New Song of the Week – THE FRONTIER: “Shattered”

As I’ve stated in previous posts, one of my favorite indie artists is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jake Mimikos. Based in Fairfax County, Virginia, Jake is an enormously talented guy with a kindness and sense of humor to match, and I’m quite fond of him both as an artist and human. Since 2015, he’s released an impressive amount of music both as a solo artist and as a band under The Frontier moniker, and we’ve been following each other on social media for nearly that long. As with many bands, the members and lineup of The Frontier have varied over the years, but the act is at this time mostly his solo project. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is always incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted.

I’ve featured The Frontier several times on this blog, most recently last December when I reviewed his gorgeous single “Sleep”. (You can read that and previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Since then, he’s been on a mission to release new music as often as possible, and followed a month later with an acoustic version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, then a live EP, followed by “Can We Go Back” in March. “Sleep” went to #2 on my Weekly Top 30 and “Can We Go Back” is currently in the top 10, and between the two songs, he’s continuously appeared on my Top 30 since mid-January! In May, he dropped his single “Ghost” and now he returns with another brand new single “Shattered“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

About “Shattered” Jake confides “It’s about trying to understand how someone can say they love you and then leave you, and trying to find clarity after a difficult break up. It’s really just about these strong emotions I was feeling at the time and trying to process through writing about it. I imagine a lot of people will be able to relate or have experienced this type of heartbreak before. These last few songs have been the most personal and vulnerable I’ve written to date.”

I’ve enjoyed seeing The Frontier’s musical style progress over time, and it’s clear his musicianship and songwriting continue to grow stronger and stronger. His skill for crafting uniquely distinctive melodies ensures that each new song sounds totally different from the rest. He’s also gotten quite adept at programming synths to create captivating soundscapes that quickly draw us in, then hold us in rapt attention all the way to the finish. The chiming synths combined with what sounds like a strummed ukelele at the opening of “Shattered” instantly let us know we’re in for something special, and as the song unfolds we’re not disappointed. The song is exquisite and haunting, and I love the mix of ukelele and guitar that add such rich texture, as well producing a sunny vibe that contrasts with the darker lyrics about feeling abandoned by a loved one. As always, Jake’s vocals are heartfelt and genuine, conveying the hurt and despair expressed in the lyrics. It’s another winning tune.

She said it doesn't matter
All the feelings that I had for you
Now my heart is shattered 
And I'm drowning in a sea of blue
Why you got to run away?
What are you really running from?
All you had to do is say we could be lying in the sun

Some people tell me, love is just a four-letter word 
Nobody seems to understand
All these lines get so blurred
What is love without lust?
What is lust without us?
You just lit up a fire, girl
Just so I could get burned

She said it doesn't matter
All the feelings that I have for you
Now my heart is shattered 
And I'm drowning in a sea of blue
Why you got to run away?
What are you really running from?
All you had to do is say we could be lying in the sun

Here is my confession
I was ready to die for you
You were my obsession
It's not healthy but it was so true
There is some pleasure in pain
There is a measure to save
I know we both had our issues
But who doesn't these days

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / Apple Music
Purchase: Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

Fresh New Tracks Vol VIII

It’s time for another installment of Fresh New Tracks, as there’s so much great music being released. Some of the best of it continues to come from the UK, so I’m dedicating this edition to that island kingdom. I’ve chosen three outstanding new singles from British acts I’ve grown especially fond of: Young Decades and Liam Sullivan, both of whom I’ve previously written about on this blog, as as well as The Banshees, who I’m thrilled to feature for the first time.

“Mediterranean” by Young Decades

Born from the ashes of Liverpool-based band COLOUR, Young Decades formed at the early onset of the Covid pandemic. Like every other artist and band around the globe, they were unable to tour or perform live, so they made the most of their down time by setting themselves on a mission to build up a catalog of songs, and I can emphatically state that they’ve succeeded quite nicely. They released their beautiful debut single “Islands” in April 2020, then quickly followed with four more excellent singles, as well as several collections of remixes and alternative versions. On March 5th of this year, they released an EP Let You Down, which featured all five singles, then soon dropped their sixth single “Sinner” on April 23  (you can read my review of “Sinner” here.) The stunning anthem has spent the past two months and counting on my Weekly Top 30.

They also gained, then quickly lost, a drummer, but in April they recruited a replacement, so their current lineup consists of James Tidd (vocals), Scott Harvey (guitar, keyboards), Liam Downey (bass) and Lee Cameron (drums). The various band members are scattered about the Midlands and North West England, but meet up for rehearsals and recording in the city of Stoke on Trent. Now the prolific group is back with a wonderful new single “Mediterranean“, a jubilant celebration of being able to travel more freely again. The band elaborates “Think back to that one perfect trip: the first dive into the water and the feeling of escape. With travel limited, the need for escapism has reached fever pitch. ‘Mediterranean’ is a blistering expression of that bottled-up feeling. Starting like some beachside dream, it kicks you right back to everything good about getting away and the lyrics are dotted with glimpses of holiday life: sleeping on the beach, burnt skin, foreign coins, full moons on open sea and diving into some warm Mediterranean waves. Another anthem built for live gigs… somewhere warm.”

All Young Decades songs are uplifting, melodic and beautiful, with exuberant synths, driving rhythms and stellar guitar work. But for me, the real highlights of their music are Scott’s dramatic piano keys and James’ impassioned vocals that make their sound distinctive from any other band and instantly recognizable as only Young Decades. They don’t disappoint with “Mediterranean”, delivering another top-notch song and a fine addition to their perfect string of exceptional singles.

Follow Young Decades:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: Bandcamp / Amazon

“Jerusalem” by Liam Sullivan

One of the standout artists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in the past year or so is singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan. The Leeds-based musician is a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice that’s both beautiful and comforting. His music can generally be classified as alternative rock with folk and singer-songwriter elements that make for an incredibly pleasing listen, and I love every one of his songs. Liam’s been writing and performing music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and, more recently, as a solo artist with a back-up band of musicians he assembled to help bring his poetic lyrics to life.

