DUNKIE – Album Review: “Working to Design”

Dunkie Working To Design (front cover)

As a music blogger who’s been at this more than four years, I still marvel at the fact that artists and bands would want me to write about their music. I receive a continuous flood of music submissions every week to sift through, sometimes overwhelming me to the point of despair, but every now and then some of it stands out in the crowd. One such artist is Dunkie, the music project of Welsh singer/songwriter Anthony Price. Hailing from the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Price has written and recorded songs for many years, and at the end of December (2019), he released his debut album Working to Design. It’s an exquisite and monumental work, featuring 17 tracks exploring the universal subjects of life, love, the passage of time, death and loss, but also healing, hope and rebirth.

It’s a concept album, with songs partially inspired by the books and works of author Richard Matheson, but also an ambitious and deeply personal labor of love. Price has spent the past two years of his life, toiling countless long hours writing and recording the songs and meticulously working to get each track just right, as well as making imaginative videos for a few of the songs. In advance of the album, he released four of the tracks that are featured on Working to Design, beginning with “Can a Song Save Your Life?” in May 2018, and subsequently dropping another single every few months.

The songs were all written by Price and flawlessly produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by Wayne Bassett at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales. Besides Price and Bassett, who played numerous instruments on many of the tracks, more than 30 other musicians and vocalists performed on various tracks, making it a truly collaborative effort on a near-epic scale. Another interesting aspect of the creation of this album is the use of dramatic artwork by Welsh artist Michael Gustavius Payne. The album is dedicated to the memories and lives of many of Price and his family’s loved ones, including some of their beloved pets, one of whom (Flea) is named in a song title.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a piece on Dunkie which included a review of the first four tracks he released, which you can read here. But now that the album is out, it’s a revelation to hear it in its entirety, as it flows seamlessly from one track into the next like a journey through song. The album opens with “∼Introduction∼So Little Time∼“, setting the stage for the musical and lyrical beauty about to unfold over the next one hour and 14 minutes. It’s immediately apparent that Price put an incredible amount of thought and care into creating the stunning instrumental soundscapes for his thoughtful, and sometimes brutally honest lyrics. When he sings “So much to do, so little time. It’s nice to know you’ll wait a while“, we willingly follow him along on this journey.

With 17 tracks, there’s a lot to unpack on Working to Design, and I’ll try to keep my review as succinct as possible – never an easy thing for a detail-oriented writer like me. “The White Hole” has an alt-rock vibe, with layered electric guitars, psychedelic synths and a gentle drumbeat driving the song forward. To my ears, Price’s soft vocals remind me at times of John Lennon in tone and style, only a bit higher in octave. In fact, it sounds like a song The Beatles could have recorded in their later, more experimental phase. The song immediately segues into the lovely “Can A Song Save Your Life?“, an optimistic song about the healing power of music. Price explains his inspiration behind the lyrics: “The concept behind this song is trying to find a little hope; when all really seems a little lost. When the deepest, darkest moment seems to smother over you, when it suffocates you. But then the littlest gesture lifts, the smallest moment lifts, a piece of music, a film or song you love just lifts you.” 

Rabbit Hole” is a poignant song about coming to terms with the agonizing pain of the loss of a loved one. Price wistfully sings: “Tumble and fall, this rabbit-hole is funnel-webbed and soaring. I fear I’ll never reach this endless horror I fold upon myself…  Another pill dissolves; I’m crawling faster to the edge. To the edge for you.” The track has a serene, rather bittersweet melody with gentle guitar, synths and percussion, and the vocal harmonies are really nice.

The beautiful and endearing video shows a large group of family and friends coming together for a picnic to remember a loved one. About the people in the video wearing rabbit masks, Price explains: “I wanted people to be wearing masks. I loved the metaphor of hiding behind many a mask. Oscar Wilde once said ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth’. The ‘dunkie’ name and music is my mask. So I wanted to represent the mask in these videos. In particular I wanted to represent them by the use of Wintercroft Masks. Each mask is a downloadable PDF template, each mask has to be created individually, and each mask can take about 2-4 hours each to create (longer if you’re me!!). Added here was the decorative design I wanted to include by adding my own song lyrics, in multiple languages (and the entire pages of Crime and Punishment) upon each mask face.”

One of the more musically interesting and lyrically enigmatic tracks is “I Don’t Wanna Die in Minnesota (Part II)“. Though I’m not sure, the lyrics seem to be about not wanting to waste one’s life: “I don’t wanna die in Minnesota. All liberties lost and the walls move in closer. ‘When I need you to jump I’ll give you the order!’ Dead diaries day to day – for how long do I stay? I’m afraid to waste my life down in Minnesota.” “I Think I’ve Been Asleep (All My Life)” is a folk-rock song with a gospel vibe, thanks to the sublime organ work. The lyrics speak to sleepwalking through one’s life, barely connecting with those around you: “Never knew your life, never knew you long. Regretting all the silence now that you’re gone. What a fool to be. Blind faith and empathy.” I really like the soulful guest vocals of Lucy Athey and Cat Southall on this track.

