ART BLOCK – Single Review: “Borderline”

Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. A prolific musician, he’s been making beautiful music for several years, and has released multiple singles and EPs since 2015, including his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions album in 2019, and The Basement EP this past March. Last November (2019), I reviewed the haunting title single “The Basement”, which you can read here.

Over the past few months, he’s been releasing remastered versions of some of his earlier songs. One of them is “Borderline“, a beautiful but melancholy song about the lingering pain from a love that’s faded away. The music and lyrics were written by Art Block, who played the electro-acoustic guitar. The Electric and steel guitars were played by Ben Walker, who also produced and mixed the track. Aurora Dolby did the remastering. 

The guitar work is sublime, particularly Walker’s mournful steel guitar that gives the song a bit of a Country feel, as well as creating a stunning backdrop for Art Block’s tender, heartfelt vocals. He has a lovely and incredibly emotive singing voice, with an ability to convey a deep sense of sorrow and despair as he sadly laments: “What must I do? To win the fair alliance with you? Why don’t you shred my soul? ‘Cos our love is so weak and old. Who are the lost ones walking with me? Who are the wounded all I can see? Oh, Borderline in the sea. Oh, cross the line here with me. Oh, Borderline.”

It’s a wonderful song, with a quiet intensity and poignancy that rips at our heartstrings.

Follow Art Block:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

CALLUM PITT – Single Review: “Fault Lines”

Callum Pitt single art

As a music blogger, I’m sent a continuous flood of music by artists, bands, labels and PR reps for my consideration for possible reviews. While a lot of it is decent or even quite good, I cannot possibly write about all that comes my way. But every now and then, a submission stands out among the rest, grabbing my attention or resonating with me in such a way that makes me want to share it with my readers. Such was the case when young British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt reached out to me with his powerful new single “Fault Lines“. I was not familiar with Callum, but after listening to it and his previous songs, I became an instant fan, as I love his music.

Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England, Callum writes folk-inspired alternative and dream rock songs influenced by such acts as The War on Drugs, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. With his soft, pleasing vocals, rich harmonies, beautiful melodies and meaningful lyrics, he’s captured industry attention and built a growing fan base since the release in 2017 of his gorgeous first single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can.” His equally beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed nearly two million times on Spotify, an astonishing feat for an indie artist. He’s followed those two singles with several more over the past three years, as well as a four-song EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. Also in 2019, Callum won the Alan Hull Award for songwriting. The award, named for the Newcastle-born songwriter and founding member of Lindisfarne Alan Hull, recognizes song-writers living and working in the North East.

Callum dropped his latest single “Fault Lines” on July 24th, which was released via Humble Angel Records. Although he’s addressed social and political issues on previous songs, with “Fault Lines” he takes a more direct and outspoken approach. He explains: “‘Fault Lines’ is about polarization. It is directed at the British government and right-wing press who have incited hatred and division in the public through their rhetoric over the past few years in particular, splitting us down the middle as ‘leavers’ or ‘remainers’, demonising immigrants and refugees, and allowing the stain of white supremacy to spread. It encourages ignorance and prejudice to be met with education and conversation.”

Though the lyrics are rather scathing, Callum delivers them with beautiful instrumentation and sublime vocals. His strummed guitar work is really wonderful, and complemented by lovely keyboards and crisp percussion that create a resounding backdrop for his fervent vocals lamenting the current socio-political divide afflicting Britain. The lyrics also describe the situation in the U.S. pretty well, which is why the song resonates so deeply with me. The large ceramic pitcher Callum holds in the photo that’s been broken and glued back together symbolizes our fractured society that can still be repaired if we have the will to come together in open and honest conversation.

Seems like all you do is fight and see the world in black and white
Spinning truths like you can move our minds as wind upon a kite
And we feel so small, like we can’t stem the tide at all
As papers sow the seeds of anger, setting off like a snowball

Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers
Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded
I push my head above the water
Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise

We got fault lines running through our bones
The division grows and leaves these empty holes

We rise and fall under the weight of words that fan the flames of hatred
When we demonise, we form a mind that will not be persuaded
Well I am so small and I can’t change too much at all
I’ve got no answers to these fractures, other than breaking these walls

Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers
Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded
I push my head above the water
Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise

We got fault lines running through our bones
The division grows and leaves these empty holes

Follow Callum:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
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Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

WAITING FOR SMITH – Single Review: “Lines of Love”

Waiting for Smith Lines of Love

Waiting For Smith is the music project of London-based singer/songwriter Harry Lloyd. His music career was born from adversity; while working as a ski instructor in the French Alps, Harry broke his back in two places during avalanche training. Fighting for his life as he was airlifted to the hospital in a helicopter, he had an epiphany that he should dedicate his life to music. He spent a year in bed recuperating and learning to play guitar, eventually naming his music act Waiting For Smith after a drummer named Smith who always failed to show up for recording sessions.