Like Young Decades, Liam has set for himself an ambitious goal of releasing a new single roughly every 6-8 weeks. While he hasn’t quite met that frantic schedule, he has released six singles over the past year, the latest of which is “Jerusalem“. (I’ve reviewed three of his previous singles, most recently his beautiful song “Stadium and Churches” in April, which you can read here.)  The song has a harder rock vibe than his last several singles, with a faster tempo, a stronger driving rhythm and edgier guitars. Liam’s always emotive vocals have an even greater sense of urgency here as he sings about his faith and spirituality using biblical references. The song was inspired by his being asked to be a godfather to his friend’s twin babies. While he never considered himself to be religious, he was greatly honored and took being a godfather very seriously. It prompted him to explore what it means to have faith in a broader sense, and also search for answers and question his own faith and spirituality. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt song.

Follow Liam:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp

“4AM” by The Banshees

The Banshees are an indie alternative pop-rock duo based in Liverpool, and comprised of Vinny Pereira on vocals & guitar and Paul Holligan on lead guitar. The two met through a mutual friend at a party in Liverpool, hit it off and eventually formed as a band in December 2018. They soon began playing gigs in Liverpool and in May 2019, released their debut single “Self Medicated”. Over the next two years, they’ve continued to release a string of outstanding singles, earning praise from critics and fans alike, along with features in prominent music publications and websites like NME, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Kerrang, Guitar Player, Stereogum and Spin, as well as TV music stations MTV and VH1. Their sound has been favorably compared to The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and Talking Heads. I love all three of those acts, and after having The Banshees’ music on repeat in preparation for writing this review, I can confidently state that I love their music too.

On July 1st, they dropped their latest single “4AM“, a song the band describes as “harking back to the club scenes of the 90s panic, punk and angst all mixed up into a journey of the mind. Nobody wants to be nobody, or maybe it’s just that now we live in a world where self perception of importance carries more weight than the bigger life picture of just being happy.” To my ears, the song has an almost punk aesthetic, with a frenetic dance beat, a strong, thumping bassline, and emphatic gnarly guitars. The guys’ superb musicianship really shines through, with first-rate production values and powerful pulsating rhythms pulling us willingly into an exhilarating soundscape that compels us to throw all our preconceived notions and bullshit out the window, just let loose and be. With a wry matter-of-fact tone, imbued with a touch of cheekiness, Vinny emphatically laments “The habits you created to survive will no longer serve you when its time to thrive. No focus on yourself for a change. Woulda’ coulda’ shoulda’ kept your goal in range. I’m so tired of bein’ tired. I’m so hard to please. Just gimme the truth, so I can go back to sleep.” Give me more of this!

Follow the Banshees: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud YouTube

Purchase:  Bandcamp

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT – SECRET POSTAL SOCIETY

One of the most prolific and generous artists I’ve encountered in my nearly six years of blogging is Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Craig Mapstone. Since the beginning of the year, he’s faithfully released a new single every week, and as I write this, he just dropped his 27th single “Here Comes Trouble”. At the end of each month, he bundles the four singles from that month into an EP, which translates to six EPs thus far in 2021. Here’s the cover art for his latest EP, simply titled June EP.

Based in South Wales, Craig has been writing songs and playing in various local bands over the years, primarily as a drummer. He was content to remain mostly hidden behind the scenes playing drums, but hadn’t been in a band for quite a while. As with virtually all musicians around the globe, the covid lockdowns prevented him from performing live and leaving him with lots of time for introspection, but also impacting his overall sense of well-being. He told me “After the crazy year that was 2020, I found myself refocusing what was important to me, and music was always a big part of my life. It was also my lifeline as it helped me with my anxiety. During last year I found myself playing guitar more and coming up with lots of ideas with no real focus as to what to do with them. Then literally a few days before the end of the year I just decided that I was going to create a band and then try and write/record a new song every week. I set up my YouTube channel and Instagram account and went from there.”

And thus, Secret Postal Society was born. Each week, Craig writes (or co-writes) and records a brand new song, playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocal parts himself (with the notable exception of some solo guitar and backing vocals from Rev Rabbit (of Welsh indie rock band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, whose three albums I’ve previously reviewed) on the song “Now Is The Time”. In addition to Secret Postal Society, Craig is also co-founder (with Raj Chand) of Weird Triangle, a business that offers design services for digital video projects, logos and promotional materials, and their own line of T-shirts and hoodies. Through his involvement with Weird Triangle, Craig designs most of the artwork for the Secret Postal Society single and E.P. covers, along with limited edition T-shirts for each song. He also creates most of his videos using free and publicly available footage he finds on the internet, then edits it to fit the particular song.

Secret Postal Society was not only a way to help Craig through a difficult time, but he also uses it to help others. Accordingly, he donates 100% of the profits from the sale of each T-shirt (with the E.P. designs) to a different charity each month. Thus far, he’s supported the following charities: MS-UK (January), Cystic Fibrosis Trust (February), Velindre Hospital (March), Mermaids UK (April), The Prince’s Trust (May) and Umbrella Cymru (June).

The very first song he released, on New Years Day, was “It’s Not Over“, an old song he originally wrote and recorded back in 2006. He said the song got him through some difficult times over the years, and felt it was the right track to launch Secret Postal Society. It’s a good example of his laid-back singer-songwriter music style, which is primarily pop-rock infused with touches of indie folk. But as I’ll show in this post, his music is actually quite eclectic, exploring elements of progressive, experimental, grunge, post-punk and alternative rock. Most of his songs are really good, but I’ve chosen a few of my favorites, as well as ones I think give a good representation of his extensive stylistic range.

