The music industry has long thrived on the collaboration of talented songwriters and musicians, and one of the most successful collaborations I know of is the one between Norwegian coldwave/post-punk project Antipole and British electronic music artist Paris Alexander. Antipole is the music moniker of guitarist and composer Karl Morten Dahl, who’s based in Trondheim, Norway, whereas singer-songwriter, composer and producer Paris Alexander is based in Brighton, England.
While each has released music as solo artists, the majority of their output consists of albums they’ve recorded together or with other musicians and vocalists. I’ve followed them both for quite a while, and have written about some of their previous works – in 2017, I reviewed their collaborative album Northern Flux, and in 2021, I reviewed Alexander’s album Renaissance, featuring his partner Eirene. On May 12, they dropped their latest album Crystalline, featuring eight outstanding tracks.
The music was co-written by Antipole and Alexander, and lyrics written mostly by Alexander, with the exception of the songs “Marble” and “Infractions”, which were written by Eirene. Antipole’s guitar parts were recorded at AGV63 studio in Trondheim, while Alexander’s programmed synths and vocals were recorded at his Blue Door Studio in Brighton. Eirene sang additional vocals on “Marble”. Alexander also produced, mixed and mastered the album. The beautiful artwork for the album cover was created by Anne-Christel Gullikstad.
Listening to Crystalline, I hear strong influences by iconic darkwave and synthwave acts like Joy Division, New Order and The Cure, with a bit of Depeche Mode for good measure. Antipole’s jangly and shimmery guitar work is pretty spectacular throughout, and together with Alexander’s hypnotic beats and dreamy cinematic synths, create darkly beautiful and mesmerizing soundscapes. I also love Alexander’s rich baritone vocals, which have a haunting yet sensual quality, reminding me at times of David Bowie, most notably on “Midnight Shadows” and “Marble”.
Most of the songs have a somewhat similar sound and feel, certainly not a bad thing, as they’re all quite arresting and beautifully-arranged. At 30 minutes and 45 seconds in length, the album seems to pass by quickly, always a sign of a quality work in my book. I like every track a lot, but will touch on some of my favorites. Opening track “Perceptions“, features a strong pulsating groove, overlain with lush industrial synths and Antipole’s intricate jangly guitars. Alexander’s breathy vocals are wonderful, both mysterious and sensual. The video, filmed in black and white and at night, shows Antipole making magic on his guitar outdoors on a cold night in front of a church in Trondheim, while Alexander walks through the abandoned streets of Bath, England.
Perhaps the darkest song on the album is “Bleached“, a beautiful but brooding track for which the guys have also fortunately created a video showing them performing the song, superimposed over rather bleak footage of a large English industrial city filmed along a railroad line. The lyrics speak of a desperate existence in an urban wasteland, which Alexander sings in ominous whispered tones: “Take me. Houses full of lost dreams. Structures gripping the sky. Roads leads to hope, but walking is tiring. Reality is the end. Dead end streets and turnarounds. Windows gaze down upon me. Wandering these city streets, struggling for breath to nourish the blood. Stuck on an island, gotta get off. Get me off my phone, get me off my phone…“
“Marble” is an especially lovely and melodic track, with a rapid, pulsating beat, sharp percussive synths, and marvelous jangly guitar notes. Alexander’s comforting vocals are nicely backed by Eirene’s ethereal harmonies. “Infractions” has a wonderful psychedelic vibe, thanks to a greater use of spacey synths, while “Sentiments” is a gorgeous four-minute-long tour de force of hypnotic beats, dreamy atmospheric synths and jangly guitars, accompanied by Alexander’s brooding but hopeful breathy vocals.
With Crystalline, Antipole and Paris Alexander have gifted us another stellar collection of exquisite darkwave songs. I continue to be impressed by the consistently high quality of their output.
Crystalline is also available on vinyl and CD through Young & Cold Records
A.Wake (short for Anita Wake) is a fascinating and innovative singer-songwriter and musician based in Sheffield, England who’s been actively making music for several years, both as a member of several bands (in which she played bass and sang backing vocals) and more recently, as a solo artist. With a passionate interest in sound therapy, mysticism and the healing properties of music, she seeks to incorporate healing frequencies and modern music elements into her songs.
She released her enchanting debut single “Lemuria” last July, then followed in October with the darkly beautiful “Railings”, which I reviewed. Now she returns with her latest release The Seed – Root Chakra Remix EP, an unusual and interesting concept work featuring three different versions of her song “The Seed”, along with a shortened radio edit of the third remix.
Starting with the line “The seed of creation in you“, a quote by an angelic entity named Kryon, who’s been channeled through noted American author and medium Lee Carrol, A.Wake wrote the words “Stop wasting your life. Want what you do. Stop chasing the strife.” She then added these lines written by an unknown source and spoken by a man who’s also unknown: “If you only care enough for a result, you will almost certainly attain it. If you wish to be rich, you will be rich. If you wish to be learned, you will be learned. If you wish to be good, you will be good. All things are possible to him that believe it.”
About the song and EP’s concept, she explains “‘The seed’ remixes are embedded with a root chakra balancing frequency, that can help you to stabilise your material world, earn money, find your life purpose, and feel grounded and connected to others. It should help you to stay focused and present.”
