DARKSOFT – Album Review: “Beigeification”

I love dream pop with an alternative bent, and the music of singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Darksoft fits the bill quite nicely (and his first name also happens to be Bill!). Originally from Seattle, where he was active in the local music scene both as a solo artist and a collaborator with other musicians, he relocated in late 2021 clear across the country to Portland, Maine. Deftly blending elements of dream pop, shoegaze and alternative rock, he creates music that’s both sumptuous and pleasing. His compelling lyrics, addressing timely and relevant issues related to technology, social media and disillusionment, are delivered with his enchanting and soothing ethereal vocals. The imaginative, talented and creative artist has released four concept albums thus far, the latest of which is Beigeification.

I previously featured him and his music three times on this blog in 2019, first when I reviewed his brilliant debut album Brain, a concept work named for the very first computer virus to attack the internet back in 1986, with each track titled after infamous viruses that followed. I later reviewed two singles, “WannaCry”, which addressed the deep cultural and political divide in America, fed by our tendency to stay stuck in our own echo chambers, and “Cybersecurity“, which questioned whether all our data floating around out there in cyberspace was somehow being kept safe. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.) He followed with Meltdown (which includes the two aforementioned singles) in 2020, then Cryo in early 2022. They’re all excellent albums, but Beigeification is my favorite of them all.

Released on January 13th via Darksoft’s own label Look Up Records, Beigeification was produced and recorded entirely by him, mixed by Brian Fisher (Hibou, Éclo, Eastern Souvenirs), and mastered by Stefan Mac (Cold War Kids, No Vacation, Sea Lemon). He describes the album as “a postmodern dose of beigey moods and pastel phrases to match the disillusionment of our age.” For the album cover, he decided to use only a single beige color. He further elaborated in an Instagram post on his thoughts and inspiration for creating the album:

When producing an album, I find that having a consistent theme is really helpful to inform the overall sound, lyrics, progressions, melodies, and instrumentation. For lyrics, I’m using a lot of ‘thought-terminating cliches’. These annoying, overused phrases and idioms have the effect of ending a conversation, because they are vague, universal truths. What’s also interesting is that grammatically they say absolutely nothing but they carry a lot of weight in context. Examples are ‘it is what it is’, ‘you gotta do what you gotta do’, ‘win some lose some’, ‘only time will tell’ and ‘to each their own‘.

This theme has been fun to play with, and I think fits the general attitude after watching the world over the past few years. I don’t want to encourage inaction, but when so much negativity piles up, it’s like ‘whaddya gonna do?’ To stay sane and functional as a digital being, you sort of have to accept that an endless barrage of bad news will always be at your fingertips, and then focus on what matters to you. Also, remember when everything got beigeified? Perhaps your parents painted the walls beige to increase the ‘resell value’ of their home (even if they weren’t selling it). Or think of Carmela Soprano’s Etruscan-themed living room, or how beige was used for conformity reasons on workplace PCs for most of the 20th century. I want these songs on Beigeification to carry nothing too heavy, say something without saying anything, and sit in the background of everyday life, like how sand fits around your toes at the beach, passive like the color beige, and worn-out like these idioms.

Every song on Beigeification uses only one chord progression over and over! I was trying to simplify with less is more. I realized I could just add or remove layers to change the vibe. Or change the playing/strumming slightly or use different chord inversions. This approach keeps things cohesive and was totally different from how I used to write, which was different chord progressions from section to section. It’s more carefree. It is what it is.

The album contains nine wonderful tracks, starting with “It Is What It Is“, which was also released as the first single. The song has a fun, bouncy vibe, highlighted by Darksoft’s beautiful jangly guitar notes and breathy vocals singing the cliche lyrics he alluded to above: “Say what you will. When you know you just know. All’s well that ends well. What goes around comes around.” The charming video for the song, showing him barefoot and dressed all in white, doing a simple dance move in front of empty, nondescript office parks around Portland, Maine, was filmed on VHS recording equipment, giving it a vintage lo-fi quality.

Only Time Will Tell” has an 80s new wave sound that calls to mind some of the music of Joy Division, New Order and The Cure, but with a modern twist. I love the lush jangly and chiming guitars and snappy percussion, and Darksoft’s silky vocals are both comforting and sensuous. The lyrics speak of being patient and taking things slowly and deliberately, aware that ‘good things come to those who wait’: “You got to learn to walk before you learn to run. Everything will come to the one that waits. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Only time will tell.”

Next up is the languid “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do“, a song so beautiful and soothing that I’m now besotted with this album. Once again, Darksoft’s guitar work is gorgeous, as are the sparkling synths and gentle percussion, and his layered breathy vocals are sublime. The way he strings together so many trite cliche sayings into something beautiful and compelling is quite clever: “You gotta do what you gotta do. You gotta be who you gotta be. Do or don’t, live or die. You never know until you try.” The beautiful video, directed by Brett Davis Jr. and filmed by Gerald Davis, shows Darksoft singing the song at Two Lights State Park and Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

The great songs keep coming. “Win Some Lose Some” is a return to the breezy new wave vibe we heard on “Only Time Will Tell”, which nicely serves to reinforce the ‘c’est la vie’ sense of resignation over life’s hiccups that Darksoft is getting at on the album – “Reap what you sow. Take what ya get. Better luck next time. Win some lose some. Win some lose others. If it’s not one thing then it’s another.” “Whatever It Takes” has a lively, toe-tapping beat, neat fuzzy guitars and colorful synths, and, as always, beautifully-layered sensuous vocals.

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but my gosh, “Stones Unturned” is so gorgeous I can barely contain myself. Darksoft’s delicate jangly guitar work is stunning, accompanied by ambient sounds of a distant thundershower and beautiful swirling synths. His comforting ethereal vocals have been electronically altered in spots, giving them a fuzzy, otherworldly feel. The lyrics seem to be about – to use yet another cliche expression – ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’: “Some stones are best left, left unturned. Some words are better left unheard. Somethings you don’t need to see. Some views look better from dreams. Sometimes the road less traveled is leading nowhere.”

