Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 19 – brett.grant.5, The Frontier, Johnny Ritchie, Youngy

There’s a literal avalanche of new music being released again, so it’s time for another Fresh New Tracks installment. Today I’m featuring songs by three artists I’ve previously written about – (in alphabetical order) Chicago-based alternative electronic rock artist brett.grant.5, Virginia-based singer-songwriter The Frontier, and Spokane, Washington-based singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie, as well as Youngy, a Scottish singer-songwriter from Glasgow who’s new to me. All four songs were released today, September 30th.

brett.grant.5 – “Ancient Messages”

brett.grant.5 is the artistic name of singer-songwriter, composer and producer Brett Grant, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a member of several bands and as a solo artist. Drawing from a wide and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock, his sound is bold, unorthodox and fascinating. We’ve been following one another on social media for over five years, and I’ve grown quite fond of him, both as an artist and a human. Since 2019, I’ve written about his solo music as well as that of his band A Million Rich Daughters.

With his new single “Ancient Messages“, he continues to push himself artistically by exploring new sounds and techniques, keeping his music innovative and fresh in the process. Brett told me he actually wrote this song a few years ago while still in college, but lost it when his laptop was stolen. He recently stumbled across an old demo he’d recorded, and decided to rework the track. The song has a dark undercurrent, gradually building from a somewhat unsettling and tentative vibe, highlighted by a droning, pulsating synth bass groove, into a magnificent dramatic soundscape of eerie synths and jagged grungy guitars. The lyrics are rather abstract, but my take is that they’re about a growing emotional chasm between two people in a relationship, and being unable to either reach them or quit them: “And if I reach for your embrace, your questions could I even face? I guess I know I’ll never win. My motivation drips with sin. Decaying from within. Why can’t I exorcise you from the claim?

Connect with brett.grant.5: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

The Frontier – “Rather Be”

Another artist I’m very fond of is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter Jake Mimikos. Based in northern Virginia, the talented, gracious and funny guy has released an impressive amount of music since 2015, and we’ve followed each other on social media for nearly that long. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted. As with many singer-songwriters, Jake’s songs are often inspired by personal experiences, and touch on such topics as love, relationships and loss. He lyrics are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend, and delivered with comforting vocals. I’ve loved all of his songs, and have featured many of them on this blog over the years. Three of them – “Dark Places”, “Can We Go Back”, and most recently “Closer” – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 charts.

He never disappoints with each release, and hits a home run with his new single “Rather Be“. It’s a melancholy but lovely song, with a languid guitar-driven melody, nicely enhanced with lush keyboards and percussive synths. Jake’s guitar work is really beautiful, as are his heartfelt layered vocals. The bittersweet lyrics speak of a relationship that’s broken beyond repair due to one partner’s inability to be faithful and honest “All that you said, was it easy to find the right combination of words in your mind? Well I’d rather be lonely than lied to.”

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Johnny Ritchie – “Know Better”

Johnny Ritchie is an engaging and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who I’ve previously featured twice on this blog, when I reviewed his singles “Social Robots” and “Too Much Trouble”. Originally from Indiana, Johnny recently relocated from Great Falls, Montana to Spokane, Washington. With a lifelong love for music, he began learning to play piano and drums as a child, then went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago (where he also met Brett Grant), and in 2020 earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as providing lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation. He also writes and records music in which he fuses alternative and experimental rock with neo-psychedelia and contemporary jazz to create incredibly fascinating and sophisticated soundscapes.

His latest single “Know Better” certainly fits that description, with a progressive jazzy vibe that’s both pleasing and compelling, in a vein similar to some of Steely Dan’s music. The track, which was produced by brett.grant.5, features a meandering free-form melody and a colorful mix of sparkling synths, gentle bass and guitars, and just the right amount of crisp percussion, allowing each instrument to stand out without overpowering the others. Regarding the song’s inspiration and meaning, Johnny said it not only helped him grow and learn as an artist, but also made him thankful for people who, despite no longer being in his life, were nevertheless influential in his development as a person and an artist.

All of us have people who come in and out of our lives over time, some of whom have a significant impact on shaping who we are. The lyrics in “Know Better” are directed at a woman he was once romantically involved with. Though no longer together, he still thinks of her, and wonders if she ever thinks of him: “Sometimes I wonder if you’re missing me. Or missing the person that I used to be. Well I hope you do, I hope you don’t, ooh. Cause now we’re strangers, though I’ve seen your eyes glow. And we’re strangers who have shared our bodies exposed. Yeah we’re strangers./ I wish you could know me better as I am now. I wish I could know you better than memories. I wish present us could sit down and talk but I’ll just keep wishing we had known better than to fall in love.

