ANIA – Single Review: “Poison”

Ania

I recently learned about the amazing guitarist, songwriter and singer Ania Thomas – who identifies herself simply as Ania – when I read an interview with her by my Austalian friend Robert Horvat on his blog Rearview Mirror. Growing up in Poland, she developed a love for music at a young age. She emigrated to America as a teen, first to Chicago where she studied music at the School of Rock, then relocated to Los Angeles, where she’s now based, to study music at USC and also the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Inspired by such artists as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Blondie, St. Vincent, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, L7, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, her aggressive music style is characterized by modern synth textures, killer guitar solos and commanding vocals.

In 2019, she released two terrific hard-rocking singles “Run Away” and “Doors Close”, then followed up this past May with her third single “Poison“. All three songs will be included on her forthcoming debut EP Ania in Chains, due out later this year. Ania wrote, sang and played guitar on the track, while two friends from her music theory class, both of whom are named Matt, played bass and drums. She also engineered and produced the track herself.

About “Poison”, Ania told webzine comeherefloyd: “The song is about a breakup and that someone who breaks you. [It] shows how people are focused on their own world and are ignorant of the society we live in. As people, especially millennials today, we forget and are ignorant of the corrupt political system we are a part of, and are more interested in social media.” In an interview with the webzine UDS, she further elaborated “I tried to write a dark pop song something in the veins of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘The Hand That Feeds’, that has a dark pop element to it and synths similar to what St Vincent writes.”

Well, I think she succeeds quite nicely, producing a song that’s longer and darker than her previous songs, and featuring progressive rock elements that give it a more sophisticated vibe that’s both compelling and satisfying in equal measure. Ania works magic with her guitar, delivering intricate riffs of jangly, grungy and psychedelic guitars while the two Matts keep the moody rhythmic grooves humming along with their bass and drums, respectively. The swirling spacey synths add to the song’s ominous atmosphere, as do Ania’s ethereal vocals as she almost menacingly croons the refrain “Air is filling up with poison, and you keep breaking my shit.

She’s also released a colorful video for “Poison” that was directed by Will Milvid and beautifully filmed by Alex Ioanoviciu. She explained her intent behind the video to the website Scottish Music Network: “I wanted the ‘Poison’ video to expose the inauthenticity of the beautiful and vibrant image that many people associate with Los Angeles. Hollywood glamour is a part of the city, but it’s got an angsty side too. We all have an impact on the world around us. I want people to wake up and think critically for themselves, and understand that we can all fight for change if we aren’t absorbed in our own image. Sometimes we’re blinded by it. But if we look up from our phones, we can fight for change and a better future.”

In the video, Ania is shown performing the song in an alley off Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, interspersed with scenes of her breaking records and smashing a pie in her boyfriend’s face. In other scenes, she’s shown performing the song on stage in front of her drummer who’s wearing a Trump mask, finally having an altercation with him where she knocks him on his ass. Totally works for me!

“Poison” is a marvelous song that further advances Ania’s rising star as a female rock artist on the L.A. music scene and beyond. I plan to continue following her on her music journey.

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THE COMMON VIEW – Single Review: “Cigarettes and Regrets”

The Common View Cigarettes & Regrets

It seems a lot of new music was released on June 26, and so far I’ve reviewed three singles that dropped that day. Now I’m writing about yet another one, the latest single “Cigarettes and Regrets” by British alt-rock band The Common View. The young Leeds-based band is a favorite of mine, as I’m impressed by both their outstanding music and unflinchingly outspoken advocacy for social justice. Their lively and melodic style of alternative rock is influenced by elements of indie pop-rock, post-punk revival and rockabilly. Originally formed in 2018 by three University of Leeds students with a shared love of music – Dom Robertson (guitar, vocals), Jose Ignacio Barrera (guitar) and Jacob Lindsay (vocals) – the band now consists of five members, including the three aforementioned guys plus Joe Sykes (bass) and Will McKay (drums).

