Infinite Eights is an incredibly charismatic and astonishingly talented indie alternative pop/rock band based in Tampa, Florida. They were one of the first bands to follow me on Twitter back in the fall of 2015, when I was just starting out as a music blogger and still a complete unknown. At the time, two of the band members, Parker Wilkson (guitar, keyboards & vocals) and Tyler Hanks (drums & percussion) were still in high school, and Davin Norman (bass) was in college. I was immediately impressed by the high quality of their songs, as well as their kindness and gracious humility, and wrote a feature about them for this blog in April 2016, which you can read here.
They originally formed in 2012 while still young teens, and have released numerous singles over the years, as well as a six-track EP Unfound in 2015. Their music is characterized by gorgeous melodies, sparkling synths, lush keyboards, intricate guitar riffs, and nimble bass and percussion. Infinite Eights has performed in several music festivals alongside some of the biggest names in music, including The 1975, Phantogram, AWOLNATION and Sir Sly, among others, and has opened for Kaleo, AJR, In the Valley Below, and The Relationship. It’s given me great pleasure to follow them on their musical journey, witnessing their growth and maturity as a band on an upward trajectory.
One of their recent singles is “Off the Rails“, an achingly beautiful, bittersweet song about how one partner is giving up on the relationship. The song is magnificent, and a perfect example of their superb songwriting and musicianship. It opens with a stunning guitar riff, backed by shimmery synths, Davin’s pulsating bass and Tyler’s gently pummeling drumbeats. Parker’s guitar work is impressive, and he lays down a breathtaking guitar solo in the bridge that literally brings tears to my eyes. His heartfelt vocals are lovely, ranging from breathy to impassioned as he fervently sings “Cause you’re going off the rails. Know just what that entails. Gonna let our love go stale. You’re going off the rails now.”
The cast of the “Off the Rails” video
Infinite Eights has just released a wonderful new video for the song, their first ‘official’ video. The action tells the story laid out in the lyrics, about a young woman giving up on the relationship and saying goodbye to her partner, played by Parker, as she boards a train that will carry her away. The outstanding video was skillfully directed by band friend Ashley Acevedo, and is dedicated to Parker’s beautiful mother Natalie, who tragically passed away in January.
Sometimes you just want to hear music that makes you feel good, am I right? Well, that’s exactly what you get with the aptly titled Warmth & Shelter, an absolutely delightful album from the band Secret American. The album came out in May 2018, but I only recently learned about it from fellow music blogger Tina Romano, who wrote a wonderful review for the blog Niche-Appeal.com, and recommended that I give this band a listen. Well, I have to say that it’s one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard in a long time. I’m sorry I never heard this album in 2018, because I’d easily rank it among the best of that year.
Secret American’s refreshing sound is at once retro yet contemporary, unique yet familiar. While listening to the songs I kept wondering ‘who do they remind me of?’ Then it finally dawned on me that the carefree California pop-rock vibe of The Lovin’ Spoonful was the retro part, while the contemporary side evokes the laid-back grooves of Cage the Elephant. While their song lyrics often address serious subjects that require a bit of thinking, they’re presented with sunny melodies, breezy instrumentation and pleasing vocals that make for happy listening experience. The songs are infectiously catchy without hitting you over the head, slowly boring themselves into your brain, but in a very good way. When I first listened to Warmth & Shelter, I thought ‘these songs are nice’. On the second listen, I thought ‘this is a really good album’. By the third spin, it was ‘I fucking love this!’ and have been hooked ever since.
Born from the collaboration of singer/songwriter and guitarist Derek Krzywicki, who lives in the small town of Carpenteria on the California coast east of Santa Barbara, and his long-time friend Todd Mecaughey, a producer/engineer who lives in Philadelphia, Secret American is a bi-coastal band of sorts. Derek had written several songs after leaving the band Cheers Elephant, and reached out to Todd about helping bring them to life. Despite their distance, they began working together on music fairly regularly for over a year in Philadelphia, as well as collaborating through the internet from their home studios, and eventually formed Secret American. Todd has stated that the name comes from them being simultaneously proud and ashamed to be American (a sentiment I currently share). Using Derek’s songs, the two created their debut album Warmth & Shelter. For the recording of the tracks, Derek played guitar, bass and sang vocals, Todd played drums, Kevin Killen played pedal steel, and Katie Frank played keyboards. Todd also engineered and produced the album. Along with those four, three additional musicians – Tony Unander, Alex Baranowski and Rory Geoghegan – were enlisted to complete the lineup for live performances.
The album kicks off with the title track “Warmth & Shelter“, a sweet tune about making a life in the country with your beloved, knowing there will be rough spots, but that everything will be alright: “Oh my dear, I wish to lead a Countried life. Hard work low wages. But these days, they lie ahead of us just out of reach. We’re making changes. I’ll hold the book you’ll turn the pages. Take what we want, take what we need, this little home, this dog we feed. This land of ours it’s all we need. Give me warmth and shelter, heart as well to count, count, count, on me.” The twangy guitars, cheerful synths and bouncy drumbeats are sublime, and Derek’s falsetto vocals, backed by his and Katie’s smooth harmonies, are sheer delight.
