TED KENNEDY – Single Review: “Not Enough”

Ted Kennedy is a producer/composer of electronic music based in Toronto, Canada. He’s been producing and recording music for several years, and released his first EP Late in 2014, and followed two years later with a second EP Lost, both of which contain some very solid tracks. He also curates a weekly live show called Frequencies, featuring live sets from forward-thinking electronic artists, producers, and MC’s. The shows take place on the third Thursday of every month at Handlebar in Toronto.

After a bit of a hiatus, Ted is once again recording more songs, and released a new single “Forty” earlier this year. Now he returns with another single “Not Enough“, which dropped on April 12. About his latest single, Ted told me “Like a lot of music I have been writing recently, ‘Not Enough’ is inspired by the sounds of Toronto’s underground electronic music scene. Curating Frequencies, I’m constantly blown away by the amount of talent here. It’s tough to be an artist in this city; rents are high, venues are closing, and platforms big enough to give artists any meaningful exposure are nearly non-existent. Everyone has day jobs, roommates, and bedroom studios. Despite the challenges, artists put in the work and create great things. This song is inspired by those artists, their sounds, their creativity, their energy. I just hope I did them justice.”

On “Not Enough”, Ted employs a strong thumping EDM beat and moody, pulsating synths that give the track a bit of a Depeche Mode vibe. In fact, his deep, sultry vocals even sound a bit like Dave Gahan’s here. The driving dance beat is hypnotic and seductive, compelling us to move as it carries us away to a dark, yet dreamy place. Throughout, Ted uses deep bass and fuzzy, otherworldly synths to give the track added texture and depth. I found myself getting lost in the music, not wanting the song to end.

The lyrics speak of a love affair in tatters, in which the love they had is no longer enough to sustain the relationship:

Damn taste of love is all I know
It’s always on, not enough
Your love is my own ruin
A quiet knot undone

Our love is all in cinders
Our love is not enough
I’m always in the windows
I’m always on the run

Ted will be performing “Not Enough” at Handlebar on Thursday, April 18 as part of his Frequencies series.

Connect with Ted on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud

HOUSE OF HARM – EP Review: “Coming of Age”

house of harm ep

It may be 2019, but the lasting legacy of 1980s post-punk and new wave (and all its sub genres) is very much alive and well, probably due in part to the fact it sounds so awesome! I know of several artists and bands whose sound is heavily influenced by the electronics-dominant music of bands like New Order, The Cure and Depeche Mode, to name some of the biggest acts from that period. One such band that I have the pleasure of featuring today is House of Harm, a duo from Boston consisting of Michael Rocheford on lead vocals & Cooper Leardi on guitar and synths. With just a casual listen, they could be unfairly labeled a New Order or Depeche Mode cover band, but a closer listen reveals the guys to be skilled songwriters and composers, crafting outstanding songs that easily hold their own against the aforementioned bands.

House of Harm released their excellent debut EP Demo in June 2017, followed later that year with a darkwave single “Isolator”, and in November 2018, they dropped their second EP Coming of Age, featuring four gorgeous tracks. First up is “Past Life“, a brooding but beautiful song that really channels Depeche Mode both instrumentally and vocally. The guys employ lush swirling synths, razor sharp percussion, and layers of richly textured, chiming guitars to create a magnificent shimmering soundscape.  Rocheford’s arresting vocals convey a sense of urgency and sad resignation as he laments “Let the past lay down tonight, I want it to, I want it to. Let the summer light catch your eyes. There’s someone new, someone new“.

About the track’s meaning, Rocheford told the webzine Vanyaland “The song is about spending time with someone you were formerly involved with and the struggles that come along with that.” Leardi added his feelings about the song: “‘Past Life’ was one of those songs that came to us like a lightbulb flash. All the elements were there. We were coming down from playing a string of shows, completely exhausted, and in one afternoon we wrote and recorded the whole song. It felt wrong to go back and change the magic we got that day, so the version you hear is just that. I can’t deny that there was a certain flavor in the air when we were working on it, something that reminds me of an ecstasy-fueled club in Ibiza or something… I think it puts us in a place and time, and that time is right now. I feel as though the song is there to say ‘We’re House Of Harm and this is what we’re about’.”

