CALLUM PITT – Single Review: “Mayfly”

Callum Pitt is a thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England. Inspired by the music of such artists as Elliott Smith, Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Sufjan Stevens, The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, he creates, in his own words, “indie-folk with a grand, orchestral, chamber pop sensibility plus an alt-rock edge”. His music is characterized by lush harmonies, captivating melodies, and honest, meaningful lyrics touching on subjects like depression and anxiety, and social and political unrest, delivered with his soft, pleasing vocals. In other words, his songs are beautiful.

He began writing and singing songs in this teens, performing in pubs and small venues in and around Newcastle. He released his wonderful debut single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can” in 2017, and in the years since, he’s dropped an impressive number of singles as well as a four-track EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. His beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering over 100,000 streams. He’s also earned accolades such as the Alan Hull Songwriting Award for songwriters in 2019, and participated in the Fender Player Plus competition in 2022.

Photos by Daniel Stark

I’ve previously reviewed two of Callum’s singles, both in 2020: “Fault Lines” (which spent 10 weeks on my Top 30 chart and ranks at #84 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list), and “Sea of Noise”. Now he’s back with his first new music in two years almost to the day, a lovely, deeply personal single “Mayfly“. The song was written and composed by Callum, who sang lead vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards. Additional musicians performing on the track include Luke Elgie on bass, Gavin Christie on drums, John Martindale on percussion, Ada Francis and Jodie Nicholson on backing vocals, Alex Saxon, who wrote and played the saxophone line, and James Leonard Hewitson on trumpet. The track was co-produced by Callum and John Martindale, who also engineered and mixed it at Blank Studios. Mastering was done by Robin Schmidt.

The song is essentially about adulthood, and Callum’s feelings of apprehension over the responsibilities he’ll face as a potential parent, fearing he might not be up to the task: “I’m 28 now, eventually not feeling like a teenager anymore and probably will have my own children in a few years’ time. ‘Mayfly’ talks about that worry I have that living with anxiety and bouts of depression will mean I will never be able to provide that emotional stability that children will require. It’s quite a hopeful song though, as I still have a few years yet, and mainly talks about the ambition that I’ll be more emotionally stable and at peace as the years go by. I often look at people in their 30s and 40s and think they appear very at peace, but maybe there are always relative struggles and difficult things to overcome, and we always have to cherish the highs and know that the lows are inevitable.”

“Mayfly” has a lively, upbeat melody that contrasts with the poignant lyrics. One of the many things I like about the song is how each instrument is allowed to shine. With every new listen I hear little instrumental nuances, like the perfect melding of acoustic guitar notes and delicate piano chords in the verses, and how the drums become more intense in the choruses, accompanied by glorious exuberant riffs and swirling keyboards. Callum’s smooth vocals are both comforting and heartfelt, backed by Ada and Jodie’s lovely harmonies, and Alex’s bold saxophone in the final chorus is the icing on the musical cake. It’s another wonderful song by Callum.

The lovely video, filmed and directed by Sel MacLean, shows Callum singing the song in various indoor and outdoor settings in an around Newcastle.

Those of you in the UK can catch Callum at one of these upcoming shows:

Saturday, Nov 19 – The Common Room of the Great North, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Saturday, Nov 26 – Songs From Northern Britain @ The Georgian Theatre, Stockton-on-tees

Saturday, Dec 10 – Avoid Shit Xmas Parties, The Central, Gateshead

Connect with Callum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

New Song of the Week: “If I Could Fall Into the Skies” by Marianne Kesler

Marianne Kesler is a Dayton, Ohio-based singer-songwriter with a life-long love for music. A prolific artist, she’s been writing and recording music for over 25 years, and has released five albums and more than 10 singles as a solo artist. She’s also collaborated with numerous other artists, including neo-soul/pop/folk artist Leah Thompson, with whom she co-wrote over 30 songs, as well as her friend Kate Stanton, as part of a duo named Every Lovely Thing, who I featured in an Artist Spotlight nearly four years ago. On top of all that, she’s also written a three-volume trilogy of free verse poetry/prose and photography.

Her pleasing style of folk/pop has earned her comparisons to such artists as Judy Collins, Carole King, Aimee Mann and Sheryl Crow. In fact, she cheekily describes her sound this way: “Imagine if Joni Mitchell got together with Leonard Cohen for a writing session at the coffeehouse where Neil Young and the Counting Crows were playing, folk artist Jan Krist was singing, Tori & Fiona were pouting, Over The Rhine & Aimee Mann opened, and Santana stopped by to play some smokin’ guitar…Yeah, It sounds something like that!

Today, Marianne has dropped a hauntingly beautiful new single “If I Could Fall Into the Skies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Her first release of 2022, it’s a melodically simple but impactful song, dominated by a somber but lovely piano movement, and accompanied by airy synths that create an enchanting backdrop for her gentle, ethereal vocals. My only criticism, and it’s a minor one, is that I wish Marianne’s vocals were a bit more pronounced, as the bold piano keys sometimes overpower her delicate vocals. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful track.

