MISSIO – Album Review: “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man”

MISSIO

It’s not often that I love an entire album at first listen, but that was exactly the case with The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man by MISSIO.  I was literally stunned by this brilliant and totally original collection of songs the instant they hit my eardrums, and the last time I can remember that happening to me was four years ago with twenty one pilots’ Blurryface. As far as I’m concerned, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is a certifiable masterpiece, and hands down the best album of 2019. I can listen to it over and over, and it knocks me for a loop me every single time.  It was released this past April, and I’m finally getting around to sharing my adoration for it.

MISSIO’s unique and eclectic sound is a glorious mash-up of alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dream pop, drawing the best from all three and more to create some of the most exciting and meaningful music I’ve heard in a while. Based in Austin, Texas and comprised of singer-songwriter/producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler, MISSIO burst onto the music scene in 2017 with their outstanding debut album Loner. The album generated several singles, including “Middle Fingers” (my first introduction to the duo) and the mesmerizing “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea”.

Their name, originally chosen by Brue who first named his solo act MISSIO, comes from the Latin word for “mission.” It had special meaning for him, as it represented the period in his life when he was recovering from addiction, and he even had the word tattooed on his arm. Many of the tracks on the latest album deal with drugs, emotional pain, and the struggles of overcoming addiction in general. The songs were written by Brue and Butler, with assistance on most tracks by Dwight A. Baker, who produced and mixed the album. Several fellow Austin musicians also contributed to some of the tracks.

The album kicks off with “Underground“, a killer track that instantly hooked me with its irresistible hip hop beat, infectious melody and trippy vibes. The way MISSIO incorporates a rich array of synthesizers, instruments and textures to create a dense, sweeping soundscape is really impressive, and I absolutely love Brue’s distinctive vocal style that registers in the higher range, just below a falsetto. He earnestly croons of his frustration that success and money haven’t brought the happiness and peace of mind he expected: “I’m down. I should be on top, but I’m always underground. Things are lookin’ up, but I’m making myself drown. My anxiety and money just compounds. I’ll be right here, just waiting underground.

Next up is “Temple Priest“, a bombastic orgy of trap heaven. In the parlance of today’s youth, this song is fucking SICK! The track opens with Brue shrieking “That’s why they call me temple priest, muthafucka!“, then we’re hit upside the head by a volley of grinding industrial synths and crushing trap beats. Brue snarls the lyrics that (according to his tweets) speak to his feelings about “American religion and all the judgmental assholes out there. Find truth on your own terms. Don’t ever feel forced to believe something because of your upbringing. Don’t listen to artists/celebrities forcing shit down your throat either.” Amen to that! The track features some fine guest vocals by Austin rappers Paul Wall and Kota the Friend. It’s one of my favorites on an album filled with favorites!

Before I’m able to fully process the brilliance of “Temple Priest”, MISSIO unleashes “Rad Drugz” on my senses, and I’m now giddy from the sheer pleasure of listening to such music excellence. Its exuberant, hard-driving EDM beat and infectious melody sharply contrast with the blunt lyrics about being hopelessly addicted to drugs and the highs they bring. Brue laments “Come on let’s be realistic ’cause I am not a role model. I’m just trying to get through my day. I take for granted the best that I’ve been handed. And not to make excuses, but what would help is my medicine./I can’t get enough. Too high to get up. I keep fucking up my life with rad drugz!” The dark and violent video shows the guys partaking in a brutal torture experience provided by the Rad Drugz Corporation, seemingly wanting to undergo pain and suffering as a form of sado-masochistic punishment for their addiction.

By the time “I See You” arrives, I’m helplessly in love with this magnificent album – and band! What a gorgeous song this is, at once sad yet hopeful, and brimming with emotional intensity. Lush, swirling synths and beautiful piano keys provide a dreamy backdrop for Brue’s stirring vocals. The heartwarming lyrics can be interpreted as being directed either to a loved one or to oneself, reassuring the intended that they are understood, supported and loved despite their shortcomings. “I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. What a mess you’ve made of everything. I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. And I’m hoping that you will see yourself. Like I see you./Even when you cry, and even when you’re shy, you mean everything to me. Even when you lie and even when you hide, you mean everything to me.” “I See You” is currently enjoying a long stay atop my Weekly Top 30, and is one of my favorite songs of the year.

MISSIO strikes a chord with me on the provocative “P.O.L.I.T.I.C.S.“, a denunciation of the divisive political climate in America today. To a rapid, head-banging beat, Brue sings “I don’t drink the Kool-Aid ’cause I’m out of my mind. /I don’t need your attitude, your tone is rude. Did your mama give you that mouth?/ This friendship is worse than P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S.” The breakdowns, deep bass beats and synth manipulations on this track are fantastic. “Dizzy” is a dark, trippy number, with distorted industrial synths, deep bass and pounding drumbeats. The lyrics speak to the irresistible seduction of substance addiction, no matter how bad it is for you: “I’ve been feeling self-destructive but I love it. I can’t help myself. Your taste is so seductive. I’m feeling dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy.

The great songs just keep on coming. “Misfit Lunatic” serves up heavy industrial synths and some deep-ass bass drops, and the seductive little Middle Eastern synth melody is a nice touch. Another favorite is “Audi A4“, a deliriously uptempo song about the joys of driving down the highway with the windows down and blasting your favorite tunes. “Music makes my heart beat on its own. Cancels out the issues back at home. I like to roll the windows down ’cause you know I wanna make a scene. Gotta press repeat of some Snoop D-O double G!

Keeping the vibe on an upbeat note, “Shimmy” is a sexy trap song about getting drunk and getting it on. “3 A.M., the room is spinnin’, we should do some sinnin’. You know I wanna, wanna. Make this feeling last forever, we should be together. You know we’re gonna, gonna.” The song was co-written by MISSIO and Austin hip hop duo Blackillac, who also provide some terrific vocals.

Things turn introspective on “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To?“, a beautiful but bittersweet song that touches on the struggle couples experience when they drift apart. Man, the lyrics are so fucking relatable, describing feelings I’ve certainly felt more than once myself: “I am lonely when you’re in the room. And I’m tired, too. It’s the distance that’s dragging us down. I’m not blaming you. It’s like we’re screaming with no sound.” The dreamy synths give the track an 80’s new wave vibe reminiscent of songs by The Psychedelic Furs, A-ha and Joy Division. It was co-written by MISSIO and Austin indie rock band The Wind and the Wave, who also provide lovely vocals that harmonize beautifully with Brue’s.

One of the darkest songs on the album is “Black Roses“, in which Brue delivers a scathing denunciation to an abusive mother and adulterous father: “I am your son, you are my mother. I’m on my own, you’re not my lover. Don’t tell me how to live. I am your son, you are my father. You led us like lambs on our way to the slaughter. Who do you think you are?/ I am your son, she’s not my mother. You think she’s perfect, to me, just another. Do you think it’s okay? But I am your son, for worse or for better. Despite the fact that you a homewrecker. I guess that’s who you are.” The menacing synths and thunderous percussion perfectly dramatize the anger and resentment expressed in the bitter lyrics.

The powerful title track “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man” was inspired by a time MISSIO were driving in a snowstorm in Washington state. Despite feeling exhausted and his voice sore, Brue marveled at the beauty of the landscape he saw from the window, and quickly became grateful for what they had achieved with their music. The words “the darker the weather, the better the man” came to mind as he thought about his introvertedness and tendency to self-sabotage. According to Butler (as quoted in an article by Substream Magazine), the message they wanted to convey in the song is “Sometimes the world might deal you a rough hand, but if you can find purpose in [dark] times, to make yourself a better person and come out all the better for it, then that’s pretty much the best place you can be in.”

The album closes with the hauntingly beautiful instrumental “Esperanza En La Oscuridad“, which is Spanish for “Hope In The Darkness.” It’s a dramatic and stunning composition that feels almost spiritual, with glittery synths that build to an explosive crescendo, bringing chills to my body and tears to my eyes, before calming down to a whisper at the end. It’s a spectacular conclusion to a spectacular album that I cannot gush about enough. As I stated at the beginning of this review, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is one of the finest albums I’ve heard in a very long while. MISSIO is one of the most innovative and creative music acts around today, and they’ve earned a spot among my favorite bands, quite possibly of all time.

Connect with MISSIO:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Google Play / Amazon

New Song of the Week: DEF STAR ft. J SLAY – “Bang Bang”

Bang Bang

Regular readers of this blog know I seldom feature rap or hip-hop music, but I have a good opportunity to remedy that situation by selecting the newly-released single “Bang Bang” as My New Song of the Week. The song is a collaboration by Chicago-based hip-hop artist Def Star and rapper J Slay, and if I was 20 years younger, I’d say it was pretty dope. Sadly, at my age, I’d feel like a dope using that word, so I’ll simply say it’s a great tune. The track was expertly produced by Chicago music producer and beat maker Clark Make Hits.

The song opens with an ominous keyboard synth, then once the beat kicks in, Def Star begins rapping the verses that speak to making it as a successful rap artist.