I don’t usually include so many videos in my reviews, but the band has produced highly entertaining ones for several of the album’s songs that are worth sharing. Feel free to watch them (or not). This one for “Warmth & Shelter” beautifully showcases Derek’s strong charisma and playful spirit.
Speaking of charisma and playfulness, Derek has it in spades on the charming and droll video for “Bang Bang“. He states in the video notes that it was made “to explain some of the choreography for their first band practice. It is now our default music video.” Honestly, how can you not love this guy? The song has a soulful Americana vibe, and is catchy as hell, with a delightful mix of jangly electric and twangy slide guitars, accompanied by a gently galloping beat. Derek’s vocals are quirky as he croons the humorous lyrics that speak to sexual desire: “I’m a standing tall and ready, not a man in disguise. I want you to blow my head out, right between the eyes. Sooner or later, like it or not. Tie yourself together and I’ll undue your knot. Send me your love on that ball and chain.”
“Why Believe?” speaks to the current state of political, economic and environmental upheaval. The song’s bubbly instrumentals and vocals sharply contrast with the darker lyrics about trying to avoid becoming totally cynical or hopeless in the face of challenges on multiple fronts: “The hotter the hotter the deeper the water. I think it’s time for a swim. Shame to the shameful, blame to the blameful for frying their lies in a pan. Why Believe? I can’t believe myself. Too poor to retire, too young die.”
The great tracks keep coming as the album continues, each flowing beautifully into the next. “Good Men Change” addresses the impermanence of life and not always taking things at face value: “Bad men dream, good men lie. / Clocks go round, things unwind.” One of my favorite tracks is “Amen, California” an enthralling ode to Derek’s (and my) home state. The song is beautiful, with a languid tempo and smooth instrumentals that evoke the blissful feels of a sunny day at the beach. Derek’s vocals are soothing and warm as he croons of the California state of mind: “Be free, like the fish in the sea. Let the waves crash on you, and be reborn in California.” The track sounds like a live recording, with street noise and children’s voices heard in the background.
Another favorite is the joyful love song “I Wanna Know“. If this song doesn’t make you feel good, then I don’t know what will! The simple lyrics ask the object of his desire if they share the feelings he has for them: “I wanna know who’s side you’re on. I wanna know you completely and turn on your TV and put your records on.” Much to the band’s surprise and delight, the song was featured in the premier episode of the YouTube original TV show Weird City, produced by Jordan Peele and Charlie Sanders (which you can watch by clicking on this link). The video for the track, which was filmed on location in Philadelphia and edited by band member Tony Unander, is also a pleasure to watch.
“Chelsea the Cat” is a wonderful slice of Americana confection, with some tasty guitar work, while the funky “Wish A Well” really channels Cage the Elephant. In fact, Derek’s vocals sound a lot like Matt Shultz on this track. Yet another favorite of mine is “Human“, one of the most interesting tracks on the album from a musical standpoint. The melody is mesmerizing and beautiful, with sort of a sped-up and modified ska beat, and the intricate, layered guitars and lush, exotic synths are gorgeous. Derek’s slightly echoed vocals are captivating as he sings of what it means to be a human, rather than a certain race, nationality or type: “I’m a human, I’m not labeled on the shelf. / So long being a stranger. Wearing the name that they gave ya.” The lyrics eventually recite the first few verses of the National Anthem, delivered in a completely different way that seems to lend the words new meaning.
Closing out the album is “Magnolia“, a pleasant lo-fi instrumental that opens with a sweet acoustic guitar riff and gentle synth beat that’s eventually joined by a simple organ riff that lends a bit of a carnival vibe. Halfway through, a lovely chiming guitar enters along with a string synth chord, and the result is pure bliss. The instrumentals fade as the song comes to an end, leaving us with just a few discordant notes of acoustic guitar.
I cannot gush enough about this marvelous album and band! Secret American is a group of incredibly creative and talented musicians, and they deserve to be big. I really love their sound and style, and hope they’ll soon make more of their incredible music for us to enjoy. Those of you fortunate to live in the Philadelphia area can catch them at their upcoming show on March 29th at Underground Arts in Philadelphia.
I continue to be amazed and a little amused that I’ve gained a reputation as a music blogger who artists and bands reach out to in hopes I’ll listen to and write about their music, especially given the fact I play no instruments, cannot read music, have never written a song, and know zero about computer music programs or synthesizers. Hell, I only learned a few years ago that a bass guitar has only four strings as opposed to a standard six-string guitar! That said, I’m immensely impressed by people who can do all those things. I also try to keep an open mind about all kinds of music, and (almost always) know a good song when I hear it.
