Koyal is an Atlanta, Georgia-based band I recently learned about when one of their members Noah Weinstein reached out to me about reviewing their new EP Joyride, which dropped November 11th. Formed in 2018 while they were still in college, Koyal create pleasing pop-rock infused with an eclectic range of elements, including indie, alternative, rock’n’roll, blues and jazz. In addition to Noah, who plays guitar, drums and sings vocals, as well as recorded and produced the EP, the band consists of Pooja Prabakaran (lead vocals), Henry Wallace (drums & piano), Cooper Billsborough (lead guitar), Ethan Hunt (bass) and Sultan Sayedzada (keyboards).
The band seems to be a pretty cool, well-grounded bunch, with a positive and healthy outlook and realistic approach to the music business. In an interview last month with Shoutout Atlanta, the band explained “We are best friends first and are very kind, motivated, and passionate about music! We manage ourselves, which involves a lot of the less glamorous behind the scenes marketing, booking, planning strategy, producing the music, etc., but all those hours of work helped us transition from a college band to one known in the Atlanta music scene. We really enjoy networking and meeting other creatives! It’s led to so many friendships and helped us be a part of the Atlanta music community.”
They’ve released quite a lot of music over the past three years, beginning with their debut single “Yesterday” in February 2020, just prior to the pandemic outbreak. They followed up that April with their four-song EP Rooftop Hues, then more singles in early 2021, culminating with the release of their debut album Mountain City that July. Their latest release Joyride features four tracks with a jazzier feel than their previous works, and I like it!
Kicking things off is “Past Life“, an upbeat song with an exuberant groove, fortified by gnarly guitars, snappy drumbeats and lots of crashing cymbals, along with a delightful undercurrent of trilling piano keys. The lyrics seem to be about yearning for a simpler time: “I think I knew you in a past life. And I want to know you like I did last time. / And I want to go somewhere unknown. Where it’s you and the moon and me alone.” Most of the vocals are beautifully sung by Noah, while Pooja sings the pre-chorus in the bridge, followed by their dual harmonies in the final chorus. It’s a terrific song.
“Tumbleweed” is a jaunty, piano-driven tune, with vocals nicely sung by Pooja. Henry’s piano work is so good, and I love how his notes are in perfect sync with the galloping drumbeats and swirling guitars. I also like how the song changes tempo at 2:30 to a sultry interlude, only to ramp back up at the end to a lively finish, highlighted by a flourish of jazzy saxophone. The song seems to be about two people supporting each other through good times and bad: “When I’m down you put your arms around me. When you’re down I do the same. You’ll see, you and me, and we’ll keep rolling on, rolling on, like a tumbleweed.”
As the EP progresses, each track becomes longer and more melodically sophisticated. “Open Window” has a cool, breezy vibe that reminds me a bit of the late 1950s/early 1960s bossa nova/jazz pop sound of João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim. The high quality of the instrumentation, particularly the piano, guitars and percussion, are evidence of the strong musicianship and impressive technical skills of these young band members. Pooja’s smooth, emotive vocals are wonderful, though I found it hard to understand some of the lyrics she sang.
The final track “I Wanna Believe” is a musical tour-de-force, with a heavier rock sound than the other three songs. The track was mixed for free by Greazy Wil (Wil Anspach) a Grammy winning engineer who ran a competition on TikTok that Koyal entered and won. The song reminds me a bit of “Stairway to Heaven”, in that it starts off slowly then gradually builds in intensity to a roaring crescendo, with three distinct melodic movements.
It opens with the sound of magical synths, followed by delicate chiming electric guitar chords and gentle percussion as Pooja sings to an unseen alien, wanting them to take her away from her earthly problems: “I look up to you. I wish you could take me away. Don’t know where we go, but you’ll help me leave this place. Why can’t I see you? A better version of myself.” Eventually, the music erupts with jagged guitar riffs, heavy thumping bass and aggressive drums as she wails “I wanna believe, in something bigger than myself. I wanna believe! There’s something out there, I know.” The music continues to grow ever more intense with scorching riffs, accompanied by a screaming torrent of psychedelic distortion and explosive percussion, before calming back down in the final 40 seconds to a lovely contemplative piano interlude. Wow, what a spectacular song!
Though it contains only four tracks, Joyride packs quite an impactful punch into its 16 and a half minute run time. The broad range of musical influences, combined with outstanding songwriting, top-notch musicianship and skillful arrangement and production values, all make for a high quality work that’s a joy to listen to. I must say that I’m very impressed with Koyal and their marvelous little EP.
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.
There are so many outstanding artists around today who are creating some really excellent music. One of my favorite finds of the past year is Sam Rappaport, a talented and affable singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York. His mellow music style draws from elements of adult contemporary pop, folk, rock, soul and jazz, which he delivers with thoughtful, relatable lyrics and beautiful, pleasing vocals.
