Sub Urban is the music project of New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and producer Daniel Virgil Maisonneuve. The highly imaginative and insanely creative 21-year-old exploded onto the alternative music scene early last year with his breakout hit “Cradles”. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart, and has been streamed 330 million times on Spotify. He followed up in March 2020 with his outstanding debut EP Thrill Seeker.
Regular readers of this blog know I’m a huge fan of the artist Two Feet, a massively talented New York-born and now Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and guitarist who’s song “Fire” is currently enjoying a long run at #1 on my Weekly Top 30. I love all his music, and have written about him numerous times. Over the past few months, he’s collaborated with other artists such as electronic producer Gryffin on “I Want Love”, electro-pop band SHAED on “Part Time Psycho” and now Sub Urban on a trippy new song “PATCHWERK“.
The song, which was written and sung by both Sub Urban and Two Feet, and produced by Sub Urban, has an eerie, yet oddly sexy vibe. The skittering trip hop beat, discordant melody and piercing, goth-like synths are incredibly dramatic and deliciously creepy, unlike anything I’ve heard before. Two Feet sings his verses in his signature seductive vocal style, whereas Sub Urban’s go from spookily breathy to electronically-altered otherworldliness, perfectly complementing the unsettling music. The lyrics are rather ambiguous and abstract, but seem to speak to living an empty, hedonistic existence: “Cause I’ve got no soul. Live in a hole I dug. And I’ll fall apart if I don’t get it./ I’m sewing the patches right onto my skin. I’m counting the dollars to buy me out. I’m losing myself to the competition. At what point did I start to think that I’d win.“
Every bit as eerie as the song is the accompanying video, which features a surreal mix of classical Greek imagery, kabuki-inspired choreography, and macabre body horror. The video was conceived and created by Sub Urban, directed by Andrew Donoho and produced by Valerie Bush of Huffman Creative. As with the song itself, Sub Urban wanted to produce a video that was different and shocking, drawing inspiration from Tim Burton films, as well as his mother’s Japanese and Chinese dramas. In the Official YouTube Premier for the video, he stated that he wanted it to “feel scary and uncomfortable and inhuman, as I thought that those kabuki characters in my mother’s films made me feel as a child.” He went on to say that the first thing he visualized was Two Feet singing as a Greek bust, then later immersed in a pool of wine, like a drunken Greek god. Sub Urban himself portrays two characters – a man like one from a Renaissance painting, only whose body is a creepy patchwork of stapled-together pieces, and a bald, alien-looking kabuki character all in white. Check it out:
I love many of the names musicians choose for their artistic projects, and a particularly good one is Strange Souvenirs, the Berlin, Germany-based electronic/alt-pop duo comprised of brothers Thomas and Matthias Juhnke. In their own colorful words, they “blend influences from 80s new wave, 90s trip hop, post-millennial electronica & indie with science fiction soundtracks, video games and nuggets of nerd culture into a schizoid selection of danceable, delicate and disorienting songs.” Like some other artists I’ve written about, the two seem to prefer to remain anonymous, as I cannot find any photos of them anywhere. I’m guessing they want their great music to speak for itself, which it certainly does!
Strange Souvenirs released their debut single “Scrape” in December 2019, a fantastic otherworldly EDM track they call “a pummeling techno-infused micro-symphony of self-loathing.” They followed up with three more excellent singles in 2020, and are now back with their fifth offering “Pixels”, a captivating song that conveys a similar haunting moodiness of their previous single “The Way I Fell In”. All five singles will be included on their forthcoming album Spontaneous Mutation, due for release in July.
Like many of their songs, “Pixels” was co-written by Strange Souvenirs along with the help of their frequent collaborator Cameron James Laing, a talented producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist who also recorded, produced and mixed the track at The Famous Gold Watch Studios in Berlin. Thomas and Matthias played guitars, bass and sang lead vocals, Cameron played piano, mellotron and did the exquisite orchestral arrangement, as well as sang backing vocals, and Gidon Carmel played drums. The track was mastered by Davide Ruffini.
About the song’s meaning, they explain that “Pixels” “builds around the idea that we’re all pixels in an ever-changing cosmic mosaic, waiting to randomly attract or repel the other particles on our path as we spiral and drift through an equally beautiful and brutal universe. It’s about the shadows of regret lurking in the corners of our lives, inching forward, drifting back, inching forward, drifting back. On endless repeat.”
The song starts off slowly with a gentle drum beat and haunting piano riff, accompanied by airy synths and acoustic guitar notes, all of which set a rather somber tone. The guys’ vocals are equally gentle and understated, at first coming off as melancholy, but with glimmers of optimism that make them quite pleasing as they softly croon “Ghost in the room reaching out for you / A voice from the past you listen to / A shadow in the corner that knows / There’s a shadow in the corner that grows / Times stretches and slows / Doors open and close / Drifting alone…” The music gradually expands into a stirring atmospheric soundscape, highlighted by beautiful mellotron, lush orchestral strings and a fluttering trumpet that gives the song a wonderful jazzy feel at the end.
