for recommending Karolina. Check out his great blog too!

To learn more about Karolina, check out her Website
Connect with her on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / AmazonBig Cartel

SARAH MAY – Single Review: “Because I Turned You Down”

Sarah May is a seasoned singer/songwriter and music producer based in London, England who’s been writing and recording songs since she was a teen. Only a month ago, in early December 2018, she impressed us with her release of a beautiful and haunting single “Nothing to You”. The song addressed the pain of unrequited love and being obsessed with someone who has no feelings for you, and showcased Sarah’s captivating, yet understated vocal style. (You can read my review here.)  She now returns with a new single “Because I Turned You Down“, a bold track with brutally frank lyrics that speak to female empowerment, specifically with regard to the expectations some men have about dating and sex. It’s an incredibly satisfying song from both a musical and message standpoint.

Sarah wrote the music and lyrics and produced the track, with mixing and mastering done by James Preston. The music consists primarily of subtle keyboard and percussive synths set to a thumping dance beat. As the track progresses, bits of spacey and wobbly synths provide added texture to the music, but still allow Sarah’s smooth, clear vocals to shine as she defiantly sings the no-holds-barred lyrics:

Can you try to understand
I don’t hate you just cause you’re a man
I just hate the way you think
And the way you treat women
Yeah, you’re simply a dick
To you it comes as a surprise
That a girl can go out drinking with the guys
And end the night in her own bed
Without giving you head in the taxi ride

Do you think that’s how you pull a girl
Buy her a drink and throw your cliche lines at her
Just cause I’m drunk, doesn’t mean that its okay
So take your hands off me, please pull yourself away

And because I turned you down, you say that I’m a bitch
I must be a lesbian or some kind of hardcore feminist
I should feel lucky that you showed interest in me
Cause I’m ugly, I’m not worthy of your time
I’m some kind of hippie freak

Connect with Sarah May: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / iTunes

SARAH MAY – Single Review: “Nothing to You”

London-based singer-songwriter Sarah May has had music in her blood nearly all her life. She began writing songs at the age of nine, and taught herself to play guitar and keyboard. She recorded her first song when she was 14, and released her first CD of original songs at 17. Since then, she’s continued to write, play and release music, also managing to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice along the way. To date, she’s written over 100 songs that touch on many of life’s perplexing issues such as love and heartache, depression, addiction, politics, sexism, partying and financial hardship.

Sarah has just dropped a gorgeous and haunting new single “Nothing to You.” It’s a rather long track, clocking in at 5:22 minutes, but is so lovely and compelling I don’t want it to end. Opening with a somewhat mournful keyboard synth, the song gradually expands into a captivating soundscape of moody synths and gentle percussion as Sarah’s smooth vocals wash over our ears. Her voice is stunning and understated as she earnestly sings the lyrics addressing the pain of unrequited love, of being obsessed with someone who has no feelings for you:

Sittin’ here missing you knowing I’ve not crossed your mind
Things still remind me of you regardless of the passing time
Trying to find out what you’re doing without having to get in touch
Feeling like a stalker, Never knew I liked you this much

I wanna go wherever you are right now
Though I know it’s not a good idea
Or I could drink alone at home
Find someone else on Tinder

I want you to see me and fall in love with me
I want you to be near and sense that I am here
But dream is all I do, because I mean nothing to you

The backing choruses, which I’m guessing are Sarah’s own vocals layered over her main vocals, are sublime, giving the track a dreamy ethereal quality that beautifully emphasizes the sense of loneliness expressed in the lyrics. It’s a marvelous song.

Connect with Sarah May: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase “Nothing to You” on Spotify / Soundcloud / iTunes

LOUIE JAMES – Single Review: “Real Friends”

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Louie James is an outstanding young singer/songwriter from Wakefield, England who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite artists. I featured him on this blog only a month ago, when I reviewed his lovely acoustic single “Yellow Doors” (which you can read here). Now this prolific artist is back with a moving new single “Real Friends,” along with a brilliant companion video. On “Real Friends,” Louie departs from his usual mellow acoustic style, employing layers of glittery synths to create a beautiful and haunting track.

In the verses, Louie sings in his gentle vocal style, accompanied by delicate electronic synths that convey a sense of sadness amid the lovely sounds. His vocals become more impassioned in the choruses as the synths swell into a lush soundscape brimming with emotional intensity.

The mournful lyrics speak to a bitter realization that the friends you thought you had don’t really care about or support you:

Who needs enemies with friends like these?
Talk all the shit you want
They’re out for blood and…
A lonely life when you trust no one.

Walk around with a chip up on your shoulder
21 but I don’t feel any older
Run me off, take another stab shot
Tear it all down, this is everything that I’ve got

Real friends are with me til the end but…
Woke again to another fatal head shot
Don’t forget me, this thing you’re making
Real friends but I know you’re only snaking

The video opens with Louie staring into a mirror, crossing out the eyes of his forlorn reflection with lipstick. As the video continues, he’s shown singing while soaking in a bathtub or standing in front of the mirror, where he writes “Real Friends” on the glass with lipstick, eventually crossing out the words. I love the song and video!

