SKAR DE LINE – Single & Video Review: “Reset”

Skar de Line is the solo music project of singer-songwriter, producer and composer Oskar Abrahamsson, a talented, handsome, thoughtful and creative artist born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England. Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, he fuses his love for cinematic soundtracks by such composers as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi with hip-hop, rock and electronic metal to create dark, unconventional music that takes the listener on a sonic adventure while giving us a lot to think about. He writes, performs, records and produces all his own music, as well as writing, directing and editing all his music videos.

In October 2019, Skar de Line released his debut single “In Charge”, a fascinating orchestral electronic song about the human need to understand and control our surroundings, followed a year later by “Satisfied”, which explored the concept of satisfaction, posing the question “do we get satisfaction from being right, or merely by the act of searching for what we think we want?” The intensely dramatic song ended up spending 10 weeks on my Weekly Top 30 from January through March of 2021. (I reviewed both singles, and you can check them out by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post.)

Now he’s back with another single “Reset“, a dark and cinematic song that sees him continuing to explore new musical sounds by pushing beyond his comfort zone. He explains that the song “is built on my need to be better. A wish to constantly evolve, but also a fear that nothing ever will be enough. This is a journey out of this mental prison, in order to try to find something that I believe in, something I can hold on to forever.” He further elaborated on his Instagram page “Does every circle, even the ones we’ve created ourselves, hold us back? No matter how positive they are meant to be? As I looked around the room, I knew myself well enough to know that in my search to be better, this moment was just a phase, and would not mean anything in the next moment once I’ve grown beyond it. But I didn’t know if I really could accept that and let that happen, or if I, in this moment, could be more than that… Just take what I needed from myself.

“Reset” opens on an eerie note, with sounds of Skar de Line’s echoed breathy gasps, which are soon accompanied by a distant rumbling bass and gently ticking drums as he sings in a rather ominous voice “Every time I open my eyes I kill an old version of mine. But I’m not a murderer, no, I’m a maker./ Every time I close my eyes, I am already set to reset.” From there, the music gradually builds as the breathy gasps continue, with the addition of dark orchestral synths and sharp percussion, creating a strong aura of tension along the way. His vocals turn more menacing as the tension continues to build, finally exploding into a bombastic cinematic crescendo, highlighted by a hauntingly beautiful angelic chorus that he states serves to “lift us out of the darkness“.

The brilliant video, filmed mostly in black and white and sepia tones, pays homage to the neo-noir black-and-white art style, and reflects the claustrophobic sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Skar de Line is dressed in black amidst a dark background, representing him feeling deeply trapped in the dark mental prison from which he wants to break free. His mind’s eye envisions a setting sun in a world of color, symbolizing a sense of freedom that still eludes him, and pushing him to fulfill his wish to climb out of this cycle that holds him back.

Connect with Skar de Line: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  Amazon

Fresh New Tracks, Vol 12 – IAMWARFACE, Paul Iwan & Lines of Flight/The Ocean Beneath

It’s back to the UK for my latest edition of Fresh New Tracks, and today I’m featuring three powerful new singles by acts I’ve previously featured on this blog – IAMWARFACE, Paul Iwan and The Ocean Beneath, as well as Lines of Flight, an act I’ve not written about before, who collaborated with The Ocean Beneath on the track I’m including.

IAMWARFACE – “The Black Room”

British nu-rock band IAMWARFACE are one of my favorite acts, who I’ve happily featured on this blog many times. From the moment I first heard their explosive debut single “Say My Name” in 2016, I’ve been a devoted fan. Based in Brighton and London, and fronted by the immensely talented and flamboyant singer/songwriter and producer Matt Warneford, their aggressive name is a fitting metaphor for their bombastic groove-based style of electro-rock. Warneford has a commanding presence and powerhouse singing voice, with the ability to raise our adrenaline with his dramatic impassioned vocals. Since their debut, they’ve continued to deliver one incredible song after another. Three of their singles – “Say My Name”, “Closer” and “Fear the Future” – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart, with “Closer” ranking #58 on my Top 100 Songs of the 2010s.

With their latest release, “The Black Room“, IAMWARFACE deliver more of their signature incendiary rock we’ve come to love and expect. I love their massive sound, highlighted by searing riffs, grinding basslines, explosive percussion and moody industrial synths, all of which blend together in a combustible alchemy to create a darkly beautiful backdrop for Warneford’s fearsome vocals. The song was actually written a couple of years ago, and has been played by the band in their live set for a while. They decided it was time to have it fully mixed and mastered, and released to the world, and we fans are glad they did! It’s another sparkling gem in their unbroken string of superb singles.

