FROM THE CAVE – EP Review: “Medieval”

Medieval EP Art

London-based From the Cave is one of the most distinctive and special bands I’ve come across, and I know a lot of bands! Their very eclectic style of alternative rock covers a broad range of influences, incorporating punk, pop, shoegaze, blues, funk and ethnic folk elements into their exuberant mix. They debuted with their self-titled EP From the Cave in 2016, and in 2017 began releasing a series of singles, some of which are now included on their new EP Medieval, which dropped on September 10. I’ve previously featured two of the tracks – Halloween and “Cavalier” – on this blog, and am now reviewing the EP.

Band front man Kristian Møller-Munar says the EP is “a big hug to all their influences and puts them in one place where they can express themselves.” As such, each track is totally unique and completely different from every other track on the EP, making for a fresh and surprising listen. In addition to Kristian, who plays guitar and sings most lead vocals, the other band members are Mikaela Lindgren on vocals, keys and percussion, and Josh Scriven on guitar and vocals. Johan Crondahl (bass, percussion and backing vocals) and Anton Vysotsky (drums) also played on the EP, but recently left the band to return to their home countries, so From the Cave is now a three-piece. The bass and guitars for “Medieval”, “Halloween” and “Wasting Time” were recorded by Jules Gulon.

The EP kicks off with the rousing title track “Medieval (Pánico)” a delightful high-energy Latin-rock tune. Fast-paced riffs of scratchy guitars are paired with Anton’s assertive drums and swirling synths to create a powerful backdrop for Kristian’s commanding vocals, which are sung in Spanish, one of his two native languages (he was born in Copenhagen and partially raised in Majorca). The word Pánico signifies that there’s no reason to panic. The guitar work on the track is electrifying, and I love the harmonic backing vocals. It’s a fantastic song, and Kristian said it’s one of the tracks he’s most proud of.

Cavalier” was inspired by a London cabaret bar the band members have frequented, and basically tells a saga of falling in love with one of the waitresses there. The band employs all kinds of exotic synths and strings, including guitar and violin but also possibly zither or mandolin, to create an intriguing Eastern European sound that’s incredibly catchy and marvelous. Kristian’s vocals are captivating as he expresses his frustration that the object of his desire keeps rebuffing his romantic intentions. “I could be your cavalier if you like me. I’m sitting by the cabaret but you don’t mind me. / But angel, I’ve been waiting for long. Still I’m writing you songs.” I love it!

Next up is “Joshstafari,” a reggae-infused rock song inspired by an encounter Kristian had with a homeless man on the street while living in Hammersmith. The track opens with strange synth noises and a frantic guitar riff, then a rising choral yell signals a change in tempo to a languid reggae beat as Kristian begins to tell the tale of Joshstafari. I love his vocals, which sound so different on each song. Here, he seems to channel a bit of Sting, consciously or not, as if in homage to the early Police reggae tunes. The guitar work on this track is fantastic, speeding up then slowing down as the track progresses. In the bridge, Josh lets loose with a scorching punk-like guitar solo, then everything slows back down to a relaxed reggae beat in the outro.

Kristian has produced brilliant, imaginative videos for five of the six tracks on the EP, which I strongly recommend my readers check out on the band’s YouTube channel. Here’s the one he made for “Joshstafari”:

The hauntingly beautiful “Halloween” was actually my first introduction to From the Cave’s music, and I loved it at first listen. The song was written by Mikaela, and addresses the theme of death in a general sense, as in the death of a relationship or friendship. The track starts off with quiet, mysterious synths and plucky guitar accompanied by gentle percussion and a soft chorus that set a lovely tone. Mikaela’s beguiling vocals enter as the music swells with shimmering synths and layered chiming guitars, and Kristian’s vocals join in, harmonizing beautifully with Mikaela’s. The guitars, bass and drums become more intense as the song progresses, making for a dramatically sweeping soundscape that raises goosebumps. Be sure to watch this magical video:

Maybe Not Today” is a straightforward but upbeat pop-rock anthem about putting off an inevitable breakup of a relationship for another day: “The energy when we’re combined, always leaves me magnetized. So how could we still give it up. Maybe not today oh.” The final track “Wasting Time” is a sunny and carefree-sounding pop song with somewhat darker lyrics about remaining stuck in a less than optimal situation. “There’s a million voices telling me that I’ve got to get away from this empty space.” It’s catchy as hell though, with sparkling synths and jangly guitars, and the lovely harmonizing vocals of Josh and Mikaela are oh so pleasing, a word that perfectly describes the entire EP. It’s absolutely sublime, and a testament to the band’s fearlessness in creating music that strays beyond the alternative rock box. I adore From the Cave.

Connect with From the Cave:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

HANNAH CLIVE – Single Review: “Remember to Breathe”

Hannah Clive2

Hannah Clive is a lovely and charming singer/songwriter based in London, UK, and I’ve been meaning to feature her on this blog for a while. Influenced by such legendary ladies of song as Adele, Carole King, Kate Bush and Janis Ian, Hannah writes heartfelt songs that cross many genres, including indie rock, folk, pop, alt-country, blues and even a bit of jazz. She released a gorgeous single “Remember to Breathe” in November 2017, and I’m finally getting around to reviewing this wonderful song.

The track opens with an ominous synth chord that draws us in, then Hannah’s exquisite piano riff enters and we’re instantly hooked. Wow, this is stunning! A delicious assortment of sparkling synths are added along with subtle guitar and gentle percussion, courtesy of producer Brian Tench, creating a dreamy soundscape that’s the perfect backdrop for Hannah’s captivating vocals. I’m blown away by her ability to seduce us one moment, then nearly move us to tears the next. It’s all incredibly breathtaking, so her admonition for us to ‘remember to breathe’ is entirely apropos! The song is so utterly mesmerizing that I keep hitting replay.

The lyrics speak to the concept of having faith and believing in yourself, casting aside obstacles that try to stand in your way, and finding your own truth and path in life:

And when the power of love is greater than the love of power
So it’s said, then my friends we might find some peace
And though it sounds naive –
It’s a direction in which I could set my feet…but just
Remember to breathe

Connect with Hannah:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  Bandcamp / iTunes

ANDREW LA TONA – Album Review: “Human”

The great city of Toronto, Canada has a thriving music scene, and I’ve featured a number of artists and bands based there, most recently The Autumn Stones and their stunning album Emperor Twilight. After seeing that review, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Andrew La Tona reached out to me for consideration of his latest album Human for a review, and I’m so glad he did because it’s fantastic! I can say without equivocation that I love his extraordinary album. Andrew’s a creative and gifted composer, songwriter and musician who employs all sorts of experimental and unique instrumentation, melodies and time signature and chord changes that make for incredibly interesting songs that always deliver unexpected surprises for the listener.

Andrew has had a lifelong love affair with music. As he explains in his bio:

“It seems as if music has been my life since the day I was born.  My mother always reminds me that as a toddler, she signed me up for a Mother and Tot music class. A fond memory of mine is that for as long as I remember, there has always been a piano in my home.  At the age of seven, I began formal lessons in piano and classical theory through the Royal Conservatory of Music for seven years. By fourteen I made a commitment to myself that music was to become my life.  I discovered my father’s old guitar hidden in the basement.  I took it upon myself to learn by ear, listening to records and reading guitar magazines.  When I entered high-school I was proficient on Piano, Guitar, Bass and Drums.  I made the band room my home, where I played in all the school ensembles, refined my sight reading and theory, and learned Trumpet, Euphonium and Flugelhorn as a personal project.”

He went on to study Radio Broadcasting and Journalism at Seneca College and School of Communication Arts, and from 1999 to 2006, he played with various groups with long-time collaborator Edward Kramer, with whom he founded the bands Odd Man Out and Yesterday’s Gone.  They recorded four albums together, and Andrew personally completed three solo albums which went on to be the foundation for his and Ed’s band Big Stereo, to which he devoted his full attention from 2006 to 2009. Since 2010, Andrew has continued to work on his own music, and Human is his latest album, which dropped in June.