The first remix, by fellow Sheffield electronic act The23s (who’s debut single “Never Be the Same” I reviewed in February), has an exotic Middle Eastern vibe that lends itself well to the song’s mystical subject matter. A.Wake’s bewitching array of hums, vocals and chants are simply captivating, backed by mysterious synths and ambient sounds of chirping birds layered over a languid pulsating groove.
The second remix, by DJ Steal, an electronic producer and composer also based in Sheffield, starts off with a delicate piano movement that seems to promise a gentle treatment of the song, but it’s soon joined by sharp percussive beats and industrial synths, taking the song into darker territory. A.Wake’s vocals sound more ethereal here, while the man’s vocals are more clear than in the previous remix.
The third remix, by LEen, another Sheffield-based electronic artist, is the longest of the three, running over seven and a half minutes. This remix features a hypnotic EDM beat, layered with a contrasting mix of airy and harsher industrial synths that very effectively create feelings of both euphoria and tension. A.Wake’s vocals are more enchanting than ever, soaring to great heights along with the music. I love a good dance groove, and though I like all three remixes, I think this one’s my favorite. I can definitely imagine myself getting lost to this in a dance club.
The fourth track is a high-voltage, four-minute long reimagining of the LEen remix, featuring some wonderful instrumental touches not found in the original. All in all, I must say that The Seed – Root Chakra Remix EP is a very enjoyable little collection of remixes!
Though my feelings about social media are conflicted and complicated – a sentiment I’m confident many others share – one of the things I do like about it is that it’s allowed me to connect with a lot of really talented musicians and bands. One I’m happy to know is NAVE, the solo music project of British singer-songwriter, composer and producer Nathan Evans. Incorporating a broad array of genres and styles, including alternative rock, electronica, trip-hop, ambient, orchestral and dark wave, the hyper-talented Bournemouth-based artist creates dramatic, incredibly compelling music that’s often atmospheric and gorgeous, but sometimes also harsh and disturbing. Nathan is a thoughtful guy who’s unafraid to tackle issues relating to social justice and mental health, calling out the incessant bullshit and hypocrisy we seem to be faced with on a daily basis.
A truly prolific songwriter, he’s released a staggering amount of music over the past 10 years, both as NAVE (also sometimes represented as Nave or N.A.V.E.) and as front man of alternative psychedelic rock band Native Tongue. He’s been on a creative tear since 2021, and from what I can tell, he dropped eight singles last year, including “Broken Record”, a hauntingly beautiful song decrying the addictive nature of social media and its negative impacts on our emotional well-being. I love it so much, it went all the way to #1 on my Top 30 chart and ranks #14 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.
He’s continued to release lots of new music in 2023, and on February 19th, he dropped God’s Waiting Room, a monumental work which I believe is his first full-length album. The words “full-length” are a massive understatement, as the album contains a mind-boggling 31 tracks! Because of its daunting length, it was a few days before I was able to give it my full attention, but once I did, I was literally blown away! The word “masterpiece” is often overused and lightly awarded, but I can say with all certainty that in the case of God’s Waiting Room, it’s well-earned. Listening to this brilliant and stunning album is an immersive experience that takes us on a sonic journey through the many moods, ideas and emotions of NAVE’s creative mind.
In order to gain a bit of insight into his inspiration for creating such an epic work, I asked Nathan to answer a few questions, which he was more than eager to do. Here’s what we talked about:
EML: You’re an astonishingly prolific musician and composer Nathan, and I’m truly in awe of your tremendous output. Not only have you released an epic 31-track album, you’ve also recently released a number of other stand-alone songs. Where and how do you find your inspiration for all this music?
NAVE: First off, thank you for your continued support and kind words. You have been a true rare find in this shallow industry. The lack of camaraderie and true music lovers is scarce and we need more people like yourself who truly care about new music.
My 31 track album is a collection of songs and ideas spanning over 8 years to now. The majority of those songs were never intended to be released, but after going back and listening, I felt it was important because they carry so much emotion. I tend to release stand-alone songs that I spend a lot of time on and have that feeling of “oh this is a single”. The reason I called the album ‘Gods Waiting Room’ is because most of the songs aren’t singles, but more snapshots of moments in my life. What was going on and how I was feeling. I could imagine them all being played in a waiting room because they are so random and odd.
In answer to your question though, the honest response is I don’t know where and how I find the inspiration to have such a high output. Maybe I feel I have something to prove to myself and others who never believed in me. I was written off in school for having ADHD, and was medicated for 6 years with Ritalin so I always felt like an outcast. Maybe my subconscious wants to leave behind a large library of work that I feel is important. Maybe I’m on an autistic spectrum and I can’t stop jumping from one idea to the other, constantly trying to outdo myself and find my “smells like teen spirit” banger. Maybe I am trying to refine my tools and become the best I can be, which is very similar to the mentality I had when I was competing in trampolining from the age 5-11 and had to come 1st in all competitions. If I would come in 2nd ever, it would be crushing. I knew I had the magic and that has translated to music today
EML: Continuing on the theme of inspiration, some of the tracks on ‘God’s Waiting Room’ seem to have titles and/or lyrics dealing with self-assessment, mental health or personal well-being – e.g. “Jealous Little Bitch”, “Passive Aggressive”, “Son of a Rich Man”, “Computer Is My Friend” and “Kiss My Bad Side”. Are any of these songs autobiographical, or a means of addressing some inner demons or conflict?