“Pixels” is a gorgeous, contemplative feast for the ears that transports us to a dreamy, faraway place. I’ve had it on repeat, and find myself enthralled with every listen.
I’ve previously noted several times on this blog of my fondness for dream pop, as I’m a sucker for beautiful melodies, luxurious instrumental arrangements and pleasing vocals. With that in mind, I’m excited to feature the artist known as Dawning, who’s just released his stunning debut EP Petals. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dawning is the music project of singer-songwriter Aaron Senor, who’s quickly making his mark on the Michigan music scene with his gorgeous songs and captivating live performances. All the songs on Petals were written, performed, recorded and produced by Aaron, with the exception of “Rose Hips”, which was co-written by Jake LeMond of the band Michigander, and the guitar solo at the end was performed by Aaron’s father Brian Senor. The EP was mixed by Jacob Rye and mastered by Mike Cervantes.
Released on Valentine’s Day, Petals was initially to be comprised solely of love songs, but Dawning’s approach evolved toward creating something altogether different. “The plan was I’d write each song about a former relationship, tie all those memories up in a bow, put it out, and never write a love song again. ‘Petals’ was always meant to be the carrying out of this, but it never was. Contrary to my plan, most of these are not proper love songs at all, but rather, explorations of feelings I’ve had in the past that I thought were love, but really were not. This has been my effort to decipher what those feelings in fact were, if not love. Embedded in each song is a question: What is the difference between infatuation/having someone make you feel really good, and love? Is it possible to be obsessed with someone romantically, but still not truly love them? Where does physical attraction end and love begin? Why do we seem to sometimes realize how much we love someone only after they’ve gone? I have not presented anything in Petals as a definite answer to any of these questions, because this project was never an essay. Rather, it’s an expression of my own experience, and that mere expression gave me the solace of a satisfactory answer. I hope ‘Petals’ gives you that same solace as well.”
The first track “Bloom” is a lush, dreamy affair with sultry R&B overtones in the vein of artists like James Blake. Using a rich palette of fluttering shimmery synths, crisp percussion and sparkling keyboards, Dawning creates a sumptuous atmospheric soundscape replete with well-placed moments of chirping birds and flourishes of soaring brass. His soulful vocals alternate between ethereal croons and commanding entreaties as he sings of being besotted by a lover: “Love full of color / Skies turning blue / I like the way your eyes always see the world / Everything, all in bloom / You are an ocean / Precipitate / My breath becomes so easy when I drown in you / My little hurricane.”
Dawning dials up the heat on “Liturgy“. With it’s sensuous thumping beat, sultry bass, and that bewitching organ, combined with his silky falsetto and breathy whispers, it’s downright sexy! When I didn’t think he could top the first two tracks, Dawning blows me away with “Rose Hips“. The songs starts off slowly, with pulsating synths and his gentle, plaintive croons, then explodes into a gorgeous cinematic wall of sound, highlighted by Brian Senor’s fiery guitar solo that leaves me covered in goosebumps. His vocals turn more passionate with the music as he channels The Weeknd with a beautiful soaring falsetto.
On the Sufjan Stevens-esque “Rose Lights“, Dawning sings of a brief love affair that didn’t survive the summer. The only sounds we hear are his lovely acoustic guitar and enchanting layered vocal harmonies, yet the song has a vibrant fullness of sound. His echoed breathy vocals evoke a sad resignation as he softly laments “I did you wrong it’s apparent, just know that I always cared but messed it up / Summer love, rising through the month of June / In my life, August came and went too soon / Summer love, falling in and out of you.“
Though it contains only four tracks, Petals is a rich and colorful feast for the senses. Every song is brilliantly executed and sonically beautiful, and I’m really impressed with Dawning’s incredible songwriting, musicianship and vocals. My only criticism of the EP is that I wish it were longer! I guess I’ll have to wait for him to record more music.
I’ve included links for the EP in two formats, YouTube and Spotify:
Bundy is a four-piece band from Long Beach, California who play a unique, eclectic and innovative style of post-punk rock with progressive overtones. I had the pleasure of seeing one of their shows a few years ago, and the high energy of their music translates well into their exciting on-stage performances. The band consists of front man Nani Serna (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Johnny Lim (Guitar, Keys), Mike Meza (Drums) and JB Vasquez (Bass). In January 2018, they released their magnificent debut album Bastard Performer, which in my review I described as “a kaleidoscopic soundscape of breathtaking melodies, complex musical structures and deeply meaningful lyrics that elicit strong emotional responses for the listener.”
From their beginnings in 2016, they’ve always shown a willingness to venture outside their comfort zone in the creation of music that pushes boundaries and grabs our attention in positive ways that both entertain and inform us. Since Bastard Performer, they’ve released a number of excellent singles, the latest of which is “Crush“, featuring the wizardry of Subtle Smiles, an electronic music duo consisting of producer Brian Frederick and singer-songwriter Marley Rae, who are also based in Long Beach. They make some terrific music too, so do check them out using one of the links I’ve provided at the end of this post.