Connect with Louie:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

VOX EAGLE – Interview & Album Review: “TriumAvium”

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Electro-psych pop music project Vox Eagle burst onto the music scene in 2017 with their infectious dance-pop EP Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1. Previously comprised of Australian-born Andy Crosby and American Luke Hamel, Vox Eagle is now essentially Andy’s solo project (along with occasional collaborations with other musicians). Wanting an escape from the distractions and noise of Manhattan, in 2017 Andy made another life-changing move along with his new wife, this time to the Colorado Rockies. They purchased a piece of land with a cabin at 9,000 feet above sea level, and Andy quickly got to work building his own recording studio, which he dubbed “The Eagles Nest.” The pristine surroundings and new found freedom greatly expanded his creative energy, inspiring him to experiment with fresh sounds and take his music into exciting new directions. The result of all this is his brilliant genre-bending new album TriumAvium, which officially drops October 9th.

Vox Eagle album art

I’m chomping at the bit to talk about the album, but before getting into my review, I’ll share the recent insightful conversation I had with Andy about his career, life changes and the album. And now’s a good time to make special mention of the brilliant album art, which pays homage to Andy’s move from Manhattan to the mountains. The Manhattan skyline is shown upside down along the top edge of the cover, and a forest scene covers the bottom half, with a mountain-shaped outline intersecting its mirror image in the center.

EML:  Hi Andy, thanks for wanting to talk with me about your new album TriumAvium, which I absolutely love! First off, what’s the meaning behind the album title? I googled the words and found that trium is Latin for three, and avium is a solitary or lonely place. Am I close?

AC:  Hey Jeff, firstly thanks for checking out the album and doing the interview. Greatly appreciated as I know you’re getting drowned in submissions and new music these days with the writings of Eclectic Music Lover. Yes you were close with the title. Trium Avium is about a remote wilderness, perhaps with reference to my own new found remote wilderness in the Arapahoe Forest of Colorado. The Trium grew from my obsessions over the number three when writing and mixing the record and meditating on various frequencies and it just came out of that. It is Latin in origin.

EML:  You are Australian, and relocated to the U.S. in, when, the late-2000s? You settled in New York, and Luke lived in Los Angeles, but you guys would meet in various locations around the country to record songs for what would become your terrific debut EP Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1. Eventually, you settled in the Colorado Rockies, where you built your own recording studio. What made you decide to settle in a such a beautiful but remote location?

AC:  I moved out here from Australia in mid 2012 after finishing a record with The Cracks and having a label deal gone wrong with the death of our A&R guy at the time. I was kinda in musical purgatory at the time so set my sites on the musical mecca of the United States.

I moved to Brooklyn, had a studio in Greenpoint, then lived in Manhattan for 6 years hunting down new sounds and production/mixing techniques. Luke always lived out in California. We had toured the East and West coast together in another band in 2014 (The Canyon Rays) so I got him in to do the Flamingo EP. I think Luke is a great writer/producer in his own right, however, in terms of work ethic and chemistry it was just never really there between us so we parted ways halfway through Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1. The whole idea of VoxEagle in the beginning was to collaborate with various artists whilst settling into my new home in the USA. When I’m focusing on a project I need to immerse myself in 100% and that was impossible for us to do on separate coasts.

I decided to move out to the Colorado Rockies with my wife Paige, as we had just got some rescue puppies Prince and Charlie, and they needed space to run around bigger than our Manhattan studio apartment that was being torn up by Prince. So we ditched the concrete grind and decided to head for the Rockies, as we both had spent significant time there during college. We left NYC and got married in 2017 in Colorado, and settled in the little town of Evergreen on the top of Black Mountain where we border the Arapahoe state forest that’s just magical. We bought a piece of land at 9,000 feet above sea level so its real high up, with a cabin and a shed. I spent 3 months building the recording studio called ‘The Eagles Nest’. It has a 48-Channel Oram Analogue Console at the command and then I have a chain of guitars, drums, samplers, synthesizers, effects and outboard gear running through a sea of madness. We moved out for the space and it just magic out here, and less distractions than Manhattan. My studio in Manhattan was on 57th St. above the Late Show where Dave Letterman was in Times Square, so it’s a totally different vibe now. 9,000 feet above the clouds. It’s a totally different trip, which leads into the next question.

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EML:  Flamingo Paradiso featured songs that were primarily electro-psych dance-pop, but many of the songs on TriumAvium have a more edgy, urban vibe, with quite a bit of hip-hop. I find that interesting, given the rural mountain-forest environment you now reside in. Where did the inspiration for the new songs come from?

AC:  I just wanted to do something completely new for this record. I could have easily spat out Flamingo 2; it’s sitting in a folder on the hard drive, however I just wanted to open the sound up a little more and give it a bit more breathing space. I wanted to make something completely new but also something people could go nuts to at a club gig or festival. Everyone out here is doing Americana, Jam band, folk or indie rock so I wanted to do something that was different to what everyone else was doing. I also wanted to learn a new talent and teach myself how to freestyle. I wanted to be able to battle anyone of any caliber.

So I spent several months (hard to say how many) testing various psychedelics in my garage basement learning to sing in freestyle by surrounding myself with white boards and vision boards hanging from the ceiling, with classic Nicolas Cage films rolling in the background and learning to rhyme from walking round the room with words and pictures everywhere and then getting ideas on whiteboards and reworking them. I also recorded most of those days/nights/session, so have loads of tape reels and hard drives I need to sift through some day… I was kind of all-out madness, but I think it worked.

If steve jobs was peering down the rabbit whole, this was more like burrowing out the warren, hanging some picture frames & getting a nice comfy sofa to call place home for a while.

I worked on TriumAvium when I was building the studio as well, so there are some recordings from all over the place that have made their way onto the record, or will be coming out soon in other material I am going to be releasing over the coming months. Some of it’s a bit more on the electro-psych/dance side. I’ve also been playing with some local Colorado musicians like guitarist Aaron Dixon to get the live show ready, so it’s all systems go at the moment. Firing up the engines. I have another 20 songs ready to go that were off cuts from this record, so am just compiling them into EPs at the moment and deciding what to release next.

EML:  One of my favorite tracks is the mesmerizing instrumental “Let’s Go Back – The Ballad of Randy Eagle in F#minor.” Given the song has no lyrics other than some chanting, what’s the significance of its title? 

AC:   “Lets Go Back – The Ballad of Randy Eagle in F# Minor” is a song about reminiscing and moving forward. Its about a race car driver recovering from a crash and getting back behind the wheel to race. My friends always called me Randy when I’d get out of control so that’s how it got to Randy Eagle. It’s kind of an alter ego I created. He’s a race car driver that’s a total dick and everyone hates, but he never gives up. As you may notice there’s a heavy racing theme that carries out through the album.

EML:  I also like the re-interpretation of “No Sleep” from the EP that’s now “No Sleep No Sleep” on the new album. Any story behind that one, or just having fun with a remix?

AC:  I wanted to have something from the original EP on this record as a nod, but was finding it really hard to get one of the old tracks to sit in with all the flow of this record. So I did a more upbeat version of “No Sleep” and played it to Aaron Dixon, and he was really vibing on it so we got his guitars down on the chorus and it was done. We kept it super simple. One vocal take, one bass line, so it was a very different approach to the original which was really a lot larger in production, like 6 Harmony per chorus, etc. So on this whole record I was really more jammin out with loop pedals, 808s, pianos synths. Everything on this record we can do 100% live with every part, so super pumped to get out and play it. I think our first show is in Arizona for MesaFestival on Saturday November 10th, so we’re super pumped to try the new stuff live and jam out the old stuff.

EML: I read on the website PopDust that you’ve landed deals with VW, Jim Beam, Toyota, Smirnoff, and Coca Cola, along with music production for Sony, Disney, and Universal. How did you manage to score those deals? Did those companies use your songs in their ads, or did you write new music for them?

AC:  Yes, I have been really fortunate to have a bunch of my songs licensed in TV, commercials and movies along the way. It definitely keeps the ship sailing, and helped me invest in some really awesome recording gear along the way. A lot of the projects have been solo specifically working with music supervisors, producers or directors to do a custom score or song. Sometimes a director/producer hears a tune previously recorded or in the works, and just has to have it in the film. So the dice can roll any way really, as long as you’re constantly working and connecting with people in the industry.

I’ve also been in a few other bands and projects – Soundcasino and The Cracks – and I write with a bunch of artists and still connect with those projects from time to time. My main focus now though is VoxEagle and smashing out a big live show this year. Am really stoked on those projects and happy to have been part of them and still create music with most of them, just have been taking a hiatus from everything else over the past year to focus on developing the new sound with VoxEagle, and trying to do something new and unique as an artist.

EML:  Since you and Luke have parted ways, is Vox Eagle basically you going forward, along with some collaborations like you did with Pierre Fontaine on the marvelous track “Wander”?

AC:  VoxEagle has always been my connection and collaborations with various artists across the US since I moved over here and now call it home. I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with new artists to get a new energy and vibe, and create something that’s unique and different. I bring some styles and flavors from my musical upbringings in Australia and can share that energy with a rapper from Brooklyn and create something totally unique.

For touring and playing live I use a bunch of loop pedals connected to my synths, drums and vocals so I can do the whole live show solo if I have to. I like sharing the stage with others though, so have got Aaron Dixon doing a bunch of live shows with me and have done a bunch of collaborations this year, my favorite of which has been “Wander” with Pierre Fontaine.

I heard Pierre Fontaine’s material through another artist I work with, Eman, and was blown away. We hung out and have since worked on a few tunes and beats together. He’s a really impressive writer, and his lyrics are always on point. He’s just one of those guys who has put the time in and knows every corner of the industry. He writes, sings, raps, plays killer drums, and he inspires an army of youngsters under him. He has a label FreshMind with a tonne of incredible artists on it so definitely check ’em out. Anyways, he’s a super impressive guy and I wanted him on a track, and then he heard me making the “Wander” beat on an Instagram story I put up and was like yoooo I want in on that! So I had kinda freestyled a melody and a rough first verse, sent it to him and then the whole thing was done super fast.

The whole record is kinda built around that track. I was so hyped on that song I was like its gotta be on the record, its gotta be on the record!! So it became the song that the whole record is built around. I must have scrapped 20-odd other tunes that were pumping coz “Wander” had to be on the record. That’s maybe why its such an eclectic record which I know scares a lot of people.

It goes from Electro to Dub, to Hip Hop to Indie psych to Rock, its like WTF. But at the end of the day it works for me and that was all I gave a shit about. Making a record I was happy with that was unique. It was the first record I have mixed, produced, engineered, and done everything solo for. It was a lot to take on for a first record doing all those things.. Maybe too much.. But fuck it, I like it, I learnt a tonne and have a swag of tunes ready to go with the studio now fully built and recording new material everyday and night. It’s all growing and building as an artist and I feel I now have a level of control over my material I have never had before through mixing and producing everything in-house.

The responsibility is all on me now, but better than having too many cooks and all that, which is what I felt on Flamingo. Must have had six different dudes mixing it, files everywhere… just an expensive nightmare coz Luke was never happy with the mixes.

The first incarnation of VoxEagle, before I’d even met Luke, had my friend Terence Conor on the drums. One night, October 1st 2012, after a rehearsal jam/recording session in Green Point we went to the Lucky Dog in Brooklyn for a few drinks to wind down. I tried to convince Terence to come back to our place as he usually did to chill and play some tunes, however he decided to ride his bike back to Bushwick, as he had an exam the next day. That was the last time I saw him, as he was tragically killed in a hit and run whilst cycling home down Metropolitan Avenue that night. I found out the next morning when my buddy Harald rang and was crushed to pieces. I am always thinking of him on this journey as he was such a talent on drums and in energy, and that needs to be carried forward. So VoxEagle is a musical energy; I hate to call it a band or whatnot. Its vibe I suppose is with me at the helm. Its just gotta have big melodies and be real energetic and vibey. Its ups and downs, highs and lows but a consistent, persistent energy that is going to get the crowd going at any gig. For 2018 its me Andy Crosby, and Aaron Dixon on guitars, heading out on the road. We got some vintage racing suits on ebay, so its gonna be wild. So hope to catch you somewhere for a show Jeff!

EML:  I would love to see you perform live! Anything else you’d like to add that I neglected to ask about?

AC:  I think we covered it all. Thanks for your time Jeff, love the blog and writings of the EclecticMusicLover. Look forward to chatting again soon.

EML: Thanks again Andy!

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Okay, let’s get to the music! The album kicks off with the sultry dance track “Stay A While,” instantly hooking us in with a throbbing deep-bass driven beat and dangerously sexy synths. Andy croons “Won’t you stay a while. Play those games a while. Imaginate a while. Fall over here,” and who could possibly resist? The track is a mere 2:11 minutes long, but man is it scorching hot!

As the next track “Wander” unfolds, it’s immediately clear Andy has somehow captured the magic of the forest surrounding his studio and transferred it into this enthralling song. The sparkling piano, xylophone and string synths are gorgeous, and paired with the dope hip hop beat, it all makes for a captivating soundscape. Andy freestyles about how communication has broken down in his relationship, his vocals going from sultry to falsetto as he sings: “We don’t talk no more, baby girl, we just wander.” Pierre Fontaine’s smooth rap vocals take over for the last third of the track, adding another element of texture to this marvelous number. It’s my favorite track on TriumAvium, and I can fully understand why Andy wanted to build the rest of the album around it.

Race Fever” is a great example of how Vox Eagle melds genres and styles to create incredibly dynamic and interesting songs that surprise and dazzle our senses. The track starts off with a trip hop beat and altered vocals, then alternates with an irresistible melodic hip hop dance beat, with sounds of speeding cars and screeching brakes thrown in. He freestyle raps about the thrill of driving fast and winning races: “Wheels keep spinning faster, they won’t catch us now.” “Salvation” is a trippy song, opening with a brief vintage piano riff, then settling into a slow hip hop dance beat with almost carnival-like psychedelic synths and gunshots from what sound like duck or pheasant hunting.

Another favorite of mine is “Let’s Go Back – The Ballad of Randy Eagle in F#minor,” a mesmerizing instrumental track with fantastic exotic-sounding synths and chanted electronically-altered vocals. As Andy explained in our interview, it’s about his out of control alter ago ‘Randy Eagle.’ “The Change” delivers spacey industrial synths set to a hypnotic EDM beat as he sings about living a hedonistic life: “Run away to Paris, we’re living life lavish. Popping champagne we can’t afford but we got to have it / I feel it coming, the change.”

No Sleep No Sleep” is a stripped-down reimagining of “No Sleep,” and a nod to the first single released by Vox Eagle that Andy wanted to include on TriumAvium. I love the original, but really like this cool and stylish version too. The guitar and bass are terrific. “Too Damned Awesome” is another trippy and unusual track, with trip hop beats and otherworldly, industrial-sounding synths. Sampled spoken words of a man’s voice saying “Hell, you don’t know where I’m at. You couldn’t possibly know where I’m at. It’s too damned awesome.” are repeated throughout the track, as Andy croons “Just trying to touch the sky.” I love his vocals, which have an earnest vulnerability that’s really striking. He keeps with the racing theme on closing track “Fast Car Fast Bitch,” a one and a half minute-long trip and a half! Andy pulls out all the stops on this short track, throwing in funky riffs, thumping bass notes, pulsating techno synths, and copious amounts of revving engines and screeching brakes that make for a fun and exuberant listen.

One of the things that most stands out for me about TriumAvium is its incredible flow, how each track so beautifully and seamlessly follows the next, leaving me almost breathless in the process. It’s a relatively short album, running only around 22 minutes in length, but it packs a major punch. It’s really a remarkable work of music brilliance, and I love Vox Eagle even more than I did after Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1. I cannot wait to hear more of his music.

Connect with Vox Eagle:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: iTunes

MELOTIKA Releases New Video for “Bittersweet Reality”

Melotika is an indie/pop artist based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the alter-ego of singer/songwriter Mel Yelle. Born and raised in Montreal, Mel’s rich, smoky vocals remind me at times of fellow Quebecois Celine Dion, with whom she also bears a striking resemblance. She teamed up with electronic DJ/producer Jackman Jones (also known as Mista T Dot) to create urban beats for her debut EP Unaware, which dropped this past March. I reviewed her sultry single “Unaware Part II [Blindside]” in February, which you can read here.

Melotika

She’s just released a stylish new video for “Bittersweet Reality,” one of the tracks on Unaware. The song features cool synths set to a hypnotic dark wave dance beat, with hand claps, kick drum, bass and chanted backing vocals adding fullness to the sound. Mel’s vocals have a sense of bitter resignation as she sings about the conflict between our reality and the self-image of the persona we project to the world based on who we think we should be: “Doesn’t matter what we say, you won’t believe it anyway. Done my time but talk is cheap. Your bittersweet reality. Running back and forth at times can drain all my energy.”

About the video, Mel explains “‘Bittersweet Reality’ is about losing yourself in a synthetic realm of beauty and social media appearance. The character I am playing is a vulnerable side of me believing everything the media has taught me, and on the other hand rebelling against it.”

She’s shown scrolling through her social media accounts on her mobile device, elated one moment, then frustrated and angry the next as she reacts to either the attention she feels she deserves or criticism – or even worse, indifference – which pisses her off (sentiments I can certainly attest to feeling at times). Ultimately, she suffers a meltdown over all the conflicted emotions. Take a look:

Connect with Melotika on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes or Bandcamp

JENNIFER DOLL – EP Review: “With Everything”

Jennifer Doll is a young singer-songwriter from New Jersey who, in her own words, strives “to make music that makes me feel how my favorite songs make me feel.” She released her debut EP The Crystal Hours last November (2017),  and was recently featured on a remix of electronic music composer Manipulant’s “What Good are the Stars” (which I reviewed). Now she returns with a brand new EP With Everything, which dropped on September 21 via WEATNU Records. On her Instagram page she posted her feelings about its release: “I am so excited – and slightly melancholy – to finally be releasing this EP. These songs were written between graduation and starting life, but most of those days are now behind me. They are now yours. Take care of them.”

Jennifer Doll

And what powerful and emotionally compelling songs they are. Jennifer has a fascinating sound and vocal styling that, to my ears at least, sounds like the product of a collaboration between Phantogram, Lana Del Rey and Lorde. She uses intriguing chord progressions and melodies and complex synths to create songs that are fresh and uniquely original. She wrote, produced, mixed and mastered most of the tracks, with the exception of the two remixes, and “Siren Song,” which was mixed by electronic music composer and engineer Almark, who’s vocals are also featured on the track “Cosmo.”

First up is the mesmerizing “Siren Song,” a hauntingly beautiful track about a woman desperately trying to escape her demons. The track opens with sounds of waves washing onto the shore and church bells ringing in the distance, then pulsating synths and a thumping drum beat ensue as Jennifer sings “She had to find a way to get away from the horrors of herself. She had to find a way to keep away darkness as it fell.” Her ethereal vocals start off gentle and breathy, but gradually become more impassioned along with the arresting synths and horns as the track progresses, soaring to spine-tingling heights in the chorus.
 

Jennifer injects a bit of dubstep into the mix on “Secrets for the Dance Floor, ” employing industrial-sounding synths, deep bass and echoed vocals to create a trippy, otherworldly vibe. She sings about the emotional emptiness of being stuck on the endless merry-go-round of partying: “One more drink for some clarity, then throw it back at me, but do we really even care?  One more party, do it all again. Forget as much as we can. All we crave is the end. Can anybody hear it? All the broken dreams and hollow lies?

The gorgeous “Cosmo” features dazzling synths and guitar work that are a lush, glittery soundscape for Jennifer’s beautiful, fervent vocals. Additional vocals are provided by electronic music composer and producer Almark. And “Heavy” is a brooding, yet beautiful track, with deep bass and dark, sweeping synths, punctuated by an enchanting piano trill, xylophone, and an occasionally recurring beat that sounds like a gentle foot march.  Her vocals are dreamy as she croons “Let me go, trust I’m better on my own.

The EP features three bonus tracks, the first of which is “glitter tits,” which speaks to the aftermath of the excessive partying that Jennifer sang about on “Secrets for the Dance Floor.” Accompanied by sparkling synths set to a slow dance beat, and backed by her own vocal harmonies, she laments: “Now there’s glitter on the floor, our remembrance of the night before. Tonight all we have is glitter tits.” Next up is “glitter tits (OneManStanding R3M1X),” a remix by electronic music composer/producer OneManStanding. He takes the same song, but significantly slows down the tempo, drawing it out to more than twice its original length. His synths are more spacey, and Jennifer’s vocals make the lyrics seem all the more compelling at this speed.

The third bonus track is “Cosmo The Little Girl Found (Jigsaw Sequence Remix),” a loose and greatly extended remix of “Cosmo” by Scottish synthpop musician and composer Jigsaw Sequence. At nearly six minutes, this track is the longest and most complex on the EP. Jigsaw Sequence seems to channel the 80’s with his glorious sparkling and pulsating synths, and hypnotic dance beats. Jennifer’s amazing vocal gymnastics are on full display here, breathy and gentle one moment, then piercing and powerful the next, raising goosebumps. It’s a marvelous tour de force.

With Everything is a beautiful, expertly-crafted EP, delivering music that’s innovative yet accessible, with lyrics we can all relate to. Jennifer and everyone involved in its production should be very proud.

Connect with Jennifer on Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase With Everything on Bandcamp / iTunes

STRANGELY ALRIGHT – EP Review: “Stuff”

Strangely Alright Stuff

As all of us who use it know, social media can sometimes be a major source of aggravation, but it also has its rewards, one of which – for me at least – has been to connect with scores of musicians and bands from around the world. With some of them, that connection has run deeper and become more personal for a myriad of reasons, but most often due to the warmth and magnanimity of the artists themselves. One such band is a five-piece from Seattle, Washington with a delightfully quirky name – Strangely Alright. Not only do they play great rock music, they also project a strong message of love and acceptance in their songs, while clearly having a lot of fun in the process.

The band is headed by Regan Lane, who does most of the songwriting and sings lead vocals, Sean Van Dommelen (lead guitar, vocals), Ken Schaff (bass), Raymond Hayden (keyboards, vocals) and Jason Bair (drums). Their wildly-entertaining style of punk-infused rock is inspired by various generations of British iconoclasts such as David Bowie, T.Rex, the Jam, Suede, the Buzzcocks and Supergrass.

They’ve released a number of recordings over the past several years, including their terrific album The Time Machine is Broken in 2013, and a compilation album of singles All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) earlier this year.  On September 20, they dropped a fantastic new EP simply titled Stuff. The band describes the EP as “six songs about love, working together, setting boundaries, the digital age and the change that’s coming.” The tracks were written in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and speak to “walking the tightrope of acceptance and resistance, of not giving in to the overwhelming forces of hatred and turmoil.” I could sure use some pointers on that subject.

The opening title track “Stuff” speaks out against our materialistic ways, namely, our thinking that acquiring more things will bring us happiness when, at the end of the day, it’s the love and support we extend to others that will bring our lives meaning and a real sense of contentment: “And I have learned through the trials and the times. That I need to look inside if I want to stay alive. All of the things that I gather are things I will leave when I am gone. It’s all just Stuff. It ain’t enough. Without the love in my heart it’s all just Stuff.

I love the silly opening with ukelele and a bit of jibberish, and how it then erupts into an explosion of gnarly and screaming guitars, set to Jason’s infectious hard-driving rock beat that grabs us by the hips and gets our asses moving! The guitar work is so good and, combined with the gritty synths, throbbing bass and Regan’s feisty vocals, “Stuff” is one hell of an awesome rock song!

Building Bridges” is an admonishment for us to work together to build things up rather than fighting to tear things apart. The track starts off with a portion of the famous and moving speech given by Bobby Kennedy at the time of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.” It then launches into a thunderous volley of gritty riffs, assertive keyboards and pounding drums that form a lively soundscape for Regan’s fervent, at times distorted, vocals.

The kiss-off song “Wave Goodbye” starts off with Regan saying in an almost smarmy voice-over “Dinner is served,” then organ synths and fuzzy guitars take over as he sneers: “I thought you were my friend but I can see you’ve been pretending from the snide remarks that drip from you tongue.  Walking with a shovel, you’re surprised that you’re in trouble while you’re piling dirt on people you love./  Even when you say you can change. hey, we don’t trust you. Maybe you should just float away./ Wave goodbye.

Strangely Alright takes on misinformation and fake news on “Information Game.” The track has a wonderful T.Rex glam rock vibe, with psychedelic synths and layers of distorted and wailing guitars. Regan’s vocals actually sound a bit Bolan-esque as he snarls: “Liars thieves and pretty faces. TV stars that run the nation. Maybe there’s a quiz at the end. Same old show a different station. Fairy tales and race relations. Cherry pick the good and the bad. The more I see the less I know. The less I know the more I see. It’s clogging up my brain.

Whatcha Gonna Do?” is straight-up rock’n’roll with an irresistible head-boppin’ beat, and one of my favorite tracks on the EP. Keeping with their penchant for quirky intros, the track opens with what sounds like a merry-go-round , symbolizing the circus-like atmosphere we now seem to be living in. Sean’s guitar work is fantastic, as are Raymond’s jazzy keyboards, Ken’s bass and Jason’s drums. And Regan seems to channel early David Bowie on this track as he croons: “Well I vote in the elections and I feel no real connections with the humans that we trust with our lives. Baby baby It just feels like lies lies lies lies. Who hoo hoo hoo. Whatcha gonna do? when it all just breaks in two.

The EP ends on a upbeat note with the psychedelic-rock “Don’t U Know.” The lyrics speak to the optimism of youth, and that change for the better is coming, even though those of us who are older may feel cynical and pessimistic about it: “Well my children tell me that a change is gonna come. Hiding in the sunlight is the truth that we are one. Open doors of freedom. Doors of dialogue. Freight train and I feel it’s coming coming coming.

I have to say that the more I’ve listened to their music, the more I’ve come to love Strangely Alright – not only for their uniquely quirky sound and impressive songwriting and musicianship, but also for their humanity and kindness. Stuff perfectly exemplifies all those admirable qualities that make them a very special band indeed.

To learn more about Strangely Alright, check out their website
Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple MusicReverbnationSoundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

FIE! FIE! FIE! – Album Review: “No Light For Lies”

Fie! Fie! Fie! album art

Fie! Fie! Fie! is a gloriously-named alternative rock band who make glorious music. Based in West Yorkshire, England, the band was formed in 2013 by seasoned musicians Daniel Varley and Pete Long, both of whom play some pretty mean guitar. Later joining the band were bassist Avon Blyth and multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Matt Burnside. (Burnside recently departed the band, though he’s played on all their recordings, and Marcus Ambler is a new addition to the lineup.) Daniel sings lead vocals, and the other band members provide backing vocals.

Fie Fie Fie

They’ve released a number of tracks and albums, including Can You Hear This? in 2015, and Live at St. Mary’s and a terrific single “Hit the Spanish Main” a year later. In August 2017, they released a double A-side single “Edge of Space/Everything I Told You”, which I reviewed, then followed with another single “Famous Liars.” This August (2018) they dropped a new album No Light For Lies, which includes all four of the aforementioned singles.

The guys describe the album as being about “Courage, Truth & Love – that there is no light for lies – yet there is light for the truth.” It opens with “Intro Venus,” a brief but captivating instrumental that immediately draws us in with a haunting guitar riff paired with dark synths. Having gotten our rapt attention, Fie! Fie! Fie! proceeds to blow our minds with the stunningly beautiful “Edge of Space.” Oh man, this song has one of the most arresting guitar-driven melodies I’ve ever heard. What sounds like lush synths is actually an effect that Pete put down on one of his guitar tracks, along with an achingly beautiful guitar riff that burns itself into your mind. It stayed with me long afterward, leaving me humming the melody and wanting to hear the song again and again.

Using metaphors of space exploration, Daniel fervently sings about finding enough forgiveness to salvage a damaged relationship, or possibly a damaged world: “Could you find a way, a way to see past this. Past the mess that we both left, could you see through it. Gliding through the stratosphere, could fall off, float away. There’s bigger fears alone up here as we try to find our way.” The song ends with snippets of what sound like old recordings of astronauts speaking from their spaceships, and a final dramatic flourish of distorted guitar.  It’s fantastic, and my favorite track on the album.

Another highlight for me is the fun and bouncy “Hit the Spanish Main.” As it’s title suggests, the song features lots of tasty Latin guitars, but the guys spice things up with jolts of gritty and distorted guitars in the choruses that have the effect of Tequila shots on a beer buzz. Daniel sings about leaving their troubles behind when they reach Panamanian shores: “Got red-faced about everything. Still it all gets better when we hit the Spanish main.” The guys change up the tempo again with the mellow folk-like ballad “Everything I Told You.” The silky layered acoustic guitars floating above a smooth bass line and gentle percussion are sublime, and I really like Daniel’s earnest vocals, backed by a dreamlike harmonizing chorus. Here’s a lovely live performance of the song:

Famous Liars” is a fascinating tune, with sweet acoustic guitars, gentle snare drums and an enthralling background whistle set to a delightful galloping drumbeat. The delicate whispered vocals add a nice bit of mystery to the track. “From the Wreck” speaks to overcoming adversity and moving on with your life, becoming a stronger person for it: “Come on, you’re that long lost mother’s son. Her unwanted Caesarean. Who’s skull she loved to smash against the paisley walls in the living room. / And after all that, and after all this, hearts still beat. Could care less.” The pleasing acoustic guitars seem to give a feeling of reassurance.