NAVE: I find my songs either have a personal meaning, a message, or they don’t mean anything to me. Some tracks are blunt, some are cryptic, which means something to me, but to someone else interpreting them, it is completely different (which tends to happen often). Someone will tell me what my song means to them and I’ll be like “whoa, that’s not what I had in mind”. But I love that and it’s become clear from people’s comments that my music/lyrics creates imagery and causes multiple interpretations which I love.
For example, the songs you’ve mentioned. “Jealous Little Bitch” is an instrumental song, but made at a time when I was angry at certain people in my life and patterns of behaviour where I felt jealousy from “friends” or “family” instead of support and love. “Son of a Rich Man” was a dig at certain people that would never know the stress and uncertainty of having no money. They have an easy ride almost in a world where billionaires exist, and shouldn’t. I compare them to cartoon characters in a fairy tale paradise.
My track ‘Rose Tinted Glasses”, which was a stand alone release, was probably the most personal and therapeutic song I’ve ever written, about the loss of my Mum at 26. I put out a music video of it and I would cry every time I’d watch it. I’ve never had that with any song I’ve ever written and it addressed grief, anger and such sadness in me.
Another driving force isn’t so much facing inner demons but a feeling of obligation and duty to spread truth, love and light. Call out corruption, bullshit and lies. I made a tune called “blood thirsty billionaires” and made a video calling out certain people and shone a light on the ridiculous injustice and imbalance. It pisses me off that actors, musicians, sportsmen and whoever don’t use their platform enough to stand up to the lies we are fed everyday. The food we eat is full of harmful pesticides, the water we drink contains high levels of chlorine and the doctors don’t have our best interest at heart. They just read from a script or give us big pharma products. Cancer is 1 in 2 from the water, food and air, yet we freak out over a flu that mainly kills old and vulnerable people. We keep bending over to the government and accepting their lies and obeying without thinking for ourselves and truly questioning. Can you tell I am passionate about all this stuff. Can you see maybe why I make so much music lol?
EML: You certainly have a lot to say!When recording your songs as a solo artist, do you play and record all the music yourself? And besides the piano as your primary instrument, accompanied by what I’m guessing are lots of programmed synths, what other instruments do you play?
NAVE: Yeah, I mostly use the keyboard to write in synths, then programme and edit the drums. Then I finally add vocals. The vocals are always hit and miss. Sometimes they come quick and other times its a slog. I focus on the beat, atmosphere, melody and bass to create a vibe and if it makes me feel something, I quickly know whether to spend more time or move on. There always comes a time when I produce where that moment happens. Its like a magic. A transition occurs when the song comes to life and its amazing. I play drums, piano, guitar, bass and hope to learn the violin one day. I tried once and was terrible. The noise was so bad, I was unable to persist. So big respect to you violin players out there. You truly have to crawl through thorns and stinging nettles to reach the roses.
EML: With 31 amazing tracks, you could have broken them up into two or even three separate albums. Why the decision to include them all in one monumental album?
NAVE: I had considered that, but it felt they were all from a chapter in my life and belonged together. It also shows my progression till now and it was appealing to release a large body of work, particularly under such a poignant album title.
EML: That certainly makes sense. What other musicians or bands do you consider primary influences for your music?
NAVE: I ingested a lot of music as a teenager, but over the years I tend to stay away from listening to music as I find it better to be naive and not influenced by others’ music. The more music I listen to, the more chance I might feel I am copying them or “I cant do that because that sounds like that” if you know what I mean? But obviously Radiohead, Nirvana, Queens Of The Stone Age, Muse, BRMC, UNKLE, Jose Gonzalez, Deftones, Limp Bizkit, Morcheeba, Moby were big influences. Our bass player in my band Native Tongue is a music freak so he shows me a lot of new music and one track in particular that blew me away recently and inspired me to write my track “CONNIFER” is the track “NOT” by Big Thief. Incredible song.
EML: Is there anything I’ve neglected to ask that you’d like people to know about yourself or your music?
NAVE: I have struggled not finding the audience I was hoping to. It hurts when I put my heart and soul into these songs and I can’t reach anyone new or build my fan base, no matter how hard I try. I feel I’m finally coming to peace with that and doing this because I love it, not for people’s validation. My main drive has always been to reach people, and its been a painful road reaching so few people and not building that fan base I hoped for. Obviously there is still time but if it never happens, then fuck it. I still touched you and others, and devoted myself to an outlet which has kept me sane for so many years. Without it, I may not even be here now to answer these questions.
So my final thing to say is to everyone out there, do what makes you happy and try not to seek happiness externally. Think for yourself and question authority. We have been boxed up like objects and we are still treated like slaves working long hours for no money. It doesn’t have to be this way. Seek the truth within yourself and the world will open up like a flower. Independent thought. Love yourself and be kind to others.
Thank you Jeff. You are a star.
EML: Thank YOU Nathan for taking the time to answer my questions, and for all your incredible music. Hopefully, this review and interview will bring you at least a few more fans.
Okay, let’s get to God’s Waiting Room, shall we? Because it contains so many tracks – all of which are outstanding – I won’t be doing my usual track-by-track discussion, as it would take me forever and besides, no one would read it all! Instead, I’ll touch on my favorites, as well as some of the more fascinating and impactful tracks. Of the album’s 31 offerings, 17 are instrumentals, whereas 14 feature lyrics and vocals of some kind or another.
On the unsettling opening track “The Speaker“, NAVE talk-sings in a mysterious whispered voice “Why do you listen to the speaker? Isn’t that, in listening to the speaker, you’re listening to yourself? Is that what is taking place? The speaker is only pointing something out. Acting as a mirror in which you only see yourself. Your own state of mind. Your own consciousness. And if at the end of these talks, you say to yourself ‘I have not changed’, why, it is your fault.” Though I didn’t ask him, my guess is that the song set the overall tone for the album, also serving as a kind of introduction.
As the album unfolds, each new track brings a different mood and vibe, keeping it sounding fresh and holding our attention. The second track “Sleepy Head” is a darkly beautiful instrumental featuring a mesmerizing trip hop groove and rather spooky string synths. And speaking of spooky, “White Witch” is downright chilling as NAVE drones “Never again, will you and I suffer.Never again, will the world go by unnoticed” against a mysterious cinematic backdrop that would make a great opening for a horror film.
Several instrumental tracks, like “Into the Abyss“, “Twilight Zone” and “Watch It Unfold“, are atmospheric and beautiful, with haunting piano movements, sparkling synths and cinematic strings. One of my favorites is the stunning “Linda’s Song“, with its vibrant piano keys, soaring strings and pleasing guitar chords. I also love “Jealous Little Bitch“, with its gorgeous violin notes and eerie synths layered over an assertive skittering beat.
Another favorite (on an album full of favorites) is “Passive Aggressive“, with its trippy hip hop groove, highlighted by menacing industrial synths sprinkled here and there with twinkling little touches that keep the song from sounding too heavy and dark. NAVE does a great job rapping the wonderful lyrics about an encounter with an unpleasant receptionist at a medical appointment: “Walk in the door, time for my appointment. Ignored by a lady unhappy in employment. Making me wait for a good few minutes. Grittin’ my teeth, pushed to the limit. I calm myself, instant reflection dealing with this middle-aged bitch on reception. Stay strong, try not to break. Refrain from explaining, I’m here cuz my balls ache. I’ve come a long way, massive obsessive, passive aggressive.“
“Swim Away With Me” is so quietly majestic and beautiful, it brings tears to my eyes. Then, abruptly changing the mood with “Millions of Wilfully Ignorant Sleepwalkers“, he skillfully uses a droning melody and rather ghostly, dream-like synths to convey a sense of people moving through life like zombies, seemingly unaware of their surroundings. The darkly beautiful “Breath With Me” has a strong Radiohead vibe, thanks in large part to the beguiling falsetto by appropriately-named guest vocalist Ethereal, which seems to channel Thom Yorke.
The terrific “Son of a Rich Man” is a languid and bluesy, guitar-driven song that NAVE touched on earlier as being a dig at people born with a silver spoon in their mouths. I love the pointed lyrics: “I don’t know who I am anymore. In fact, I don’t think I ever did. I’m indecisive, with hindsight bias. Sure, the grass could always be greener./ But who knows, paradise could just be a fairly tale, only fit for cartoon characters and billionaires. Maybe I should make a plan, or wait to reincarnate as the son of a rich man.”
One of the most beautiful tracks on the album is “Infinite Ground“, where NAVE’s dreamy echoed vocals meld so perfectly with the delicate acoustic guitar notes, it nearly takes my breath away. The unusual “Tashi Delek” is a dark song, featuring a strong trip hop beat, deep bass and harsh industrial synths, punctuated by contrasting delicate xylophone sounds. NAVE’s otherworldly vocals add to the song’s edgy vibe as he wails “I looked at your face. I couldn’t help but stare. I got you on my mind. There ain’t nothing wrong. Just a slip of the tongue. Can you feel my pain? And I miss you.”
The album closes with the contemplative piano piece “My Goodbye“, a beautiful and fitting end to this exquisite work of musical art. I’ve probably listened to God’s Waiting Room more than 15 times, and it manages to reveal new sounds, textures and meanings each time I hear it. I love this album, and hope at least some of my readers will appreciate and enjoy it too.
Another favorite act of mine, who I’ve written about numerous times over the past five years, is British electro-funk/soul collective WINACHI. Based in and around Manchester, they originally formed in 2015 as The Winachi Tribe, and now consist of founding members Liam Croker (lyrics and vocals), Antony Egerton (keyboards, programming) and Inder Goldfinger (percussion), along with Andy McKay (lead guitar), Richard Ritchie (bass) and Paul Lawrence (drums), all accomplished musicians with diverse musical backgrounds. With their love of funky beats and for having a good time, their infectious sexy grooves – which they describe as “swaggering Mancunian tenacity spliced with smooth Californian G Funk soul” – are guaranteed to have you shaking your ass with a smile on your face.
Three years ago, in March 2020, WINACHI teamed up with iconic Italian fashion brand Pantofola d’Oro for a marketing collaboration involving the company’s handsome and sporty Pantofola d’Oro Winachi Collection Trainers, which were released alongside WINACHI’s single and video “Funky But Chic” (which I featured). Now, they’ve once again collaborated with Pantofola d’Oro for the exclusive release of a new Winachi Collection Trainer shoe, along with their latest single “FOR YOU I’D KILL“, featuring additonal vocals by L.A.-based singer-songwriter Natalie Wilde. Co-produced by the band’s frequent collaborator, the legendary John X (David Bowie, U2, The Rollings Stones) at Earthstar Creation Centre in Venice, California, the song is the second single from WINACHI’s upcoming album Sympathy For The Future, as well as the lead single from the FOR YOU I’D KILL EP, which also features three outstanding remixes.