He quickly got to work writing and recording songs, and since late 2017 he’s released 12 outstanding singles that collectively have been streamed over 345,000 times on Spotify. Given his own life experiences, Lloyd is fascinated by change, which has inspired him to write songs that reflect our innate ability to evolve for the better. He says “I’m also a hopeless romantic, so a lot of my songs focus on the different angles on love. My music is like a free form of therapy and hopes that he can bring a similar liberating feeling of comfort and emotion, to make listeners smile and sometimes cry.” His sincere, accessible lyrics are delivered with upbeat, pleasing melodies, beautiful guitar work and his warm, soothing vocals.

Waiting for Smith

Following up on his previous single “Long Life”, a bouncy and heartwarming Americana-infused song he wrote during his recovery, Waiting for Smith released his latest single “Lines of Love” on June 26th. Produced by Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg (Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, Massive Attack, Natalie Imbruglia, Jeff Beck), the song was inspired by a long-distance phone call from a friend Lloyd had one night while walking around King Cross. The song is a plea for someone to keep the faith and persevere through a difficult time in their life, an assurance that a loved one or friend will always be there for them no matter what, and that everything, even the most trying times, will pass eventually. Lloyd states “I want people to feel hopeful when listening to ‘Lines of Love’, to dance carefree and even raise their hands in an almost tribal sense of unity. We can overcome the speed bumps in the road, our lives and our relationships and that is surely where the good stuff comes from – out of the struggle.

“Lines of Love” has a pleasing folk vibe, opening with Waiting for Smith’s soothing vocals accompanied by his gently strummed acoustic guitar. A kick drum enters as he croons “It’s often difficult to over speculate. One minute you’re up and then you’re down, and that’s your day.  It’ll be alright, it’ll be just fine, it’ll be OK. But I guess we’ll never know. So please hold on to my lines of love, they are strong. And I promise that it won’t be too long now, before we have our house down by the sea in the sun.” As the song progresses, soft percussion is added along with his own backing vocal harmonies, giving the track a fullness of sound and a comforting sense of warmth reflected in the hopeful lyrics. It’s a wonderful song, and another winning single from this very talented young artist.

Follow Waiting for Smith:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud/ Google Play 

A BLUE FLAME – Album Review: “The Secret Breeze”

British singer/songwriter and musician Richard Stone – who goes by the artistic name A Blue Flame – tells compelling stories about life, love, heartache and loss through poetic, thoughtful lyrics and sublime melodies. His music reflects an eclectic range of influences from doo-wop and old-school pop to easy listening ballads, folk, jazz and rock, delivered with sophisticated and utterly pleasing instrumentals and his smooth, clear vocals. The passage of time and the challenge of keeping the faith – both in God and oneself – are recurring themes in his songs, and while a lot of his lyrics are sad or bittersweet, they’re also lovely to listen to and rarely depressing, offering glimmers of optimism and hope. Stone also has a wry sense of humor that shines through on some of his songs.

A Blue Flame2

I first featured Leicester-based A Blue Flame on this blog back in October 2016, when I reviewed his beautiful debut album What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains. In January 2018, I reviewed his equally superb follow-up album When Your Whole World Turns to Dust, which he released in September 2017. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the bottom of this page.) Now he’s about to drop his third album The Secret Breeze, set for release on August 17th, and which I’m previewing today.

Stone writes all his songs, sings vocals and plays guitar, and arranges them with assistance from Adam Ellis, who co-produces and also plays guitar. Other session musicians adding their skills to the album included Damon Claridge on drums, Tony Robinson on horns, Glenn Hughes on piano and Hammond organ, Tom Bull on upright bass and Jo Preston on flute. Though some of the songs were written prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, others reflect these trying times, as he explains: “One of the album themes (as ever) is loss, as I suppose that’s what I feel so keenly. I think the brightness of the 1960’s casts a long shadow to mix metaphors somehow. All that hope and positive change seems like it almost never happened.”

The Secret Breeze features 12 tracks, all of them very good to excellent, but I’ll touch on the ones that resonate with me. The opening track and first single released in advance of the album is “With Love from a Friend“, a bewitching song that beautifully showcases A Blue Flame’s superb songwriting and arrangement skills. The delicately strummed acoustic and chiming electric guitars, sparkling piano keys and jazzy upright bass notes are exquisite, and when combined with the languid tempo and lovely vocals, the song has a dreamy, atmospheric quality. The lyrics seem to be about an inability or fear to fully act on one’s true feelings: “I’m writing a letter that I’ll never send. From the edge of my memory, time without end. And I’ll write at the bottom, ‘with love from a friend’.” It’s a gorgeous song, and instantly one of my favorites on the album.

It’s Raining All Over the World” speaks to the sorry state of current events the world over, what with a global pandemic, rising authoritarianism and social unrest causing anxiety just about everywhere. A Blue Flame fervently laments “What have we done my friends? Looks like the end. Now it’s raining all over the world.” Despite the rather depressing lyrics, the music is great, especially the infectious doo wop melody, terrific guitar work and vibrant piano keys.

Another favorite of mine is “Too Fast“, both for its wonderful instrumentals and relatable lyrics. The song starts off with a gentle acoustic guitar, then a marching drumbeat ensues along with Spanish-style guitar notes as A Blue Flame sings of the rapid passage of time (something that freaks me out on an almost daily basis anymore): “We were too young to know what we were doing. Its just how it is. It’s how we all live…way too fast.” Eventually, the music expands to a carnival-like vibe, with exuberant flutes, horns, and more of those lively marching drumbeats that contrast with the pessimistic and timely lyrics: “The world’s a great big mess. It’s mad. And we can’t catch the truth as it rushes by. So, so, so, so sad.”

The bittersweet “The Moon Obscured the Sun” sounds like a song Harry Chapin and Burt Bacharach could have written together. The lyrics speak to a love that might have been, except that the two never had the courage to act on their feelings: “I remember you from a lifetime long ago. We were frightened into silence, by the things we didn’t know. We couldn’t find the words to say a love we should have spoken yesterday.”

Tiny Little Thing” is a poignant anthem about not allowing others to bring you down with their negative thoughts and hurtful words, causing you to curl up into a ‘tiny little thing’ a kinder and gentler metaphor for the fetal position: “These could be the good old days, if you decide to make them so. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, who hurt you, or who you hurt. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing.” I like the jangly guitars and crisp percussion, but the highlights for me are Hughes’ wonderful piano and organ work. And it goes without saying that I love A Blue Flame’s highly emotive vocals.

The standout track for me is the dark and sultry “Your Mother Said Everything Was Beautiful“. It’s a brilliant song, with an edgier vibe than many A Blue Flame’s songs, and I love it. The lush instrumentals are absolutely fantastic, especially the gnarly surf guitars, Hughes’ mournful organ and Robinson’s blaring wah wah trumpet that brings chills. The lyrics seem to speak to the conundrum of how people with the most wealth and power are often the most unhappy in life: “Your mother said everything was beautiful. Everyone had everything. They saw themselves as queens and kings. They had the keys to the secret breeze. They owned the wind in the trees. So please now tell me why, did all the people cry?

Album closer “If Tomorrow Ever Comes” is an interesting and dramatic song about contemplating the end of the world. It has a complex melody and powerful, varied instrumentation that make for a fascinating listen. It starts off like a folk tune, with sounds of waves crashing onto a beach, accompanied by a gently strummed acoustic guitar and reverb-heavy electric guitar chords. An organ soon enters as Stone croons “If tomorrow ever comes, I’ll be waiting there for you. You can take my hand and say ‘we did all that we could do’.” The music continues to build with jangly and distorted guitars, bass, heavier percussion, tambourine and glittery synths, while his vocals become more impassioned: “And if our sorrow ever leaves. We’ll dance into the sky. Looking down upon the earth, we’ll hold each other tight./ But we’re stuck inside a clock, wishing it would stop./ And you can’t tell what is real, when you’re turning on a wheel./ For if the world should end. We’ll not be there my friend./ If tomorrow never comes.” The music rises to a powerful crescendo, then fades as the song ends with the same crashing waves we heard at the beginning. It’s a fine finish to an outstanding and thoroughly satisfying album.

Connect with A Blue Flame:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play 

New Song of the Week – SAMI CHOHFI: “Dirty Your Soul”

Sami Chohfi

Sami Chohfi is a charismatic and talented singer-songwriter with an international pedigree. Half Brazilian by ancestry, he was born in Sacramento, California, and raised in both Florida and Brazil, before relocating to Seattle in 2001. Since 2008, he’s been front man, lead vocalist and guitarist for alternative rock band Blue Helix, and more recently, has been recording and releasing singles as a solo artist, beginning with “It’s Just Me” in April 2019. His latest single is “Dirty Your Soul“, which along with his two previous singles, will be featured on his forthcoming debut album Extraordinary World, due out later this year. “Dirty Your Soul” is a lovely and uplifting song of hope, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Sami wrote the song while vacationing in Lisbon, Portugal in early 2019. He explains his inspiration for the song” Walking the streets of Lisbon, I heard a street musician playing a beautiful song. In a crowd of people I was the only one who seemed to be listening. This reminded me of how being an artist can be a lonely journey. When we reveal our souls all we want is to connect with others and be accepted. If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell him this: ‘While life might bruise your body and dirty your soul along the way, you should remember to always find hope in yourself and fight for a better tomorrow’.

The song has a pleasing folk vibe, with strummed acoustic guitar and the faintest of backing synths and percussion. Although not part of the lyrics, at the beginning of the video these words are shown, providing the contextual basis for the song: “Children are born with a pure and innocent spirit. As we go through our journey and face our obstacles, life may dirty your soul.” Sami has a beautiful singing voice with quite a range, as I’ve heard his raw, impassioned rock vocals on some of the Blue Helix songs. But here, his vocals are mostly gentle and comforting as he sings “And if I knew that life would split me in two, maybe I would not have given so much.  Cause it’ll dirty your soul, It’ll dirty your soul.”

The delightful and colorful video was filmed in various locations in India over a period of 10 days during Holi Festival, an annual festival marking the arrival of spring, and a time of forgiveness, renewed friendship and the triumph of good over evil. The video was directed by Alexandre Suplicy, and shows Sami performing the song with his guitar in various locations, including the majestic New Rangji Mandir temple in Vrindavan, the colorful Patrika Gate in Jaipur, and the Old Delhi Spice Market, where he’s in a cart being pulled by a man on a bicycle. Some particularly sweet scenes are of Sami sitting and playing his guitar surrounded by Indian children, who throw bowlfuls of colored powder on him. Throwing of colored powder is a tradition of Holi celebration, which is often referred to as the ‘holiday of color’. Besides English, the video is also available in Portuguese and Hindi.

Follow Sami:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:   SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  WebsiteGoogle PlayAmazon

ANDY STERN – Single Review: “I Don’t Mean To” ft. Greg Blackman

I recently learned about British songwriter Andy Stern when he followed me on Twitter, and reached out to me about his new singles “I Don’t Mean To.” and “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going“. Originally from London, but now living in Herfordshire, Andy has long wanted to be a songwriter, and taught himself to play the guitar around five years ago so that he could write songs. In his bio, he explains “I have always loved listening to beautiful melodies written by the likes of Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Barry Gibb and countless others. Melodies that take you somewhere unexpected. I also love the stark, simple messages that Phillip Larkin expressed in his poems; he can make you think, ‘I didn’t realise I felt that till now’. These people have helped me write songs about my own life experiences and observations. As we go through life our perspectives on love and close relationships change. This is what I try to capture in my songs.”

Not being a singer himself, Andy looks for talented singers who are touched by his songs and lyrics enough to want to sing them. As such, he has worked with established British vocalists like Greg Blackman and Roisin Quinn to help bring his songs to life. Greg has a beautiful and soulful voice, and happily sang vocals on Andy’s latest singles. Nick Kozuch programmed additional instruments and produced both tracks, and played guitar on “I Don’t Mean To.”. Daniel Arbiter played guitar on “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going”.

“I Don’t Mean To.” is a heartfelt song of apology to a loved one, letting them know you didn’t mean to make things difficult, and hoping they’ll give you another chance:  “You and me know, we know that we don’t get on too easily. It’s nothing new, Me trying too hard to get through to you. Probably drove you away. I don’t mean to.” The song has a pleasing vibe, with strummed guitars, gentle percussion and delicate synths. Greg’s soft, smooth vocals nicely convey the vulnerability expressed in the lyrics.

The second track “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going” is a beautiful song of love to someone who’s love has sustained him. The track has an R&B feel that calls to mind some of the 60s and 70s songs by Soul groups like The Originals, The Dells and Heatwave, thanks to its languid doo wop-inspired melody. The instrumental work is really lovely, highlighted by intricate guitars, gentle drumbeats that sometimes border on military-style, and smooth organ. Greg’s beautiful vocals sound especially soulful here, occasionally rising to a sublime falsetto that reminds me of the late Donny Hathaway as he croons “And it’s you, makes me see what a wonderful world this can be. Like you open it up for me. Happiness is a gift that you give to me thankfully. Cos it’s your love that keeps me going.”

I’m impressed by the quality of Andy’s songwriting and lyricism, and really like both of these outstanding singles a lot. To hear more of his songs, check out his Website and one of the music sites listed below.

