Fresh New Tracks Vol. III

For my latest installment of recent releases, I’m featuring four scintillating new singles by international artists (in alphabetical order) Favourite Daughter, Lazer Squad featuring Melotika, NAYAD and Alex Southey. Three of them – Favourite Daughter, Melotika and Alex Southey – are Canadian, Lazer Squad is German and NAYAD are Swedish.

“Long Distance” by Favourite Daughter

Favourite Daughter is the music project of Toronto-born and now Montreal-based singer-songwriter Julia Kennific, who’s just released her terrific debut single “Long Distance“. Drawing inspiration from such artists as Courtney Barnett, Hayley Williams and Julien Baker, she creates her own unique brand of infectious indie pop/rock through catchy melodies, honest, vulnerable lyrics and emphatic vocals. Julia wrote and sang vocals on the song, with assistance by Sam Eastman on guitars, Sam Donald on bass, Kate Markle on synths, Edward Scrimger on drums and Gabrièle Côté-LeBreux on percussion. The track was produced, recorded and mixed by Steven Gibb at Lites Down Studio, and mastered by Richard Addison at Studio Trillium Sound.

Julia elaborates on her impetus for writing the song: “I wrote ‘Long Distance‘ on an unplugged, rented electric guitar during a blackout on a night off from an opera gig I was doing in Halifax in the summer of 2019, in tears after a frustrating phone call with my then-girlfriend. We were spending a four month stretch away from each other while I travelled for work. Neither of us were communicating well, and our daily check ins became monotonous. Both of us kept up the charade that we were good, while allowing fear and resentment to build up, which ended up costing us the relationship entirely. It’s about trying to keep up appearances that everything’s fine, while running from the inevitable.

The rousing song features lively rhythms and chugging guitars, creating a cheerfully upbeat but anxious vibe that builds as the song progresses. It all works beautifully to convey feelings of running away from one’s problems, yet knowing you’ll have to face up to them sooner or later: “So it’ll feel like I’m dying till it doesn’t anymore / I’ll rebuild again, Lord knows that I’ve done it before.

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“Eternal Eclipse” by Lazer Squad featuring Melotika

Lazer Squad is a versatile and talented electronic artist and producer from Germany who creates EDM, Synthwave and Nu-Disco music. He began his music career over 15 years ago as a drummer for a punk and metal band, as well as playing and touring with numerous bands as a backup musician, eventually transitioning to electronic music. In 2020, he wowed critics and fans alike with his excellent debut album Undead Nightmare, which he then followed with a series of singles. His latest effort is “Eternal Eclipse“, a mesmerizing EDM track featuring sultry vocals by Montreal-based singer-songwriter Melotika, a hard-working and charming electro pop artist for whom I have a special fondness. She’s released quite a lot of music over the past three years, and I’ve had the pleasure of featuring some of it on this blog. She will soon be dropping her debut album Dancing Without You.

“Eternal Eclipse” serves up an infectious EDM groove that aims straight for the hips, giving us three and a half minutes worth of joyous escapism. The timely lyrics describe what it feels like to be stranded in the middle of a global crisis with a loved one: “Everybody’s trippin’ out / Taken back, shaken up / Nobody even knows my name / Thinking about tearing down, and I’m singing a song. Singing alone. What can I do without you?” Have a listen and prepare to move those hips!

Follow Lazer Squad:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Follow Melotika:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

“Holy Lakes (Dusk)” by NAYAD

Stockholm-based duo NAYAD create dreamy psych lofi pop, which they humorously describe as “Tame Impala, Lana Del Rey and ABBA had an orgy and the result is us” – a pretty spot-on characterization of their gorgeous sound. Last summer, they burst onto the Swedish music scene with their breakout Swedish-language single “Ingen vet”, then followed up with the English-language “Don’t be mad if I don’t come along”, gaining airplay on Swedish National Radio and other radio stations. In November, they dropped their third single “Holy Lakes (Dusk)” a stunning track celebrating their love of nature. Although the single is now more than two months old, I’m featuring it now because they just released a beautiful video for the song.

The song is utterly captivating, with achingly beautiful piano keys, accompanied by stirring atmospheric synths creating an enchanting soundscape for their sublime vocal harmonies. About the fascinating video, they provide a bit of enlightenment: “NAYAD loves mother earth. We immediately had a clear picture that the video for ‘Holy Lakes (Dusk)’ would be a journey through lakes and mountains, because that is the theme of the song. We used an introductory film to national parks around North America and cut it together with other goodies we have collected over the years.” Much of the imagery they used includes old footage of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.