Like many of WINACHI’s songs, “FOR YOU I’D KILL” is a deliciously-upbeat dance track with a message of positivity, love and support. Starting with an infectious thumping bass groove, they add an exuberant kaleidoscope of soulful swirling synths and snappy percussion, and top it off with a glorious blend of funky and gnarly guitars. Liam’s always distinctive vocals, which occupy a sweet spot between sultry and raspy, are perfectly complemented by Natalie’s backing harmonies as he croons his words of love and encouragement “Remember I love you, I always will. For you I’d take a bullet, shit, for you I’d kill. I believe in you.” The song is flawlessly crafted and produced, and I love it!
All three remixes are superb too. The first is by Atari Safari (British DJ/producers and brothers Keef and Ben Booker), who speed up the tempo and inject a sensuous Latin flavor to the track, dialing up the energy with a force that compels us to get up and dance!
Next up is the remix by Warriors Of The Dystotheque (DJ/Producers/Engineers/Musicians Jonny Mac-Sean Graham [France] and Mike & Nick Rufolo [Ireland & NYC] who make electronic downtempo house music). The longest track of the four, running 6:13 minutes, it’s a terrific electro-funk song featuring a dominant bass groove that sounds a bit like the one used in No Doubt’s “Hella Good”. The guys incorporate lots of trippy sounds and musical effects, and Natalie’s vocals are much more prominent here.
The final remix, by Julian Shah-Tayler (England-born and now L.A.-based electro-pop artist who recently released his album Elysium), has a more sophisticated, cinematic and soulful feel. While not a true ‘disco’ song, it nevertheless features some of the beautiful orchestral touches I loved in many of the great disco hits of the 70s.
While they were in Los Angeles last year to record music with John X and film a video, WINACHI also played a gig at the landmark club The Mint, which, other than for a couple of brief closures, has been in almost continuous operation since 1937. I had the pleasure of finally meeting Liam, Antony and Inder, and seeing them perform some of their songs that I love.
Quite a few music bloggers I follow seem to have favorite artists and bands they like to write about, and I’m no exception. I’m partial to certain artists and bands not only for their music of course, but also because I genuinely like them as people, so am happy to support them however I can. One such artist who falls into this category is Skar de Line, the solo music project of singer-songwriter, producer and composer Oskar Abrahamsson.
A thoughtful, charismatic and intensely creative guy born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England, Oskar draws inspiration from his love for cinematic soundtracks and blends those influences with pop, hip-hop, electronica and alternative rock to create dark, unconventional music that takes the listener on a sonic adventure while also giving us a lot to think about. A renaissance man of sorts, the multi-talented fellow writes, performs, records and produces all his own music, as well as writing, directing and editing all his imaginative music videos. I’ve featured him on this blog him more times than I can remember over the past five years, both as a member of his former band Heist At Five as well as his solo act Skar de Line.
Oskar is endlessly fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human need for self-understanding, so with that as a guiding principle, in May 2022 he released “Reset”, the first chapter in his autobiographical suite of music that aims to explore those concepts. That song addressed the notion of wanting to become a better person through continually evolving and reinventing oneself, but fearing that nothing will ever be good enough. He followed a few months later with the second chapter “New Silhouettes”, a song about having the freedom to make your own choices to become whoever or whatever you want to be, with no limits on how many different options you can choose. Last November, he released the cinematic “No Eyes in Paradise”, the third chapter in which he pondered his own sense of self-worth as an artist, believing he’s creating works of value and merit, but fearing that if no one else sees nor acknowledges them, does any of it mean anything? (I reviewed both “Reset” and “No Eyes in Paradise”.)
Now he returns with the fourth chapter of his autobiographical suite in the form of the single “A Way“, a hauntingly beautiful song inspired by a real-life event in Oskar’s life that occurred one night in London. He witnessed a man about to commit suicide by leaping off a ledge, intervening at just the right moment and saving the man’s life. But instead of feeling relieved that he’d helped avert the demise of this man, he was hit with conflicting emotions he hadn’t expected. Rather than feeling positive, caring thoughts over having saved the man’s life, he also harbored feelings of deep selfishness. Regardless of the outcome of the situation, he experienced a sense of excitement from the event, which gave him a new story to tell.
To convey this sense of emotional conflict, dissonance and guilt, Skar de Line layers eerie, wobbly synths over an emphatic beat as he croons: “With my hands on your shoulder looking down, this feeling is creeping up on me. The excitement I just can’t deny. Twenty feet above the ground, I’m scared, just how little I care. It’s almost like I’m thrilled to be here. Maybe it’s no longer about your fall. Maybe it’s about mine. Up or down, I can’t control it. I don’t know where I’m going. Up or down, I can’t control it. I don’t know what I’m doing.” The music turns more cinematic in the choruses, his vocals rising to a lovely plaintive entreaty as he sings “And if you would let go just for a moment, that would change our lives tonight. A bridge to a new life. Another step now, and you’ll take my breath away.”
This music video was entirely created, storyboarded, and edited by Skar de Line, and filmed on location in the Swedish countryside. The scenes were shot in the middle of summer in bright daylight, and later color corrected in dark blue hues to make them appear to have occurred at night, as was done with quite a few films made in the 30s, 40s and 50s before the advent of computer generated effects and more sophisticated cameras (“Sorry Wrong Number”, “From Here to Eternity” and “South Pacific” are a few that come to mind).
The story depicted in the video takes a different turn from reality, reflecting how Skar de Line truly felt about the night. He’s shown sitting on a ledge overlooking a lake with another man, and when the man finally leaps off, Skar de Line reaches out to grab him too late to stop him from tumbling over the precipice. The outcome of the event leads him to question his core sense of morality, his perspective on what is up and down, and ultimately, if there could have been another way to go.
I seem to be on an electronic music kick lately, and today I’m pleased to present another artist making interesting and innovative music in that broad genre – Los Angeles-based John Rojas. The singer-songwriter, engineer, producer and multi-instrumentalist has been a fixture on the L.A. music scene for more than a decade as part of techno-punk band MACHINEKIT (originally founded as Dharma in 2012), whose 2022 album I AM JACK’S LONELY HEARTCLUB BAND I reviewed nearly a year ago, as well as his work with the bands La Bella, Brainfreeze and Badmouth. He created his own recording studio MachineHouse Audio in 2020, and if all that’s not enough, he’s also a terrific writer who does reviews for the website Tourworthy.
In late 2022, Rojas decided to start recording music as a solo artist, and released a two track electronic instrumental EP IN THE THICK OF IT last December. Now he returns with his second EP Amongst The Glass Trees, featuring four new electronic tracks in which he further explores his love for electronics and composition, creating a raw sense of overwhelming tension in the process. As I alluded to earlier, he’s a talented wordsmith with a gift for describing his music in much greater detail and with more colorful language than I possibly could, so I’ll simply quote his own words about the new EP:
“The sequential trip across the instrumental tracks needs no vocals to convey their lyrical and poetic content as the dark ambient tones submit to elegant arpeggiations layered over earworm bass throbs, and succumb to minimalist piano hiding underneath the skittering programmed beats. This EP is split into four-parts as it embraces vicious modalities that indirectly illustrate the fundamental theme of confusion. The only semblance of the subject is the name of each track that surreptitiously creates one elaborate, yet ambiguous sentence to pose as animated thesis. This four-piece epic is an ambivalent mood changer that non-verbally tells the tale of a lonely man lost within the chaos of fake love, while being influenced by his own skepticism and vanity.”
The EP opens with the title track, which starts off tentatively, slowly building with a subtle throbbing synth bass groove overlain with glitches and bleeps, accompanied by occasional gentle guitar strums. At around two minutes, they’re joined by more pronounced sharp percussive sounds as the track evolves into a fully-formed, dissonant soundscape of otherworldly synths, snappy drumbeats and wobbly bass. Late in the track, the music turns more melodic with the addition of haunting piano keys as we transition into “Inside The Rabbit Hole”. A gentle pulsating groove ensues, punctuated by distant horn-like sounds and occasional jarring blasts of harsh alarm-like sounds, giving a sense of impending danger ahead. Halfway into the track, the tempo increases to a near-frantic pace as the industrial synths become darker and more harsh. Everything comes to a dramatic climax as Rojas adds a heavy percussive EDM beat for the final minute of the track.
The third and fourth tracks – “Lovers Paradise Is” and “An Ocean Full of Brains” – are a sort of couplet with a strong Nine Inch Nails vibe. “Lovers Paradise Is” starts off with a quick, head-bopping beat overlain with more of those trippy glitches and bleeps, which are eventually joined by hypnotic pulsating synths that lend a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Around the three-minute mark, some lovely keyboard synths are added as the tempo calms a bit. The music immediately segues into “An Ocean Full of Brains”, which has a more relaxed, introspective vibe, though the glitchy reverb, ominous synths and rather unsettling piano keys still convey an edgy undercurrent. Halfway into the track, the tempo increases to a EDM dance beat as the droning, glitchy synths continue. The tempo calms down in the final minute of the track as the music gradually fades away, leaving us feeling relieved yet still somewhat uneasy.
With Amongst The Glass Trees, John Rojas has created a darkly beautiful and brilliant little masterpiece. In its 20-minute-long run time, he takes us through a sonic journey that’s both beautiful and bleak, filled with an arresting array of sounds and textures to startle our senses and waken our imagination.
The EP artwork was designed by longtime collaborator, graphic designer Jaydee Perales at Wire Mark Design Studio.
I’m a long-time fan of darkwave and synthpop music in all its forms, and so are millions of others it seems, given the enduring popularity and influence of such legendary acts as The Cure, Depeche Mode, Joy Division/New Order, The Psychedelic Furs, Echo & the Bunnymen, Cocteau Twins, Gary Numan and Clan of Xymox, to name but a few that come to mind. Another lesser-known, but every bit as good, act is Darkways, a rather enigmatic act from Barcelona, Spain that’s the solo project of a singer-songwriter and musician named Marc. His music is influenced by his love of synthwave, darkwave and all 80s music.
I first learned about Darkways way back in 2016 when he followed me on Twitter. He’d just released his debut eponymous album Darkways, and as I did for all musicians and bands who followed me back then – when I only followed a few hundred accounts – I listened to his album and messaged him about how much I liked it. He replied with a thank you for having listened to his album and enjoying it. Fast-forward to six and a half years later, he messaged me a few days ago that he’d recently released a new EP Neon Lights, asking me for feedback. Well, it was love at first listen, and I’m thrilled to share it with my readers.
Whereas Darkways had a somewhat more garage rock vibe, with lyrics sung in Spanish, Neon Lights is beautifully-crafted darkwave, with a more polished sound and lyrics sung in English. The EP features five excellent songs, the first of which is the title track “Neon Lights“. The song is darkly beautiful, with swirling industrial synths layered over a sensuous, pulsating dance beat, all of which create a lush cinematic soundscape evocative of a few songs by the Pet Shop Boys (who I also love). The lyrics speak of casting off the bonds of oppression and enforced conformity in order to live a freer, more honest existence “They scorned us and now we want to set the world on fire. They have belittled us. It’s time they see the flames in our eyes. We will not obey.”
“I like the night (and the night likes me)” has a faster tempo, led by an urgent driving beat and overlain with shimmery chiming guitars and mysterious percussive synths. Marc’s vocals have a somewhat ominous, drone-like quality that perfectly complements the song’s moody vibe as he sings of embracing and finding comfort in the darkness and danger of the night: “I like the night. Darkness is my only friend.” Along a similar vein, “Dark & Light” speaks to the evil and good that exists within each of us, albeit to varying degrees: “They don’t understand the beauty of dark & light inside us.” With it’s deep, pulsating groove and spacey shimmery synths, the song has a strong Joy Division vibe.
“Young Again” is classic darkwave at its best, with a throbbing synth bass beat and beautiful icy industrial synths. Marc’s vocals call to mind those of Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, only with a Spanish accent. The final track “More than dreams” features a chugging synth bass groove, overlain with swirling cinematic synths and wonderful jangly guitar notes. I really like Marc’s vocals here, particularly the exuberant harmonies in the chorus.
Neon Lights is a marvelous, immensely enjoyable little EP. Darkways recently signed with the RetroReverbRecords label, which will hopefully help bring him the notice he so deserves.
For my latest edition of Fresh New Tracks, I’ve chosen three great new singles from a group of very talented acts I’ve previously featured on my blog: New Jersey-based indie artist 9fm, British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt, and Canadian-American singer-songwriter Shimmer Johnson, in a stunning collaboration with Danish electronic artist Refeci, who’s new to me.
9fm – “Lesson Learned”
9fm (short for Ninth Floor Mannequin) is the music project of hyper-creative New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone. Drawing influences from some of his favorite artists like Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes and James Blake, Pedone melds elements of folk, alternative rock and synth pop to create fascinating songs with a pleasing, often otherworldly vibe. He’s also a huge fan of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone, as well as the more recent Twilight Zone-influenced British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror, and many of his song lyrics are based on particular episodes of those shows. I’ve written about his music several times over the past five years, most recently in May 2021 when I reviewed his brilliant EP First One, Ninth Fifteen.
Now he’s back with a new single “Lesson Learned“, which was inspired by The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last”, which first aired in November 1959. Starring Burgess Meredith as Harry Bemis, a frustrated bank teller who loves books but is surrounded by people who do all they can to prevent him from reading them, “Time Enough at Last” follows him through a post-apocalyptic world after a nuclear war has destroyed everyone and everything around him. The season one episode became one the most popular of the entire Twilight Zone series.
For the recording of the track, Pedone played all instruments, as well as handled the mixing and mastering. The beautiful artwork for the single was created by Jordan Campbell. Like many of his songs, “Lesson Learned” has a dark undercurrent, highlighted by an aggressive stomping beat and fuzzy cinematic synths. His echoed vocals have a haunting, ethereal quality that suits the subject matter quite nicely as he croons “Ooooh lesson learned, and it took too long. Who’d have known to take what you can while you can’t see the end of the story. Do what you would if you could but while you still can. And when there’s a will, find a way, ‘cause it won’t just stay waiting stay waiting.“
Callum Pitt is a thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter from Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England. Inspired by the music of such artists as Elliott Smith, Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Sufjan Stevens, The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, he creates, in his own words, “indie-folk with a grand, orchestral, chamber pop sensibility plus an alt-rock edge”. His music is characterized by lush harmonies, captivating melodies, and honest, meaningful lyrics touching on subjects like depression and anxiety, and social and political unrest, delivered with his soft, pleasing vocals. Since 2017, he’s released an impressive number of singles as well as a four-track EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. His beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering over 100,000 streams. I’ve previously written about three of his songs, most recently last November when I reviewed his beautiful single “Mayfly”. The song is enjoying a long run on my Weekly Top 30, where it currently sits at #8.
Now Callum returns with his latest single “Fraction of a Second“, a heartfelt song about the night he came perilously close to losing his mom, dad and brother to a motor vehicle accident. It’s the third single from his forthcoming debut album In the Balance, due for release on June 2nd. The song has a melancholy yet hopeful feel, and features a buoyant drumbeat overlain with delicate sweeping synths, beautifully-strummed guitar notes, lovely piano keys and vibrant strings. As always, Callum’s smooth vocals are comforting and warm as he sings of his gratitude that his family safely survived the crash: “And I don’t know what I’d do, if that truck had taken all of you, I think the moon may disappear. But a fraction of a second kept you here.”
Refeci is a brilliant Danish DJ and electronic house music producer who’s been making music since his mid teens, both as a solo artist and a collaborator with numerous musicians and vocalists. Now 23 years old, he’s released an impressive amount of music since 2016, and five of his singles have garnered many millions of streams on Spotify alone.
Shimmer Johnson is a singer-songwriter and musician with the voice of an angel. Originally from Edmonton, Canada with professional ties to Los Angeles, Shimmer has an incredibly beautiful and resonant singing voice. In addition to her amazing vocal talents, she’s also a fine guitarist and pianist, and has collaborated with several songwriters and producers to create an impressive repertoire of outstanding songs over the past several years. She started out singing Country songs, but eventually branched out into adult contemporary pop, rock and dance music, all of which she manages to handle with ease. I’ve written about her numerous times on this blog, and one of the songs I’ve featured, her terrific dance single “Starts With You”, went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30.
Refeci and Shimmer recently teamed up to create a captivating dance song “Essence“, released through the LOUDKLOUT label on February 17th. Refeci’s pulsating dance beats are overlain with hauntingly beautiful piano chords and gauzy atmospheric synths, creating a mesmerizing and sensuous soundscape for Shimmer’s enchanting ethereal vocals that transport us to a dreamy, faraway place. The simple lyrics speak to the importance of remaining true to oneself: “Don’t ever ever doubt your life.Make a wish and just believe. Find the path that’s right. It’s the essence of life.”
Hailing from Sheffield, England are The 23s, a collaborative music project comprised of singer-songwriter and electronica musician Rob Cohen, singer-songwriter Rob Gurruchaga, and producer Tom Taylor. Cohen has previously been a member of other bands and also collaborated with producer/musician Jody Wildgoose on their 2015 album BloochyKoo, released under the music project WildCohen (I reviewed one of the album’s tracks “Jackson’s Son”). He was approached in late 2021 by Taylor and Gurruchaga, who pitched their idea for a new collaborative music project The 23s, named after Taylor’s Channel 23 Studio.
With a shared love of acts like David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Blaqk Audio, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, The Cure and Thomas Dolby, the enigmatic trio clicked right from the start, and began working on song demos which they shared across the internet from their home studios in Sheffield. Eventually, they gathered in person at Taylor’s Channel 23 Studio to put the final touches and overdubs on what will be a full album of genre-bending anthems addressing these troubled times, steeped in feelings of fear and anxiety. Using analog synthesizers and synth guitars, they create melodic indie electro-pop arrangements that are mesmerizing, yet accessible.
Today, they share the fruits of their labor with the release of their debut single “Never Be The Same“, and plan to follow with a new single release each month. The song starts off with a rather unsettling electronically-altered sci-fi sounding vocal repeating lines I can’t make out, accompanied by ominous gentle synths. Rob’s clear vocals soon enter as he croons “The pain washes the world away, believe me when I say, everything has changed, it’ll never be the same. Never, Never be the same.” The music expands into a darkly beautiful soundscape of swirling synths, crisp percussive beats and gorgeous guitar notes. Though melancholy in tone, the beauty of the instrumentation offers glimmers of hope. The song is marvelous, and a very promising sign of what we can expect with their forthcoming singles.
The compelling video features vintage black and white footage of school children practicing those nonsensical duck-and-cover drills that were common in Britain, the U.S. and elsewhere in the 1950s as fears of atomic bomb attacks grew in response to the escalating arms race.
The Ocean Beneath is the electronic music project of British musician, composer and producer Matt Burnside. Drawing on influences ranging from house to disco, rock to drum and bass, the Leeds-based artist combines 80’s synthpop elements with modern recording techniques, analogue synthesis and huge melodic grooves to create music that sounds retro, yet exciting and current. Like many electronic artists, he often collaborates with other musicians and vocalists, and has released an impressive amount of outstanding music since 2019. I’ve previously written about some of his releases, and you can check out those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.
Also based in Leeds, Jessica Blaise Ward is a multi-faceted Renaissance woman of sorts, Not only is she a professional composer who’s written music for audiobooks, video games and soundtracks, she’s also a pianist, vocalist, and a senior songwriting lecturer at Leeds Arts University, with a special interest in pop music of the 1980s and 1990s. Her solo work has ranged from cinematic (her 2019 single “Ghost”) to synthwave (“Strangers in the Dark” also in 2019) to synthpop (“Futures Promise” in 2021). She’s also collaborated with numerous artists and musicians on multiple projects, including ghostwriting for Manchester metal band 40,000 Leagues, and co-writing albums with former punk artist Andrew Bishop. She’s currently synth player and vocalist for band The State of Georgia.
“Fluorescent Light” was co-written and produced by The Ocean Beneath and Jessica Blaise Ward, and mastered by Stephen Kerrsion. The beautiful artwork was designed by kiki_and_elvis_create. About the song, Burnside says its “a synthwave nostalgia trip touching on our courage, inner strength and determination. It’s about showing the world what you’ve got and taking ownership of your own story. Do it with your head held high and your intentions strong. ‘Fluorescent Light’ is an anthem for empowerment, positive action and making the world in your own design.“
The song opens with gauzy atmospheric synths that slowly build with added percussion as Jessica emphatically sings in her clear, arresting voice: “With a soul so bright, in the name of fight or flight, I made a promise to never let the world take my hand. And I made a deal in fluorescent lights, that I would make the world in my own design.” As the song progresses, the powerful beats and swirling darkwave synths ebb and flow in the verses and choruses, ultimately erupting into a gorgeous sweeping cinematic soundscape in the final chorus, Jessica’s vocals soaring to an impassioned crescendo that raises goosebumps. It’s a magnificent song!