Bundy recorded “Crush” almost two years ago, but felt like something was missing from the song, that it just wasn’t ready for release. They eventually turned to Subtle Smiles producer Frederick for help, who worked his magic to give the song a more epic feel befitting its powerful lyrics addressing self destruction and growth. Serna confides: “I wrote ‘Crush’ at a time when I was soaking in the chaotic. I had lived with relationship trauma that haunted me for 10 years. It sent me down a spiral of triggers. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. Now we’re all better but the pain will keep resurfacing. I’m now living my best life, with love and joy. I have people who legitimately understand my issues. and I hope that if you are feeling down and crappy about yourself, let me tell you: with open hearts, REALLY looking at yourself, and taking steps to improve – things will get better and you can fix the cycle.“
Musically, Bundy and Subtle Smiles deliver a thrilling sonic eargasm bathed in cinematic psychedelic grooves. I love the dominant pulsating bass line, eerie synths, roiling guitars and thunderous percussion, all working together brilliantly to create a dark, menacing vibe. The intricate guitar riff in the bridge, accompanied by powerful galloping drumbeats, further heightens the tension. Serna has a beautiful voice that skillfully expresses strong emotions as he laments “Sooner or later you’ll find out all about me and how I was set off on a path to my own self destruction. Now we’re all better but the pain it keeps resurfacing when moments are remembered, the feelings are triggered. Another love to crush.”
I’ve touched on this a number of times on previous posts, but one of the advantages of being a music blogger is becoming exposed to all kinds of music I otherwise might not have ever heard. So it was a nice surprise to receive a message from British ska collective Zen Baseballbat – is that a fantastic name for a band, or what! – asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing their new album Rations. Let me state up-front that I dislike writing album reviews, as they’re a lot of work, plus my Attention Deficit Disorder makes it difficult for me to focus my thoughts on a large number of songs, further compounding my stress levels.
That said, the moment I pressed play, I was delighted by this album. It’s wild, it’s zany, it’s fun, and as thoroughly eclectic as any record could possibly be. Besides ska, which itself is an eclectic mash-up of Caribbean mento and calypso, American jazz and R&B, the songs feature generous helpings of electro, punk, new wave, reggae and dub, as well as an unexpected touch of bluegrass just to keep us on our toes – all served up courtesy of nearly every conceivable instrument known to man, along with seemingly silly lyrics that brilliantly reflect deeper meanings.
I’d never heard of Zen Baseballbat previously, however, from what I can tell they were formed some time during the first half of the 1990s by twin brothers Gary and Carl Gleavey, along with several other musicians. Their earliest recording I could find was the 1994 EP Kneel Down To The Mothers Of The Slums, released via Toebunger Records. They later released two albums under the Moon Ska Records label – I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer in 2000, followed by For Refund Insert Baby in 2004. They disbanded in the late 2000s, but reformed a decade later with a new lineup and a newfound burst of creativity.
Based in Widnes, England, a mid-size city located between Liverpool and Manchester, Zen Baseballbat now includes Gleavey twins Gary on guitar & vocals, and Carl on bass & backing vocals, Jordan Donaldson on keyboards & backing vocals, Mike Wilkinson on drums, Jonathan ‘Jogga’ Parker on guitar & backing vocals, as well as Anoushka Wittram-Gleavey and Colin Mackay, who produced the album. In 2020, they released an EP You Won’t Get Paid and two singles “Place Like This” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling”. On New Years Day, they released Rations, which features reimagined versions of 11 songs that previously appeared on I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer and For Refund Insert Baby.
About the album, the band explains: “Rations conjures up images of need, neglect, desire and food banks in the modern world. It definitely shouldn’t sound this positive and joyful. ‘Rations’ is the sound of misery turned on its head. This CD is a radar pulse crossing borders and political divides and says firmly, we are internationalists. These are songs of love, loss, hurt and a knee to the neck from every cunt who wants to keep you in your place. Words have space to breath and weave, voices sound measured with biting intent, bass lines jerk and slide under polyrhythmic prose, whilst organs bounce from corner to corner. This body of work has emerged clear eyed and victorious, handled to a T by producer Colin McKay.“
They kick things off with “Whipping the Lash“, which opens with a woman chanting German numbers translating to “seven eight zero seven nine nine” to a synth beat. Things quickly expand into a bouncy retro new wave dance groove that sounds like it could have been produced by Missing Persons or Thomas Dolby. Though the track is heavy on synths, that driving bass line and those jangly guitars are fabulous. The song seems to be a love song told through clever car-oriented lyrics describing feelings of lust: “I just love the way you move your fingers up and down the wheel, Into such mechanical force. It’s the way that you want me to feel.”
Next up is the delightful “Captain Midnight“, a ska song at heart, but given a dramatic synthwave treatment that nicely plays off the lyrics: “Nobody knows who I really am. Nobody knows. Under my vest I’m a Superman. Well I’m a perfect stranger. They even baptized me danger.” On the hilarious “Masochistic Motown“, which to my ears has a bit of a Talking Heads vibe, they touch on a situation where there’s simply no pleasing the man, no matter how hard she tries: “He gets porn at his fingertips, but snubs her new knickers. She’s gone from mouse to blonde, but he never noticed it. She wants him back, she wants him back. She wants him back, she wants him.”