Connect with IAMWARFACE:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

PAUL IWAN – “CONTROL”

Another long-time favorite of mine is singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paul Iwan, who’s based in Liverpool. We’ve been following one another on social media for nearly six years as well, and I’ve also written about him and his music numerous times. Paul’s an outstanding guitarist and songwriter, with a strong, resonant and emotive vocal style. His powerful single “Reward”, which was a cover of the song originally recorded by Liverpool new wave band The Teardrop Explodes, spent four months on my Weekly Top 30, and ranks #50 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020.

Paul has just released a powerful video for “CONTROL“, one of the songs from his forthcoming album PRESENT, due for release on April 8th. The video, filmed and directed by Scott Mealey in Waterloo Methodist Church in Liverpool, shows Paul performing the song against a backdrop of historic imagery of troubling events and strife, courtesy of TechNoir. Of special note is that Paul is playing his beautiful 1965 lime green Framus guitar, once owned by The Teardrop Explodes frontman Julian Cope, which he purchased in a broken state and lovingly restored. Paul, who has struggled with PTSD and addiction, states that the song is a confrontation of fear, and a reminder of the power within us all to overcome those fears. For the recording of the track, Paul played the blistering guitars, haunting piano keys and sweeping synths, Jim Duncan played additional guitar and Steven Burkert played drums.

Connect with Paul Iwan: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

THE OCEAN BENEATH & LINES OF FLIGHT – “Strands”

The Ocean Beneath is the electronic music project of Leeds-based musician, composer and producer Matt Burnside. Influenced by bands such as Gunship, HVOB and Talk Talk, he combines 80’s synthpop elements with modern recording techniques, analogue synthesis and huge melodic grooves to create music that sounds retro, yet fresh. Like many electronic artists, he often collaborates with other musicians and vocalists, and has released a sizable amount of terrific music, some of which I’ve reviewed previously. His enchanting collaborative single “Skin”, with Leeds-based singer-songwriter and electronic musician Fran Minney, earned a spot on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list.

Lines of Flight are a Leeds-based dreamwave/synthpop/electro-folk duo comprised of Matthew Henderson and Helen Whale. They started collaborating as strangers at the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020, recording songs using only iPhone handsets & headphones. Their sound is influenced by Depeche Mode, Joy Division, OMD, Gary Numan, The Cure, New Order and Eurythmics, all acts who are also strong influences for IAMWARFACE. In the two years since they began, they’ve released 10 singles. Their latest single “Strands“, a collaboration with The Ocean Beneath, is their eleventh.

The origin of “Strands” began as a series of 20 tweets written by Matthew starting around Christmas 2019 and continuing through 2020 and 2021, about his personal struggles, painful memories of the loss of his father that seemed to cast a pall over every Christmas, the fact he was about to be a father for the first time, and the value of music to help him get though it all. After publishing them as one coherent piece he named “Strands” in December 2021, The Ocean Beneath urged Matthew to record these tweets as a spoken word piece. Together, The Ocean Beneath and Lines of Flight then composed a hauntingly beautiful ambient instrumental to go with the written piece. There are two tracks, the first with Matthew’s spoken vocals, and the second an instrumental-only piece.

Connect with The Ocean Beneath: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Connect with Lines of Flight:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

brett.grant.5 – Single Review: “Insomnia”

I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands lately that I’ve previously featured on this blog, as so many are putting out new music in recent weeks. One of them is Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer brett.grant.5 (aka Brett Grant), who just dropped his latest single “Insomnia“. Music has been a long-time passion for Brett, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a solo artist and as a member of several bands. (One of them is a million rich daughters, who’s haunting single “Left Behind” has been enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30 for the past few months.) Since 2016, he’s released two EPs and a number of singles, several of which I’ve reviewed. You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post. He found time to earn a B.A. Degree in Music from Columbia College Chicago in 2019, and also has his own private practice teaching music to budding artists.

Drawing from a broad and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock to industrial and hip hop, Brett’s sound is bold, unorthodox and always deeply compelling. On “Insomnia”, he seems to artfully blend most of those elements into one song, making for a fascinating and continually-evolving track. The song starts off with a repetitive melancholic piano riff played in a kind of trip hop cadence, then he adds skittering percussive sounds as he begins to sing in his distinctive and vulnerable vocal style. Soon, the music swells into a beautiful soundscape of soaring cinematic synths and dramatic piano keys, before returning to the urgent trip hop melody, where he adds darker industrial synths, heavier drum fills and his own backing vocal harmonies. This back and forth continues through the second chorus, then just past the 3-minute mark, the song transitions to a breathtaking symphonic-like movement, highlighted by sparkling piano keys and gorgeous orchestral synths, backed with a haunting chorale-like harmony.

His blunt, poetic lyrics are often deeply personal or downright scathing, exploring some of the darker sides of society, relationships and mental health. “Insomnia” addresses ongoing struggles with inner demons that negatively affect one’s life, relationships, and overall well-being, making it impossible to find peace of mind: “My heart’s racing, my head’s a mess. They try to tell me read the bible. It’s not about you, I must confess./ Memories lost in sleepless nights. I’d give anything for rest.” In the song’s final movement, Brett repeatedly laments “All the love in the world can’t save me from myself. All the love in the world can’t save us from ourselves.”