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“Rosie” by Alex Southey

Alex Southey is an indie folk singer-songwriter and musician currently based in Toronto. He’s released quite a lot of music over the past few years, including two albums: Christmastown in 2019 and last year’s You’re Not Just a Body to Me. Since that release, he’s dropped three singles in advance of his forthcoming third album …And the Country Stirred, due for release on February 5th. The latest of these three singles is “Rosie“, a hauntingly beautiful and deeply personal love song to his erstwhile hometown of Vancouver. Alex sang and played guitar, piano and the soaring string arrangements, Kenny Feinstein played fiddle, and Tommy Drinkard played pedal steel and mandolin. The track was produced and mixed by JUNO Award winner John Critchley and mastered by Aaron Hutchison.

About the song’s title, Alex elaborates: “Who is ‘Rosie’? I had been wanting to write about a place, but knew that I’d have to personify it. I was trying, failing, at growing rosemary naturally on my balcony and I began to find the word alluring. I fused it with this personification concept and it became the name of the person when in reality, the song is a love letter to Vancouver where I was born. I feel a sort of mysterious attraction to Vancouver. The city sells itself well, but has its pitfalls: rain all the time, darkness, basements, high price of living – it can all seep into you. For a long time, I was giving something to it and it didn’t give me anything back.” In his sublime and plaintive vocal style, he croons of his mixed emotions: “Rosemary, I can stay away / You say it well, then you take it away / Got no problem, follow up / You’re the one I say I’m from.

Follow Alex Southey:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

JUSTIN BEYNON – Album Review: “In Motion”

Justin Beynon is a musician and singer/songwriter based in Aberdare, Wales who I recently learned about when he reached out to me about his just-released debut album In Motion. Music has been a major part of Justin’s life since his childhood, and he’s played an active role in the Welsh music scene for the last 30 years. As a member of numerous bands over the years, he’s been featured on several albums, as well as collaborated on many projects as a session musician. He’s also taught guitar and piano for the last 24 years. Several years ago, he built his own home studio and began learning how to use new technology so that he could record the backlog of songs he’d been writing over the years. Last year he decided to produce his first solo album, and got busy recording songs in his home studio, singing and playing all the instruments himself, other than on four songs that he recorded in a studio with the help of a friend and former bandmate Meirion Townsend on drums. The tracks were then mixed and mastered by Matthew Evans.

Justin elaborates on the things that inspired him to record and release the album: “Long before this pandemic was even on the horizon, I had experienced some of the most difficult and emotionally challenging years to date. As a result, I began to feel my passion and drive for playing and creating music slowly ebb away. Things got really difficult. I wondered if I was done. But, as has been the case so may times in the past, music came to my rescue. This collection of songs started life as two separate EP’s but with a common thread, that life is constantly ‘in motion’, regardless of what gets thrown at us.

Putting this album together has been my way of navigating a very difficult time. It was a big step forward for me as a writer, to have the freedom to work to my own timescale and have the tools to record myself, without the restrictions of studio costs etc. It was also my first step in releasing my own music under my own name rather than a band name. I called the album ‘In Motion’ as it seemed an appropriate title to a life and body of work gathering momentum over time, from the past and into the future. It’s been my way of making sure that these songs don’t live and die in my head. I hope that whoever hears them will find something positive in them.

Well, I must say that after listening to In Motion, I’ve found plenty to like. First off are Justin’s engaging and catchy melodies. As someone with no musical aptitude whatsoever, I’m always impressed at how musicians are able to write great melodies and bring them to life with thoughtful arrangements and masterful instrumentation, which brings me to the second aspect of his music. Justin is an excellent guitarist, seemingly at ease playing a wide variety of styles ranging from folk, country and Americana to blues rock. He’s also a fine pianist, as evidenced on the opening track “All Inside” and the beautiful “All the Way Through”. Then there are his intelligent, heartfelt lyrics that speak to us in deeply meaningful ways which are expressed through his wonderful, no-frills vocals that remind me at times of the great Tom Petty.