The bittersweet lyrics speak of wanting to know someone – perhaps a romantic interest, but it could apply to any special friendship – better, but being unable to break through to them:

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Staring at the water it appears as though the world is upside down
Summer skies reflected there are shimmering like clouds upon the ground         
I could jump right now … If I just knew how

Gazing in your eyes I glimpse a depth I’ve never noticed there before
Subtle undertow beneath the surface has me aching to explore           
I could jump right now … If I just knew how
 
If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Standing on the edge with everything I’ve ever wanted down below
Painfully aware I’ve never told you how I feel or let you know             
But I could jump right now … If I just knew how
Catch a falling star … Landing where you are 

Starlit skies … In your eyes
Upside down … Spun around 
’Til the world seems out of focus as I fall …

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay.

Marianne created a stunning video to accompany the song, about which she has this to say: “This song was inspired by seeing how the sky was reflected through a window onto my glass top desk ~ looking as though I could fall right into it! I tried to shoot video footage that captured this same ‘world upside down’ reflection (mostly on water) to add visuals to these lyrics of longing.”

Connect with Marianne:  FacebookTwitter 

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

DAN SZYLLER – Album Review: “The Celestial Immigrant”

Album artwork by Sumit Roy

Dan Szyller is an imaginative and earnest Brazilian singer-songwriter and musician currently based in Metz, France. Born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he also spent time living in the U.S. and Israel before emigrating to France, and those life experiences led him to write and record songs for his debut album The Celestial Immigrant. Dan says “It’s the story of many travels I have made and places I have been in my life, mostly as an immigrant.” The album, written and recorded over a six month period earlier this year, was released on Apple Music and Spotify on July 20th. For recording of the album, Dan played guitar and sang vocals, Fabien Pilard played additional guitars, bass, keyboards and sang backup, and Meriem Rezik played drums.

A lifelong lover of music, Dan’s songs are influenced by some of his favorite bands like The Doors, Iron Maiden, King Crimson and Pink Floyd. These influences are readily apparent on the opening title track “The Celestial Immigrant“. With its expansive, moody soundscapes, highlighted by a vibrant blend of jangly and psychedelic guitars, it sounds like a long-lost Pink Floyd song. The lyrics, about a young boy hurtling through outer space toward the Milky Way, seem to be an allegory for Dan’s well-traveled, sometimes beautiful and perhaps at times chaotic, childhood, being repeatedly moved without his consent to several different countries, in search of a better life: “Sent away into the darkness. No warnings were given, the baby. In the wake of the night. The celestial immigrant is on his way, in the Milky Way. Will he ever make it? The stars are watching him—riding the neon wave. Will he ever make it? Will he find new home? All the forgotten faces, all part of a strange dream somehow. All the beautiful places, The journey of the sacred moon-child.”

On the grunge-flavored “My Road“, Dan seems to ponder the fleeting impermanence of life: “Life passes by so fast; old pictures and you’re gone. The Crossroads is coming. Another drifter’s story.” And on the optimistic “Summer Kiss” he sings of the joys of summer, and how people and nature come alive with activities and romance: “The birds are calling, the people will wake. The smell of grass, the children that play. The night is falling, the feast will begin. A man is hunting, a girl is the prey.” The song features some great reverby guitars and 60s-flavored organ.

Some of the progressive influences from bands like King Crimson and Pink Floyd are strongly evident on the next three tracks, with meandering melodies and fascinating instrumental flourishes. On “The Believer” Dan sings of being a world traveler, in search of a better life: “I can see a land of riches. / The howling winds of freedom, my life and blood astray. I dream of a paradise beyond the clouds. I read, the signs are so evident now. Believe, the blind shall see. I am away. I am a troubadour. I have many stories to tell.” His vocals, while not particularly powerful, are emotive and heartfelt, conveying just the right amount of passion and fervor when he sings.

On the dark and dramatic “King’s Hall“, he uses medieval fantasy metaphors to describe what could be the plot of a Game of Thrones episode: “Inside the King’s Hall, love and jealousy. Blades are held high! The old man is gazing from his throne. A lifetime before his eyes.” I’m not quite sure what the story in this song has to do with the album’s overall theme, but it’s an intriguing track nonetheless.

On the introspective and bittersweet “Sunday Again“, Dan wistfully sings of being at a low point in his life, feeling bored and alone, and missing those he’s left behind: “Looking out the window. A quiet street, no life at all. The rain that falls each day. The fog that hides the dawn. Sitting on a couch, I think of her. Could I fall in love once more? My imagination is playing games with me. Happiness seems so far, so lost.” Musically, it sounds almost like two different songs melded together, with the first, more grungy segment ending just after three minutes, and the second segment having a more relaxed vibe, with some great reverby and distorted surf guitars. On this segment, Dan seems to have come to terms with his loneliness, finding solace in his music: “It’s Sunday, I’m free again. In a corner, playing my guitar. La La, La La La.