“Insomnia” is Brett’s most ambitious, melodically complex and sonically beautiful release yet, and a master class in songwriting, composition and execution. The fact that he handled all aspects of the song’s recording and production by himself is really impressive. It makes me happy to see him continue to grow both artistically and professionally, and I look forward to what he has in store.

As with all his releases, the trippy artwork for “Insomnia” was created by Brett’s beautiful wife Ashlee, who’s an amazing visual artist.

Connect with Brett: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple Music

Album Review: “Head RUSH”

This is perhaps the most ambitious and unusual album I’ve reviewed yet, as it’s an extensive compilation work consisting of 15 tracks by different artists contained in three vinyl LPs (or two CDs), plus a bonus CD featuring another seven tracks, for a grand total of 22 songs! All of them are electronic instrumentals in various styles, but all essentially influenced by early 70s krautrock and motorik beat music made famous by such German acts as Can, NEU!, Kraftwerk and Harmonia. The collection, entitled Head RUSH, is being released by British independent label Fruits de Mer Records on May 17th.

First off, I must state that I’m astonished by the huge number of artists still producing electronic music, particularly krautrock and all its variations. Many artists featured on Head RUSH are accomplished acts with sizable discographies and followings, while some are relative newcomers. It’s truly an international compilation; represented are acts from England, Wales, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, Russia, Peru and California. All were carefully selected for inclusion by Fruits de Mer Records head Keith Jones based on their quality and appropriateness for the overall theme. Because there are so many tracks – nearly all of which are over five minutes long, with one running over 30 minutes! – I won’t be boring my readers or making myself crazy by discussing all of them in detail. I’ll try to touch on as many as possible, albeit briefly, and include samples of songs for which the artists have made audio videos.

The album kicks off with “Sunrise, Part 7“, a shimmery homage to the music of NEU! by Giacomo & Carolina, the collaborative music project of California-born and now Berlin-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Anton Barbeau, and California-based singer Julia Boorinakis Harper. German electronic artist Das Blaue Palais dazzles with a mesmerizing “Dusseldorf Motorik” remix of his 2016 single “Zeitfeld”. The otherworldly synths, plucked strings and colorful guitar notes are exquisite and haunting.

Welsh-based English composer and multi-instrumentalist David Oakes, a long-time favorite of mine who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog, is represented here by his brooding track “The Sahara (2020 Remix)“. David layers a thrilling mix of exotic and gritty, reverb-laden guitar riffs over Nine Inch Nail-esque industrial synths and a pulsating groove to create a cinematic soundscape that beautifully conveys the vast and often terrifying expanse of the Sahara Desert.

Another terrific offering is “Getaway” by English space rock band Sonic Trip Project, who layer haunting spacy synths over a hypnotic EDM beat, creating a gorgeous sweeping soundscape.

Opening the second LP is Welsh psych space rock outfit Moon Goose with their trippy song “Shiny Man“, followed by the deliciously captivating “Obsession is the Mother of All” by Italian avant-rock trio Oslo Tapes. I said I wasn’t going to discuss every track, but the next one – “Ecstatic Engines” by California composer, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Jay Tausig is so good that I must give it mention too. I also realize I’m overusing the words “mesmerizing” and “cinematic”, but both words strongly apply to many tracks. I wish I had a sample of “Ecstatic Engines” I could share on this post, as it’s incredible. I love the strong, driving beat, spacy synths and otherworldly sound textures he employs. In preparation for reviewing this album, I researched every artist and found that Tausig is especially prolific, releasing a full album and two EPs in February and March alone!

Netherlands is well-represented by “Telefunken Baby!“, a nearly 13-minute-long tour de force by electronic composer Son of Ohm. The track was originally featured on his 2019 album Zeitgeist. His psychedelic guitar work is fantastic.

Next up is the wonderfully spacy “Martine à la Plage” by French experimental psych-rock duo Alber Jupiter, the music project of Nicolas Terroitin and Jonathan Sonney. The song was also originally included on their excellent 2019 album We Are Just Floating in Space.

Wales is once again represented, this time by Fruits de Mer favorite The Lost Stoned Pandas and their sprawling psychedelic extravaganza “Motorik Wah Nine“. The reverb-soaked psychedelic guitars would make Jimi Hendrix proud, and the wobbly synths and undulating rhythmic grooves are pretty amazing too. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a video or link to the song. I do have one for the phenomenal “MOTOR!K” by Belgian krautrock trio Tyrants, however. The hypnotic song features a relentless driving motorik beat, a 4/4 beat originally pioneered by Jaki Liebezeit, drummer for the German experimental rock band Can.

From Lima, Peru hail space rock trio Culto al Qondor, with their trippy and dark “E1“, an epic 12-minute-long track originally featured on their 2019 album Electricidad. The spooky synths, wailing psychedelic guitars, pummeling rhythms and explosive percussion are pretty spectacular.

London krautrock trio (many of these acts seem to consist of three members) Psychic Lemon dazzle our senses with “Jam 7“, one of a series of studio jams they’ve recorded, in which all instruments were recorded live into a single microphone. Band guitarist Andy Briston lays down a barrage of super-gnarly distortion drenched in reverb, while his bandmates keep the track grounded with a powerful thumping rhythm. The face-melting track closes out the three LP set.

The Bonus CD serves up over 76 minutes of additional music contained in seven tracks, including “Vuh Parts 1 and 2” by British electronic outfit Taras Bulba, another terrific Jam by Psychic Lemon, the wonderfully psychedelic “69 Wheeler” by prolific British artist and guitarist Vince Cory, and the delightfully trippy “Grobmotorik” by Hungary-based Audio Cologne Project (a krautrock inspired music collaboration between Uwe Cremer (Level π) on guitars and keyboards, British musician Dave Pearson (aka computerchemist) on bass, keyboards and sequencers, and Zsolt Galántai on drums).

Closing out the Bonus CD are the two longest tracks of this entire project, the meandering and beautiful 14:14 minute-long “der Wald” by British composer and guitarist Icarus Peel, and the 30:25 minute-long live version of Harmonia’s 1974 motorik classic “Watussi” by Russian electronic band The Legendary Flower Punk. They’ve taken the original six-minute-long song and refashioned it into a magnificent and epic fantasia of atmospheric soundscapes, highlighted by psychedelic riffs, eerie synths and colorful sonic textures, all darting in and out like sprites over pulsating EDM rhythms. It’s a fitting end to this ambitious compilation of extraordinary compositions, and a testament to the enduring legacy and popularity of krautrock. If you like getting lost in spacy electronic vibes, then you will really enjoy Head RUSH.

Track List:

LP1:
1. Giacomo & Carolina – Sunrise, Part 7 (5:05)
2. Silver Vials – Follow The Sun (6:05)
3. Das Blaue Palais – Zeitfeld (Dusseldorf Motorik Mix) (8:11)
4. The Love Explosion – Anarchy! (3:58)
5. David Oakes – The Sahara (2020 Remix) (5:04)
6. Sonic Trip Project – Getaway (11:10)

LP2:
1. Moon Goose – Shiny Man (5:41)
2. Oslo Tapes – Obsession Is The Mother Of All (5:54)
3. Jay Tausig – Ecstatic Engines (8:42)
4. Son Of Ohm – Telefunken Baby (12:52)
5. Alber Jupiter – Martine A La Plage (7:15)

LP3:
1. The Lost Stoned Pandas – Motorik Wah Nine (10:16)
2. Motor!k – Tyrants (10:28)
3. Culto Al Qondor – Ei (12:19)
4. Psychic Lemon – Jam 7 (7:01)

Bonus CD:
1. Taras Bulba – Vuh Part 1 (3:56)
2. Vince Cory – 69 Wheeler (7:53)
3. Psychic Lemon – Jam 5 (8:26)
4. Audio Cologne Project – Grobmotorik (6:51)
5. Taras Bulba – Vuh Part 2 (5:15)
6. Icarus Peel – Der Wald (14:14)
7. The Legendary Flower Punk – Watussi Live (30:25)

Head RUSH may be purchased on the Fruits de Mer website: https://www.fruitsdemerrecords.com/

MISSIO – EP Review: “Skeletons: Part III”

In case it hasn’t been apparent to frequent readers of this blog, I’m a massive fan of MISSIO. On the strength of their phenomenal music catalog, as well as their honesty and openness with their fans and followers, in the space of a few years the Austin, Texas based duo have earned a place among my favorite music acts of all time. With the combined talents of singer-songwriter and producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler, their edgy, thoroughly original sound is an eclectic mix of gritty alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dreamy emo vibes. Then there’s Matthew’s beautiful vocals that register in the higher octaves just below a falsetto, giving them a distinctive sound unlike any other singer, and making their music instantly identifiable as only MISSIO’s.

They exploded onto the music scene in 2017 with their outstanding debut album Loner, featuring the great singles “Middle Fingers”, “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea” and “Everybody Gets High”. They quickly followed with two EPs, Skeletons: Part I and Skeletons: Part II, both featuring stripped-down, more meditative versions of tracks from Loner, plus a few new songs. In April 2019, they released their magnificent second album The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man, which I called a masterpiece and the best album of 2019 in my review. The album includes my favorite MISSIO song “I See You” (which I also named my #1 song of 2019), as well as “Rad Drugz”, “Temple Priest” and “Underground”. Since then, the duo have continued to put out a tremendous amount of new music. In March 2020, they released a beautiful and cinematic mostly instrumental soundtrack album for their documentary film Love Me Whole, a collaboration with videographer Jeff Ray about their struggles of what it means to be artists in America. That October, they followed with their brilliant fourth album Can You Feel The Sun. The gorgeous title track spent several weeks atop my Weekly Top 30 earlier this year.

On April 23, they returned with Skeletons: Part III, the third in their series of stripped-down versions of previously released tracks. Only this time, they decided to give them a more classical feel through the addition of strings and other orchestral instrumental touches. The guys explained their approach on their social media: “It’s been a dream of ours to be able to create music alongside a real string quartet, and we finally had the chance on this project. These re-imagined versions of our songs speak a bit more direct to the soul. It won’t be as good as sex however, with the right headphones/speakers it will get you close.”

Well, I have to say they’re absolutely right, because Skeletons: Part III is a 15-minute-long eargasm. Listening to its five tracks is an immersive experience, transporting you to a dreamy faraway place through breathtaking atmospheric soundscapes. Four of the tracks are from Can You Feel The Sun, along with one new track “Do You Realize??” The guys produced and arranged these re-imagined versions with the assistance of composer/arranger Fiona Brice, and with lush strings performed by the Tosca String Quartet. I love classical music and luxurious orchestral arrangements, so it’s no surprise that I’d love this EP. The tracks were mixed by their long-time collaborator Dwight Baker, and flawlessly mastered by Dave McNair.

They also produced stunning, artful videos for each of the tracks with footage filmed in and around Joshua Tree National Park, which is located about an hour from where I live in the Coachella Valley, in the Southern California desert. With its starkly beautiful landscapes and spiritual aura, Joshua Tree has long been a popular location for shooting music videos.

Vagabond (Stripped)” is probably the most-changed of the four re-imagined tracks from its original version, which features a hard-driving dubstep beat, grungy and distorted industrial synths, and verses sung by rapper Esoteric of the hip hop group Czarface. The stripped-down version is darkly beautiful and contemplative, with eerie, echoed synths coupled with mournful strings, strummed guitar, and exquisite keyboards that gradually soar to a dramatic crescendo. Matthew’s strongly emotive vocals keep pace with the intensity of the music as he sings the lyrics that were inspired by David and his wife Amanda’s relationship, specifically, his feeling like he’d disappointed her by failing to live up to his promises due to the excessive time he spent touring with MISSIO, which kept him away from her: “I once made you a simple promise, that I would share my dreams with you. Maybe this all became a big mess when everything I dreamed came true. Hurting people, hurt people, it’s hard to understand. There’s a million ways to fix us, screaming like a broken man. Vagabond, is that what you want? I’m a vagabond, is that what you want?

The second track “Losing My Mind (Stripped)” shaves a minute off the original, which features a bold, beat-driven melody and dramatic otherworldly synths. The new stripped-down version is more atmospheric and dreamy, with lovely plucked guitar notes and strings. Yet it still retains some of the dark overtones of the original, this time beautifully expressed through cinematic synth bass and melancholy piano keys. The spare lyrics speak from the viewpoint of someone losing their grip on reality, thinking back on happier times: “On dreary days, I like to think about the joy that I had as a young and reckless kid. On dreary days, I used to drown it out. A sociopath ’cause I had nothing left to give.” Matthew’s vocals in the chorus are electronically altered to the point where they sound like horns, making the lyrics barely recognizable: “I’m losing, I’m losing, I’m losing my mind. I’m fighting, I’m fighting, I’m fighting for more time.”

My favorite track on the EP is “Roman Empire (Stripped)“, both for its stunning arrangement and biting lyrics. The somber piano and strings are utterly captivating, accompanied by throbbing ethereal synths, all of which create a hauntingly beautiful soundscape. The lyrics are a scathing denunciation of powerful corporate interests and corrupt government leaders with authoritarian tendencies (Trump administration anyone?), equating them with the ill-fated Roman Empire: “You’re building cities on the backs of all the people working hard to build a home with memories. This moral ground you think you own is frankly dangerous when you’re ripping kids away from what they need. Roman Empire is what you are, Roman Empire is who you are. You’re an empire, Darkest of empires, The Roman Empire.” Two thirds of the way into the song, the music and mood turn more introspective, with Matthew questioning God’s existence: “What if God’s not real and everything we are is just a moment here where we’re only growing older? What if God is real and everything I’ve done pushed me down this path, and it’s only growing colder?

I adore the original album version of “Can You Feel The Sun“, with its lush and bold sweeping orchestration, but the stripped down version is equally beautiful. The gorgeous instrumentals are highlighted by strummed acoustic guitar, warm piano keys and blissful strings, all melding together to produce a thoroughly enchanting backdrop for Matthew’s sublime ethereal vocals. I realize I’m overusing the words ‘gorgeous’, ‘stunning’ and ‘beautiful’, but damn it, they bear repeating for every track! The introspective lyrics speak to reassessing one’s prejudices and shortcomings, and trying to be more open-minded and accepting: “Below the willow tree is where I hide the darkest parts of me. They’re hiding underneath the broken lies that I just still believe. Below the willow tree is where I sit and hate on my enemies. I drown ’em in my dreams, I think it’s me who needs some humility.”

The fifth track “Do You Realize??” is a stripped-down reworking of the beloved original by American psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips, using only four verses from the beginning of the song. But truth be told, it doesn’t really feel stripped at all, as it builds to a cinematic orchestral crescendo in the middle, before calming down to only a somber piano note as the song fades out. In his breathy vocals, Matthew softly asks seemingly simple questions that are actually filled with deep meaning: “Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face? Do you realize we’re floating in space? Do you realize that happiness makes you cry? Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?

What more can I add, except to say that Skeletons: Part III is a bewitching little slice of sonic heaven. I love MISSIO, and hope at least some of my readers will love and appreciate their music even half as much as I do.

Follow MISSIO:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  Amazon

SKAR DE LINE – Single Review: “Satisfied”

Skar de Line is the solo music project of singer-songwriter and composer Oskar Abrahamsson, a talented, charismatic and creative young artist born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England. He’s also front man and lead vocalist for London electronic rock band Heist At Five, who I just featured two weeks ago when I reviewed their latest single “Faceless”.

Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, Skar de Line explores them through the creation of his dark and unconventional music. Drawing on his love for cinematic soundtracks by composers such as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi, he fuses those stylistic elements with hip-hop, rock and electronic metal to create his own unique sound that excites, pushes boundaries and gives us a lot to think about.

In October 2019, he released his superb debut single “In Charge”, which I also reviewed. Now he returns with his latest single “Satisfied“, which drops today, November 27. It’s a darker, more intense song than “In Charge”, while still featuring many of his signature cinematic and electronic elements and complex melodic song structures that I love. He uses a swirling mix of dramatic industrial synths and ominous sounds, set to powerful dubstep-style beats, to create an intense, almost menacing soundscape. As always, his deeply emotive vocals are wonderful, going from sultry croons that seduce us one moment to impassioned cries that bring chills the next, and all delivered in his charming Swedish accent.

Lyrically, Skar de Line ponders what is it that satisfies us, specifically, do we get satisfaction from being right, or merely by the act of searching for what we think we want? He elaborates: “‘Satisfied’ deals with the power we have over our own perception of ourselves, and on the contrary, the alienation we feel around people we don’t understand, the loss of control we have over someone that doesn’t have anything left to lose. It’s about the disorientation we get when we accomplish what we set out to do, when we no longer have a purpose.” Taking this idea further, it would seem that those who generally get most or all of everything they desire – like super-wealthy people for instance – would never be totally satisfied.

 
 
 Satisfied, feeding a legend, feeding the myth 
 Feeling safe, staring down into my own abyss
 Can you push, a man who has lost the sense of his gravity?
 Please try, and tell me now, now tell me how
  
 I’m not really human to you
 I don’t feel people as you do
 I have a fucked-up way of seeing the world I’m living in
  
 And you know, what if you were right?
 And people like you they are making me feel alive
 Keeps me satisfied
 Then how does it feel to know you’re completely right?
 Does it satisfy?
 
 You believe that I still can be saved
 That I’m too profane for this place, you're a god, 
 Come to save, the human race, from my blood 
 As a fulltime martyr now
 It’s a fascinating religion you’ve come to give your whole life for 
 Come on and tell us how
 
 I’m not really human to you
 I don’t feel people as you do
 I have a fucked-up way of seeing the world I’m living in
 
 And you know, what if you were right?
 And people like you they are making me feel alive
 Keeps me satisfied
 Then how does it feel to know you’re completely right?
 Does it satisfy?
  
 I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself
 I’m your bat, you’re a dog, you’re my fuel, I can’t stop
 And it touches my heart that you run for me
 Cause I’m the splinter embedded deep inside of your mind
 What itch would you scratch when you got me out?
 I don’t wanna stay alive, I wanna feel alive
 Will it satisfy when you’re satisfied?

Skar de Line premiered a new cinematic music video for “Satisfied” on December 4th. Filmed in London, and directed and edited by himself, it’s his most ambitious film yet.

Follow Skar de Line: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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New Song of the Week – HEIST AT FIVE: “Faceless”

Ever since I first learned about the wickedly talented and undeniably charismatic electro-rock band Heist At Five, they’ve been one of my favorite indie acts. Based in London, the band has an international pedigree: front man and lead vocalist Oskar Abrahamsson is from Sweden, guitarist Jozef Veselsky is from Slovakia, bassist Marco Paone hails from Italy, and drummer Josh Needham is from England. Together, they play an aggressive, innovative style of alternative rock that borders on experimental, with complex melodies, intricate chord progressions, spine-tingling electronic and guitar-heavy instrumentation, and electrifying vocals.