On his next single “Happy Sad“, he delivers a somewhat heavier rock vibe, with some fine jangly guitar work. He almost reveals his entire face on the video of him performing the song.

One of my favorite songs by him is “Choices“, a dramatic and moody track released in February. On this song, Craig seems to delve more deeply into progressive and experimental rock, using distorted psychedelic guitars, somber keyboards and horns to great effect in creating a darkly beautiful soundscape for his ominous droning vocals. The video was produced by Rubén Velasco and edited by Craig.

His follow-up single “I Like You” has more of a grunge/psych rock vibe, with some terrific reverb-soaked gnarly guitars. His electronically-altered vocals sound almost robotic as he drones “Your love it isn’t science. My love isn’t art. We must redraw the line, cause you’re tearing me apart. Cause I like you. Yeah, I like you.” The cool animated video was produced by Cottonbro.

Continuing on a grunge theme, but with more alternative and electronic elements, is the pleasing track “Numb“. Released in April, it’s another one of my favorite Secret Postal Society songs. Craig’s synths are wonderful, and I also love his guitar work in this track, which reminds me a bit of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups. The beautiful video was once again produced by Cottonbro.

Half Way There“, released in late June as his 26th single, marks the halfway point of his opus 2021 endeavor. It’s a beautiful guitar-driven track featuring some lovely keyboard synths and Craig’s soothing vocals. The optimistic lyrics speak not only to his half-year milestone, but also metaphorically of a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment. And we finally get a good look at Craig on the video, which shows his creative process and him performing the song.

I’ll end with his latest single “Here Comes Trouble“, which dropped July 2nd. The song has a late-90s alt-pop/rock vibe, reminiscent of songs by artists like Duncan Sheik, Eagle Eye Cherry and Deep Blue Something. Once again, it showcases the breadth and variety of Secret Postal Society’s musical style. There’s literally something for just about everyone in his discography, and I’m dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song week in and week out is amazing in itself, but to have such high quality in nearly every track is quite an accomplishment. I hope Craig will be able to maintain the creativity and stamina to continue releasing a new song per week for the remainder of 2021, and look forward to hearing what he comes up with next!

Follow Secret Postal Society:  FacebookInstagram 

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

EMMA YOUNG Releases Video for “All You’ll Ever Need”

Emma Young is a versatile and talented singer-songwriter, actress, model and producer based in Westport, Massachusetts. I first learned about her in April when I wrote about the song “Reanimate” by brett.grant.5 that she was featured on. Emma and Brett met as students at Columbia College Chicago, and played together in the band Sleep For Dinner, who released their self-titled EP in 2019. Over the past few years, she’s also released several singles as a solo artist, along with her debut EP Rise, which dropped a year ago in June 2020. On June 25th, Emma released a dark and provocative new video for one of the tracks on the EP “All You’ll Ever Need“.

The song and video explore the relationship between an artist and her fans. Emma explains: “People get a narrow, highly edited view of an artist. The artist’s job is to convince their audience they desperately need them. The next release is ‘always the best music to ever have been written’ and the next image is ‘always a flawless yet candid’ portrait of what the artist is selling. As I describe in my lyrics ‘This is how it works, parts of life are all you’ll ever see’. The artist singing the song knows their role is to tempt new listeners and get them addicted to their sound. So I play a siren of sorts, luring my follower (played by Wes Kader) through screens and song to the point of obsession. At the same time, I am watching myself through that dusty tv set, always judging the persona I have created, yet detached from her, as if all those photos and videos are just an ideal that I will never truly reach. I sit clawing at the tv set, lonely, viewing the alternate reality I created. I play both the artist and a fan because the artist must both create and be an observer of themselves to calculate the best plan of attack. When I see the fan start to follow me I am satisfied with the result. It’s a dark and multi angled view of music. I am also into horror movies and wanted to play off of some classic scenes!

Musically, “All You Ever Need” is darkly beautiful and mesmerizing too. Emma has done a masterful job creating a moody, yet sensual soundscape to perfectly express the double-edged aspects of artistry and celebrity. The song opens with discordant sounds and a rather ominous, droning synth lasting around 30 seconds, then transitions to an enchanting dance beat, accompanied by spooky ethereal synths and hauntingly beautiful piano chords. Her breathy vocals are captivating, with an almost ghostly feel as she sings to an imaginary fan who’s quickly becoming obsessed with her. The result is an outstanding song that brilliantly evokes her siren persona.

Here I am again, waiting for you in the dark
Here I am again, I know exactly what you want from me, what you want from me
See you through the lens, staring at me through the cracks
See you through the lens, you are waiting for a chance to see, you are waiting for a chance to see me

You don't blame me for, all the things that I've done
I left you wanting more, you left me with a new history, you left me with a new history
This is how it works, nights with you out on the streets
This is how it works, parts of life are all you'll ever see, they're all you'll ever need

Whoa whoa whoa
Oh I'm all you'll ever need
Whoa whoa whoa
Oh I'm all you'll ever need
I'm all you'll ever need
All you'll ever need
I'm All

The video was beautifully filmed by Bob Klein, who co-produced it with Andrew Bernard.

Follow Emma:  Facebook / Instagram

Stream her music: SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

N Pa – Album Review: “The Ghost Within: The Tale of Turmoil”

N Pa (the music moniker of songwriter, composer and producer Nicholas Pavoni) is a creative and talented electronic artist based in New Jersey. He began writing and recording music as N Pa Productions when he was only 17 years old, and in 2007 he self-released his first albums Reality | a dream and Reality | a dream: The B-Side (neither of which are now available). Over the next couple of years, he collaborated with numerous vocalists and producers from different genres of music for the recording of his debut album Sight & Sound, as well as producing tracks for several artists. He was later signed to a couple of different London-based independent labels from 2010 to 2014, but in the years since has worked as a solo independent artist.