The final track “Interstellar (Voyager 1)” is a captivating instrumental piece, with more of those great reverb-drenched guitars we’ve heard on several of the album’s songs, accompanied by spacey atmospheric synths that beautifully convey images of traveling through outer space. The only vocals we hear are Dan’s spoken words briefly reciting a description of the Voyager 1 space probe that was “launched by NASA on September 5, 1977, as part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System and interstellar space beyond the Sun’s heliosphere.” The description is taken from Wikipedia, which he cites on his album liner notes, and includes a statistic of how long the space probe has been in operation “Launched 16 days after its twin Voyager 2, Voyager 1 has been operating for 44 years, 9 months and 12 days as of June 17, 2022 (now 45 years, 1 month and 6 days as of today, October 12, 2022). The track brings the album’s celestial theme full-circle, with an overriding message – to my mind at least – that we’re all travelers on this planet, which itself exists within a much greater universe that’s beyond our comprehension.

The Celestial Immigrant is an ambitious and fascinating work, and an impressive debut for Dan Szyller. His creativity, imaginative songwriting and strong musicianship really shine on this very fine album.

Connect with Dan: TwitterFacebookInstagram

Stream his music on SpotifyApple MusicAmazon Music

THE STAR CRUMBLES – Album Review: “The Ghost of Dancing Slow”

Music act The Star Crumbles came to be rather serendipitously earlier this year when singer-songwriter Brian Lambert, who’s based in Denton, Texas, reached out to singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Marc Schuster, who lives in suburban Philadelphia, for some help with his song “Kids” (which I wrote about last March in a Fresh New Tracks post). The two had previously met on Twitter, but had never before worked with each other. Well, they immediately hit it off, so much so that they decided to collaborate together on more music projects, eventually leading to their creation of a new music act they dubbed The Star Crumbles. On September 30th, their debut album The Ghost of Dancing Slow was released on Bandcamp, and will go live on most other streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.) on October 7th. 

Brian Lambert & Marc Schuster

Before I get into the album, I want to provide a bit of background on Brian, Marc and The Star Crumbles. Brian has been writing and recording music for many years, and says he’s “reinvented himself more times than he can count.” He even tried his hand at country music for a while, but eventually realized that it just wasn’t for him. More recently, the prolific songwriter’s been making indie rock music inspired by some of his favorite acts like Spoon, Gang of Youths and the Replacements, and beginning in 2021, he challenged himself to writing, recording and producing a new song every week for an entire year. He now has an incredible body of work to his credit.

Marc is an insanely creative renaissance man in every sense of the word. Not only is he an educator, author and literary critic, he’s also a prolific songwriter and musician, recording both as a solo artist and as part of numerous music projects and collaborations with an ever-expanding roster of musicians. As if all that weren’t enough, he’s also a pretty good visual artist, is incredibly supportive of other artists and music bloggers (including yours truly), and has a terrific WordPress blog of his own called Abominations, where he writes about music and interviews lots of indie artists. I’ve featured him three times on my blog, including a review last February of his wonderful EP There Is No Down.

In addition to making music, both Brian and Marc are wildly imaginative and funny guys. Soon after forming The Star Crumbles, they came up with the idea of creating a tongue-in-cheek back story for the act. Since their music is strongly influenced by their shared love of 80s new wave music by such bands as The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, Ultravox and New Order, they decided that The Star Crumbles would have its origins in the early 80s, but due a number of unexplained circumstances, they suddenly disappeared from the music scene before having a chance to release their first album: “From 1982 to 1986, The Star Crumbles were always on the verge of something big – until they vanished without a trace, taking their eagerly anticipated album, ‘The Ghost of Dancing Slow’, with them. Everyone thought they had potential, but they were dogged by misfortune and bad timing. Also, they had terrible business sense.

The guys recruited a motley crew of friends and fans to provide their own unfiltered insight into what became of The Star Crumbles. The result (which I was honored to be a part of) is a brilliant and hilarious video documentary Beyond the Music. The inventiveness, originality and deadpan delivery of those who participated is really quite impressive! Please press play:

Okay, now lets get to the music. The Ghost of Dancing Slow was a DIY project, totally self-recorded and produced by Marc and Brian. Marc mixed the tracks, and they both had a hand in the final mastering. Marc played guitars and drums on all tracks, while both he and Brian played synths. All but one of the ten songs on the album were written by Brian and Marc, the exception being “Cool Down”, which was written by fellow musician Mike Mosley (who also appears in the documentary).

Opening track “Desperately Wanting” was The Star Crumbles’ first official single, released this past May. It’s a beautiful and compelling song about a couple who are unable to communicate their needs to each other, leaving their relationship in a perpetual state of limbo, with each of them feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. The album’s title is taken from the song’s lyrics: “The space that lies in between. The gap that lies in between, what we’re really wanting, we don’t want to talk about. The ghost of dancing slow, inside what we’re speaking. But we pretend not to know, what we’re really thinking.” Musically, the song is driven by Marc’s hypnotic bassline, over which he’s layered somber droning synths, thumping drumbeats and gently crashing cymbals. Both he and Brian played guitars. Brian’s plaintive vocals are both comforting and melancholy, nicely conveying the sad sense of resignation expressed in the lyrics. It’s a great song, and spent 12 weeks on my Top 30 chart this past summer.