I’ve featured Heist At Five a number of times on this blog, most recently this past August when I reviewed their single “Friday Night”. (You can read some of those reviews by clicking the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) With its jubilant Latin-flavored dance-pop vibe, the song is a bit of a departure from their typical edgy and harder rock sound, though it still features many of the stylistic elements and complex instrumentation that make their music so brilliant. The terrific song has spent the past 10 weeks on my Weekly Top 30. Now the guys return with an dark and explosive new single “Faceless“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

About the song, the band explains: “‘Faceless’ deals with an individual who struggles to form an identity, and tries to do so by piecing together scraps
of different characters. To capture the essence of this inner conflict, we invited people of different backgrounds and upbringings to collaborate, and create several layers of vocal overdubs that interpret the lyrics with contrasting emotions. The claustrophobic cluster of voices ultimately explodes in a bombastic chorus, which blends rock and metal with elements of industrial, hip hop and dubstep
.”

“Faceless” is the band’s most experimental and intense song yet, incorporating the aforementioned elements of rock, metal, industrial, hip hop and dubstep to create a volcanic eruption of sound. The song blasts open with Jozef’s distorted guitar, punctuated by an explosive torrent of staccato riffs, firing through the airwaves like a rogue machine gun. Marco lays down a pummeling bass line while Josh smashes his drums with all the power he can muster, driving the relentless crushing rhythm forward. All of this is accompanied by a swirling maelstrom of tortured and spooky industrial synths, adding even greater drama to the sonic mayhem unfolding before our ears. The exquisite production, mixing and mastering of the track was done by Simon Jackman.

I always love Oskar’s highly emotive vocals, and he nicely delivers here with a mix of menacing drones and impassioned wails that are downright chilling. Additional vocals contributed by Oskar’s sister Elin Abrahamsson, SERENA, ANGIE, Sean Frost and Peter Gentry serve to heighten the levels of tension and uncertainty.

“Faceless” is a brilliant song, and a testament to Heist At Five’s ongoing growth and maturity as a band. They continue to push the envelope through their fearlessness, superior songwriting and outstanding musicianship, and I eagerly await their next musical creations.

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100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #58: “Closer” by IAMWARFACE

The song at #58 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Closer” by British electro-rock band IAMWARFACE. The London & Brighton-based act are among my favorite indie bands making music today, and I’ve featured them on this blog many times over the past four-plus years. Their aggressive name is a fitting metaphor for their bombastic, groove-based sound, and I love every single one of their songs, beginning with their explosive debut single “Say My Name” in 2016. But my favorite is their monumental song “Closer” which literally stunned me the first time I heard it in 2018.

The fiercely beautiful track opens with ominous throbbing synths that slowly build into a dramatic otherworldly soundscape, enveloping us as band vocalist Matt Warneford wearily implores to someone with whom he seems to have an obsessive and destructive relationship: “Who, who am I? I’m just living to die. This old night, when it comes, I’ll be free of these old bones.” With that, the music erupts into a maelstrom of grinding synths, fuzzy guitars, buzz-saw bass, and thunderous percussion, punctuated by almost violently crashing cymbals that emphasize the intense feelings of abject desolation expressed in the bitter lyrics. Warneford’s intense vocals are filled with despair and resignation over a love affair that now lies in tatters. “Feel I’m walking on shattered glass. This romance just has to end, to reset, erase, begin again.” The song is incredible, and leaves me covered with chills every time I hear it.

The dark video, which was filmed in stark black and white in a decrepit, abandoned warehouse, has a gothic quality that’s at once disturbing and breathtaking. Warneford is shown singing the song while a ghostly Simona Martini, dressed in a torn and dirty gossamer gown, does a stylized, almost tortured modern ballet dance. It’s absolutely brilliant.

CALLING ALL ASTRONAUTS – Single Review: “Divided States of America”

British electronic goth punk rock band Calling All Astronauts have never shied away from writing provocative lyrics about the dark underbelly of politics, culture and society, and calling out authoritarians, fascists and racists as often and as loudly as possible. Drawing from an eclectic mix of genres and influences ranging from electro, alternative rock, goth, punk, metal, rap and dub step, the London-based trio create music that’s exhilarating, melodic, compelling and often in-your-face. Making this musical mayhem are vocalist/songwriter/programmer and producer David Bury, guitarist J Browning and bassist/keyboardist Paul McCrudden.