A fantastic dominant bassline takes center stage on “There’s Always Something Going On“, a song about how there will always be some unpleasant issue or problem to deal with in life: “There’s only so much I can do. There’s always something left undone. Even after we’re all dead and gone. There will be something going wrong.” And on the peppy “Fast Lane“, Darksoft sings of the perils of living recklessly: “It’s a short way down, but a long way back. Take a shortcut in the fast lane and you just might crash.” The album closes with “Such Is Life“, a pleasing song of resignation that sometimes shit happens in life, and we just have to accept it and do the best we can as we move on: “Such is life. Guess that’s the way it’s gonna be. C’est la vie.”

I don’t know what more I can write about Beigeification that I haven’t already gushed about, other than to say that I think it’s one of the best albums of 2023 so far. I love it so much I bought my own copy on Bandcamp, and so should you!

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DOM THOMAS – Single Review: “Everything I Own”

I recently learned about Welsh singer-songwriter and musician Dom Thomas when he followed me on Instagram. A talented and busy guy, he works as a librarian at Cardiff University, is founder and editor of VAINE Magazine (a Welsh literary and arts magazine for emerging artists and writers), and a poet who’s had one of his works published. He’s been writing and recording songs for his forthcoming EP, and released his wonderful debut single “Everything I Own” on November 11th. I liked it the instant I heard it, so much so that I want to both share it with my readers and give Dom a bit of press.

A deeply personal song, Dom explained in an Instagram post how he came to write “Everything I Own”: “I wrote the song in July 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. I was staying at home with my mum at the time, and I remember having all of my stuff packed up in the middle of the bedroom. And I was there playing this guitar which a friend lent me a few years ago. I remember thinking about how all of my stuff in the world was in that room, and how one of the main things I had (the guitar) wasn’t even mine. I just started thinking about that strange feeling you have sometimes in your 20s when you’re kind of sifting for your purpose in life, and trying to find out who you are. So, this song was the first one I wrote for the EP, and it gave me this idea to write some songs that were really personal.”

For the recording of the track, Dom sang vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars, bass and keyboards, Alec Rees played drums, and Mike Winters played viola. Jordan Roberts and Mark Lowe produced the track, with additional arrangements by Toni Madrid and Jacob Davies, and Eddie Al Shakarchi handled the mixing and mastering. Together, they’ve created a really lovely and melodic song. Dom’s layered guitar work is sublime, nicely accompanied by Alec’s relaxed drumbeats. As the song progresses, the music expands with the addition of Dom’s bold piano keys and Mike’s stirring viola, Dom’s comforting vocals turning more emphatic and emotional as well. Though the song has a rather melancholy undercurrent, Dom’s lighthearted “doo doo doos” in the choruses add glimmers of optimism, giving the song an overall pleasing vibe.

The poignant lyrics speak to feelings of impermanence, sadness, and dreams unfulfilled, whether they be material, artistic or romantic.

Everything I own
Feels like its borrowed
And I can’t give it back
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

Everything I feel
Feels a bit too real
And I can’t turn away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

Everywhere I go,
it feels like I’m followed
And I can’t get away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And everything I touch,
Feels a bit too much
Like it’s turning to stone
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

Everything I know
Fills me with sorrow
And I can’t switch it off
My heart my dreams my love and my soul

And everything I do,
Makes me think of you
And I just can’t forget,
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

The endearing video, directed by Daniel Evans and filmed by Alex David, who also did the editing along with Dan Cuddihy, shows scenes of Dom playing his guitar and singing the song while walking through the streets of Cardiff and the surrounding countryside, alternating with scenes of him setting up and performing at a small auditorium.

Connect with Dom on Instagram

Stream “Everything I Own” on SpotifyApple Music

Purchase on Bandcamp 

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 20 – Lowry Lane, Onism E, Martin Saint, The Zangwills

With so much new music being released, it’s time for another Fresh New Tracks post. Today I’m pleased to present four outstanding new singles by, in alphabetical order, German singer-songwriter Lowry Lane, New York City-based indie rock band Onism E, Canadian singer-songwriter Martin Saint, and British alt-rock band The Zangwills.

Lowry Lane – “Wasting Time”

Lowry Lane (born Paul Friebe) is an earnest, thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Regensburg, Germany. Influenced by a vast spectrum of acts ranging from Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground and The Cure to Nirvana, The Strokes and Kurt Vile, Lowry creates their own unique brand of alternative indie rock. We’ve followed each other on social media for more than five years, and I’ve featured them several times on this blog, most recently in October 2021 when I reviewed their excellent debut album Lonely War. An ambitious and deeply personal work, the album touched on dark subjects like relationship troubles, personal loss, addiction and mental health, while still offering glimmers of optimism.

Lowry has just released a new single “Wasting Time“, a song that seems to be about the passage of time and making the most of it – or not: “Is stealing time really a crime? Running on empty, while others have plenty. Our hearts may be shattered, our souls may be scattered. We’re still alive and kicking, the clock keeps on ticking. So take me home to places that I’ve never known. Take your time. Yeah, I’ve been wasting most of mine.” The song has a bit of a Kurt Vile feel, with a meandering laid-back groove, highlighted by Lowry’s intricate textured guitar work. I love the elastic ‘rubberband’ sound of their guitar, which nicely contrast with the wonderful chiming riffs. The swirling synths and snappy drum fills are great too. Their smooth vocals are delivered in a casual monotone, yet still sound impactful. I love the endearing artwork for the single, which is from an old photo of Lowry as a child.

Onism E – “It’s Not Over”

Indie rock band Onism E is the brainchild of California-born, Texas-raised and now New York City-based singer-songwriter Eline Chavez (the term “Onism” can be defined as “The awareness of how little of the world you will actually experience.”). In addition to Eline, the band includes Chris ‘Lefty’ Vargas on guitar, Magnus Timbre on bass, and Raj Arenas on drums. Since the release of their debut single “Love You More” in August 2019, they’ve dropped several more outstanding singles, as well as an album Survivors in February 2021. This past May, they released a brilliant single “Lin Manuel“, inspired by Eline’s struggles of trying to make it as a musician during the uncertainty of the pandemic (read my review here). The song spent three months on my Weekly Top 30 over the summer, peaking at #13.