∼Intermission∼an Ode to a Flea∼” is a lovely little song in honor of one of Price’s beloved departed pets. “(W.A.L.L.S.) Within a Little Love Song” is a stunning and heartfelt ode to a loved one, affirming that even though you may not say it as often as you used to, your love for them is as strong as ever: “(You know) yesterday I loved you. (Don’t forget) I have and always will. (But through) the years I spoke it lessened. (Know this) my love’s never subdued. So I’ve found these words to sing and they’re all for you, they’re all for you.” The chiming guitars and soaring vocal harmonies are gorgeous.

I think my favorite track on the album is “Ten“, an enchanting, mostly instrumental song. It opens with sounds of a bird chirping, followed by an acoustic guitar and lovely a cappella vocal harmonies. Gradually, an achingly beautiful flute (played by Tony Kauczok) and cello (by Isobel Smith) enter, accompanied by Wayne Bassett’s delicate piano keys and Price’s lovely falsetto vocals, transporting us to a dreamy state of mind. The only lyric is “I’m just working to design. Perfectly flawed…“, which Price repeats throughout the song. I’m guessing it’s his philosophy for his life, and the overriding theme of the album. The song is so beautiful and moving it brings tears to my eyes.

1896” is an introspective look back at life, family and career, and of choices and decision made, for better or worse: “I’ve been a Father, and I’ve been a Brother. I know now that decisions may have been wrong. I have imploded and I’ve fought with self-control. I’ve seen my children grow. I’ve taken all I can from the love of this band.” The majestic orchestral instrumentals, highlighted by a trumpet played by Charlotte Jayne Goodwin and Mellotron by John Barnes, make this a spectacular song.  “Sugar” is a sweet (no pun intended) love song of thanks to a partner who has stood by you through good times and bad, with unconditional love.

Another favorite track of mine is the haunting “71-41-11“, a deeply moving tribute to Price’s father, who passed away from cancer in February 2015. The song, along with the following track “The Memory Tree“, were an effort by Price to come to terms with his pain and loss, and help him to move forward.  The song’s title consists of the age of his father when he died [71], Price’s age when his father died [41], and the age of his eldest son when his grandfather died [11] – each 30 years apart. The mournful, but beautiful song has an ethereal feel reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens.

A particularly poignant aspect of this song is how Price, through the help of another musician (Scottish musician BigRoundBaby aka Stephen McKinnon, who’d experienced his own grief over the death of his mother), managed to include his father’s voice on the track. Price recalls “During the 60’s I remember my Father and Mother made a spoken vinyl 7” ‘Record’ together when they were first dating.  They went into a portable recording booth and just playfully and awkwardly sang, and coaxed each other to say words into the microphone.  I remember as a teenager listening to the recording, it was very crackle but thankfully my friend was able convert the vinyl recording into a MP3 file. I wanted the song to have my Father’s voice, to keep him close by always, and I wanted it to be accompanied with my own children, his beloved grandson’s, to just create a time capsule moment.” Their voices can be heard at the end of the track. Also, McKinnon played electric guitar, bass and percussion on the track, and along with his daughters, sings backing vocals.

The gorgeous track “The Memory Tree” is a song of celebration about the power of memories, inspired by the book of the same name by Britta Teckentrup – Illustrator. An example of Price’s phenomenal songwriting are these touching lyrics: “From a child… you towered above me. You never once made me feel at all small. You’d fall to your knees, just so I’d feel the same size. And one by one these stories will climb through…A tree made of memories and full of love (for you).”

37 The Memory Tree - Art
‘The Memory Tree’ by Michael Gustavius Payne

The final track “∼Closure∼1972∼” revisits the lyrics of “1896”, only this time told from a woman’s perspective: “I’ve been a mother, and I’ve been a lover. I know now that decisions may have been wrong.” It’s a gorgeous song, with lovely vocals by Jennifer O’Neill Howard, lush piano and mellotron played by John Barnes, acoustic guitar played by Price, an enchanting Glockenspiel played by Wayne Bassett and a stunning choral vocal arrangement by Matt Williams.

I cannot gush enough about this magnificent album. I realize the word sometimes gets overused, but I feel safe in saying that Working to Design is a true masterpiece in every respect. It’s quite honestly one of the most perfectly-crafted albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Anthony Price, Wayne Bassett, and all the musicians and vocalists who assisted in the creation and production of this gorgeous work have much to be proud of.