You’re gonna go, proceed with caution
You’ll probably get carsick
Grab a salad and toss it
We always on drip
Leaky faucet
Everywhere we go, we break the scene
We turnin’ that flow into dough, til we break the bank
Bang bang

But then he discusses the demons and self-doubt that can sometimes engulf you, hindering your path forward:

Not even psychiatrist can get in it inside my head
Isn’t this like a trip
Can anyone remind the kid
When did I buy the ticket to this ride again
I’ll be talkin’ to God again
All about my demons
And why did I invite ’em in
I was thinking it would be nice to see a little bit of light again
Take a deep breath, drink some water, take a multi vitamin
Givin’ it all I got
It’s all I got left
It’s my ticket outta here

J Slay joins in on the action in the second verse, rapping about resolving to keep on pushing forward against the odds, and issuing a warning to those who might dare to stand in the way:

Def and Jay got more to say
The more they hate
Our coordinates are set to destroy your day
No more hiding from the pain that I face
Embrace it
We break the bank
Explosives, detonate and cause wreckage
Important message
We drippin’ water torture methods are more than ready
You’ve done just stepped on a hornet’s nest
For more or less, rippin’ it apart until there’s no more left

Though fairly sparse, the moody music and languid beat are both excellent, providing a captivating backdrop for Def Star’s honest, introspective lyrics, beautifully expressed through his and J Slay’s rap verses. Def Star is a terrific rapper, and his flow and delivery are flawless. I like how his and J Slay’s vocals nicely complement each other. Good job guys!

Connect with Def Star on Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / Pandora / YouTube

JADED JANE – Artist Spotlight & Interview

I’ve commented previously on this blog about my continual amazement at the sheer magnitude of enormously talented musicians around today who are creating incredible music. In such a seemingly overcrowded industry, it’s inevitable that so many of these musicians and bands struggle to get their music heard, despite the ready availability of a staggering amount of it that’s free for the taking (which as we all know is another entire set of issues). That’s where music bloggers like myself come in, writing about indie artists we like and helping to spread the word about their music and hopefully gain them a few more followers and fans. With that in mind, today I have the pleasure of introducing to my readers the remarkably talented and undeniably charismatic Olsson brothers Axel and Adam who call themselves Jaded Jane.

Jaded Jane 2

Originally from Gothenburg, Sweden, but now split between Gothenburg and Glasgow, Jaded Jane seeks to celebrate humanity and diversity through their music, writing compelling songs with positive, life-affirming lyrics. Drawing upon a wide range of influences such as pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip-hop, they create beautiful, piano-driven melodies and lush soundscapes. Since 2015 they’ve produced four excellent albums, and are now recording their fifth, due for release later this year. I reached out to Jaded Jane to talk about themselves and their music, and was happy Axel agreed to share some of their story.

EML:  Hello Axel. Thank you for agreeing to talk with me. First off, by way of introductions, tell me a little about Jaded Jane – when did you guys form the band, and how did you and your brother Adam decide on the name “Jaded Jane”?

Axel:  Thanks Jeff. I am super glad to be part of your music blog. Jaded Jane and the musical adventure of brothers Axel and Adam Jane Olsson began in our early youth, being the sons of musician Christer Olsson (Plums, Noll 31, Scandinavian 5) and a mother with a passion for music. Growing up to the sounds of Motown, The Beatles and Michael Jackson, to name a few, it was only natural for us to develop a keen sense of melody, harmony and originality. We grew up in the Gothenburg, Sweden suburb of Hammerhill, and our path eventually lead us to New York & Los Angeles, where we spent ten years back and forth immersing ourselves with some of the most inspiring musicians on Earth. The name Jaded Jane came to me in a dream in 2013, when I was living in New York. The name deals with the jaded aspect of the modern human being. Jaded Jane is also a song from our debut album Diversity, and is about life, death and meaning. The name ‘Jane’ has an androgynous quality that is inclusive and gender neutral.

EML:  What prompted you to make those moves from Sweden to Los Angeles and New York, and why did you choose to leave New York for Glasgow, rather than return to Sweden? Does Glasgow have a more thriving music scene?

Axel:  It’s been a long road moving back and forth to New York, Los Angeles and now Glasgow. We came home to Sweden for a few years after New York, and then we ended up collaborating with a few Scottish artists which led us to Glasgow. It is a vibrant music city, with areas that remind me of Brooklyn, NY.  When you are moving to a new city you are putting yourself in a whole new world, which sculpts you into another story and adventure, I have always been excited about learning and growing on all fields as a human being. So I am now in Glasgow, while Adam is still based in Gothenburg.

EML:  Your music is beautiful and uplifting, and your songs offer positive, life-affirming messages. What is the inspiration behind your music and sound?

Axel:  That means a lot to hear that the songs & music spread those messages. We feel that the music we create is greater than us and has the power to heal by touching people on a deeper level. By being brutally honest with ourselves, we allow others to feel that side of us. The things that are the most personal are ultimately the most universal. My inspiration comes from experiencing all of life’s challenges, both the highs and lows.  From a young age, me and Adam starting asking questions about our society, and felt an urge to share our musical stories with other people in hope that it will touch and lift someone who is low.

EML:  Do you both write the songs and lyrics together? And do you both play all the instruments and synths yourselves, or do you work with other session musicians to help create your music?

Axel:  I have written all the songs on the albums released thus far, and we do play all of the instruments. However, on the new album “117” we’re currently working on, Adam is featuring two of his new songs. Adam plays fretless bass, guitar and sings, and I play the piano, synthesizers and also recording and producing the tracks. We previously collaborated with guitarist Mike Stern on our first album Diversity, and L.A.-based soul singer Frank McComb on The Puzzle, an album we made prior to becoming Jaded Jane. But our journey really took off in a new direction while meeting our third member Åke Linton, a sound artist from Sweden who is now part of creating the soundscapes and sounds of Jaded Jane.

EML:  The track “Crystal Stair” on your latest album Salvation is an intriguing song. How did you discover that speech from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and why did you choose to build a song around it?

Axel:  The whole Salvation album was recorded live in a studio in Gothenburg, on Queen’s old console and the song “Crystal Stair” was just a small improvised part that came from one of the sessions. Both me and Adam have always been inspired by Martin Luther King, and we thought it’d be cool to have his voice on top of the melodies and sounds of the improvised piece.

EML:  I was touched by your recent Instagram post about your struggles and frustrations with trying to make it in this very tough music business. Your music is so wonderful, and you guys need to be heard by a larger audience, which is why I’m happy to feature you on my little music blog. That said, one of the issues I think is that today, most people seem to prefer hip-hop, Country or rock music, rather than beautiful, piano-based easy listening compositions like yours. Yes, there is still a niche for your genre of music, and there are successful artists making music similar to yours such as James Blake and Sufjan Stevens, but they often collaborate with hip hop or other artists to appeal to a wider audience. You’ve stated that you would like to collaborate with other artists, and in fact have a couple of times, like you did with rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) on the track “Life” from your album “One Way”, but that it’s been a struggle getting more artists to collaborate. Any thoughts?

Axel:  You are very right, It is a big challenge to get people to listen to a full song nowadays, even though you spent your whole life building and working on your craft, The masses seem to react to the loudest playing songs. I am looking forward to writing and recording more with similar minded artists, The struggle in paying rent and earning money for food has and I am guessing will always be there when it comes to true artistry, I am a full time busker / street performer in Glasgow at the moment, and that has definitely made me humble in how hard it can be to earn money; it gives you a whole new respect for how to use them.

The music business is a tough field to be in, I have always felt and I know Adam felt it too. We are outside of the business, however, we the songwriters and artists are what makes it possible to make a business out of it, so I am determined to find out what’s going on.

EML:  Your press release states that you’re managed by Scirca Music Group. Some artists & bands choose to hire a management company or PR firm to help them, while others wish to do everything themselves. Have you found it helpful to work with a manager?

A year ago I reached out through social media in search for a music publisher and manager, which got me in contact with the newly started Scirca Music Group. It has been a learning experience for both me and Adam and for the management company, as they are just starting out. I would like to encourage other artists to learn about how it all works, and how it is built up, that is the key to understanding and hopefully knowing where you want to go from there.

EML:  What are you guys working on now? Any plans for another album?

Axel:  As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been recording a new album “117” to be released later this year. It’s being recorded and mixed by our Sound Artist Åke Linton. I’m singing & playing on an old upright piano, and Adam is playing a Spanish nylon guitar & also singing some vocals. The last pieces of the songs on ”117” are being recorded with string arranger & producer Mattias Bylund adding a cello to the songs by cellist David Bukovinszky. Last but not least, I am laying down the bass lines on a 1976 Moog Synthesizer and warm analog pads on a 1980s Korg Polysix. We just shot the first music video for our upcoming single ”Trapped”. It was exciting and it turned out great.

EML: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Jaded Jane that I’ve neglected to ask?

Axel:  Yes, we want to share our message of “Ignorance Separates, Music Unites”. We want to take a stand even more, making it clearer that we are for all human beings,  especially the ones without a voice. Equality, Humanism, and Reverence for the Beauty and Majesty of Nature are all subjects we care about.