Now they’re back with “It’s Not Over“, a lovely uplifting single, accompanied by a beautiful heartwarming video, that celebrate the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, and that, together with love and support, we’ll make it through the dark times. Musically, the song features a gorgeous blend of twangy and shimmery guitars, accompanied by a subtle bassline, thumping drumbeats and lots of crashing cymbals, and finishing with a blast of distorted guitars before fading out. Eline’s beautiful, fervent vocals are filled with emotion and a vulnerable sense of urgency as she sings “You had this idea that the world isn’t all blue. It’s all kinds of colors, most I never knew. But sometimes love is blinded by the dark. And sometimes it feels like healing takes too long to start. But no one is being left behind. No baby, I’ve got you. There’s no me without you. This river will guide us through. It’s not over. No, we’ve just begun.

Martin Saint – The Law

Martin Saint is a singer-songwriter and guitarist based in Montreal. Active in the local music scene for many years, he’s also currently the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Montreal-based alt-rock band The Ember Glows (whose recently-released EP Where Spirits Play, I reviewed last month), and was previously front man for the band Citylake. He’s released a fair amount of music as a solo artist, including a spoken word EP Fly Tales in 2019, an album One Word Away in January 2020, and the EP Last New Year’s Eve in March 2021. On November 4th, he dropped his latest offering “The Law“, a rearranged cover of the Leonard Cohen original. While Cohen’s original has a slow, almost mournful feel, with sparse instrumentals and a gentle backing female chorus, Saint speeds up the tempo a bit, adds mysterious cinematic synths, a more pronounced beat, and lots of multi-textured guitars. Some of his guitar notes, which go from shimmery to chiming to twangy reverb, are absolutely stunning. His warm, smooth vocals are both sultry and comforting, and as I noted in my The Ember Glows review, remind me of the late Scott Walker.

People have speculated as to the song’s meaning, but Cohen’s use of the words ‘law, arm and hand’ in the lyrics –  “I’m not asking for mercy. Not from the man. You just don’t ask for mercy while you’re still on the stand. There s a Law, there’s an Arm, there’s a Hand. I don’t claim to be guilty. Guilty’s too grand. There s a Law, there’s an Arm, there’s a Hand” – suggest it’s about morality and judgement, whether by oneself or by a higher power, and paying for one’s crimes, whether you feel remorse or guilt for them or not. In a 1985 interview, Cohen said “I always felt this was a ‘post-guilt’ song. There is an age of guilt, and we are in the age after. Guilt is too inflamed an emotion, even for us today…” Others have said it speaks to the chains of love, and the preordained rules which we must follow, no matter how painful or difficult they might me. Whatever it’s meaning, I think Saint does justice to Cohen’s song.

The Zangwills – “Backpatters and Shooters”

Last, but most certainly not least, are British four-piece The Zangwills. Based in Cheshire, they consist of the immensely talented Jake Vickers (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Ed Dowling (bass), Sam Davies (lead guitar) and Adam Spence (drums). Their exciting, highly melodic music is outstanding, with a maturity of songwriting and musicianship as fine as many top big-name bands around today. Though they’ve been actively making music since 2017, when they were all still in their teens, I didn’t learn about them until summer of 2021, when I was blown away by their magnificent single “Never Looked Back”. I reviewed the song, and loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ended up at #24 on my Top 100 Songs of 2021 list.

They followed with another beautiful single “The Feeling” this past February, and on November 11th, they dropped their latest single “Backpatters and Shooters“.  Like their previous singles, the song was produced and engineered by Mark Winterburn and mastered by Ben Booker. And let me say that I was every bit as stunned when I first listened to it as I’d been with “Never Looked Back”. Wow, what a gorgeous song it is, with a haunting piano-driven melody and some of the most achingly beautiful guitar work I’ve heard in a while. Those lush, twangy guitar notes, combined with that haunting piano and glorious sweeping synths, have me covered in chills with every listen. Then there are Jake’s beautiful emotive vocals, which have an incredible vulnerability as he croons the lyrics addressing the pursuit of love and how love far outweighs the importance of anything else: “You know that I’d be the first to plant roses in your face, and frame beauty with beauty. And though I’m dying of thirst, I’m still running in your race. With the men who pat my back, and the men who would shoot me. And when I look up, if I squint I see love. But it’s never that much, and no it’s never enough.” I love this song, and I love this band!

COLUMBIA – Single Review: “Disorder”

Artwork by Stay Focused Photography

I’m back in Wales (having just featured Welsh singer-songwriter Caitlin Lavagna last week) to shine a spotlight on indie rock band Columbia, who released their new single “Disorder” on November 4th. The Cardiff-based act was formed in 2019 by long-time friends Ben Rowlands (lead guitar) and Craig Lewis (vocals/rhythm guitar), who had been in a handful of other bands both together and separately over the years. They released their debut single “Fall Into the Sun” at the end of 2019, followed by a number of singles over the next two years. While in the process of recording their debut album Embrace the Chaos in 2021, they brought on bassist Aron Stenning to complete their current lineup.

Columbia released Embrace the Chaos in March 2022, garnering positive reviews from both music writers and fans. They celebrated its release at a sold-out show at The Moon in Cardiff, and have since performed at such renowned venues as Camden’s Fiddlers Elbow, The Dublin Castle, and SWNDfest at The Bunkhouse, Swansea, as well as playing on several This Feeling shows supporting The Shakes and The Kairos (another band I’ve previously featured on this blog). The band will be performing this weekend at the sold-out Shiiine On Weekender 2022 festival at Butlin’s Minehead Arena in Somerset. Their set is scheduled for Saturday, November 12th.