The tables are turned on “Year of the Dog (That Bit Me)“, as this time she’s left him, and he’s feeling like a loser: “Here I am at a municipal dock pond. Oh my god love hurts. She upped and left me in mid sausage, punctuating end with burps.” The song opens with a man’s voice saying “I wish you good luck, but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it“, and ends with that refrain, followed by another man exclaiming that he is in fact a loser: “You lose! Good day sir! It’s all there in black and white, clear as crystal. You lose!” The song’s jaunty vibe, replete with an upbeat ska rhythm, exuberant horns and lively organ, belies the rather morose lyrics.
“Brown Cows of Elocution” is a lovely serving of dub reggae delight, and I dare anyone to keep still while hearing it. The cheeky lyrics poke fun at high society’s penchant for verbal diarrhea: “In a compost heap where a language grew, us duffers in the meat yard never had a clue. Our vowels were strangled by the cattle gas. / Sure it’s a laugh sure it’s a gas.”
The great tunes keep coming on strong as the album continues. “The Injection of Love is Wearing Off” features more of those lovely horns and organ, and speaks to a relationship in which love is fading” “The injection of love is wearing off. My heart’s wide open. There goes the heat. The magic carpet pulled from under my feet. She made me feel like an out of season seaside.” And have I mentioned that I love Gary’s distinctive singing voice, in which his charming accent is quite pronounced? On “Signed Off R. Mutt“, Zen Baseballbat delivers a surprising injection of rousing hillbilly-flavored bluegrass to lament about the soul-killing downside of most jobs: “I left the job club torture room with little applause. They broke up my horizons over them there town hall walls. I offered them the services of a Marcel Duchamp. They gave me the post of a lavatory attendant. / We know exactly where we are, going under together in a gas filled car.“
“Bananas” is a fascinating and darkly humorous track with a macabre vibe, thanks to an abundance of spooky synths and eerie guitar notes. The lyrics seem to address a downtrodden social milieu, sort of a Les Misérables meets Sweeney Todd, told through rather repulsive food and restaurant metaphors: “Where’s the crapper? They’re ready to order, ready to murder a braison elephant paddling in batter, two galloping gonads, and the next man’s earlobes. Mine’s a grated brick. And a ballbuster special seasoned with a banana skin. My gastronomic exit. Fly, there’s not enough waiters in my soup!” And on “Matching Houses“, they contrast a breezy reggae melody with pointed lyrics about the banality of suburban life: “Making the most of our matching houses in the middle of nowhere special./ Polluting the back of our nostalgic settee with lies and social security. Painting brown carpets with sunshine. Moving for the last time.”
Continuing on that theme of socio-economic ennui, “The Returner Prize” speaks to the frustrations of being stuck in a dead-end job with no hope of upward mobility, and expected to be thankful for the crumbs you’re thrown by the high and mighty: “Meet your average working stiff, pushing a button in a light bulb factory. Meet your average working stiff, I never touch my salmon paste sandwiches. When Her Majesty came to our dumb town we had a whazz in her brew. Down Stewards Avenue when Her Majesty came to our dumb town, we had to clear up the streets after the mess that she had left.” The closing track “Whipping the Drop” is a mostly instrumental dub reggae song with a strong techno vibe, and seems to be a sort of conclusion to opening track “Whipping the Lash”. The spooky yet stylish industrial synths, throbbing rhythms and whispered vocals repeatedly chanting “Sieben acht null sieben neun neun” give the track a sultry otherworldly vibe.
To expand on some of what I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Rations is a truly delightful album, filled with lyrical and instrumental brilliance that surprised me at every turn. There’s so much going on in every track that, even on my sixth listen, I still discovered another instrument or little nuance I hadn’t previously noticed. I did listen to Zen Baseballbat’s earlier recordings of some of the songs featured on Rations, with their more pure ska stylings, and they were also quite good. But with their reimagined treatments, I think they’ve taken these songs to the next level, giving them a whole new life.
For my latest installment of recent releases, I’m featuring four scintillating new singles by international artists (in alphabetical order) Favourite Daughter, Lazer Squad featuring Melotika, NAYAD and Alex Southey. Three of them – Favourite Daughter, Melotika and Alex Southey – are Canadian, Lazer Squad is German and NAYAD are Swedish.
“Long Distance” by Favourite Daughter
Favourite Daughter is the music project of Toronto-born and now Montreal-based singer-songwriter Julia Kennific, who’s just released her terrific debut single “Long Distance“. Drawing inspiration from such artists as Courtney Barnett, Hayley Williams and Julien Baker, she creates her own unique brand of infectious indie pop/rock through catchy melodies, honest, vulnerable lyrics and emphatic vocals. Julia wrote and sang vocals on the song, with assistance by Sam Eastman on guitars, Sam Donald on bass, Kate Markle on synths, Edward Scrimger on drums and Gabrièle Côté-LeBreux on percussion. The track was produced, recorded and mixed by Steven Gibb at Lites Down Studio, and mastered by Richard Addison at Studio Trillium Sound.