I first featured him on this blog last November, when I reviewed his wonderful single “Journeyman’s Ballet”. At the time, he was also a member of the indie R&B/blues rock band Gooseberry, who I’ve also written about, but he amicably parted ways with them in May to pursue his solo career. (Both “Journeyman’s Ballet” and Gooseberry’s single “Sleep” spent many weeks on my Weekly Top 30 earlier this year.) Now Sam is back with a new song “Easy to Love“, which is the lead single from his forthcoming debut EP Get Me Away From Myself.
Produced by Lorenzo Wolff and recorded at Restoration Sound Studio in Brooklyn, NY, “Easy to Love” explores both the difficulty and ease of falling in love, and the conflicting emotions of fear and desire inherent in romantic intimacies. “I think it’s about dating apps. A Tinder anthem of sorts. But I also think it’s about fear and desire, intimacy and suffocation“, says Sam.
For recording of the track, Sam played piano and Wurlitzer, and sang vocals, Lorenzo Wolff played bass, synths, acoustic guitar, baritone guitar, tuba and vibraphone, Dave Scalia played drums and percussion, Ryan Weisheit played saxophone, and Tiffany Wilson sang backing vocals. The song starts off slowly, with a gentle drumbeat and strummed acoustic guitar as Sam softly croons the lyrics, then gradually builds as a colorful array of instruments are added to create an exuberant, almost celebratory vibe. The arrangement and production are first-rate, and I love how each instrument can clearly be heard, particularly Sam’s dulcet piano keys, Lorenzo’s subtle bass and fuzzy vibraphone, and Ryan’s jazzy sax.
As always, Sam’s warm vocals are pure delight, beautifully conveying the casual, somewhat detached but rather bemused emotions expressed in the lyrics, and nicely accompanied by Tiffany’s lilting backup vocals. As it’s title suggests, “Easy to Love” is just that. It’s another fine single by Sam, and I look forward to the release of his EP.
Some people search for love for their entire livesThey sit in dim lit bars
They try to turn the waitress to a wife
They beat their head against the wall
Cause there's no finger for the ring
But I'm not mining for a heartbreak
That's the thing
They tell me finding love is rather hard
They take a redeye to Chicago with a Valentines Day card
They say this will last forever
But if it leaves it won't come back
I'm not saying it's a good thing
But it's easier than thatThe way you laugh makes me tingle
The way you touch me makes me cry
And I know I'll end up leaving in the night
It's just too easy to love
And that's whySome people search for love their entire lives
They say it might come once so don't think twice
They say hold on once you've got it
Else it's likely to be gone
But there's a billion people out there
That's what's wrongThe way you laugh makes me tingle
The way you touch me makes me cry
I know I'll end up leaving in the night
It's just too easy to love
And that's why
I recently learned about Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Rick Sabatini when he reached out to me on Facebook about his album There Goes the Van Man. Released on New Year’s Day, the album features nine wonderful tracks with lighthearted relatable lyrics addressing the emotional minefields of romantic entanglements and responsibilities of young adulthood. It’s his second album, marking an eight-year span since the his first release Album 1 Demos back in November 2013. A delightful collection of lo-fi acoustic songs, Album 1 Demos is available for free download on his Bandcamp account.
Rick, who’s also been a member of The Band Sheep for the past several years, told me he composed most of the the songs for There Goes the Van Man five or six years ago on his iPad, but didn’t have the money to properly record it in a studio at the time. So, he started his own business doing painting and carpentry to earn money to fund the record, as well as earn a living, since he’d gotten married and had a child along the way. He finally recorded the album in a studio with the help of session musicians, and the result is a really enjoyable and well-crafted work.
Rick’s pleasing, highly accessible music can generally be described as indie pop with elements of folk, rock and jazz, and characterized by catchy melodies, lots of great guitar work and his endearing laid back vocals. The album opens with “At Your Service“, a sweet song about finding romance while working at a shoe store: “Just another day at the shoe store, the meet and greet, the fit your feet and send you out the door. Some of them I know by first name, and last name too. / If there’s anything that I can do for you baby, I’m at your service like a godat your church while you’re preachin’.”
Next up is “Van Man“, a terrific auto-biographical song about Rick that also serves at the de-facto title track, given its refrain “There goes the van man.” He croons about his workday routine “I was the van man today, I took the van real far away. I did stuff and got paid. I brought something that I made. I blasted sports radio. That’s just the way that I go when I’m driving down the open road.” The song is fantastic, with a wonderful, breezy melody and lots of cool instruments like organ, banjo and exuberant sax, adding nice Americana and jazz elements, as well as incredible texture to the overall sound. If all that’s not enough, there’s also a great guitar solo in the bridge too.
“The Office” is a fun Americana song with a lively piano-driven melody and more of that great banjo. The cheeky lyrics speak to the drudgery of working at a dead-end office job: “I don’t like to drive when it’s dangerous. Roads are pretty treacherous, but the boss man, he doesn’t give a shit. He says ‘I want you in’, well if I crash would you pay for it? I’m desperate, strapped for cash, and I can’t afford another accident. It’s a lot to risk, just to waste my day away in the office.“
On the bouncy “Tax Return“, Rick sings of the joys of finally being able to treat his girl to a nice evening out, now that he’s gotten his tax refund: “Baby relax I got my tax return. Girl let’s go out, I got some cash to burn. We’re gonna find somewhere nice to eat. The government paid me real good this week.” The musical highlights of the track are the great bassline, guitars, organ and piano keys, and I love the vocal harmonies.