I featured them three times in 2019, most recently last October when I reviewed their wonderful EP Man on the Moon. The prolific band subsequently dropped another EP If Not Now, When?, as well as three more singles, the latest of which is “Cigarettes and Regrets”. It’s the 16th song they’ve recorded in the less than two years they’ve been a band! And one of the things I love about them is that no two songs sound alike.

“Cigarettes and Regrets” is a rousing rock’n’roll gem with frantic punk overtones that make for a bouncy head-banger. The guys are highly skilled musicians, consistently delivering outstanding instrumentals on all of their songs, and this one’s no exception. I love Dom and Jose’s fast-paced jangly guitars that erupt into a glorious torrent of swirling riffs in the chorus. Joe and Will drive the lively rhythm forward with their throbbing bass line and snappy drumbeats, respectively.

I also like that The Common View has two fine vocalists, and I believe it’s Dom who sings lead vocals on this song. He croons the lyrics that speak of someone who’s cheated on his girlfriend with a one-night stand he picked up at a bar, and regretting his actions the next morning: “You wake up in the morning all full of regret. The taste of her lips like your last cigarette. You don’t know what to say to this girl beside you. Now it won’t be long til your girlfriend is back. And shortly thereafter, you’ll be forced to pack. It’s all coming down, and it’s been your fault.

The guys made a charming video that features a mix of stop action footage interspersed with humorous scenes of Jose packing up his instruments and himself into his guitar case, and Dom playing guitar and singing the song in various locations throughout the house. About the video, the band said “Our homemade video is a perfect reflection of how hard it is being a band during Lockdown.”

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Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / Apple Music
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HEAVENLY FADED – Single Review: “CTRL”

Heavenly Faded

New York City band Heavenly Faded has been making some really fine melodic alt-rock since forming in early 2018. They released their debut EP Set Your Sights that May, then followed up over the next year and a half with several outstanding singles. With the release of their song “Constellations” in November 2019, however, they broke the hearts of their fans with the announcement they were splitting up, after their drummer and lead vocalist decided to leave the band. Thankfully, the two remaining members, guitarist/vocalist LP Francisco and bassist Rijk van Zanten, were able to quickly find replacements in lead guitarist/backing vocalist Jake Stamoulis and drummer Jared Pease. And so they began 2020 with a new lineup and fresh optimism toward the future.

Well, we all know what happened beginning in early Spring of 2020: shows got cancelled, studio sessions ground to a halt, and everyone isolated themselves at home. Fortunately, the band still had several songs in their arsenal, and managed to record “CTRL”, which they released as their latest single on June 5th. The song sees Heavenly Faded exploring a heavier sound than on their previous releases, with a darker, grungier feel befitting the lyrics that speak to a lack of control and a voice adequate enough to rise up against authoritarianism.

The guitar work is superb, with LP and Jake serving up layers of intricate riffs in a plethora of textures ranging from grimy fuzz to shimmery reverb to bluesy wails. Then there’s Rijk’s grungy, throbbing bassline providing the driving force for the song, which along with Jared’s aggressive drums, keeps the hard-hitting rhythm on full throttle. As new lead vocalist, LP steps up to the plate here and delivers the rock goods. His vocals are deeper and more raw than the band’s previous vocalist, contributing nicely to the track’s edgier vibe as he almost snarls the biting lyrics expressing his weariness about having to make decisions, but being even more frustrated about not having much of a voice in the democratic process:

I hear you callin’ my name
Old ways are hard to change
I know I was born in control
I bleed myself dry to get rid of it all

I don’t wanna be in control x2

So you got no one to blame?
Clear the way, only you remain
Or the bloodthirsty, heathens in power
Who just wanna drain you like the plague

But I wanna be in control
I wanna be in control x2
Crawling outta this hole
Gonna rise up and save my soul

I wanna be in control / Who’s gonna save my soul?
(repeated)

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DYING HABIT – Single Review: “Solutions”

Dying Habit2

Dying Habit is an alternative rock band from northern Wales, whose electrifying and melodic sound is influenced by such bands as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool. Hailing from Anglesey Island, they started off as a group of friends who bonded over a shared love of music. Eventually coming to realize they had a special musical chemistry between them, they officially became Dying Habit in 2016. Beginning as a four-piece, they now consist of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and Alan Hart (guitar).