Connect with Johnny:  Facebook / Instagram

Youngy – “Halo”

Youngy is an artist based in Glasgow, Scotland who recently reached out to me about his new debut single “Halo“. I don’t know very much about him, other than that he was a member and front man of Glasgow indie grunge band Audiotown, who disbanded this past March. Now he’s embarking on the next phase of his music career as a solo artist, and “Halo” is his first single. To prepare to write about him, I listened to Audiotown’s back catalogue of songs, and their songs couldn’t be any more different in style and sound than “Halo”. Whereas Audiotown’s music was grungy and edgy, in the vein of such bands as Alice in Chains, Youngy’s debut track is unabashed synthpop. That’s not a bad thing, at least for me, as I love synthpop, especially when it’s fueled by a strong driving dance beat.

And wow, “Halo” hits right from the start and doesn’t let up. I love this kind of music, so it’s right up my alley. The driving beats, exuberant melody and cinematic instrumentals are all fantastic, and I defy anyone to not get moving while hearing this song. The rather simple lyrics seem to speak to letting loose and enjoying the moment for all its worth: “Living life inside a daydream. No place I’d rather be. Nothing makes me feel so happy. There’s nothing else I need. Smoke rings growing like a halo. Twist up around my head.” Youngy sings in a somewhat gravelly monotone, which I didn’t care for at first. But the more I listened to the song, I think his low-key vocals work well with the mesmerizing music. I look forward to hearing more from him!

Connect with Youngy:  TwitterInstagram

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 15 – The Frontier, Partisan, Johnny Ritchie

There’s so much new music being released these days that it’s already time for another installment of Fresh New Tracks. Today I’m featuring new songs by (in alphabetical order) Virginia-based singer-songwriter The Frontier, British rock band Partisan, and Montana-based singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie. All three singles were released yesterday, April 8th.

THE FRONTIER – “Closer”

The Frontier is the music project of singer-songwriter Jake Mimikos, who’s based in northern Virginia. An enormously talented, gracious and funny guy, he’s released an impressive amount of music both as a band and a solo artist under The Frontier moniker since around 2015, and we’ve followed each other on social media for nearly that long. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted. As with many singer-songwriters, Jake’s songs are often inspired by personal experiences, and touch on such topics as love, relationships and loss. He prefers to write lyrics that are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend. I’ve loved all of his songs, and have featured many of them on this blog over the years. Two of his singles, “Dark Places” (from 2019) and “Can We Go Back” (from 2021) went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, while “Sleep” (released in late 2020) reached #2.

On his latest single “Closer“, The Frontier delivers more of the catchy and melodic pop-rock we’ve come to love and expect from him. The song is more upbeat and pop-oriented than some of his previous releases, with a bouncy, guitar-driven groove and colorful synths nicely complementing the optimistic lyrics. About the song, Jake told Cool Top20 blogThis song was written during the pandemic while there was a very intense feeling of loneliness and isolation going on. It’s really a response to that. Wanting to get back to feeling connected again, I wanted to release something that hopefully everyone might be able to relate to and enjoy. I’m hoping that came through in the song. This song is special because it was 100% funded and supported by my friends, family, and fans. Huge thanks to everyone who contributed to my kickstarter to make this happen.

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

PARTISAN – “Animal”

Manchester, UK rock band Partisan was one of the earlier bands to follow me on Twitter way back in 2016, and I loved their high-energy style of melodic rock right from the start. Now comprised of Stuart Armstrong on guitar and vocals, Dan Albon on bass, and Leo Stanfield on drums, I first wrote about them in August 2016 when I reviewed their fantastic single “Juggernaut”, then two months later had the pleasure of meeting them when they performed at the legendary Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip. I featured them a second time in June 2018 when I reviewed their single “Oxygen.” They followed with three more singles over the next two years, before the pandemic brought things to a halt.

Now, I’m happy to report that the guys are back with a brilliant new single “Animal“. It’s their first new music in over two years, and was definitely worth the wait. The song is both melodically beautiful and intensely satisfying from a rock perspective. It’s an electrifying stomper, highlighted by Stuart’s gorgeous, intricate guitar work, Dan’s driving bassline and Leo’s galloping drumbeats. I love Stuart’s beautiful tenor singing voice, which sounds better than ever here. The lyrics speak to the inherent dichotomy that exists with physical love and lust, namely that we often want a bit of both devil and angel in a romantic partner, but more heavily oriented toward the latter, of course: “Give me some more of that modern love. One from below, and two from above. Animal.” I love this song, and cannot get enough of it!

Connect with Partisan:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

JOHNNY RITCHIE – “Too Much Trouble featuring Jay Davis

Johnny Ritchie is an engaging and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Great Falls, Montana. With a lifelong love for music, he began learning to play piano and drums as a young child, then went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago, and in 2020 earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as providing lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation. He also writes and records music in which he fuses alternative and experimental rock with neo-psychedelia and contemporary jazz to create incredibly fascinating soundscapes.

In March 2021 he released his debut single “Social Robots”, a song addressing human behavior and social media consumption following the tragedy of the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL (which I reviewed). He followed with “Tired of the Media”, a song decrying the scare tactics so often used by the media. Now he returns with another socially topical single, “Too Much Trouble“, which touches on the superficiality of many of our interpersonal interactions these days, specifically the feelings of emptiness, disconnectedness and isolation that often result from using dating apps. Social media platforms were supposed to bring us closer together, but as Johnny noted to me, they “ironically make us feel more disconnected from those traits of human connection that we so desperately desire: love, physical touch, understanding and acceptance.”  

Musically, the song has an incredible arrangement and sophisticated jazzy vibe, dominated by a fabulous soulful organ and deliciously funky bass groove. The trippy psychedelic synths, subtle guitar notes and crisp percussion are perfection, and nicely complemented by some well-placed finger snaps adding even more coolness to the proceedings. The marvelous solo at the end was performed by his friend Jay Davis on an electric wind instrument. Johnny’s smooth, low-key vocals are wonderful too, exuding just the right amount of emotion as he sadly ponders “Is it too much trouble, baby, to want to know your mind? / I want to connect, skin on skin contact. But it’s only video call dates, swiping to find a mate. Nothing seems to last more than a day.”

Connect with Johnny:  Facebook / Instagram

JOHNNY RITCHIE – Single Review: “Social Robots”

Johnny Ritchie is an engaging and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist I recently learned of when he reached out to me about his song “Social Robots“. Born and raised in Wabash, Indiana and now based in Great Falls, Montana, Johnny has had a lifelong interest in, and love for, music. He started learning to play piano and drums as a young child, and went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago, and last year earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as providing lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation.

Released on March 19th, “Social Robots” is Johnny’s debut single. He states it was “inspired by human behavior regarding social media consumption following the tragedy of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL in 2018.” In a recent interview with Noah | MUA, Johnny explained that he originally wrote the song three years ago as a way for him to process the tragic event, and never planned on releasing the song as a single. But the events and traumas of the past year led him to decide to release it after all, as the lyrics seemed especially relevant to the times.

For the song, Johnny played piano and drums, and sang vocals, with guitar played by Charlie Petralia, and bass by Dale Guernsey. The track was produced by fellow Columbia College Chicago alumnus Brett Grant, who’s own single “Reanimate” I wrote about just last week (it was after seeing that review that Johnny reached out to me). The beautiful artwork for the single was created by Attie Schuler, who Johnny attended high school with in Wabash.

The song opens with sounds of a phone ringing, accompanied by a man’s voice slowed down to the point where it sounds creepy and disturbing as he speaks the first stanza addressing the pernicious effects of social media:

It is not the habit which addicts me,
But rather the enveloping feeling of escape.
It digs its fangs into my brain,
Slowly spreading its roots,
Hooking me eternally.

The song then abruptly transitions in both tone and feel, as Johnny sings his pointed lyrics about how we become social media robots to sounds of his lovely but melancholic piano keys. Soon Charlie’s chiming guitar, Dale’s subtle bass, and Johnny’s measured drumbeats enter the mix, creating a resounding backdrop for his plaintive vocals that grow more impassioned as the song progresses, only to calm back down at the end as he sings the final line “We’re all sad motherfuckers” with a sense of bitter resignation.

“Social Robots” is a fascinating and brilliant song, both musically and lyrically. While not immediately catchy or melodic, it has an unusual meandering flow that’s quite compelling, keeping a firm grasp on our interest as the song proceeds and the narrative unfolds. It’s an impressive debut from this promising young artist, and I can’t wait to hear more of Mr. Ritchie’s music.

Shackles on all our lives
Not on our wrists but on our minds
Tiny little screens with big fat lies of light
Oh don’t you think
Yeah don’t you mind
Just keep on scrolling you’ll be alright

Distractions, I see them in every way
They tell us the right thoughts to think and the words to say
But nobody ever goes outside to play
No don’t you think
Yeah don’t you pray
Just pretend like it’s still a beautiful day

Tell me no, we’ll see about that
Kick me down, I’m wiser if I don’t fight back
Oh I’ll learn from you and be better off
You may laugh or scoff but just go jerk off
You robot, you sad motherfucker

The crutches we lean on everywhere
They help us breathe in all this polluted air
They help us choose our favorite style of hair
Oh don’t you think
Yeah don’t you care
Just be a copy and no one stares

The voices we seek out for advice
We’re taking all their bullshit as something that’s wise
But nobody is ever thinking twice
So don’t you blink
Just take your vice
Just play your part, you’ll be alright

Robots looking for something that’s real
They’re all trying to think out what to feel
And kisses help, and so do hugs
And not to mention all the drugs
But we’re all robots
We’re all tied up in the same cords from our own plugs
We’re all robots
We’re all sad motherfuckers

Follow Johnny:  FacebookInstagram

Stream/purchase “Social Robots”:  SpotifyApple MusicBandcamp