One of my favorite tracks is “Talk to Me“, with its smooth and sophisticated jazzy vibe. I love the intricate, funky guitars, cool keyboards and subtle snare drums, but for me the biggest highlight are Rick’s lovely soothing vocals, backed by gorgeous Beach Boys-esque harmonies. This song really showcases his strong songwriting, musicianship and vocal abilities. “Colleen” is another great song, opening with a gospel-like organ riff and Rick’s voiceover speaking as an airline pilot to a plane full of passengers. That wonderful organ riff continues throughout the song, serving as its driving force and overlain with guitar, strings, sax and crisp percussion. Rick sings to a woman named Colleen of his desires for her affection: “Colleen, I might not be your man right now, but someday I will.“
“Devils” is a fascinating track, and much darker than the other songs on the album. Musically, it has a languid trip hop beat, with spooky synths, somber piano keys and skittering drumbeats, and in the background can be heard a man’s voiceover, speaking about LSD. It all serves to create an unsettling vibe. Rick’s vocals, which remind me of Mark Foster of Foster the People on this track, have a sense of sad resignation as he laments about trying to overcome drug addiction, or possibly a relationship that’s falling apart because of a partner who’s either addicted to drugs or cheating on him: “I’m trying to quit the devil, but he’s got his grip so tight on me it’s hard not be deceived and made of fool of. Well I’m wrestling with the devil. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but do you have to be so loud in the restaurant? I’m just trying to get back to normal.Well I caught you with the devil. You smelled like his cologne. All those moments you were alone, his smoky breath, the telephone. I thought we were getting back to normal.“
On the upbeat “Principal Problems“, Rick sings from the perspective a high school kid frustrated with his principal, who’s trying to make him quit his aggressive behavior that’s earned him a reputation as a tough guy on campus: “I’m gonna punch my principal in the face, if he tries to stop my fight with Tony Robinson./ You’ve got an occupation, I’ve got a reputation to hold up.” And on the delightful album closer “Tel Aviv Blues“, he sings of a woman he loves and how her ambivalence is making him crazy: “At night I’m wonderin’, about what you’re doing. You’re my baby, but only in my dreams. Only kissing me when I fall asleep. I told my best friend, a real good Christian, he said ‘You don’t need her love, you need the Lord’. But the Lord ain’t never kissed me good before. I’m back to drinkin’, I’m tryin’ hard to rid you from my mind.” The song has a lively Southern rock feel, with a colorful mix of twangy guitars and banjo, accompanied by swirling organ, sax and a great toe-tapping rhythm.
There Goes the Van Man is a marvelous album, and I’m so glad Rick reached out to me about it. He’s a talented guy who knows his way around a song, and here he delivers nine superb tracks. Each one is different from the next, a testament to his eclectic sound and the quality of his songwriting. This album needs to be heard by as many people as possible, and I hope some of my readers will enjoy it as much as I do.
One of the most uniquely wonderful bands on the planet is Thunder Fox, a wickedly funny, intensely creative, and outrageously talented five-piece based in Sydney, Australia. Drawing on elements of funk, soul, jazz, blues rock, hip hop, reggae and pop, they skillfully channel the sexy funk of Prince, the soulful croons of 70s-era R&B artists like Al Green, Ronald Isley and Teddy Pendergrass, and the brassy exuberance of Earth, Wind & Fire into their delectable music stew. And while their sometimes bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they could all still pass for teenagers – their music has a stylish, jazzy sophistication, thanks to their exceptional songwriting and musicianship, as well as having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup. Finally, though they’re all straight men, they’re not afraid to be playful and affectionate with one another, as well as tear down gender barriers by sometimes showing a more feminine side. As a gay man, it makes me admire, love and respect them all the more.
Thunder Fox has been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their wonderful debut full-length album Love at First Sniff. It was most definitely love at first sniff for me, and I loved the album so much I wrote a review about it. Over the past two years, they’ve experienced a few lineup changes, and now consist of the dangerously charismatic Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass). They followed with several more singles, a few of which I also reviewed (that you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post). Now they’re back with a second album Sanctuary, which dropped November 18th, and it’s every bit as delightful as Love at First Sniff.
Sam has written a marvelous background piece about their inspiration and creative process behind the album, and rather than try to paraphrase, I thought I’d simply share his eloquent words verbatim:
“‘Sanctuary’ is our second full length album, which marks the dawning of a new era for Thunder Fox in many ways. After having a couple of members leave the band and experiencing a few other obvious set backs during 2020/21, we needed a second wind. As an artist it’s really easy to lose motivation and focus when faced with challenges that draw you away from your art such as band member turnaround and, say, a global pandemic. As such, I think we all really felt the need to pick up where we’d left off somehow and find some momentum by creating again. With the addition of Casey the Bass Ace to the crew, it was a great chance to dig into some new and improved sounds and try to reshape our art in a way we had yet to explore.