With that in mind, I’m pleased to feature a young, promising musician from Canada who goes by the artistic name PHYSIA. It’s the basement project of 19-year-old college student James Bings, who just released his self-titled debut EP Physia on the 25th of January. Now based in Victoria, James grew up in the small city of Williams Lake, deep in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, and learned to play guitar and bass at a young age. He developed his skills performing live with his late grandfather, mostly jig and waltz songs. Drawing inspiration from bands like Mac Demarco, HOMESHAKE and Mild High Club, he wrote the songs for Physia during his freshman year of university, and recorded, produced and mixed them by himself. He played guitar and bass, and used synthesizers for the percussion.
His songs are all instrumentals, characterized by his lush-sounding reverb-drenched guitars, subtle bass and gentle percussion. The first track “Cool Cat” is an aptly-named, pleasing song with jazz-infused jangly guitars and just a hint of percussion. The title track “Physia” is sublime, with a lovely melody and terrific jangly and chiming guitars. I especially like the watery guitars that appear later in the song that add a bit of funkiness to the track. “Beach Interlude” is a short track, only 1:16 minutes long, but it’s a beauty, with some fine guitar work that conveys images of a romantic night on the beach.
“Nice Dog” is a mellow, happy tune with jazzy, reverb-heavy riffs, accompanied by a pleasant little percussive beat. The song seems to end at the 3-minute mark, then suddenly starts back up with a sped-up version of the same melody and guitar riff, ending on an exuberant note. “Floral” is another brief track, but James’ intricate guitar work is really beautiful.
My favorite is “Drag Queen” which has the most complex and fully-developed melody of all the tracks. The sweeping jangly and chiming guitars are gorgeous, and I love the effect of James’ soaring vocals that meld so beautifully with the guitars, creating a wonderful glittery soundscape. I asked James why he gave the track that title, and he said he was inspired by RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he and his girlfriend enjoy watching. The laughter of who I’m guessing is James and his girlfriend at the end is a fun touch.
Physia is a great little EP, and a very respectable debut effort that James should be proud of. He’s a fine guitarist and composer, and I really like his sound. I’m confident his skills will continue to grow and improve as he matures, and I’d like to see him use more complex melodies, guitar riffs and synths, and perhaps even try writing lyrics and adding more vocals to his songs.
The cool artwork for the EP was created by graphic and digital artist, editor/motion designer and composer Harrison Ames Barrett https://www.ames.digital/
Dunkie is the music project of Welsh singer/songwriter Anthony Price. Hailing from the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Anthony has written and recorded songs for several years, and more recently, has been working on his forthcoming debut album Working to Design. It’s a concept album of sorts, with all the songs partially inspired by the books and works of Richard Matheson. It’s also an ambitious labor of love, as Anthony has toiled countless long hours getting each track perfect, as well as making imaginative videos for some of the songs. He’s released four tracks thus far, beginning with “Can a Song Save Your Life?” in May 2018, and subsequently dropping another single every two to three months. The songs were all written by Anthony and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by Wayne Bassett at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales. Besides Anthony and Wayne, an assortment of other musicians and vocalists performed on each track, as will be noted below. Also, an interesting aspect of the creation of this album is the use of dramatic artwork by Welsh artist Michael Gustavius Payne for each single.
“Can A Song Save Your Life?” is a lovely, optimistic song with a rich and eclectic mix of instruments that make for an interesting and enjoyable listen. For this track, dunkie consists of Anthony Price on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and keys, Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, EBow, electric guitar and percussion, Charlotte Jayne on violins and trumpets, and Lucy Athey and Mark Purnell on backing vocals. Anthony’s tenor vocals are heartfelt and pleasing.
Anthony describes the song’s meaning: “The concept behind this song is trying to find a little hope; when all really seems a little lost. When the deepest, darkest moment seems to smother over you, when it suffocates you. ‘You don’t know how IT began…’, but then the littlest gesture lifts, the smallest moment lifts, a piece of music, a film or song you love just lifts you. You step back that one little moment and look around. I hope this makes a little sense and someone understands. I hope you’ll find it in yourself as I thankfully have.”
About the fascinating and charming video, he explains: “Over some two years ago I had written a few video concepts for my songs. I knew I wanted people to be wearing masks. I loved the metaphor of hiding behind many a mask. Oscar Wilde once said ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth’. The ‘dunkie’ name and music is my mask. So I wanted to represent the mask in these videos. In particular I wanted to represent them by the use of Wintercroft Masks. Each mask is a downloadable PDF template, each mask has to be created individually, and each mask can take about 2-4 hours each to create (longer if you’re me!!). Added here was the decorative design I wanted to include by adding my own song lyrics, in multiple languages (and the entire pages of Crime and Punishment) upon each mask face.”