Photo by Stay Focused Photography

Recorded at King’s Road Studios in Cardiff and produced by Andrew Sanders, “Disorder” marks a new direction for Columbia. Not only is the song their first to be written by lead guitarist Ben Rowlands, (their previous songs have been written by Lewis), it’s also their most powerful track yet. Sanders has called “Disorder” “the biggest sounding track I’ve made with a band“, while the band cheekily notes that the song’s “incredible wall of sound makes you wonder where on earth Ben has been hiding this behind his calm and quiet demeanour?

The song is a darkly beautiful, cinematic anthem. Opening with ominous sounds of police sirens and helicopters circling overhead, suggesting unrest in the streets, our ears are suddenly hit with a barrage of gnarly guitars, grinding bass and thunderous drums, accompanied by Lewis’ commanding vocals. I love the song’s portentous swirling melody, and the intricate guitar work – punctuated here and there with delicate acoustic notes, only to explode into a wailing solo in the bridge – is spectacular.

My take as to the song’s meaning is that it speaks to the addictive nature of public protests and disorder in the streets, how easily people can become attracted to them by the adrenaline rush from participating in such events that usually involve intense anger and/or passion for a particular cause. We’ve seen how these public protests can sometimes feed upon themselves, growing larger and out of control as crowds grow and tempers rise: “I’m breaking the silence. I feel my fear running. Don’t want to believe it, but everything is changing The colors are fading, the sound around me rising, climbing higher and higher and higher. I feel it, I need it, the streets are in disorder. Addiction, a feeling I couldn’t ever be there. I had it, I want it. The streets are in disorder, climbing higher and higher and higher.

“Disorder” is a phenomenal track, nicely showcasing Columbia’s continued growth as a band.

And here’s the newer action video they’ve created for the song:

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THIS HEART I SURRENDER – Album Review: “THIS: FOUNDATIONS”

One of my recent music finds is an alternative rock band from Wisconsin with the rather endearing name of This Heart I Surrender. The other day I happened upon their debut album THIS: FOUNDATIONS, which dropped October 21st, and made the wise decision to give it a listen. I immediately liked it, so much so that I reached out to the band to let them know I would be featuring it on my blog.

Combining elements of emo-punk, metal and alternative rock, they create melodic, impactful rock music that sounds at once familiar, yet distinctly their own. Listening to their music, I hear an eclectic range of influences from bands like Sum 41, Bring Me the Horizon, Aerosmith and Blink-182, to name just a few that come to mind. According to their bio, “blaring guitars, strong vocal melodies, and beat thumping drums is what This Heart I Surrender is all about; the powerful hooky melodies and ear-candy moments will have you coming back wishing the song was longer.” After listening to their album, I can’t argue with that!

The engaging and talented four-piece consists of lead vocalist Jourdan Westenberg, drummer/beat maker Jairius Stolar, lead guitarist Kyle Conner, and bassist/guitarist Will Peters, who joined the band while recording of the album was underway, but ended up playing bass on all the tracks. (Unfortunately, the band already had photos taken of themselves before he came on board, hence the inclusion of only three band members in their photo).

THIS: FOUNDATIONS opens with the beautiful and cinematic neoclassical “OVERTURE“, which sounds like it could be part of the soundtrack to a fantasy adventure film or series like Game of Thrones. This overture was composed by This Heart I Surrender with the assistance of Larry Moore, who band vocalist Jourdan described as ‘a master of synthesized orchestration’. Indeed, Mr. Moore co-wrote, arranged and played the orchestral string parts for the entire album. Jourdan added that nearly every track includes an element of strings, and was intended as the connecting “sound” between songs.

Thinking it might be a concept album of sorts, I also asked about the album’s title, to which Jourdan responded: “If I had to describe the theme of the album it’s in the title. This is our first full length album, and we titled it ‘Foundations’ because it’s the foundations of us starting out. Our sound. Our style. All of it. A lot of the songs [touch on the idea] of a new beginning and being tired of the same old same old. Taking risks and moving forward toward something new.”

“OVERTURE” directly segues into “RAISE IT” a powerful and stunning rock anthem, featuring added vocals by Garett Rapp of Illinois metalcore band The Color Morale. The inspirational song is a clarion call to arms against forces who lie and distort the truth for the purpose of keeping us divided and fighting each other: “Falling short when we need to stand up strong. Why do we keep on deciding wrong? Faceless victims in the night, not knowing where the demons hide. So raise it up, raise it up! Let us spark a revolution today!” Jourdan and Garett’s dual vocals complement each other nicely.

Themes of love and loss are addressed again and again on the album. “THANK YOU” is a beautiful song of thanks to a loved one who’s no longer around, but who had a major part in shaping who we are now. Jourdan has a great voice, and his plaintive vocals are heartfelt and filled with emotion as he sings “I never expected to lose you. I never thought I’d say goodbye. I know there’s a promise to see you. I cling to that hope with my life. But until that day. All I can say is ‘thank you’. Thank you for all that you were for me. Thank you for everything.” And on “STAY“, he pleads for someone to stay with him and help him through a rough patch.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “MORE THAN A MELODY“, a gorgeous song that starts off as a gentle ballad with breathtaking acoustic and chiming guitars, then transitions into a stirring anthem, highlighted by soaring vocal harmonies and a terrific solo in the bridge. The lyrics seem to address a troubled relationship, and trying to remember the things that brought you together in the first place: “Remember what you are to me. You’re more than a melody? You’re more than a song. You’re more than a moment that’s fading along. Are we caught up in our mess? Broke in all that stress. Forgetting just who we are. We won’t forget.”

DEATH OF IT” is a fast-paced rock song, with driving rhythms and bold, jagged riffs. The lyrics speak of never giving up on your dreams, and to keep moving toward your goals: “I’ll keep my mind on this. I won’t give up or quit. Rushing, rushing around, don’t let my feet hit the ground. Never stop moving. Oh, this is the death of it.”

WELCOME TO COMPROMISE” has a bit of a Blink-182 feel. thanks to its lively groove and Jourdan’s fervent vocals. The bittersweet lyrics speak of reminiscing about a lost romantic relationship and what could have been: “I’ll always miss you and I won’t forget you. I’ve been wondering how you are, and how you have been. I’ve been wishing to go back relive the moments. Though I miss you, you’re always with me.

True to its title, “HAUNTING” is a hauntingly beautiful song, both musically and lyrically. Once again, I have to bring attention to the stunning guitar work, as well as the arresting melody and Jourdan’s commanding, emotion-filled vocals. The song is about struggling with emotional demons, and fighting to overcome them: “My demons haunt me no matter where I go./The war is raging and it’s never letting go. Sometimes I hold my head and wish that it would stop. Seems like a cycle that will never end at all. It’s all the same, haunting me. So let it rain./This isn’t who I want to be.”

Closing track “DAYS OF GOLD” speaks to those who are struggling day to day, hoping there’s something more for them in this life: “Back at it again repeating my steps. Still waiting for an answer if there’s one at all. Still sit here in the grind, thinking I’m made for more. I’m not looking for some glory, just a different story. I’m done with the same thing tonight. I’m holding on for a new light. I don’t know tomorrow, but still I will wait for a better day.” The song is a brilliant rock anthem, and I love how it closes with beautiful orchestral strings, bring the album full-circle. The guys really show us what they can do here, blowing our minds and dazzling our ears with their impressive musicianship, while Jourdan digs deep into his core, summoning all the passion he can muster to deliver a spine-tingling vocal performance. Watch and listen to them create musical magic:

THIS: FOUNDATIONS is an outstanding album, and a triumphant debut for This Heart I Surrender. All the hard work and effort they put into it really shows, for which they should be quite proud. It’s my honor to support them.

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LEWCA – Album Review: “Friday Night Rockstar”

England-born, and now France-based, singer-songwriter and musician Lewca is one of the most creative, funny and irreverent artists I’ve come across, with a deliciously bawdy sense of humour. As he cheekily explains in his bio, “Lewca was born in a squat in Brixton, by age nineteen he was living in a squat in Paris, go figure… After studying fine art and dabbling in film, he started making music just before he was too old to die young. His influences range from class A drugs to expensive rum, and also The Clash, A$AP Rocky, Sleaford Mods, LCD Soundsystem, Bob Dylan, Eminem, Tom Waits…whoever is making decent music. He currently lives in Normandy, has three kids and a mortgage, and a semi-domesticated hedgehog named ‘Sonic’.

Lewca’s been making music for years, and after being in a few bands “that fell apart for the usual reasons”, he decided to embark on his own music project as Lewca in 2018. Although he collaborates with lots of different musicians on his projects (most often ex band members or musicians he’s met on Twitter) his main partner in crime is S.O.A.P. (shorthand for Son of A Pitch), a Parisian composer, producer, drum & bass DJ and beatmaker he met when they shared a billing at a gig together in 2013. Their partnership grew from a shared love of wonky beats, British soundscapes and a healthy dose of humour, along with an “expectation of absolute world domination and unfathomable wealth, obviously”. They’re also both fervent players of Dragon Ball Fighterz, and if the music thing doesn’t pan out they’re considering pro gaming as a viable alternative.

Since 2018, they’ve released three EPs, which culminated in a colossal album Year One, released this past June, featuring all 17 tracks originally contained in the three EPs. In addition, the dynamic duo have been working for the last eighteen months on two more albums: Friday Night Rockstar, set for release on December 16th, and Boombap for Boomers, to be released some time in 2023. It’s the first of these, Friday Night Rockstar, I’m reviewing today.

The album features 13 tracks addressing such topics as the passage of time, personal doubts and demons, substance abuse, romantic love, and dreams that may never come true, expressed through Lewca’s honest and heartfelt, sometimes shocking, and often laugh-out-loud funny lyrics. The superb music and beats, composed by S.O.A.P. and influenced by the music they both loved while growing up, range from 80’s new wave and 90’s alternative rock to modern lo-fi indie pop and hip hop. Besides Lewca and S.O.A.P., additional vocals and/or instrumentals were performed by the artists Mondo Trasho, Victory Flow, Oh! Paulo, Chris James Willows, Ambre, Orange G, The JMC, Shark Star, Zar Acoustic, Ian Williamson, Ben Todd and Ben Samama.

The album opens with “Such a Cunt“, which I loved the moment I heard it. The lyrics are so wonderful I want to quote them all (but will control myself). It starts off with what sounds like Lewca clicking start on a tape recording of piano music while he addresses an audience from a stage: “Good evening. Thank you so much for coming out, ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honor. I love you so much. Hi mom. This is a song about cheese.” He than launches into song, admonishing us to live our lives to the fullest, but also try and be a nice person while doing our thing: “Done a lot of crazy shit in my life, but I’d do it all again. Dodged a bullet maybe once or twice. Played the fool every now and then. Hey, you, yeah you in the back, do you get what I’m trying to say? We’re gonna die, mate, that’s a fact, so let the chips fall where they may. But most importantly, stop being such a cunt!” The song has a skittering drum & bass groove, with wobbly industrial synths and sharp percussion, nicely accented by some colorful piano keys and delightfully twangy guitars. Lewca’s gritty vocals are wonderful, oozing with in-your-face swagger that’s a glorious mash-up of Mick Jagger, Joe Strummer and Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods.

Next up is the raucous title track “Friday Night Rockstar“, featuring British garage rock band Mondo Trasho. The lyrics are a humorous take on a guy who thinks he’d gonna be rock’s next big thing, except he’s been waiting for it to happen for years: “World famous in my neighbourhood. If I touch my dick, just assume that I’m touching wood. I could take Tyson, in his fucking prime. Two glasses and a bottle and I’ll make that bitch mine. Ain’t even made it. Already overrated. If a fuck was given mate, I never gave it. Since the late nineties, I’ve been sedated. Still ain’t got a deal, but it’s being negotiate./ They say I got million dollar mind. Shit I ain’t never made a dime. Killing it one weekend at a time. I’m a part time punk, but when I’m drunk I’m a rockstar. Bitch, I’m a rockstar. Friday night rockstar.

Harmony Korine” is a poignant but amusing look back at his childhood that seemed more innocent. To a bouncy new wave groove, Lewca sings “My generation, born in the 80s, lived in a world that didn’t give a fuck mate. The Iron Curtain, the Iron Lady, and my old man chain-smoking in the car with the windows up, and the kids in the back with no seat belts on./ We were poor, like the kids next door. It was my childhood, and I wished for no other./ The world that I knew ain’t coming back. Gotta try and face the facts, and get a move on./ Guess we ran out of time, cuz we ain’t kids no more. And Harmony Korine is like 50 now.”

One of the many things I love about the album is that every song sounds completely different, surprising us as each new track unfolds. “A Million Things” has an endearing, lighthearted groove, with quirky, carnival-like synths and Lewca’s alternately gruff and playful vocals as he sings about some of the shit that’s bothering him, apologizing that he “may be an asshole, but it ain’t by design.” He expands on this theme on “Everyday Struggle“, bemoaning the drudgeries of making a living to a rousing trip hop beat: “Six in the morning, I’m at the train station. Every damn day I take the same destination. Gotta get to work, I gotta pay them bills. Pay for them nappies and them cheap ass thrills. Nine hour shifts all day on your feet. Five days a week just to make ends meet. It’s hard labor, yet I ain’t done no crime. I’m selling my life, one day at a time. Oh lord, it’s an everyday struggle.”

Forget My Name” is a beautiful, deeply affecting track about the idea of success, and that even though you’re at rock bottom, you’re never going to stop chasing that dream: “I’m gonna make, I can fuckin’ take it. Man I’m on a roll now. I’m the king of rock’n’roll now. Don’t forget my name.” Though I love Lewca’s gruff, melancholy vocals, the highlight for me are the stunning soulful vocals by Maryland-based transgender artist Victory Flow. Musically, the song features gorgeous intricate guitar work, somber piano keys, and achingly beautiful notes from a baby trombone.

One of my favorite songs (out of an album full of favorites) is “Incredible“, featuring added vocals by Chris James Willows and Ambre. Over a languid, drum and bass-driven groove, Lewca cheekily raps about his ‘I don’t give a fuck’ approach to music: “I’m at a party and I’m off my face. Falling around, I’m all over the place. High as fuck, I just have to sing. Can’t contain the diva within./ People let me know they ain’t digging the flow. But now I got the the microphone, I ain’t never letting go. I hope you got a sense of humour, turn up the fucking boomer. I don’t give a fuck If I’m ruining the song. Got a mic in hand this is where I belong. Anyway mate, these drugs are way too strong. Ain’t got a fucking clue what the fuck’s going on.” Then we hear an adoring girl, sung by Ambre, croon “You’re so wicked baby, loving your song. Gonna listen to ya all night long“, to which he replies “You’re gonna hear me baby all night long” followed by Chris James Willows’ chorus of “I feel incredible, I feel fucking awesome.” I love it!

The great songs keep on coming, and by now I’m thinking that Friday Night Rockstar might just be one of my favorite albums of the year. “The Love Within” is a hilarious love song that will never get played on the radio. To S.O.A.P.’s deliciously funky dub step beat, Lewca croons to his woman “I only wanna see you smile. I’d drive a thousand fucking miles. Girl I got you under my skin. I need to feel the love within.” But then he gets very sexually explicit in his adoration for her as he raps “I love looking in your eyes when you suck my dick, and listening to your sigh when I licked your clit. When I’m up between your thighs, when I cum on your tits.”

The next few songs touch on the highs and lows of rock stardom. On “Radio Gigolo“, Lewca sings of his dreams of becoming a huge star with a hit song, and willingness to sell himself out to get there: “One day they’ll play my song on the radio. They’ll play it all day long on the radio. I’ll feel like 10 feet tall. Big shots will take my call./ One day I’ll sell myself like a gigolo. I’ll be like someone else I don’t even know. So hungry for fame, I’ll even sell my name, for a spicy chicken wing on some TV show.” Opening with words spoken in French by S.O.A.P., “Golden God” transitions into a trap song with Lewca rapping about how his identity has been subsumed by his rockstar persona: “I’m a golden god, ex officio. Least that’s what I’m told. You can see it all in the video./ Guess I must have lost my mind somehow, somewhere along the line. Take a look into my eyes, mate, I’m not there./ I guess I’m strange mate, yeah I’m all over the place. I’ll keep on being strange until they turn out the light.

Lewca lets loose on “A Song“, a wonderfully frantic and trippy punk song with a bit of an East Indian vibe, thanks to what sounds like a sitar. He rapidly raps through a litany of grievances, with the recipients of his complaints telling him to “write a fucking song about it“. He really channels his inner Mick Jagger on “I Fell in Love With a Serial Killer“, which sounds like a song the Stones forgot to record. I love the rousing rock’n’roll groove, and the guitars and percussion are fantastic. Album closer “Smoke in the Air” is wonderful too, with a rapid drum-bass groove, highlighted by wobbly synths, jangly guitars and skittering percussion. Throughout the album, I’ve been blown away by S.O.A.P.’s amazing beats and instrumentation, and this song nicely showcases his impressive talents.

I don’t what more I can say about Friday Night Rockstar that I haven’t already written, except to say that I absolutely love it! Lewca and S.O.A.P. have really outdone themselves here in the creation of a unique and brilliant album, for which they should be quite proud. The various artists who contributed vocals and/or instrumentals to the project must also be commended as well.

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CRYSTAL CITIES – Single Review: “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”

Time seems to fly by at an ever-increasing speed, and it’s hard to believe that it’s been five and a half years since I first wrote about Australian alternative dream rock band Crystal Cities, when I featured their captivating song “Who’s Gonna Save Us Now” in April 2017. I’ve been a huge fan of the Sydney-based act ever since, and have written about them several more times over the years (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post). I can honestly state that I’ve loved every single one of their songs without exception, especially their stunning single “Under the Cold Light of the Moon”, which I ranked #10 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019.

The supremely talented trio consists of Geoff Rana on lead vocals, guitars and keyboards, Jared King on bass and backing vocals, and Neel Shukla, who earlier this year replaced long-time drummer Daniel Conte, on drums and percussion. Since the release of their debut single “Tell Me Now” in 2016, they’ve released numerous singles, an EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now in 2017, and two albums, Under the Cold Light of the Moon in 2019, and Hold Me Close Hold Me Tight, in October 2021. Now, nearly a year to the day later, they return with a brand new single “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore“. The song was produced and engineered by Geoff in his bedroom studio in Sydney, and mixed and mastered by Paul Lani in Los Angeles. ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣

It’s always great hearing new music by Crystal Cities, and I couldn’t be happier. As to be expected, it’s another outstanding song, featuring their signature swirling melodies and soaring anthemic choruses. Geoff lays down a rousing mix of jangly and chugging riffs, while Jared’s nimble bassline and Neel’s assertive thumping drumbeats keep the powerful rhythmic groove. Geoff’s warm string and brass synths are marvelous, adding an arresting cinematic feel to the proceedings. I’ve always loved his emotive, slightly raspy vocals, which sound even deeper and more impassioned here.

Geoff elaborates about his inspiration for writing the song (which also nicely articulates my own struggles with being a music blogger): “I happened to be going through one of those ‘down’ moments where giving up music and writing songs seemed like the best option for moving forward with my life…Wild peaks of motivation followed by troughs of listlessness are simply part of the experience of being a creative person struggling to find some semblance of success in an ever-changing world. Ironically, it was when I was feeling at my lowest that I happened to sit down with my guitar and start strumming the opening chords for ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’. It was through that song that I found myself reuniting with why I write songs and why I love it so much. ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ is about the experience of losing something or someone you once loved, and then the joy you get from reconnecting with, or rediscovering that something or someone.”

Now, these bridges, they burn
Man, it’s harder to learn
If they’ve called your name
And I watch from the shore
Darling, I’ve heard it all
Yeah, it’s all the same
And we can sit here and watch
As the seasons get lost
In these faraway dreams
In these faraway dreams

Man, these faces they break
Into tiny mistakes
Yeah, we’ve met before
And I’ve crawled from the floor
Made my way out the door
Into cold-hearted streets
And watch the cigarette burn
Through the hole in my hand
I’m the getaway scene
I’m the getaway scene

Yeah, I’ve been driving through this breakup
And I’ve been waiting out this storm
I’ve been holding all these aces
But I’ve been holding on too long
Cause’ love, it don’t live here anymore
Anymore

Matter of fact
Well, I’m willing to bet
It’s just what they say
And I’m starting to choke
Through the whiskey and smoke
But my heart says to stay
Well, it all tastes the same
Yeah, it all tastes the same

Yeah, I’ve been driving through this breakup
And I’ve been waiting out this storm
I’ve been holding all these aces
But I’ve been holding on too long
Cause’ love, it don’t live here anymore
Anymore

The wonderful cover art for the single was created by Mikey Hart, with voiceover artist, actor and producer Chris Miller portraying the clown. The video was directed and edited by Arron Davis, with Miller playing the sad clown, and Daniel Dydey helping out on guitar duties while Geoff sang.

Connect with Crystal Cities:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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BLACKWELL – Single Review: “Six Figure Suitor”

Photo of Ryan and Brandon by Denis Cheng

Blackwell is a new Chicago-based folk rock act comprised of singer-songwriter and guitarist Ryan Loree and drummer Brandon Buffington. Ryan has previously released music under his solo act Draft Evader, which I’ve written about on this blog. The duo just released their debut single “Six Figure Suitor“, a hard-driving rocker that Ryan said has a heavier, poppier sound than many of the other songs they’ve been working on. The song was recorded, mixed and mastered by Joe Scaletta, who also played bass.

The song bursts open with a roiling barrage of Ryan’s grungy guitar, which is soon joined by Brandon’s aggressive drumbeats, along with a throbbing bassline that doesn’t let up. I’ve always liked Ryan’s songwriting and lyricism, and his guitar work and Brandon’s drumming are both outstanding here. Further, Ryan’s plaintive vocals have an honest vulnerability that’s really endearing, and keep sounding better and better as he matures as a musician and singer.

To my ears, the song has a bit of a Gin Blossoms feel, only heavier. I’m also impressed by the tight arrangement and economical production; the song immediately gets right to the point, knocking our socks off in the process, without a single superfluous note or wasted second. It’s rock’n’roll at its finest.

As to the meaning of “Six Figure Suitor”, Ryan told me it’s about two people jumping into a new relationship while still being completely consumed by their pasts. The relationship becomes abusive and toxic, with one partner imposing unfair expectations on the other.

I'm not a six figure suitor baby
And I don't think that I'll ever be
A sniper in the U.S. Army
He's content to dance on my grave
But he's got a six shooter waiting
He's been hiding in your driveway

And it won't be long, til we find God
Well he's been lost, but so has paradise

So I guess we've outgrown the honeymoon phase
But disappointment on your face
Tells a lyric I can't think of 
I'm not a six-figure suitor baby
And I don't think that I'll ever be
A sniper in the U.S. Army
 
And it won't be long, til we find God
Well she's been lost, but so has paradise

And it won't be long, til we find God
Well they've been lost, but so has paradise

“Six Figure Suitor” is a very fine debut effort by these two talented musicians. Ryan told me they have lots of songs ready to go, including an EP of acoustic songs, and I can’t wait to hear them.

THE EMBER GLOWS – EP Review: “Where Spirits Play”

I recently learned about Canadian rock band The Ember Glows when they followed me on Twitter. Based in Montreal, the four-piece consists of Richard Bunze (lead guitar), Kevin Hills (bass), Martin Saint (vocals, guitar and keyboards) and Dan Stefik (drums). Friends since their teens, all are seasoned and accomplished musicians who were previously members of Montreal bands Room Control, Repo, Scene Noir & Citylake. With a shared love of 60s psychedelic rock, late 70s post-punk, 80s new wave and 90s British indie, what started as a side-project for each of them eventually became everyone’s music priority, and The Ember Grows was officially born in 2019.

Photos by Bryan Gagnon

Influenced by an eclectic array of artists ranging from Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, Nick Cave, The Cult, The Verve and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to The Mission, Interpol and The War On Drugs, their dynamic sound is characterized by strong hooks, richly-textured intertwining guitars, muscular driving rhythms and resonant vocals. They released their debut five-track EP Passerby in March 2021, then followed this past June with their outstanding single “SILENT LOVE”. On September 23rd, they dropped their second EP Where Spirits Play, which I’m reviewing today.

The EP features four songs, including “SILENT LOVE”, with lyrics written by vocalist Martin Saint, and music collectively written by the entire band. It was recorded at Closet Studios in Montreal by Daniel Karrasch and John Gurnsey, and produced by Karrasch. The beautiful photography and cover artwork was done by lead guitarist Richard Bunze.

Where Spirits Play opens with “TOMORROW’S THE DAY” a song about someone who recognizes they need to change some of their behaviors that are holding them back in life, but lack the will or drive to follow through, keeping them on an endless self-destructive cycle: “Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. You’re haunted by the words out of your inner voice. You might fool the gallery, but you always had a choice./ Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. Just like you said the day before. When you swore no more, no more, no.” The song blasts open with a barrage of super-grungy riffs, which are soon joined by jangly guitars, gritty bass and thunderous drums that don’t let up for the song’s four-minute duration. Though a bit flat in spots, Martin’s commanding and clear baritone vocals remind me of the late Scott Walker of The Walker Brothers.

MIRROR” is an intense and stunning song, with biting lyrics that seem to speak to the never-ending death and destruction mankind has rained upon one another and the planet, unable or unwilling to stop: “Suburbs crawl where rivers once ran. A nation’s sins live on streets across the land. Our lost romance, as warriors sweat and dance, and break the mirror. And we crack… No country right or wrong. Clear your conscience in a protest song. Plant your flags upside down, where a stolen child’s ghost haunts the ground.” Richard and Martin’s intricately layered grungy, distorted and chiming guitars are spectacular, while Kevin and Dan’s flawless bass and drums keep the propulsive rhythm rampaging forward.

On “SILENT LOVE“, the guys combine a powerful driving Simple Minds-esque groove with lush instrumentation a la The War on Drugs to create a robust cinematic soundscape that’s truly exhilarating. Once again, the complex, intertwining guitar work and production qualities are impressive, and Martin’s impassioned vocals sound their best here. Essentially a love song, the lyrics are directed to a loved one who’s going through personal turmoil, assuring them he’ll be patient and supportive, and give them as much space and time as they need to heal: “Whenever you close your eyes, whether near of far, I will let you be. But I will stand guard when you wake up in tears. After dreams crossed your defenses I’ll be here to give you space and silence. Now there’s nothing left to do except wait for you. Now there’s nothing left to give except silent love. As you sit and gaze at the stars above.”

The longest track on the EP, “HIGH FEVER” is a guitar-lover’s delight, overflowing with a jaw-dropping maelstrom of jangly, grungy and wailing psychedelic guitars. Of course, the throbbing bassline, tumultuous percussion and screaming industrial synths are all pretty amazing too, adding to the song’s overall explosive impact. The song seems to be about being besotted with a woman, wondering whether you’re in love or just deeply infatuated with her beauty and sensuality: “Her eyes light every dream she rules, like two sparkling jewels. I’ll dive in her mystery and feel real arms around me. Is this love or is your fever running high, running high?

To sum up, Where Spirits Play is a great little EP that packs quite a powerful punch in just four tracks. The members of The Ember Glows are all outstanding musicians, with the collective skills and experience to successfully coax the best possible sounds from their respective instruments. I love their music, and hope we’ll be hearing more from this talented band soon!

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New Song of the Week: “All Said and Done” by RYAN REDWOOD

Ryan Redwood is a creative, charming and affable young British singer-songwriter based in Lowestoft. I’ve been following him since the beginning of 2018, back when he was lead vocalist for alternative indie rock band The Only Route, and reviewed several of their singles. After the band called it quits at the end of 2019, Ryan soldiered on as a solo artist, writing and recording songs influenced by some of his favorite acts like Oasis, The Charlatans, Catfish and The Bottlemen and Blossoms. He released his first single “Perhaps” in December 2020, and since then has released four more singles, the latest of which is “All Said and Done”, which I’m pleased to select as my New Song of the Week.

Ryan says “All Said and Done” is “effectively two songs sort of bashed together“. He’d finished the initial framework for the song, but hadn’t yet developed a bridge. He’d also composed another musical piece, but didn’t feel he could create an entire song around it, so he came up with the idea of inserting it into the middle of “All Said and Done” to change things up a bit. Under the guidance of producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist Sam Wilson, who then recruited his musician friend Dylan Levett to play sax, together they’ve created a wonderful, more melodically complex and interesting track.

The song starts off as a rousing rocker, with a lively blend of shimmery and jangly guitars bathed in reverb and accompanied by assertive thumping drumbeats. At the two minute-and-fifteen second mark, the music abruptly downshifts to a mellow instrumental interlude lasting about a minute, highlighted by Dylan’s terrific saxophone solo, giving the song a jazzy, sophisticated vibe. At the end of the interlude, everything ramps back up to the urgent rock groove heard at the beginning, ending with a strong finish. Ryan has a relatively low-key vocal style that’s not particularly powerful, but he does a fine job here, his earnest vocals rising in intensity along with the music.

The lyrics speak to the inevitable predictability and drudgery of day to day life that eventually afflicts us all as we age, but also taking solace in the fact we have a loved one beside us to help and support us along the way: “I can’t help but shake the feeling I’ll wake up one day, in the same job, in the same house, in the same place. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be me and you. When push comes to shove, it’s always better with you. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be us forever.”

I think “All Said and Done” is Ryan’s best work yet, and nicely showcases his growth and maturity as a musician, songwriter and vocalist.

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