Julia elaborates on her impetus for writing the song: “I wrote ‘Long Distance‘ on an unplugged, rented electric guitar during a blackout on a night off from an opera gig I was doing in Halifax in the summer of 2019, in tears after a frustrating phone call with my then-girlfriend. We were spending a four month stretch away from each other while I travelled for work. Neither of us were communicating well, and our daily check ins became monotonous. Both of us kept up the charade that we were good, while allowing fear and resentment to build up, which ended up costing us the relationship entirely. It’s about trying to keep up appearances that everything’s fine, while running from the inevitable.“
The rousing song features lively rhythms and chugging guitars, creating a cheerfully upbeat but anxious vibe that builds as the song progresses. It all works beautifully to convey feelings of running away from one’s problems, yet knowing you’ll have to face up to them sooner or later: “So it’ll feel like I’m dying till it doesn’t anymore / I’ll rebuild again, Lord knows that I’ve done it before.“
“Eternal Eclipse” by Lazer Squad featuring Melotika
Lazer Squad is a versatile and talented electronic artist and producer from Germany who creates EDM, Synthwave and Nu-Disco music. He began his music career over 15 years ago as a drummer for a punk and metal band, as well as playing and touring with numerous bands as a backup musician, eventually transitioning to electronic music. In 2020, he wowed critics and fans alike with his excellent debut album Undead Nightmare, which he then followed with a series of singles. His latest effort is “Eternal Eclipse“, a mesmerizing EDM track featuring sultry vocals by Montreal-based singer-songwriter Melotika, a hard-working and charming electro pop artist for whom I have a special fondness. She’s released quite a lot of music over the past three years, and I’ve had the pleasure of featuring some of it on this blog. She will soon be dropping her debut album Dancing Without You.
“Eternal Eclipse” serves up an infectious EDM groove that aims straight for the hips, giving us three and a half minutes worth of joyous escapism. The timely lyrics describe what it feels like to be stranded in the middle of a global crisis with a loved one: “Everybody’s trippin’ out / Taken back, shaken up / Nobody even knows my name / Thinking about tearing down, and I’m singing a song. Singing alone. What can I do without you?” Have a listen and prepare to move those hips!
Stockholm-based duo NAYAD create dreamy psych lofi pop, which they humorously describe as “Tame Impala, Lana Del Rey and ABBA had an orgy and the result is us” – a pretty spot-on characterization of their gorgeous sound. Last summer, they burst onto the Swedish music scene with their breakout Swedish-language single “Ingen vet”, then followed up with the English-language “Don’t be mad if I don’t come along”, gaining airplay on Swedish National Radio and other radio stations. In November, they dropped their third single “Holy Lakes (Dusk)” a stunning track celebrating their love of nature. Although the single is now more than two months old, I’m featuring it now because they just released a beautiful video for the song.
The song is utterly captivating, with achingly beautiful piano keys, accompanied by stirring atmospheric synths creating an enchanting soundscape for their sublime vocal harmonies. About the fascinating video, they provide a bit of enlightenment: “NAYAD loves mother earth. We immediately had a clear picture that the video for ‘Holy Lakes (Dusk)’ would be a journey through lakes and mountains, because that is the theme of the song. We used an introductory film to national parks around North America and cut it together with other goodies we have collected over the years.” Much of the imagery they used includes old footage of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.
Alex Southey is an indie folk singer-songwriter and musician currently based in Toronto. He’s released quite a lot of music over the past few years, including two albums: Christmastown in 2019 and last year’s You’re Not Just a Body to Me. Since that release, he’s dropped three singles in advance of his forthcoming third album …And the Country Stirred, due for release on February 5th. The latest of these three singles is “Rosie“, a hauntingly beautiful and deeply personal love song to his erstwhile hometown of Vancouver. Alex sang and played guitar, piano and the soaring string arrangements, Kenny Feinstein played fiddle, and Tommy Drinkard played pedal steel and mandolin. The track was produced and mixed by JUNO Award winner John Critchley and mastered by Aaron Hutchison.
About the song’s title, Alex elaborates: “Who is ‘Rosie’? I had been wanting to write about a place, but knew that I’d have to personify it. I was trying, failing, at growing rosemary naturally on my balcony and I began to find the word alluring. I fused it with this personification concept and it became the name of the person when in reality, the song is a love letter to Vancouver where I was born. I feel a sort of mysterious attraction to Vancouver. The city sells itself well, but has its pitfalls: rain all the time, darkness, basements, high price of living – it can all seep into you. For a long time, I was giving something to it and it didn’t give me anything back.” In his sublime and plaintive vocal style, he croons of his mixed emotions: “Rosemary, I can stay away / You say it well, then you take it away / Got no problem, follow up / You’re the one I say I’m from.“
Tobisonics is the music project of Toby Davis, a longtime alternative electro-pop artist, composer, songwriter and music producer based in Luxembourg. For several years, he used his creative vision and talents mixing, mastering or remixing other artists and bands’ music, but starting in late 2018, he decided to create his own musical works as Tobisonics. About his moniker, he explains “All Tobisonics really means is Tobi sounds. And that’s how I think of myself, as a noisemaker, rather than a musician.”