Connect with dunkie on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play / Spotify / Soundcloud

SURRIJA – Single Review: “Nothing Love”

Surrija is the music project of singer-songwriter Jane Lui, a hyper-talented woman with a most beguiling singing voice. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she moved to Southern California with her family when she was 12 and is now based in Los Angeles. She began studying classical piano at the age of five, and that traditional training, combined with her love for the music of artists like Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Björk, helped shape her unique sound and music style. Recording under her given name, Lui produced three studio albums between 2004 and 2010, along with numerous singles and covers, which you can find on her SpotifySoundcloud, and YouTube pages. Despite her success, however, things just didn’t feel right to her. Lui states that she “felt a bit constrained by my YouTube personality, and stopped writing music to get a grip on who I actually was. I had to shed my clinical approach and befriend my slightly feral tendencies.”

Surrija2

It was with this new approach that Lui decided to rebrand herself as Surrija. In 2016 she spent time in Barcelona, Spain, where she was initially inspired by Picasso’s artistic output during his own years spent living there. But eventually, she became fascinated instead with his famous lovers and muses who he kept in the shadows, often preventing them from realizing their own potential. Wanting to tell their story, she began researching about some of them and writing songs for what would become her self-titled album Surrija under her new music project. The album is set to be released on April 3, and the first single in advance of the album is “Nothing Love“, which dropped on January 10.

“Nothing Love” actually predates her time spent in Barcelona, as it was written in 2013. Lui explained the song’s evolution on her Facebook page: “I only wrote two songs in 2013. This is one of them, written in a half-empty apartment that I was moving out of. The walls were so thin in that building that I didn’t play the piano much at all. Back then, songs came on like the flu – I’d feel a scratch of a lyric or line, then it just takes a sneeze and I’ll want to quarantine myself to sweat through the fever. I sneezed that day and spent many days after as the loud obnoxious musician neighbor. I looked at the chicken scratch afterwards and thought ‘Mm. There’s something here.’ Since then I’ve tested this song at shows, we’ve destroyed, reworked, subtracted, multiplied, and overhauled it into what you [now] hear. This is the last song from that time of my life and I think we succeeded in bringing it forward with flying colors.” I think so too!

The song is a captivating musical feast for the ears. Starting with a foundation of skittering dubstep beats, Surrija and her team of musicians layer a rich and colorful kaleidoscope of sounds and textures to create a dramatic, ever-changing soundscape that thrills and surprises at every turn. The array of instruments and synths used are impressive: Surrija plays the Moog synthesizer, electric organ, piano and mellotron, Matt Chamberlain plays drums, mixed percussion and modular synths, Maxwell Gualtieri plays electric guitar, Sophocles Papavasilopoulos plays piano and clarinet, and Christine Tavolacci plays the enchanting flute that’s one of the song’s highlights for me.

Surrija has a gorgeous singing voice, which she uses almost like another instrument to seduce us one moment, then startle us with a feral urgency the next. I found myself entranced by the interplay between the lush instrumentals and her vocals. She told the webzine Clout: “‘Nothing Love’ is about the kind of heartbreak that hurts so much it feels absurd”, and her passionate vocals most definitely convey that kind of emotional intensity. The wonderful backing vocals were provided by Albert Chiang, Sophocles Papavasilopoulos, Callaghan Papavasilopoulos and Mano Koolhaas.

Listen to this exquisite song and hear for yourself:

Connect with Surrija:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream/purchase her music:  SpotifySoundcloudGoogle Playcdbaby

MANDALAN ft. CADENCE XYZ – Single Review: “How We Live”

Every so often, I hear a song for the first time that instantly takes my breath away, which for a jaded old music lover like me is a very big deal. That’s the feeling I got when I heard the stunning new single “How We Live” by Mandalan, featuring enchanting vocals by young singer Cadence XYZ. I hit the replay button numerous times, as I couldn’t get enough of it!

Mandalan

Mandalan is the music project of Los Angeles-based musician, composer and producer James Brennan. He’s been recording and producing electronic and EDM music for the past several years, and teamed up with vocalist Cadence XYZ for his latest single, which I think is his best work yet.

Drawing from a colorful kaleidoscope of shimmery synths, Mandalan adds a mesmerizing percussive beat to craft a dreamy, almost exotic soundscape that evokes a sun-kissed faraway place. Then there’s Cadence XYZ exquisite vocals that so beautifully complement the sultry vibe of the instrumentals. Wow, what a gorgeous voice she has, at once sweet yet seductive as she croons of escaping to a paradise where life can be better: “It’s a new day in paradise, an island sure in sight.  The sun is warm as it starts to rise, shining so bright. Silent storms in your eyes, wildfire in your veins, and I’m drowning in love… Come fly with me. Soar across the sea. There’s no turning back, just signs for us to pass. Let it go, let it go, letting it all slip away.”

Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

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Stream “How We Live” on SoundcloudApple MusicSpotify
Purchase on  Google PlayAmazon

VOX EAGLE – Single Premier: “Can’t Stop”

Regular readers of this blog know I write about a lot of indie artists and bands, as one of the things that drives me is wanting to support them in what little way I can. One of my absolute favorites – both from a musical and personal standpoint – is VoxEagle. Essentially the music project of Australian-born and now Colorado-based singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Andy Crosby, VoxEagle first burst onto the music scene in the beginning of 2017 with the release of the electro-pop single “No Sleep”. The terrific song has been streamed over 279,000 times on Spotify. He then followed up with a second single “Come Over”, both of which were featured on his debut EP Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1., released in July 2017. I loved both songs so much they ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2017 list.

Also in 2017, Andy and his wife relocated from bustling Manhattan to the bucolic solitude of Evergreen, Colorado, high in the Colorado Rockies west of Denver. There, he built his own recording studio, which he dubbed “The Eagles Nest”, and set to work on his first full album, the brilliant genre-bending TriumAvium, which was released in October 2018. You can read my album review and interview with Andy here. One of the tracks on the album titled “Wander” went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 this past February.

Now he returns with a wonderful new single “Can’t Stop“, which I’m thrilled to premier today. The song officially drops on December 16 on all major digital music sites, some of which are included at the end of this post. “Can’t Stop” has a soulful dance pop vibe, and captures the infectious energy we first encountered on “No Sleep.”

VoxEagle Studio 2

That energy is the essence of VoxEagle’s unique, yet eclectic, sound. In our interview, he told me “VoxEagle is a musical energy; I hate to call it a band or whatnot. It’s vibe I suppose is with me at the helm, [though] the whole idea of VoxEagle in the beginning was to collaborate with various artists.” He added that his main overriding objective in making music is that “It’s just gotta have big melodies and be real energetic.

The track opens with spacey, almost seductive synths that quickly expand like a giant flower unfolding its petals into a beautiful explosion of sound and color. Starting with a deep, thumping bassline as a foundation, VoxEagle layers a rich palette of sparkling, dreamy synths, guitar, and percussion, including what sound like bongo drums, to create an exuberant groove that just makes you feel good. He has a fine, casual singing voice, and I like when he freestyles some of the lyrics. It all builds to an exhilarating crescendo before fading out with those spacey synths and pulsating bass. I love it!

Although “Can’t Stop” was written prior to the occurrence of a personal tragedy Andy recently experienced with the death of his best friend of 30 years, it really hits home for him, serving as a sort of anthem for his philosophy about life and his music career. He became so despondent over his friend’s death that he actually considered throwing in the towel on making music. Thankfully, he came around to realizing it would be impossible for him to stop, as making music is the one thing that keeps him sane at the end of the day – a sentiment I and many others I know can strongly identify with.

Those feelings are perfectly expressed in the lines “Every time I get the hook wrong, I stay back all night just to fix it cuz we can’t stop until we catch the feeling. All I know is that we’ve come too far. Too far to turn back now. Can’t stop these feet when they start moving, no.” I hope VoxEagle never stops making songs for us to enjoy.

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

XENNON – Album Review: “MIAMI COP”

Xennon Miami Cop

XENNON is a synthwave artist/producer and music teacher who’s originally from the U.K., but now based in Tokyo, Japan, and he’s just released his debut album MIAMI COP. A busy man, he’s also curator of the Synthwave Sounds playlist on Spotify. Inspired by the 80s hit TV show Miami Vice, and the synth-driven pop-rock that was also popular in the 80s, MIAMI COP is a concept album that tells the story of an alternative Miami circa 1987. In this story, the city is a dystopian world in which technology has advanced far beyond our own world’s, and crime has spiraled out of control. Against this backdrop of illegal firearms and drug trafficking stands a troubled police officer named Jack Lancer, the MIAMI COP who aims to do battle with the bad guys.

The album was written, performed, produced and mixed by XENNON, and mastered by acclaimed music engineer Pete Maher, whose clients have included such noted acts as U2, The Killers, The White Stripes, The Pixies, The Rolling Stones, Nine Inch Nails, the 1975, Katy Perry, Depeche Mode, Liam Gallagher, Linkin Park and many more. Additional guest vocals and voice-over work on some tracks were provided by Allie, Bill Fore and Benny Rose. XENNON has dedicated his album to the memory of Jeanette Portues.

MIAMI COP opens with “Miami Beach Chase“, a fast-paced song that sets the stage for the battle to come, as Jack goes on a high-speed pursuit of a criminal on the streets of Miami. The exuberant track immediately reminds me of Patti Labelle’s 1985 dance-pop hit “New Attitude”, which was also featured on the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack. XENNON turns introspective on the poignant “Flashback to Holly“, where Jack reflects on better times with his now ex-wife Holly, who left him because of his drinking and aggressive behavior, and how he wishes he’d treated her better: “But I can’t say the words that are deep in my regret. Like, ‘did I let you down?’ I couldn’t see you smiling back at me at first, but I can now./Let go, moving slow, because time is the only thing that makes it better.” The vibrant, shimmery synths and pulsating percussive beats enhance the powerful emotions expressed by XENNON’s clear, plaintive vocals.

