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 “anunusually 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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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 NightSwim, 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.”
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.”
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.
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 SomethingSomeday, 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 purchasedhere.
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.
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.
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.
Aptly-named Cleveland, Ohio-based indie band You’re Among Friends want us to feel welcome when hearing their music or watching them perform. With their laid-back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock reminiscent of the music of Steely Dan and The Grateful Dead, with touches of Randy Newman and Elvis Costello, listening to their music is like spending time with a good friend. That comforting, low-key vibe, combined with relatable lyrics touching on everyday aspects of life in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours, has a way of making us feel that everything’s gonna be alright at the end of the day.
The band was formed in 2007 by founding members and long-time friends Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars) and Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals). And like too many bands, they’ve struggled to find and keep drummers, but their current (and seventh) drummer Mike Janowitz, who came on board in late 2019, has turned out to be a perfect fit.
You’re Among Friends released their debut self-titled album in 2007, followed by an EP and double single, but the demands of life, work and starting families took so much of their time, they went on a hiatus in 2011 lasting four years. They reconnected in 2015, and the following year, released their second album As We Watch the Years Go…, with songs inspired by their life experiences, as well as the passage of time and how it affects friendships and relationships. They followed in late 2017 with an EP One Day You’ll Look Back, then dropped their third album Start Making Sense in May 2020. (I’ve reviewed their last three releases, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) Now the guys are back with their fourth album, Good Enough Sometimes, which dropped January 10th.
One of the many things I like about their songs is that the titles let us know exactly what they’re about, as well as the conversational flow of their down-to-earth lyrics that make us feel like we’re speaking with a friend. Kicking things off is “Don’t Borrow Trouble“, a mellow, upbeat song advising us to not overthink or worry over things we can’t change or that haven’t even happened yet: “Don’t borrow trouble, why worry about something before it’s here. By the time the dust settles, and the moving parts stop, don’t you know it may not be as bad as you fear.” These simple but wise words could be directed at me, as I’m frequently guilty of obsessing over a lot of shit.
Several tracks address the theme set forth in the album’s title, starting with “Here in the Middle of the Pack“. The lyrics advise us that it’s okay to be average, so long as we do our best and feel contentment with ourselves: “Don’t have to be the best. Just strive to be consistent./ It all works out eventually.” I like Anthony’s guitar noodling and endearing vocals that remind me of Randy Newman. On a similar vein, “Okay is Good Enough Sometimes” urges us not to expect everything in life to be perfect or the way we want them to be: “Got to let some things go, to preserve your mind and soul. Not everything is worth your peace, try not to lose too much sleep, because okay is good enough sometimes.” Anthony’s bluesy guitars and Kevin’s funky bassline are terrific.
The guys take a somewhat different tack on “You Know What You Want“, with lyrics about not giving up on your dreams and aspirations, “When you set your mind on something, you don’t stop til you’re done. It’s one of those things that I love about you. Someday your chance will come. Cause you know what you want.” I like the quirky and cool instrumental flourish in the bridge. And on the sweet “Accompanied“, Anthony sings his praises to a loved one who’s always there for him: “Sometimes life brings me down. That’s when I’m glad you’re around to pull me through. It’s tried and true.”
But sometimes, even friends need a bit of tough love. On the catchy “Toxic Positivity“, with its bluesy Grateful Dead vibe, Anthony calls out those who spout meaningless positive adages like “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”: “Spare me your toxic positivity. When the world’s pissing in my face, I don’t have to pretend it’s refreshing rain.” On “Learn to Leave Well Enough Alone“, he admonishes someone to get off his back and mind their own business: “You’ll be the first to know when I want to hear opinions from folks who don’t understand a thing about my business.” The song has an interesting sound, with a repetitive bluesy groove, and delightful jazzy organ and percussion at the end.