He hits the ground running with the aforementioned “All Inside“, a rousing folk rock song that seems to speak to a relationship that’s failed due to a break down in communication and trust. Justin starts things off with his strummed acoustic guitar, then layers assertive piano keys and a driving bass line to add emotional depth to the song as he plaintively sings, “You’ll land, just like you did last time. You’ll stand, by keeping it all inside / Tell me, the reason for your disguise. Help me by keeping it all inside.” His blistering electric guitar that enters in the bridge and continues through the end of the track ends things on a high note.

Justin taps into his more soulful side on “The Walkover Rule“, laying down bluesy riffs over a mellow and funky groove that make this one of my favorite tracks on the album. He really channels Tom Petty on the next three tracks. The first, “Who Delivers?“, is a lovely, contemplative song where he seems to question the existence of faith: “Everyone’s talking like they know something. Like they found God. It’s probably nothing. Everybody knows somebody who delivers.” On the Beatle-esque “Another Universe“, he sings of hope and healing: “Until the sun comes out and warms the air like it was nothing. The day’s begun, start it all again. The fire and the rain will wash it all away into another universe.” And “The Sticks and the Stones” sounds like the best song Tom Petty never recorded, with a mix of jangly and twangy slide guitars that give the song a wonderful country rock vibe.

The melancholy “All the Way Through” is another of my favorites, as I’m a sucker for beautiful piano melodies. With only his haunting piano keys and stirring strings as a backdrop, Justin sadly laments to his partner of her unwillingness to make their relationship survive: “There’s nothing I can do to get you back inside the simple life. It’s perfectly entwined, and the love we’re trying to find is true. I really wanna see this all the way through. I’ll take it to a place where there ain’t any rules. I’m all out of luck.”

The mood picks up considerably with “Cheap Coat and Broken Wings“, a lively folk rock tune with some great Southern rock guitars, and on “One Long Kiss Goodbye“, with it’s exuberant toe-tapping melody and wonderful mix of jangly, chiming and gnarly guitars, accompanied by sparkling piano keys and snappy drumbeats. “Paper” is a particularly beautiful track, thanks to Justin’s shimmery guitar work and earnest vocals, enhanced by what I’m guessing are his own backing harmonies. The song seems to be a continuation of the sentiments first introduced on the opening track “All Inside”: “I don’t want to leave it all to chance. Do you want to wait for something greater? You’ve always lived with flashing lights. All of your dreams wrote out on paper.” He closes things out with “The Things That You Do“, a pleasing Country rock song with more of his terrific guitar work, and lyrics whose meaning I can’t quite figure out, but seem to speak to a loved one who takes him for granted: “The reason I fight ain’t over you. It’s not about the things that you do. I try, and I try ’cause of you, and you alone.”

To sum up, In Motion is a very fine, well-crafted album, and a wonderful debut effort from this remarkably talented musician. I’m truly impressed by Justin’s songwriting, musicianship and vocals, as well as his outstanding production abilities, and he should be very proud of what he’s created here. If you like an eclectic mix of folk and country infused with elements of blues, rock and pop, then you will enjoy this album.

Besides Soundcloud, Justin’s music can also be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music

Fresh New Tracks Vol. II

It’s been a while since I last posted the first of what was supposed to be a weekly, or at least occasional, digest of newly-released singles, but as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Now that the holiday season is behind us and we’re well into a new year, lots of new music is being released, far more than I can keep up with! This week I’m featuring three new releases by (in alphabetical order) Neil and Adam, Shimmer Johnson and Zero Azimuth.

“Bright Light” by Neil and Adam

Neil and Adam are singer/songwriters Neil McCloskey and Adam Hilligardt, who hail from suburban St. Louis, Missouri (where I lived from 1995-2011). Friends since high school, the duo have been making pleasing and melodic folk/pop/rock music on and off for several years. They were one of the earliest acts I featured on this blog, back in August 2016 when I reviewed their beautiful uplifting single “Everything is Alright”. They followed up with a couple more singles after that, and have just released “Bright Light“. It’s their first new single in three and a half years, and it’s great to have them back.

In their own words, “Bright Light” is a “powerful and heartfelt love song that touches on the struggles of intense feelings and emotions.” Over an infectious toe-tapping beat, the guys layer a mix of strummed acoustic and chiming electric guitar notes over Adam’s warm keyboards and sparkling synths, creating a lovely backdrop for Neil’s wonderful plaintive vocals. He implores to a loved one of the depths of his feelings, feeling frustrated by her unwillingness or inability to open herself up to love: “Scared of the bright light that’s burning in your heart / Waiting for the fist fight that rages in your heart.”