Follow Andy on Twitter
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Amazon

BRYDE – Album Review: “The Volume of Things”

Bryde

I was not familiar with the music of Welsh-born and now London-based artist Bryde before my fellow blogger Robert Horvat (whose blog Rearview Mirror is outstanding, so do check it out) asked that I consider reviewing her new album The Volume of Things.  Despite Robert’s confidence, after blogging about music for more than four and a half years, I’m still terribly insecure about my writing, and often feel out of my league when it comes to discussing music. I also often struggle with album reviews, as I find capturing the essence of the songs and what the artist or band is attempting to express through those songs can be a daunting task.

With that in mind, as I customarily do for all artists and bands I review, I listened to Bryde’s back catalog to more fully acquaint myself with her music in order to at least try to sound halfway intelligent in my review of her new album. And I can unequivocally state that I was immediately impressed by her strong, deeply meaningful songwriting, exquisite melodies, richly-layered guitar work and enchanting vocals.

Bryde is the artistic moniker of singer-songwriter and guitarist Sarah Howells, who’s been writing and recording music for over ten years. She started out as one half of alternative folk/pop duo Paper Aeroplanes, who together released a number of wonderful singles, EPs and albums between 2010 and 2015. Also in 2015, she began recording and releasing a series of singles and EPs as Bryde, culminating in the release in 2018 of her marvelous debut album Like an Island. The album is a dramatic collection of 13 stunning tracks exploring darker themes inspired by a break-up, all expressed with a heavier and edgier, yet still fragile, alt-rock sensibility. The lead single “To Be Brave” has been streamed more than 3.2 million times on Spotify.

Now she’s returned with her sophomore album The Volume Of Things, which dropped May 29th. The album was partly inspired by the emotional burnout she experienced following the release of Like an Island, which led her to explore a new paradigm of self-healing. She describes the work as “the calm before the storm – before a new calm I’m working towards.” That said, the record sees her return to a somewhat gentler, more folk-oriented approach, though the tracks still exhibit her passionate songwriting and skill for delivering a rousing, guitar-driven rock song.

This is perfectly exemplified on the beautiful opening track “Silence“. The song opens rather tentatively, with Bryde softly crooning “So, I was restless as a child. Full, like a rain cloud, this desire” accompanied by shimmery guitar notes. Then it blossoms into a glorious, exuberant anthem with driving rhythms and lush guitars as she plaintively sings of seeking inner peace and contentment though the love of another: “Can I come in, can I be part of this silence? And leave here with my heart on the outside. Can I come in, can you satisfy this feeling? I want it to be more than redeeming.

On “The Trouble Is“, Bryde implores to a lover who’s unable to find contentment in life, always feeling that things never live up to their expectations: “I think that trouble is what you want. I think the struggle is just what gets you off. We’re in the same America. Looking for some way to get it right. The things you think to yourself at night.” The song has a comforting vibe, with a wonderful, head-bopping melody, vibrant 80s-flavored synths and a fantastic bass line. But the highlights for me are her sumptuous mix of fuzz-coated and swirling guitars, as well as her captivating vocals that harmonize so beautifully with her guitars.

Done” sees Bryde confronting someone who’s broken her down and killed her spirit until she’s finally done with the relationship:  “…steal all my dreams, insist I ought to have none. Stayed on my hands til they’re numb. My defenses crumble one by one. Stay strong, and stay well. Think I forgot what it was like, this effortless hell. To be here, with you there. Deaden my eyes, poison my mind by daring to dwell in possibility.” She continues with this theme on “80 Degrees“, desperately trying to bring closure to the lingering pain and bitterness over a failed relationship. The biting lyrics are a perfect example of her songwriting brilliance: “And of all the things that you didn’t throw, your fancy gifts were the first to go. Now the charity shops round here know me by name, think I’m insane. / All the things we said we wanted, don’t want them anymore.”

As the album progresses, I’m struck by the superior quality of every track. The hauntingly beautiful “Flies” has a captivating guitar-driven melody that’s absolutely stunning. The music builds to a dramatic crescendo in the bridge – guitars and Bryde’s vocals blazing – then calms at the end as she softly croons the refrain “Negative thoughts divide and multiply like flies.” She taps into her pop-rock alter-ego with the exuberant radio-friendly gem “Paper Cups“. With an infectiously bouncy beat that aims straight for the hips, the song is a delight from start to finish. The chugging, jangly guitars are wonderful, as are her lilting vocals as she sings to someone with whom she’s found comfort: “Call it what you want. Tell me things too loud to hear. Collect all my words in paper cups.” Be sure to check out this cool 360° video.

Bryde takes a darker turn on the haunting, grunge-infused “Hallelujahs” and the moody but beautiful “Another Word for Free“. I love the mesmerizing synths, and her vocals have an almost ethereal quality as she softly croons “Would you be the weight off my shoulders?” She picks up the pace on “Handing It Over“, with fuzz-coated jangly guitars layered over an exuberant uptempo rhythm.

Outsiders” is another hauntingly beautiful track, and one of my favorites on the album. Bryde bares her heart and soul here, entreating to someone she loves who doesn’t share her intensity of feelings: “And I want something more than whatever it is you came here for. You say that no one knows just what they want, but I do. I do. I want you.” The wobbly, mysterious synths are bewitching, and her breathy heartfelt vocals convey a strong vulnerability and sense of longing expressed by the lyrics.

The album closes with the stunning title track “The Volume of Things“. Bryde sings the lyrics that seem to be about the challenges of being completely honest, both to others and to ourselves: “We shed our coats as the temperature rose like a lump in my throat. A voice drowned out by the volume of things I won’t talk about.” Her gently strummed guitar is positively sublime, punctuated by beautiful notes of twangy guitar. Three quarters of the way into the track, a military-style drumbeat enters as the music swells to a sweeping, cinematic crescendo. It’s a magnificent finish to a truly spectacular album.

Follow Bryde:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

BLOOM DE WILDE – Album Review: “The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe”

Bloom de Wilde album art

Bloom de Wilde is a London-based singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist with a fascinating and eccentric avant garde sound. Born in the Netherlands to a Dutch artist mother and an Indonesian father who lead his own traditional Indonesian music ensemble known as Gamelan, Bloom’s experiences growing up in a multi-ethnic environment led her to develop an innovative and imaginative approach to her music. Drawing from an eclectic mix of influences by some of her favorite artists such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Björk, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Nina Simone and Toxic Chicken, Bloom fuses elements of dream, ethno and experimental art pop, folk and jazz with unconventional melodies and a rich mix of instruments to create exuberant, colorful soundscapes that transport us to exotic, faraway places. Moreover, her unusual and distinctive vocal style has earned her comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Kate Bush and Björk.

Bloom De Wilde2

Bloom has been writing and recording songs for several years, and some of her older tracks can be found on her Soundcloud account. In July 2019, she began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Soul Siren”, which won both the International Songwriting Award for best female singer songwriter, and the UK Songwriting Competition for Best Video. That October, she followed up with “Rock, Plant & Animal”, a hopeful ode to nature and earth. That song won the Alternative Friday Award for best Folk & Art-pop track. She later released two more singles “Atlas Cassandra” and “Do & Be”, and on June 12, dropped her debut album The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe.

Released via Dream Society Records, the album features those four tracks plus two others. I asked her why she’s calling it an album when it contains only six tracks. She responded that “format-wise it’s an EP, but content-wise it’s definitely an album.” The songs were written and arranged by Bloom, who sang all vocals and played several instruments including piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, guitar, harmonium, glockenspiel, organ and synth programming. The tracks were co-produced by her and Nick Trepka and Sam Ritchie, who also played some of the instruments. In addition, ten other musicians played various instruments on the album, including flugelhorn, kora, viola, violin, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, tuba and double bass, all contributing to the songs’ lush, dreamy sounds.

About the album, Bloom explains: “These songs have all been inspired by the human beings and cats that are closest to my heart; and as we are all the Universe perceiving itself through infinite subjective perspectives, I feel it is via the Heart that the Universe speaks. In these strange and challenging liminal times, I feel it is possible for us to create a new reality – a life-sustaining harmonious world where people are kind and generous to all earthlings, human or animal, and look after the planet and it’s plant life with love and care. This album is an invitation to celebrate life in all its wondrous, colourful exuberance. Let’s sing, dance, dream, paint, play and meow a new world into existence.

Bloom opens her album with “Soul Siren“, a delightful song of love. Employing an exotic and lush array of instruments, highlighted by soulful trumpet and shimmery notes from a West African kora, she fashions an enchanting backdrop for her quirky vocals. She uses her voice like another instrument, reaching almost childlike high notes as her voice sweetly coos, then soars with an emotion-filled confidence in the choruses.  She sings of her strong emotional and physical connection with her beloved – she’s the siren to her soulmate: “I will show you all the secret hearts I’ve hidden in my chest. We could now do all the things that we always wanted to, but never dared. I’m all yours, your Soul Siren.”

On the pleasing and catchy “Do & Be“, Bloom urges us to just live our lives as simply and honestly as possible, keeping in touch with the real world and the natural beauty around us, and not overthink everything: “Sleepers should be dreamers, oh i know It’s so obvious it drives me crazy.” The colorful and whimsical video she made for the song showcases her creativity and playfulness.

Atlas Cassandra” has a rather dark spiritual vibe, with Bloom sounding like a high priestess as she croons against a dramatic and mysterious backdrop of tinkling xylophone, somber drumbeats and soaring strings. The captivating “Rock, Plant & Animal” is a beautiful, uplifting tribute to earth and nature. She explained her inspiration for the song: “I wrote this song for my children, about this living Earth I love so dearly, and all the precious life upon it. I believe everything in this world has a living essence, a soul, and all is connected. We are all One – Rock, Plant and Animal.” (You can read my detailed review here.)

The exuberant anthem “Animal Spirit” was written in 2018, and in a sense could be considered Bloom’s theme song. It expresses her philosophy – her inherent ‘animal spirit’ if you will – of her reverence for earth and all living things, and how she chooses to conduct her life on this planet, promoting respect for life in all its myriad forms: “I won’t stop, I’ll never give up. I’m inside this eternal movement. I will not be held back by darkness or heaviness. Never, never cease to be driven by the heart, by the art, the magic and the marvellous.”

Pale Moon, Golden Light” is a tender and languid ballad, with a more stripped-down sound consisting of only piano and light percussion. Bloom softly croons to a boy with assurances that her love can calm the savage beast in him: ” What’s the matter with you boy? Madness strikes under your window with a sword. Climbing up & down the ladder. Who is there? I’m there. / Could it be that you’re the one for me?

The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe is an utterly enchanting and eccentric little album that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard by any other artist. Bloom de Wilde is a brilliant, creative and innovative artist, though I can imagine that her style and sound might not appeal to everyone. But if you like music that’s colorful, avant garde and thoroughly unique, you will enjoy this album.

Connect with Bloom:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

CHANTY TRÈS-VAIN – Album Review: “AUTREFOIS”

Chanty Tres-Vain Autrefois

Chanty Très-Vain is a creative, hard-working and super-talented young English singer-songwriter and guitarist now living in Berlin, Germany. Her pleasing, accessible style of music draws upon an eclectic mix of folk, Country, alternative rock and art pop, and her honest, poetic lyrics express sentiments and situations we can all relate to. She released her debut EP Daffodils in 2016, which was produced by her brother Minky Très-Vain, front man of the London scratch rock band Brain Ape (who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog). In 2018, Chanty began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Home” and following up with three more – “Miss My Friend”, “Cup of Tea” and “From Hello”.

On May 8th, she dropped her wonderful debut album Autrefois via her brother Minky’s label Scratch Rock Records. The album was once again produced by Minky, who also played some of the instruments on many tracks, and the drums and percussion were performed by The Siberian Alien (who was drummer for Brain Ape from 2013-15). The album features the four previously-released singles noted above, along with seven new tracks, all exploring such themes as platonic and romantic relationships, cultural identity, heartbreak, and mental health. Chanty states that the album was inspired in part by “times gone by” and her own past: “Each song on ‘Autrefois’ is a moment that changed me in some way. To have these mementos is very important to me, and I’m so glad to have them to remind me of the lessons. They also remind me of the good moments that might otherwise have got lost among the bad.” Autrefois is a French word meaning “once upon a time”.

The first track “Shine” has a rather quirky intro consisting of clicks and what sounds like a kitten or some other baby animal cooing, accompanied by a muffled lo-fi recording of Chanty singing and playing acoustic guitar. After 55 seconds, the song bursts open with fuzzy electric guitars, thumping drumbeats and her clear, fervent vocals singing of a relationship that has survived its ups and downs to become stronger than ever: “Don’t give up, carry on, feel the beauty in the air. Hold my hand, keep me close and I know that I’ll be fine. I know we’ll survive. Cause you and I are stronger than before. You and I shine.”

The moving song “Undone” is a fine example of Chanty’s excellent songwriting and vocal abilities. Over a haunting melody, she’s layered a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, including delicate chiming guitar notes that give the track an enchanting feel during its quieter moments. Her vocals are lovely, going from tender croons to impassioned pleas as she sings to someone struggling with mental health issues: “I know I’m one to talk, I’ve been there, I’m still there… but please, stop blaming the weather. Stop blaming the alcohol. Cause I know you better and your smile is coming undone.”

The delightful “Cup of Tea” speaks to cherishing the little things, both good and bad, about a loved one and feeling really in tune with who they are: “The day you don’t want your morning cup of tea is the day I’ll start to worry. The day you decide to stay inside is the day I’ll drag you out. The little things that annoy me about you, make up who you are. And given the choice, I would not change a thing, flawed as we are.” The song features sweetly-strummed guitars, delicate keyboards and gentle percussion that make for a pleasing listen. Chanty’s produced videos for several of her songs, and one of my favorites is the one for “Cup of Tea”. She designed and created the figures and wonderful dollhouse set for the charming stop motion video:

And here’s a cute behind the scenes video showing her painstaking creative process:

Home” is a poignant song that strongly resonates with me for a couple of reasons. First, I too have lived in several cities I felt close connections with, yet still felt restless while living in each of them. Secondly, I believe that only through people and nations working together in cooperation can we have lasting peace and make progress toward solving some of the major problems facing humanity and the world. I personally mourned both the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. OK, enough of my soapbox.

About her inspiration for the song, in an interview with Music Interview Magazine, Chanty explained: “I am a ‘third culture kid’. I grew up in a culture that is different from my family’s culture. I feel loyalty to both while finding it difficult to answer the question, ‘Where are you from?’ I went through a bit of an identity crisis a few years ago, but found comfort in the fact that no matter what happened, I was still connected to both of them through the European Union. However, in June of 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the union. This inspired ‘Home,’ because the only safety net I had in terms of belonging and the one thing I found comfort in, would soon be gone. The song is me trying to figure out where my loyalties lie, where I should live and where to call home.” She beautifully articulates these sentiments in her lyrics:  “Torn between my family tree and where to find my friends / It’s a country I come back to time and time again / It’s divided, yet united, it’s more than I can say for a place called ‘United’ that tears itself away / Should I go back to the country I never called home? / Go back to the heart of where I feel like I belong?

The video for the song opens with scenes of Chanty feeling restless in her apartment, then transitions to frenetic scenes of six cities she has either lived in or felt a deep connection with: London, Brussels, Brighton, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Berlin.

The bittersweet “Miss my Friend” is one of loveliest tracks on the album, and also one of my favorites. Another deeply personal song for her, Chanty said it describes a very specific evening when she was stuck in a spiral of sadness, anguish, and loneliness. She was missing someone dear to her, but unable to tell them at the time, so wrote a song to express her feelings. The song has a gentle, languid  melody with strummed guitars and restrained drumbeats, forming a somber backdrop for her emotionally-charged vocals that reveal a deep sense of sadness, even breaking at times as she sings “I’d like to think you’re alright now. That you’re healing fine. But there’s one last thing I want you to know. I never wanted to be the source of all that pain. But I tried to do what was right when both of my hands were tied. I hope that you will see that someday, and I just want you to be OK. But I miss my friend sometimes.”

Chanty dials things up a notch on “From Hello“, which has more of a rock feel thanks to a harder-driving beat, more electric guitars, and heavier bass and drums. The faster tempo and her impassioned vocals convey the pain and heartache of realizing a relationship that started out with such promise is now in tatters: “Oh how easy is was to just dive head first. Oh how easy it was to fall for you. Then we woke up and realized that life’s greatest gift is battle lines. To hurry to survive being torn apart, and with one just blow everything fell to dust. Now we see the end of us. We’re drowning at the deep end.”

Promise” is a tender ballad about making a commitment to another to stay with them no matter what, while “Cambre” is a languid, bittersweet song with lyrics reminiscing about happier times. Both songs consist only of Chanty’s lovely strummed guitar and plaintive vocals, though “Cambre” features what sounds like a mellotron later in the track.

It’s back to a harder-edge vibe on “Silence” and “To Goodbye“, both musically and lyrically. Both tracks feature Minky’s gnarly guitar riffs and The Siberian Alien’s frenetic drumbeats, and both speak to problems with commitment and communication that sadly doom far too many relationships. On “Silence”, Chanty laments “You say you never wanna hurt me. But then you just disappear. All those words that you said to me, about how we can make it work. Were those lies, or were you sincere?” “To Goodbye” sees her at the end of her rope, and giving her lover the heave-ho: “I won’t wait around for you to decide when you want to stay and when you want to hide. I won’t stand by and watch you create walls to my heart and tears on my face. I deserve more than the silence you gave. You walked all over the trust that we made. I won’t stick around for you anymore. So take this goodbye. I’ll show you the door.”

Album closer “With You” is an unusual track, with a harsh and reverby lo-fi quality that gives it an unfinished demo feel. Chanty’s echoed vocals sound quite different, and are accompanied by strummed guitar and what sounds like a sharply-plucked string instrument, probably another guitar. I don’t understand why she and Minky chose to record the track in this manner, unless they intended the sound to go full-circle to the album’s beginnings, or simply wanted a more unorthodox sound. Whatever the reason, it pains me to say that I don’t care for it. Otherwise, the rest of Autrefois is outstanding, and a beautifully-crafted album. Chanty Très-Vain is an extremely talented and imaginative musician, lyricist and vocalist, and listening to her songs is a real pleasure.

Follow Chanty:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple Music 
Purchase AUTREFOIS at  Scratch Rock Records

dizmation – EP Review: “Who Are the Experts?”

Dizmation

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.

Follow Dizmation:  TwitterInstagram