Always” is an updated version of a track that originally appeared on Demo. Leardi’s exuberant jangly guitars are the highlight here, accompanied by sparkling synths and wildly crashing cymbals. Rocheford fervently sings “You always keep it still. You always speak until. You always turn it around and smile in pain.” The marvelous title track “Coming of Age” features a powerful driving beat and a deeply resonant mix of swirling and moody synths that create a dramatic backdrop for Rocheford’s impassioned, soaring vocals as he implores to a former loved one: “And would you still run at the sight of me? And do you still you feel that you’ve thrown it away? And would you still lie, if I ever told you? And would you still say it’s a coming of age?” “Valentine” sounds a bit similar to “Coming of Age”, but with a frenetic beat that’s classic post-punk/new wave. If this bouncy, high-energy song doesn’t get you up and moving, nothing will.

Coming of Age is a wonderful little EP, and if you’re a fan of 80s post-punk/new wave, you’ll like this record. The arrangement and production are flawless, and the music and vocals sound clear and perfectly balanced. My only criticism is that with just four tracks, it feels rather like a teaser, leaving me wanting more. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as I eagerly await what House of Harm will grace our earbuds with next.

Connect with House of Harm:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

1i2c – Album Review: “Winter”

1i2c

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOBISONICS featuring FANS OF JIMMY CENTURY – Single Review: “Noirstar (Dark City Edition)”

Music producer Tobi (Toby Davis) has been using his creative vision and talents mixing, mastering or remixing other artists and bands’ music for a while now. And though he’s generally preferred to work behind the scenes in relative anonymity in the Luxembourg countryside where he resides, he’s also found it difficult to build momentum or a fan base in his own right. Consequently, he came to the realization that he needed to invent and control his own brand. In addition, he’s long thought of his collaborations as  ‘alternate versions’, rather than simply ‘remixes’, and that the term ‘remix’ did not serve him well. This has led him to create a new ‘Tobisonics’ brand as an opportunity to more properly reflect his alternate versions and the manner in which he approaches and feels about them.

For his first project as Tobisonics, he’s teamed up with the theatrical, genre-bending Las Vegas-based duo Fans of Jimmy Century to re-imagine their modwave neo-noir song “Noirstar (Memories of His City).” Fans of Jimmy Century consists of vocalist, lyricist, composer and voice-over artist Alicia Perrone & songwriter, producer and bassist Victor James. Tobisonics gives their song a cinematic synth-scape treatment, redubbed  “Noirstar (Dark City Edition)“.

Fans of Jimmy Century (2)
Fans of Jimmy Century

Living up to its title, the languid track is sexy and dark, with a slightly menacing vibe that conveys the sense of excitement, titillation and danger inherent in big city life. Starting with Victor James’s deep, pulsating bass line, Tobi recasts it as a modulated/phased sequencer bass, creating a hypnotic EDM beat over which he layers spacey, otherworldly synths. In her mysterious, sultry vocals, Alicia Perrone purrs: “Still have memories of the city. I wouldn’t wish ’em on anyone. Not anyone.” Exactly what she’s referring to isn’t clear, leaving it up to the listener to interpret as we wish. The tension gradually builds until the two-minute mark, at which point Tobi breaks down the track with eerie tribal chants and soaring synth chords. After about 20 seconds, the previous bass-driven tempo returns and continues through to the end, leaving us mesmerized by this captivating song.

Connect with Tobi:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Connect with Fans of Jimmy Century:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Download/purchase the track on  iTunes / Amazon / Google Play / Tidal

FRED HILLS – Single Review: “Ketu”

Fred Hills is a creative and talented freelance drummer and composer from Brighton, UK, and he’s just released a captivating new instrumental single “Ketu.” A graduate of the British Institute of Modern Music in Brighton, Fred combines his love of jazz, rock, prog, electronica, folk and world music with inspiration from his favorite artists, as well as his travels, to create compositions filled with colorful rhythms and melodic ‘open-handed’ beats. Fred has collaborated and performed in the UK and Europe with a number of musicians and groups, including The Slytones, Hot Moth, Time for T, Ellie Ford, Michael Baker and Mara Simpson.