Andrew La Tona

Human is a commentary of sorts on the current state of things, in which Andrew expresses his antipathy for today’s leaders, our growing obsession with gadgets, and ponders our place within the vastness of the universe. His lyrics are so well-written and compelling that I’ll be quoting a lot of them. The powerful opening track “Leader” speaks of how humankind’s ignorance and greed is wrecking our planet, yet we’re hungry for leadership to help us solve our problems, but our leader (Trump) is a fraud:

Here, we find ourselves trapped inside a fate so paramount 
And we live for ourselves with no regard for other animals 
Our mother earth is threatening with disaster 
We’re blind, we are condemned to live upon the soiled earth 
How could we figure out how to reverse our plight, our misfortune, our ignorance 
Total genocide 

You’re not the leader we want 
Leave or we’ll never have peace 
The way you speak is absurd 
It warps the minds of our young

Musically, the track starts off with a distorted spacey synth, then expands to a rolling drumbeat as Andrew begins singing in his silky, yet vulnerable voice. His layered jangly and chiming guitars are marvelous, and he uses a variety of synths to great effect in creating a very intriguing song.

Borderlines” is a feast for the ears. Andrew employs guitar, bass, organ, horns, cymbals, drums and glittery synths to weave a rich tapestry of sound that unfolds throughout the length of the enthralling track. The song is about breaking free from mind control and expectations placed upon us by oppressive societal norms.

I want to be free. Free from your borderlines
I need to break the mold you’ve always cast for me
And in my mind, there’s a place like this
Without your rules, your greed

Andrew takes on people who feel success is having more money and stuff than everyone else on “At the Top.” The delightful song has a Latin vibe thanks to a peppy Samba beat and instrumentation that beautifully softens the bite of the lyrics:

Boast among your rich yuppy friends 
‘Bout how you trample on all those around you 
All just to end up at the top 
And what’s left for you? 
Is there more than just the cars – the yacht? 
Honestly, I’m not impressed 
Baby, nothings cooler than you, my friend

Power and Prowess” is an incredibly satisfying ‘fuck you’ to Donald Trump, which automatically makes this a winning song in my book! The track has a fast-paced galloping drumbeat, with wonderful intricate guitar work and crisp layered percussion.  Andrew vocals get downright raw as he snarls the scathing lyrics:

“Be the champion”, that’s what you tell yourself 
I guess in your mind you are 
It’s true you shit on johns of gold 
You’re at least champion of that 
So how can you lead the people of today 
Forward to tomorrow? 

I doubt you know the gravity of your post 
I’d say no 
There are people out there who want to love 
There are people out there who don’t want to die 
You’re not one of us 
We should be blessed with human rights 
No one should be groped by you 
No one should be owned by you 
You’re in charge of you, big boy 
And that’s all (And that’s all) 

Weald that sword in battle, head up to the front line 
Bring yourself to ‘fess-up to one crime 
Let us know who’s running the show 
You’re not the man for the job 
Move over, asshole 
We can save the world 

One of my favorite tracks is “The Walls,” a beautiful declaration of love to someone to whom you are beholden. This song is so utterly captivating it gives me chills. It’s as if Andrew has gone out of his way to make the guitars and synths sparkle like jewels of sunlight strewn across the sea. His fervent vocals, which occasionally soar to a smooth falsetto, are positively sublime.

Another favorite is the bouncy “Laniakea Supercluster,” a fascinating track that has a strong Talking Heads vibe. Along with his echoed vocals, Andrew uses lots of otherworldly synths to create a sci-fi feel to go with the lyrics that speak to the fact that, on the one hand, Earth is but an insignificant speck in the overall massiveness of the universe, but on the other hand, it’s our home and so very significant to our survival and well-being.