Ominous grinding synths beautifully capture the evil essence of notorious arms dealer Baron Cleeth on “A New Enemy“. Jack comes to terms with what he must do to redeem himself and save Miami: “Saved in me, is the least that I can do to erase what I regret. Now, take me from me./Hating what I’ve done. Know then what I’ll do. Hating what I’ve become. But I know then what I’ll do.” Bill Fore provides Cleeth’s menacing voice-over. “The Visit” sees Jack going to visit Holly in an attempt to win her back, but she’s having none of it. The track has a bouncy, upbeat tempo and sweeping glittery synths that belie the bittersweet lyrics. Guest vocalist Allie sings Holly’s parts as she gives Jack the brush-off: “Shifting blame is what you do best. But I’m tired, yeah I’m tired. And I’m tired of trying.”

The Broken Man” is a near-epic, mostly instrumental track running seven and a half minutes. The music starts off with magical-sounding synth chords, accompanied by a deep, fluttering jazzy bass riff. The music then expands with psychedelic synths and an ominous throbbing percussive beat. Later in the song, guest vocalist Benny Rose performs the spoken voice-over for Jack’s boss Captain Carson, who admonishes him for being stupid and foolish to embark on a dangerous raid, and to use his pain and suffering as the fuel to re-ignite the fire inside him and become the valiant man he used to be.

Heeding his captain’s advice, Jack cleans up his act and pulls himself together on “The Montage“. XENNON employs more of those 80s dance-pop grooves with a bouncy deep percussive beat and lots of shimmery synths, giving the track a sunny, upbeat vibe that complements the hopeful lyrics: “Finally the fog is lifting and I can see everything once again. Achingly, I stand assisting the reason I’m here taking over me.”

With his attitude improved and confidence back, as he prepares to do battle with Cleeth, Jack decides to try again with Holly, sending her “The Letter“. Musically, the song has a strong 80s synth-pop sound, with a chorus that reminds me a bit of the chorus in Starship’s 1986 hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. XENNON’s vocals are especially wonderful here, soaring to a near-falsetto in places as he croons “I’m alive, I’m seeing sights with my soulmate standing by my side. Can’t believe my eyes, where everything I ever wanted is mine. This part of my heart, is forever growing. I hope I show it every day. All the years that we spent, I want more of them. Cause I couldn’t be happier another way.

Everything comes to a head on “The Raid” an exhilarating eight-minute-long tour de force. The track starts off with a cool special FX arrangement by Benny Rose, where we hear crystalline sounds of breaking glass, voices from a crowd of people and a circling police helicopter, all accompanied by deep, throbbing bass. Both Fore and Rose are back, providing voice-overs for Cleeth and Captain Carson, respectively. XENNON delivers a complex kaleidoscope of swirling, psychedelic, and industrial synths to create aural imagery of the epic battle between the Miami police and Cleeth’s gang of thugs. It’s a dramatic finish to a clever and imaginative concept work.

I’m not entirely sure we needed more 80s-inspired synthpop, but XENNON brings a fresh and creative approach to the genre with his ambitious and impressive debut effort. He’s done a very fine job composing exciting music and writing thoughtful lyrics, then using synthesizers to create the distinct moods and sounds that bring his classic tale of good vs. evil to life.

To learn more about the storyline for MIAMI COP, as well the character bios and images, go to XENNON’s Website.  You’ll find everything you need to know about the MIAMI COP universe, allowing you to more fully enjoy the overall experience. All artwork for the album and website was done by Travis Wright.

Connect with XENNON:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

NOTELLE – Single Review: “Beyond the Grave”

notelle-BTG

Nashville, Tennessee-based Notelle is a hard-working and talented music artist who, over the past five years or so, has been making quite a name for herself in the music capital and beyond. Working with DJs and music producers around the globe as both a writer and vocalist, her collaborations have accumulated more than six million streams on Spotify, have been featured on numerous Spotify and Apple playlists, and received over four million plays on YouTube, as well as coverage on Sirius XM Radio and EDM.com.

More recently, Notelle has been focusing on her solo career, spending the past year perfecting her sound – which she calls “heavy, messy pop” – with the assistance of producer Timothy Ryssemus of Altru Creative. Combining her love for dirty, chest-compressing low end and rhythmic, percussive synths with her gorgeous commanding vocals, she’s thus far created five superb singles that really showcase her musical gifts. Her stunning debut solo single,“Power”, premiered on local Nashville radio station Lightning 100’s The 615, while her third single “Out Of Love” was selected as a DJ pick and placed in regular rotation.

At the end of August, Notelle dropped her latest single, “Beyond The Grave“, where she explores a grittier, harder sound than her previous works. Straying from traditional song structures, she fuses elements of Appalachian folk melodies with driving industrial synths and deep bass, producing a dark and dramatic soundscape for her haunting vocals.

The track opens with her soft, breathy a capella vocals, then deep, pulsating bass and strong, percussive beats ensue, creating an ominous, yet incredibly seductive vibe. At about 1:20, the bass drops and a throbbing EDM beat grabs us by the hips, compelling us to move while Notelle’s vocals turn more urgent as she implores: “I find darkness so comforting. It hides the shadows I beg not to see again. Let me be your prey or virtue. If you leave me, let me grieve you. Sweetest love is the love we take. I’ll hold you from beyond the grave.” It’s a brilliant and beautiful track.

About the song’s lyrics, Notelle explained I have always been attracted to folklore about tragic love and loss. There is something about a ‘haunting’ that appeals to me. The idea that your longing for someone else can become so ingrained into your soul, that when your body passes on, the severity of the love and the loss stays behind and lingers – that’s so unbelievably interesting. It’s become a piece of your being. It’s almost as if there is no separation between what you feel and who you are, no way to disassociate from someone else’s crippling desperation for you or your desire for them…even after you’re gone. How can such an intense connection with another soul NOT leave some type of divine mark? Just because desire isn’t tangible, doesn’t mean it can’t take on a life of its own – maybe it gets stuck in some tragic loop in the afterlife.

To learn more about Notelle, check out her website
Connect with her on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on  Spotify / Soundcloud Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes / Google Play

STONED PIRATES – Album Review: “Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll”

Stoned Pirates album art

Stoned Pirates is the music project of Algerian-born Khaled Sahour, a creative and highly imaginative musician, visual artist and filmmaker. Growing up in a home where he was exposed to lots of music and art, he early on developed a love of rock, pop and disco, and taught himself to play music on a broken two string guitar. He started a band and sung his heart out to young Algerian audiences that seemed to connect very well, but eventually relocated to Los Angeles to further his career in music and film. On August 9th, he released his debut album Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll, which I’m pleased to be reviewing today.

Stoned Pirates’ unusual and eclectic music style comes from a wide array of influences ranging from classic rock acts such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses, to the funk of Sly & the Family Stone, the dance grooves of Chic and Nile Rodgers, and the soulful pop of Michael Jackson – all spiced with an Algerian flavor. Not only does Khaled write, perform, record and produce all his music, he also creates his own visuals for his Stoned Pirates project. The album was mixed and mastered by Thomas Juth, and opens with “Turmoil (Intro)“, a brief track that sets the tone for the album. With a backdrop of otherworldly industrial synths and a hypnotic beat, Stoned Pirates chants “I’ve been waiting for the wind to blow. I guess it’s time to rock’n’roll.

Next up is “Nothing“, a dark, trippy song about feeling overwhelmed by loneliness and hopelessness, like one is powerless to change the sorry state of things. Stoned Pirates weaves a mesmerizing soundscape out of a fascinating kaleidoscope of synth instruments and exotic sounds. I love the xylophone, spooky keyboards, deep bass and guitar, accompanied by a cool, carnival-like synth riff. Khaled has a quirky vocal style in which he sometimes sings in a baby-like falsetto that I suppose could be off-putting to some, but once I got into his music I found it sort of charming. Using that falsetto, he sings: “Throw me a bone. Hit me with a stone, I just wanna feel something real.” But then, he sings in a deeper, almost menacing tone: “Nothing, absolutely nothing has changed today. Same old, same old sins and heartbreaks coming in new ways.

The surreal video he made for the song shows an astronaut floating aimlessly through dark space along with various objects like an old TV playing static, boxing gloves and pieces of furniture.

One of my favorite tracks is “The Devil in You“, a great kiss-off song to someone who’s deceived and caused hurt. The song has a sensual beat, with jazzy synths, funky bass, swirling guitar and some really terrific sax. Stoned Pirates bitterly sings “I didn’t see fully the devil in you. What are you truly, if not a foe? Don’t come back crying, knocking on my door.” Keeping with a similar theme, “Mr. Nice Guy” addresses someone who keeps taking advantage of a guy whenever she screws up: “If you cry for help, he will come to you. Convenient nice guy is always at your rescue.” Once again, Stoned Pirates employs a rich assortment of sparkling synths, along with a hypnotic dance beat to create a captivating backdrop for his colorful vocals.

On the bittersweet “In Time“, he laments of his regret about having broken up with a lover: “If I could I would go back in time, I would change the way we drew the lines. If I could I would go back in time. I would try harder to change your mind. Love will come to you in time. Just be patient, don’t cry.” The soulful track has a Michael Jackson vibe, featuring deep, sensual synths, highlighted by funky guitar and brass, all set to a strong, hip-swaying beat. The soulful, funky “Rebound” has him calling out someone who’s using him to get over another guy:  “Oh girl, who you think you’re trying to fool? Oh girl, who you think you’re playing here? Cause all the signs are clear. I’m talking about the rebound.”

Stoned Pirates uses a vampire metaphor on “Midnight Lover“, a sexy song about a seductress who preys on men to get what she wants. I love this lyric: “I saw her on the dance floor still trying to get more. Staring at me in the eyes while biting another guy.” Funky grooves abound on “Where I Belong“, another sultry tune with marvelous swirling synths and a beat so damn infectious it had me doing a lap dance in my chair! The aptly-titled album closer “The End” features a sultry Latin beat and jangly guitars drenched in reverb, accompanied by some tasty exuberant horns. Khaled employs his deeper vocals here, as he sings in an almost menacing whisper: “Sit back, relax, nobody is going anywhere. You think the end, but it’s only just the beginning.”

I’ve got to say that Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll is a marvelous album and a very impressive debut from Stoned Pirates. His innovative music is totally original, sounding like no one else I’m aware of. I love how he’s taken an eclectic mix of influences to create his own unique, fascinating sound. His beautiful, seductive melodies, compelling lyrics and use of a wide array of lush instruments and synths make for some really captivating songs that are pure joy to hear.

Connect with Stoned Pirates:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

CRAIG-RUSSELL HORNE – Single Review: “Sleepwalking”

Craig-Russell Horne is an independent electronic music artist and producer from Glasgow, Scotland. Formerly a member of Scottish alternative rock band The 21st State, he’s been called one of the most promising newcomers to the Scottish electronic scene and, after listening to his music I can fully understand why. He blends a wide array of dynamic synthesized sounds with samples of old films and classic songs to create fascinating soundscapes for his compelling lyrics and distinctive vocals. Following up on his brilliant 2018 debut album WITH THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT, he’s just released a captivating new single “Sleepwalking“.

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“Sleepwalking” is about someone with insomnia. Horne explains: “It tells a romantic story of someone who is kept up at night by their past, which constantly runs over in their mind. They can only find solace and, ultimately rest, when with the person they love.  The first half of the track addresses the initial thoughts of regret and fear leading to the insomnia. The vocals are spaced and thin to represent internal thought while also panning from left to right to represent the thoughts spiraling around the head. In the second half, the conversation takes place between the two partners. It is open and honest while also dealing with the embarrassment of opening up. It symbolises love in the form of trust, humility and devotion.

The film samples [heard in the song] are from the 1955 film noir, ‘The Big Combo’, in which a police lieutenant who comes under pressure from a violent gang is helped by the gang leader’s wife to stop their reign over the city. As in ‘The Big Combo’, the two people represented in “Sleepwalking” are unexpected, perfect partners who have experienced very different lives but are brought together by a common bond.”

The track opens with a snippet of conversation between the aforementioned police lieutenant and the gangster’s wife, accompanied by an enchanting little keyboard riff. Once Horne’s vocals enter, the music swells with more of those glittery keyboards, along with somewhat grainy background percussive synths that creates an intriguing contrast in sound textures. Horne has a rather deep, emotive vocal style, but his delivery is understated on this track compared to many of the songs on WITH THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT. His vocals have a vulnerable yet seductive quality as he croons of his fervor:  “Sleepwalking is the only vibe. And you’re the only thing that keeps me up at night. I’ve tried every drug to get me back to sleep. And then I realize that you cut too deep.”

Connect with Craig-Russell:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play / Amazon

KILLER TAPE – EP Review: “Ghosts”

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Killer Tape is the music project of young artists Ella Heaton and Luke Hudson. Originally from Leeds, England, Ella is currently studying in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and Luke in Berlin, Germany. In June (2019) they released their debut EP Ghosts, featuring three stunning lo-fi tracks. Melding elements of shoegaze, ambient, electronic and psychedelia, the duo create mesmerizing soundscapes that transport us to dreamy, faraway places.

First off is the title track “Ghosts”, a haunting, ethereal song that opens with clicks that sound like a cassette tape being placed into a player, accompanied by a droning acoustic guitar and mysterious, sinewy synths that gradually build as the track progresses. With breathy echoed vocals that sound appropriately ghost-like, Ella gently croons “There’s a man on the ceiling, and he’s full of misdemeanour.

The dreamy “Scrimmage” features marvelous glittery synths and a fuzzy, reverb-heavy guitar that borders on surf. Ella’s echoed chanting can be heard in the distance, accompanied by a spooky organ riff at the end of the song. I love it!

The final track “May Day” is brief, lasting only 1:40 minutes, but is a wonderful composition, with more of that spooky organ and throbbing spacey synths that impart a fascinating otherworldly vibe. This time it’s Luke’s distant echoed chants that can be heard. The track ends with the same clicking sounds we heard at the beginning of “Ghosts”, signifying that the tape has been removed from the player.

Ghosts is a great little EP from this talented young duo, and my only criticism is that it’s too short, leaving me wanting to hear more.

Connect with Killer Tape: Facebook / Instagram
Stream or purchase on Apple Music / Google Play / YouTube

ARTHUR KAY – EP Review: “Arthur Kay”

Arthur Kay

Arthur Kay is a renaissance man of sorts. The hard-working and versatile Norwegian musician has been a prominent figure in the Oslo music scene for the past decade. In addition to being frontman for galactic jazz-pop band Dr Kay and his Interstellar Tone Scientists, Kay has worked or collaborated with indie rock band The Switch, Norwegian rapper Ivan Ave, and neo-psychedelic pop-rock band Orions Belte, among others. Becoming a veritable whiz kid on synths and keyboards while still a young child, Kay had mastered Ray Manzarek’s iconic “Light My Fire” organ solo by the age of eight.

Now Kay has recorded his first solo effort, a self-titled EP Arthur Kay that’s scheduled for release on October 11 via Jansen Records. In advance of the EP release, he’s unveiled the first single “Holiday Pay“. The upbeat song is a celebration of the Norwegian institutional policy of employers being required by law to pay a certain percentage of last year’s wages as holiday pay during the Summer months. Like the title would suggest, the song has a bouncy dance beat that evokes a blissful summer day at the beach. Kay artfully employs a mix of sunny keyboard synths, an irresistible dance groove, and touches of jazz and funk to create a breezy track that just makes you feel good. Kay’s smooth vocals are pleasing as he sings about the joys of having nothing pressing on his schedule: “The rush of sweat pants, and lazy mornings every Sunday. Of waking up too early Monday, knowing where I’ll be the entire day. Holiday day, holiday pay, that’s the life that I chose, OK.”

Kay has produced two versions of the song, a 6:13 minute-long ‘single version’ featuring some terrific instrumental runs that would have made it a great disco song back in the late 70s or early 80s, and a shorter 3:42 minute-long radio edit.

The EP will feature four other tracks, the first of which is “Say It Out Loud“, an exuberant jazz-infused tune with an infectious strutting beat. If this song doesn’t get you moving, nothing will! Kay’s jazzy synths and intricate keyboard work are sublime, and quite impressive. It’s no wonder he’s in such demand by other artists wanting him to play music for their songs. The lyrics speak to his adoration for his love and how, even though he’s hurt her in the past, she’s the one that sustains him: “You are my power. You are my one. You are all the things I love under the sun.”

Next up is “Higher Ground“, a languid, ethereal track with hazy atmospherics and glittery synths that make for an enchanting listen. The bittersweet lyrics lyrics speak to coming to terms with the fact that the only way to survive is to completely avoid the one you want but cannot have: “A higher ground is all there is, and all that’s left for me to do. This blankly stare at empty space, and concentrate on simply just not calling you. Take a stand, as a peaceful man, and make my way from A to B./I’ll keep on falling. I’ll keep on getting through. And all I have to do is stay away from you. That’s everything that’s left of what was me and you.

On “My Love is an Only Child“, Kay seems to channel James Blake, with stunning piano work, delicate synths and soft, layered vocals. With a sense of sad resignation, Kay croons the poignant lyrics that seem to touch on the fragile nature of his love: “My love is an only child. No he can’t come play outside. Won’t go running around with scissors. That’s the point that you’ve been missing.” It’s a really captivating track.

Standing on Shoulders” starts off with a beautiful piano-driven melody as Kay sings about growing up with childhood fantasies and dreams of being a hero, going on adventures and saving the world: “I was mad with desire, stoking a fire, singing my songs of a savior far away. The savior was older and wiser than me. He held all the answers and sway. His feelings could be what he’d like them to be, but never did he run away. ” Suddenly, the music transitions to a lively Latin-infused beat, with exuberant synths and percussion added to the mix. Kay acknowledges that his childhood dreams were made possible by being able to stand on the shoulders of others who were there to support and nurture him: “Well, that savior was me, but now age 33, I have the hopes of my youth now following me. / I’m beginning to see that my savior was also just standing on shoulders and reaching for dreams that were living inside an adventure that’s made just for people like me.

Arthur Kay is a lovely and immensely enjoyable little EP by this talented singer-songwriter and musician. He’s a great lyricist and composer, skilled at crafting songs with thoughtful, introspective lyrics, memorable melodies and beautiful instrumentals.

Connect with Arthur on Facebook
Pre-order Arthur Kay on Bandcamp