“Sugar” is a sweet (no pun intended) love song of thanks to a partner who has stood by you through good times and bad, with unconditional love. Anthony’s gentle vocals and guitar work are sublime, and he’s assisted on this track by Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, percussion and programming, Dave Healey with additional electric guitar, and Lucy Athey, who provides lovely and ethereal backing vocals.
Thank you for whispering ‘I love you’ Thank you smiling when you are down Thank you for sharing your life with me I’m thankful dreams like these have come Thank you for today I’m thankful that you stayed I’m thankful sugar melts away
“Rabbit Hole” is a poignant song that seems to be about coming to terms with loss. Anthony wistfully sings: “Tumble and fall, this rabbit-hole is funnel-webbed and soaring. I fear I’ll never reach this endless horror I fold upon myself… Another pill dissolves; I’m crawling faster to the edge. To the edge for you.” The track has a serene, rather bittersweet melody with gentle guitar, synths and percussion, and the vocal harmonies are really nice. For this track, Anthony sang vocals and played acoustic guitar, Rob Lear sang backing vocals and played Moog, electric guitar and percussion, Dorian Richard Holmes played bass, and Jennifer Drew played drums.
The video shows an extended family coming together for a picnic to remember a loved one, a child perhaps? Anthony leaves the interpretation up to the listener: “I’d love to hear your thoughts on the concept/theme and what it evokes in you. Both lyrically and visually, ‘Rabbit Hole’ covers the same subject, so we’re not too far from the same page. I’ll leave it at that.”
“(W.A.L.L.S.) Within a Little Love Song” is a beautiful love song with more of a rock feel than the other three tracks, thanks to a greater prominence of electric guitars. But it still has the pleasing qualities that all of dunkie’s songs possess, with rich instrumentation and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The lyrics are a reminder to a loved one that even though you may not say it as often as you used to, your love for them is as strong as ever:
(You know) yesterday I loved you (Don’t forget) I have and always will (But through) the years I spoke it lessened (Know this) my love’s never subdued
So I’ve found these words to sing And they’re all for you, they’re all for you My need to show within a love song – within a love song
For this track, Anthony sang vocals, played acoustic and electric guitar, bass, harmonica and percussion, Wayne played electric guitar and synths, Paul Maskell played additional electric guitar, Karl James played drums, and Matt Williams sang backing choral vocals.
All four tracks are wonderful, and if the rest of them are even half as good, then Working to Design is going to be an incredible album. I love dunkie’s calm, lovely sound and could listen to their songs over and over.
BetaPSI is the music project of Italian singer/songwriter/producer Barbara Benedetti. Based in Trieste, BetaPSI (also symbolized by the characters βψ) is a fascinating woman and artist who creates innovative alternative electronic rock music that’s thoroughly unique and unlike anything I’ve heard from any other musician. She provides a wonderful description of herself and her music in her bio that I can’t improve upon, so will just quote her words:
“I am β. an Italian songwriter. I grew up listening to all music genres, I love music itself. Suddenly, around March 2016, all the music I’ve listened to throughout my life, started pushing to get out… so here I am. I still don’t know how it works but my half neuron (I called it ‘Half’) started spiking music and lyrics. So I took my electric guitar and my bass, I bought a micro (micro, very micro) synth, and started torturing them. Then I learnt how Ableton works… it is a long story… the point is I’m a nut and weird so I started making songs. Due to the “features” above mentioned, all BetaPSI songs in some way are different from one another. They are all original songs, written, played with my beloved instruments, performed, recorded and mixed by BetaPSI aka me.”
She’s also a gracious and generous artist who actively supports other artists, and is always open to working with them to combine their creative talents and produce fresh and exciting music. In her short time making music, she’s already collaborated with several musicians from around the world, including GJART (Spain), thommo (UK) and Vizualye (USA). She has also produced an astonishing output of music in her own right. One of her latest singles is “Psychosomatic“, a darkly thrilling EDM track about mental illness that she released on January 4th.
The song blasts open with an onslaught of grinding industrial synths, then a hypnotic driving beat hooks us in as BetaPSI’s eerie, seductive vocals enter the mix like a siren’s call, pulling us willingly into a swirling vortex of ominous sounds from which we’re powerless to escape. As the track progresses, she adds layers pf pulsating spacey and psychedelic synths and her own spooky echoed backing vocals, further amplifying the already menacing, otherworldly vibe. The result is an impressive EDM track that skillfully conveys the sense of a mind tortured by dark thoughts: “Call the doctor, take a pill. There’s no cure, the mind is ill.”