Though You’re Among Friends don’t get political very often, there are times you just need to call out corporations, politicians and the media for their duplicitous actions too. The dark “Bad Karma and a Special Place inHell” decries those who promote fear to keep the masses fired up and their profits soaring, while “This is Unsustainable” speaks to corporate greed and income inequality: “Don’t expect them to understand, how they’re living off our backs.”
With a breezy, upbeat groove that hovers in a sweet spot between Steely Dan and the Grateful Dead, album closer “Plan Cancellation Chicken” is one of my favorite tracks from a musical standpoint. Anthony’s guitar riffs are really wonderful, nicely layered over Kevin and Mike’s jazzy, thumping rhythm. The song circles back to the album’s overall theme of just calming down and going with the flow, with lighthearted lyrics that describe a romance in a cheeky, backhanded way: “It’s all a big game of plan cancellation chicken. I’m so glad you caved and canceled before I did. It’s looks like I won this round. Let’s keep each other around, so we’ll have someone to cancel plans with.”
With Good Enough Sometimes, You’re Among Friends serves up 30 minutes of pleasing songs – with a few edgier ones thrown in for variety – we’ve come to expect and enjoy from them. Like I’ve mentioned previously, it’s like the return of an old friend with whom we’re able to pick right back up from where we left off.
Six months ago (in July 2021) I wrote a feature article about Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Craig Mapstone, in which I focused on his intent to write and record a new song every week throughout 2021 (read my article here). At the time, he had successfully reached the halfway point in his very ambitious goal, with 27 songs under his belt. Well, I’m happy to report that Craig fully achieved his objective of faithfully releasing a new song every week, and by year’s end, he’d put out a total of 53 songs, including two Christmas-related tracks. He’s now asked his followers to let him know what our five favorites of his many songs are, and I’ve decided to write this post to tell him!
Before I get to my picks, I want to say a few things: First off, Craig is one of the kindest, most gracious and humble musicians I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know as a music blogger, and I’ve become quite fond of him both professionally and personally. He’s also incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working, and his discipline and ability to remain laser-focused on his goal puts many others – including me – to shame. Which leads to my second point, that I’m absolutely dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song – along with an accompanying video – week in and week out for an entire year is amazing in itself, but to achieve such a high level of quality in nearly every track is nothing short of astonishing.
Though his sound can generally be described as singer/songwriter-oriented pop and soft-rock, infused with touches of indie folk, his music is actually fairly eclectic. Some of his songs feature elements of grunge, progressive, post-punk and alternative rock, so there’s something for just about everyone in his discography (other than for fans of R&B or hip hop). It was extremely difficult winnowing down my list of favorite Secret Postal Society songs to only five, but herewith are my top five picks, followed by six honorable mentions that could all have easily been among my top five. Worth noting is that most of my favorites were written and recorded in the latter half of the year, an indication that Craig’s songwriting and musicianship grew better and stronger the more songs he wrote.
Though Craig doesn’t have an especially powerful voice, its comforting warmth is well-suited to his generally laid-back musical style, and no more so than on “Fly“, my favorite of all his songs. His 21st song, released last May, it’s his longest track, running over six minutes, and also his most beautiful. Craig’s twangy strummed guitar notes, accompanied by lovely strings, xylophone, and what sounds like a mellotron, create a hauntingly beautiful soundscape. His gentle vocals exude a deeply heartfelt sense of sadness as he sings the bittersweet lyrics expressing pain and regret over a relationship that’s ended, but remembering glimmers of what brought you both together in the beginning: “The ones we love are the ones we hurt the most. We fly so close. We fly so close. I kissed you once, and it took my breath away.”
The accompanying video is courtesy of The Internet Archives, and features footage from the classic 1923 silent film SafetyLast!, directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor and starring Harold Lloyd.