We are from the “hood” of our hometown and we wish to display a different side [to that part of the Gothenburg area] than what is mainly portrayed in media with their car fires, etc. The growth of racist/nationalistic political parties such as SD* is something that we want to be an antidote for. We’ve always stayed clear of politics in our music but when it comes to these ethical & moral values we want to be very clear that we stand for diversity, equality and lifting positive stories about the “hood” which almost always have been a place of brotherhood and acceptance for us. Yes there are problems, but there need to be a more nuanced and balanced portrayal in media. We want to do our part as a counterweight to the negative.

* SD stands for Sweden Democrats, ironically, a socially conservative and far right-wing populist political party.

So lets dig a bit into Jaded Jane’s wonderful catalog and get a feel for their music. They released their debut album Diversity in 2015, a genre-bending work featuring eight tracks drawing upon pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip hop elements. As the title suggests, the songs address uplifting themes of embracing diversity and working together to make the world a better place. Every track on the album is superb, but my favorites are the lovely ballad “Jaded Jane”, the anthemic “After”, “Meaningful Destiny”, with its beautiful piano and shimmering guitar, the funky “The Cure”, with guest vocals from rapper KJ Denhert, and the soulful and fun “Walk the Walk”. Their musicianship and knack for writing infectious melodies that hook us in right from the start are impressive, and I love Axel’s casual vocal style that frequently breaks into a crooning falsetto.

In February 2017, they released their fantastic second album One Waywhich saw them branch out and further experiment with their sound by incorporating more complex and multi-textured synthesizers, deep bass lines and trap beats into their soulful mix. The highlights here are “Tell Me What”, with spacey synths and a funky bass line that’ll rock your world, “Breathing”, with colorful psychedelic synths and guitar chords that are fucking magical, and “Life”, a brilliant track featuring killer rap verses by British rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) that beautifully complement Axel’s falsetto vocals. The uplifting lyrics speak of not letting your past troubles define you or keep you from realizing your dreams: “Living life just watch me risk it, made mistakes but don’t regret ’em / I put on a happy face to hide where I come from / Put your knife down, listen to my rhyme / Everything’s gonna be alright.

Only eight months later, Jaded Jane dropped yet another album Always & Forever, once again going off in another direction with their sound. This time, Axel’s beautiful piano playing takes center stage, with the songs all featuring sublime piano-driven melodies that take their music toward an ambient, easy-listening vibe. In describing his inspiration for the album, Axel wrote as if speaking to his father: “When I sat down by the piano I could feel your presence. I let the songs happen the way they were meant to. Through music we can communicate with another world, here it is, and it is for you, in the here and now and in the hereafter.” The beautiful title track “Always & Forever” is a moving tribute to their father. “Hard to believe that you are gone this time. Oh give me strength to carry on. Easy to smile when you are by my side. You’ll live forever in my heart.” The video was filmed on a snowy night in Gothenburg.

The opening song “Serendipity” is a serene, 13-minute long piece of atmospheric heaven, with extended runs of delicate piano, guitar and whispery synths that are mesmerizing. The song begins as an instrumental-only track that seems to end at around 3:45 minutes, then starts back up at 4:00, this time with Axel’s tender vocals singing the praises of their father: “It was your light. It was your love, that shone through all of us.” This portion of the song ends with a gradual fade-out of reverb at around 8:45, only to start back up at 9:30 with sparse piano keys, accompanied by strummed guitar and whispery synths that throb until the end of the song.

Jaded Jane Salvation

Their fourth and most-recent album is the gorgeous Salvation. Released in November 2018, the album continues with what Jaded Jane refers to as their “exploration of soulful soundscapes of consciousness” that we loved on Always & Forever.  The entire album flows like an atmospheric river of mesmerizing piano-driven sound, enveloping and transporting us to a comforting place of love, peace and serenity. The beautiful title track “Salvation” has simple, spiritual lyrics that speak to finding peace of mind and salvation in the hereafter: “I’ll stay right here, through my last tears. Ain’t got nothing left to fear. Salvation. It’s the longest street, I will follow thee to another space and time. I will walk this road, never looking down, to the place that we’ll call home.”

Another standout track is “Ethereal”, which lives up to its name with breathtaking atmospheric music. Axel’s piano work is absolutely stunning, backed by sweeping glittery synths, gently thumping drumbeats and Adam’s subtle guitar notes.

“Orion” is a beautiful instrumental track, consisting of only delicate piano, gentle drumbeats and whispy ambient background synths. Though over five minutes long, it seems much shorter. The track segues uninterrupted into album closer “Crystal Stair”, with a continuation of the gentle drumbeats and whispy synths. At one minute, words from a famous 1960 speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Spelman College enter: “Your life’s blueprint must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice. Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them. Don’t allow anybody to cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice. However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live.

The track encapsulates the message of love, tolerance and social justice that Jaded Jane seeks to spread by Salvation, and with all their songs. I greatly admire these guys, both in terms of the wonderful music they make, and the positive vibes they spread through their kindness, love and joy. I cannot wait to hear their new album.

Connect with Jaded Jane:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

iLLPHONiCS – Double-Single Review: “Dv8, Pt. 1”

illphonics dv8

As I’ve noted in other recent posts, I’ve been revisiting quite a lot of artists and bands this year that I’ve previously reviewed on this blog, as many of them are releasing new music in 2019. The very first full album I ever reviewed, way back in March 2016, was the superb Gone With the Trends by St. Louis, Missouri-based hip hop-fusion band iLLPHONiCS. Hard to believe it’s been three years! (You can read that review here.) They followed up a year later with Purple Piano Society, named one of St. Louis’ best albums of 2017 by The Riverfront Times, and released a digital 45 double single “X-Rated” in May 2018, which I premiered on this blog. They now return with a new double single “dv8, pt. 1“, which represents somewhat of a new direction in sound for the collective. 

iLLPHONiCS formed in 2006, and to this day all five founding members are still with the band, a rarity among acts with that long a track record. During that time, they’ve built quite a large and loyal following throughout the St. Louis region, if not the entire Midwest. Their infectious and eclectic sound incorporates elements of hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and funk, which they deliver through high-energy, charismatic performances. The band members include lead singer/emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris, Keith Moore (keyboards, backing vocals), Kevin Koehler (lead guitar, backing vocals), Simon Chervitz (bass) and Chaz Brew (drums, backing vocals).

For their latest project, which they’ve dubbed “dv8” (for deviate), they’ve teamed up with famed producer Tony Visconti (who over the past 50 years has produced scores of albums for numerous artists, including many for David Bowie and T. Rex). The first phase of this project, entitled “dv8, pt. 1” includes two tracks – “Work” and “Make Your Move“. About the project, the band states “You have a choice. Do what’s already been done or dv8. Take the road less traveled with us.” Their new songs retain their soulful grooves and funky hip hop beats, but employ more pronounced synths, lending a more expansive vibe.

The first of the two tracks “Work” is darker and edgier than many of their previous tracks. Opening with spooky synths that set an ominous mood, a hard-driving trap beat soon kicks in, and this song is off and running. The variety and richness of the synth sounds, combined with the awesome beat, deep bass and sharp percussion, make for a dramatic and exciting listen. Morris’s rapid-fire melodic flow is flawless as he raps the verses, practically spitting out the pessimistic lyrics that speak to the struggle and drudgery of trying to earn a decent living: “Yeah, I’m on that clock. I put in that work. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, when I’m covered in dirt. Tryin’ to get to a meal.”

The guys change things up dramatically with “Make Your Move”, a languorous and sexy tune with an old-school R&B vibe, but delivered with a fresh, updated approach. Guest vocalist Lena Charlie, who’s previously collaborated with iLLPHONiCS on several of their songs, provides her silky vocals on this track, harmonizing beautifully with Morris’s smooth rap vocals as they sing about making plans to get together for some serious love action: “Girl it’s your move. Tell me what you gon’ do. / Hey boy it’s your move. Tell me what you gon’ do.” I love the slow beat and sultry synths, and the funky bass and tasty electric guitar are so fine, as are the guys’ backing harmonies.

I’m loving these two songs, and can’t wait to hear more from their forthcoming album. Have a listen:

Connect with iLLPHONiCS:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

BLACK BEAR KISS featuring LEO GOLDEN CHILD – Single Review: “Follow Me”

black bear kiss follow me

Black Bear Kiss is an alternative indie rock band from the West Midlands/Shropshire region of England who’ve built quite a loyal following since forming in 2016. Comprised of Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on lead guitar, Rob Jones on rhythm guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums, they released a fantastic debut single “Hooks” in April, 2018, then followed three months later with another banger “Secret Side”. (I reviewed both songs, which you can read here and here). Now they’re back with their third single “Follow Me“, which sees the band going outside their usual rock’n’roll comfort zone, adding a hip hop element in a collaboration with acclaimed Birmingham rapper and motivational speaker Leo Golden Child. And they succeed quite nicely, delivering a lively multi-dimensional track that’s fresh and fun.

The song speaks to pressures of modern day life and how we cope with constantly changing expectations, delivered by an upbeat rock groove with hip hop elements. The band’s signature bass-driven, guitar-heavy sound is on full display here. Both Chris and Leo are great vocalists, and Leo’s rap verses meld beautifully with the rock melody. Leo asks “How we sounding?” to which I emphatically answer “Awesome!”