We had the idea to stay in a far-off Air BnB during one of lockdown’s rare lulls, and managed to snag a spot at a beachside bungalow in Nambucca Heads in order to get away from the bullshit and just create. It was a week of literal bliss, at least for me, where we could all engage in art fully and be immersed in the creation of a project again. In all honesty, we didn’t have much of a plan for the album’s concept or soundscapes; we’ve always got so many ideas spinning from all the unique inspirations of the different members that half the battle is just taming the flaming bird’s nest of ideas into a nice, silky coif. What we did have, though, was a bunch of time on our hands, a cathedral-esque living room with high, echoing ceilings and a glistening sun to spill across the verandah as we sat and flicked through old recordings of rehearsal jams.
Now and then, we’d land on a groove that tasted sweet enough to revive and try to mould into a full blown banger. Once the songs started shaping up and I began to feverishly type lyrics into mynotes app, the mood of the record began to take shape. Turns out I was feeling all kinds of put out by the doomsday that was the year past and my lyrics would tumble out of my brain like multi-coloured, cynical snowballs, building in size and scope as they rolled. If I were to describe the sentiment of the record in one word it would be “cynical”. More broadly, though, I think I’ve always weaponised cynicism as a way of attempting to understand the world around me. I felt cynical about the political climate, about love, about my day job and how I felt I’d never leave. It felt good to write it out.”
The album opens with sounds of a plane flying overhead, then the guys break into a gospel choir on the joyously upbeat “Head in the Clouds” as they sing “Something pulling me up out of my seat. Rather be anywhere than where I’ve just been. Smile but stay silent. Don’t want no one to see. Head in the clouds. It’s a glorious thing.” And a glorious thing it is, chock full of funky grooves, sunny instrumentation and uplifting harmonies, highlighted by Sam’s gorgeous silky vocals which often rise to an angelic falsetto.
He’s provided wonderful background notes for each song that are more colorful and interesting than anything I could possibly write, so I’m just gonna share them all. It’ll likely make this review too damn long, but fuck it, it’s my blog and I’m going to include them! Here’s what he has to say about this track: “If Thunder Fox are known for anything, it’s being able to avoid taking things too seriously. ‘Head in the Clouds’ came to me in a blue dream on one of those hot nights where your brain feels sticky. We wanted to open the album with some fun and familiarity before shit got real.”
The album includes four brief interludes that serve as intros or connectors, the first of which, “A Party“, leads us into the funky gem “Good Time“. Sam sets the stage: “Early twenties, share house, undesirable shindigs with desirable chemicals. This night I wasn’t so much pissed off as I was hammered and concussed after having hit my head on the pavement following a few libations too many at the bar. I returned home to my lovable city dirt shed to find hundreds of people swarming. As I stumbled through the crowd, blood still tacky on my forehead, I thought to myself, ‘this is a great idea for a song.’ Luckily when we got to nutting it out at our makeshift writing space up the coast, Max had the perfect drum groove he’d been wanting to try for ages. It came together in a flash.”
Each of the guys shine on this track. Sam starts things off with a funky little guitar riff as Sam and Casey lay down a soulful rhythm on drums and bass. Amid flourishes of Jesse’s jazzy trumpet notes and Traver’s cool sax, Sam cheekily complains “Why is no one acting like I’m the man of the house? No one at this party seems to know my name, and that ain’t right. Yeah, I’m pissed off coz I got here, and nobody offered me a good time.” Good times indeed!
The guys dial up the energy on “Not For Sale“, a bouncy, funk-infused take on the old adage that money can’t buy you love: “I know you got more money than me, but money is just temporary. Cash ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, when money can’t buy my heart, heart, heart.” The song has an irresistible Earth, Wind & Fire vibe, highlighted by the band’s signature horn section and Casey’s funky bass groove. Sam explains: “Casey, being a relatively new addition to the band at the time, brought with him a synth bass and a set of fingers carved by the gods. Man, he had such a groove on that pile of plastic, the rest of us were floored. We wanted to write something dark, but funky (duh) and bad boy Casey had just the stuff. I know I’m not the only one who had it etched into my brain early on by social media among other sources that success and happiness is defined by finance, followers and fame. Damn we were wrong. Sometimes we lose ourselves so immensely to the pursuit of materialistic ends, we forget how ridiculous it all is. I know I did.”