So Long to the Human Race” is an apocalyptic clarion call after a nuclear war for those who survive and repopulate the world to try and co-exist in peace and be one with the earth. The gritty guitars, heavy buzzing bass,  organ, and spacey synths lend a somber mood.

It makes me sick to look upon all we’ve done
And the little we’ve done to help
And if I could, I’d eat up all the terrible things we’ve done
And shit it down your throat 

Can’t you see that our kind is a warning 
From the first flame, to the first rocket 
So little is left of what we blew all our cash on 
And burned up all the oil 
And killed who we loved 
So long to the human race 

Time Goes Ever By” touches on our obsession with our mobile devices, addicted to the siren song of staying connected on all our social media accounts, at the expense of many other facets of our lives. I know I’m sometimes guilty of this behavior myself. Musically, the track has a lovely melody, with some terrific guitar and organ. And have I mentioned that I love Andrews’ vocals?

Everyone around me seems to be gripped by the same illness 
Never putting down their device 
Never looking up from their trance 
Never have the time to sow seeds 
Never stepping past the bar 
Of this jail we’re put in by ourselves and our will 
Can we find the strength to let drop the rock upon the screen 
And our friends logged on the web

Human is a brilliant album on every level I can think of – composition, melodies, lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and production. Andrew has done a masterful job with all aspects of the album production, and should be very proud of this outstanding work. And if all that weren’t enough, he even did the amazing cover art!

He’s now in the process of forming an ensemble of musicians to perform with him live, and is excited to have them add some amazing character and flavor to the songs from Human, as well as some of his songs from his back catalogue.

Check out Andrew’s Website and connect with him on  Facebook 
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

ALLEN & DOUGLAS – Album Review: “The Spider and the Phoenix”

Allen & Douglas Album Art

Allen and Douglas are a singing & songwriting duo from Birmingham, UK who play an interesting and pleasing style of folk rock. They’re also two prolific guys, recording and releasing eight albums – containing an astonishing total of 128 songs – in under five years! (They pack a lot of tracks into their albums, with each containing anywhere from 14-20 songs.) Their latest offering is The Spider and the Phoenix, which dropped this past March. It’s an ambitious work with 17 tracks, and is essentially a concept album in two parts, though it flows beautifully as one large production.

Lifelong friends, Craig Allen and Steven Douglas began writing songs in their teens. In their bio, they expand a bit on their background and what the latest album is about:

“Strumming, singing and writing away in old railway stations and under canal bridges we developed our sound, harmonies and song-craft as young men through hard work and trial and error. Nowadays after several hiatuses due to differing work and travel paths, we practice and record regularly in a small bedroom studio in Birmingham, UK. We write primarily for pleasure, producing many genres of music. Our latest body of work ‘The Spider and the Phoenix’ is conceptual and charts a journey from depression to recovery.”

They also have a cheeky sense of humour (notice I used the British spelling):

Allen & Douglas funny pic

The Spider” kicks off the album, not only setting the tone on a musical level, but also establishing the overall theme of depression, represented metaphorically by a spider that spins its web inside our minds, gradually taking over our personality and poisoning our thoughts. The jangly, heavily strummed guitars and spooky keyboard synths lend an unsettling feel to the track, and the guys’ earnest vocals exhibit a hint of menace as they sing: “The Spider inside your mind spins and winds. The Spider deals in junk, what does he find? And I was doing fine.

The melancholy “I Can’t Stand the Pain” speaks to a relationship that’s unraveling: “You scream it’s finished. And I feel diminished.” Listening to the album, one of the things that strikes me is the strong Pink Floyd vibe running throughout, and this song reminds me a bit of “Comfortably Numb” with it’s interesting use of keyboards and sweeping synths.  And the even sadder “So Blue” finds the singer sinking into despair over his emotional abandonment: “So blue, so very blue. Drowning in memories. / Dissecting reality from dreams, I’m struggling upstream. / Rejection is a mother.