Next up is their follow-up single “Shadows in the Dark“, another winning tune with a strong retro 80s vibe that borders on darkwave. The guitar work is fantastic, and I love that sizzling little guitar solo in the bridge. Brian’s fervent vocals are great as well. The cool video, which was created by Marc, features pixelated renditions of the band trapped in an eight-bit Atari nightmare.

On the timely and relevant “Conspiracy“, the guys take on those who spread conspiracy theories, and the damage it does to society: “While bald-faced lies are told, the rhythm of what’s true skips a beat. We wonder how they get away with it. There is no consequence for ineloquence that harms the trust. I think it’s more than just a bit intentional.” The gravity of the subject is driven home by the song’s unsettling vibe, created by a rather menacing groove, overlain with dark industrial synths and distorted guitars.

Cool Down” sounds like a long-lost song by Joy Division or The Cure, with gorgeous shimmery guitars and swirling synths, and Brian’s vocals sound better than ever here. “Cozumel” is a sweet song about spending time with a loved one in the Mexican resort, and though the subject matter is quite different, it made me think of Suzanne Vega’s great song “Tom’s Diner”. Those great jangly guitars return on the haunting new wave gem “Trees in the Forest“, with lyrics that seem to speak of feeling lost and disconnected from the world.

With its bouncy new wave vibe, “What Are We Waiting For” urges us to stop doubting ourselves and seize the moment so that we can move forward and live our fullest lives. “Spectres in Waiting” has a decidedly different feel than the other tracks on the album, with a somber, more introspective feel, highlighted by rather mournful guitar notes. The wonderfully-titled “Past, Present and Future Walk Into a Bar, It Was Tense” is another terrific story song, in which Brian talk-sings about his present self encountering his past and future selves in a bar, and wanting to ask them questions to gain a better understanding of himself: “All these years older, what do you get? I hope not colder, nor full of regret.” I love the song’s darker vibe and rather menacing gnarly guitars.

Closing track “If I Could” is the longest on the album, running over five minutes, and has a gentle, upbeat cadence that’s really pleasing. The song seems to be about searching for the truths that will help guide us to a better life, which I also think kind of encapsulates the overall them of the album: “Every time I thought I had an answer, there is just another question that begs that I go searching. Even when I find it, I’m left not truly knowing. I guess it will always be that way.”

The Ghost of Dancing Slow is a marvelous album, and we’re so fortunate The Star Crumbles were successful in retrieving the lost masters to these new wave gems so that we can enjoy them these many years later 😉

Those who purchase the album on Bandcamp will receive a bonus song. Also Friday, October 7th is Bandcamp Friday, meaning all proceeds from purchases go directly to the artists.

Connect with The Star Crumbles:  TwitterInstagram

SOLOVEICHIK – Single Review: “Could It Possibly Be Me”

Soloveichik is the music project of Andrew Solway, a talented young singer-songwriter and musician based in and around Detroit, Michigan. Andrew chose his ancestral name of Soloveichik, which is Russian for “little nightingale”, as his artistic moniker because a nightingale is known for its beautiful and powerful song. As Soloveichik, Andrew has recorded and released numerous singles and EPs over the past two years, as well as his debut album At the Close this past January. His music is a pleasing and somewhat eclectic mix of alternative indie rock, emo and pop, and his relevant, often poignant lyrics are delivered with soft, whispery vocals that remind me a bit of Owl City (aka Adam Young). In addition to his solo music project, Andrew’s also works as a session musician and live pianist in the Detroit area, supporting live acts such as Jacob Sigman, Olivia Dear, Au Gres (who’s music I’ve also reviewed), Little Visits and Aaron Benjamin.

Soloveichik is on a mission to release a new single each month for the next year, and his latest is “Could It Possibly Be Me“, which dropped May 13 (a very busy day for new music releases). The song was recorded at Eureka Records in suburban Detroit with the assistance of longtime collaborator Austin William Stawowczyk, who produced the track, and features Andrew’s hauntingly beautiful repetitive piano riff, accompanied by a stirring cello arrangement by Juliano Bitoni Stewart. Andrew calls it “an unusually personal song, at times blatantly self-critical and blunt“. The lyrics that seem to speak to a lost love or relationship that didn’t work out, and his breathy vocals convey a sad resignation as he reminisces: “I’m alone again. And I still see our cat, but she’s elusive now. I think that I’m next. I just can’t forget easily. You asked me oh so honestly ‘could it possibly be me?’” Though melancholy, it’s a lovely song nevertheless.