The second interlude “A Circus“, featuring carnival music, unnatural-sounding neighing horses, and Travers’ quirky vocals, leads us into “Fruitcake“, a delightfully silly song with nonsensical lyrics like: “Moose ate my tooth paste. Said his tooth aches. Ate a few too many half baked fruit cakes, more than he could take. Now he’s a on a diet, trying to shift the weight lifting rakes by the lake.” Sam elaborates: “I don’t even know if Travers knows what this song is about – more millennial existentialism, I’d say – but it’s gotta be one of the most fun, hilarious and groovy tracks on the record. Full Travers, as we say. We came up with the groove and guitar vamp at a soundcheck in Townsville. We were just fucking around at the time but it resurfaced months later at the Sanctuary shack. We jam packed it full to the brim with Thunder Fox-isms and fuckery ‘til it made us laugh our asses off and we knew it was a banger. Fruitcake was one of the many opportunities we all got to try and flex our production chops and collaborate using DAWs and samples, you know, like modern shit.“
The guys tap into their R&B side on “Love You 2“, a sultry, heartfelt song about apologizing to a loved one for having fallen short, and reaffirming that you still love and cherish them. Sam explains: “Drawing from the same existential angst of the previous tracks, there came a time in the months following the writing of ‘Sanctuary’ that I noticed I’d let my material pursuits get in the way of the most important thing imaginable – delicious, unadulterated, full throttle, hyper-vulnerable romance, baby. ‘Love You 2’ is an apology, in a way. Apologising for allowing myself to become so distracted by desire, work and anxiety that I almost forgot to tell someone how much I fucking love their sweet ass. Heed my advice, friends, tell whoever it is you love them. Every. Chance. You. Get.” Accompanied by a languid, soulful and jazzy groove, Sam softly croons “Trying to sort out my life. I know we’ve been here like one million times. I love you too by the way. I’m sorry it took so long to say.“
The 55 second-long instrumental track “A Dream” has more of an alt-rock feel than most of their songs, and serves as a fascinating lead-in to the reggae/ska/goth rock beauty “Blue Light Blindness“. Deliciously dark and melodically complex, the song calls out our mobile phone addiction. Sam elaborates: “‘Blue Light Blindness’ has a serious ring to it if you ask me. You know, us millennials and our god damn phones, right?! Seriously though, I couldn’t name a more potent drug than a smartphone packed with social media apps. We know it’s bad, it distracts us from the importance of self-worth among other things but, we can’t stop. I was listening to Kanye’s ‘Black Skinhead’ and Marilyn (fuck you) Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People’ and I wanted that hardcore triplet groove so bad, I wanted the darkness. Luckily everyone was on the same page with that one. This one started as another off-the-cuff jam we happened to have recorded on one of our iphones (good for something after all) and it was pieced together intensely on the first day of writing. When we added in the horns we realised we had some James Bond shit on our hands.”
There’s so much going on musically, from a bouncy reggae beat one minute, to a psychedelic gospel-like interlude the next, only to be broken by an explosion of goth rock distortion and mayhem before circling back to the reggae/ska groove. God damn, I love this song!
I love “The Weekend” too, on which Thunder Fox give us their delightful take on the drudgery of soul-sucking dead-end jobs that leave us in a continual state of living for the weekends. Sam opines on the subject: “More angst, more day job, more bullshit. Until it stops being the norm, I won’t stop writing about it. I mean, can any of us really imagine a bearable life that entails 5 days of working our asses off to afford 2 days of drinking away the stress? Not me. But, it be like that sometimes. We thought it was pretty funny to put the little kids voices (not real kids, just us, we’re not made of money) in there because it became apparent that this way of being was built into our psyches from the youngest possible age. Work, party, work, party, die. No thanks! The irony is, we made this song a party anyway, the screaming, the South American street festival dirty sax interlude is one of the best moments on the album hands down.”
The song is another melodically complex track, starting off with swirling guitar notes and quirky otherworldly childlike sounds, followed by a few seconds of children’s – that is, the band’s – sing-song voices. The song quickly transitions to a lovely melody with Sam’s beautiful smooth vocals, which are abruptly broken when he wails “I don’t wanna wait for the weekend! No!” The song returns to it’s melodic groove, as Sam laments “I feel like crying when I clock in. Feel my soul dying for a few cents. A hundred hours to cover rent. All this shit just makes me sick. The clock it ticks from nine til six. I don’t wanna wait for the weekend! No!” Man, can I relate! At around 2:20, we’re treated to a jazzy trumpet and sax-fueled burst of energy as the melody briefly turns into an exhilarating Latin-esque dance beat. These guys just keep blowing me away with their inventiveness and musicality.
“A Lapse” is a minute and a half long instrumental featuring super-gnarly, funky grooves that would make Grandmaster Flash proud. This lead us to “All the Stars“, a sexy and soulful song that sort of continues with the theme introduced on “The Weekend”, namely, what is the point of all this disorder and uncertainty in life? Sam elaborates: “Ah, sweet entropy, the cause of, and solution to all of life’s entropy. I wrote this as a poem in another one of my moments of existential disaster, still reeling from a day of working a call-centre job of all things. Believe me when I tell you there’s no stronger vacuum to suck the soul right out of the holes in your face than a fucking call-centre job. Anyway, ‘All the Stars’ is the epiphany that this happens to all of us at some point in our lives, maybe even forever. We’re all stars really, but we sure as hell don’t act like it. We run in circles trying to make sense of this chaos. All of us. One of my favourite elements of this one is the longing, weeping horns after the chorus. When Jesse and Travers get together to dream up a perfect horn line, they never miss.”