Follow Neil and Adam:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

“Love is Possible” by Shimmer Johnson

Singer/songwriter Shimmer Johnson has such a uniquely beautiful singing voice that it’s puzzling to me she has not yet become a major star – though her 2017 single “Pride” has been streamed more than 239,000 times on Spotify. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, she started out writing and recording Country songs, but wanting to broaden her musical horizons and take advantage of her amazing vocal talents, she relocated to Los Angeles a few years ago, and has been working with songwriters such as Michael Jay, John West, Richard Bergman and Relik Gregos. A fine guitarist and pianist, Shimmer writes and sings compelling and lovely songs about life and love that we can all relate to. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals skillfully convey the subtle yet powerful emotions expressed in her heartfelt lyrics, allowing us to connect with her songs on a deeply personal level.

I first featured her on this blog three years ago in February 2018 when I reviewed her single “Getaway”, and am now pleased to feature her latest single “Love is Possible“, which dropped January 5th. It’s a beautiful and hopeful pop ballad about the healing power of love. Shimmer’s silky vocals are comforting as she earnestly croons to a loved one that their love will endure through good times and bad: “I’d rather be safe and one with you than by myself. Two hearts as one they beat, I’m not by myself. Just a leap of faith in the stormy days, love is possible.” It’s a wonderful track.

Follow Shimmer Johnson:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

“Go With the Flow” by Zero Azimuth

Zero Azimuth is a young artist I’ve been following for a while who’s just released a great new single “Go With the Flow“. I don’t know a whole lot about him, other than that he’s an affable singer-songwriter named Adam from Columbus, Ohio who makes pretty good music that incorporates elements of alternative, indie rock and grunge. He released quite a bit of music in 2017, including two EPs Ex Post Facto and Quaint, as well as several singles, then went quiet for a couple years before returning in May 2020 with his terrific single “Same Evil”.

On January 4th, he dropped his latest single “Go With the Flow”, a song about trying to not let others’ indifference get the best of him. He starts off feeling a bit sorry for himself with the humorous lyrics “Oh hey there pretty baby, would you like to come over? I’m taking a bath, how ’bout you throw in a toaster.” But he eventually comes to a sober sense of resignation that he’s every bit as worthy a person as they are: “No one wants me. I’ll work on myself and give you all a goodbye kiss / And I’ll go, go with the flow, cause I think I know something they don’t.” With its mellow, alt-pop vibe and lively guitar-driven melody, the song reminds me of some of the music by Duncan Sheik and Blink-182.

Follow Zero Azimuth:  TwitterInstagram

New Song of the Week – CALLUM PITT: “Sea of Noise”

This past summer I had the pleasure of learning about the immensely talented young British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt when he reached out to me about his single “Fault Lines” (you can read my review here). A beautiful song with biting lyrics decrying governmental and media efforts to divide and polarize society, “Fault Lines” has enjoyed a 10-week run on my Weekly Top 30. The prolific artist has been releasing singles every two months in 2020, beginning in May with “Out of the Trees”, followed by “Fault Lines”, “Ghost” and now his latest, “Sea of Noise“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England, Callum writes folk-inspired alternative and dream rock songs influenced by such great acts as The War on Drugs, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. With his soft, pleasing vocals, rich harmonies, captivating melodies and meaningful lyrics, he’s captured industry attention and built a growing fan base since the release in 2017 of his gorgeous first single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can.” His equally beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed nearly two million times on Spotify, an astonishing feat for an indie artist. 

About his latest single, released on October 6th by label Humble Angel Records, Callum explains “‘Sea of Noise’ alludes to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness while feeling surrounded by quite a lot of negative things. Despite this, it mainly discusses the importance of having a person (or activity) which takes your mind away from that mindset, keeps it away and gives a feeling of having a form of control in life.”