One of the prettiest tracks is “Set Sail Suite,” a mostly instrumental composition with hauntingly beautiful string and keyboard synths. The song is briefly interrupted in the middle with a sweet interlude of delicate acoustic guitar and the guys’ distant echoed vocals that sing “Set sail, set sail on your way. You never have the courage to sail.” “Dark Matters” is pure folk rock, and really channels Pink Floyd, especially in the vocals. The song has the singer lamenting his state of loneliness: “Since you left me I’ve been so lonely. / Dark matters swirling round my brain. Too much space drives me insane.” These feelings of loss are affirmed on “The Sun Went Out Last Night,” as they sing “I find myself crawling since she went away.”

“Nothing Comes Out to Play” and “Through the Eye of a Needle” wrap up the depression part of the album. Both tracks have some interesting music touches, thanks to a greater use of synths and organ.  The latter is a somber but lovely piece, and finds the singer concluding that the one who broke his heart is not a good person after all, and therefore not worth wasting any more tears on: “You didn’t realize you were dead in the heart. Trampling innocent people filled with fear. You were so busy doing damage. You didn’t realize you would leave tears along the path.”

Wrap it Up” is the first track of the 2nd half of the album “The Phoenix,” that represents recovery. It speaks of beginning the healing process by regaining your sense of sanity: “Catch your psychosis, wrap it up in cellophane. Don’t let it breathe. Squeeze out the pain. / Don’t bubblewrap your brain.”  “And When All Hope is Gone” is actually a quite hopeful tune, with tentative piano and electric guitar notes that gradually expand into a pleasing melody that seems to evoke sunshine breaking through a layer of clouds: “The sun will shine again, and it will lead me from this pain.” This sunshine is celebrated in the cheerful “Rainbows in the Sky,” and the jangly strummed guitars on the track are especially nice.

Yellow Blue” speaks to a brand new day, while the raw and bluesy “Quite Like You” has the singer extolling the virtues of a new woman who’s captured his attention and heart.  The track has some great guitar and honky-tonk sounding piano.

The Phoenix” is a declaration of survival and rebirth: “Found myself again. / Shook off the feathers. New feathers give me flight. I feel myself again. Same me, shining very bright. I feel I can fly, I feel I can soar holding hands with the sky.” The song is one of the more interesting tracks on the album from a musical standpoint, with a heavily-strummed guitar riff accompanied by xylophone and plucky electric guitar. At the break, the track transitions with an awesome psychedelic flourish of distorted guitar and organ that continues through to the end. The guys shout “Ha Ha, I am the phoenix!”

The guys turn their attention back to that exciting new woman who’s got their juices flowing on the bouncy, romantic tune “Overflowing.” And album closer “Sweet Sweet Dreams” ends things on an upbeat note, with the singer appraising his happy situation with his new love. It’s a pleasing ending to an expansive work that encompasses a broad range of emotions from pain, despair and bitterness, to acceptance, hope and, finally, joy. This was a terrific concept and theme for an album, and I applaud Allen & Douglas for their skill and success in translating their vision into a coherent and finely-crafted work of near-epic proportions. Their creativity, songwriting and musicianship are impressive, and they should be very proud of The Spider and the Phoenix.

Connect with Allen & Douglas:  Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Reverbnation / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

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:

THE AUTUMN STONES – Album Review: “Emperor Twilight”

Autumn Stones

The Autumn Stones are a Toronto, Canada-based band who play music that’s difficult to label as any particular genre, but who cares, really, so long as it sounds great. Their beautiful, pleasing sound incorporates elements of alternative rock, dream pop, jazz, and what the band refers to as “literary rock,” which I take to mean songs built around intelligent, thoughtful lyrics – which theirs have in abundance. Rather unique in their music style is their use of a wide array of instruments, especially saxophone and organ that, along with their gorgeous jangly guitars. creates a lush soundscape that serves as the basis for their wonderful songs.