In September 2013, he independently released his second studio album The Ghost Within: The Tale of Turmoil, as well as a separate EP Unorthodox. Another collaborative effort involving at least 20 other songwriters, musicians, vocalists and producers, The Ghost Within: The Tale of Turmoil is an ambitious concept work built around the main character and protagonist Turmoil, who N Pa states represents “the fight and uncertainty that is in all of us when we’re trying to move on when something tragic happens such as the loss of a loved one.” The story explores the realms of the reality and lucid dreams/nightmares that Turmoil experiences. The antagonists are The Ghost Within (and his minions), and Turmoil’s lost love Melinda (whose name is never mentioned in any of the album tracks).

A summary written by Josh Wright further explains the album’s concept: “Devastated by the love of his life leaving him, Turmoil finds himself drowning in a cesspool of depression and wanting out of his emotional roller coaster ride. The ghost within haunts his thoughts as he feels his grip on sanity slipping away. The listener gets taken on his journey through madness and back again. Join Turmoil in his process musically and evolve as he does, and as the music progresses, so will he.

N Pa conceived of the overall concept theme, then composed the instrumentals for each track, knowing in advance what part of the story he wanted to tell. He then gave his musical compositions, along with their desired themes, to various songwriters so that they could write the lyrics for each particular track. His goal was to ensure that no two songs would sound the same, and that together, they would tell a fluid story. The songs draw from a wide spectrum of electronic music elements, including EDM, trance, orchestral, dubstep, breakbeat and glitch. The album was a passion project for him, however, he was never able to fully promote it. After reading some of my reviews of other artists, he reached out to me about reviewing the album, even though it was released eight years ago.

The album opens with “Prologue (The Beginning)“, a darkly beautiful and mysterious track introducing us to Turmoil, and setting a perfect tone for the story about to unfold. N Pa wrote the lyrics, which are narrated by Michael Leonard: “Her betrayal turned love to poison. His heart, now tainted with the thought of madness. It burns, like a brush fire in the field of lust. His sanity escapes with every breath. His mind, the only safe haven for him to hide. This, is the tale of turmoil.” The song quickly segues into “Turmoil“, an ominous track which sees Turmoil slowly losing his sanity: “Turmoil, she creeps into your veins. Another world overtaking all the sane.” The lyrics for this track were written and sung by Xenoc, aka Aaron Zafran, a DJ, musician and electronic music producer. I really like the orchestral touches N Pa uses on this track, especially the dramatic strings that give the track a bold cinematic feel.

Continuing with the theme of Turmoil’s mental anguish, “Memories” delves more deeply into his PTSD resulting from his obsession over the loss of Melinda; “I’ll never be the same, cause now I’m lost in you. My memories still haunting me. Running after you. You saw the best in me when I couldn’t see. But now you’re gone, I’m all alone.” Musically, the song is a seven-minute-long EDM track with haunting dubstep undertones. The lyrics were written by Dvir André Tzanua and Meital Patash-Cohen, members of Israeli electro-dance pop act Knob, with Patash-Cohen singing vocals.

Blistered” sees Turmoil coming to terms with reality, and realizing he must metaphorically walk through fire to get to a better place of rebirth and healing: “It’s all around you, Engulfing, it’s everywhere. It feels like choking, but still you can find me there. I know an answer to clear up this smoky air. Just walk right through it. The fastest way to get you there.” The song delivers more pulsating EDM goodness, with lyrics written by Christopher Volz, lead singer of nu-metal band Flaw, and sung by Volz and Anthony Grisko.

One of my favorite tracks is “Sea of Darkness“, a darkly beautiful and musically complex feast for the senses. I love the mix of psychedelic and spacy industrial synths and hypnotic thumping EDM beat, punctuated here and there by bass drops, trap breakdowns, enchanting keyboards and loads of gnarly distortion. The lyrics, which speak of sinking further into despair – “This sea of darkness Is taking me down, down, down. The depths of the sea are my only escape. Darkness my only light” – were written by N Pa and sung by Richard Bush of the Philadelphia rock band Peace Creeps, whose vocals remind me in spots of Calvin Harris. Additional vocals were sung by Bobby Jasso, and electric guitar was played by multi-instrumentalist and music producer Taylor Barefoot.

Escaping from darkness and moving into the light is addressed on the brief “Interlude (The Battle)“, a haunting orchestral track with gorgeous electric violin played by David Wong. The lyrics were written by N Pa and narrated by Michael Leonard: “The once was is now no more. His fate sealed in this entrapment. He must now seek out the light. Encased in the darkness, the battle for the mind has commenced, and each side is eager to win. But Who will turn out the victor?” The track ends with a sample from “Karma (Comin’ In For The Kill)” by Bobby Jasso and Frank Gryner, which continues into the beginning of the next track “On the Inside“. The song opens with a sample from The Mars Volta song “Ilyena”, featuring heavily distorted and otherworldly vocals, then settles into an exuberant EDM groove with thumping dance beats and spacy synths. The extensive lyrics were written and sung by Frank Pino, Jr. of Massachusetts rock band Waltham, who has a beautiful, emphatic vocal style. The song seems to be a tug of war between Turmoil and The Ghost Within, who gives him an ultimatum to either save himself or be forever lost: “Follow me no compromise, or you’ll be left alone. Come with me to save your mind, or fall forever.” It’s a great track.

Next up is “Release Me“, a beautiful seven-minute long EDM track in which Turmoil pleads with both The Ghost Within and Melinda to free him from his emotional hell: “Release me from all I’m feeling. Release me, and start the healing.” The lyrics were written and sung by Pete Murray of L.A. rock band Lo-Pro (who to my ears sounds a bit like Jared Leto) and Luke Jackson, with guitars and cello played by Jeremy Berghorst. The synths and beats on this track are fantastic, and I really love the guys’ passionate vocals.

Finishing the saga is the dramatic and hopeful “Not Today“, with lyrics written by Michael Leonard and Joshua Spradlin, and sung by FloatstoneHeart, Esper Fiction, and Kate Wild. The lyrics for this track are quite extensive too, and speak to Turmoil’s wanting his life to be better, but still feeling intense self-doubt and uncertainty as to whether he’ll be successful: “All I can show is I am buried under all this debt, but I have not given up just yet. Still all I know is, if you give me just one more shot I will surely fuck it up.” Nevertheless he feels resolved to make it, ending things on an optimistic note: “Oh, time, can’t lay me down to bed cause I’ve got too long left to run. I won’t be floating there with the fishes til I’m done.” Musically, the song reminds me in places of songs by Everything But the Girl and Thirty Seconds to Mars, obviously a very good thing!

Making a concept album can be a tricky undertaking, but with The Ghost Within: The Tale of Turmoil, N Pa has succeeded quite nicely. This expertly-crafted album is a fascinating and engrossing listen, sounding as fresh and current today as it was in 2013. N Pa released a remixed version of the album in 2015 entitled The Ghost Within: Remixed (Part 1), then went on a brief hiatus. In December 2020 he released a single “Nothing In Your Eyes” (feat. Marcie Joy, GloomIsOkay, & Android Invasion), and is working on his next EP Euphoric Absence set to to released in later this year. I look forward to hearing it!

Connect with N Pa:  TwitterInstagram

Stream/Purchase his music:  BandcampSoundcloud

DELAURENTIS – Single Review: “Be A Woman”

With her exquisite compositions, innovative music styling and beguiling vocals, electronic artist DeLaurentis is a rising star on the French music scene and beyond. The talented singer-songwriter, composer and producer has had music in her blood her whole life. Growing up in a home with a musician father, she early on discovered her love for music, and learned to compose music using keyboards, analog and contemporary synthesizers and computers. Drawing inspiration from some of her favorite artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Max Richter, Brian Eno, Oneothrix Point Never and the great Laurie Anderson, she creates electronic music characterized by bewitching piano melodies and cinematic walls of sound. She also uses synthesizers to manipulate her voice so that it becomes another instrument in itself.

She chose the moniker DeLaurentis for her music project and relocated to Paris in 2015. That June, she released her debut self-titled EP DeLaurentis, an impressive work featuring five beautiful tracks. Since then, she’s dropped several more EPs, including Brand New Soul, Big Part of a Big Sun, and Classical Variations, Pt. 1., as well as a number of remixes. She’s been featured in major French publications such as Trax, Rock & Folk and Les Inrockuptibles, and some of her songs have been used in French commercials. Her single “A Big Part of A Big Sunwas featured in the TV series How to Get Away With Murder.

Photo by Bruno Tognin

On June 11th, DeLaurentis released a beautiful new track “Be A Woman“, the third single from her forthcoming debut full-length album UNICA, due for release in September. The single follows two previous singles, “Life” and “Pegasus”, which will also be included on UNICA, a concept album inspired by the strong connection she developed with her machines. Beginning in the summer of 2018, DeLaurentis spent two years in a studio on the Saint-Martin Canal in Paris, working with her synthesizers and computers. In the process, she developed an almost mystical connection between the human and digital worlds, which led to her creation of UNICA, a digital-tale told in ten tracks exploring the emotions between a woman and her machine. She collaborated with Dan Black, Yaron Herman, Daymark and Fabien Waltmann in the album’s production, and experimented in a recording collaboration with the artificial intelligence developed by the Spotify CTRL research lab supervised by SKYGGE on the album track “Somewhere in Between”.

Regarding her inspiration for “Be A Woman”, DeLaurentis explains: I got the idea for this song after a hypnosis session, where I relived the same scene three times. First in a subjective way, then in a meta position (by being outside the scene, in observation) then a third time by imagining a double, a new version of myself that would take me by the hand, getting me out of this situation and took me to Sunset Boulevard where we would rollerblade towards the beach and the sunset! This double is UNICA, the one I call my digital sister. It was in this state of hypnosis that I first met her. In this initiatory journey, she guided me and whispered to me these words: ‘You’ll be more than kings, more than gods…you’ll be a woman’ in reference to the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling ‘you’ll be a Man, my son!’ but in a feminine version.

The song opens with an enchanting piano arpeggio, immediately drawing us in as we want to hear more. DeLaurentis’ soothing, breathy vocals enter as she sings of her dream: “And I was there again with him. That cheap cafe. Evenin’. His words were arrows. I was the bird. The walls were green. The lights blurred. I felt that ice rush in my ears. And suddenly someone jus’ like me appeared and she took my hand. And we ran.” The music gradually expands into a gorgeous soundscape of swirling atmospheric synths, strings, hypnotic percussion and deep synth bass, while the piano arpeggios continue moving the song forward. Her vocals are lovely and captivating, and I adore her soaring harmonies in the choruses. It’s a brilliant track.

Header photo by Celine Van Heel

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CLINT SLATE & IONA JAMES – EP Review: “The Silent Sea”

Sometimes the best things are born of chance encounters, and that’s exactly the case with the new EP The Silent Sea, a collaboration between French artist Clint Slate and Scottish singer-songwriter Iona James. Coming from different worlds, the two met serendipitously in early 2021 after entering a songwriting competition hosted by a radio station. The two hit it off professionally, and decided to write songs and record them together. The four-track EP The Silent Sea is their first in a series of planned releases.

For a bit of background, Clint Slate is the musical alter-ego of French singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gregg Michel. Based in Paris, the versatile fellow has been involved in numerous projects as a singer, musician and actor over the years, and created Clint Slate (a variation of ‘clean slate’) in 2015 to further explore a more experimental side. He’s released three albums, beginning with this debut work Before the Dark, an exploration of his feelings of grief and loss after the death of his father. He followed in 2017 with his exquisite second album Woodn Bones, which was recorded in a single take and premiered in a live performance on the internet with a full band plus choir in a theatre. This past January, he dropped his third album Dragons, an innovative and imaginative genre-blended work inspired by his love of David Bowie’s album Earthling, which was itself based on the idea of a ‘cadavre exquis musical’ (or ‘exquisite musical corpse’). The brilliant album was created virtually and remotely, with the help of two other musicians, bassist Francesco Arzani and drummer Louison Collet. You can read my review of Dragons here.

Iona James is a nurse from Scotland with a life-long love of music. As a young child, she’d sing along with her mum to songs by the Bee Gees, Jackson 5 and Cyndi Lauper, then learned to appreciate classical music while playing in her school band. She later grew to love such diverse acts as Nirvana, Enya and The Cranberries, and began writing her own songs while learning to play guitar. She eventually joined the army and became a nurse, but continued to feed her passion for music by writing songs in secret. Iona made an attempt to satisfy her craving to be involved in music by joining the Scottish military wives’ choir, but it was her father-in-law urging her to do something she loved that finally compelled her to take a songwriting course. Meanwhile, working as a nurse during the pandemic brought anxiety, stress and dread, causing insomnia for her. She found solace in writing songs, and made a new year’s resolution to record one of them, which led to the release of her first single “To the Moon” this past January.

The first track “No Way Out” was released in advance of The Silent Sea on May 24th. The song opens with shimmery strummed guitar chords backed by spooky ethereal synths and handclaps, then Iona’s lovely vocals enter, accompanied by a warm bassline. Her vocals are soon joined by Clint’s as the music expands into a luxurious, moody soundscape, punctuated by jangly guitar and enchanting keyboards. The interplay between Iona and Clint’s vocals is really wonderful as they complement and play off each other in perfect harmony. The powerful lyrics seem to touch on dealing with personal demons and regrets over past mistakes: “Stranded alone, alone in the crowd. Prisoner in my own head. Can’t seem to find my way out. This haunted memory, merry go round. Grasping the last piece of straw. Can’t take this no more.” It’s beautiful and haunting, and I think it’s my favorite song on the EP.

On the captivating “Believe“, the two admonish us to not live in the past or fall prey to all the noise we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, but to instead remain cognizant of that which is good and meaningful in our lives: “Be free of what you see In the fake news you read. When your heart controls your mind. Embrace what you have, not what you had.” The song is really lovely, with a gentle melody built around watery chiming guitars and delicate percussive sounds. Clint’s vocals sound a lot like Bono’s here (he in fact performs as Bono in a U2 tribute band), and once again, he harmonizes beautifully with Iona’s clear, resonant vocals.

Tell Me Now” is a pleasing folk-pop song, with an opening guitar riff that sounds a bit like that in the 1978 hit “Reminiscing” by the Little River Band. The sunny, upbeat melody contrasts with the simple, bittersweet lyrics spoken between a couple coming to terms with the fact their relationship appears broken beyond repair: “Loving you was easy, but loving you could be so damn hard. I didn’t know trying to hold on would tear us apart.” “The Ticking Tide” is the longest and most musically complex of the four tracks, starting off with quirky synths that are replaced by a piano driven melody, which gradually evolves into more of a rock feel with urgent guitars and heavier percussion. Lyrically, the song touches on the relentless passage of time, and our powerlessness in its wake. Everything that’s happened in our past continues to shape who we are going forward, but we cannot let those things imprison us: “The ticking tide, waits for no one. Tomorrow is today. The ticking tide it tempts me, I’m drifting away. The ticking tide one day will set me free. Time is an ocean. We’re helpless, but time is in motion, forging us.

The Silent Sea is a lovely little EP, and a fine debut effort by this talented duo. Iona and Clint are both great songwriters and vocalists in their own right, and their combined efforts have paid off nicely in the creation of these wonderful songs.

The special edition includes the EP, four alternate versions called ‘The Naked Sea’, a Radio Edit for ‘The Ticking Tide’ and the digital booklet.

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Stream her music:  SpotifyApple Music 

9fm – EP Review: “First One, Ninth Fifteen”

9fm (short for Ninth Floor Mannequin) is the solo music project of New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone. Drawing influences from some of his favorite artists like Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes and James Blake, Pedone melds elements of folk, alternative rock and synth pop to create fascinating songs with a pleasing, often otherworldly vibe. He’s also a huge fan of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone, as well as the more recent Twilight Zone-influenced British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror, and many of his song lyrics are based on particular episodes of those shows.

I first featured 9fm on this blog back in September 2018 when I reviewed his marvelous EP Little House. Now I’m pleased to share his new EP First One, Ninth Fifteen, which drops today. The unusual title is a combination of words from the titles of each of the four tracks. He wrote the music and lyrics, sang vocals and performed or programmed all music, as well as the recording, mixing and mastering of the tracks himself in his home studio. He’s a thoughtful lyricist, and each song tells a story based on a real-life incident or a TV episode.

The first track “Fifteen Minutes” addresses the traumatic brain injury Jarrod suffered in September 2012, when he was struck by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident while out jogging. He was put into a coma, then endured a grueling period of outpatient physical and mental therapy, as described in the lyrics “With no name or number, John Doe fought for his life. For one day he was someone, but then he went and survived.” Ultimately, it was his return to creating music that proved to be the most successful form of therapy, though he uses self-deprecating lyrics to describe his progress: “But still he plays and keeps on writing, with no good reason why. He sure wasn’t great in the first place, but now he’s barely alright.”

Using a cacophonous mix of instruments and eerie, lo-fi industrial synths set to an almost frantic driving beat, he creates an unsettling, chaotic soundscape that conjures up images of the pandemonium that must have ensued after he was struck and left fighting for his life. I especially like his guitar notes and jazzy saxophone played by Matthew Silberman that add to the overall moody vibe. The song ends with sounds of monitors and medical staff one would hear in a busy emergency room.

“Below the Ninth Floor” was inspired by one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes “The After Hours” from Season 1, in which a woman named Marsha, played by Anne Francis, is taken by elevator to the ninth floor of a department store to buy a gold thimble, even though the indicator above the elevator shows only eight floors. The entire floor is empty, without any merchandise save a single gold thimble, which is exactly what she’s looking for. The employee who waits on her is a mysterious woman who asks a lot of probing questions. As Marsha rides the elevator down, she discovers the thimble is scratched and dented, and is directed by the elevator operator to the Complaints Department on the third floor. When she tries to convince the sales supervisor and store manager that she bought the item on the ninth floor, they tell her the store doesn’t have a ninth floor. To make matters worse, she has no evidence of the transaction as she paid cash, and has no receipt. Marsha spots the salesclerk who sold her the thimble, and is shocked to discover that the woman is not a salesclerk at all, but one of the department store’s mannequins. Things continue to go downhill from there. Jarrod also named his music project ‘Ninth Floor Mannequin’ after the episode.

For this song, 9fm’s lyrics speak of people putting up a false front and creating an image they think will impress others, as if they’re like a perfect mannequin: “Just before the stage lights up to a new crowd. Don’t fuck it up, don’t be yourself, or try too hard. Getting lost in the part, and go all in, give the people what they want.” Musically, the song seems to have an almost lighthearted vibe, with breezy synths and a relaxed, toe-tapping beat, but a closer listen reveals a slightly melancholy undercurrent, befitting the darker lyrics.

The third track “First Blush” is based on Season 3, Episode 4 of Black Mirror, entitled “San Junipero”. San Junipero is a simulated beach resort town where the deceased can live and the elderly can visit, all inhabiting their younger selves’ bodies in a time of their choosing. The plot involves two women, Yorkie and Kelly, who meet at a nightclub, and eventually become romantically involved. They meet up at different times over the years in both San Junipero and in the real world, where they face real-life complications. In the end, both are euthanized so that they can be together in San Junipero.

Starting with skittering percussion and assertive drumbeats, 9fm layers gauzy synths, humming keyboards, and what sounds like a bass guitar, though it could also be guitar that’s been fed though a pedal or some other device to give it a deeper tone. The result is a dramatic, fast-paced song that captures the sense of urgency and emotional intensity described in the lyrics about an unusual and logistically challenging love affair. His smooth vocals have an ethereal quality that’s quite pleasing as he sings “At first blush I came on way too strong. I’d never known someone like you. So I knew first, the path that I would choose. I’d trade that life for one with you. Please see it through, you’re all I have to lose.”

The final track “One for the Benders” is based on the Bender Family, also known as The Bloody Benders, a family of serial killers who lived in and operated a general store and small inn in Labette County, Kansas, from May 1871 to December 1872. While the exact number is unknown, it is believed they killed at least a dozen travelers and buried their remains on their property before their crimes were discovered. 9fm’s lyrics are sung from the point of view of the Benders to their visitors, lulling them to complacency as they move in for the kill: “Never could tell you that you say one lovely grace. Sorry to stop you, it’s just how we pray (prey). It’s been fun, I mean it really was. Now get some rest. Lie down, relax, put your feet up.

The fascinating song has a bouncy, almost upbeat cadence, however 9fm uses a dark array of mysterious synths, spooky sounds and haunting echoed vocals to create a decidedly menacing vibe befitting the macabre subject matter. It’s another great example of how adept he is at producing soundscapes that strike the perfect tone for each story. First One, Ninth Fifteen is a fine and extremely compelling little EP, and the more I listened to the songs, the deeper they bored themselves into my brain.

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STARGAZY PIE – Album Review: “Butterfly Hand Grenade”

As someone who has zero musical aptitude or talent, I’m always impressed by those who do, and even more so when they’re as young as the guys in the band Stargazy Pie. Formed in 2019, the Tacoma, Washington-based foursome are all still in their teens, ranging in age from 15-19, but their music and lyrics have a level of quality and maturity well beyond their tender years. In January, they released their debut album Butterfly Hand Grenade, and I must say that it’s quite good! I also love that they named their band after a traditional Cornish fish pie. Traditionally, stargazy pie is filled with potatoes, eggs and whole pilchards (sardines) – yuk! – and baked with the fish heads poking though the pastry crust so that they appear to be gazing at the stars. Hence the band’s logo:

Making the great music are Jack Stoker (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Logan Chernoske (lead guitar, bass, backing vocals), Logan Neville-Neil (bass, piano, backing vocals) and Sulli Olson-Rexroat (drums). The album was produced and engineered by Regan Lane and Sean Van Dommelen of the band Strangely Alright, whose music I’ve also featured a number of times on this blog. The beautiful album art was created by band guitarist, Logan Chernoske, who edited together two NASA photographs of butterfly nebulas with a shadowy image of the lead singer Jack.

The album kicks off with “Kinda Lame“, a rousing tune that takes me back to the 90s with a groove that reminds me a bit of songs by the Gin Blossoms or early Jimmy Eat World. The upbeat, driving rhythms contrast with the more serious lyrics that speak to the disappointment of unrequited love and coming to terms with the fact that the one you love just doesn’t feel the same about you. The instrumentals are all top-notch, and Jack’s vocals are in fine form, transitioning from smooth croons to soaring entreaties with ease as he laments “I think you’re making a big mistake. But I know that we can’t control these things. And baby if you just don’t feel the same, I think that’s kinda lame.”

Paranoid” is a terrific hard rock song, with marvelous chugging riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, accompanied by galloping rhythms that create a heavier, more urgent sound for the bitter lyrics giving someone who’s betrayed you the big kiss-off: “So don’t come crawling back in shame. Cause I just can’t be friends with someone who wants to see me in pain. But now I’m Paranoid, Cause I know what you’ve done. If I can’t trust you then I can’t trust no one.” Once again, Jack’s vocals are outstanding.

The wonderfully-titled head banger “why’dyouleave(girl).wav” really channels Jimmy Eat World, with frantic rhythms and rapid-fire riffs a la “The Middle”, only faster and with lots more distortion. Jack’s vocal dexterity is impressive as he feverishly spits out the lyrics in perfect sync with the frenzied pace of the instrumentals as he implores ” Why’d you have to walk away? All I need is one more day. So much more I had to say. Things will never be the same. It didn’t have to end this way, oh I just want you to stay.”

The next three tracks address the guys’ anxieties and experiences as a young band, and once again I have to say that I’m both impressed and touched by their intelligent and introspective songwriting, especially given their young ages. The buoyant “Constellations” speaks to the healing powers of making and performing music: “I can’t erase these things that I’ve done. I’m on the run, oh I’m on the run. And I just won’t face what I’ve become. None of it’s fun, oh none of it’s fun. But I’ll go to waste if I don’t move on. I’ll make a name, I’ll be someone. Oh I know a place where we belong. We will be constellations. And we will sing to the nations.

$25 Guitar” is a sweet and poignant ode to the singer’s very first guitar that got him where he is today musically, and though it makes him sad, it’s now time for him to move up to a better model: “My twenty-five dollar guitar. Oh I knew you were a star. And it must be so very hard to hear, but my twenty-five dollar guitar, you just weren’t up to par. So leaving you shouldn’t leave me in tears.” In keeping with the sentimental subject, the song’s arrangement is more laid-back, with charming strummed guitars, however, the rhythm section is still rather spirited, though it doesn’t detract from the track’s mellower feel.

And on the boisterous garage rocker “Going Under“, they touch on the perils of falling prey to acting like a ‘rock star’, being full of yourself and disrespecting others and, ultimately yourself. “Lars Ulrich, he’s a prick. Ain’t got no talent on him. I think he’s full of it. But maybe that’s my problem. I can say you’re not great but you can say the same thing. Why do we wanna hate when we can just walk away? Making me wonder am I going under? / It’s not about what you decide to do with your life. It’s more how you treat stuff and if you do what is right. Don’t hate me, if you’re angry. Cause that’s exactly what I do. I hate that I’m angry and I keep disrespecting you.” Jack and Logan C. set the airwaves afire with face-melting riffs, while Logan N. and Sulli deliver non-stop pummeling rhythms.

The guys slow it back down on the title track “Butterfly Hand Grenade“, a lovely, bittersweet song about missing someone special. “Butterfly hand grenade. Got me feeling this way. Never know what to say cause I get lost when you smile. / Falling deep in denial. And it feels so wrong cause my heart still longs. And you’re not here.” The instrumentals are quite gentle, consisting mainly of strummed guitar and warm keyboards. When the song seems to end at around 2:48, the music returns with added percussion as Jack sadly ponders “So oh, I gotta know. Was this all real? Or was it for show? Oh, I gotta know. Was this all real? Or was it for show?

Everything comes full circle on the closing track “Pretty Great“, a call-back to the opening track “Kinda Lame”. Jack now concludes that he’s okay with the way things ended in the relationship after all, and that he’ll be alright: “Don’t worry about me, I’ll find someone who’ll be, oh all that I’ve dreamed. I once had this feeling, but now that I’m healing I’m finally set free. And that’s not to slight you. I still adore you, just not in that way. And now, everything is pretty great.”

Pretty great is an apt description for this delightful album. Butterfly Hand Grenade is a solid work, and a very impressive debut for this remarkably talented young band. Of course, some credit must be given to producers Regan Lane and Sean Van Dommelen. Still, it’s heartwarming to see a young act put out such a well-crafted work as this, and I hope we’ll be hearing more great music from them.

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ROD FRITZ – Single Review: “Take the World with Me”

I just reviewed musician Michael Lane, a singer-songwriter who was born in Germany, raised in America and now living in Germany. Now I’m writing about another musician based in Germany named Rod Fritz, who’s actually an Australian born and raised in Hobart, Tasmania, but now living in Germany as well. Rod has been involved with music for nearly 30 years, both in bands and as a solo artist. He started out in the early 90s playing saxophone with Australian band Death & Disease. After they disbanded, he began writing songs and recorded his first solo album Send Help in 1996. He later re-recorded many of those songs, plus some new tracks, for his 2011 album Clouded, which garnered critical and commercial acclaim, as well as airplay in Australia and beyond. In 2014, he embarked on a world tour that took him through the U.S., UK and Germany. His mother is originally from Germany, and while there he visited her and a number of family members. While playing a show, he met a woman with whom he eventually entered into a relationship, and he’s been in Germany ever since.

Hi pleasing music style draws from country, folk, pop and rock, with memorable and often catchy melodies, heartfelt lyrics and bold instrumentation. He followed Clouded with two more albums, Fritz in 2014 and Hold On in 2018. Since then, he’s released a number of singles, the latest of which is “Take the World with Me“. It’s an upbeat, feel-good song with a bouncy melody and joyful vibe similar to the Jawaiian (a Hawaiian style of reggae) sound of the Jason Mraz hit “I’m Yours”. Rod employs a lively mix of jauntily strummed guitars, sparkling synths, finger snaps, xylophone and other charming little instruments to create a carefree, sunny soundscape. His smooth, light-hearted vocals are comforting as he assures a loved one to have faith in him, and that he’ll be there to take care of and protect her: “Come and take the world with me, and I’ll be right there by your side. Come and take the world with me. Don’t cry, everything will be alright.

It’s a sweet and happy song, and can’t we use more of those right now?

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Purchase:  Bandcamp