With “Sea of Noise” Callum delivers yet another outstanding track for our listening enjoyment. The song is beautiful, with a sweeping back and forth melody driven by a powerful stomping percussive beat, and accompanied by a lush mix of shimmery synths and moody strings. But the highlights for me are his gorgeous intricately-strummed chiming and jangly guitars and enchanting falsetto vocals. His voice nicely transitions with ease from a gentle tenderness to soaring passion as he sings of finding solace from the surrounding din through another’s support: “The colours were running from all this distortion in my head / The speakers were humming, circling feedback in our ears / Swept by the currents further until the choruses blurred and your shout was a murmur / Felt your tug away from the crowds ‘cause, everything always seems so loud / While we’re drifting in this sea of noise flooding in our ears and our eyes.”

Follow Callum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Amazon iTunes

BENJAMIN BELINSKA – Single Review: “Young in Baltimore”

Ben Belinska

Benjamin Belinksa is an earnest and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and musician based in Newcastle, England. Born in Stoke-On-Trent to Welsh and Polish parents, Benjamin moved to Newcastle when he was 17, but soon thereafter spent time in Glasgow, Berlin, and then Paris, working at a series of menial jobs while also writing music as time permitted. After meeting fellow musician E.A.R in Paris, the two formed the band Paris, Texas, and released two albums with cult producer Kramer (Low, Will Oldham, Daniel Johnston). Eventually, they moved back to Newcastle together, where Benjamin suffered two serious setbacks: First, while rushing to catch a connecting train in York station, he left behind a suitcase containing most of his early songs, which he never recovered. Then, months later, he was viciously assaulted in a random attack by four guys in broad daylight as he was walking home from work, suffering injuries to his eye and throat that landed him in a hospital.

It was during his recovery period that he decided to stop drifting once and for all, and set down roots in Newcastle. He also got the impetus to write songs for what would become his debut solo album Lost Illusions, set for release on August 28. Thinking back on his years of drifting, and how it became an inspiration for the album, he told Ali Welford in an interview for NARC. Magazine: “Drifting is not a bad thing – it allows you to let go of many illusions, but still, they are very attractive. I wanted to grab hold of one again – namely, that I am the master of my own direction. The title ‘Lost Illusions’ is a reference to the childish disappointment that we all go through when we discover that the world is just a lot of silliness. But despite this, it only has one theme – the extraordinary sadness and wretchedness of human life, and my amazement at the fact that this wretched life can nevertheless be so beautiful and precious.”

On July 31st, Benjamin released “Young in Baltimore“, the lead single from the album. Like all the tracks on Lost Illusions, the song was recorded by Benjamin with a back-up band, and mixed and mastered at Soup Studio in London by Giles Barrett and Simon Trought. It’s a charming dream pop track, with a sunny, retro vibe that calls to mind some of the great soft rock and synth pop songs of the 1980s. The song has a lovely, upbeat melody, with a lively toe-tapping beat overlain by chiming synths and warm guitar notes. It all creates an enchanting soundscape that serves as a pleasing backdrop for Benjamin’s gentle, heartfelt vocals as he sings the bittersweet lyrics about a woman contemplating love’s regrets: “When you were young and dumb, he promised to make you his wife. Natural, and he’s cold, you say you’ve wasted your life.” The song also strikes a particular chord with me, as I grew up in San Jose, California, which is mentioned in the lyrics: “Was the winter in San Jose, yeah, the heart attack by the bay? What will you do, your past is blue, and your life is stuck there.”

About “Young in Baltimore”, Benjamin told me “While writing the song, I was thinking about the pressure to conform that we all go through, and how some of us enter into situations, relationships – not out of passion, but out of the illusion that we have no choice. I had moved to a new city, I was working a job I hated. I kept asking myself questions like ‘Have I made the right decision? Should I be doing this? Was it better before, when I was younger?’ I was also obsessed with Robert Frank’s photo-book ‘The Americans’, thinking about the people in those pictures, imagining their lives. I kept coming back to this image of a woman on a train. All of my regret, reluctancy and nostalgia collided with this image. It became a prism out of which another formed; somebody considering the end of a marriage. Only later did I realise it was a symbol of my life at that moment.

As for the bright-sounding music, it’s there to counteract the story. I was living in Glasgow at the time, too. It rains a lot there, so it was also in defiance of that. A rainy place needs sunny music.