2. A Thousand Times
Released in July as his 31st song, “A Thousand Times” is a perfect pop tune, with a breezy vibe reminiscent of songs by such bands as Fleetwood Mac, The Outfield and the Gin Blossoms. Craig’s jangly guitars and sunny synths are delightful, and the song is just so catchy and feel-good that it makes me happy. The lyrics seem to speak of a budding romance between two people who’ve been playing emotional footsie with each other for a while: “We both have secret smiles and glances. We play games young lovers still play. I believe we deserve second chances. I’ll wait a thousand times for you love.“
While it might not be one of Secret Postal Society’s most interesting songs from a musical standpoint, “Alive” is nevertheless one of my favorites because of Craig’s thoughtful lyrics, not to mention that it was released on my birthday in August as his 35th song. Many of his songs speak not only of romantic love, but love for humankind and each other, and this one’s a fine example of that. He acknowledges that while he may not be all that important in the scheme of things, he’s glad to be alive, and urges us live our lives with love and understanding for one another: “So we fight to survive through the lows and the highs ’cause we’ve got to keep going. So I look in your eyes. You know it’s OK to cry. I’m just grateful that you are alive.” It’s a warm and pleasing track, and the guitars and keyboards in the bridge are really lovely.
4. I Will Follow You
Released in October as his 40th song, “I Will Follow You” has a strong R.E.M. feel, which is why it appeals to me so much. Craig’s a fine guitarist, and his work is especially good on this track. The lyrics are spoken to a loved one, assuring them that they’ll always have your love and support: “Time and again I was always with you as a friend. But I guess that I never told you. I know that life’s hard. No one said it was easy at all. But we’ll be fine, and I will follow you.” The beautiful video was produced by Yaroslav Shuraev (Pexels).
5. Something From Nothing/Points of Light
Released in November as song #47, “Something From Nothing/Points of Light” is sort of a couplet, like having two songs for the price of one. With its urgent, intricate riffs and driving melody, “Something From Nothing” has a Foo Fighters vibe, but unlike the Foos’ similarly-titled song that ends in an explosive crescendo, Secret Postal Society’s ends on a calm, lovely and contemplative note with “Points of Light”. I like that Craig’s young son Reuben sings these optimistic closing lyrics along with him: “Don’t you let your sun go out. And never let the others dim the shine of hope you have inside. I see in you the light eternal.”
Very Honorable Mention:
Numb – A terrific alt-rock song with swirling synths and a great guitar riff reminiscent of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups
Hurt – A darkly beautiful, grungy track with industrial-sounding synths and fantastic reverby guitars.
Halfway There – A lovely guitar-driven track featuring shimmery keyboards and Craig’s soothing vocals, with optimistic lyrics addressing both his half-year milestone, but also a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment.
A Song For Leaving You – A great kiss-off song with a captivating hip-swaying beat, spacey synths and some really gorgeous guitar work.
What’s Up Dude? – A languid and cool alt-rock song co-written and sung by Craig and his young son Reuben, with lyrics directed at slackers, encouraging them to get busy: “This is not a game of chance, you have to do the work, SO DO IT!“
It’s Not a Christmas Song(Unless the Sleigh Bells Are Ringing) – A thoroughly delightful contemporary Christmas song that’s as good as many I’ve heard from major artists. And once again, we’re treated to Reuben’s sweet vocals.
Craig is now enjoying a well-deserved rest from his exhaustive songwriting and recording schedule, and isn’t quite sure where he’ll take Secret Postal Society going forward. But I for one hope he’ll continue putting out more great songs, albeit at a more reasonable pace.
Novus Cantus is an innovative music act comprised of brothers Alexander (vocals and guitar) and Christian Herasimtschuk (drums and percussion). Based in the Hudson River Valley roughly halfway between Albany and New York City, the duo draw from a broad and eclectic mix of influences ranging from traditional ethnic music like flamenco and Hungarian folk, to classical Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, to alternative rock, to create their uniquely enchanting and exotic sound. They’ve been performing and recording together since 2010, and have released a fair amount of music. I’ve written about them three times over the past three and a half years, and you can find those reviews under “Related” at the bottom of this post.