The wonderful video is filmed in a what appears to be a hallway of an industrial/commercial building, with alternating footage of each of the five band members and Leo shown performing the song. They all clearly appear to be having fun, and their strong natural charisma shines through, with band front man Chris Leech achieving heartthrob status. Leo’s big smile at the end perfectly expresses my feelings for both song and video. I love this band!

Catch Black Bear Kiss at one of these upcoming shows:

February 2      7:00 pm    The Station, Cannuck, England
February 22    7:00 pm    Bath Uni Student Union, Bath, England
March 2           7:00 pm    Boars Head, Kidderminster, England
March 8           7:00 pm    O2 Academy, Birmingham, England
July 27            10:00 am    Shropfest 2019

Connect with Black Bear Kiss:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their songs on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes cdbaby

ITHACA BOTTOM BOYS – Album Review: “Ithaca Bottom Boys”

Ithaca Bottom Boys album

Being EclecticMusicLover, I love discovering interesting new music, so it was my lucky day when I was contacted by Leo Maniscalco, a member of the band Ithaca Bottom Boys, about reviewing their album. Hailing from the bucolic college town of Ithaca, New York, the five-piece formed seven years ago while still in high school, and ever since have been honing their craft by playing together and writing songs. On September 1st, they dropped their eponymous debut album Ithaca Bottom Boys, and what a delight it is! Their infectious eclectic sound is refreshing, surprising and lots of fun as they weave stories about the travails of life, love, substance abuse and relationship hell.

Comprising the Ithaca Bottom Boys are Tenor Caso (drums, vocals, aux percussion, acoustic guitar), Tristan Ross (guitar, vocals, aux percussion, piano ), Leo Maniscalco (guitar), Joe Hayward (banjo, vocals) and Abel Bradshaw (bass). In introducing his band, Leo had this to say about their music:  “Its difficult for me to describe our sound in a concise way, and no one song fully gives a representation of it, but here’s a go: we have four singers and songwriters, do a lot of vocal harmonies, and the songs are very dynamic with many changing parts and moods. They are also highly textural, featuring five musicians (two guitars, banjo, bass, and drums) each with unique yet congruous playing styles. It’s kind of folk and country meets rock and punk meets funk and soul, with splashes of other things thrown in, like hip-hop, jazz, psych, and prog.”

After listening to the album, I’d say his description pretty well nails it, and I love their eclectic music. I always try to include a few lyrics in my reviews, but the Ithaca Bottom Boys’ lyrics are so colorful and hilarious that I’ll be quoting them a lot.

Ithaca Bottom Boys 2

The album kicks off with “Blues in a Bottle,” a bluesy Rockabilly romp that sets a light-hearted tone and plants a big smile on my face, even though the lyrics address the guy’s messed-up woman who’s into some bad shit: “Blues in a bottle, blues in a bottle. Where do you think you’re at pretty mama. You went and kicked my dog, and now you drown my cat.Goin’ to silly-putty, goin’ to silly-putty. Sorry I can’t take you pretty mama. I don’t abide no woman, who goes round sniffin’ glue.” The song immediately segues into “Gasoline n’ Kerosene,” a very catchy tune with very morbid lyrics about how he killed the woman who double-crossed him, burned down her house, and was hung for his crime: “When I went to that house you said that you’d be, you took one look into my eyes, and you began to flee. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene you owe me money for. You bad ol’ broad you shot me down, and now you’ll be no more. / Well… Just before that lever did let my gallows swing, I saw my aged mother a weepin’ after me. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene I can’t believe my sin, My soul shall burn as you have done and never…Will I see your sweet face again.”

Winter Biking” sees the singer riding his bike into town on icy roads, taking a spill, and wishing he’d listened to his momma about taking the bus instead – all metaphors for the risks we take in life. “Thirty bellow but I’m still sweatin’. The devil only knows what I am gettin’ into. Well up a hill down a hill the struggles that I’ve been through. The thing about life is the road always continues.” The guys’ vocal harmonies on this track are especially wonderful. The guys change gears (pun intended) to an R&B vibe with the delightfully soulful love song “Baby.” The opening bass riff that continues throughout the track reminds me a bit of The Temptations’ classic “My Girl.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Hail to Dale,” which humorously takes on the perils of heavy drinking with a rowdy mix of music styles ranging from blues to bluegrass to funk. The lyrics are both funny and poignant: “Well… if I don’t dale a beer tonight, I might as well start a rowdy bar fight. Cause I hate myself and I hate my life. Pain and pleasure’s the same to me, and that all started when I was three, ’cause my daddy switched the bottle.

Continuing with the theme of substance abuse, the guys veer off into psychedelic madness on the marvelously trippy “Salvia Apple.” The zany track sounds like what we’d expect from the bastard children of Frank Zappa and Dr. Demento, with all sorts of melodic change-ups, quirky instrumentals and crazed vocals. The lyrics are hilarious yet deeply poetic, as if from a fractured Shakespearean comedy: “Salvia apple and a bottle of jack. All I’ve had to eat or drink and that is a fact. Don’t care if I go hungry I’m just lookin’ to get smacked. Pass out in the jungle by the railroad tracks./ I’m a derelict, no one cares if I’m recked or sober. Grown colder, shouldered at the might of a globe wide society. So deprived of life yet so maniacally living. My state be so squalor I take whatever I’m given.”

Flip That Record Jhonny” is a rousing Bluegrass/Rockabilly mostly instrumental tune that makes you want to kick up your heels. The guitar work and vocal harmonies are really terrific. And speaking of Dr. Demento, the guys get downright scandalous on “Demented Family.” The highly provocative lyrics seem to poke fun of a certain demographic, calling out incest and religious fanaticism: “Well my family tree’s got lotsa knots, and I get a lot o’tention from the cops, Cause incest on the ranch is plain to see. Pappy loved his sister and that made my daddy. And my daddy loved his sister too and that made little ol’ me. Well I never had no sister so I just loved my niece. I lessend my genealogy by stickin’ my D in her crease.” Oh my! They turn mellow as they sing the virtues of toking up on “Reefer Makes Everything Better,” a funny ditty with an early Lovin’ Spoonful vibe.

Perhaps the wildest track is “Summer Beavers,” the title being a play on the leading lyrics “Some are beavers, some are people…and most don’t really understand.” This long track is a real tour de force, with a mix of genres that go from blues to punk to country to funk to rap – sometimes all in the same stanza, kinda like The Red Hot Chili Peppers have done on some of their songs. The guys go crazy with bizarre lyrics that sound like being on an acid trip: “Rippin’ and a skippin’ like a minnow in the river. Susquehanna wit’ yo mama, catchin’ tuna on a canoe. Hock at me I’ll lock you in a rock up in Chautauqua. Yo hablo con Jorgito, necesito mucha agua. Pappy’s down the road in a jalopy popin’ poppy seeds, cruisin’ past the stoppers, coppers crackin’ down on acid droppers. Baller all are things, some are beavers. Tall like cedars, small like skeevers. We be eaters, feeders, bleeders, breeders, breathers, and beasts like golden retrievers, whaddap? ha-ha-ha.”

The guys seem to channel The Red Hot Chili Peppers again on the languid “No Regrets,” with jangly guitars, funky bass and vocals that sound a bit like Anthony Kiedis. They then abruptly change things up again on “Surfer NY,” an exuberant tune with awesome surf-rock guitars and a frantic punk beat. The explicit lyrics speak for themselves: “Surfin’ New York, yes I’m surfin’ New York. Havin’ sex on the rocky beaches. I’ve got lotsa rocks in my breeches. No I don’t know how they got in the laundry. No I’m not doin’ the nasty momma. No mama no mama no mama no. No those aren’t crack rocks don’t be silly. That’s just some crusty jizz from my willy. No mama no I’m not abusin’ myself. No mama no don’t kick me outa the house.” It’s an insanely wild trip from start to finish!

I must say that Ithaca Bottom Boys is unquestionably one of the most unusual and enjoyable albums I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and I love this crazy band! If you like unique, eclectic and unorthodox music, then this album should be in your collection!

Connect with the Ithaca Bottom Boys:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

VOX EAGLE – Interview & Album Review: “TriumAvium”

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Electro-psych pop music project Vox Eagle burst onto the music scene in 2017 with their infectious dance-pop EP Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1. Previously comprised of Australian-born Andy Crosby and American Luke Hamel, Vox Eagle is now essentially Andy’s solo project (along with occasional collaborations with other musicians). Wanting an escape from the distractions and noise of Manhattan, in 2017 Andy made another life-changing move along with his new wife, this time to the Colorado Rockies. They purchased a piece of land with a cabin at 9,000 feet above sea level, and Andy quickly got to work building his own recording studio, which he dubbed “The Eagles Nest.” The pristine surroundings and new found freedom greatly expanded his creative energy, inspiring him to experiment with fresh sounds and take his music into exciting new directions. The result of all this is his brilliant genre-bending new album TriumAvium, which officially drops October 9th.