In August 2018, they released their first official single “Unrealities”, a magnificent and stunning rock song (you can read my review here). More recently, they’ve been writing and recording songs for their forthcoming debut album Until The Air Runs Out, due out later this year. In April they released the first single from the album “Out of My Hands”, and on May 6 they dropped the second single “Solutions“. The song has a moody, contemplative feel, with Alan’s superb, layered guitar work that forms the backbone of the track’s hauntingly beautiful melody. After the departure of the band’s previous bassist, Nathan took over duties on bass and does a fine job laying down a pulsating bass line that keeps the track on solid footing. Mark’s measured drumbeats strike the perfect balance of percussion, never overpowering the sometimes subtle instrumentals and intricate guitar notes.

Nathan has a low-key vocal style with a vulnerable, emotive quality that’s well-suited to the music and introspective lyrics that speak to feelings of regret over past mistakes and hurts inflicted toward others, and yearning to make things right but not fully knowing how.

I’m reading every word
All the wires in my heart
And the memories lay dead
But not in the eyes of everyone
This is what we’ve learnt
Is that I feel
My mind still hurts
But yes I’m fine
Yes I’m fine

Whatever my mistakes were
Whichever lies I told
The heat is overwhelming
But my skin’s remaining cold
This serenity engulfs me
Yet the world keeps passing by
I long to find solutions

I never get the use
Of letting people in
Of giving them your pain
Don’t let them breathe you in
Breathe you in

When we’re lost
There is no right answers
There is no cost
There’s no cost

“Solutions” is a well-crafted and beautiful song. I like the direction that Dying Habit seems to be going with their latest music, and look forward to hearing their album when it’s completed.

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New Song of the Week – STRANGELY ALRIGHT: “Psych Film”

Strangely Alright Psyche Film

Strangely Alright is a five-piece band from Seattle, Washington who refer to themselves as an “Eclectic Traveling Minstrel Magic Music Medicine Show”. They’ve built a huge following not only because of their entertaining and quirky style of punk-infused psychedelic rock, but also for the strong messages of humanity, love, kindness and acceptance in their songs. The band is fronted by Regan Lane, who does much of the songwriting and sings lead vocals, Sean Van Dommelen (lead guitar, vocals), Ken Schaff (bass), Raymond Hayden (keyboards, vocals) and Jason Bair (drums). They’ve released a number of recordings over the past several years, including their terrific album The Time Machine is Broken in 2013, as well as a compilation album All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) and an EP Stuff, both of which were released in 2018. You can read my review of Stuff here.

On the heels of their epic and mesmerizing Pink Floyd-esque single “Inside a Place”, Strangely Alright are back with a fantastic new single “Psych Film“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song is about connection, trust, and valuing someone for who they are, warts and all. About their creative process, the band explains: “Part of being in a band, or relationship for that matter, is trust. Regan and Sean’s songwriting chemistry and trust are based on mutual respect and similar journeys from that darkness into the light that work for them. ‘Psych Film’ is a perfect example of one of the ways they create. [It’s] like having two painters painting on the same canvas at different times in order to create one cohesive piece of art.”

The track is melodic and trippy, with a bit of a 70s era David Bowie vibe thanks to lush psychedelic guitars and wonderfully spooky synths. The drums and percussion are flawless, and I love the deep, throbbing bass and heavy, buzzing reverb that continues throughout the song. Regan’s pleasing vocals are comforting as he croons the optimistic lyrics:

In the best of us you’re gonna find a good thing
In the worst of us you’re gonna find a bad thing
A different job
A different life
A different God
A different wife
In the best of us you’re gonna find a good thing

I don’t have to be alone no more
Connection
I don’t have to change
Who I am today
I am here and that’s enough to make it all ok
Connection
In a movie where the hero isn’t handsome
He got a job but he cannot afford the ransom
A different skin
A beating heart
A different dream
A tiny spark
In a movie where the hero isn’t handsome
I don’t have to be afraid of me
Connection
There’s a tiny thread
That I cannot see
But I feel it when I touch it with an open mind
Connection

Ooooo
A sinner today a saint tomorrow
A sinner today

To learn more about Strangely Alright, check out their website
Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Reverbnation / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunesGoogle Play

THE SLYTONES – Album Review: “IT IS CALLED”

The Slytones It_Is_Called_FRONT

From the moment we first hear the sounds of someone sniffing a bottle, dropping ice cubes and pouring liquor into a glass, then taking a swig at the beginning of the opening track on the new album It Is Called by British band The Slytones, we just know we’re in for a good time. And quite frankly, can’t we all use a few more good times right now?!