The first part of the song is gorgeous, with shimmery guitars, glittery synths, and those weeping horns layered over Casey’s sensuous bassline and Max’s restrained percussion, creating a dreamy, enchanting soundscape for Sam’s resonant falsetto. Two-thirds of the way in, the song abruptly shifts into high gear to become a rousing punk-rock banger, with blaring horns and frantic rhythms. It’s simply perfect!
The album closes with “The Stew“, a wild and funky ride with more grooves than a box full of vinyl records. I love the soulful James Brown-like vibe, driven by a funky bassline and stuttering drumbeats, and highlighted by fluttering horns and Sam’s rapid-fire vocals. Sam sez “This track is a band favourite from way back. We wrote it in 2017 and played it at a few shows but it never really saw the light of day and faded away eventually. When it came to putting together a track listing for ‘Sanctuary’, we listened to an old live recording of “The Stew” and all agreed we’d be crazy not to show this off. To me, ‘The Stew’ is Thunder Fox’s anthem. It perfectly sums up our chaotic mixture of anything and everything that brings us joy. It’s more than the sum of its parts, to say the least. When I wrote the lyrics, I was riding high on a wave of rockstar ego that feels so real when it hits but, when you wake up to jackhammers in your brain, you remember you’re so full of shit and you’re going to work hung over. I really wanted to just take the piss out of myself in a song, try bring myself back down to the ground. Here, I get in touch with my sarcastic, self-depreciating British roots. When all is said and done, I’m fully aware that I’m not God’s gift… Thunder Fox is.”
I wholeheartedly second that, as I adore this band, and adore this brilliant album. With Sanctuary, Thunder Fox has one of the best albums of the year on their hands, and it should also be in yours.
Sam Rappaport is an engaging, tousle-haired singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York, and he’s just released a wonderful new single “Journeyman’s Ballet“. It’s his second single as a solo artist, following the release this past February of his debut single “Till the Morning Comes”. Sam is also a founding member of Brooklyn indie R&B/blues rock band Gooseberry, who’ve released a number of terrific singles over the past couple of years.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California, Sam began playing piano at the tender age of five, however, he never considered himself good enough to be a “musician”. Throughout his youth and well into his years at Vassar College, basketball was his first love. But as he told NYS MUSIC earlier this year for their article about his debut single: “I held onto the NBA dreams as long as I could, but once I hit college it was pretty clear that those dreams were out of reach. Still, I spent the first three years of college thinking that I’d end up overseas playing in some Euro league. I remember finishing a practice my senior year, running to the bathroom, heaving all the liquid in my body into a trash can, and thinking–I don’t want to do this anymore. So I quit.“
After college, Sam worked at a variety of jobs, including as a case manager at a welfare office, a reporter for local newspapers and a bartender at a Sichuan restaurant. But through it all, he never lost his passion for music. He settled for a few years in Chicago, where he played keyboards for R&B singer Brandon James, then relocated to Brooklyn, where he honed his music skills by playing at open mics, house parties and comedy shows. Through those performances, as well as his live shows with Gooseberry – not to mention both his and Gooseberry’s fine music releases – he’s garnered a growing base of loyal fans and followers. I was amazed by the outpouring of love and support for Sam and his single on Instagram today.
“Journeyman’s Ballet” was written and sung by Sam, who also played piano. The remaining instruments were played by Daniel Alvarez and Jordan Dunn-Pilz of the band Toledo, who also produced the track. Mastering was done by Mike Kalajian of Rogue Planet Mastering. The song has a pleasing jazzy soft-rock vibe reminiscent of late 70s/early 80s Steely Dan. Sam’s sparkling piano keys are nicely complemented by Daniel and Jordan’s lilting guitar notes and gentle percussion that enhance, rather than overpower, allowing his lovely piano to really shine. Sam’s smooth, understated vocals are soothing and lovely, and perfectly suited to the song’s languid melody.
About the song’s title, Sam explained it’s “about the dance of someone who is avoidant, always on the move, always looking to escape, to outrun the monsters within. This dance does welcome isolation.” The lyrics speak to those operating under the delusion that they can escape their problems or outrun their personal demons, hoping for a desired outcome simply by changing jobs, romantic partners or where they live, without directly addressing their inherent issues first. (I hate to admit that I’ve been guilty of this myself more than once.) In the song’s chorus, he ponders “Who are we for the mile we walk alone? Who are we when the lies become our home? Who are we when the night turns day, and the monsters still remain.“
For the song’s video, Sam enlisted the help of Cassandra Angelini-Vazquez, who dressed him in a tutu and filmed him at Coney Island. Unfortunately, the video won’t be ready for several more days, so for now we’ll have to settle for this audio and a still of Sam standing in New York Bay.
Granfalloon is the music project of Manchester, England-based singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax. Using acoustic guitars, synthesizers and unusual instruments such as vintage Omnichords and drum loops, he creates his own unique and pleasing style of music that’s a hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. His warm, soothing vocals are wonderful, reminding me at times of U2 front man Bono. We’ve followed each other on Twitter for several years, but I’ve been remiss by never having featured him on this blog. I’m now remedying that sorry situation on the occasion of the release of his new single “Working On Your Own“.
According to bio info provided on his website, Lomax became a musician later than most, and when he did, in 2003, it felt, in his words “like opening a door from a world of black and white to a universe bathed in a spectrum of mesmerising colour.” He took an avant-garde music course, and after honing his skills fronting surf rock bands and the psychedelic folk-pop collective Johnny5thWheel&thecowards, he relocated to Manchester in 2013. Granfalloon was born in 2017 after an operation temporarily left him with limited mobility. While in recovery, he recorded his debut album Down There For Dancing. He performed most of the music using his acoustic guitar, Omnichord and lo-fi drum machines, although he was assisted by a few musicians on added guitar, bass and percussion on some tracks. It’s a lovely work, and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out on one of the music platforms listed at the end of this post.
He released his beautiful second album RGB in 2019, this time with assistance from a greater number of musicians to help him produce larger, more fully-realized soundscapes. He also began touring the UK and Europe as a full band, as well as performing at Bluedot Festival. RGB‘s singles garnered airplay on BBC Introducing and BBC 6 Music.
He’s now set to release this third album Positive Songs in August, featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, which was launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. He invited songwriters to create new music, challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings. Lomax elaborates: “The idea formed from a conversation I was having with Lobelia Lawson, the co-founder of PSP, about how a lot of inspiration for our songs comes from a place of introspection or melancholia, anger or pain. We thought we would challenge ourselves & other musicians to focus on positive songwriting. Maybe it began as a way of managing anxiety or as a refusal to let the cancellation of gigs completely take music away but it soon become this weird positive energy… this propulsive force which grew into something very special.” Thus far, the project has resulted in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world.
“Working On Your Own” is the second single from Positive Songs, following the first single “Who You Are”, which was released in June. Lomax states the song “had such a strange journey, starting off as an intensely personal one about the loneliness of shift work, and then when Lockdown started it became perversely relatable.” For the recording of the track, Lomax played guitar and sang vocals, Daz Woodcock played bass, synths and sang backing vocals, Thirds played guitar, piano and sang backing vocals, Richard Jupp played drums, Andy Lyth played percussion and Maya McCourt played cello.
The song has a mellow, easy listening vibe, with touches of folk and jazz that make for a calm, yet compelling groove. Each of the instruments are allowed to shine, from the gentle acoustic guitar notes, subtle bassline and jazzy drums to the charming baby piano keys, cool percussion and lovely cello. Lomax’s smooth vocals are sublime, with a sophisticated air that’s still accessible and comforting as he earnestly sings about our human need for connection, and the loneliness of working the late shift where there’s no one to talk to or engage with. Woodcock’s and Thirds’ backing harmonies are really nice too.
Shift workers of the world unite
And bathe yourself in Picadilly's multicolored lights
When the human touch that means so much
Is a phantom limb on social crutches
Keep a little kind in your heart
When you're working on your own
On the edge, on the edges of civilization
Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week
If you download the song on Bandcamp, you’ll also receive an exclusive free bonus download of Granfalloon’s cover of the Zombies’ song “Care Of Cell 44”.
One of my favorite female vocalists is Malaysian singer-songwriter Lyia Meta, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog over the past three years. (You can read some of my previous reviews listed under “Related” at the end of this post.) Based in Kuala Lumpur, Lyia is an exceptionally talented, gracious and strikingly beautiful woman, with a dazzling powerhouse voice to match. I honestly believe she could sing just about anything! She’s also a highly accomplished visual artist, and you can check out some of her phenomenal work on her WordPress blog.
With her deep, soulful and smoky vocal style, combined with a masterful ability to cover multiple genres ranging from blues, rock and metal to pop and country with ease, she’s become an international music star, winning numerous awards over the past several years, including the 2018 Josie World Music Artist Award, and 2019 Artist of the Year (multi Genre), both of which were presented to her in Nashville, Tennessee. More recently, she’s been nominated for a Texas Sounds International Country Music Award 2021, and her hard rock song “We Are Lords” has been nominated for a Munich Music Video Award, is a finalist for Best Original Song in the UK International Music Video Awards, and made the first ballot for consideration of a Grammy for Metal Performance by The Recording Academy. And on April 18th, Lyia participated in the Ladies Who Rock For A Cause Virtual Music Festival, whose goal was to raise awareness and funds for ataxia, an incurable and rare neurological disease.
A prolific artist, Lyia released six singles in 2020, and has already dropped two this year, the latest of which is “This One’s For You“. While she often writes her own songs, she also collaborates with other songwriters and musicians from time to time, not only to broaden her own musical horizons, but also to support other songwriters. “This One’s For You” was written by Los Angeles-based songwriter Denise Dimin, and produced by Nashville-based Bob McGilpin, who also played guitar, bass, piano and drums.
The song is sublime, with a retro adult contemporary feel similar to some of the great torch songs of the 50s and early 60s by such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra. Bob McGilpin’s musical arrangement is brilliant, and I love his tinkling piano keys and guitar notes that give the track a cool jazzy vibe. Lyia’s smoky vocals are smooth and lovely, perfectly complementing the track’s mellow arrangement. But they’re emotive and heartfelt too, conveying a sad resignation as she sings the bittersweet lyrics addressed to the woman who’s now with the man she once claimed.
This one's for you
You're the one who has taken my place
You won, guess I should bow out with grace
Be happy with my pride
My hat is off to you
You did what I just never could
Though you know I always thought that I would
God knows I've tried
If you think you'll make him happy
Go on, you got the best
Give him good times
Give him love
And for me, there's nothing left
I raise my glass to you
You succeeded where I always failed
Guess things are good, but oh what the hell
I guess you're satisfied
Thanks to you, I'm free
I do what I please
Right now, I'm just not sure what that means
Sometimes it hurts so much inside
I didn't think this could happen
It's all a big mistake
You've got him now
You've got his love
And who is to blame
Cause if you think you'll make him happy
Go on, you've got the best
Give him good times
Give him love
And for me, there is nothing left
The official video shows Lyia in her element at a recording session at Big A Productions in Kuala Lumpur.
Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative band of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who artfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. While their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they all still look like teenagers – their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication, thanks to their great songwriting and musicianship, including having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup.
They’ve been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their devilishly entertaining debut album Love at First Sniff. I became an instant fan and loved the album so much I wrote a review. Since the release of that album, the band experienced a few lineup changes, and now consists of the very talented Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass).
Thunder Fox has been working on a new album, and have dropped three singles thus far – “Communicate” and “Smokin’ on Loosies” (which I also reviewed) in 2020 – and their latest “Sunday” on March 4th. It’s a sweet song of love and devotion to someone who makes you happy to be alive. Lead vocalist and songwriter Sam Dawes explained: “I was inspired to write the song on one of those sunny Sunday mornings when you wake up next to someone you love and the birds seem to sing even sweeter than ever before. It’s about having the whole day to spend with the one you love, doing whatever you want.” The song features many of the band’s signature music touches we’ve come to love – a deliciously sultry vibe, funky laid-back grooves, and bold flourishes of jazzy brass, all coming together to create a warm, sexy backdrop for Sam’s silky and seductive vocals that hover between a come-hither croon and saucy falsetto. I love the song and I love this band!
The sweet video, which was produced by band member Jesse Tachibana, who also directed it along with Lewis Clark, stars Sam as a man walking the streets and alleys of Sydney, gradually removing articles of clothing as he sings. A young woman, played by Natalia Hutchen, starts to follow him, eventually picking up and putting on his discarded white shirt, at which point she walks alongside him as he offers her one of his earbuds.
Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative group of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who skillfully blend generous helpings of funk, blues rock, soul, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. In their own words, they serve “gooey hot horntastic shreddage, the best sauce for your ears ‘n eyes, causing sonic copulation worldwide“, which pretty much describes their devilishly entertaining sound. While their sometimes bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness, their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication that reveals what skilled songwriters and musicians these guys really are.
They’ve been making music since around 2015, but I first learned about Thunder Fox when they reached out to me exactly one year ago today with their hilarious single “Been Busy”. They released their album Love at First Sniff a week later on Halloween and I loved it so much I wrote a review. The title was certainly apropos, as it was ‘love at first sniff’ for me! Since the release of that album, the band has undergone some changes in lineup, and now consists of Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and newest member Casey Allan (Bass).
They followed up this past August with their single “Communicate”, and now return with yet another brilliant single “Smokin’ on Loosies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The track was self-produced by Thunder Fox, mixed by long time mixing partner Daniel Willington, (Battlesnake, Good Lekker, Florian) and mastered by Steve Smart (Ocean Alley, Midnight Oil, Alex the Astronaut) at Studios 301 in Sydney. With their signature soulful and bluesy funk-infused grooves, the band delivers a powerful condemnation of greed and misinformation.
Lead vocalist Sam Dawes elaborates on the song’s meaning and intent: “‘Smokin’ on Loosies’ represents a shared disgust at western society’s unaddressed flaws that are leading to widening class division, planetary destruction and a failure to address the ongoing systemic persecution of marginalised groups within our communities. Mostly, the song is about being able to see clear as day what is causing these issues – be it the greedy elite, susceptible conspiracists or casual, misinformed hatred – and feeling powerless against it because it just keeps happening, all the time. It’s not exactly a happy song – it’s not supposed to be – but it’s full of honest grit and angry words that help me deal with some of the more fucked up problems that our world faces on a day-to-day basis.”
Over Casey’s deliciously funky bass line, the band layers a colorful mix of grimy guitars, tinkling piano keys, and crisp percussion, highlighted by Jesse’s soulful trumpet blasts that really make this a great song. I love Sam’s silky vocals that go from sultry croon one moment to cheeky falsetto the next as he sings “Money, power, keeping us blind / Everybody steppin’ in line / I think about it all the time / The cash cow that you worship got a shriveled-up teat / Pass the wealth through generations, but forgot to pass the heart.” The song seems to end at around 2:50, then starts back up with a terrific 30-second-long bluesy guitar solo that fades out with distorted reverb. I love it!