Vox Eagle album art

I’m chomping at the bit to talk about the album, but before getting into my review, I’ll share the recent insightful conversation I had with Andy about his career, life changes and the album. And now’s a good time to make special mention of the brilliant album art, which pays homage to Andy’s move from Manhattan to the mountains. The Manhattan skyline is shown upside down along the top edge of the cover, and a forest scene covers the bottom half, with a mountain-shaped outline intersecting its mirror image in the center.

EML:  Hi Andy, thanks for wanting to talk with me about your new album TriumAvium, which I absolutely love! First off, what’s the meaning behind the album title? I googled the words and found that trium is Latin for three, and avium is a solitary or lonely place. Am I close?

AC:  Hey Jeff, firstly thanks for checking out the album and doing the interview. Greatly appreciated as I know you’re getting drowned in submissions and new music these days with the writings of Eclectic Music Lover. Yes you were close with the title. Trium Avium is about a remote wilderness, perhaps with reference to my own new found remote wilderness in the Arapahoe Forest of Colorado. The Trium grew from my obsessions over the number three when writing and mixing the record and meditating on various frequencies and it just came out of that. It is Latin in origin.

EML:  You are Australian, and relocated to the U.S. in, when, the late-2000s? You settled in New York, and Luke lived in Los Angeles, but you guys would meet in various locations around the country to record songs for what would become your terrific debut EP Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1. Eventually, you settled in the Colorado Rockies, where you built your own recording studio. What made you decide to settle in a such a beautiful but remote location?

AC:  I moved out here from Australia in mid 2012 after finishing a record with The Cracks and having a label deal gone wrong with the death of our A&R guy at the time. I was kinda in musical purgatory at the time so set my sites on the musical mecca of the United States.

I moved to Brooklyn, had a studio in Greenpoint, then lived in Manhattan for 6 years hunting down new sounds and production/mixing techniques. Luke always lived out in California. We had toured the East and West coast together in another band in 2014 (The Canyon Rays) so I got him in to do the Flamingo EP. I think Luke is a great writer/producer in his own right, however, in terms of work ethic and chemistry it was just never really there between us so we parted ways halfway through Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1. The whole idea of VoxEagle in the beginning was to collaborate with various artists whilst settling into my new home in the USA. When I’m focusing on a project I need to immerse myself in 100% and that was impossible for us to do on separate coasts.

I decided to move out to the Colorado Rockies with my wife Paige, as we had just got some rescue puppies Prince and Charlie, and they needed space to run around bigger than our Manhattan studio apartment that was being torn up by Prince. So we ditched the concrete grind and decided to head for the Rockies, as we both had spent significant time there during college. We left NYC and got married in 2017 in Colorado, and settled in the little town of Evergreen on the top of Black Mountain where we border the Arapahoe state forest that’s just magical. We bought a piece of land at 9,000 feet above sea level so its real high up, with a cabin and a shed. I spent 3 months building the recording studio called ‘The Eagles Nest’. It has a 48-Channel Oram Analogue Console at the command and then I have a chain of guitars, drums, samplers, synthesizers, effects and outboard gear running through a sea of madness. We moved out for the space and it just magic out here, and less distractions than Manhattan. My studio in Manhattan was on 57th St. above the Late Show where Dave Letterman was in Times Square, so it’s a totally different vibe now. 9,000 feet above the clouds. It’s a totally different trip, which leads into the next question.

VoxEagle Studio 2

EML:  Flamingo Paradiso featured songs that were primarily electro-psych dance-pop, but many of the songs on TriumAvium have a more edgy, urban vibe, with quite a bit of hip-hop. I find that interesting, given the rural mountain-forest environment you now reside in. Where did the inspiration for the new songs come from?

AC:  I just wanted to do something completely new for this record. I could have easily spat out Flamingo 2; it’s sitting in a folder on the hard drive, however I just wanted to open the sound up a little more and give it a bit more breathing space. I wanted to make something completely new but also something people could go nuts to at a club gig or festival. Everyone out here is doing Americana, Jam band, folk or indie rock so I wanted to do something that was different to what everyone else was doing. I also wanted to learn a new talent and teach myself how to freestyle. I wanted to be able to battle anyone of any caliber.

So I spent several months (hard to say how many) testing various psychedelics in my garage basement learning to sing in freestyle by surrounding myself with white boards and vision boards hanging from the ceiling, with classic Nicolas Cage films rolling in the background and learning to rhyme from walking round the room with words and pictures everywhere and then getting ideas on whiteboards and reworking them. I also recorded most of those days/nights/session, so have loads of tape reels and hard drives I need to sift through some day… I was kind of all-out madness, but I think it worked.

If steve jobs was peering down the rabbit whole, this was more like burrowing out the warren, hanging some picture frames & getting a nice comfy sofa to call place home for a while.

I worked on TriumAvium when I was building the studio as well, so there are some recordings from all over the place that have made their way onto the record, or will be coming out soon in other material I am going to be releasing over the coming months. Some of it’s a bit more on the electro-psych/dance side. I’ve also been playing with some local Colorado musicians like guitarist Aaron Dixon to get the live show ready, so it’s all systems go at the moment. Firing up the engines. I have another 20 songs ready to go that were off cuts from this record, so am just compiling them into EPs at the moment and deciding what to release next.

EML:  One of my favorite tracks is the mesmerizing instrumental “Let’s Go Back – The Ballad of Randy Eagle in F#minor.” Given the song has no lyrics other than some chanting, what’s the significance of its title? 

AC:   “Lets Go Back – The Ballad of Randy Eagle in F# Minor” is a song about reminiscing and moving forward. Its about a race car driver recovering from a crash and getting back behind the wheel to race. My friends always called me Randy when I’d get out of control so that’s how it got to Randy Eagle. It’s kind of an alter ego I created. He’s a race car driver that’s a total dick and everyone hates, but he never gives up. As you may notice there’s a heavy racing theme that carries out through the album.

EML:  I also like the re-interpretation of “No Sleep” from the EP that’s now “No Sleep No Sleep” on the new album. Any story behind that one, or just having fun with a remix?

AC:  I wanted to have something from the original EP on this record as a nod, but was finding it really hard to get one of the old tracks to sit in with all the flow of this record. So I did a more upbeat version of “No Sleep” and played it to Aaron Dixon, and he was really vibing on it so we got his guitars down on the chorus and it was done. We kept it super simple. One vocal take, one bass line, so it was a very different approach to the original which was really a lot larger in production, like 6 Harmony per chorus, etc. So on this whole record I was really more jammin out with loop pedals, 808s, pianos synths. Everything on this record we can do 100% live with every part, so super pumped to get out and play it. I think our first show is in Arizona for MesaFestival on Saturday November 10th, so we’re super pumped to try the new stuff live and jam out the old stuff.

EML: I read on the website PopDust that you’ve landed deals with VW, Jim Beam, Toyota, Smirnoff, and Coca Cola, along with music production for Sony, Disney, and Universal. How did you manage to score those deals? Did those companies use your songs in their ads, or did you write new music for them?

AC:  Yes, I have been really fortunate to have a bunch of my songs licensed in TV, commercials and movies along the way. It definitely keeps the ship sailing, and helped me invest in some really awesome recording gear along the way. A lot of the projects have been solo specifically working with music supervisors, producers or directors to do a custom score or song. Sometimes a director/producer hears a tune previously recorded or in the works, and just has to have it in the film. So the dice can roll any way really, as long as you’re constantly working and connecting with people in the industry.

I’ve also been in a few other bands and projects – Soundcasino and The Cracks – and I write with a bunch of artists and still connect with those projects from time to time. My main focus now though is VoxEagle and smashing out a big live show this year. Am really stoked on those projects and happy to have been part of them and still create music with most of them, just have been taking a hiatus from everything else over the past year to focus on developing the new sound with VoxEagle, and trying to do something new and unique as an artist.

EML:  Since you and Luke have parted ways, is Vox Eagle basically you going forward, along with some collaborations like you did with Pierre Fontaine on the marvelous track “Wander”?

AC:  VoxEagle has always been my connection and collaborations with various artists across the US since I moved over here and now call it home. I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with new artists to get a new energy and vibe, and create something that’s unique and different. I bring some styles and flavors from my musical upbringings in Australia and can share that energy with a rapper from Brooklyn and create something totally unique.

For touring and playing live I use a bunch of loop pedals connected to my synths, drums and vocals so I can do the whole live show solo if I have to. I like sharing the stage with others though, so have got Aaron Dixon doing a bunch of live shows with me and have done a bunch of collaborations this year, my favorite of which has been “Wander” with Pierre Fontaine.

I heard Pierre Fontaine’s material through another artist I work with, Eman, and was blown away. We hung out and have since worked on a few tunes and beats together. He’s a really impressive writer, and his lyrics are always on point. He’s just one of those guys who has put the time in and knows every corner of the industry. He writes, sings, raps, plays killer drums, and he inspires an army of youngsters under him. He has a label FreshMind with a tonne of incredible artists on it so definitely check ’em out. Anyways, he’s a super impressive guy and I wanted him on a track, and then he heard me making the “Wander” beat on an Instagram story I put up and was like yoooo I want in on that! So I had kinda freestyled a melody and a rough first verse, sent it to him and then the whole thing was done super fast.