Connect with Benjamin:  FacebookTwitter
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: BandcampGoogle Play 

CALLUM PITT – Single Review: “Fault Lines”

Callum Pitt single art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Callum:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

SHIPS HAVE SAILED – Single Review: “Low”

Ships Have Sailed

Los Angeles-based duo Ships Have Sailed are one of my favorite indie acts, and I’ve featured them on this blog a number of times over the past two years. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Consisting of singer-songwriter and guitarist Will Carpenter and drummer Art Andranikyan, they can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned when it comes to producing outstanding songs. They play a pleasing style of alternative pop-rock characterized by beautiful melodies, thoughtful, uplifting lyrics, and sublime arrangements and instrumentation. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Will twice, and his kindness and warmth shine through in his engaging vocals.

They’ve released quite a bit of music over the past eight years, and have been on a particularly creative streak since the beginning of 2019, beginning with their gorgeous single “Escape”. I love that song so much that it ended up at #19 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. They’ve subsequently released several more great singles, their latest of which is “Low“, a beautiful song of hope that dropped July 22nd.

The song opens with Will’s sultry vocals accompanied by a somber piano riff, then the music expands to include heavier guitar, lush synths, and Art’s lively drums, all set to an infectious, pulsating melody. Will’s pleasing vocals become more impassioned along with the music as everything rises to a dramatic crescendo before calming down at song’s end.

The lyrics speak of not giving up when you feel you’ve hit bottom, instead remaining optimistic and hopeful, and cherishing those special people in your life who give you love and support in your goal of getting back up. Ships Have Sailed never fail to deliver superb songs, and “Low” is another winning tune.

Livin’ like there’s no tomorrow,
I had a dream and then I chased it,
But if I could I’d do it over,
For all the sweetness that I’ve tasted.

But sometimes livin’ don’t come easy,
It’s like you’re walking underwater,
One day you’re feeling like you’re close to the top, yeah…
And then you wake up at the bottom.

So pick me up I’m feeling low (oh),
I’m so afraid of letting go,
So pick me up again I’m feeling so low,
I’m just trying to live my life with no regret,
Trying to get to the top but I’m not there yet,
So baby can you pick me up again?

Meet me at the stroke of midnight?
Let’s find a fantasy and fake it…
So we’ll remember all the good and the bad times,
A memory is never wasted…

So pick me up I’m feeling low (oh),
I’m so afraid of letting go,
So pick me up again I’m feeling so low,
I’m just trying to live my life with no regret,
Trying to get to the top but I’m not there yet,
So baby can you pick me up again?

Since I published this review, Ships Have Sailed released a wonderful animated video for the song that was created by Ben Panfil:

Follow Ships Have Sailed: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicPandora
Purchase:  iTunes  / Google Play / Amazon

PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS – Single Review: “Rock That City”

Philip Morgan Lewis3

British singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis is one of the more creative and adventurous artists I know of. The London East Ender isn’t afraid to explore a wide range of genres and influences for the creation of his own eclectic sound. Drawing from alternative rock, blues, garage rock, folk, R&B and EDM, he crafts exciting blues-soaked rock that nicely complements his distinctive raspy vocal style. He’s one of those artists you immediately recognize upon hearing his songs.

He’s released a fair amount of music over the past decade, beginning with his 2013 EP Karma Comedown. He then released a number of singles, and in late 2017 dropped his brilliant album Grief Harbour, which I reviewed. In 2019, he took a stylistic departure from his usual comfort zone and released a fun album House Works, featuring eight House/EDM tracks. He then followed a few months later with a fantastic bluesy single “Blowtorched Dreams”. Now Philip is back with a great new single “Rock That City“, released on July 13th via label Tx2 Records.

Written and recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown, the song is an ode to many of the social things we’ve all been missing these past several months. Philip says it’s “all about release and freedom”, and the lyrics speak to breaking loose and having a fun night on the town: “Gonna rock that city where life’s so crazy / And I go make it right / Gonna rock that city tonight.” A talented multi-instrumentalist, he plays all the instruments himself, and does a fine job here delivering some  bluesy rock’n’roll. With it’s strong, driving beat, buzzing bassline and grungy guitars, the song reminds me a bit of the great Black Keys song “Fever”. His unusual raspy vocals register in the higher octaves, resulting in a unique style and sound unlike any other singer I’ve heard.

The accompanying video was artfully filmed in black and white on the streets of London during the lockdown. A number of famous sites featured in the video that are normally filled with tourists were totally devoid of people. Philip is shown making his way through buildings, parking garages or the streets, completely alone.

Connect with Philip: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music
Purchase:  Amazon / Deezer / BandcampGoogle Play

New Song of the Week – SIENNE: “Side By Side”

Sienne Side by Side art

Formed just a year ago in the summer of 2019, Liverpool indie band Sienne has in short order been making a name for themselves on the local music scene. In February, they officially released their debut single “Where is Home?”, which was premiered at the Liverpool vs Manchester United match, then followed up in April with “Coming Alive”. Now they return with “Side By Side“, which drops today. I think it’s their best song yet, and I’ve chosen it as my New Song of the Week. All three songs will be included on the band’s forthcoming debut EP, due out later this year.

The band is comprised of front man and lead singer Calan Nickle, James Rookyard, Richard Taylor andCharlie Skeggs. Nickle and Rookyard were previously with the band Hanover, who called it quits last summer. Their dynamic style of alternative rock is influenced by some of their favorite bands like The Stone Roses, Manic Street Preachers,  Blossoms and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. 

The track begins with a tentative chiming guitar riff, accompanied by Nickle’s plaintive vocals singing of his fears and negative emotions. The music then expands with a mix of fuzz-coated and shimmery jangly guitars, gentle bass and punchy drums, giving the song a dramatic and beautiful anthemic feel. The lyrics touch on the anger that keeps him down: “Two kids caught in a bar fight for the whole world there to see, put that frown away for another day, just wait. And so when all is said and done, you’ll be the lonely one.” But he eventually realizes that, with help, he’ll be alright: “And I know where to go when I’m hoping I’m still on your mind. If you would be so kind, to walk with me side by side.”

Nickle elaborates on his inspiration for “Side By Side”: “I wrote this song just under a year ago after finding clarity from a low point in my life, I found myself asking why I was writing constantly about the negatives. I had a little moment where I began to see things clearer and this song was written as a message to myself to let go of all the rubbish going on in my head and that I should embrace the new things happening. I wanted the song itself to match the lyrics in how it starts as a no holds barred cry for help, and the understanding comes as the song progresses. For me the song itself is a long, long road from being in a bad place to finding clarity and I think it came to life once we’d finished it in the studio, it’s a very personal song and one that defines what we are as a band, it came from nothing, a darker place and ventured forward into the unknown.”

“Side By Side” is a solid track, and a good indication of more quality music to come from this very promising band.

Follow Sienne:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

THE PUSS PUSS BAND – Album Review: “Life Cycles”

Puss Puss Band Life Cycles

There’s a lot of musical talent in Wales, and I’ve written about several artists and bands from that fair British Isles nation: David Oakes, Dying Habit, Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, GG Fearn, Dunkie, Head Noise and, most recently, Kidsmoke. Another Welsh act I’m especially fond of is The Puss Puss Band, who I’ve featured a few times on this blog over the past four years. Based in Cardiff, they started out as a duo consisting of multi-instrumentalists Asa Galeozzie and Lee Pugh (the band is named for Asa’s cat Puss Puss). Both are accomplished musicians who’ve worked with numerous artists and bands in the UK and Welsh music industry for nearly 15 years as writers & session musicians. Asa plays guitar, bass, percussion, piano and melodica, while Lee plays lead guitar, bass and piano, as well as sings lead vocals. Their relaxed music style is a pleasing mix of jazz and folk-infused indie pop that just makes you feel good.

In April 2017, with help from seasoned musician and producer John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick (who’s best known for his work with The Who, as well as on the soundtracks for the films The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Almost Famous), the guys released their beautiful debut album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea. (I reviewed that album along with an interview with Lee, which you can read here.) On July 3rd, they dropped their second album Life Cycles, featuring ten wonderful tracks addressing the subjects of life, love, loss and the passage of time. Once again, the recordings were all written, arranged, performed and engineered by Asa, Lee and Rabbit. Post-production, mixing and mastering was done by Richard Digby Smith at TQ1 Studios. The Puss Puss Band has now expanded to include six members, including Asa, Lee, Steven Stanley, Joel Rees, Luke Moore, and Nigel Hodge. Only Nigel is featured on the new album, as he played flute and alto sax on the track “Losing The Rain”.

The opening track “We Should Be” is a bittersweet song about missing someone you’d had a love affair with who now seems to have lost her feelings for you, and wishing she was back in love with you so you could be together. Gently strummed guitars, crisp percussion and delicate synths create a warm backdrop for Lee’s soothing, breathy vocals that convey a sense of sad resignation as he sings the poignant lyrics “The way you see the world is just the same. It’s just the way you feel about me that’s changed. But we should be…. We should be in love.”

The delightful video shows a man in a cat suit (played by Lee) standing in downtown Cardiff, holding a large flip chart printed with words that are directed at his love interest. In various scenes, he’s shown chasing pigeons, riding the merry-go-round, and sitting on the bench offering some of his food to a man who politely turns him down, then proceeding to eat it out of the bowl. By and by, he walks past a busking musician (played by Asa) and throws a few pieces of dry cat food into his guitar case. At the end, the busker sees him sitting forlornly on the ground next to the merry-go-round, offers his hand, and they walk off together down the street holding hands.

Many tracks have a gentle folk-rock vibe, such as “About Time“, which touches on how a relationship built on love and respect endures over time: “It’s about time. It’s about all we got left. It’s about the way you walk. And the way that you still care about me.” The song has a mellow vibe and catchy melody, with a lovely mix of jangly and chiming guitars accompanied by snappy drums, and some nice keyboards and organ. I love Lee’s breathy vocals that hover in a sweet spot between raw and comforting, with an almost seductive quality. Another is “Holding Its Own“, a pretty but poignant song about the daily struggles of keeping one’s sanity in this crazy world: “Hopeful yet empty, Following rules. Blind to the life of a mind. Just holding its own.” The instrumentals are sublime, with what sounds like a mellotron being the highlight for me. The guitars, bass, keyboards and organ are all pretty terrific as well.

The Puss Puss Band channel their rock side on “Thank You“, thanks to a harder-driving beat, heavier electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The lyrics seem to acknowledge a friend who saved the singer through tough love, brutal honesty and perseverance: “But thank you so much for saving me from me. Thank you so much. For friends who never sleep.” One of my favorite tracks is “Pretty Games“, as I love the horns, funky guitars and mellow instrumentals that give it a cool, jazzy vibe. The lyrics speak to the games we play at one time or another, unable to be honest to ourselves or others about how we feel, which keeps us treading water so to speak. I like how they give a nod to their previous album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea: “It’s all a pretty game. Another year and still the same. But I still hear echoes of that sea. Parts we play. Wasted days. Still the same. Pretty games.”

On The Common” is an exquisite song, with beautiful acoustic and delicate chiming electric guitar notes, accompanied by the gentlest of synths, all creating a glittery, ethereal backdrop for Lee’s soft vocals. “Losing the Rain” is another favorite, with its sophisticated, jazzy feel thanks to Nigel’s wonderful flute and saxophone. The lyrics seem to be about trying to make a relationship work despite the many obstacles: “I’m losing the rain. These broken thoughts that roll around inside my brain. Maybe I’m too blind to see? I wasn’t meant for you and you were never meant for me.”

The guys deliver more stellar guitar work on “Junkie“, a song about trying and failing to save someone from addiction and the realization some people just can’t be saved. A standout track is the marvelous Pink Floyd-esque “Time and Tide“. The song starts off slowly, with only gentle acoustic guitars, but gradually builds into a dramatic rock song with electric guitars, piano, sweeping synths and heavy percussion. The lyrics were inspired by the passing of Asa’s uncle, with whom he was close; his uncle took him to gigs and got him into music when he was young. “For all the glitter and gold. We all grow old. As the lights fade down. We still hold for applause. And the show moves on. But the feeling… Lingers on and on.”

They close out the album with “Missed“, a beautiful and very poignant song that nicely encapsulates the album’s overall theme of the cycles of life – how relationships and friendships come and go over time. The piano melody was written a while back by Rabbit, and the lyrics later written by Lee to address the loss of a loved one: “I’m losing you tonight. But I’m here by your side. There’s no more need to fight. / But time shows no kind of nostalgia for goodbyes.” Musically, the song is different from all the other songs, as it features only a haunting piano and Lee’s raw, yet comforting vocals.

Life Cycles is a really lovely album and a pleasurable listen from start to finish, without a single weak or throwaway track. The song arrangements and production values are flawless, and the guys’ musicianship is outstanding on every level. I love this band!

Connect with The Puss Puss Band:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on BandcampGoogle Play