Since forming nearly a decade ago, Calling All Astronauts have released numerous singles and EPs, as well as three excellent albums – Post Modern Conspiracy in 2013, Anti-Social Network in 2016, and #Resist, which dropped this past June. (It’s hard to believe that nearly four years have passed since I reviewed their single “Life As We Know It”!) They’re now set to release one of the tracks from #Resist – “Divided States of America” – as their 19th single on September 18th. The single, being released via Supersonic Media, is a scathing attack on the current political situation in the U.S. As someone who loathes President Donald Trump and what’s become of the Republican Party that’s enabled him (not to mention the millions of delusional Americans who still support him), this song strongly resonates with me.

Musically, the song features a powerful punk-style dance beat that gets our blood pumping and emotions appropriately riled up. Paul McCrudden’s throbbing bass line is deliciously heavy and deep, pummeling our senses as he drives the rhythm forward like a battering ram, while J Browning lays down a swirling deluge of grungy guitars, punctuated by some nicely-placed stabbing chords. With his characteristically gruff vocals, David snarls the blistering lyrics with a venom that reflects my own sense of outrage and despair.

Society falling in a downward cycle
We checked it’s pulse, it’s signs ain’t vital
Decay. Decline. Sodom and Gomorrah
No matter what they tell you, there’s no tomorrow

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Two percent looking down at the rest
And the guy in the store wears a bulletproof vest
White folks offended by “Black Lives Matter”
But it ain’t their kids, whose blood is getting splattered

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Men in suits, above the law
Another refugee pushed against the wall
“The country’s fantastic, we’re doing great”
The President declares a De facto State

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

For the single version used in the video, David’s three-year-old daughter Daisy is heard talking at the end. Engineer Alan Branch (NIN, Depeche Mode, U2) was mixing the track and asked David to record a straight version of the chorus for the end. As Daisy heard her daddy doing the lines over and over, she proceeded to run round the studio singing the chorus, whereupon a mic was quickly handed to her and she happily contributed a few words.

Here’s the slightly longer album version of the song:

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HEIST AT FIVE – Single Review: “Friday Night”

Heist at Five Friday Night

London-based electro-rock band Heist At Five is a wickedly talented and undeniably charismatic foursome with an international pedigree. Band front man and lead vocalist Oskar Abrahamsson is from Sweden, guitarist Jozef Veselsky is from Slovakia, bassist Marco “Fuzz” Paone hails from Italy, and drummer Josh Needham is from England. Together, they play an aggressive, innovative style of alternative rock that borders on experimental, with complex melodies, intricate chord progressions, spine-tingling electronic and guitar-heavy instrumentation, and electrifying vocals. And the icing on the cake is that every one of them is as gracious and kind as they are handsome.

Since first learning about them in early 2018, they’ve become one of my favorite British bands, and I’ve featured them a number of times on this blog, most recently in May 2019 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Falling With Style”. I loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 and ranked #20 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. Now, after keeping their fans eagerly awaiting new music from them for more than a year, Heist At Five are back with their new single “Friday Night“. Having been prevented from touring or performing live over the past six months due to the pandemic, the band has instead focused their creative energies into recording new music. They plan to release two more singles in the coming months, and hope to return to performing live again in 2021.

“Friday Night” is a bit of a departure from their typical edgy and harder experimental rock sound. Here, the band introduces an intoxicating Latin-flavored dance-pop element to their usual blend of guitar and electronic arrangements, along with the sultry croons of guest vocalist Francesca Confortini, to create a jubilant feel good summer anthem. Despite its more accessible, radio-friendly vibe, the song still features many of the stylistic elements and complex instrumentation that make their music so brilliant. I love the interplay between Jozef’s intricate and funky guitar riffs and that gorgeous swirling melodic synth that just grabs hold and sticks in our mind. Then there’s Marco’s distinctive bassline and Josh’s galloping drumbeats keeping the song’s sexy rhythmic grooves.

The song’s lyrics speak to celebrating good times and better days, and not wanting them to end. The band states that “the song focuses on the concept of not wanting to return to a state of normality when you are at your highest and everything is going your way.” Oskar is a great singer, and I love how his Swedish accent shines through in his fervent vocals as he sings about a women who lifts him up: “Dressed in gold/ She don’t need luck, she’s bringing her own/ When the light is gone look into my eyes and tell me I’m wrong/ When you’re aflame/ The morning sky is never the same/ We’ll bring you back to another fabulous Friday Night.” Francesca seductively croons her reassuring response: “Reset the sunset, let us start again/ To live a life that never ends/ Like gold in the black/ Gold in the black (like a Friday Night).

The song is so damn infectious, and I love it more with each listen!

The colorful psychedelic and surreal video was produced, directed and edited by Oskar. It features him and I’m guessing his sister Elin represented as dancing gold figures, as well as his mouth colored gold and blue singing the song (similar to the famous Rocky Horror Picture Show scene for the song “Science Fiction Double Feature”) set against a background of instruments and a kaleidoscope of patters and colors. It’s fantastic, so do watch and listen:

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