The whole record is kinda built around that track. I was so hyped on that song I was like its gotta be on the record, its gotta be on the record!! So it became the song that the whole record is built around. I must have scrapped 20-odd other tunes that were pumping coz “Wander” had to be on the record. That’s maybe why its such an eclectic record which I know scares a lot of people.

It goes from Electro to Dub, to Hip Hop to Indie psych to Rock, its like WTF. But at the end of the day it works for me and that was all I gave a shit about. Making a record I was happy with that was unique. It was the first record I have mixed, produced, engineered, and done everything solo for. It was a lot to take on for a first record doing all those things.. Maybe too much.. But fuck it, I like it, I learnt a tonne and have a swag of tunes ready to go with the studio now fully built and recording new material everyday and night. It’s all growing and building as an artist and I feel I now have a level of control over my material I have never had before through mixing and producing everything in-house.

The responsibility is all on me now, but better than having too many cooks and all that, which is what I felt on Flamingo. Must have had six different dudes mixing it, files everywhere… just an expensive nightmare coz Luke was never happy with the mixes.

The first incarnation of VoxEagle, before I’d even met Luke, had my friend Terence Conor on the drums. One night, October 1st 2012, after a rehearsal jam/recording session in Green Point we went to the Lucky Dog in Brooklyn for a few drinks to wind down. I tried to convince Terence to come back to our place as he usually did to chill and play some tunes, however he decided to ride his bike back to Bushwick, as he had an exam the next day. That was the last time I saw him, as he was tragically killed in a hit and run whilst cycling home down Metropolitan Avenue that night. I found out the next morning when my buddy Harald rang and was crushed to pieces. I am always thinking of him on this journey as he was such a talent on drums and in energy, and that needs to be carried forward. So VoxEagle is a musical energy; I hate to call it a band or whatnot. Its vibe I suppose is with me at the helm. Its just gotta have big melodies and be real energetic and vibey. Its ups and downs, highs and lows but a consistent, persistent energy that is going to get the crowd going at any gig. For 2018 its me Andy Crosby, and Aaron Dixon on guitars, heading out on the road. We got some vintage racing suits on ebay, so its gonna be wild. So hope to catch you somewhere for a show Jeff!

EML:  I would love to see you perform live! Anything else you’d like to add that I neglected to ask about?

AC:  I think we covered it all. Thanks for your time Jeff, love the blog and writings of the EclecticMusicLover. Look forward to chatting again soon.

EML: Thanks again Andy!

VoxEagle_Studio 1

Okay, let’s get to the music! The album kicks off with the sultry dance track “Stay A While,” instantly hooking us in with a throbbing deep-bass driven beat and dangerously sexy synths. Andy croons “Won’t you stay a while. Play those games a while. Imaginate a while. Fall over here,” and who could possibly resist? The track is a mere 2:11 minutes long, but man is it scorching hot!

As the next track “Wander” unfolds, it’s immediately clear Andy has somehow captured the magic of the forest surrounding his studio and transferred it into this enthralling song. The sparkling piano, xylophone and string synths are gorgeous, and paired with the dope hip hop beat, it all makes for a captivating soundscape. Andy freestyles about how communication has broken down in his relationship, his vocals going from sultry to falsetto as he sings: “We don’t talk no more, baby girl, we just wander.” Pierre Fontaine’s smooth rap vocals take over for the last third of the track, adding another element of texture to this marvelous number. It’s my favorite track on TriumAvium, and I can fully understand why Andy wanted to build the rest of the album around it.

Race Fever” is a great example of how Vox Eagle melds genres and styles to create incredibly dynamic and interesting songs that surprise and dazzle our senses. The track starts off with a trip hop beat and altered vocals, then alternates with an irresistible melodic hip hop dance beat, with sounds of speeding cars and screeching brakes thrown in. He freestyle raps about the thrill of driving fast and winning races: “Wheels keep spinning faster, they won’t catch us now.” “Salvation” is a trippy song, opening with a brief vintage piano riff, then settling into a slow hip hop dance beat with almost carnival-like psychedelic synths and gunshots from what sound like duck or pheasant hunting.

Another favorite of mine is “Let’s Go Back – The Ballad of Randy Eagle in F#minor,” a mesmerizing instrumental track with fantastic exotic-sounding synths and chanted electronically-altered vocals. As Andy explained in our interview, it’s about his out of control alter ago ‘Randy Eagle.’ “The Change” delivers spacey industrial synths set to a hypnotic EDM beat as he sings about living a hedonistic life: “Run away to Paris, we’re living life lavish. Popping champagne we can’t afford but we got to have it / I feel it coming, the change.”

No Sleep No Sleep” is a stripped-down reimagining of “No Sleep,” and a nod to the first single released by Vox Eagle that Andy wanted to include on TriumAvium. I love the original, but really like this cool and stylish version too. The guitar and bass are terrific. “Too Damned Awesome” is another trippy and unusual track, with trip hop beats and otherworldly, industrial-sounding synths. Sampled spoken words of a man’s voice saying “Hell, you don’t know where I’m at. You couldn’t possibly know where I’m at. It’s too damned awesome.” are repeated throughout the track, as Andy croons “Just trying to touch the sky.” I love his vocals, which have an earnest vulnerability that’s really striking. He keeps with the racing theme on closing track “Fast Car Fast Bitch,” a one and a half minute-long trip and a half! Andy pulls out all the stops on this short track, throwing in funky riffs, thumping bass notes, pulsating techno synths, and copious amounts of revving engines and screeching brakes that make for a fun and exuberant listen.

One of the things that most stands out for me about TriumAvium is its incredible flow, how each track so beautifully and seamlessly follows the next, leaving me almost breathless in the process. It’s a relatively short album, running only around 22 minutes in length, but it packs a major punch. It’s really a remarkable work of music brilliance, and I love Vox Eagle even more than I did after Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1. I cannot wait to hear more of his music.

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

SUM Releases Video For Their Uplifting New Single “It’s Alright to Be Me”

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SUM is a New York City-based band with an admirable philosophy and loads of talent. They’ve created their identity from the meaning of the Latin word “Sum” (pronounced “soom”), which means “to be” or “I am.” Their aim is to inspire us to accept who we are and to understand and embrace our own uniqueness.  Their exuberant music style, born from a fusion of jazz, soul, hip hop and pop, is beautifully showcased on their uplifting new single “It’s Alright to Be Me.” It’s the first single from their forthcoming self-titled debut album SUM, due for release in late September.

The band is lead by drummer, composer and arranger Steve Belvilus, and the lovely soulful vocals are courtesy of the engaging Patryce Williams, who’s also a professional actress. Rounding out the ensemble are Joel Desroches (Piano), Olivier R. (Keys), Andrew Gould (Sax), Gil “XL” Defay (Trumpet) and Francesco Beccaro (Bass). In an interview with VENTS Magazine, Steve explained their reasoning behind writing “It’s Alright to Be Me”:  “When we played shows, people kept messing up the name of our band and we always had to explain the meaning. So I decided to write a song that hopefully will become a hit so that we don’t have to explain ourselves anymore.

Lyrically, the track explains what the band is all about, and was created to be their defining song, and also an anthem of empowerment:

At a young age struggling to become all I can be
I was afraid to show the treasures inside of me
Many people wanted to make fun of me
But now I see the light that’s been in me

The light is the essence inside of me
The “I” you see is bright and shines all over me
SUM is the Latin word that defines me
It means the “I” that’s bright in me

I don’t care if you don’t like what’s within
I’d rather be myself cause that’s all I can be
SUM means I or to be the essence of me
It’s alright to be me, that’s what SUM means to me

The heartwarming and charming video skillfully captures the message expressed in the lyrics. It opens in a classroom, where Patryce plays both a teacher and a student who’s tormented by a classmate. Later on, the band is shown performing the song at a small party, and the boy who teased the childhood Patryce is now an adult. He approaches her adult self with a gift and an apology, and all is forgiven as they hug one another. Take a look:

Connect with SUM:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream or purchase “It’s Alright to Be Me” on Bandcamp

DEF STAR – Artist Spotlight & Interview

I’ve mentioned it several times before, but it bears repeating that one of the things I love about Twitter is all the interesting people I’ve met and continue to meet. And since my account is primarily about music, I follow and am followed by several thousand musicians and bands. One that I’ve had the distinct pleasure of getting to know is a hard-working singer/songwriter who goes by the artistic name Def Star. Based in the Chicago area and born Mike Purcell, Def Star is an incredibly creative, talented and nice guy with seemingly boundless energy. In just the past couple of years, he’s recorded an impressive output of songs in a variety of genres, including hip hop, rap, rock, alternative rock, electronic, industrial, trap and pop. He’s also very supportive of other musicians, as well as his fans and followers, plus he has a wonderful sense of humor – all things I greatly admire in an artist.

Def Star 4

I recently sat down with Def Star (well, we were actually sitting at our respective computers 2,000 miles apart) to discuss his love for music, what inspires him, and his creative process. I was blown away by his thoughtful, articulate and deeply honest responses.

EclecticMusicLover: Hi Def Star. Thanks for agreeing to an interview! We’ve followed each other on Twitter for a while now, but I don’t really know a whole lot about you. Tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to be interested in making music.