Influenced by their love of The Doors, Mr. Bungle, Queens Of The Stone Age and Jimi Hendrix, as well as a colorful mix of Motown, psychedelia, gospel, blues, jazz and Afrobeat, the Brighton-based sextet make wildly entertaining music that’s bawdy, irreverent and funny as hell. Their hilarious, tongue-in-cheek lyrics tackle the minefield of love and relationships, and how they have a way of often exploding in our faces. As they so eloquently state in their bio, their sound “encompasses everything from schizophrenic fairground avant-pop and queasy skanking swamp-ska to crunching left-brain hard rock and mad scientist anti-funk.” To top things off, they dress in natty attire with their faces covered in black and white greasepaint, looking like six dapper mimes in their animated and theatrical performances.

Formed as a trio back in 2006, The Slytones eventually expanded to six members: Ashley Edwards (lead vocals/guitar), Bradley Wescott (guitar), Chip Phillips (keyboards, backing vocals), Chris Warren (bass) (though Carl Brothwood played bass on many of the album tracks), Freddie Hills (drums), and Robin O’Keeffe (percussion/backing vocals). They released their debut EP The Psychedelic Sound Of in 2011, then began recording new songs in 2013 for what was to be their first full-length album.

According to band drummer Hills (whose music I’ve previously reviewed both as a solo artist and as a session musician with fellow Brighton artists Ellie Ford and Liemba), The Slytones “spent three years slaving over it meticulously with a lot of love and attention to detail until it was finished around 2016. Despite all of this work, we got a bit fed up of playing the music industry game (and each other) and went on an indefinite hiatus. Now that we all have time on our hands, we decided to finally release it.” I’m glad they did, because it’s the most fun I’ve had listening to a record since last year’s Love at First Sniff by Australian band Thunder Fox.

The Slytones2

It Is Called was recorded at Ford Lane Studios in West Sussex, under the guidance of Rob Quickenden (Royal Blood, Tigercub, Demob Happy, Fickle Friends), who produced, mixed and mastered the album. Seven years in the making, the album was at last released on May 1st, and features 12 stellar tracks.

Kicking things off is “She Said She Came From the Sea“, which The Slytones first released back in 2015 as a double single with “Time Won’t Wait For Strangers”.  Opening with the aforementioned sound effects of liquor being poured and consumed, it’s the perfect drinking song about what appears to be a vexing mermaid who’s intruding on the singer’s free-wheeling ways. Lead singer Ashley Edwards has a raspy, sardonic and emotive vocal style that’s well-suited for their songs. We fully believe him when he sings “The truth is a stone. My heart is a rock. The women that surround me only long for my cock.” The accompanying video showing the guys performing the song on a pier and in the sea is delightful.

The Slytones are terrific musicians, adept at writing complex, ever-changing melodies and delivering them with an eclectic mix of instruments, sounds and stylistic elements that make for a fun and exciting listen. “Empire” is a great example of this, with a melody that alternates back and forth between a bouncy Latin-funk dance beat and a bluesy, guitar-driven groove that seems to channel the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”. In fact, Edwards sounds alarmingly like Jim Morrison when he wails the lyrics “Break down the walls, your empire falls!” The instrumentals are fantastic, especially the bluesy guitars and exuberant horns.

Another favorite of mine is “Sleeping Beauty Blues“, an appropriately bluesy track with everything from glittery synths, funky bass and blues guitars to honky tonk style piano, organ, jazzy drums and even a bit of cowbell for good measure. Then there’s Edwards cheekily crooning the lyrics about his girl not being all that she appears: “I got the sleeping beauty blues. / She sleeps like a beauty, but she snores like a fool.” There’s more musical mayhem to be heard on the rousing “Come Gigolo“, a wonderful tune with a feel similar to “Master of the House” from Les Misérables (at least to my ears). It also has some of the best lyrics: “I’m feeding all the lions to the dogs. As the idiots sleep, we massage their wives. Come gigolo my body ’cause my time is for sale. / Your mother should have slapped you before you were born.” The rousing vocal harmonies in the chorus are marvelous.

The Doors’ influence continues to be felt on many tracks. “Time Don’t Wait For Strangers” is another song with a complex, evolving melody. Opening with a peppy Latin beat, the song transitions after a minute into a languid and beautiful melody, with watery guitars and shimmery keyboards that remind me a bit of “Riders on the Storm”. At around 3:15, the song transitions once again, this time to a more psychedelic vibe with organ and heavier, distorted guitars. “Green Jacket” is a hard-hitting psychedelic and bluesy rocker, with some great fiddle, accompanied by Phillips’ lively keyboards and organ, and O’Keeffe’s gnarly percussive instruments. “The Seed They’d Sewn” has a bluesy vibe similar to “Love Me Two Times”, with lyrics that seem to describe a woman who’s turned out to be the Bad Seed: “She once was an angel, with skin so divine. Now the lizards congregate.. / The seed they’d sewn should not have grown / The sound they found, they should have drowned.”

Silver Harpoons” is a jazzy, bluesy and psychedelic fantasia. Edwards’ raw vocals are almost feral as he screams “Silver harpoons in the water. Night made to slaughter. Who are you?!” Later in the track, amid eerie synths and distorted riffs, his malevolence is palpable as he snarls: “Where is my goldmine? This corporate clothesline. I’m in a circus full of thieves. You’d kill a whale to feed your tart. I’ll fuck your wife to break your heart.” The infectious honky tonk piano makes a return appearance on the spirited “Shake the Cage“. Edwards and Wescott’s intense, bluesy guitars, Brothwood’s driving bass and Phillips’ piano are fantastic, and Hills does a fine job pounding out the lively rhythm.

Don’t Leave Me Alone” has a wonderful tango melody, punctuated with flourishes of bluesy, roadhouse-style grooves. On the amusing but dark “King of the Castle“, the band reference nursery rhymes to describe what appears to be a power-mad father. Edwards sounds rather diabolical as he croons “I’m king of the castle / Do you want to grow big and strong like your daddy? / Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin. Well I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in.” The song starts off with a jaunty fun-house vibe, complete with ghoulish clown laughter. Edwards repeatedly sings “Come sing, come sing as we’re dancing“, then in the last minute of the track, the music turns darker and downright menacing, with distorted guitars, crashing cymbals and a wailing organ riff.

The guys pull out all the stops on the final track “Pull Your Finger Out“, a complex and meandering 7:52-minute long extravaganza with more melodic change-ups than I believe I’ve ever heard in one song. It starts off with a slow, organ-driven melody punctuated by a bluesy guitar riff, then shifts to a bouncy melody with honky tonk piano, then to a bluesy, guitar-driven vibe, featuring flute and quirky percussive instruments. Various instruments come and go as the tempo continues to change, with even a flourish of gypsy guitar at the halfway point, and later on, a harpsichord. The lyrics are ambiguous to me – and I’m probably way off base – but they seem to describe a vampire’s love life: “We dance in the wretched moonlight. Sing me a wicked lullaby. Like wild men, we scream at the moon. Conscious in mind, but body aloof. Pull your finger out. / I sleep in the day when the moon is away. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.” Whatever their meaning, it’s a great track.

I love this album and I love this band! It Is Called is 54 minutes of non-stop aural mayhem, and a blast to listen to from start to finish.  The Slytones are all amazing musicians, and I hope the release of this album will give them an impetus to reunite and make more music that brings a smile to our faces.

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MORGENDUST – Single Review: “Alien”

Morgendust Alien

Morgendust are a talented and well-seasoned alt-rock band based in Zwolle, Netherlands. Formed in 2018, all are accomplished musicians with years of collective experience playing in other bands and as session musicians. Influenced by 80s acts like Talk Talk, Duran Duran, Pink Floyd, Tears for Fears and Peter Gabriel, as well as more current acts like Radiohead, Editors and Elbow, their music has a maturity and worldliness that comes from having lived on this earth for a while and experiencing the joys and pains of life, love and relationships. Through intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, they tell stories that everyone can relate to, and package them with exquisite dark-edged rock melodies and beautiful instrumentation.

The band consists of Marco de Haan (lead vocals, guitars), Ron van Kruistum (guitars, backing vocals), Iwan Blokzijl (keyboards, backing vocals), Dario Pozderski (bass, backing vocals) and Job Noordmans (drums & percussion). Last September (2019) they released their outstanding debut EP Storm Will Come (you can read my review here). Now they’re back with a powerful and timely new single “Alien“, which dropped today, May 1st. Inspired by the story of band member Dario Pozderski, who 25 years ago fled his war-torn homeland of Bosnia, the song is both a celebration of freedom and a denunciation of mankind’s stupidity, greed, and penchant for destructive wars that result in a never-ending cycle of refugee crises.

The band explains: “This year we celebrate 75 years living in freedom [The Netherlands was liberated from Nazi control at the end of World War II in 1945]. A perfect moment for Morgendust to release their new single Alien, a song about the long, hard road refugees still have to take to find a new but uncertain future. To live in freedom is something to care about and not to take for granted, something Dario can relate to. He arrives in Holland in 1995, because his identity suddenly matters, a lot! He tries to escape ‘the lunatics” as he calls them, but they grow in numbers and he has to run, because he refuses to fight his own people. With only a bass in two parts in a rucksack he reaches Holland and finds a place in an AZC, a shelter for refugees of war.

Morgendust Dario
Dario in 1995 and 2020

Dario elaborates: “Here I sit in an AZC with nothing to do, which I cannot stand! Around that time I visit the city library often to listen to music. I notice a note on the wall which says: “Band PTS needs bass player” (PTS was a 90s neo-progressive rock band that included Morgendust members Marco de Haan and Ron van Kruistum). “I audition and I’m in…. Now, 25 years later, with two of the former PTS members I still make music in Morgendust.”

“Aliens” was written by Marco de Haan and Iwan Blokzijl, who also mixed and mastered the track, and designed the artwork for the single. The track has an anthemic quality, with a grandiose melody and dramatic instrumentals befitting the expansive scope of the subject matter. The guys are all skilled musicians, and together they’ve created an exceptional song that’s truly stunning. The layered guitar work is fantastic, and I love the intricate, sweeping synths and piano keys that give the song such haunting beauty. Dario and Job keep the track grounded with their perfect rhythms, and Marco’s emotionally-charged vocals bring chills as he drives home the urgency and seriousness expressed in the powerful lyrics. The band has included a snippet from Jesse Jackson’s speech announcing the suspension of his 1988 run for the U.S. presidency.

All the things I had in life
Now I see that they are
Gone away for good
Everything I once controlled
When I find out that it’s
Gone away for good

Came here
By plastic
As tame sheep
The questions
And the screaming
The waiting in line

Alien
Nations apart
Maybe we’re
Back to the start
Back to the start

Just the scent of neighborhood
Brings a tear to me it’s
Gone away for good
All the colors in the sky
Are just pictures in my mind

Saw how
The money
Can blind you
Seduce you
Betray you
And makes you insane

Alien
Nations apart
Maybe we’re
Back to the start 

Jesse Jackson’s speech:

If in my high moments, I have done some good, offered some service,
shed some light, healed some wounds, rekindled some hope, or stirred someone from apathy and indifference, or in any way along the way helped somebody, then this campaign has not been in vain.

Connect with Morgendust:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

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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Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

9fm – Single Review: “First Blush”

9fm - Jarrod Pedone

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

In September 2018, I reviewed 9fm’s marvelous EP Little House, and am now happy to feature his latest single “First Blush” which dropped April 27th. The song is based on Season 3, Episode 4 of Black Mirror, entitled “San Junipero”. San Junipero is a simulated beach resort town where the deceased can live and the elderly can visit, all inhabiting their younger selves’ bodies in a time of their choosing. The plot involves two women, Yorkie and Kelly, who meet at a nightclub, and eventually become romantically involved. They meet up at different times over the years in both San Junipero and in the real world, where they face real-life complications. In the end, both are euthanised so that they can be together in San Junipero.

9fm wrote the music and lyrics, sang vocals and performed all the music on “First Blush”, as well as recording, mixing and mastering the track himself in his home studio. Starting with skittering percussion and assertive drumbeats, he layers lo-fi synths, humming keyboards, and what sounds like a bass guitar, though it could also be guitar that’s been fed though a pedal or some other device to give it a deeper tone. The result is a dramatic, fast-paced song that captures the sense of urgency and emotional intensity described in the lyrics about an unusual and logistically challenging love affair. His smooth vocals have an ethereal, almost otherworldly quality that’s quite pleasing and well-suited to the subject matter. “First Blush” is another fine effort from this talented guy.

A life in a place & time, we didn’t choose
Abide by the rules we find, oh ’ til we’re through
Then I decide on a place in a time to reside that I wished were true
But who we are we can’t escape, so I wrecked that too

At first blush
I came on way too strong
I’d never known someone like you
So I knew first, the path that I would choose
I’d trade that life for one with you
Please see it through
You’re all I have to lose

A place in a time designed for our own use
A place we can feel alive, in health & youth
So I decide on a place in a time to reside that I wished were true
So now here we are now free to stay, until we’re through

Without a doubt, the lives we learn to lead die out, & then, leaving us only
to find out, the lives we’re meant to lead are found, not with, but without, stable ground

Follow 9fm:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloud / iTunes
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

FOUR THOUSAND MILES – Single Review: “Reflections”

Four Thousand Miles is a relatively new and interesting rock band with an international pedigree. Each of its four members are from a different country: England, France, Wales and the United States, hence their name ‘Four Thousand Miles’. They started out as a collaboration over the internet, and quickly grew to become a music project after finding that each of their own unique styles blended well together. The band members are Alex Fearn from Liverpool, England (and former front man of British rock group Diamond Days) on vocals and rhythm guitar, Lionel Pacreau from Bordeaux, France on lead guitar, Alex May from Atlanta Georgia, USA on drums, and Liam Sibbald from Prestatyn, Wales on bass.

4000 Miles - Reflections

The guys have gathered together a couple of times in Liverpool to record music and film videos, and released their excellent debut single “Lonely” this past Valentine’s Day. Now they’re back with their second single “Reflections“, which drops today. The song was mixed and mastered by Simon Jackman at Outhouse Studios in Reading, Berkshire, and is another hard-hitting banger!

The song is darker and heavier than “Lonely”, and more synth-driven. The song opens with eerie synths and a galloping percussive beat that set an ominous tone. Then a brief barrage of fiery riffs ensue, before calming down to a haunting melody as Fearn begins to sing. The EDM touches that arrive late in the first verse are terrific, and contrast nicely with the thunderous, driving riffs and explosive percussion in the choruses. They produce a great back and forth effect that imparts a strong sense of tension, making for a very exciting listen. Pacreau and Fearn are both fine guitarists, and I love the interplay between Pacreau’s blistering riffs and Fearn’s more melodic guitar notes. Sibbald and May keep the pummeling rhythms on firm footing throughout the proceedings. The guys’ collective musicianship is quite impressive!

Fearn has a powerful and emotive vocal style that’s perfectly suited to their dynamic sound. He transitions easily from a plaintive vulnerability to raw, almost feral screams that bring chills. He uses them to maximum effect as he passionately belts out the searing lyrics spoken to a former lover whose actions have stripped him of his sanity and sense of self-worth: “You stole the greatest part of me and now I’m struggling to breathe. Not gonna take much time before I lose my mind!

The dark, beautifully-filmed and expertly-produced video nicely captures the drama and frenetic energy of the song.

Follow Four Thousand Miles: FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon