WE ROYALS – Single Review: “Ready For It”

We Royals is a new electro/psych rock duo from the mountains of Colorado, consisting of Andy Crosby on guitar and vocals, and Shelton Summerville on drums. Crosby is also the super-talented and wildly-creative brainchild behind electro/psych music project Vox Eagle, who I’ve previously featured on this blog a number of times. We Royals have just released their debut single “Ready For It” and it fucking rocks! The song is the first single from their forthcoming EP, due out soon.

We Royals

The song erupts like a rampaging T-Rex, laying waste to the airwaves as he slashes and smashes everything in his path. It’s as if Aerosmith and Nine Inch Nails combine forces to do battle with Godzilla for sonic supremacy. Crosby shreds and distorts his guitar to the breaking point, making it wail and scream over an intense humming bass line, while Summerville blows out the speakers with his relentless, explosive drumbeats. All of this is backed by harsh industrial synths, creating an incendiary soundscape for Crosby’s feral vocals. His raw, impassioned screams would do Steven Tyler proud.

The song has a raw, high-energy sound like one would hear in a live concert where a band really lets loose. Crosby told me that was essentially what he and Summerville were after: “It was such a super fast process of meeting and tracking and mixing the EP. We only had about 48 hours in studio to get it all done, and didn’t really get too much time to retrack anything so was a bit of a jammy rush. But for the first EP we were just kinda excited to quickly catch the energy and vibe from the rehearsal room the previous week, so it’s definitely more of a raw, live sounding record.”

“Ready For It” most definitely kicks major ass, and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the EP.

Connect with WeRoyals: Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase “Ready For It” on Spotify / Google Play / Apple Music

THE OCEAN BENEATH – EP Review: “The Ocean Beneath”

The Ocean Beneath is a British electronic music project based in Leeds. Influenced by bands such as Gunship, HVOB and Talk Talk, they combine 80’s synthpop elements with modern recording techniques, analogue synthesis and huge melodic grooves to create music that sounds retro, yet fresh and now. They’ve just released their debut self-titled EP The Ocean Beneath. This EP has been a labor of love for them, working extremely closely with producer Grant Henderson and lyricist/vocalist Nath Jackson to create a first-rate musical offering. The songs were recorded at Loom Studio in Leeds, and mastered by Katie Tavini.

The EP features five tracks, three of which are instrumentals and two with lyrics written and sung by Nath Jackson. The first track “Wake Up” is a trippy instrumental, with spacey, psychedelic synths set to a languid, strutting beat that almost borders on trap. The intricate, pulsating synths have a sci-fi quality at times, giving the track a cool, mysterious vibe that’s almost mesmerizing. It nicely conveys images of that hazy state we often feel upon waking up from a deep sleep.

Next up is “Transcend“, a gorgeous track that calls to mind some of the wonderful 80s songs I loved by A-ha, New Order and Depeche Mode. More of those marvelous spacey synths abound here, but this time they’re delivered with a bouncy, upbeat tempo and accompanied by additional sweeping synths that form a lush soundscape for Nath Jackson’s stunning vocals. He wrote and sings the encouraging lyrics about overcoming one’s fears and uncertainty, and opening oneself up to all the experiences that life offers: “The secret’s hidden in you. Stop and take a look around. You never know what you might have found. Open up, and soak it in. Watch it as your time begins.” I love this song.

The blissful mood is abruptly interrupted by an unsettling, deep-bass synth accompanied by sounds of distant ambulance sirens on the brief but complex instrumental “The Meridian“. The ominous sounds are suddenly replaced with a beautiful interlude of glittery synths before ending with a return of the sirens.

Setting Sun” is a spectacular track, and probably my favorite on the EP. Everything about it perfection, starting with an enthralling EDM beat that grabs me squarely by the hips, transporting me to a dreamy place from which I want no escape. The pulsating, psychedelic synths are darkly beautiful and lush, and have I mentioned that infectious dance beat? Jackson returns to grace our ears with his warm, sensual vocals that are absolutely captivating. I really love his voice! He sings of someone trying their damnedest to avoid committing to love: “Well you may be the last one standing. The devil’s on your tail but you keep on graspin’. Sail your dreams out to the sea. Pull them on the line and bring them home to me. A love line and watch it shine. And I won’t stop until you are mine. You don’t know what you’ve become. And you can’t hide behind the setting sun.”

The brilliant video produced for the song is trippy and beautiful, showing Jackson’s handsome face superimposed with a colorful mix of psychedelic, tech, vintage, urban and nature imagery.

The final track “Nocturnality” is another instrumental, with a powerful, thumping dance beat and intricate, sweeping synths that remind me a bit of the great dance music of European composers Cerrone and Giorgio Moroder that was popular in the mid to late 70s. And, like the music of those composers, “Nocturnality” is fairly long, running nearly six minutes. It’s a wonderful, melodic track.

The Ocean Beneath is a superb little EP and a terrific debut effort for this talented music project. One of the things I especially like about it is that each song sounds and feels entirely different, making for a fascinating listening experience. Some electronic music albums and EPs can become numbing after awhile, when one track after another sounds pretty much the same, but this one always surprises with every listen.

Connect with The Ocean Beneath: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

1i2c – Album Review: “Winter”

1i2c

Many artists choose to identify themselves by imaginative names that they feel help to define their sound or the image they wish to project, rather than their given names. Some that I’ve featured on this blog with particularly interesting names include Two Feet, Draft Evader, Ghostly Beard, Puzzle, Swilly, Melotika, Krosst Out, Twintwo, Random…, Infected Sun, DVR, 9fm, Cheddr, Def Star and Manipulant. Today I feature another one – a British composer and producer of instrumental electronic music who calls himself 1i2c (one eye to see).

Heavily influenced by the music of some of his favorites artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Depeche Mode, The Prodigy and Royksopp, 1i2c is an imaginative and innovative composer whose music spans across a wide range of styles within the electronica genre. Born John Whitaker, the man is a prolific artist, having produced a tremendous output of music over the past three years, beginning with the release in January 2016 of his debut album The Great Distraction. In December (2018) he released his tenth album Winter, which, interestingly, also dropped on the 10th.

All of his releases have essentially been concept albums based on an overriding theme, with the sounds and titles of each track reflecting the theme indicated by the album title. For example, Power Struggle contains industrial techno songs with titles like “Electron”, “Incandescent” and “High Tension”, while Horror Show features songs with more of a psychedelic goth and darkwave vibe, titled “Monster”, “Lunatic Waltz” and “Doorway to Hell.” As we would expect, Winter features appropriately-named tracks such as “Cold Season”, “Chill” and “Deep Freeze”.

1i2c is adept at creating music that compels the listener to develop strong mental images of the subjects at hand. The album opens with “Northern Hemisphere“, a hypnotic track with a repetitive driving beat and glittery synths that conjure up images of an icy starlit night filled with Northern Lights. “Cold Season” starts off with a grinding synth that seems to evoke a creaking piece of machinery, struggling to start in the frigid air. One started, everything settles into a smooth soundscape of cool, gently pulsating synths. The stunning video shows sweeping vistas of snow-covered landscapes, gently falling snow and remarkable footage of bubble slowly being overtaken by feathery ice crystals.

Fallen Leaves” is an enthralling melodic track with shimmery synths floating above a sensual throbbing beat, while dramatic soaring synths convey the fearsome power of nature on “Avalanche“. “Memories” features richly textured intricate synths set to an exuberant beat, with lots of pleasing flute sounds and crisp percussion. The majestic “Chill” delivers colorful keyboard synths fluttering above a sturdy foundation of darker beat-driven synths.

On “Winter’s Fury“, 1i2c employs fuzzy echoed synths to evoke the drama of a winter storm raging outside, while delightfully upbeat plucky synths give the feeling of being cozy, safe and warm inside. The track is marvelous, building to an exhilarating crescendo that imparts a sense of joy, making it one of my favorites on the album. The 7-minute long “Blizzard” delivers frenetic swirling synths and galloping beats that capture the danger and terrible beauty of a winter snowstorm that won’t let up.

The melodically complex “Silent Day” is anything but, with a contrasting mix of gritty and crystalline sweeping synths set to a strong drumbeat and deep bass. “Deep Freeze” is more experimental, with elements of rock and jazz that make for quite an interesting track. Harsher industrial sounds are paired with electric guitar and layered over an energetic galloping beat that builds to an exciting finish. The final track “Ebenezer” features fuzzy pulsating synths fluttering above a dense throbbing beat. The music intensifies as the song progresses, with added sounds of bells and what sounds like an advancing swarm of bees. Not sure what that’s meant to convey, but it sounds fantastic.

Winter is a terrific album, filled with well-crafted tracks that should appeal to lovers of electronic music – or anyone moved by beautiful instrumentals. 1i2c is a skilled composer and producer with an impressive catalog of outstanding albums, and I urge my readers to give some of them a listen.

Connect with 1i2c on Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

MANIPULANT – Single Review: “What Good Are the Stars?”

Manipulant WGATS art

Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based artist Manipulant (aka David Speakman) is an imaginative and intensely creative multi-instrumentalist/composer of electronic music that he refers to as “scientific sound spaces.” He’s also prolific. In 2016, he released his debut album Méthode de Narration, and followed up a year later with the superb Eclectro, which I reviewed and you can read here.  He released a five-track EP Perspective earlier this year, and on July 4th, he dropped his latest work, an EP of sorts with the single “What Good Are the Stars?” as the main track, plus three remixes.

“What Good Are the Stars?” is mysterious and sublime, with a glittery soundscape of swirling synths that seem to float above the subtle bassline. A gentle hypnotic drumbeat  keeps the languid pace, and a delicate but haunting repeating piano riff adds a sense of unease to the mesmerizing track. Manipulant’s smooth, echoed vocals have an otherworldly feel as he sings the lyrics that question his inability to be with a loved one:

What good are the stars?
What good is the sky?
What good is the moon?
What use are these eyes if they can’t see you?

What good are the clouds?
What good is the rain?
If it’s not allowed to wash away pain
What good are the stars?
When they don’t know where you are?

What good are the clouds?
What good is the rain?
If it’s not allowed to wash away pain
What good are the stars?

Next up is the “Beltism Burnt Umber Mix,” which opens with an echoed and grainy background beat overlying the same hypnotic drumbeat and piano riff as in the main track. The synths are not as pronounced on this mix, though they’re a bit more psychedelic, and the bass is somewhat deeper. Nevertheless, this remix is still haunting and mesmerizing.

Each track seamlessly transitions into the next, and the third one is “Alternative Vocal Mix featuring Jennifer Doll.” It’s essentially the synth-heavy main track with added vocals by guest artist Jennifer Doll. Her soft, ethereal vocals take a starring role, harmonizing beautifully with Manipulant’s faintly audible background vocals. The final track is “Anisotropic Mix,” a trippier, bass-heavy remix with eerie-sounding synths that impart an almost sci-fi vibe. All four tracks are pretty terrific.

To learn more about Manipulant, check out his Website
Connect with him on: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on: iTunes Bandcamp

STILL OPTIMIST – Album Review: “Velvet Season”

Mysterious. Captivating. Sensuous. Moody. Gorgeous. All words that describe my impressions when listening to the brilliant debut album Velvet Season by the experimental band Still Optimist. Formed in Paris, France in 2017 by Ukrainian artist Bina Timurova (vocals, songwriting, composing, guitar), and Hungarian Mihaly Sipos (keyboards, synthesisers, electronics, programming), Still Optimist creates an arresting blend of electronic/ trip-hop/ ambient/ cinematic music. In their bio, they colorfully describe their major influences: alternative and electronic music bands such as The Cure with its contradictory ambivalent of joy and sorrow; Massive Attack with their dark bass lines and atmospheric synth pads; Bjork and her multi-layered meaningful lyrics and the way she moves with her voice on an extreme scale; Tesla Boy with the whole 80’s synth pop vibe and tunes;  The Chemical Brothers for their outstanding soundscape and constant motion in sounds, and many more, such as Phantogram, Atoms for Peace, Him, Depeche Mode, Underworld, FSOL, and Archive.”

Another strong influence for the duo in the creation of Velvet Season was the 2013 Jim Jarmusch vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. They state: “The slow, dark melancholy, the constant whispering presence of passion and crunchy guitar tunes somehow beautifully lifted, transformed into a fully coherent album.” But whatever their influences, what’s clear is that their songwriting is exceptional, with intriguing lyrics, complex and unusual melodic structures, and innovative musical techniques.

This is immediately apparent on the opening track “Another Space,” which starts off with mysterious industrial sounding synths, a sharp drumbeat and buzzing reverb. Bina’s unusual vocals are baby-like, yet sultry as she sings “I am raising my eyes to the sky. But I’ll never see all the stars in the space. That one day are destined to meet. And their beautiful light, like a beacon for lost ships, will be mixed in a fatal dance. And those stars are destined to meet.” The tempo then shifts to a strong hypnotic EDM beat, as the industrial synths and heavy buzzing reverb continue. Bina croons “And they will be absorbed in their final farewell ball. They could even collapse, giving birth to a Black Hole.” It’s a mesmerizing track.

The creative visuals and design are also an important aspect of their production, as evidenced in their videos like this one:

Next up is the trippy “Dark Places,” with it’s spooky soundscape of grinding psychedelic synths and sensuous keyboards. Bina’s vocal gymnastics are impressive, reminding me at times of Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel. “Voices” has a Depeche Mode vibe, with lush synths that are mysterious and fuzzy.  Bina’s vocals are enthralling as she sings about her fantasies and desires becoming a reality:  “And these voices around my head they are getting louder. Voices around my head they remind me I like it.”

Here Comes the Sun” is a beautiful triphop song about how natural forces always triumph over humans’ attempt to subjugate them: “Plants overgrown on blocks, drain the strength of concrete, take them into possession.  People are full of absurd in their paltry attempts to transcend over Nature.” This becomes a metaphor for a loved one’s irrepressible nature: “Green sprouts grow through cracks in grey stone. As did your lust for life through all my years.” Bina’s soaring vocals are sublime.

Chance” opens with a bit of surf guitar riff and strong drumbeat, then glittery synths and what sounds like skittering snare drum are layered over the repetitive drumbeat. With breathy vocals, Bina sings “If I only had a chance to feel your presence next to me. It’s more than I could give or take, that’s something that I can’t admit.” Heavy, distorted reverb and psychedelic synths are dominant features of the mysterious “Free Fall.” Bina passionately implores: “Don’t ask me why I’m afraid ’cause I won’t give you the right answer. When you jump out of a plane in free fall there’s no button to cancel.”

Nomad” appropriately has a Middle Eastern feel with a beguiling melody and richly exotic synths that evoke the mystery of the fabled Arabian Nights.  Bina’s sensuously breathy vocals are alluring as she sings to one about not being afraid to embrace their final moments of life: “Tell me all if you can about sorrows in your heart, things that you regret. Spell things out if you can. That you had in life, that you won’t forget. Don’t be afraid of nomad, I won’t hurt you bad. In your place some people would be glad. Don’t be afraid, my virtue, I won’t steal from you. I’m here for one thing that I owed you. Cause I’m your death.

One of my favorites is the dark and haunting title track “Velvet Season.” The song opens with a foreboding piano riff and Bina softly singing. The music and her vocals gradually become more dramatic, conveying a sense of impending danger as the song grows more ominous. The keyboards and other synths are really fantastic. The song lyrics seem to be spoken to the vampire who’s kiss – i.e. bite – has forever changed her existence: “I know that you won’t feel the swelling that sucks the life out of me. / I already miss you, your kiss on my neck. We both know it clearly, there is no way back. / You ask me if I’m scared, yes I’m scared to close my eyes when I’m in bed. I’ll tell you, honey; there’s always a little reason to extend a bit my Velvet Season.” “With You” is a fine triphop song with grainy, otherworldly synths that impart a decidedly psychedelic vibe.

The album closes on a bittersweet note with the hauntingly beautiful “My Shoes.” The complex, layered synths on this track are exquisite, and accompanied by some wonderful guitar work. Bina’s heartfelt vocals are gorgeous, fervently expressing deep sorrow and regret over past sins and transgressions: “There is a time that I want to forget. For the peace of my mind. And if I just could I would erase it all, those horrible things. / Guess, my shoes didn’t fit you. My shoes didn’t fit you as they’re full of broken glass inside. Cause my traumas are full of crime.”

Velvet Season is a truly impressive debut for Still Optimist. Their captivating melodies, outstanding songwriting, and Mihaly’s creative and skillful use of synthesizers, makes for incredible and deeply compelling music. Toss in Bina’s amazing vocal abilities, and the result is a brilliant work of musical art. This is an album that can, and should, be listened to repeatedly, as the complexity of the compositions always offer up new discoveries.

To learn more about Still Optimist, check out their website
Follow them on Facebook / TwitterInstagram

Stream or purchase their music on YouTube / Spotify / Soundcloud / Google PlayApple Music / Bandcamp