Connect with Soloveichik:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp

JEEN – Single Review: “On and On”

JEEN (Jeen O’Brien) is a talented, successful and established singer-songwriter and musician from Toronto, Canada with quite an impressive resume. According to her bio, her songs have been used in commercials for such companies as Google, Panasonic, Estée Lauder, Kraft, BlackBerry, KIA, Rogers, MasterCard and Molson, as well as various movies and television programs, including Cook Off, Republic of Doyle, Instant Star, Ruby Gloom, Degrassi, Killjoys, Hockey Wives, Workin’ Moms, MTV Catfish, and MTV Are You the One. Though we’ve followed each other on Twitter for a while, she somehow slipped under my radar until a few days ago, when she reached out to me about her latest single “On and On“. I liked it at first listen, and agreed to feature it on this blog.

Before I’m able to properly review music by an artist I’ve not written about before, I check out their website and various social media accounts to learn as much as I can about them (alas, I’ll never be able to shake the research methods I learned in grad school), and try to listen to at least some of their music catalog to better familiarize myself with their sound. In searching through JEEN’s, I was amazed by her tremendous music output over the past eight years. After starting out as a member of Toronto alternative pop-rock band Cookie Duster (who released a fine album When Flying Was Easy in 2012), she went solo and released her debut album Tourist in 2014. Since then, she’s put out scores of singles and four more albums, most recently Dog Bite last October (2021). Her music is so good, I found myself going down a rabbit hole of binge-listening to her back catalog. Her alternative pop-rock music style and sound are somewhat similar to a few other female artists I’ve heard, yet also distinctly her own.

Photo by Laura Hermiston

“On and On” is the first single off JEEN’s forthcoming sixth album Tracer, due for release in October. For the recording of the single and album, which were co-produced by JEEN and her frequent collaborator Ian Blurton, JEEN played rhythm guitar, bass and synths, Ian played lead guitar and Stephan Szczesniak played drums. The song was also engineered and mixed by Ian, and mastered by Brad Boatright. JEEN says the song is “about breaking points and falling down more times than you’re willing to get back up. I wrote this song last year when everything was grinding me down and nothing seemed worth it.”

The song is a lively banger with a hint of punk undercurrent, driven by Stephan’s urgent thumping drumbeats and JEEN’s throbbing bass. Ian and JEEN lay down a colorful mix of grungy and chiming guitars, accompanied by exuberant sparkling synths, creating a rousing backdrop for her echoed, somewhat mumbled vocals, which are backed by her own soaring harmonies as she laments “Everything got so complicated. Every day’s so intoxicating. Anyway I tried a hundred times (and on and on and on). And I think you must be blind, when you say everything’s fine (and on and on and on). Hey I’m sorry that I lost my place, started running but I fell on my face.” I like the gnarly instrumental fade out at the end, as if to signify someone becoming emotionally deflated like a tire losing air.

For the rather trippy video, JEEN’s chosen a fascinating way to show her lyrics, including written in lipstick on a bathroom mirror, in ink on her hand and arm, crumpled scraps of paper, mylar balloons, an old sneaker and concrete walls, and typed out on a computer screen.

Connect with JEEN:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp 

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 17 – Matt Csiszar, Fake Shape, Feather Weight

Another week, another boatload of new releases to choose from. For my 17th edition of Fresh New Tracks, I’ve selected three great new singles from (in alphabetical order) American singer-songwriter Matt Csiszar, Canadian alternative indie band Fake Shape, and Canadian artist Feather Weight.

MATT CSISZAR – “Chicago”

Matt Csiszar is an earnest and kind singer, songwriter, musician and composer based in Michigan who I got to know on Twitter last year. With a lifelong love for music, he started writing and recording his own songs at the age of 13, and over the years has taught himself to play guitar, piano, bass, and drums. His music is pretty eclectic, drawing from a wide range of genres and styles from pop, rock, folk, country and blues to electronic, funk, dance, industrial, jazz and even classical. A prolific artist, Matt released his debut album In The Mind in 1999 while in his early 20s, then played in the band Endless Question for a while before returning to recording and releasing music again as a solo artist in the early 2010s. Over the past 11 years, he’s released numerous singles and an astonishing seven albums, most recently his moody and beautiful instrumental classic work Pieces, Volume 1, in June 2021. He followed with more singles and an EP Forward last October, and has just dropped his latest single “Chicago“.

In addition to writing the music and lyrics and singing vocals, Matt played all instruments and produced, mixed and mastered the track. “Chicago” is a melancholy pop-rock ballad about a guy traveling to Chicago in the hopes of finding a lost love he let slip away. Over a lush array of programmed keyboards, strings, horns and drums, Matt layers acoustic, electric and bass guitar to create a beautiful and stirring soundscape. The twangy guitar notes in the bridge give the song a bit of a country vibe, and his raspy, plaintive vocals convey a sad resignation as he laments “Wandered around downtown, and now the rain is pouring down with no sign of her. I guess I learned my lesson. I know she was a blessing. I wish her all the happiness in the world.”