Have a listen to this brilliant song as you watch the great video she made to go with it:
Erin Incoherent is a unique artist with a great name and a colossal talent to match. The self-described ‘singer, musician, poet, writer, mental health advocate, model, artist, makeup junkie, loudmouth and strong woman’ is a force to be reckoned with. Ever since her publicist Radio Ready PR contacted me about a possible review of her latest album Medusa, my initial intrigue about Erin and her music has grown into full-blown admiration as I’ve learned more about her. Through her honest, provocative lyrics, her writings for the webzine The Punk Lounge, and her involvement with the Trigger Warning program in Philadelphia, I’ve found her to be an unflinching and outspoken champion for mental health and issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse. She’s also a great vocalist and pretty damned skilled on the guitar and ukelele.
Born Erin Cookman, the young singer-songwriter got her start in Fort Collins, Colorado, writing folk songs and making a name for herself on the local music scene. In 2013, she released her debut album Ha Ha Ha, a collection of eight terrific folk-rock songs featuring only her acoustic guitar and strong vocals. She followed up in 2015 with a second album Miss Shitskey, which included four of the tracks from Ha Ha Ha, and later that year, released a 3-song collaborative EP she recorded with artist CinderBlock, simply titled CinderBlock and Erin Cookman. In December 2017, Erin moved to Philadelphia and in April 2018 dropped her third album Medusa, an 11-song manifesto on anxiety, trauma and pain.
Erin’s music style tends mostly toward folk/indie rock, with punk sensibilities. She played guitar, ukelele, xylophone and sang most vocals on Medusa (with the exception of three songs she co-wrote with CinderBlock, who also sang with her on those tracks). Tenaya Heredia played bass and Chris Beeble, who also recorded and mixed the album, played drums. The album opens with the title track “Medusa“, a catchy but rather harsh song about drug addiction, with Medusa symbolizing the monster of addiction. Erin’s aggressively strummed guitar and fervent vocals convey the powerful and conflicting emotions expressed in the lyrics:
I’ll take a, laid back, panic attack some Xanax mixed with, a tonic and Jack two and one makes three, keep your eyes on me 20mg of Sertraline
I’ll take one for the anger and one for fatigue, one for the restlessness, and one just to sleep, and if after half the bottle, your symptoms increase, don’t you worry too much, just call me.
Medusa! Destroy me, my love forevermore the most beautiful thing I will see, Medusa turn me to stone oh Medusa, leave me alone!
“Ulcer” speaks to the pain and desolation from a failed relationship where love has died. Once again, Erin uses a metaphor, this time a broken home to symbolize her emotional state, and her lyrics paint a stark picture: “and the carpet was torn up to serve as a shortcut for people who’d rather have an easy way out / and the faucets are all rusted, don’t try them, just trust me / the last living occupants died from the drought.” The track opens and closes with a beautiful folk-sounding strummed acoustic guitar, but for the main part of the song, Erin’s more aggressive guitar riffs have a bit of a Spanish vibe.
Erin reunites with the singer/songwriter CinderBlock on three tracks, the first of which “How to Cope” speaks to struggling to keep it together and not let life’s problems from the past bring you back down: “I just need to stay off of that street at least until I’m strong enough to not sink to my knees. But every heartbreak song, like the falling leaves, are drifting through the branches of the very same trees of this rotten town, this rotten old temple.” “Lose Myself” is about weighing the consequences of surrendering yourself to romantic and emotional desires for another, and “Stronger Man” addresses the inability to get over an old flame: “I wrote ‘I miss you’ in your notebook, cause most days I do. And I don’t wanna see you, but it’s all I’m looking forward to. I remember drinking whiskey, making love, and making plans. I guess I’ll never be the stronger man.” Erin and CinderBlock’s vocals complement each other beautifully, melding together into sublime harmonies on all three tracks.
On “Destroy“, Erin sings of the damage she’s caused to a relationship, and wanting forgiveness yet knowing it may already be too late for that: “I wish you’d forgive me. Cause I fucking hate this. The end of the rope, yeah, we’ve tied both the nooses unless you’ll have mercy AND JUST FUCKING SHOOT US! Give me a sign that’s conducive to Spring. Unless it’s too late and I’ve destroyed everything.” Her guitar work on this track is exceptionally good. “Fallen” seems to be about not allowing others’ expectations and possible disappointments in you keep you mired in guilt, and preventing you from moving forward on your own path: “Now I’m left with these scars that will not heal. The pain it devastates, but tell me, is it real? Sworn to a creed, their tired old motif. But this is not my cross to bear.”
One of my favorite tracks is “Echoes“, a dark song about a relationship that’s broken beyond repair. Erin’s skill at writing biting and meaningful lyrics is impressive, and I offer as evidence this line that so poetically expresses how two people who once loved each other could become enemies: “A smoke screen was raised, we could not smudge one another with no time to waste, how easy are foes found in lovers.” Her ukelele on this track is hauntingly beautiful, as are her emotionally raw vocals. And I love the excellent video that shows her singing the song in a graffiti-covered abandoned building that’s as bleak as the lyrics.