Def Star:  First & foremost, thank you for taking an interest in my music! About me: both of my grandpas sang (one jazz/lounge & the other church songs).  I witnessed the power song has over women at a very young age when I saw U.S. Navy pilots perform a very well-choreographed lip sync of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”  In middle school, girls would call me and ask that I sing “If I Ever Fall in Love” by Shai – great song! My tastes were and are in complete & utter disarray – the only file left up there in my mental rolodex is labeled chaos and I think it’s empty.

Really though, I remember absolutely falling in love with whole eras of music and the two that stick out most are grunge rock and gangsta rap.  Comin’ up the outside of the track was always R&B. Regardless, ever since I can remember, there have always been songs that absolutely knock me over and latch their claws into my soul and leave these beautiful scars or bandage ones that were already there.  Anyway, what I’m intending to get at is this: it never mattered what genre these great works of art were labeled, or what style or culture or anything else anyone could say right here… to me, I’m thankful that I was exposed to an incredibly vast variety of music by people who genuinely loved the music they love and that I’ve been fortunate enough to have had experiences that later on change from mere memory into what is recalled as these moments.  I don’t know if they’re milestones so much as they are simply stars in the night sky we call our life; the point is they matter because the chords get struck and they run deep. Not only that but they’re like little shortcuts or portals straight to the heart – for better and worse. 

EML:  I can identify with how you developed a passion for music at an early age. My much older brother loved artists like Elvis, Fats Domino and Little Richard when he was in his teens, so I got exposed to that music as a baby and danced to those songs as soon as I could stand up on my own lol.

DS: I love the magic that is music and its effects on every single person it touches from inception on.  For some, that’s the name of this game, really: the best songs never die. In my experience, it can feed twisted delusions of grandeur not limited even to the absurd such as immortality.  Flipside of that? Oh, but all of the rest about it – any which way ya cut it – music is escape, hope, consolation, companionship, love, hate, nothing, everything. I love how some songs can plant themselves firmly in one specific moment in time and other songs are ethereal, transcendent, and timeless.

I’ve said this from the very beginning: “Music Speaks, I Translate.”  At the time that I first started saying that (whenever people would ask about how I write lyrics or develop melodies) I wasn’t trying to brand myself or come up with some sort of catch phrase.  Today, it’s mine & I own it. It began because that’s how I feel it happens most of the time for me. I get an instrumental from one of a few incredibly talented producers I’m blessed enough to be close, personal friends with; it may be one of a handful of different genres or a unique mix of two or more; I like to consider what the emotion of the beat’s describing or even “saying.”  Sometimes the producer says I hear this here or I kept thinking of that there, other times he or she says what they were thinking or feeling when they made it. Most often, I’ve been entrusted with free reign to build whatever I feel like building on the allotted real estate, whether only one verse for a collab or promo, or an entire track for a solo.

I started out rappin’ in 1999, singin’ in 2001, rockin’ in 2003 and from there, there have been mixtapes, groups, bands, shows, writing, recording and finally an artist who realized that if he doesn’t light the fire, no one will ever even have a chance to carry the torch.  So now, I have a catalog of recorded songs somewhere upwards of the mid-300’s, I may or may not be currently working on an official album or two right now as I type this, there is always new promo material popping up like my first actual music video that came outta nowhere just last week on YouTube:

I’m all over Twitter & InstaGram like a fool, lol! Cliché alert: I figure we have this one life to live, just one. That’s it! So, do I really, truly, genuinely, whole-heartedly, sincerely believe that there’s something going on with my music that’s worth at least giving it a little air and a little light? Yes, I do. If it grows, maybe give it a little more food, air, and light?  DEFinitely. Next question: what am I waiting for?!

EML: Well, shedding a little light on your music is my aim! You state that grunge and gangsta rap were the two genres you really felt passionate about – which makes sense as you came of age in the 90s – but I hated them back in the day. I’m much older than you, and in the early 90s I felt music quality had gone over a cliff. I absolutely hated all rap, and just didn’t get the appeal of grunge. I was in my 30s by then, and figured I was already too old and that music no longer mattered as much to me – something that seems to happen to a lot of people as they get older. Most of my friends are now in their 50s and 60s, and few of them have the slightest interest in hearing new music anymore. They think it’s great I have a music blog, but they’re not at all interested in reading it or learning about new music.

I’ve since come around about grunge, hip hop and rap, though I still don’t like gangsta rap. It’s just too much for me.

DS:  Re: grunge & gangsta rap… A couple things (& I completely relate to where you’re coming from)… I, too, (now in my late 30’s) have felt like “new” or newer music, style, content (especially rap) has just fallen off & it’s all garbage… I have felt like that at times. But, that’s typically before I’ve given any of which I’m judging an honest chance. There’s usually something about it I like, or I might shockingly end up loving it, or at least then I have legit reasons I don’t like it. But that’s me.

I have since fallen madly in love with other bands & even genres entirely! My journey has seen so many chapters or phases & most often, even if I move on to a new thing, chapter, or phase, I don’t just stop having this place in my heart that a previous love carved out. It’s still there & feels good when filled again with that old love. But I crave the new, too! So, yeah, I went through Emo, Screamo, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Post-Hardcore, Electronic Rock, EDM, Pop, Pop Punk, and more. It’s been a TON of fun & I’ve picked up a lotta things along the way that have positively influenced my approach on music and just my overall enjoyment of life. There’s a few artists that are like guilty little pleasures of mine that I don’t talk about often but I love their albums too. Never thought I’d see these particular artists albums in my personal iTunes but they’re there & I’m happy about it, lol.

Gangsta rap today? Not so much. Strangely enough, though I myself am a rapper of sorts, I don’t listen to rap often. I don’t listen to much Grunge today either. Maybe some “classics” here & there or the Temple of the Dog album I absolutely love, but it is the exception rather than the norm.

Last thing I’d love to touch on & it sounds like you’ve experienced a bit of this: your friends have less interest in reading your blog than you’d hoped or expected. I can absolutely relate – simply switch out the words “reading your blog” with the words “listening to my music”… lol! My buddy I make music with and I have discussed how funny it is that people I don’t know at all will oftentimes support my work and my social media sites more than my own friends & family – I’m crazy thankful for any & all interested & supportive, for certain! THANK YOU ALL!!! But some of the people I just kinda expected to pick up some balls and run with ’em just haven’t. And even the whole family thing… some have come around, most haven’t given it the time of day, and some ask from time to time but very few have listened let alone tell others about it. Oh well! Living & learning. It really does take a village though & I do have the greatest family, friends, followers, and supporters.

EML:  Your songs encompass an eclectic mix of genres, including hip hop, rap, alt-rock, metal, trap and even pop. Who are some of the artists who inspire or influence you to create the type of music you make?

DS:  Some of the artists that influence(d) me: Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Lane Staley, Scott Weiland, Corey Taylor, Method Man, Mos Def, Tupac, Twista, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Aaron Lewis, Craig Owens, Biggie, Hayley Williams, Do Or Die, Joan Jett, Lynn Gunn, Eminem, I.V., Pistol Pete, Bogus, Chavi, J-Slay, Koncept, Ace, Halsey, Alan Walker, 112, Boyz II Men, Wretched, Tool, Eyes Set to Kill … I could go on & on, and the current list doesn’t even begin to think about beginning to scratch the scratch of the surface!

Def Star (2)

EML:  When did you begin writing and recording songs? What is your process for creating new music?

DS:  I began writing lyrics way back when I was in elementary school. I loved wordplay, puns, and especially rhymes. My first song? Not 100% sure but one of the first that’s coming to mind in the moment is freshman year high school, History class.  Two of my classmates and I played a modified version of George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” called “Bad History.” We shoulda just called it what it was: “Bad Song.” Ha! Seriously.  I did have a sweet Fender Squier – the bumper car of electric guitars – but I did not invest the effort early in high school to learn it nor take the time to truly appreciate it.

EML:  What, if any, instruments do you play?

DS:  I wanna say vocals but part of me feels like that sounds pretentious.  The other part of me feels that the first sentence of this response, along with this sentence, sound really pretentious already so we passed that point long ago.  Now that that’s been established, I do not play any instruments. Sit me down in front of a keyboard or piano and I can wing some cool shit but I’ve been lucky enough to have this sort of relatively steady flow of instrumentals or other opportunities for collabs in multiple genres which has kept me very busy and growing through the challenges of constantly pushing the borders of my envelope and testing the limits of my comfort zone.  I don’t know which it is but I either don’t have a comfort zone at all or my comfort zone is just that whatever-it-is to where I have yet to face a challenge musically that struck me as so uncomfortable or outside of any alleged comfort zone that I didn’t or couldn’t do it (and end up turning out something really cool in the process).

EML:  I see that quite a few of your songs are collaborations with other artists, which I think is great. In fact, it seems that a lot of hip hop artists tend to collaborate with other artists on their songs. What do you find appealing about the collaborative process?