Connect with Matt:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

FAKE SHAPE – “‘Nother Thought

Fake Shape – is that not a great band name! – is a Canadian alternative-indie group based in Hamilton, Ontario (the second act from Hamilton I’ve featured recently; just last week I wrote about Burn The Louvre on my previous edition of Fresh New Tracks). They formed in September 2018 as a five-piece, but now consist of four members: Chester Edington (guitar/lead vocals), David Baldry (keyboards/flugelhorn), Olivia Brown (bass, backing vocals) and Mackenzie Read (drums). Their bio states that each band member brings a different influence to Fake Shape’s sound, resulting in a music aesthetic falling between funk, indie rock, pop, and ambient electronic. From what I can tell by a search of various platforms, they didn’t start releasing music until early 2020, when they dropped two marvelous singles “Headspace” and “It’s Easy”. We all know what happened next to virtually all musicians and bands, as the pandemic brought things to a screeching halt.

Now that things are somewhat back to normal, Fake Shape was able to get back into the studio to record songs for their debut EP Night Swim, to be released June 14th. The band describes the EP’s songs as “drifting through contrasting mindsets and morphing textures like navigating a solitary swim through dark water.” In advance of the EP, they’ve dropped a fabulous new single “‘Nother Thought“, a haunting, melodically-complex beauty of a song. Starting off with ominous sounds, a resonant guitar note enters along with stomping drumbeats as Chester begins to sing in an arresting voice that fluctuates between a gravelly rasp and lilting falsetto. The music continues to build with gorgeous guitars, exuberant strings and horns, and thunderous percussion, climaxing in a goosebump-raising crescendo in the final chorus. I’m blown away, and now a full-fledged fan of this band!

About “‘Nother Thought”, the band explains “This song is about trying to convince yourself that you’re okay when you’re really not. It’s about acknowledging that you can trivialize your mood and emotions to make other people more comfortable, when really you should be working through your problems and taming the creatures in your head.”

Connect with Fake Shape:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

FEATHER WEIGHT – “It Follows”

Toronto, Canada-based Feather Weight started out as a four-piece in early 2018, playing a compelling style of music drawing from elements of garage rock, dream pop and psychedelia, and highlighted by band frontman Alistair Bundale’s gorgeous jangly guitars. Over the next couple of years they released a number of outstanding singles and an EP. One of their best songs was “Volcano”, which I reviewed in January 2019, and liked so much that it ended up ranking #43 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. In early 2021, Alistair decided to continue Feather Weight as a solo act, and has subsequently released a number of fantastic singles, along with a stunning EP Permutations in March 2021. He followed a few months later with the wonderfully dreamy “Pack Your Shit Grimes”, a song I assumed was inspired by Grimes’ split with Elon Musk, but according to Alistair, touches on the “concept of the ultra rich investing and planning for their safe haven once the economic or environmental systems collapse.

Now Feather Weight is back with another terrific new single “It Follows“, and I love it. It’s darker and edgier than many of his previous songs, with a bit of a 80s New Wave groove that makes for an exciting listen. Opening with sounds of grimy distortion, the song quickly erupts into a roiling soundscape of hypnotic driving rhythms, gnarly industrial synths, grungy bass, and a spellbinding blend of jangly and fuzz-coated guitars. Even Alistair’s echoed droning vocals have a gritty quality too, beautifully complementing the song’s haunting vibe. The song closes with the grimy distortion we heard at the beginning. As for the song’s meaning, Alistair says it’s essentially about “navigating the social construct and the feeling of alienation and isolation that that can lead to.” 

Connect with Feather Weight:  Facebook / Instagram

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 14 – Bealby Point, Big Sleep, pMad

It’s time for another installment of Fresh New Tracks, and this week I’m showcasing three terrific new singles, one by Bealby Point, a Canadian alt-rock band I wrote about twice last year, and two by Irish acts I’ve not previously featured – Big Sleep and pMad.

BEALBY POINT – “Say It Anyway”

Named after their favorite beachside vacation spot, Vancouver, Canada-based Bealby Point consists of four childhood friends, Jack Armstrong (lead vocals), Clayton Dewar (lead guitar), Jordan Studer (bass), and Zack Yeager (drums). I love their buoyant, high-energy style of alternative/garage rock they cheekily describe as “music to fold laundry to“, which has earned them favorable comparisons to such bands as The Strokes. Since the release of their debut single “I’m So Bummed Out Right Now” in February of last year (which I featured in an earlier installment of Fresh New Tracks), the engaging four-piece have continued dropping a series of excellent singles every few months, including the brilliant “Talk To Me”, which I reviewed, and also earned a spot on my Top 100 Songs of 2021 list. 

Now they’re back with their fifth single “Say It Anyway“, which will be included on their forthcoming EP, due out this summer. Like all their songs, it was produced by Matt Di Pomponio, and features the guys’ signature intricate guitar noodling and lively rhythms we’ve come to love and expect. The bouncy, upbeat vibe contrasts with the rather biting lyrics about struggling to get over a former romantic partner whose hurtful words still sting: “Cause I don’t really care about this. Like anyone, I’m trying my best. But I don’t want to hear your bullshit. Reminds me of that thing that you said ‘Do unto others as they do to you’. You don’t have anything nice to say? Say it anyway.” As always, Jack’s colorful emotive vocals perfectly convey the frustrations expressed in the lyrics, and make for a compelling listen.

Follow Bealby Point:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

BIG SLEEP – “Tutti Frutti”

Photo by Niamh Barry

I recently learned about the charismatic Dublin-based duo Big Sleep when they followed me on Twitter, and I’m glad they did because I love their brand of alternative indie pop, infused with elements of synth wave, funk and folk. Comprised of Irishman Rónán Connolly and Florence, Italy-born Matteo Poli, they met in at school when Poli came to Dublin on an exchange program to learn English. Together, they honed their musical chops spending countless hours playing open mics, charity gigs, battles of the bands and busking on the streets. In time, they’ve earned a reputation for their energetic live shows, performing weekly as a four-piece with some of Dublin’s most talented musicians.

They released their debut single “Paint on Cars” in January, 2020, and like Bealby Point, have just dropped their fifth single “Tutti Frutti“. The delightful song is the lead single from their forthcoming EP Feel Something Someday, and features Jacopo Stofler on lead guitar and Aidan Gray on bass. Connolly also played guitar and Poli played drums. Featuring a deliriously infectious groove, “Tutti Frutti” is their most upbeat song yet. A colorful blend of swirling jangly guitars are layered over Gray’s propulsive bassline, accompanied by Poli’s assertive thumping drumbeats, creating an exuberant sonic backdrop for Connolly’s charming Irish brogue. The lighthearted lyrics speak of being attracted to someone and wanting to get to know them better: “Tutti Frutti, now won’t you take it easy, cuz I’ve been dying just to see your other side / And you seem hard to keep ahold of, and I don’t mind going where your breeze blows.”

Big Sleep will be performing a show at the Sound House in Dublin on May 21st. Tickets can be purchased here.

Follow Big Sleep:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

pMad – “Broken”

pMad is the solo music project of Irish singer-songwriter Paul Dillon. Based in County Galway, Paul is a lifelong lover of music, and has been involved in songwriting and performing for years, previously as a member of the bands Starve the Barber and The Suicidal Dufflecoats, and currently a member of The Greeting as well as his recently-begun solo project pMad. His eclectic sound, which is a glorious blend of darkwave, post-punk, alternative and goth rock, is heavily influenced by some of his favorite acts like The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, Sonic Youth, Suicidal Tendencies, The The and Tom Waits. With his music, he aims to “follow a path of introspection with a unique view of the world & what we are doing to ourselves and the planet.”

When the pandemic lockdowns impacted his and every other musician and band’s ability to make and perform music, Paul created a “The Best of Irish Indie” page on Facebook, in which he ran a series of ‘Best of Irish’ polls. Energized by the response, he unearthed his own music collection, which inspired him to rework and record some of his previously-written songs, along with some newly-written ones. Taking advantage of modern recording technologies, he created a number of singles and a full album he plans to release later this year. Without ever being in the same room together, he created the songs remotely in collaboration with Zedakube Recording (Ireland), Protonaut Studio (Germany) and Elith Mastering Labs (Mexico). He released his debut single “Who Am I” last December, then quickly followed in early February with “Medicine”, both of which have received critical acclaim and airplay on radio stations around the world. Now he returns with his third single “Broken“, a dark and powerful song that speaks to today’s troubled times.

As to the meaning behind the song, Paul explains: “None of us are built without cracks or faults, we all hurt, we are all human. pMad is ‘broken’ in some form or another, just like everybody else. Knowing and understanding that we are all broken, and being comfortable with that, is the way to save ourselves.” To convey these strong emotions, pMad starts with a deep pulsating bassline and pounding drum beats, over which he layers grungy guitar notes and haunting industrial synths. The result is a lush, darkly beautiful soundscape that’s the perfect accompaniment to his commanding vocals that sound ominous, yet reveal glimmers of optimism. The video he’s created for the track is every bit as impactful as the song. Featuring a cast of androgynous youths, people of color and others dealing with emotional trauma, interspersed with footage of street protests, it’s a powerful representation of the song’s message of human vulnerability and perseverance.

Follow pMad:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

GRANFALLOON – Single & Video Review: “The Pigeon”

Last July (of 2021), I wrote about British artist Granfalloon, the music project of enormously creative, thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax, when I reviewed his single “Working On Your Own”. Based in Manchester, his unique music style is a pleasing hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. “Working On Your Own” was the second single from his third album Positive Songs, which was subsequently released on August 27,(which coincidentally also happens to be my birthday). The album is a collaborative work featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. He invited songwriters to create new music by challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings, rather than negative or depressing songs about feeling isolated and bored during lockdown. The response was overwhelming, resulting in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world.