“Splinter” speaks to the loss of self-esteem inflicted in large part by someone you once held up on a pedestal: “Oh girl, he’s just a splinter, his eyes whisper just a glimmer of the story you once told of gold in him” and the desire to feel good about yourself again: “Please, tell me I can be enough for anybody else. Please, cause I was so much happier when I could love myself.” Self-esteem takes a nosedive on the grim “Cheerleaders Smoke Crack“, another song about the struggles of addictive behaviors, with some brutally frank lyrics:
I watched myself burn out on the wrong side of the tracks, I hitched a ride back, then watched myself fall off the wagon It’s no use, I’ve tried, to hide in plain sight This weight in my heart makes me try a suicide attempt 26 stitches wide
Punk rockers, they never survive They either burn out young or they change their mind Not a safe place to be, for you or me And junkies, they never grow old, They either clean up their act or they overdose And I guess, as long as they’re happy, I don’t mind
Alcoholics, truth be told, They only see their future in a bottle of Skol And I don’t wanna know those fools no more, I don’t wanna be that fool no more
And you scared me nearly half to death, You don’t look the same since you’ve been smoking meth, But we all have different ways that we lose sleep. We all have different ways that we lose…
The final track “Disturbia Suburbia” is also pretty unsettling. Erin plays ukelele, guitar and xylophone on this track, accompanied by a bouncy melody that sharply contrasts with the troubling lyrics about how suburbia is not all sunshine and green lawns: “An old friend killed himself before the start of Spring, I wonder if he left the weight of the world or if the weight of the world just left him hanging. / Leave it to me to get strung out, and freak everybody out then say, ‘I won’t do that again’. These days there’s nobody here, it feels surreal, so many years spent with kids I don’t even think I know, do they know me? Disturbia Suburbia, and I hope we all get out, and I hope we all feel free.”
Erin Incoherent covers a lot of heavy subject matter on Medusa, but it’s all deeply relatable and compelling, and sounds fantastic too. She’s an incredible songwriter and lyricist, and her guitar and ukelele playing are first-rate. I also like her strong, clear vocal style, which makes listening to her songs a real pleasure. All in all, I give a big enthusiastic thumbs up on this album.
Like most singer-songwriters, Italian folk artist Andy K Leland is a poet of sorts. He pens lyrics loaded with meaning and delivered with a droll sense of humor, and expresses them through only his acoustic guitar and sparse vocals. Though he hails from the Adriatic coast of Italy, he sounds like he’s from the English Midlands, especially given his artistic moniker. In his bio, Andy – who was born Andrea Marcellini – calls himself Andrea’s “shadow-self, and the two selves fear each other.” That dichotomy is clearly evident in his songs, where his often dark, depressing lyrics sharply contrast with his simple, catchy melodies and pleasing acoustic guitar.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Andy’s sound is his quirky, off-kilter vocal style, in which he clips his words, sometimes dropping a letter or two. It all sounds charming in an off-beat sort of way, and perfectly suited to his mellow lo-fi sound. Despite his cynical, often bleak lyrics about life and relationships, his songs seem to tell us to not take life so seriously after all, or at the very least resign ourselves to life’s inevitable travails without losing our minds in the process.
In early 2017, Andy began issuing a series of singles that were ultimately featured on his debut EP Happy Daze, which he released that September. (You can read my review of Happy Dazehere.) Keeping with his penchant for dark themes set to only an acoustic guitar, Andy’s just released a charming new single “Ticking Madness“, which dropped on December 4. Andy had this to say about the recording of the song on his Facebook page: “I’m broke as fuck and can’t handle any music recording software. Luckily, a friend of mine got me an old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. I instantly fell in love with that machine and started fiddling around with it straightaway! Here’s what I’ve come up with. Sound quality is pretty rough, but really… who cares?! That’s love at first sight.”
Andy explained to me that the song is about time, specifically how quickly it passes (don’t I know it!) The lyrics are pretty surrealistic, with each verse like a snapshot coming from the subconscious. They were inspired by a couple of events which happened to him over the last nine months that made him aware of how time is passing by so fast. “They kind of changed my perspective about time and… life maybe. This song is some kind of a turning point. As an artist and as a human being. I can say it’s the first time I have ever happened to write down some lyrics and be totally aware of what I really wanted to say.” Andy said he’s quite fond of this song, and I have to say I am too.
At 6.20 in the morning I did hear nothing When later on he told He told me he’s dead Now back at 4.12 pm I was feeling cool Until those stripes they spoke They spoke the truth, they all said
Now you’re a man You’re a man That’s kind of crazy Mate c’mon don’t be lazy But that’s alright Oh no it’s not I love you mum XO
Well now you are crying on my shoulder Feels good as the clock tower with no hands is timing out The graveyard of my mind Now how, how, how does it feel? Now how, how, how do you feel? And what will, what will I feel for you?