The guys shed light on hypocrites and phonies on the Americana folk songs “Bullet Points for the Bullet Proof“: “Your sped-up lines just don’t rhyme, so unctuous and overrated. If you could see past your nose, you’d be better off castrated.So declare your manifesto, then we’ll decide if we’ll abide you or throw you over the side”, and “Bleeding Obvious“: “Who do you think you are telling us not to go far. With your snide remarks and your half-assed retorts. Is it stating the bleeding obvious you made such a stink and a fuss? About whether we have the right. Well our needs are a must.”

The hard-driving “Bloody Lane” is a moving protest song against the senseless jingoism and profiteering that lead to war: “bunkers filled with bankers playing with remote controls. Squares count lives in dollars...”  They close out the album with “Outrospective,” a biting but optimistic clarion call for us to rise up against the tyranny and bullshit being foisted upon us by our so-called leaders and big corporate interests: “They bankrupt and bleed you more. Disrupt their aims, move to settle the score. / You pay your dues, they burn your soul. You’ll run them out, run into the light. Become free, become one. You can’t submit. Cast out the bullshit. / Come out, come on. We are so strong! Get it together, you’re not alone. Morning coming, we are the light!”

No Light For Lies is a wonderful album from start to finish, and every track is stellar, with not a single filler. I’ve had a few conversations with Daniel by internet, and I found him to be generous, thoughtful and kind. I admire this band’s philosophy and dedication to their craft, and love their music and lyrics, so they’ve got a huge fan in me!

To learn more about Fie! Fie! Fie!, check out their website

Connect with them on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase their music on  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon / cdbaby

DVR – EP Review: “Down”

DVR pic

DVR is a studio project by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olav Christensen. Originally from Denmark, Olav is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and writes, records, produces and masters all his music. He’s been recording music for a number of years, and began releasing singles in 2015, and dropped his first full-length album California in 2016. That work was inspired by memories collected by Olav when he lived in Santa Monica, and was a collaborative effort with bassist/synth musician Ancelmo James.

In late July, he released a new EP Down, which he describes as “five depressing songs for the kids, guaranteed to make you feel better.” While the songs’ themes do address the down sides of love and relationships, his wonderful music is generally upbeat, having the effect of softening the raw emotions expressed in his dark, poetic lyrics.

The first track “Precious Little Time” is a lovely pop-rock ballad that seems to be about regret over past transgressions that resulted in the loss of a loving relationship. The instrumentals are a pleasing mix of acoustic, electric and slide guitars, accompanied by gentle percussion, that perfectly complement the wistful lyrics:

Precious little time makes me lose my head
It’s not that you did wrong, I’m just hanging by a thread
Running out of time and I keep slowing down
Beat and broken down, knees to the ground
I’ll send you love from the great beyond
To take the edge off breaking my bond

Low” has an edgier rock sound, with fuzzy and psychedelic guitars, heavy bass and industrial synths set to a driving beat. DVR’s electronically distorted vocals give the track a bit of a Peter Gabriel vibe. It’s a brilliant song, and probably my favorite on the EP. “Another Year” is a soulful pop-rock track with some fine, intricate electric guitar and a strong thumping drumbeat.  His smooth vocals are really nice, as are his own backing harmonies, which he very effectively uses on other tracks as well. He sings about his shortcomings and how he always fails to live up to his best intentions: “I won’t make no resolutions. There really is no point. Cause when it comes to execution I just disappoint.”

He speeds things up on “Your Shoes,” a peppy, upbeat-sounding rock song with great guitar work and decidedly dark lyrics. Spoken from the point of view of someone who’s completely cynical and emotionally dead, his words offer a bit of empathy to another who’s suffering, though from what we’re not told. His earnest, emotionally-charged vocals almost reach a falsetto level at times.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow 
But I’ve been dead for a while 
My spirit’s dull and hollow 
My soul is dark and vile
But here 
Close to the ground 
Flat on my back 
Nothing to lose 
Here 
I realize what it’s like 
To be in your shoes

On “Undetected,” DVR employs a wide assortment of rich guitar textures, and layers them over a thumping bass line and strutting drumbeat to create an uptempo backdrop for his heartfelt vocals. With a sense of sad resignation, he laments about how the object of his desire doesn’t seem to care about him:

I’d like to be on your radar
It’s my favorite place to be
But all the while, here you are
Not looking for me
I’m always undetected
As I drift across your scope
I’ll always be neglected
Here at the end of my rope

Down is a great little EP that left me wanting more from this versatile artist. Though he refers to himself as a “shitty” guitarist in his Twitter bio, I’d say he’s a pretty good one! And given his rather prolific output over the past few years, I’m sure we’ll be hearing new music from DVR soon.

Connect with DVR:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify
Purchase Down on Bandcamp