Costi is a London-based hip hop artist and rapper who describes himself as an “Emcee slash poet who mixes spoken word with hip hop music.. plus a little guitar.” He’s been featured on Fresh on the Net – Fresh Faves 316 and the BBC Introducing Mixtape, and has been involved in numerous musical collaborations and projects, including as one half of the hip hop/electronic music duo One Line to an Angle, who released a terrific single “Cassette Tape”, along with several remixes, last October.
I’ve previously featured Tobisonics three times on this blog, most recently last October when I wrote about his single “Military Industrial Complex“, a politically-charged electronic track featuring two important and diametrically opposite speeches by Presidents Eisenhower and Trump. (You can read my previous reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the end of this post.) Angered by Trump’s incendiary Rose Garden speech last June, in which he threatened a harsh government response to the Black Lives Matter protests, Toby decided to contrast Trump’s menacing words with Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address warning of the need for perpetual vigilance to safeguard the liberties of the American people against the military industrial complex and include them in his song. Though the song resonated with listeners and music critics, and received radio play on Amazing Radio US, KGUP FM, and scores of respected independent radio shows, Toby later confessed to having mixed feelings: “I feel ‘Military Industrial Complex’ was artistically successful but, in terms of its application, it failed. I wanted to engage with traditional voters on the right, instead I just ended up just preaching to the choir.”
With that sentiment in mind, he decided to create a new song that would tackle populist nationalism not with clever comparisons, but with hope: “I wanted toinspire hope and remind people of a time when we believed we could be one race of humans, a better people, a great people, a global people.” He teamed up with Costi to collaborate on a song they titled “Eye of the Storm“, an electro-synth retro-wave anthem of hope to raise people up after all the stress, worry, fear and pain of 2020. The single will be released on all music platforms on Wednesday, January 20th, in recognition of Joe Biden’s Inauguration as the 46th President of the United States. It’s the first of four collaborative music projects Tobisonics has planned for 2021.
For the song, Tobisonics sampled President John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech, along with lyrics written and sung by Costi. The track opens with Costi singing the chorus, followed by several verses alternating with the repeated chorus. Musically, Tobisonics employs a powerful thumping synth bass beat, accompanied by ominous swirling industrial synths that seem to mimic bombs dropping from the skies, while Costi raps the biting lyrics with an impressive and commanding flow. At the two-minute mark, Kennedy’s speech enters, followed by the chorus. In the fifth recitation of the chorus, Costi’s lyrics are interspersed with the most famous lines of Kennedy’s speech:
The future’s bright that’s the neon lights (And so my fellow Americans) Demolition man put your dreams on ice (ask not) Said it’s going down if you’re seen on sight (what your country can do for you) Countdown started and we leave tonight (ask what you can do for your country)
The song ends with the often-overlooked second part to Kennedy’s most famous quote: “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man”, driving home the strong unifying message Tobisonics and Costi desired to great effect.
leaving richmond is the instrumental electronic music project of Los Angeles-based composer and producer Jordan Pier. He recently reached out to me about his latest album Visions, which dropped November 13th. As I always do when preparing to review an artist or band’s music for the first time, I checked out his back catalog to better acquaint myself with his style and sound, and was surprised at his considerable music output over the past 10 years. From what I can tell, his first release, in 2010, was the EP The Secret Traditions of Washington Ave., a very respectable work featuring five tracks. Since then, he’s released another two EPs, several singles and five albums, the latest of which is Visions.
His works have received widespread acclaim from both music critics and fans alike, with several of his songs garnering airplay on NPR and other radio stations around the world. Despite the pandemic, he says 2020 has been an amazing year for him from a musical standpoint. In addition to composing and producing a new album, he also saw a number of his tracks land placements on popular TV shows as well as advertisements.
About his new album, Pier explains: “Following the release of [his previous album] ‘Great Distances’, I took a deep dive which bore fruit in multiple ways, particularly in honing my composition, production and engineering capabilities in aspects that were exciting and inspiring. I strove to take all the new skills I had learned and combined it with the organic songwriting I so loved. The melodic, layered guitar as the main and guiding instrument represents a return to roots as I simultaneously embraced new electronic techniques. As a result of this new outlook on songwriting and experience in the studio, the ‘Visions’ LP was born. Every track on this album is tied to and inspired by a visualization of some sort. What this album has allowed me to do is combine my love for music and imagery into one offering. It is my hope to provide a soundtrack for the thoughts of the listener and offer some respite.”
All tracks were composed, arranged, produced and engineered by leaving richmond, and mastered by Brian Hazard. The album kicks off with “You Must Break Yourself“, an enchanting track featuring a kaleidoscope of shimmery and spacey synths punctuated by dubstep-like percussive beats. The result is a dreamy and optimistic soundscape that, to my ears, evokes a sense of breaking free from whatever it was holding you back and entering an aura of enlightenment.