Since forming in 2009, the band’s undergone a number of changes in personnel, and the current lineup consists of founding member Ciaran Megahey (vocals & guitar), Marcus Tamm (bass), Gary Butler (sax & keyboards), Raymond Cara (drums & percussion) and Dan Dervaitis (guitar & organ). They released their debut album Companions of the Flame in 2011, followed by Escapists in 2015, which I reviewed in 2016. Now they’re back with a stunning new album Emperor Twilight, which dropped on June 22. The album was recorded at Andy Magoffin’s House of Miracles studio in Cambridge, Ontario, and co-produced by the band and Magoffin, who also engineered and mixed it. Harris Newman did the mastering, and I have to say everyone involved in the recording and production of Emperor Twilight did a fantastic job, as The Autumn Stones have never sounded better.

In describing the album’s sometimes doleful theme, Megahey explains: “I’m a little preoccupied with exploring human nature’s dark side. I guess I have always thought of that as the artist’s role in culture. I think, for all the gloom easily pointed out, there’s a lot to be hopeful over and cheered by in the world. Emperor Twilight is also about being grateful for that and resisting the temptation to be cynical.

Kicking off the album is “Nightmares,” a beautiful track that speaks to utopian visions and the tribal and hypocritical aspects of our nature that give rise to authoritarianism.  “Pale as a ghost. Hungry again. Nightmares are born again.” The splendid jangly guitars and Butler’s soulful sax, both defining elements of The Autumn Stones’ appealing sound, are on full display here, as well as on the bouncy “Living in a Dream.” I love Megahey’s smooth, emotive vocals that have a vulnerable, yet seductive quality.

I thought those first two tracks were beautiful – and they surely are! – but the romantic and incredibly melodic “Fontana” is honestly one of the loveliest songs I’ve heard this year. The jangly guitar work is stunning, the swirling keyboard and organ riffs are sublime, and Megahey’s vocals are positively captivating. It’s my favorite track on the album, though quite frankly, I love them all.

Lovebomb” has more of a rock feel, with reverb-drenched and fuzzy guitars overlying a solid buzzing bass line.  Megahey sings of our natural carnal instincts: “There’s a sin in our skin. Can you blame us? Lovebomb.” On “The Bigger They Fail,” their gorgeous jangly guitars seem to channel The Cure, and Butler’s smooth sax is sublime.  I’m running out of superlatives to describe their songs, but damn this is a beauty, and yet another favorite of mine. The upbeat “Lovelife” has a breezy Style Council vibe and, as always, the guitars, bass, sax and percussion are perfection. Megahey croons the positive lyrics about embracing the good things about your life, and letting go of the bad: “You’ve go to love life down to the bitter end. Cause you don’t get a second chance. It’s so late, but is it too late?

The album’s marvelous lead single “Mandatory Love” is an exuberant gem that seems to tell us that love should liberate, rather than imprison, the heart and mind. The instrumentals are dazzling, and the lyrics poetic:

It was an idea unrare
Breathes like solid air
A total flop, a keystone cop
Agents of despair

This little heart, you’re set upon
This little heart, it can’t beat wrong

Our gilded prologue
Drives a wedge
Fills our ancient cup
This little dove locked up
She cannot be tamed
By mandatory love

It was an idea unsound
Feels like shaky ground
A total bore, a ‘less not more’
The undead overground

Closing out Emperor Twilight is the sweeping anthem “Every Little Shadow.” Dervaitis’ lovely organ work takes a starring role on this moving track, and the guitars are superb. It’s the perfect ending to as close to perfect an album that I’ve heard this year. Every track on this beautiful album is outstanding, and I cannot heap enough praise upon it. The guys that make up The Autumn Stones are all gifted musicians, and I hope they continue to grace our ears with their music.

Connect with The Autumn Stones:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  iTunesBandcamp

BRETT VOGEL – Single Review: “Superwoman Sway”

Brett Vogel is an immensely talented and hard-working singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. We’ve followed each other on social media for nearly three years, and I find Brett to be a warm, kind and gracious guy. He was one of the very first artists I featured on this blog, way back in January 2016, and you can read that post here. Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, he grew up listening to his father’s records and became a fan of music at a very young age – something that I closely identify with, as I was listening to my parents’ Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Elvis Presley records as soon as I was able to walk.

Brett describes his passion for music: “Music is within every fiber of my being! I sincerely believe without music I’d be doomed. Music has kept me alive. Music, I believe, has saved my life. Music is love to me. Music helps people heal. It’s what connects people, and for that I’m grateful!” Blessed with a large vocal range and beautiful tone, Brett showcases his sweet and soaring falsetto in many of the wonderful songs he writes.

Brett Vogel

Brett released his first album Lonely Traveler in 2004, and subsequently moved to LA. He eventually became discouraged about the music industry and returned to Illinois, but after three years he decided to move back to L.A. and give music another go, and has never looked back. In 2015 he released his second album Never Giving Up, a superb effort featuring 11 beautiful tracks that are a celebration of his passion for – and dedication to – his dream of making music. Since then, he’s released several singles and remixes, the latest of which is his delightful new single “Superwoman Sway,” which dropped July 20th.

It’s an upbeat, happy tune with an infectious reggae/dance beat that aims straight for the hips.  The carefree guitars, lively synths and snappy drums transport us to a sun-kissed tropical beach, making it a perfect song for summer. Brett’s earnest vocals are lovely as he sings of his devotion for a loved one who brings so much joy to his life:

There you go brightening up my day 
You wouldn’t know it but it’s true
What you’ve got is that Superwoman Sway
I wouldn’t have any other

Through the thick and thin when I’m dashed upon the rocks
You stay close to me and give me all you’ve got
Through the lightning clouds
The sorrow and the rain
You take away my blue, brighten up my sky
To see the light again

Every little thing you do is so so you
I couldn’t have it any better no
Every little thing you do is so so you
I couldn’t have it any better

Connect with Brett:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: iTunes /

DARREN CAMPBELL – Single Review: “Wherever You Are”

Darren Campbell is a talented and hard-working 24-year-old singer/songwriter from Scotland who’s now based in London, UK. He’s been making music since his teens, releasing his first single “Find My Way” in January 2012. He followed with the EP Days to Come later that year, and has released a great number of fine singles in the years since. His latest is a beautiful song “Wherever You Are,” which dropped in May.

Darren Campbell single art

The track opens with a delicate jangly guitar riff and ambient synths, immediately enchanting our eardrums. Fifteen seconds in, the guitars and synths expand into an exuberant and gorgeous wall of sound, accompanied by a joyous toe-tapping beat. Darren’s strong, earnest vocals convey the optimism, hope and love expressed in his lyrics:

Wherever you are, wherever you go
Always watch the stars unfold
The love you wanted you could know
The lives we live are wonderful
When you think about me when you think about us
I don’t want you to fear babe
I want you to trust

In an interview with music blog Music Musings & Such, Darren explained his inspiration  for writing the song: “‘Wherever You Are’ is inspired by the need to travel and see what’s out there in the world. I have older brothers in the States, great friends living in different countries and my parents back home in Scotland. With this song, I captured the feelings I had regarding the need to get out of your comfort zone and experiencing life whilst still feeling close and connected with the ones you love, even if they may be half the world away!”

The gorgeous music video for “Wherever You Are” was filmed and edited by Patrick Zangl, and follows Patrick and friend Christina Canek, accompanied by their beautiful husky, in their exploration of South Tyrol in northeastern Italy.

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

PANDARAMA – EP Review: “Mixed Messages”

PandaRama

PandaRama is a creative young alternative pop/rock band from Miami, epicenter for the thriving South Florida music scene. (I’ve featured quite a number of South Florida artists & bands on this blog, including Above the Skyline, Sunghosts, Dyslexic Postcards, Xotic Yeyo, Raker and John Defeo.) I also happen to have an adorable cat named Panda, so it’s only natural I’d like a band called PandaRama.

The band was formed 2014 by Christian “Panda” Benabe (vocals) and Steven Quintanilla (guitar) while they were students at Miami-Dade College, and they were joined two years later by drummer William Snyder. In September 2016 they released their first EP 37.5%, a solid effort with five very good tracks, and in May of this year, they dropped a new EP Mixed Messages. They’re currently working on recording a full-length album, but wanted to showcase their softer side. So, they recorded acoustic versions of a few songs, which resulted in the more ambient and experimental approach used on Mixed Messages, and I think they turned out quite nicely. The songs all address troubled relationships with honest, biting lyrics set to sublime melodies.

For the first track “Toxic,” PandaRama skillfully melds elements of acoustic folk/rock with synthpop to create a great-sounding and powerfully moving song. Despite the dark subject matter, the instrumentals are beautiful, with Steven’s intricate, rapidly strummed guitar work, accompanied by swirling synths and a gentle drumbeat.  Panda’s commanding vocals are filled with emotion as he sings the bitter lyrics about a relationship damaged beyond repair:  “This could be toxic. The grievances we hold. This is toxic. The story left untold. Those beautiful lies we left behind. We slowly killed ourselves inside.”

Someone Save Me” is a poignant ballad about someone in a precarious emotional state pleading with a loved one to help him keep it together: “Give me a reason to stay. Why shouldn’t I throw it all away? Instead of you standing there, show me that you really care. Prove yourself to me. / Recovery is a couple of words away. Giving up is an action I won’t take. All I need is to hear you go ‘Someone save me’.”

My favorite track is “Sweet Daughter of Blood,” a lovely song about a not so lovely woman. The gorgeous music, consisting mostly of delicate keyboard synths and Steven’s exquisite acoustic guitar work, sharply contrasts with the scathing lyrics, sung by Panda with an icy bitterness:

Disguising your lies with those pretty eyes
Oh boy what a joy just to have you around
Dear pretty girl you reeked of disaster
Make your plans, have them run a little faster
As you separate all in the family

Fooled just a little
Harbored a meany devil
Sick twisted individual
Monster, monster, monster
We had a monster, monster, monster
She was a monster, monster, monster
There goes the monster, monster, a monster
Good riddance to the monster

Hey sweet daughter of blood
I’m kicking you from my life to throw you in the mud
Guilty, with treason in the family
You don’t really care, watch us suffer everywhere
But no, not today. In hell you will stay
So burn away

As the song draws to a close, the hauntingly beautiful guitar riff is gradually replaced with sounds of crackling flames. I love it!

Follow PandaRama:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube
Stream their music:   Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes

TRUE THE GRAY – Single Review: “Greet Your Tragedy”

True the Gray is a metalcore band based in Denver, Colorado. Formed in 2016 from the ashes of metalcore band Me Against Sunrise, True the Gray consists of Peter Vaughn (guitars, vocals, percussion, keys) and Scotty Wilson (vocals, guitars, percussion). The guys are friendly and engaging, referring to themselves as “Just two friends making heavy, passionate music that features references to Transformers, chicken and rice stuffing, and crematoriums.” Works for me! They released a very respectable debut self-titled EP True the Gray in 2016, and now follow up with a face-melting, emotionally powerful new single “Greet Your Tragedy.”

The guys explain that the song “is about someone on the verge of madness, trying to hang on to what semblance they have of their former selves. An anthem for mental health.” It opens with a gritty distorted guitar chord, setting an ominous tone for things to come. Suddenly, all hell breaks loose as the song erupts into a maelstrom of bone-crushing staccato riffs, wailing distortion, and massive, ear-piercing percussion. These guys mean business, delivering a relentless onslaught of furious instrumentation that elevates the track’s emotional impact nearly to the breaking point. Their chilling vocals range from savage growls and furious screams to impassioned soaring harmonies. By song’s end, we’re left dazed and spent.

“Greet Your Tragedy” is a brilliant, flawlessly-crafted track, with compelling lyrics and superb instrumentals, vocals and production values. The guys really up their game on this mind-blowing powerhouse of a song, and it’s their best work yet.

Connect with True the Gray:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify /  Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes