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

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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.

 

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New Song of the Week – THE FRONTIER: “It’s You”

I had knee replacement surgery at the beginning of the week, so have felt out of sorts as I contend with the residual pain, swelling and stiffness. That, combined with the continuous stream of bad news on seemingly all fronts, has put me in a bit of a funk. So it was a real joy – a blessing, really – to hear the wonderful new single “It’s You” by pop-rock band The Frontier. It was love at first listen, and I’m pleased to make it my New Song of the Week.

The Frontier is an unsigned indie-pop/alt rock band from Fairfax County, Virginia (west of Washington D.C.). Formed in 2016 by singer/songwriter and guitarist Jake Mimikos, a very kind, talented and funny guy who first released an EP Chaos to Clarity as a solo artist in 2015, The Frontier has released numerous singles and two EPs, most recently Luminescence in June 2019. One of the singles that appears on that EP is “Dark Places” a gorgeous song I loved so much that it went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 and ended up at #15 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list.

Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in line-up over time, and now consist of Jake on vocals & guitar, Eric Boggess on lead guitar, Eric Dolinger on bass and Eduardo Santana on drums. I’ve followed both Jake and The Frontier since 2016, and have enjoyed all of their music. “It’s You” is a catchy and upbeat song of love and devotion sung to someone who’s made his life more worthwhile and complete. I love the exuberant and beautiful melody, and the plucky guitars, swirling synths, galloping bass and crisp percussion are perfection from start to finish. Jake’s vibrant vocals sound better than ever, and I think it’s one of their best songs yet.

The song was released around the time of Jake’s 38th birthday. In conjunction with the single release, Jake made a video featuring contributions of footage sent to him by fans. He explained: “As I get older, and my circle gets smaller, I feel deeply grateful for the people who have always supported me and continue to do so. I doubt this song will change the world, but maybe it will brighten up somebody’s day or mood just a bit. I especially appreciate everyone who participated in the music video. This was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had putting one together. Thank you for your contributions. This song is dedicated to…you guessed it..YOU! This will be the last song I release under The Frontier for a little while. I’m gonna take a break and focus on myself and maybe do some solo shows here and there.”

Well, the song and video certainly brightened my mood! Thank you Jake and The Frontier.

So many nights I wondered
Wondering how long this could take
How much time I wasted
Thinking about how many more mistakes I could make

Oh oh oh
And it’s you I finally found the light
Oh oh oh
And it’s you because it feels so right
Oh oh oh
And it’s you until you change your mind
Til we’re out of time

So many lies I told myself
All of the loneliness I felt
It disappears with I’m with you
And I know that you feel it too

Oh oh oh
And it’s you I finally found the light
Oh oh oh
And it’s you because it feels so right
Oh oh oh
And it’s you until you change your mind
Til we’re out of time

Ooh, the time I wasted, chasing, waiting
Ooh, the time I’ve wasted, chasing, waiting

And it’s you I finally found the light
Oh oh oh
And it’s you because it feels so right
Oh oh oh
And it’s you until you change your mind
Til we’re out of time

Connect with The Frontier on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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SOFT SHELTER – EP Review: “Judgment Day”

Soft Shelter EP Art

Soft Shelter is a singer-songwriter, guitarist and music producer based in Santa Barbara, California who writes pleasing indie dream pop songs laced with alt-rock, psychedelic, pop and electronic elements, and featuring thoughtful lyrics. 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. In March, he released his single “Anticipation”, and now returns with his second EP Judgment Day, featuring “Anticipation” and two new tracks written during the COVID-19 quarantine.

He states that the EP is sort of a loose trilogy, with rather moody songs that still contain a certain optimism toward the future: “I tried to understand what it means to be an individual within a community during a global pandemic.” He wrote, performed , sang, produced and mixed the songs. Mastering was done by Matt Pereira (aka KOMAK).

Soft Shelter2

The first track, “Anticipation,” was written during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, and it’s title is an apt descriptor for the growing anxiety of the period. Soft Shelter states that the song “speaks to the anxious feeling that accompanies the anticipation of a crisis and the weird sensation of questioning whether it’s paranoia or legitimate.” The song is beautiful, with warm, shimmery synths and gentle percussion, over which he and fellow musician Noah Kastenbaum have layered beautifully strummed guitar notes. It all creates an enchanting backdrop for Soft Shelter’s ethereal vocals, which rise to a lovely falsetto in the choruses. The xylophone at the end is a nice touch.

Dead Metaphors” touches on how languages evolve over time, with word meanings going from literal to figurative, and trying to stay optimistic: “Time to hit stop and rewind. Dead metaphors don’t stay behind. We too can rise again. Let’s just say when.” The song has a languid sort of hip hop beat, with piano, programmed drums and gnarly electric guitar being the dominant instruments. I like how he makes the music shudder just before the second chorus, like hitting stop, rewind and play on a tape machine.

The third track “Judgment Day” was inspired by the writings of French philosopher Albert Camus, who Soft Shelter admires. He explains that the lyrics “attest to feeling lost and looking for guidance, which is often the case when people look to religion or philosophy or any ideology for meaning or support. We have to work toward uncovering our blind spots and the things that prevent us from seeing clearly.” This is beautifully articulated by the lines “It sure feels like judgement day. Tell me what the wise men say?  In the end, perhaps we’ll find all the things that made us so blind. Will anything be the same?

Musically, the song has a pleasing synth-pop vibe, highlighted by resonant piano keys, crisp percussion and electric guitar. As always, Soft Shelter’s velvety smooth vocals are captivating. The track ends with an excerpt from Camus’s Nobel Prize speech, in which he calls attention to how artists require beauty but also are uniquely tied to their communities: “True artists hold nothing in contempt; they oblige themselves to understand, rather than judge.”

It’s gratifying to see so many artists using their imaginations and creative talents to write relevant and topical music during this unfortunate virus quarantine, and Soft Shelter’s Judgment Day is another shining example of this. He will also be donating 50% of all sales of his EP on the Bandcamp music site to food banks.

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New Song of the Week – WONS PHREELY+theHorses – “Restless to Run”

Wons Phreely Restless to Run

I’ve been following Australian-born, and now Los Angeles-based, singer/songwriter Wons Phreely (aka Justin Wonsley) since first learning about him in 2016. He’s an interesting, funny, thoughtful, hard-working and highly creative guy, and I love his music and off-beat vocal style. He grew up and began his music career in Perth, but relocated to Los Angeles in 2015 in search of a more dynamic and varied artistic environment where he could grow as a musician and artist.

In 2016, with his backup band The Horses he released an autobiographical single “Stars” that addressed his experiences overcoming self-doubt and fear of change, and enabling him to make the life-altering move from Australia to Los Angeles. In November 2017, he followed up with another great single “The Night Has An Alibi,” accompanied by a strange but brilliant video he directed in which he’s portrayed as only a head.  I reviewed both singles, each of which ended up placing on my Top 100 Songs lists for 2016 and 2018, respectively. (You can check out those reviews under “Related” at the end of this post.)

Now he returns with a brand new single “Restless To Run“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. As with all his songs, Wons was inspired by his own life experiences: “I wrote the song about your (my) famous first romantic tryst and how it got all messed up.”

But he elaborates on a larger, more philosophical level: ‘Restless To Run’ is about all the many paths we can choose in life, and how sometimes we have to run down the wrong ones, fall down, get back up and then choose a new road to head down. We all mess up, fail and have false starts, I signed a with a big management and publishing label, but I had this feeling like it wasn’t right, like I had to get away, start again, and run in my own direction. Then I got to LA, where I felt more like myself. Even if I’m struggling daily, I’m doing things on my own terms, like directing music videos, or writing songs for people. Its not easy, but it’s the right road for me. And sometimes the failures can be what make us feel alive. 

I’d like to dedicate this song to the spirit of embracing failure. That’s what I connect to in rock and roll. I wrote it after the passing of David Bowie. I actually found myself crying a little, which is something I’ve never done over the passing of a famous person. It felt almost like the end of an era when artists could experiment, and still be accepted by pop culture, with no consideration for commercial results. Just self expression on who they are and how they felt. Bowie’s first few albums completely flopped, and yet an industry and the public still supported him until he had formed his musical identity and began to connect through a very personal expression of who he was. Same goes for artists like Springsteen, Prince and Elton, who were failures for their first couple of records, but carried on anyway. And these artists arrived at some truly unique styles and self-expression that still resonates today. Time is a tricky one. It’s about learning who you are as you grow into yourself. Bowie made me want to make music that’s fun, camp, glamorous and sexy.”

Like all his songs, Wons starts with a catchy melody and bouncy, head-bopping beat, then layers jangly guitars, snappy drumbeats, and exuberant, swirling synths that evoke a sun-kissed and carefree Southern California afternoon. But the real highlight are his delightfully quirky but pleasing vocals that start off with a plaintive croon, then veer off into a joyous, breathy falsetto that’s so endearing. And I love how his Australian accent shines through.

He’s also released another clever video to accompany the single, about which he explains: “I wanted the video to feel like simpler times. It was deliberately shot with a lo-fi approach using a handheld iPhone with no lenses or smooth, stabilized shots. The aim was to convey innocence and romanticism—a longing you can only really capture and express through music.”

Wons also made a lyric video for the song that opens with an aerial shot of Hollywood that zeroes in on a billboard on Hollywood Boulevard that shows the video playing.

Follow him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / YouTube / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google PlayiTunes

A CHOIR OF GHOSTS – Album Review: “An Ounce of Gold”

ACOG 3 by Robert Høglund

I recently learned about Swedish alternative folk artist A Choir of Ghosts when his label Greywood Records reached out to me about his debut album An Ounce of Gold. I receive a lot of music submissions – far more than I can possibly write about – but this one stood out from the pack, as it’s an exquisite work deserving of attention. A Choir of Ghosts is the musical alter-ego of British-born but now Sweden-based singer-songwriter James Auger, who along with an ever- changing cast of collaborators creates beautiful songs drawing from folk, Americana, and pop-rock influences.

He’s released a number of singles, beginning in 2016 with the beautiful “Ester”, then followed up a year later with “Morning Light”, which has been streamed more than 1.3 million times on Spotify. Both songs were featured on his 2018 release Woods EP.  Now he returns with An Ounce of Gold, which dropped April 3rd. The album features 11 tracks, all of them outstanding. James wrote and performed all the songs on the album, which he co-produced with Canadian producer Terry Benn. The songs were inspired by his own life experiences, with lyrics touching on his personal journey of trying to find his place in the world. He describes the album as a kind of diary of the experiences and feelings he’s gone through that served to shape his character.

The album opens with “Intro“, a haunting instrumental that slowly builds into a beautiful cinematic soundscape, and provides a fitting introduction for the gorgeous “Sinner In Rapture“. With James’ lovely strummed guitar as a foundation, beautiful sweeping synths and percussion are added to form a breathtaking wall of sound. His earnest vocals are clear and strong, soaring with such intensity in the choruses they give me goosebumps. He states that the song “is about the way all young people are set up to fail with the way society is built and how I didn’t want to be part of that capitalist machine. This song is the end of the world, the end of everything we know.”

Outside the Window” is a pleasing folk song that seems to be about recognizing the power of home and growing old with someone who makes life worth living. The track features lovely guest vocals by Lisa Eriksson, whose voice harmonizes beautifully with James’. She also played organ on the track, while bass was played by Jonatan Nordström and drums by Erik Edlund. “The Days Fade Quicker” is a poignant folk tune, with pleasing strummed acoustic guitar and gentle backing instruments. The lyrics speak of a man who’s ready to give up on life: “Cause there’s only so many days, until a man finally breaks, and a man finally takes, and a man finally shakes free.”

One of the standouts among many is the title track “An Ounce of Gold“. I’m sounding like a broken record, but yet again I have to say that it’s another beautiful song, and James’ vocals are really sublime. It has a catchy melody, with a charming Irish folk vibe thanks to the lovely violins and fiddle, yet the lyrics are rather bittersweet: “Cause I push and I pull, but I can’t keep a hold of these things in my heart and that ounce of gold. I lost my own way and I can’t find a home.” James provided a bit of background about the lyrics on his Facebook page: “Before I moved to Sweden and started A Choir of Ghosts, I had a band in England called James & The Natives. It was during this period that I wrote “An Ounce of Gold”. I was in quite a new relationship and made the usual mistake I think we all have; I abandoned my friends. I figured my time was much better spent watching films and eating way too much. And obviously, I was young, so after a while everything collapsed with that relationship and I went back to my friends as if it was yesterday that I’d seen them last.

The lead single released in advance of the album was “Southwest of The Moon” a gentle, deeply moving song that James wrote “as a letter of apology, both to himself to be stronger and asking forgiveness for the people he have hurt.” The lyrics “You’re gone, lonely and free, you said goodbye without saying a word. I’ll be quiet, hoping that you will say ‘come home‘” really tear at the heartstrings.

James keeps delivering more beautiful, heartfelt tunes, touching on the hopeful feeling of soon reuniting with a loved one on “Driving Home“, of falling into water as a metaphor for growing up and facing the sometimes cold, hard realities of life on “The Water“, and his own shortcomings that come from being “Human“. Another favorite track of mine is “Better Off Alone“, a haunting duet between James and an unnamed female vocalist that sounds like a song that could have been sung by Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men. James’ layered guitar work is marvelous, and the track’s arrangement and production are superb.

The closing track “The Taste of Smoke” is a lovely folk ballad, with strummed acoustic guitar and delicate background synths. The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous to me, but seem they could be interpreted to be spoken to god, a loved one, or even to oneself in an attempt to find inner strength: “But keep in mind that I am not the same as I was before. When I fold away another page, we’ll break through this storm.” In any case, it’s a fitting conclusion to a truly wonderful album. As I stated at the beginning of this review, An Ounce of Gold is exquisite. It’s a stunning and expertly-crafted work of musical art that A Choir of Ghosts should be quite proud of.

The first few tour dates have been canceled in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, but A Choir of Ghosts hopes to play the following dates:

14.05.2020 Berlin, Germany – Bar Bobu
15.05.2020 Werder, Germany – Duval
16.05.2020 Lübeck, Germany – Tonfink
17.05.2020 Hamburg, Germany – Pooca Bar
18.05.2020 Darmstadt, Germany – Zur Goldenen Krone
19.05.2020 Wuppertal, Germany – Viertelbar
22.05.2020 Würzburg, Germany – Nähcafé
26.05.2020 London, UK – Fiddler’s Elbow

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