Fred told me that “Ketu” was inspired by his travels around India in late 2017. In their premier of the song’s video, the online music webzine Arctic Drones notes that the song was also inspired by “his experience with Hindu astrology, which sparked an interest in how lunar and solar energy systems may affect someone both mentally and physically. Fred stated that “Ketu” represents karmic collections – both good and bad – tangible and supernatural influences.” He adds that “Ketu” is an instrumental song built on an expansive emotional spectrum, mixing ambivalence and enchantment, hope and discovery.” The track was co-produced by Fred and Alex Barron, who also played bass and did the mixing and mastering.

The song opens with mysterious synths and a delicate guitar riff, then Fred’s intricate drums enter as the synths and guitar expand with the introduction of Alex’s bluesy bass notes. Fred’s arresting drum work, which the track is built around, has a quiet intensity that’s incredibly dynamic, yet never overpowering. The sparkling synths are gorgeous, and his jazzy guitar riffs are fantastic. In the video, Fred appears to be almost in a trance-like state as he plays the drums, which is the same feeling I get while listening to this gorgeous and mesmerizing song. Watch, listen, and see for yourself:

To learn more about Fred, check out his Website

Connect with him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Check out more of his music on Soundcloud
Purchase “Ketu” on Bandcamp

JENNIFER DOLL – EP Review: “With Everything”

Jennifer Doll is a young singer-songwriter from New Jersey who, in her own words, strives “to make music that makes me feel how my favorite songs make me feel.” She released her debut EP The Crystal Hours last November (2017),  and was recently featured on a remix of electronic music composer Manipulant’s “What Good are the Stars” (which I reviewed). Now she returns with a brand new EP With Everything, which dropped on September 21 via WEATNU Records. On her Instagram page she posted her feelings about its release: “I am so excited – and slightly melancholy – to finally be releasing this EP. These songs were written between graduation and starting life, but most of those days are now behind me. They are now yours. Take care of them.”

Jennifer Doll

And what powerful and emotionally compelling songs they are. Jennifer has a fascinating sound and vocal styling that, to my ears at least, sounds like the product of a collaboration between Phantogram, Lana Del Rey and Lorde. She uses intriguing chord progressions and melodies and complex synths to create songs that are fresh and uniquely original. She wrote, produced, mixed and mastered most of the tracks, with the exception of the two remixes, and “Siren Song,” which was mixed by electronic music composer and engineer Almark, who’s vocals are also featured on the track “Cosmo.”

First up is the mesmerizing “Siren Song,” a hauntingly beautiful track about a woman desperately trying to escape her demons. The track opens with sounds of waves washing onto the shore and church bells ringing in the distance, then pulsating synths and a thumping drum beat ensue as Jennifer sings “She had to find a way to get away from the horrors of herself. She had to find a way to keep away darkness as it fell.” Her ethereal vocals start off gentle and breathy, but gradually become more impassioned along with the arresting synths and horns as the track progresses, soaring to spine-tingling heights in the chorus.
 

Jennifer injects a bit of dubstep into the mix on “Secrets for the Dance Floor, ” employing industrial-sounding synths, deep bass and echoed vocals to create a trippy, otherworldly vibe. She sings about the emotional emptiness of being stuck on the endless merry-go-round of partying: “One more drink for some clarity, then throw it back at me, but do we really even care?  One more party, do it all again. Forget as much as we can. All we crave is the end. Can anybody hear it? All the broken dreams and hollow lies?

The gorgeous “Cosmo” features dazzling synths and guitar work that are a lush, glittery soundscape for Jennifer’s beautiful, fervent vocals. Additional vocals are provided by electronic music composer and producer Almark. And “Heavy” is a brooding, yet beautiful track, with deep bass and dark, sweeping synths, punctuated by an enchanting piano trill, xylophone, and an occasionally recurring beat that sounds like a gentle foot march.  Her vocals are dreamy as she croons “Let me go, trust I’m better on my own.