On November 16th, they released their latest single “Georgia“, along with a darkly beautiful video that nicely captures the song’s brooding essence. The song was recorded and produced by Novus Cantus, with assistance from Scott Apicelli of Blue Sky Music Studios, who mixed and mastered the track. The video, which starts off with historical images and realistic sounds of battle, features footage made available by pexels.com, as well as Civil War images from the Library of Congress Image Archives. Live footage of Novus Cantus performing the song were taken by Alex and Christian, as well as A. Delgado.
Though the music consists primarily of Alex’s gorgeous strummed guitars and Christian’s layered percussion, accompanied here and there by spare synths, the haunting song has a lush fullness of sound. Alex’s guitar work is truly stunning, with a vibrant blend of acoustic and electric guitars. The strummed acoustic guitars lend a soothing Americana/folk vibe to the song, but when he plays those chiming electric guitar notes, the song takes on a richer, more cinematic feel, especially when combined with Christian’s dramatic percussion. Alex’s heartfelt vocals beautifully convey the feelings of loss and despair expressed in the lyrics, and when his backing harmonies are added to the mix, the song becomes even more impactful. It’s another stellar release by these amazing brothers, and I’m happy to choose it as my new song of the week.
About the song, Christian told Albany-based The Capital Underground podcast that “Georgia” deals with a character in the post Civil War era struggling to return to the only place he knew. Only it’s no longer really home, but rather a place of suffering and loss. In his heart, he’s conflicted, because it’s the only home he’s ever known.
Oh I'm going home to Georgia
Oh I'm going home to see That house of bondage in Georgia
That was the only home for me
Oh how I long for rest
This cross must rest upon my breast
But now I'm going back to Georgia
A war-torn refugee
Time's calling out in Georgia
The voices of my family
Winter has fallen and spring now has come
Let's go and see what Sherman has doneOh how I long for restThis dream is deep within my breast
That sweet wistful dream of Georgia
Is nothing but a dream for me
Where am I to go but Georgia
It was the only home for me
Boy Called Killian is the new music project of Shane Radford, a singer-songwriter from Kansas City, Missouri who I’ve been following for more than five years. He’s also a member of Kansas City alt-rock band Lost in the City, who’s currently on hiatus. I reviewed their excellent albums, “Genesis” in 2016 and “Leaving Home” in 2018, and it’s hard to believe it was that long ago! At any rate, I’m happy that Shane is continuing to make new music, and he’s just released his debut single as Boy Called Killian, “What isTomorrow?“
Shane came up with the idea for his moniker ‘Boy Called Killian’ by combining his love of Peter Pan and middle name Killian. His sound is influenced by an eclectic range of genres ranging from 80s pop to 90s hip hop to modern rock. He felt compelled to write “What is Tomorrow?” as a way of expressing his feelings of exhaustion and numbness resulting from the pandemic, which hit close to home for Shane. Sadly, he lost his grandmother to Covid, and all the lies and false information some people were spreading about the virus, masking and vaccines made him frustrated and angry. He wrote, sang and played all instruments and programmed all synths on the track, which was recorded and mixed by Bret Liber at Red Roof Productions.
The song is darkly beautiful, with swirling otherworldly synths over a droning synth bass that create a rather ominous atmospheric soundscape. But he lightens the vibe with numerous musical touches like a skittering percussive beat and sparkling keyboards to provide glimmers of hope. His earnest vocals sound better than ever here, nicely backed by own lovely soaring harmonies as he laments “Everybody’s got somewhere to be. Everybody but me, me, me, me. So what is tomorrow? Will we ever be normal again?Everybody’s got an opinion. Everybody has got a wrong opinion./ What’s the point in spouting off? You look like an asshole./ Maybe you should shut your mouth.”
It’s a wonderful, expertly-crafted song that really strikes a nerve, as well as an excellent beginning for his new Boy Called Killian project.
Click here to watch the special animated video Boy Called Killian created for the song.