Today, Granfalloon is releasing “The Pigeon” as the third single from Positive Songs, along with a sweet animated video. The press release for the single explains his inspiration for writing the song: “In early 2020, Lomax formed a short-lived but intense relationship with a dove on his bedroom window ledge. The two would meet up during their weekly ‘middle class clap for the NHS’, exchanging ribald tales and knowing coos until Lomax realised it was no dove that he’d befriended but a lowdown, dirty pigeon. Unperturbed, he penned this song about eschewing the imaginary in favour of finding worth in the everyday.”

Come and see the doves
On the window ledge
There is hope on the outside

In a world of wonder
Who needs fantasy
In a world of wonder
Believe in you and me
Who needs unicorns
When we've got rhinos?
Who needs doves
When we've got pigeons?
Who needs angels
When I've got you?

For the recording of the song, Lomax sang lead vocals and played acoustic guitar, organ, Omnichord and programmed beats and synths, Lobelia Lawson sang backing vocals and played piano, Steve Lawson played bass, Adrian Ingham of alternative rock band Hello Cosmos played electric guitar, and Andy Lyth played drums. Together, they’ve created a trippy and wonderful piece of ear candy.

The song opens with Steve Lawson’s thick, pulsating bassline setting an infectious rhythmic groove, over which Lomax layers smooth organ and Omnichord, accompanied by Lyth’s measured drum beats, and punctuated by Ingham’s gnarly guitar notes. The result is a cool, almost jazzy vibe, though more lighthearted thanks to smooth Omnichord and synths. I love Lawson’s bass, which turns funky at times, and Ingham’s marvelous psychedelic guitar solo in the bridge is a real treat. At the song progresses, Lomax adds lots of quirky synth sounds that nicely suggests the playfulness of the pigeons. His warm vocals are delightful too, backed by his and Lobelia Lawson’s wonderful lilting harmonies. It’s a terrific song.

The stylish and charming animated video, created by Granfalloon and Jordie Roomer of Roomer Animations, brings the song lyrics to life with scenes of a colorful building of apartments situated above a row of storefronts, all populated by groups of whimsical pigeons involved in an array of everyday pigeon activities.

Follow Granfalloon:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

The album Positive Songs is only available as a digital download on Bandcamp and in CD format, though the singles are also available for streaming on Spotify Apple Music & Soundcloud.

Photo of Granfalloon is by Paul Samuel.

brett.grant.5 – Single Review: “Insomnia”

I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands lately that I’ve previously featured on this blog, as so many are putting out new music in recent weeks. One of them is Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer brett.grant.5 (aka Brett Grant), who just dropped his latest single “Insomnia“. Music has been a long-time passion for Brett, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a solo artist and as a member of several bands. (One of them is a million rich daughters, who’s haunting single “Left Behind” has been enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30 for the past few months.) Since 2016, he’s released two EPs and a number of singles, several of which I’ve reviewed. You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post. He found time to earn a B.A. Degree in Music from Columbia College Chicago in 2019, and also has his own private practice teaching music to budding artists.

Drawing from a broad and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock to industrial and hip hop, Brett’s sound is bold, unorthodox and always deeply compelling. On “Insomnia”, he seems to artfully blend most of those elements into one song, making for a fascinating and continually-evolving track. The song starts off with a repetitive melancholic piano riff played in a kind of trip hop cadence, then he adds skittering percussive sounds as he begins to sing in his distinctive and vulnerable vocal style. Soon, the music swells into a beautiful soundscape of soaring cinematic synths and dramatic piano keys, before returning to the urgent trip hop melody, where he adds darker industrial synths, heavier drum fills and his own backing vocal harmonies. This back and forth continues through the second chorus, then just past the 3-minute mark, the song transitions to a breathtaking symphonic-like movement, highlighted by sparkling piano keys and gorgeous orchestral synths, backed with a haunting chorale-like harmony.

His blunt, poetic lyrics are often deeply personal or downright scathing, exploring some of the darker sides of society, relationships and mental health. “Insomnia” addresses ongoing struggles with inner demons that negatively affect one’s life, relationships, and overall well-being, making it impossible to find peace of mind: “My heart’s racing, my head’s a mess. They try to tell me read the bible. It’s not about you, I must confess./ Memories lost in sleepless nights. I’d give anything for rest.” In the song’s final movement, Brett repeatedly laments “All the love in the world can’t save me from myself. All the love in the world can’t save us from ourselves.”

“Insomnia” is Brett’s most ambitious, melodically complex and sonically beautiful release yet, and a master class in songwriting, composition and execution. The fact that he handled all aspects of the song’s recording and production by himself is really impressive. It makes me happy to see him continue to grow both artistically and professionally, and I look forward to what he has in store.

As with all his releases, the trippy artwork for “Insomnia” was created by Brett’s beautiful wife Ashlee, who’s an amazing visual artist.

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