The EP features three bonus tracks, the first of which is “glitter tits,” which speaks to the aftermath of the excessive partying that Jennifer sang about on “Secrets for the Dance Floor.” Accompanied by sparkling synths set to a slow dance beat, and backed by her own vocal harmonies, she laments: “Now there’s glitter on the floor, our remembrance of the night before. Tonight all we have is glitter tits.” Next up is “glitter tits (OneManStanding R3M1X),” a remix by electronic music composer/producer OneManStanding. He takes the same song, but significantly slows down the tempo, drawing it out to more than twice its original length. His synths are more spacey, and Jennifer’s vocals make the lyrics seem all the more compelling at this speed.

The third bonus track is “Cosmo The Little Girl Found (Jigsaw Sequence Remix),” a loose and greatly extended remix of “Cosmo” by Scottish synthpop musician and composer Jigsaw Sequence. At nearly six minutes, this track is the longest and most complex on the EP. Jigsaw Sequence seems to channel the 80’s with his glorious sparkling and pulsating synths, and hypnotic dance beats. Jennifer’s amazing vocal gymnastics are on full display here, breathy and gentle one moment, then piercing and powerful the next, raising goosebumps. It’s a marvelous tour de force.

With Everything is a beautiful, expertly-crafted EP, delivering music that’s innovative yet accessible, with lyrics we can all relate to. Jennifer and everyone involved in its production should be very proud.

Connect with Jennifer on Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase With Everything on Bandcamp / iTunes

CHEDDR – Album Review: “Three Sheets: To the Wind”

Cheddr is the music project of Jeff Hines, a talented and innovative composer and producer of electronic music. Based in the state of Connecticut, Jeff has written and played music for over 20 years. But recent improvements in the technology of music production have enabled him to work on this music anytime and anywhere, which has in turn led him to become extremely prolific over the past year, recording and releasing numerous singles, albums and EPs. He released Bear Beat Vol. 1 in October 2017, and Bear Beat Vol. 2 in May 2018, then quickly followed with Three Sheets: To the Wind a few weeks later. In August he dropped yet another EP For the Skies, but I will be reviewing Three Sheets: To the Wind.

Cheddr image

Influenced by Tycho, Bonobo, Emancipator, Gramatik, Ratattat and Madeon, Jeff likes to think of him self as a post rock composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. Encouraged by recognition he’s received from independent music supporters from around the world, he’s continued to produce increasingly more advanced and complex music, which has been featured on music programs in the U.S., UK and Germany.

Before getting into Three Sheets: To the Wind, let me state right here that, though I’ve written about a number of artists who create electronic music, I’m far from being an expert about it and all its microgenres, which can get pretty esoteric and abstract. It seems the more I read about it, the more confused I become, but I’ll try my best to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

The track listings differ between Spotfy, Soundcloud, Bandcamp and iTunes, but I’ll discuss them in the order they appear on Soundcloud for the convenience of my readers. Cheddr kicks off the album with “Falling Into You,” a rather brooding but bewitching chillwave track with fuzzy, almost spacey synths overlying a deep bass-driven beat. Sparkling piano keys and soaring string synths are gradually added, transporting us into a dreamy soundscape we’re hesitant to leave.

As the second track “Unification Theory” envelops my eardrums, I’m struck by his skill at drawing out such interesting and exquisite sounds from his synthesizers, and weaving them together into gorgeous chord progressions and captivating melodies. The intricate sequenced piano and lush strings are breathtaking, and he adds lots of assorted otherworldly synths and deep bass to create a complex and stunning track that’s one of my favorites on the album.

The mesmerizing “Our Hearts are Beating Together” features sampled electronically altered female and male vocals, in a style that Cheddr states are “hypnagogic, approaching vaporwave.” (According to Wikipedia, vaporwave is defined by its appropriation of 1980s and 1990s mood music styles such as smooth jazz, R&B and lounge music, and typically involving sampling or manipulating tracks via chopped and screwed remixing techniques.) In addition to the vocals that chant the title words “Our hearts are beating together,” the track features glittery sequenced piano and lush synths.

Cheddr’s lovely sparkling pianos are a dominant element on the next three chillwave tracks. On “You’ll See,” he adds extra layers of delicate piano over the main riff, along with fuzzy, almost psychedelic-sounding synths. “Reach In” features a throbbing bass line and a mix of glittery and siren-like synths, and “The Winding Road” is brimming with pulsating wobbly synths and lots of plucky strings.

The trippy “Vapors” is the most experimental track on the album. It starts off with a similar vibe as most of the other tracks, with chill piano chords and delicate xylophone synths set to a languid beat, but gradually, Cheddr introduces quirky distorted and spacey synths that change the complexion of the song to one of discordance and unease, as if to symbolize having ‘the vapors.’ It’s a beautiful song nevertheless. The final track “Understory” has a solemn vibe, with a somber piano riff that continues throughout the song. At approximately one minute in, dark synths are added, then a rat-a-tat tat drumbeat kicks in. More synths are added as the pace quickens, then we’re hit with a brief flourish of mournful distorted electric guitar before the track closes with the same somber piano riff that opened the song.

I’ve listened to a lot of Cheddr’s music, and though I do like his Bear Beat Vol. 1 and 2 albums, I feel he really takes things to the next level on Three Sheets: To the Wind. His piano-driven melodies are glorious and more fully-developed, and I love all the lush and varied synths that he uses to create different moods, sometimes within the same song. If you like electronic music, this is an album you should add to your collection.

Connect with Cheddr:  Website / Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

RANDOM… – Album Review: “Long Ago When Tigers Smoked Pipes”

Random... Album Art

Hailing from Rotherham, England, the music project known as Random… (Random dot dot dot) creates multi-textured synthesized music that ranges from dark and politically topical to catchy EDM. Born Ben Ellison, the enigmatic Random… describes himself thusly: “Random… is reclusive, innovative and slightly insane. Those lucky enough to have met him will testify that his view of the world is warped, dark, but always entertaining.”  Who am I to argue with that?

In May 2016, Random… released an EP Headspace, which featured spoken words by poet Wayne Dyson, and in April 2017 he released a remarkable full-length album Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness, an ambitious work released through Velvet Moron Records. The album was produced with contributions from two poets, Gav Roberts and Wayne Dyson, along with guitarist Mr Jiggs. I reviewed the album, which you can read here. Now, Random… is set to drop a new album Long Ago When Tigers Smoked Pipes, also to be released on the 20th of August through Velvet Moron Records.

The new album is once again a collaboration, this time with poet Gav Roberts. They explained their working relationship and creative process for the album:

Random… met rather, well, randomly and they clashed heads from their two very different fields of creativity almost instantly. Having a mutual respect for each other’s work, Ben appreciating Gav’s poetic ramblings and Gav in turn enjoying the unique sounds that Ben creates. They are very much 50/50 doing their own thing and not interfering in each other’s work. Ben doesn’t like writing words and Gav can turn any musical instrument into something with the musical quality of your average Ikea table.

Indeed, the vast majority of what Gav records are poems that would otherwise grow old in notebooks, never to be opened, so he is overjoyed that Ben wraps them up in music.  Both of them are neither precious nor pretentious about their work, both believing that creativity is an entirely selfish process that a human must go through in order to ease the mental passage through this mortal coil. ‘Long ago when tigers smoked pipes’ is the Korean equivalent of ‘Once upon a time’ and that is what Random… have created, a story, a journey through their lives.

OK, so let’s get into the album, shall we. The first track “The Possibility of 0 or 6” opens with spacey, sci-fi sounding synths and a monotone piano chord, then a pulsating beat ensues. The instrumentals expand into a melodic soundscape as Roberts describes a scene on a platform of a train station, where a woman becomes fascinated with a man pacing back and forth counting. “To wait, on a platform alone with him she feels cursed. Just her and the crazy finger-counter, counting numbers backwards, forwards on his fingers he counts. / So on and so on, til the initial fear she had when she first saw him turns to passive intrigue. / Eventually, one cancellation and several delays announcements later, a full 45 minutes after fear forgot … she observes the pacing man. He’s a friend of hers now. / She’s totally transfixed with the possibility of 0 or 6.” It’s a fascinating and mesmerizing track that seems shorter than its 4:11 minute length, holding my attention from start to finish.

Gingerbread” is a dark track about a doomed relationship in which the woman tried to make the man into something he wasn’t – the opposites that initially attracted them to each other now repel. The ominous synths beautifully convey the biting resentment expressed in the lyrics: “Within months, I was on a choke-chain of my own making. Wearing clothes that you had bought me, dressed up like some kind of mannequin… I started looking like a really ugly ken doll as the gingerbread-cutting phrases came thick and fast. ‘You drink too much, you smoke too much.’ So Julie I drank less, and I smoked less, but what you didn’t realize was that the opposites were attracting less and less.

Supernova” is a hauntingly beautiful and epic track, with dreamy, otherworldly synths. Roberts speaks of going against all common sense and good judgment, submitting himself fully to the passionate urges of love: “I am carefully turning supernova. Here, in the rain. For I have stood here a time or two, thinking of you with a wish or two, chanced away upon a fellow shooting star. I must congratulate you. And I must conclude that I am joining them in their letting go of the ability to hold on to anything, never mind, everything, never mind plans. The scientists have advised against it, and they have done extensive research and they have told me to stop thinking of you this time or two. But, I don’t want to. I’ve told them to fuck right off.

The lively title track “Long ago when tigers smoked pipes” has a rapid EDM beat that has a sort of African jungle vibe, replete with animal-sounding synths – but of course! It’s  predominantly instrumental, but halfway through Roberts says “This party isn’t over, it’s merely changed form.” Then, toward the end, we hear an echoed voice state “Long ago, when tigers smoked pipes, there was a world that lived in harmony. Without war, disease.” It’s a great song.

We Occupy” is a hard-hitting protest song of sorts, encompassing many aspects of the human condition from suffering to triumph, and everything in between. Here’s a sampling of the compelling lyrics: “We occupy the shit jobs, the shop floor shelf-stocking rat race. / We occupy fragility in nursing homes and hospitals. / We occupy the uniforms that treat our dying loved ones with respect. / We occupy lives senselessly lost to war. / We occupy an education system manipulated to manufacture robot people with robot souls.  But we will not listen anymore. We have given up on your promise of a house on the hill at 2.4. We occupy free thought, free religion, free love, freedom of any kind.”

Roberts assures a friend or loved one of his unconditional support on “Let Me Know,” a brief track with a languid beat and wobbly synths that feels more like a soothing interlude. Next up is “Sometimes making something leads to nothing,” one of the more unusual and arresting tracks on the album. The track begins with strange, sci-fi synth sounds, then the music settles into a synth-driven melody with guitar, strong bass, and sharp percussion, the eerie synths continuing throughout the song.

The equally unusual and engrossing video shows a man pushing a large block of ice for what appears to be miles through the streets of Mexico City. As he continues on his journey, the block of ice eventually shrinks down to a small chunk, which he nudges along with his foot, until it completely melts away.

The final track “It depends on YOU” is a dire warning about the growing trend toward authoritarianism now happening in many parts of the world, including Europe and the United States. The dark, sinister-sounding synths really make the disturbing words seem all the more chilling:

In our world, there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph and self abasement
The sexual instinct shall be eradicated
We shall abolish the orgasm
There will be no loyalty except loyalty to the party
But always, there will be the intoxication of power
Always and every moment there will be the thrill of victory
The sensation of trampling on an enemy that is helpless
If you want to picture the future
Imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever
The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one
Don’t let it happen.
It depends on YOU

It’s a pessimistic end to a album that at first glance seems rather pessimistic on the whole, yet there are several glimmers of hope and optimism to be found. Random…’s masterful synths are the perfect accompaniment for Roberts’ dark but poetic words, and together they’ve created an enthralling and deeply contemplative work. The album will be available soon on many streaming and download platforms. Random… will give all of the profits from sales of the album to charity and is currently talking to a local independently run charity that helps people with mental health issues.

Track listing:

  1.  The Possibility of 0 or 6
  2.  Gingerbread Man
  3. Supernova
  4. Long ago when tigers smoked pipes
  5. We Occupy
  6. Let me know
  7. Sometimes making something leads to nothing
  8. It depends on YOU

Connect with Random…: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Soundcloud
Purchase:  Amazon / iTunes

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

Manipulant WGATS art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STILL OPTIMIST – Album Review: “Velvet Season”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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