Electronic future-pop duo Machina X (pronounced Mac-in-a) have been making music for more than four years, yet have never actually met in person. Annie lives in Yorkshire, England and works in education, and Cyrus is a musician/producer living in Myanmar. The two met through an online songwriting course in 2017, and after a few collaborative projects, they officially formed Machina X in early 2018. Together, they create a refreshing and distinctive style of what they call ‘electro-eclectica’ that spans across multiple genres, fusing drum and bass beats with ambient, dreamy psych-pop. They’ve recorded both their original songs as well as terrific covers of such iconic songs like Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.
Their songs have garnered airplay around the globe, both on internet and FM radio stations, including a BBC Music Introducing Mixtape appearance on BBC Radio6Music this past January. They were named Exile FM’s New and Emerging Artists of 2020, 3rd Best Electro Act by Radio Wigwam, playlisted on Best of BBC Upload 2020 and selected three times as ‘Fresh Favs’ on Fresh on the Net, which resulted in their song “Closure” being featured on Tom Robinson’s Introducing Mixtape in February 2021.
Their latest single “Belong to the Night” is one of five tracks that will be included on their next EP, which the duo state will be “a conceptual and very reflective collection of songs – an emotional jigsaw that draws some parallels with the five recognised stages of grief, journeying through different emotional states. ‘Belong to the Night’ focuses on nostalgia, with it’s dream-like piano intro and soft vocals tapping into an in-between state of something that was, but is no longer.”
The hauntingly beautiful song is awash in shimmery synths, sparkling piano keys and gentle break beats, all creating a dreamy atmospheric soundscape, but with a melancholy undercurrent befitting the bittersweet lyrics. Annie’s soothing vocals are bewitching as she wistfully laments of a relationship lost but not yet come to terms with: “I just wanna feel, feel the way it was before. But life’s forever changing – we both know. Time, she finds new ways to slip away, through our fingers. / We don’t wanna find all the precious things we have destroyed. But maybe it is just a matter of time. And happy endings only happen to other people. I don’t wanna see you cry in the rain. I don’t want to see you belong to the night.” Annie and Cyrus’ ethereal vocal harmonies in the choruses are particularly captivating.
For the time being, their music is available for streaming or purchase only on Bandcamp, while videos of several of their songs can be seen on YouTube.
N Pa (the music moniker of songwriter, composer and producer Nicholas Pavoni) is a creative and talented electronic artist based in New Jersey. He began writing and recording music as N Pa Productions when he was only 17 years old, and in 2007 he self-released his first albums Reality | a dream and Reality | a dream: The B-Side (neither of which are now available). Over the next couple of years, he collaborated with numerous vocalists and producers from different genres of music for the recording of his debut album Sight & Sound, as well as producing tracks for several artists. He was later signed to a couple of different London-based independent labels from 2010 to 2014, but in the years since has worked as a solo independent artist.
In September 2013, he independently released his second studio album The Ghost Within: The Tale of Turmoil, as well as a separate EP Unorthodox. Another collaborative effort involving at least 20 other songwriters, musicians, vocalists and producers, The Ghost Within: The Tale of Turmoil is an ambitious concept work built around the main character and protagonist Turmoil, who N Pa states represents “the fight and uncertainty that is in all of us when we’re trying to move on when something tragic happens such as the loss of a loved one.” The story explores the realms of the reality and lucid dreams/nightmares that Turmoil experiences. The antagonists are The Ghost Within (and his minions), and Turmoil’s lost love Melinda(whose name is never mentioned in any of the album tracks).