“Memories of Another You” is a stunning feast for the ears that really showcases leaving richmond’s impressive compositional and production talents. He intertwines layers of gorgeous chiming guitar notes with glittery string synths and delicate skittering piano keys to create a scintillating soundscape that’s truly magical. It’s an instant favorite of mine. The lovely “There Is So Much to See” has a somewhat more subdued and introspective vibe, with warm, sumptuous synths.
Inspired by the 1879 painting Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Adherence” is a rather dark and somber track, with a deep bass synth-driven melody overlain with swirling synths and reserved jangly guitars that nicely convey Joan of Arc’s sense of purpose and valor. “Daydreams at the Cannery” was inspired by a character in the 2017 video game What Remains of Edith Finch?, developed by video game company Giant Sparrow. The shimmery guitars and glistening synths are intended to honor the beautiful storytelling and cinematic art of the game.
On a more spiritual level, “Washing Over Us” attempts to convey through music the concept that, in his words, “pure emotion can surround, envelop and cleanse us like the beautiful waters in the oceans and lakes around the world.” He skillfully employs watery synths, chiming guitar notes and ethereal choir-like vocals to create images of water nymphs singing in a crystalline lake. “The Frequency of You” is a beguiling guitar-driven track with wonderful spacey synths and a hypnotic toe-tapping beat. Once again, his guitar work is quite marvelous.
leaving richmond’s love of neon light signs was the inspiration behind the sublime “Red Orange Light“. The track opens with muffled sounds of neon gas pulsating through glass tubes, followed by a building cinematic soundscape of spacy synths and delicately-strummed jangly guitars, accompanied by a gentle dubstep beat. It’s an enchanting and beautiful song. Keeping with the more techno-oriented sound, the enchanting “The Soul is Greater” serves up more of those spacey, otherworldly vibes, highlighted by leaving richmond’s signature gorgeous shimmery guitars.
I’ve run out of descriptors and superlatives by now, so let me just say that closing track “And Then We Begin Again” is yet another exquisite song, and a fine finish to a stunning album. I’ve listened to a lot of electronic instrumental albums over the years, and Visions stands among the very best. leaving richmond’s skill for writing beautiful and compelling melodies is impressive, and his guitar work and keyboards are truly breathtaking.
When I last featured British electronic music project The Ocean Beneath on this blog in July 2019, it was to review his marvelous debut self-titled EP The Ocean Beneath (which you can read here.) The Ocean Beneath is the brain child of Leeds-based musician, composer and producer Matt Burnside. Influenced by bands such as Gunship, HVOB and Talk Talk, he 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.
He recently teamed up with Leeds-based singer-songwriter and electronic musician Fran Minney for their smoldering new collaborative single “Skin“, which drops today, September 29th. In their own words, the song “encapsulates the almost drunken touch-starved feeling a lot of us have experienced during lockdown these past few months with a beat to help you dance out that desperation.” Well, I must say that Matt and Fran do a superb job in capturing those desperate feelings of desire through their sensuous instrumentals, arrangement and vocals.
After listening to “Skin” a few times, it struck me how it has a somewhat similar feel as Everything But The Girl’s 1995 hit song “Missing”, not only because of the way it transitions back and forth from a calm, moody vibe to a sensuous dance groove, but also that Fran’s sultry vocals remind me of Tracey Thorn’s.
The song opens with enchanting glittery synths, then Fran’s lush vocals enter as the music expands with darker, more ominous synths and a crisp percussive beat. At the one minute mark, a throbbing dance beat ensues along with Fran’s haunting, echoed vocals, and lasting around 15 seconds before calming down, only to briefly return at 1:50. This back and forth pattern continues through the rest of the track, building to an exhilarating crescendo in the final chorus before calming back down at the end. It all serves to create a strong sense of tension and unfulfilled desire that makes for a very powerful song.
The days and the months The weight of your touch I’ve waited so long The dry thickened clay Baked deep in the layers I’m breaking away
I am lost in your skin Feel the waves crash within I’m off my feet I’m floating Your skin, your, your skin, skin Your skin, your, your skin, skin
The sand and the blood A coarse thickened flood I waited so long The foam and the blue That brought me to you The pull of a truth
I am lost in your skin Feel the waves crash within I’m off my feet I’m floating
I die a little each time x3 I die a little I die a little each time x3 Let me drown in this night
I am lost in your skin Feel the waves crash within I’m off my feet I’m floating
Electronic music seems to be a genre that’s alive and flourishing, as there are lots of artists around the world still making it in all its myriad forms. I’ve featured a fair number of them on this blog, and one of the more interesting – and eccentric – is British composer and producer 1i2c (one eye to see). Based in Stevenage, a mid-size town north of London, 1i2c is the music project of John Whitaker.
Heavily influenced by the music of some of his favorite artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Depeche Mode, The Prodigy and Royksopp, he’s an imaginative and innovative composer whose music spans across a wide range of styles within the electronica genre. He’s also quite prolific, having produced a tremendous output of music over the past five years, beginning with the release in January 2016 of his debut album The Great Distraction. Since then, he’s released an astonishing 11 albums, as well as numerous singles and EPs. I reviewed his December 2018 album Winter, (which you can read here), and am now pleased to feature his latest release Lockdown Made Me Do It!, which dropped July 27th. It’s a concept album obviously inspired by the COVID-19 lockdown that’s upended just about everyone’s life over the past five months.
All of his releases have essentially been concept albums based on an overriding theme, with the sounds and titles of each track reflecting an element of the album title. For example, Power Struggle contains industrial techno songs with titles like “Electron”, “Incandescent” and “High Tension”, Horror Show features songs with more of a psychedelic goth and darkwave vibe, titled “Monster”, “Lunatic Waltz” and “Doorway to Hell”, and Winter includes appropriately-named tracks like “Cold Season”, “Chill” and “Deep Freeze”. So too with the tracks on Lockdown Made Me Do It!, with titles like “Confusion”, “Virus” and “Keep Your Distance”. 1i2c states that he wants his album themes to paint visual pictures in our minds, further adding “My journey will continue until I run out of ideas.”
The album opens with “Spirit“, a rather enchanting yet mysterious composition with a galloping EDM beat overlain by lush, spacey synths that call to mind some of the late 70s music of European composers Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. The song is really pretty in the beginning, but turns darker as the synths take on a harsher, more industrial tone, as if to indicate that something is amiss. The next track “Confusion” confirms that something is indeed amiss, as the melody becomes more urgent, with gnarly industrial synths and an almost chaotic percussive beat that give the song an ominous vibe. Still, there are bits of beauty to be found in the delicate piano keys as well as the almost cheerful sounding xylophone notes at the end.
“Trauma” is an interesting track, as it starts off scary and harsh, but soon settles into a mesmerizing dance beat, accompanied by a mix of sharp industrial sounds combined with some lovely synths that make for a darkly beautiful song. As our journey through the extended lockdown continues, we find ourselves immersed in “A Dark Place“. To a repetitive whiplash beat and harsh psychedelic synths, a woman’s haunting voice repeatedly asks “Sometimes I wonder why?“, a question I suppose we’d all like some answers to.
“Reality” sets in with a hypnotic EDM beat overlain by pulsating industrial synths that convey a continual state of ennui brought on by endless days of lockdown. Is this the new reality? By now, we’re left feeling like were “Sleepwalking” through life, unable to participate in the many activities involving social interaction that we once took for granted. Musically, the track has more of a rock feel, thanks to electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The intense, buzzing synths are harsher as well, giving off a decidedly menacing vibe.
1i2c has produced a brilliant video for the song that’s at once funny and disturbing. The video starts off with scenes of bright blue sky with fluffy clouds, then transitions to black and white as he’s shown sitting in the middle of a country road, blindfolded with his hands tied and wearing a bad wig and a shirt on backwards like an improvised straightjacket. He then gets up and stumbles down the road in a sort of macabre dance, as if he’s losing his mind. Didn’t I say earlier that he’s eccentric? He eventually makes his way back to his car, gets in, and drives off. As he drives through the village in the rain, the color returns at the end, as if to possibly signify that all is not hopeless and brighter days lie ahead.
And speaking of disturbing and eccentric, 1i2c delivers both in a big way on “Virus“, coughing and hacking his way through the track, sirens wailing in the background. As to be expected, the instrumentals are deliciously dark, harsh and menacing. To try and avoid catching the virus, one must do our best to “Keep Your Distance“, and the message is delivered by a volley of cacophonous industrial synths and dark, skittering percussive beats, accompanied by creepy sounds of buzzing flies.
The terrific video for this song was actually conceived by Nicolai Kornum. He pitched the concept to Whitaker, then shot some footage for Whitaker to compose the music around. The video stars Whitaker and M. W. Daniels, and was filmed, edited & directed by Kornum. Shot in black and white, it opens with a masked man played by Daniels standing on the sidewalk next to what appears to be a bus shelter, reading the newspaper. An ad for Chiquita bananas on the back of the shelter states “we are bananas”, a cheeky little nod to our current societal state. Whitaker walks up to the man from behind and coughs heavily, then turns and walks away. Incensed, the masked man then follows Whitaker through the streets of London, temporarily losing sight of him in a park. He soon sees him walking and resumes following him to a bridge across the Thames, where Whitaker has stopped to take in the view. The man taps him on the shoulder, and as Whitaker turns around, the man pushes him over the railing and into the river. It’s an extreme measure to rid himself of another potential virus carrier!
Those pesky buzzing flies are back in full force on the album closer and title track “Lockdown“. Once again, 1i2c uses razor-sharp industrial synths and sets them to a pulsating electronic beat to create a sense of foreboding and losing one’s mind. It’s the perfect ending to a brilliant album that beautifully captures the stress and emotional trauma inflicted on society by the COVID-19 lock down. He’s a talented and incredibly creative artist, and I strongly urge my readers to check out more of his works.