Now I’m a man I’m a man That’s kind of crazy Things have grown so hazy But that’s alright Oh no it’s not I love you mum, break
Now fuck you all she’s my lady But I’m cheeky cheesy I call her baby And what if time goes out of mind Out of sight? Well that’s alright, well that’s alright Oh yeah
I’m always intrigued by the names musicians and bands come up with for themselves, especially when they’re interesting, clever or unusual. I recently ran across an act with a particularly nice moniker – Every Lovely Thing, an aptly-named music duo from Dayton, Ohio consisting of singer-songwriters Marianne Kesler and Kate Stanton. Long-time friends, the two share a passion for music, and one day in 2015 while having coffee together they decided to collaborate on writing a song. Marianne was already an established singer-songwriter, having written and recorded her own songs, but it was the first time she collaborated with another to write songs, and it was a totally new experience for Kate.
One song eventually turned into twenty and, now that they had a repertoire of songs, they decided they needed a name for their project. In an interview with Ohio-based webzine The Crazy Mind, the ladies explained the inspiration behind their name: “Our tagline is ‘songwriting duo creating beauty out of brokenness one note at a time’ and the name Every Lovely Thing is echoing that concept. It came to mind while reading lines from the Bible, “ … Whatsoever things are lovely … think on these things”.” Their pleasing sound can be best be described as ambient dream pop, characterized by beguiling melodies, delicate instrumentation and sublime, harmonizing vocals. Kate plays piano, keyboard, and synths, while Marianne plays acoustic guitar on most songs. Kate sings lead vocals on many of their songs, with Marianne providing the counter-parts and harmonies.
In August 2016, they headed to St. Louis to record their first single “Running” with producer Ben Kesler at Red Pill Studios. The song was released later than month, with the accompanying video released on October 1st. It’s an arresting song with a quiet intensity. The simple but hauntingly beautiful piano-driven melody, accompanied by gentle percussion and spare synths, create a somewhat somber, yet hopeful mood for the poignant lyrics. “Thinking of who I used to be. My brokenness is all I see. I keep pretending to be free. The past has made a fool of me. / How far? How long? I keep running.” They explain that the song is about toxic relationships, but rather than the term “running” meaning to flee from problems, it’s intended to represent “a healthy acceptance of ourselves, and of moving (or running) toward the freedom of positive life-affirming boundaries.”
Their follow-up single, “Not the Only One” was released in April 2018. About this track, the ladies state: “We feel the song is very accessible … probably everyone can relate to feeling like they are the only one in some situation during their life. One favorite line is ‘weighed down with sorrow so much deeper than our own’.” The enchanting song has a similar haunting quality as “Running,” with Kate’s delicate piano notes, but this time includes Marianne’s soothing acoustic guitar and pleasing drums played by Luke DeJaynes. Kate’s vocals are soft and lovely, and when combined with Marianne’s backing harmonies, the result is an incredibly moving and beautiful song.
The ladies have recorded a number of songs, five of which are available for streaming or purchase on Bandcamp, and have been performing them and additional songs at gigs in and around Dayton. Here’s a video montage of a performance in Springfield, Ohio in October 2017:
They just released a new video of their latest single “Can You Show Me,” and strike gold once again with their compelling lyrics, sweet melodies and gorgeous vocal harmonies. Marianne’s acoustic guitar takes center stage on this song, accompanied by Kate’s delicate keyboard and other synth sounds. The song speaks of searching for spiritual guidance to help overcome fear and self-doubt, and guide one’s path forward in life:
Black hole blinding vision obscured Panic rising terror incurred
Fallen trembling shaken and stirred Waking wanting awaiting your word
Watching wondering Longing listening Breathing, beholding everything that’s You …
Where will I go? How will I know? Which way leads home? Can you show me?
The lovely video for the track, which they produced, shows scenes of Marianne wandering around her town as if in search of something, discovering clues painted on rocks hidden in various spots.
Every Lovely Thing are two very talented singer-songwriter-musicians who together create beautiful, uplifting music that’s pleasing to the ear and soothing to the soul. I look forward to following Kate and Marianne on their musical journey, and hearing their new song creations.
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. Another aspect of their music is their use of a wide array of instruments, especially saxophone and organ that, along with their signature gorgeous jangly guitars, creates a lush soundscape for their wonderful songs.
Formed in 2009, the band’s current lineup consists of founding member Ciaran Megahey (vocals & guitar), Marcus Tamm (bass), Dan Dervaitis (guitar, keys, piano), Gary Butler (sax & keyboards) and Raymond Cara (drums & percussion). They released their debut album Companions of the Flame in 2011, followed by Escapists in 2015, which I reviewed in 2016. In June of this year, they dropped their third album Emperor Twilight, a stunning work that I also reviewed. Now they’re back with a new four-track EP Into the Light, which dropped November 23. Like Emperor Twilight, the EP was co-produced by The Autumn Stones and Andy Magoffin, and is described by the band as a companion piece to the album.
First up is the title track “Into the Light.” Band frontman Megahey explains about its creation: “We were working on ‘Into the Light’ around the same time as the album sessions, but it wasn’t quite ready to record. Simultaneously, we all felt it was among our strongest songs and couldn’t wait to realize it fully. I’m glad we took the time to fine-tune it and now the track gets its own spotlight in this EP release.” The wait was certainly worthwhile, as “Into the Light” is magnificent. The gorgeous track features layers of exuberant jangly guitars, along with warm saxophone, both hallmarks of The Autumn Stones’ beguiling sound. Megahey’s smooth vocals are sublime, with a seductive quality that also manages to convey a sense of vulnerability. The lovely sax notes on this track were played by Paul White.
The second track “Hardwired” is a terrific pop-rock song with jazzy undertones, courtesy of Gary Butler’s wonderful strutting sax. The guitar work is great too, and the distorted flourishes at the end make for a nice finish. Megahey sings of his hedonism: “My dirty brain is like a slave. It’s like a beatnick. I’ve seen the light. I found the truth. It doesn’t hide. It doesn’t need to. I’m hardwired.” “Higher” soars with lots of soulful sax and fantastic jangly guitars, accompanied by Marcus Tamm’s deep bass and Ray Cara’s crisp percussion.
“The Bigger They Fail” is an acoustic version of a song by the same name that appeared on Emperor Twilight, and was previously released as a B-side to that single. Like the original, it’s a hauntingly beautiful dreampop song that reminds me a bit of “Under the Milky Way’ by The Church. This stripped-down version features only acoustic guitar, piano and a bit of tambourine, but is still every bit as stunning and compelling as the original. And it goes without saying that Megahey’s vocals are bewitching as always.
Like all their releases, Into the Light is perfection from start to finish. I love the Autumn Stones’ music, and will likely continue to feature all of their future musical offerings. They will be launching Into the Light with a show at Toronto’s Monarch Tavern on December 8, with guests TBA.
I’m still in Wales (figuratively speaking, having just reviewed the Welsh band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe), this time to shine my spotlight on musician David Oakes. Based in the coastal town of Aberporth, he’s a creative and prolific composer of electronic alternative rock music, as well as a damn fine guitarist. Over the past five years or so, he’s produced a tremendous output of instrumental music, ranging from the guitar-driven melodic rock of his brilliant 2014 work The Calm and the Storm, to the gorgeous atmospherics of The Dawn and the Dusk, the dark experimentation of Sturm Und Drang, and the aggressive hard rock of TheMENACE, for which he also added his own vocals for the first time.
My regular readers may recall that I’ve previously featured him on this blog twice this year, first in May when I reviewed his fantastic album TheMENACE, then a month later when I followed up with an interview. David has now recorded a new album Elevation, which is scheduled for official release in early January, but is available for digital download now on Bandcamp.
Elevation is structured in eight parts or tracks, sort of how a long classical piece is arranged into movements. Part 1 is a great introduction, setting the tone for what’s to come with moody ambient synths, a pounding drumbeat and an ominous-sounding mix of jangly and distorted guitar riffs that gradually build to a crescendo by the four-minute mark. It all calms back down to the hypnotic cadence we heard in the introduction, and continues through to the outro, accompanied by bits of David’s intricate guitar work that make for a satisfying listen.
Part 2 continues to build on the tension introduced in Part 1, and really showcases David’s stellar guitar playing, not to mention his impressive drum skills. Part 3 brings more jaw-dropping guitar work, with some tasty bits of funk occasionally injected into to the mix. I also love the hard-driving drumbeat, always a big plus for me. Part 4 conjures up images of the Arabian Nights, with layers of intricate guitar and exotic-sounding synths lending a somewhat dangerous vibe. This feeling continues in Part 5, with gritty chugging riffs augmented with chiming guitars, and a deep buzzing bass line providing a sturdy foundation for this powerful track.
Part 6 features moody synths and layers of multi-textured guitars that create an ominous soundscape. I especially like the dark piano synths that appear later in the track, further adding to the song’s overall brooding vibe. David shifts direction on Part 7 with a somewhat jazzy feel and catchy as hell tempo. He uses horn synths, bluesy riffs and a deep, humming bass line to create a fantastic and exhilarating song. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album, as I love its urgency and deliriously infectious melody. He really lets loose on the final track Part 8, with furiously pounding drumbeats and frantic riffs of joyously upbeat guitars. It’s an exuberant and celebratory head-banger, and the perfect track to finish the set.
I love this album, which gets better with each listen, as there’s a lot of nuance to David’s compositions and guitar work. If you’re a fan of guitar-driven instrumental rock, then Elevation should be part of your collection.
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud Elevation will be officially released on all major music platforms on January 4, 2019, but is currently available for download on Bandcamp