A summary written by Josh Wright further explains the album’s concept: “Devastated by the love of his life leaving him, Turmoil finds himself drowning in a cesspool of depression and wanting out of his emotional roller coaster ride. The ghost within haunts his thoughts as he feels his grip on sanity slipping away. The listener gets taken on his journey through madness and back again. Join Turmoil in his process musically and evolve as he does, and as the music progresses, so will he.“
N Pa conceived of the overall concept theme, then composed the instrumentals for each track, knowing in advance what part of the story he wanted to tell. He then gave his musical compositions, along with their desired themes, to various songwriters so that they could write the lyrics for each particular track. His goal was to ensure that no two songs would sound the same, and that together, they would tell a fluid story. The songs draw from a wide spectrum of electronic music elements, including EDM, trance, orchestral, dubstep, breakbeat and glitch. The album was a passion project for him, however, he was never able to fully promote it. After reading some of my reviews of other artists, he reached out to me about reviewing the album, even though it was released eight years ago.
The album opens with “Prologue (The Beginning)“, a darkly beautiful and mysterious track introducing us to Turmoil, and setting a perfect tone for the story about to unfold. N Pa wrote the lyrics, which are narrated by Michael Leonard: “Her betrayal turned love to poison. His heart, now tainted with the thought of madness. It burns, like a brush fire in the field of lust. His sanity escapes with every breath. His mind, the only safe haven for him to hide. This, is the tale of turmoil.” The song quickly segues into “Turmoil“, an ominous track which sees Turmoil slowly losing his sanity: “Turmoil, she creeps into your veins. Another world overtaking all the sane.” The lyrics for this track were written and sung by Xenoc, aka Aaron Zafran, a DJ, musician and electronic music producer. I really like the orchestral touches N Pa uses on this track, especially the dramatic strings that give the track a bold cinematic feel.
Continuing with the theme of Turmoil’s mental anguish, “Memories” delves more deeply into his PTSD resulting from his obsession over the loss of Melinda; “I’ll never be the same, cause now I’m lost in you. My memories still haunting me. Running after you. You saw the best in me when I couldn’t see. But now you’re gone, I’m all alone.” Musically, the song is a seven-minute-long EDM track with haunting dubstep undertones. The lyrics were written by Dvir André Tzanua and Meital Patash-Cohen, members of Israeli electro-dance pop act Knob, with Patash-Cohen singing vocals.
“Blistered” sees Turmoil coming to terms with reality, and realizing he must metaphorically walk through fire to get to a better place of rebirth and healing: “It’s all around you, Engulfing, it’s everywhere. It feels like choking, but still you can find me there. I know an answer to clear up this smoky air. Just walk right through it. The fastest way to get you there.” The song delivers more pulsating EDM goodness, with lyrics written by Christopher Volz, lead singer of nu-metal band Flaw, and sung by Volz and Anthony Grisko.
One of my favorite tracks is “Sea of Darkness“, a darkly beautiful and musically complex feast for the senses. I love the mix of psychedelic and spacy industrial synths and hypnotic thumping EDM beat, punctuated here and there by bass drops, trap breakdowns, enchanting keyboards and loads of gnarly distortion. The lyrics, which speak of sinking further into despair – “This sea of darkness Is taking me down, down, down. The depths of the sea are my only escape. Darkness my only light” – were written by N Pa and sung by Richard Bush of the Philadelphia rock band Peace Creeps, whose vocals remind me in spots of Calvin Harris. Additional vocals were sung by Bobby Jasso, and electric guitar was played by multi-instrumentalist and music producer Taylor Barefoot.
Escaping from darkness and moving into the light is addressed on the brief “Interlude (The Battle)“, a haunting orchestral track with gorgeous electric violin played by David Wong. The lyrics were written by N Pa and narrated by Michael Leonard: “The once was is now no more. His fate sealed in this entrapment. He must now seek out the light. Encased in the darkness, the battle for the mind has commenced, and each side is eager to win. But Who will turn out the victor?” The next track “On the Inside” opens with a sample from The Mars Volta song “Ilyena”, featuring heavily distorted and otherworldly vocals, then settles into an exuberant EDM groove with thumping dance beats and spacy synths. The extensive lyrics were written and sung by Frank Pino, Jr. of Massachusetts rock band Waltham, who has a beautiful, emphatic vocal style. The song seems to be a tug of war between Turmoil and The Ghost Within, who gives him an ultimatum to either save himself or be forever lost: “Follow me no compromise, or you’ll be left alone. Come with me to save your mind, or fall forever.” It’s a great track.
Next up is “Release Me“, a beautiful seven-minute long EDM track in which Turmoil pleads with both The Ghost Within and Melinda to free him from his emotional hell: “Release me from all I’m feeling. Release me, and start the healing.” The lyrics were written and sung by Pete Murray of L.A. rock band Lo-Pro (who to my ears sounds a bit like Jared Leto) and Luke Jackson, with guitars and cello played by Jeremy Berghorst. The synths and beats on this track are fantastic, and I really love the guys’ passionate vocals.
Finishing the saga is the dramatic and hopeful “Not Today“, with lyrics written by Michael Leonard and Joshua Spradlin, and sung by FloatstoneHeart, Esper Fiction, and Kate Wild. The lyrics for this track are quite extensive too, and speak to Turmoil’s wanting his life to be better, but still feeling intense self-doubt and uncertainty as to whether he’ll be successful: “All I can show is I am buried under all this debt, but I have not given up just yet. Still all I know is, if you give me just one more shot I will surely fuck it up.” Nevertheless he feels resolved to make it, ending things on an optimistic note: “Oh, time, can’t lay me down to bed cause I’ve got too long left to run. I won’t be floating there with the fishes til I’m done.” Musically, the song reminds me in places of songs by Everything But the Girl and Thirty Seconds to Mars, obviously a very good thing!
Making a concept album can be a tricky undertaking, but with The Ghost Within: The Tale of Turmoil, N Pa has succeeded quite nicely. This expertly-crafted album is a fascinating and engrossing listen, sounding as fresh and current today as it was in 2013. N Pa released a remixed version of the album in 2015 entitled The Ghost Within: Remixed (Part 1), then went on a brief hiatus. In December 2020 he released a single “Nothing In Your Eyes” (feat. Marcie Joy, GloomIsOkay, & Android Invasion), and is working on his next EP Euphoric Absence set to to released in later this year. I look forward to hearing it!
Paris Alexander is a singer, songwriter, composer and electronic music producer based in Brighton, England. He recently dropped a mesmerizing new single “Lost in the City“, which I like so much that I have to share it with my readers. Co-produced by fellow Brighton singer-songwriter and producer Eirene at Alexander’s Blue Door Music Productions, the track is the third single from his forthcoming album Renaissance, due out later this year.
The talented musician has been a long time collaborator with Eirene, as well as Norwegian coldwave/post-punk artist Antipole, with whom he co-wrote, sung on and produced three albums together (one of which, the 2017 release Northern Flux I reviewed). Alexander and Antipole have also worked together on projects with other artists, remixing songs for such acts as Clan of Xymox and She Past Away. Additionally, Alexander has worked with London electro-psych band Leg Puppy on some of his music.
Starting with an assertive stomping drumbeat, Alexander layers a hypnotic bassline, moody swirling synths and bold jangly guitars that immediately make me think of The Cure. Some of the guitar work was played by Simon Meek, with added drums by Martin Meadows. Alexander’s deep baritone vocals have an ominous haunting quality, nicely conveying a rather dystopian vibe befitting the dark lyrics about the cold and anonymous aspects of urban life – how despite living amongst lots of people, we can sometimes feel very isolated and alone. The combination of living in a densely built environment with little or no natural spaces, and feeling overwhelmed by technology, only serves to exacerbate one’s sense of isolation and disconnection, of feeling ‘lost in the city’.
We’re lost in the city Going nowhere so fast We’re lost in the city Little do we care We’re lost in the City Techno, nostalgia, round cars, designed beer We’re lost in the city
Our brains are gone Lost to receivers, transformers, flat screens We’re lost in the city Strobe light flashing away Inner world far from here A world of rich hue
Get lost in yesterday In the city or in our minds Hang on to the thread of hope We’re desperate to find……(repeat)
We’re lost in the city….(repeat) Lost in the city
The darkly beautiful video was filmed in black and white by Eirene along, and in the vicinity of, the Thames River in historic South East London. The black and white tones and brooding skies beautifully enhance the darkwave elements of the music. Particularly interesting is that the scenes are all nearly devoid of people, adding to the overall sense of coldness and isolation expressed in the lyrics.
Electronic music seems to be a genre that’s alive and flourishing, as there are lots of artists around the world still making it in all its myriad forms. I’ve featured a fair number of them on this blog, and one of the more interesting – and eccentric – is British composer and producer 1i2c (one eye to see). Based in Stevenage, a mid-size town north of London, 1i2c is the music project of John Whitaker.
Heavily influenced by the music of some of his favorite artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Depeche Mode, The Prodigy and Royksopp, he’s an imaginative and innovative composer whose music spans across a wide range of styles within the electronica genre. He’s also quite prolific, having produced a tremendous output of music over the past five years, beginning with the release in January 2016 of his debut album The Great Distraction. Since then, he’s released an astonishing 11 albums, as well as numerous singles and EPs. I reviewed his December 2018 album Winter, (which you can read here), and am now pleased to feature his latest release Lockdown Made Me Do It!, which dropped July 27th. It’s a concept album obviously inspired by the COVID-19 lockdown that’s upended just about everyone’s life over the past five months.
All of his releases have essentially been concept albums based on an overriding theme, with the sounds and titles of each track reflecting an element of the album title. For example, Power Struggle contains industrial techno songs with titles like “Electron”, “Incandescent” and “High Tension”, Horror Show features songs with more of a psychedelic goth and darkwave vibe, titled “Monster”, “Lunatic Waltz” and “Doorway to Hell”, and Winter includes appropriately-named tracks like “Cold Season”, “Chill” and “Deep Freeze”. So too with the tracks on Lockdown Made Me Do It!, with titles like “Confusion”, “Virus” and “Keep Your Distance”. 1i2c states that he wants his album themes to paint visual pictures in our minds, further adding “My journey will continue until I run out of ideas.”
The album opens with “Spirit“, a rather enchanting yet mysterious composition with a galloping EDM beat overlain by lush, spacey synths that call to mind some of the late 70s music of European composers Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. The song is really pretty in the beginning, but turns darker as the synths take on a harsher, more industrial tone, as if to indicate that something is amiss. The next track “Confusion” confirms that something is indeed amiss, as the melody becomes more urgent, with gnarly industrial synths and an almost chaotic percussive beat that give the song an ominous vibe. Still, there are bits of beauty to be found in the delicate piano keys as well as the almost cheerful sounding xylophone notes at the end.
“Trauma” is an interesting track, as it starts off scary and harsh, but soon settles into a mesmerizing dance beat, accompanied by a mix of sharp industrial sounds combined with some lovely synths that make for a darkly beautiful song. As our journey through the extended lockdown continues, we find ourselves immersed in “A Dark Place“. To a repetitive whiplash beat and harsh psychedelic synths, a woman’s haunting voice repeatedly asks “Sometimes I wonder why?“, a question I suppose we’d all like some answers to.
“Reality” sets in with a hypnotic EDM beat overlain by pulsating industrial synths that convey a continual state of ennui brought on by endless days of lockdown. Is this the new reality? By now, we’re left feeling like were “Sleepwalking” through life, unable to participate in the many activities involving social interaction that we once took for granted. Musically, the track has more of a rock feel, thanks to electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The intense, buzzing synths are harsher as well, giving off a decidedly menacing vibe.
1i2c has produced a brilliant video for the song that’s at once funny and disturbing. The video starts off with scenes of bright blue sky with fluffy clouds, then transitions to black and white as he’s shown sitting in the middle of a country road, blindfolded with his hands tied and wearing a bad wig and a shirt on backwards like an improvised straightjacket. He then gets up and stumbles down the road in a sort of macabre dance, as if he’s losing his mind. Didn’t I say earlier that he’s eccentric? He eventually makes his way back to his car, gets in, and drives off. As he drives through the village in the rain, the color returns at the end, as if to possibly signify that all is not hopeless and brighter days lie ahead.
And speaking of disturbing and eccentric, 1i2c delivers both in a big way on “Virus“, coughing and hacking his way through the track, sirens wailing in the background. As to be expected, the instrumentals are deliciously dark, harsh and menacing. To try and avoid catching the virus, one must do our best to “Keep Your Distance“, and the message is delivered by a volley of cacophonous industrial synths and dark, skittering percussive beats, accompanied by creepy sounds of buzzing flies.
The terrific video for this song was actually conceived by Nicolai Kornum. He pitched the concept to Whitaker, then shot some footage for Whitaker to compose the music around. The video stars Whitaker and M. W. Daniels, and was filmed, edited & directed by Kornum. Shot in black and white, it opens with a masked man played by Daniels standing on the sidewalk next to what appears to be a bus shelter, reading the newspaper. An ad for Chiquita bananas on the back of the shelter states “we are bananas”, a cheeky little nod to our current societal state. Whitaker walks up to the man from behind and coughs heavily, then turns and walks away. Incensed, the masked man then follows Whitaker through the streets of London, temporarily losing sight of him in a park. He soon sees him walking and resumes following him to a bridge across the Thames, where Whitaker has stopped to take in the view. The man taps him on the shoulder, and as Whitaker turns around, the man pushes him over the railing and into the river. It’s an extreme measure to rid himself of another potential virus carrier!
Those pesky buzzing flies are back in full force on the album closer and title track “Lockdown“. Once again, 1i2c uses razor-sharp industrial synths and sets them to a pulsating electronic beat to create a sense of foreboding and losing one’s mind. It’s the perfect ending to a brilliant album that beautifully captures the stress and emotional trauma inflicted on society by the COVID-19 lock down. He’s a talented and incredibly creative artist, and I strongly urge my readers to check out more of his works.
Dizmation is the solo music project of Irish singer-songwriter and musician Joey Doyle. The talented Dubliner is also front man for the band Fiction Peaks, a wonderful alternative folk-rock group I featured on this blog a number of times in 2016 and 2017. He released his debut EP The Future is a Bubble in March, and followed a month later with the lovely piano instrumental “Paint Clouds”. Now he returns with a new three-track EP Who Are the Experts?, which dropped May 3rd. He’s also a pretty talented visual artist, and created the trippy artwork for the EP cover.
On his Instagram page, Dizmation offers a hint as to the meaning of the songs: “These are our identities being swallowed up by algorithms, to be homogenised.” Each of the three tracks has a completely different music style and sound. The first track “Render” features an urgent piano-driven melody, accompanied by soaring orchestral strings and pulsating waves of distorted synth bass that give the song a beautiful but rather unsettling vibe. Doyle has a lovely voice, which here sounds plaintive and somewhat distant as he sings: “No sense in making sense now / The time awaits all fools / That deeper stain behind us / The truth’s no longer the truth / But sail away so far away / For truth and darkness lies in the light.”
“Shadow Band” is an unusual instrumental track with a fascinating mix of scratchy, undulating lo-fi industrial synths, sharp percussive beats and somber piano keys, punctuated by brief moments of delicate glittery synths. The lovely but rather haunting echoed chorale vocals lend a mystical air to the song.
“Where Life Awaits” is a pleasing folk-style song that starts off with a strummed acoustic guitar and bold hand claps. The music expands to include moody horns and string synths that give the song a poignant feel. Dizmation softly croons the lyrics that seem to speak of trying to break through to someone he cares deeply about: “I tried to know you, to see inside. To light the path where the darkness lies.But every time I’m getting close, all I see is closing doors. But it’s not too far, And it’s not too late. We’re dying to be where, to be where life awaits.”
Who Are the Experts? is a fine little EP that provides a glimpse of Dizmation’s creative imagination and songwriting skills, as well as his strong musicianship.
Update: Dizmation subsequently deleted this music that I spent time reviewing.
It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to meet a real-life music artist up close and personal, but that was the case this past November, when I had the pleasure of meeting Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and musician Harley Bird. He and his girlfriend are good friends with my nephew, and came along with him to my home for Thanksgiving dinner. Harley’s as gracious and kind as he is talented and handsome, and we had a great time discussing and sharing music. He’s just released a dark and powerful new single “Last“, in collaboration with L.A.-based music producer Barren Gates, which I’m thrilled to feature today.
A native of L.A., Harley has been involved with music for many years. He has a beautiful voice and undeniable charisma that make him a successful artist who’s very much in demand. He started out honing his craft by busking on the streets, and was the front man for alt-rock band The Shadow Heist from 2014-16. But his career really took off after he posted his cover of a song he recorded on Instagram. An electronica music producer who saw the post reached out to him about working together on his song that needed lyrics and vocals. Once they released that song, some of the music producer’s peers reached out to Harley about doing collaborations with them, and things spread like wild fire from there. Over the past four years, Harley’s worked with other musicians and producers both in the L.A. area and across the globe on scores of songs that have collectively racked up over 45 million streams on Spotify.
Barren Gates (aka Brandon Lutowsky) is a highly accomplished and prolific electronic music producer and composer who’s also collaborated with numerous other artists on more than 40 songs and remixes. He and Harley previously worked together on their songs “Tomorrow” and “S.O.S.”, and “Last” is their latest collaboration. Barren arranged and produced the song, while Harley wrote the lyrics and melodies, played piano and sang vocals. The song has been released through the indie label Valiant Records.
The song opens with the sounds of Harley’s haunting piano chords, then quickly expands into an ominous and captivating soundscape of dark, spooky synths. Eventually, Barren injects a deep, grinding trap beat into the mix, taking the track into even darker territory. At about 1:17, the beats stop and the music calms back down to an interlude of the dark, reverby synths and bewitching piano keys we heard earlier. The music gradually swells, once again exploding into a repeat of the heavy, crushing trap beats that continue through to the end of the song.
With a vulnerable urgency in his breathy vocals, Harley lays bare his soul to a woman he’s strongly attracted to, fearing she may be toying with his emotions in order to use him, but hoping that perhaps her intentions are sincere: “Draw us in and kick us out. Girl you look so fuckin’ proud. Should I stay or should I go? I’ve gotta chase, I’ve gotta know. / I know I’m not the first guy to try tonight. But maybe I’ll be your last.” It’s a brilliant and stunning track.
Themorethanevers is the music project of Santa Cruz, California-based electronic producer and composer Wayne Brown. Skillfully blending elements of atmospheric chill, trip hop, EDM and soulful R&B, the creative and imaginative young artist weaves lush and mesmerizing soundscapes. As an aside, when I asked Brown about his unusual moniker, he explained, “Themorethanevers is an idea that anyone can be more than they ever felt is possible. Believe it or not, it actually originated from a Daft Punk cover video [of their song ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’] called ‘Daft Hands’. When I was a kid I was obsessed with performing the daft hands video. I realized that if you held your hands a certain way, it’s spelled ‘morethanever’. I fell in love with the name.”
Last year he started releasing a series of singles, beginning with “Simple Things”, followed by the enchanting double single “Seascape/An Angel’s Dream of Sleep”. In early January, he dropped his brilliant little EP Bionic, and now returns with a wonderful new single “Stubborn Dreamer“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song is a collaboration with Oakland-based vocalist and close friend Grace D, and features added vocals by South African rapper Killa-Stryder.
Themorethanevers explains that there’s a specific purpose behind the song: “In ‘Stubborn Dreamer’, we speak of the complex relationships new artists have with their loved ones. It’s often hard for the ones who are so protective of us to see us as the artists we are, refusing to believe in our visions as artists who can make a great impact on our communities. We are stubborn artists, resisting all obstacles that may come our way in order to pursue a dream. Our goal for this track is to encourage people to continue striving for their [own] interests and develop their sense of self. We all have dreams. We just want the ones around us to see our dreams the way we do. Encourage and support the artists you know and love.”
Against an enchanting backdrop of glittery synths, Themorethanevers layers a sensual trip hop beat, which serves to not only drive the song forward, but also pulls us quite willingly into a dreamy atmospheric soundscape. With a sultry vulnerability to her vocals, Grace D softly croons of breaking free of people who hold you back from realizing your dreams and full potential, and knowing that ultimately, one has to be able to make it on their own:
Temporary babies fucking with the fish and crazy
But my focus nearly hazy
But then let them go, unfaze me
Sadness never leaves your face
Dreaming happy endings
How long til you say
I got this on my own
Scared to think of ways to grow
Push me and direct me
Then Killa-Stryder enters, rapping his verses in response to those sung by Grace D. He expresses his regret for mistakes he made in their relationship, but also asks for her forgiveness and a second chance. While acknowledging that he misses the sex, he also states that he misses her on an emotional level, and asks whether she thinks he helped her reach some of her own goals:
Girl I really miss your vibe I’m really hoping that the love is still alive I’m really thinking about being in between your thighs but Please don’t compare me to all the other guys Cause your lovin’ was a blessing I heard you got scared girl I really got the message If I was honest with you then you wouldn’t have left me Your mind is what really I’m really obsessed with
Before we part ways, there’s a few things I gotta ask
Like was it worth it?
Did I help you reach your purpose?
Why does love with someone always hurt me?
The song ends with a flourish of harsh industrial synths, abruptly ending the dreamy vibe. It’s a superb track.
DVR is a studio music project by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olav Christensen. Originally from Denmark, Christensen is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and writes, records, produces and masters all his music. He’s been recording music for a number of years, sometimes as a solo act, but often collaborating with other musicians as well. His songs are very eclectic (I like that!), ranging from electronica to alternative rock to pop, and everything in between. He began releasing singles in 2015, and dropped his first full-length album California in 2016, then followed up with an EP Down in July 2018, which I reviewed, then an experimental all-instrumental album Instantiate in June 2019. Now he returns with an ambitious concept album All Good Things, in which he explores the state of the world today and imagines the possibility of a terrible outcome.
Christensen explains: “All Good Things” is an imagined snapshot of the moment – of our collective realization – of the end of everything. We all knew it was coming at some point in the future but surely not in our lifetime or our children’s, right? It starts with our leaders failing to lead. Too busy enriching themselves, they march us all steadily towards our own inevitable annihilation. There is a moment of clarity, tangible around the world. It is a moment of precious truth when a single looming event on the horizon, threatens to end all of us. Now, when it is undeniable; we each react in our own way. Do we reflect on our lives? Do we find comfort in each other? Do we just have a party and go out dancing?”
The album opens with the instrumental “Prelude – The March Towards Inevitability“, a quirky, experimental-sounding track that sets a somewhat unsettling mood. While at times feeling discordant and chaotic, the song still has a melodic, almost contemporary classical structure that makes for an intriguing listen that’s actually rather soothing. This discordant, experimental vibe continues with the title track “All Good Things“, as DVR employs a rich mix of spacey, psychedelic synths and sounds, accompanied by a driving percussive beat and additional guitar by Bjørn Ginman. With a gentle soaring chorale sung by Rorie Kelly, Nico Z. Padden and Pauline Salotti as a backdrop, he sings: “So this is how things come to pass. All that remains is dust and gas. And all good things come to an end. Whatever you believe in, whatever you pretend. For what it’s worth, we had a good run right down to the end.”
“Special Friends, Arrow of Time, Entropy” is an unusual track, actually three different songs strung together, and running ten and a half minutes long. It feels almost like a classical piece with three distinct but related movements. The first part, “Special Friends”, features more of those quirky, psychedelic synths, accompanied by Christensen’s daughter Hadley Rose’s baby-like electronically-altered vocals, which are mostly unintelligible. They’re kind of endearing, yet have an almost menacing feel when combined with the music. At around 3:30, the track changes to “Arrow of Time” with a transition to smoother, ethereal synths that give the track a dreamy, atmospheric vibe. Some lovely delicate guitar work is provided by David Rolo. At 6:50, the track abruptly shifts to “Entropy” with the entrance of a voice over by Alan Watts: “Memory, is a dynamic system. It’s a repetition of rhythms. Reality escapes all concepts. You, are just as much the dark space beyond death as you are the light interval called life.” From there the song takes a jazzy turn with some cool guitar work by Andy Pitcher and double bass by Dean Johnson. Later, Watts offers up a matter-of-fact conclusion: “Let go of the breath. You can’t hang on to yourself. This isn’t terrible. But it’s just going to be the end of you as a system of memories.”
“Come Inside” has a Peter Gabriel vibe, both in terms of the song’s structure and melody and DVR’s plaintive vocals. His intricate jangly guitar work is terrific, and so is the smooth bass by guest musician Bobby McCullough. Additional female vocals by Rosie Bans provide a nice contrast to DVR’s. One of the lovelier tracks is “Quiet Breakdown“, thanks to swirling synths, sublime guitar work and the enchanting sape, a traditional lute originating from Central Borneo played by guest musician Rayhan Sudrajat, who also played bass. DVR sings “I’ll come at you lightly, I’ll meet you halfway. I’m headed for a quiet breakdown. I think it won’t be long.”
We’ve now arrived at “Here We Are“, where we’ve made the decision to go out in style and just party. My favorite track, it’s an upbeat dance pop song that contrasts with the rather morbid lyrics about going all-out to celebrate the end of humanity. “Here we are, at the apex of humanity. Standing tall before the fall. Falling over each other to witness the final act. The hottest show in town tonight. Everyone dresses sharp for the end of all mankind. It’s going to be out of sight.” Guest vocalist Courtney Hans sounds like a young Madonna, which is partly why I like this song so much. Additional guitar is by Justin Chamberlin, and Bobby McCullough returns on bass.
“All Good Things – Reprise” is a different take on the title track. The song opens with the sound of a phone busy signal, then a mix of glittery and Polynesian synths enter, along with a voice over of Noam Chomsky talking about the existential threat of global warming and how the current U.S. administration has chosen to not only disregard that threat, but actually accelerate the problem. Once his voice over ends, we hear the lyrics now sung by guest vocalist Aradia. The music gradually swells into a rock feel, with a terrific guitar solo by TJ Dumser, and bass played by Michael Friis. The track finishes with the ominous beeps of the Early Warning System.
“This is the Day” closes the album on a predictably dark note, but with a smooth, soft-rock groove that keeps things from being too maudlin. Guest musician Bjørn Ginman is back, laying down a hypnotic and haunting guitar solo that’s so good. DVR croons with a sad air of resignation “This is the end of the night. Your immaculate decay. And if you’ve ever wondered what that was like, what that would feel like, hey, this is the day. This is the end of the road. You’ve come a long way haven’t you?”
All Good Things is a brilliant concept album that artfully shines a light on the precarious geopolitical situation we now face, while presenting it in an entertaining and enjoyable manner though compelling lyrics and intriguing soundscapes. I love that Christensen collaborated with such a wide range of musicians and vocalists to give his music an incredible variety of styles, textures and sounds.
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.
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.