BUEL – Single Review: “Small Talk”

When I first featured the beautiful and talented Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter BUEL exactly four months ago, I fawned over her brilliant reimagining of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (read my review here). With her distinctive and beguiling vocals that range from smoky purrs to sultry vulnerability, combined with a sophisticated pop-rock style, she’s captured the attention of music critics and fans alike, garnering airplay on radio stations across the U.S. and in the UK. Her video for “Lemon Smile” won an award at the 2021 London Music Video Festival. 

Now BUEL is back with a another marvelous single “Small Talk“, along with a stylish and entertaining video. The song addresses the superficiality of small talk people often make to fill the time and airspace when there’s no meaningful connection between them. She elaborates “Small Talk is about the ingenuine daily conversations between people. Even though it’s pretty common and seen as an innocent aspect of our daily lives, I observed that oftentimes it tends to make people feel uncomfortable because talking to someone without giving any depth and sharing words to pass the moment can only be kind but not real.”

I love how the song opens with BUEL’s breathy gasp, accompanied by airy, otherworldly synths, setting a sultry tone for what’s to come. Soon, she croons “Some are scared of silence, when I need it so bad. And I’m calculated nihilist for the questions you ask to evaluate my life. Innocently creeping in, just to say ‘Hi, I’m alive, are you too?’ The way you look has left me blind. Are you too? I like you. Small talk, can find you anywhere.” Musically, the song features a slow, seductive dance beat, with a wonderful pulsating bassline creating a sultry smoldering groove that aims straight for the hips. The instrumentals are punctuated with exquisite keyboards, percussive synths and guitar notes, resulting in a beautiful and compelling soundscape for her enchanting vocals.

“Small Talk” is another winning single by BUEL, and if she continues turning out music this good, her star can only continue to soar.

Follow BUEL:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase her music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Amazon

LUKE MOCK – Single Review: “Feel the Love”

Last September, I first wrote about indie pop singer-songwriter Luke Mock when I reviewed his lovely, bittersweet single “Better”, the follow up release to his debut single “Universe”. Based in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, the talented young musician is quickly making a name for himself through his intelligent songwriting, emotive vocals and charismatic live performances. He’s opened for such acts as AJR, Kesha, Ryan Quinn (The Voice), Neyla Pekarek (The Lumineers) and Joe Whiting (Savory Brown), and was a headliner at the Perform 4 Purpose WinterFest 2019. (Perform 4 Purpose is a non-profit organization that provides young musicians with opportunities to raise money for charities, benefits, and more while learning and developing their musicianship.)

Now Luke returns with his third single “Feel the Love“, a song exploring the internal conflicts between passion and pain we often experience when involved in complicated relationships. You realize the relationship may be toxic for you, yet you’re unable to break free from it, as the passion is just too powerful to resist. The song is infectious and catchy, with a pleasing vibe that reminds me of some of the songs by Charlie Puth, one of Luke’s strong influences. I like the breezy, upbeat melody and his layered vocals sound better than ever. His synth programming is top-notch, and so is his guitar work, which is highlighted by a blistering little solo in the bridge.

I think “Feel the Love” is Luke’s finest single yet, and shows a continued growth and maturity in his songwriting and vocals. I expect we’ll be hearing more great music from him soon.

Late last night it was cold outside she walked right out my door
But I’m not surprised we’ve rolled the dice too many times before
So I went downtown but I saw her friends as soon as I walked in
And when we locked eyes we realized with us you just can’t win

This love is too hard to contain
I feel it in my veins
Body’s numb I hear the voice inside me yelling run
But when you touch my skin
You know what you’re doing
Just to pull me in

Cause you want to

Feel the love
This love inside me
Feel the love
So you can break me
Feel the love
Our hearts colliding
What is left to
Feel the love
No I can’t take it
Feel the love
But you still make me
Feel the love
Oh is it worth the hurt so we can

Feel the high she’s on my mind at 3 a.m. again
This love is cursed when in reverse I find her in my bed
And I can’t take this back and forward baby can’t you see
That darling what is left of us is all that’s meant to be

To learn more about Luke, check out his Website

Follow him on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase his music:  Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music / Amazon

New Song of the Week – “More Than” by Brí

Brí is a lovely and talented singer-songwriter from Offaly County, Ireland, who creates hauntingly beautiful and emotionally compelling indie pop with folk and electronic overtones. She released her debut single “Low Supply” in June 2019, then followed in 2020 with “Polite” and “Burying’. On the strength of those singles, Brí sold-out her Whelan’s headline show, received high praise from numerous blogs, gained radio airplay, and was selected to perform at Beatvyne’s Music X Tech Experience. Now she returns with her fourth single “More Than“, which drops today, March 19th. It’s an enchanting slice of atmospheric electro-folk, and I’m happy to make it my New Song of the Week. The song will be included on her forthcoming debut album Hide, due for release in October.

With assistance by her friend Aidan Mulloy on electric guitar and bass, and the production wizardry of Darragh Nolan of Asta Kalapa studios in Wexford, Brí has created a brooding yet soul-stirring soundscape. Floating over an eerily-beautiful, pervasive drone, they’ve layered sparkling keyboards, gentle percussion and Aiden’s gorgeous shimmery guitar notes, all of which create a dreamy atmospheric backdrop for Brí’s soft, ethereal vocals, which she recorded in her bedroom due to Covid restrictions. The captivating music and vocals slowly build into a climactic goosebump-raising cresendo at the end.

As to the song’s meaning, Brí explains: ”‘More Than’ is about craving more than the situation you currently find yourself in. It’s a place where passion and emptiness meet, the point where two conflicting paths overlap and where all that is cloudy becomes clear.” This is beautifully expressed in her thoughtful and honest lyrics: “I can’t be me anywhere there’s not music in the air, I can’t pretend to care about these things that make no difference to me. What about originality? Can I be me? My soul is longing for something more than, more than, more than this.”

The beautiful and haunting video was created after Brí’s initial plans for a big production video fell through. She elaborates: “My original plans for the visuals fell through due to travel restrictions. After a lot of waiting for restrictions to lift, I decided to direct my own music video and my local friend Constance Vance stepped in as my photographer, videographer and stylist. We discovered that she had talent to burn. The photos and video were shot at Charleville Castle, Tullamore. In this video, I long for more than my current situation as I struggle to sit with the spinning wheel which, for me, symbolises that ‘groundhog day’ feeling. Watching this video back reminded me that my passion for songwriting could never have been discovered if there wasn’t firstly a struggle. The very action of writing a song to express this was my answer to feeling the passion and excitement in my life that I was craving. I love the simplicity of that.

Well, we love your song and video Brí, so please keep making more great music for us to enjoy!

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AU GRES – Single Review: “At Home in the Dark”

Last October, I featured Michigan-based artist Au Gres (the music project of singer-songwriter Joshua Kemp) when I reviewed his charming debut single “Nervous”. A delightful melding of indie rock, lo-fi and synth pop elements, the song speaks of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in order to more fully experience the joys of life, love and relationships. I liked it so much, it spent two months on my Weekly Top 30.

Now he returns with his second single “At Home in the Dark“, another stellar and dreamy track, but this time featuring a somewhat edgier rock vibe he describes as “indie pop with teeth”. The song was produced and mixed by Jake Rye at the Social Recording Company, and mastered by Mike Cervantes (the same guys who worked with another Michigan artist Dawning, whose stunning EP Petals I reviewed a few weeks ago). Josh and fellow musician Noah DeLeon played guitars, and both they and Jake all had a hand in programming synths. Brodie Glaza played drums, and Josh’s girlfriend Linsley Hartenstein played the lovely piano in the outro.

“At Home in the Dark” is essentially a sweet love song, in which Au Gres assures his romantic partner that he’ll be there to support and comfort her through good times and bad: “I want to be there when it rains / I want to know you on your bad days, baby / I want to be there when you start to think the wrong things in the right time frame / So I’m on my way to hold you close / If it rains outside we’ll stay indoors with a glass of red we’ll sing in prose / We’ll do what it takes to feel at home in the dark.”

To drive home his message, he and his fellow musicians start with a palette of delicate swirling synths, then layer multiple textures of guitar and percussion to create a lush, emotionally-powerful soundscape. The music swells to an exuberant crescendo in the choruses, highlighted by a dramatic guitar solo in the bridge. Interestingly, the song opens with the same crescendo that later appears in the choruses, putting the song on a strong footing right from the start. Josh has a fine singing voice, and his lovely comforting vocals are perfect for conveying the tender feelings of love and devotion expressed in the lyrics.

With both “Nervous” and “At Home in the Dark” to his credit, Au Gres maintains his perfect score of releasing outstanding singles. I’m confident we’ll be hearing a lot more great music to come from this talented man.

Follow Au Gres:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream “Nervous”:  Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal / Soundcloud

Purchase: Bandcamp / Amazon

New Song of the Week – AU GRES: “Nervous”

Au Gres is the moniker of Michigan-based singer-songwriter Joshua Kemp, who’s just released his charming debut single “Nervous“. With a wry sense of self-deprecating humor, he states that “Au Gres was conceived, like many of us, in a bedroom, on a flimsy desk, with unimpressive equipment.” That may well be, but I say the results are quite impressive. Melding elements of indie rock, lo-fi and synth pop, with “Nervous”, he’s created a delightfully dreamy soundscape for his warm, pleasing vocals. His beautifully strummed acoustic and electric guitar notes are nicely complemented by sparkling synths and gentle percussion, resulting in a really lovely song that I’m happy to name my New Song of the Week.

About the song, Au Gres explained on his Instagram page: “‘Nervous’ is about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It’s awfully fitting, as releasing music often feels vulnerable to me, but some of the best things happen when we let ourselves be vulnerable.” “Nervous” celebrates the relationships that go deeper, for without opening ourselves up and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to another person, a relationship can never fully blossom. This is expressed by the honest and simple lyric “Cause you oughta know, nothing about you makes me nervous. I feel right at home.

I asked Joshua how he came to name his music project ‘Au Gres’. He responded that Au Gres is a town in northern Michigan. “Northern Michigan in general is a special spot for me. My family and I would vacation up north a lot when I was younger. Au Gres has Michigan roots, but it’s also French for “of sandstone” or the clay-like substance found in rivers. I felt like this name gave me permission to mold my sound into whatever I wanted, much like how clay can be molded into different shapes.”

“Nervous” is the first of many songs Au Gres plans to release over the next year or so, and I’m eager to hear them!

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100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #95: “My Type” by Saint Motel

The song at #95 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “My Type” by Los Angeles-based Saint Motel. I loved this song the moment it first hit my eardrums back in late 2014, and it turned me into a big fan of the band. Their rousing, sophisticated sound is a nod to the brassy exuberance of the Big Band era, but delivered with a fresh, contemporary indie pop approach. “My Type” is a deliriously catchy song with a powerful driving dance beat and an exuberant horn-driven hook that make for a joyful and fun listen. It also has one of the best tongue-in-cheek lyrics ever: “You’re know you’re just my type. Oh, you’ve got a pulse and you are breathing.”

Band front man A.J. Jackson, who has a terrific singing voice, produced and directed the stylish video for the track, which was filmed in a cool Mid-Century Modern house in L.A.

New Song of the Week – LUKE MOCK: “Better”

Luke Mock is a 19-year old singer-songwriter from Auburn, a small city in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. He writes heartfelt indie pop songs and brings them to life with his fine guitar playing and pleasing vocals. His debut single “Universe”, released this past June, has already garnered over 55,000 streams on Spotify. Luke has opened for such acts as Ryan Quinn, John Gorka, Paul Elia, Mark Doyle, Joe Whiting and Neyla Pekarek, and was a headliner at the Perform 4 Purpose WinterFest 2019.

He’s just released his second single “Better“, a bittersweet folk-pop song about the pain and heartache that remains after a break-up. With his acoustic guitar as the primary musical instrument, Luke skillfully layers subtle synths and additional guitar notes to fashion a lovely soundscape for his fervent vocals. I like how his vocals become more impassioned as the music builds, accompanied by his own backing harmonies that add depth to the song and effectively convey the pain expressed in the poignant lyrics.

The song is directed to a former girlfriend, recalling some good times and asking her if she misses him or still hurting like he is, or has she moved on and feeling ‘better’: “Guess I should have known by the way you looked at me, that you lost feelings, and we’re not meant to be. Do you miss my voice like I miss your heartbeat? Do you feel the pain in my soul through your phone screen? And are you falling apart, torn by the seams like me? Or are you better, whatever that means?” It’s a wonderful song, and I’m pleased to choose it as my New Song of the Week.

To learn more about Luke, check out his Website

Follow him on  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyYouTube / Apple MusicAmazon 

 

RONNIE THE BEAR – Single Review: “Do You Feel That?”

Ronnie the Bear is the music moniker of Joshua Rukas, a talented and charismatic young singer/songwriter and musician from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He’s also a member of the punk/emo rock band MUSCLEMAN, as well as a former member of alt-rock band Dancing On Pluto, who I reviewed a couple times prior to their splitting up in August 2018. On September 9th, he released his stunning debut single “Do You Feel That?“, the first track from his forthcoming EP.

Josh composes, performs and produces all his own music, as well as the mixing and mastering, and I must say he’s done a masterful job (no pun intended) with “Do You Feel That?” Starting with a languid, seductive synth bass beat, he skillfully layers a lush array of shimmery and grainy-textured synths, accompanied by gorgeous chiming guitar notes, then bathes it all in just enough reverb to create a dreamy, atmospheric soundscape that carries us off to an enchanting faraway place.

He has a smooth and warm singing voice, and his somewhat echoed vocals are really lovely and soothing, perfectly complementing the song’s atmospheric aura. Halfway through the song, he briefly transitions to rapping a verse of lyrics, pulling it off quite nicely. Then, during the final minute, his vocals are electronically altered, giving them an otherworldly feel that enhances the song’s overall dreamy vibe. I love it!

The song seems to be about living life to the fullest and in the moment, being independent and free to make your own decisions, and unafraid of what the future might bring:

It might be time to shake things up a little
No longer feel the danger 
I'm just trying to feel myself a little 
So glad I'm on my own 
I think I want to dance just for a little 
Not a care if it's been raining 
I'll leave my shoes behind and let my body be my guide
I'll get by
 I'm just strolling through life

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KIDSMOKE – Album Review: “A Vision In The Dark”

Kidsmoke album

Kidsmoke is an exceptionally talented indie dream rock band based in the city of Wrexham in northeast Wales. On June 19th, after many months of hard work, they released their debut album A Vision in the Dark via Welsh label Libertino Records. Like so many bands, they’d planned to tour over the summer to promote their album, but those plans were dashed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, they decided not to delay the release of their album, and just wanted to get it out so their fans would have some new music to look forward to. And what a beautiful album it is, featuring 11 superb tracks. Their lush and beautiful guitar-driven sound is strongly influenced by such bands as Joy Division, The Cure, Wilco and The National, among others.

Formed in late 2012 by Lance Williams and James Stickels, who’d been friends since their school days, Kidsmoke was named after a song by one of their favorite bands Wilco. They released their first EP Higher in 2013, followed by a second EP So Long, Emptiness in 2015. Various members came and went, but the band finally came into its own with the addition of Sophie Ballamy and Ash Turner in 2016. Since then, the lineup has been Lance on Lead Vocals & Guitar, James on Bass & Vocals, Sophie on Guitar & Vocals, and Ash on Drums. The band continued to release numerous singles, along with an EP Save Your Sorrow in 2017, and had the experience of a lifetime when they performed at SXSW (South By Southwest Film & Music Festival) in Austin, Texas in 2019.

Kidsmoke

A Vision in the Dark opens with “Passenger” a lovely, uptempo song that sets the tone for the album. Its sunny, upbeat instrumentals, highlighted by jangly guitars and snappy drumbeats, contrast with the rather poignant lyrics “I’m moving on to God knows where, I’m dressed to kill the time I’m moving on, I’m a passenger.” Lance explained that the song is “about losing your direction in life, being swept along with the crowd and feeling helpless to stop it.” The song was chosen for NPR’s Austin 100 playlist.

The warm, summery vibe carries over to the next track “Layla’s Love“, with its swirling guitars and dreamy, ethereal melody. Lance states that the song “is a retrospective story of a relationship, where one partner begins to dwell upon the many ‘what ifs?’ we all face.” The male character in the narrative ultimately realizes that, though not perfect, the relationship remains strong and they’re still together: “Baby, the sun won’t rise over you. But I know we are still together. Layla’s love is the only love I’ll never lose.” I love the interplay between Lance and Sophie’s enchanting vocals as they sing “You gave me everything I had (I hope I did). Everything I wanted (you know I tried). But sometimes everything just isn’t enough.” This beautiful song stayed stuck in my head long after hearing it, and is one of the highlights on the album for me.

Kidsmoke continue to deliver the breezy feels on “Colourfield“, with its chiming guitars and cheerful, bouncy bass line, “Higher“, a beautiful reworking of a song from their first EP, and “She Takes You Under“, where they seem to pay homage to The Cure with bouyant jangly guitars and sparkling synths. Lance and Sophie’s vocal harmonies are particularly wonderful here, as well as on the brief but enchanting “Kaleidoscope“. The track is a chorus from an old song the band had previously written but never recorded, and serves as an interlude between side 1 and side 2 of the album.

Another standout track is “Rising Sun“, a high-energy tune with a retro 80s new wave vibe. The fast-paced driving rhythms and exuberant guitars are fantastic, and as always, the vocal harmonies are sublime. The lyrics speak to pushing back against others’ expectations, even when they’re coming from people who are closest to you: “Your days are done. I turn the black to blue. I turn the night to day. I’m the rising sun. I feel your love, I don’t want to follow.

The hauntingly beautiful “Take Me to the River” is another re-imagining of an old song from their debut EP Higher. A fan favorite, Kidsmoke decided to re-record it for the album. The song was featured on an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror, and is about being led astray from one’s path by negative influences. The bouncy, guitar-driven melody contrasts with the dark lyrics that seem to touch on a relationship doomed by the suicidal tendencies of one of the partners: “If I leave you, I’ll miss you, I’ll never make you mine. We’re sinking fast. We’re running out of time.” The richly layered guitars and pulsating bass are wonderful.

They continue to dazzle us with dreamy melodies and exquisite guitar work on “Still Dreams“, a deeply personal song Lance wrote based on his own experience having to come to terms with a life-changing event that made it hard for him to face the world. He elaborates “The song is about the expectations from family, friends or work to ‘get back to normal’ after something traumatic has happened. The overarching sentiment is about giving people the time they need to heal.”

Kidsmoke slows things down with “Little Easy“, a gentle song of thanks to someone for their love and support: “Little easy. You’ll never know how much you mean to me. You play the part, you play it right.” With its languid beat, mix of acoustic and electric guitars, and lovely vocal harmonies, the song has an early Fleetwood Mac feel, at least to my ears. About the inspiration for the song, James explains “I felt a little bit directionless at the time; I’d moved back home to Wales from Manchester for a job that didn’t work out and I was missing city life. I always aim for emotion in my music, but this one felt a bit more genuine…I just wrote how I felt.”

They save the best for last, closing out the album with “The Bluest You“, my favorite song of them all. Being a lover of music who cannot write a note of it, nor play a single instrument, I’m always awestruck at how people can create such gorgeous melodies, then bring them to fruition with various instruments. What Kidsmoke has achieved with “The Bluest You” is nothing short of spectacular, creating a song of such incredible beauty and depth that it renders me speechless. The glorious swirling guitars are as dreamy as they come, and James and Ash keep the spellbinding rhythm with their pulsating bass line and perfect drumbeats, respectively. Once again, I must make note of the stunning vocal harmonies delivered by Lance, Sophie and James. This song is honestly one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a long while.

I’m not the only one for whom this song is a favorite. Lance said “This song is a live favourite of ours”, while James noted “This is my favourite track. I originally intended for it to be an instrumental – thankfully I soon decided against that idea. I knew from the moment it was written that it was destined to be the last track on the album.”

The song lyrics address mental health, specifically the effect someone’s issues have on loved ones around them. Lance explained: “It is a fly on the wall look into a household where one person’s depression is affecting everyone else who lives there. The song doesn’t address the feelings of the person suffering with depression, it is a sort of commentary from the viewpoint of the rest of the family.”

I’ve gushed about A Vision in the Dark throughout this review, so I don’t know what more I can say except that it’s an absolutely stunning album from beginning to end, and ranks among the very best releases I’ve heard so far in 2020. Listening to it is an immersive experience, as one gorgeous track flows into the next, keeping the listener in a continuous state of thrall. Other than for the minute-long interlude piece “Kaleidoscope”, the other ten tracks could all be hit singles, they’re that good.

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SOFT SHELTER – Single Review: “Just a Ride”

Soft Shelter Just a Ride art

Soft Shelter is a talented young singer, songwriter, guitarist and music producer based in Santa Barbara, California. He writes pleasing indie dream pop songs laced with alt-rock, psychedelic, pop and electronic elements, and featuring thoughtful lyrics sung in his soft, breathy vocal style. Since the release of his first single “Ashes” last November (2019), he’s been a busy guy, dropping a new single or EP every month or so, most recently his three-song EP Judgment Day on May 1st. Now the hard-working artist is back with a lovely new single “Just a Ride“, which dropped June 26. The song was written, produced, and mixed by Soft Shelter, and mastered by Matt Pereira (aka KOMAK). The cool artwork for the single was created by Theo Morrow.

The song addresses the feeling of being blindsided by the discovery that your lover has cheated on you, turning your world upside down and leaving you wondering what you’ll do or where you’ll go next. I like how he uses snippets of voice overs by the late comedian Bill Hicks at the beginning, middle and end of the track. Hicks’ opening line “There is a point—is there a point to all this? Let’s find a point.” really encapsulates the feeling of bewilderment one is often left with at the realization that a relationship we thought was good has suddenly blown apart. Soft Shelter laments in the chorus “I came home and saw you there. You weren’t alone, I had to stare. It’s my time to go, I left at dawn. That life I knew, I’m moving on.” Hicks’ words offer assurance at the end that things will be alright: “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid—ever—because this is just a ride.”

Musically, the song features a rather melancholy but pretty piano-driven melody, accompanied by gentle percussive beats and lovely keyboard synths that soar to a swirling lushness in the choruses. The acoustic and electric guitar notes Soft Shelter injects at various points in the song add a nice textural element that brightens the overall aesthetic of the track, keeping it from becoming too maudlin.

The beautifully-filmed video was directed by Elena Gaeta, and features Soft Shelter performing the song in and atop a gorgeous sage green Mustang convertible as he drives through what I’m guessing is the countryside outside Santa Barbara.

 

Follow Soft Shelter on Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google PlayAmazon