To me, I have held this view since day one: any way the music can reach ears that it wouldn’t have otherwise reached of my own accord, I’m in.  Even if it means that I spend time or money of my own to get it out there, I’m in. I’m not currently in a position to demand nor expect money for my music.  I will be. And it will be soon.. Until then, I will continue to post FREE MUSIC on MY YouTube CHANNEL!!! My apologies, I digress (as per usual). To answer this question directly, my goal with collaborations is three-fold: A) to reach not just my audience with a new song but the other artist’s audience as well.  Then, sometimes, one plus one results in a sum greater than two. It’s funny what happens when a flash of excitement in the pan of good timing, for example, can ignite the whole skyscraper. And, B) the challenge of making an impression such that these new listeners want to find my stuff & hear more. Lastly, C) the ability to work with friends and have a damn good time along the way.  One of the countless things I love about music is that, generally, the people I’ve known that have anything to do with music and its creative process from A to Z are really great people with a lot to offer the world but they’re not on that mission. They’re not out to take over the world or clutch at status for the sake of status. They have beliefs. They don’t fall for shit. They can typically see through the bullshit or at least have reasons they believe what they believe even after examining both sides of a coin.  They’ve got their priorities straight. I need people like this in my tribe.

EML: What artists would you especially love to work with, and why?

DS:  I already work with the sickest buncha straight-up artisans so I will respectfully pass on answering this question with names of popular, mainstream artists and provide a glimpse at a few names that are already poppin’ or are right around the corner:  I.V. , WavRiders, J-Slay, Red Focus, Chavi, Koncept, Swilly.

EML:  Ah, Swilly’s awesome, and I love the collaboration you did with him and guitarist Kevin Campbell on “Right or Wrong.” And “Change Your Life” with J-Slay and Koncept is another fantastic collab.

EML:  What are your thoughts about the current state of music and/or the music industry?

I LOVE the state of music right now!  I feel like this: whether we recognize it or not, and as much as many may complain about the lack of anything original and a void of any artists aiming at a new paradigm or even daring to shake things up for fear of public opinion and sales quotas, there are so many talented, unique, incredible artists and bands that are out there killin’ shows, slayin’ audiences, rockin’ mics, sellin’ merch, packin’ venues, puttin’ out EP’s and albums, promotin’ it on multiple social media platforms like crazies just like me … that ARE making music that sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard and moves me in new ways.  And that’s a big goal with my music is to create a truly genreless, timeless product that is a cohesive album yet plays like a playlist of your favorite songs over many years and genres of music, all in one, ready to go from the point of purchase & play. An instant classic. A soundtrack to the movie that is your life.

EML:  Have you performed live very much?

DS:  I have performed live and I love it!  I wish I could say I’ve done it a bunch of times or been on tour before but I can’t yet.  I’m that new – to the “scene.” As far as experience, the Romans would say I got a couple of X’s under my belt.  Specifically, live performances of mine I could count on my hands. More importantly, I got miles traveled beneath my feet and even if they high now, the message is still deep.  Plans to do more live performing? Absolutely. AB. SO. LUTELY!!! I made up this little diddy and I do believe it applies here: “Whatever lights your fire, rock it to infinity.”  So, HELL yeah!!! I’m taking this thing as far as life allows, much of it is outta my hands but I gotta keep trying to do whatever I can. Hmmm, lyrical… “much of it is outta my hands… but I gotta keep – try’na do – whatever I can”… sweet, lol.  Hashtag lit AF, am I right? rofl.

EML:  You’ve recorded quite an impressive output of tracks, but haven’t released a full album yet. Why not? Do you have plans to release an album anytime soon?

I have a secret.

But first, thank you!  I’ve said it before and I will happily repeat it ad infinitum: I appreciate that you have taken the time to even know enough to ask these great questions!  This has been a serious trip & thanks for humoring me, I hope my tangents aren’t unbearably obnoxious. I’ll wrap it up here now, sorry! LOL! (I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve had some days upon which to think about this thing and it’s finally coming out now, or if I’m just in a zone, OR if I just think this is SO cool because your platform – the Eclectic Music Lover – it’s the most comprehensive music review site with these exquisitely written pieces on songs, albums, artists, bands… it’s an honor to be a guest, as it were.)

Now for the secret, and now that I think about it, I touched on this earlier too but here it is again and it’s really working in my favor: over the years, I may not have been doing much self-promotion but I have been writing, recording, and amassing a killer library of songs that I have at my fingertips to release here & there while I’m currently, possibly, confidentially, secretly, hypothetically, theoretically, not really but maybe actually, recording two albums right now concurrently.  One or both of these maybe’s, if what I just wrote were true, will be out sometime during the Year of the Earth Pig.

EML:  You are hilarious, and I’m really touched by your kind words about my blog! Is there anything I’ve neglected to ask that you’d like to tell your fans & followers?

DS:  Great question, once again.  And thank you for offering the opportunity for the interviewee to chime in with somethin’ he might’ve hoped to have show up in the piece – very considerate, I like your style my friend!  I think we’ve really covered a good amount of ground here. I’m not sure if I’m ready for a full-blown commitment so we’ll just keep it casual for now, mmmkay?! LMAO jkjk!!! I have a broken machine in my head that plays with words, thinks it’s funny, and gets me in trouble cuz it never shuts off.  A constant stream of comic genius; can you imagine?! The HORROR!!!

Nah, but on a serious note, I suppose I would love to just know that anyone who comes across this article and wants to find out more about me or hear more music, knows where & how they can do that.  For me, I have my YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCExzLvLnZIgpzZ2Gfa4cXDA and they can connect with me on Twitter and Instagram. (Some of his music can also be streamed on Soundcloud.)

Thank you, thank you, thank YOU!

EML:  And I thank YOU my friend for being such a great subject, and taking the time to share your detailed thoughts and perspectives with me and my readers. You’re awesome, Def Star, and I can’t wait to hear that album – or two!

Here are a few more of his songs I especially like that showcase the broad range of his music style:

 

St. Louis Band iLLPHONiCS Release New Digital 45: “X-Rated”

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St. Louis music innovators iLLPHONiCS are more than a band, they’re an identity. They’re also a rarity, in that all five individuals in the band are founding members, and since 2006, they’ve consistently made some of the most groundbreaking music to come out of the St. Louis music scene, if not the entire Midwest. Their infectious, high energy sound incorporates elements of hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and funk, with stylish compositions and harmonic vocals that grab and hold listeners and audiences rapt attention. The five band members include lead singer/emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris, Keith Moore (keyboards, backing vocals), Kevin Koehler (lead guitar, backing vocals), Simon Chervitz (bass) and Chaz Brew (drums, backing vocals).

I had the pleasure of reviewing their superb fifth album Gone With the Trends in 2016 (which you can read here), and in 2017 they followed with Purple Piano Society,  which was named one of St. Louis’ best albums of 2017 by The Riverfront Times.  Now the band is set to release their first Digital 45 entitled “X-Rated” on Friday, May 25. “X-Rated” will include two songs, an A-side “Breathe Like” and a B-side “Green Note$.” The band calls the Digital 45 “a comfy middle ground between the paltry single and the increasingly trendy EP.” “X-Rated” will be available to stream on Spotify and Soundcloud, among other platforms. The band requests all downloads be purchased from their Bandcamp account.

A week later, on Saturday, June 2, iLLPHONiCS will celebrate the release with their first St. Louis live performance of 2018 – “A Sensory Experience,” to be held at the Stage at KDHX, starting at 8 pm. Tickets are $10 and available in advance through Ticketfly. The band will be collaborating with Captured Planet on visuals for the event, which will also serve as a kind of ‘unofficial’ release party for ‘X-Rated.

ILLPHONICS 45

iLLPHONiCS went on tour in 2017 to promote Purple Piano Society, performing in Detroit, New York and Boston, among other cities. Then they spent this past winter writing new songs, the first of which are the two now being released. Regarding these new songs, band frontman and emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris explains: “Musically we have melded many types of genres but the one genre we haven’t explored the most is Hip-Hop. It only makes sense that we go deeper into what’s at the core of our sound.”

“Breathe Like truly is what it is. We all have physical desires and fantasies, and they are even better when you’re engaging with someone who shares the same passion for you, as you for them. Being able to act upon those things and being open with your partner (and vice versa) is a beautiful thing and something worth celebrating. I appreciate love songs and the beauty of intimacy, but sometimes you got to kick it up a notch. This keeps things interesting!

“Green Note$ is inspired by my own experience but also by stories I’d get from my cousin and bandmate Chaz, who at one point used to frequent gentlemen’s clubs often. I know many regular people who attend strip clubs, and I feel that it’s awkward that society often looks down on the profession, especially when we are embracing sexuality in ways they didn’t when my parents were growing up. I also play on the power dynamic, because even though some unfortunately may see the profession of stripping as “lowly,” I see the power in a person being able to seduce an individual to come off some cash.”

“Breathe Like” has a slow and sexy hip-hop beat, with background breathy sounds that continue throughout the track. Cool synths and a crisp snare drum are the dominant instruments, but there’s smooth bass and terrific harmonic vocals holding it all together. Morris croons “I love when you bend down and let me feel some.” And “Green Note$” features sparkling synths and smooth guitar set to a mesmerizing beat. The harmonizing vocals are especially nice on this track, but then that can be said of all iLLPHONiCS songs. They’re both exceptional tracks, and fresh proof that, after 12 years of making music, this band is still at the top of their game.

Connect with iLLPHONiCS:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp