CALLING ALL ASTRONAUTS – Single Review: “Divided States of America”

British electronic goth punk rock band Calling All Astronauts have never shied away from writing provocative lyrics about the dark underbelly of politics, culture and society, and calling out authoritarians, fascists and racists as often and as loudly as possible. Drawing from an eclectic mix of genres and influences ranging from electro, alternative rock, goth, punk, metal, rap and dub step, the London-based trio create music that’s exhilarating, melodic, compelling and often in-your-face. Making this musical mayhem are vocalist/songwriter/programmer and producer David Bury, guitarist J Browning and bassist/keyboardist Paul McCrudden.

Since forming nearly a decade ago, Calling All Astronauts have released numerous singles and EPs, as well as three excellent albums – Post Modern Conspiracy in 2013, Anti-Social Network in 2016, and #Resist, which dropped this past June. (It’s hard to believe that nearly four years have passed since I reviewed their single “Life As We Know It”!) They’re now set to release one of the tracks from #Resist – “Divided States of America” – as their 19th single on September 18th. The single, being released via Supersonic Media, is a scathing attack on the current political situation in the U.S. As someone who loathes President Donald Trump and what’s become of the Republican Party that’s enabled him (not to mention the millions of delusional Americans who still support him), this song strongly resonates with me.

Musically, the song features a powerful punk-style dance beat that gets our blood pumping and emotions appropriately riled up. Paul McCrudden’s throbbing bass line is deliciously heavy and deep, pummeling our senses as he drives the rhythm forward like a battering ram, while J Browning lays down a swirling deluge of grungy guitars, punctuated by some nicely-placed stabbing chords. With his characteristically gruff vocals, David snarls the blistering lyrics with a venom that reflects my own sense of outrage and despair.

Society falling in a downward cycle
We checked it’s pulse, it’s signs ain’t vital
Decay. Decline. Sodom and Gomorrah
No matter what they tell you, there’s no tomorrow

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Two percent looking down at the rest
And the guy in the store wears a bulletproof vest
White folks offended by “Black Lives Matter”
But it ain’t their kids, whose blood is getting splattered

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Men in suits, above the law
Another refugee pushed against the wall
“The country’s fantastic, we’re doing great”
The President declares a De facto State

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

For the single version used in the video, David’s three-year-old daughter Daisy is heard talking at the end. Engineer Alan Branch (NIN, Depeche Mode, U2) was mixing the track and asked David to record a straight version of the chorus for the end. As Daisy heard her daddy doing the lines over and over, she proceeded to run round the studio singing the chorus, whereupon a mic was quickly handed to her and she happily contributed a few words.

Here’s the slightly longer album version of the song:

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HEIST AT FIVE – Single Review: “Friday Night”

Heist at Five Friday Night

London-based electro-rock band Heist At Five is a wickedly talented and undeniably charismatic foursome with an international pedigree. Band front man and lead vocalist Oskar Abrahamsson is from Sweden, guitarist Jozef Veselsky is from Slovakia, bassist Marco “Fuzz” Paone hails from Italy, and drummer Josh Needham is from England. Together, they play an aggressive, innovative style of alternative rock that borders on experimental, with complex melodies, intricate chord progressions, spine-tingling electronic and guitar-heavy instrumentation, and electrifying vocals. And the icing on the cake is that every one of them is as gracious and kind as they are handsome.

Since first learning about them in early 2018, they’ve become one of my favorite British bands, and I’ve featured them a number of times on this blog, most recently in May 2019 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Falling With Style”. I loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 and ranked #20 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. Now, after keeping their fans eagerly awaiting new music from them for more than a year, Heist At Five are back with their new single “Friday Night“. Having been prevented from touring or performing live over the past six months due to the pandemic, the band has instead focused their creative energies into recording new music. They plan to release two more singles in the coming months, and hope to return to performing live again in 2021.

“Friday Night” is a bit of a departure from their typical edgy and harder experimental rock sound. Here, the band introduces an intoxicating Latin-flavored dance-pop element to their usual blend of guitar and electronic arrangements, along with the sultry croons of guest vocalist Francesca Confortini, to create a jubilant feel good summer anthem. Despite its more accessible, radio-friendly vibe, the song still features many of the stylistic elements and complex instrumentation that make their music so brilliant. I love the interplay between Jozef’s intricate and funky guitar riffs and that gorgeous swirling melodic synth that just grabs hold and sticks in our mind. Then there’s Marco’s distinctive bassline and Josh’s galloping drumbeats keeping the song’s sexy rhythmic grooves.

The song’s lyrics speak to celebrating good times and better days, and not wanting them to end. The band states that “the song focuses on the concept of not wanting to return to a state of normality when you are at your highest and everything is going your way.” Oskar is a great singer, and I love how his Swedish accent shines through in his fervent vocals as he sings about a women who lifts him up: “Dressed in gold/ She don’t need luck, she’s bringing her own/ When the light is gone look into my eyes and tell me I’m wrong/ When you’re aflame/ The morning sky is never the same/ We’ll bring you back to another fabulous Friday Night.” Francesca seductively croons her reassuring response: “Reset the sunset, let us start again/ To live a life that never ends/ Like gold in the black/ Gold in the black (like a Friday Night).

The song is so damn infectious, and I love it more with each listen!

The colorful psychedelic and surreal video was produced, directed and edited by Oskar. It features him and I’m guessing his sister Elin represented as dancing gold figures, as well as his mouth colored gold and blue singing the song (similar to the famous Rocky Horror Picture Show scene for the song “Science Fiction Double Feature”) set against a background of instruments and a kaleidoscope of patters and colors. It’s fantastic, so do watch and listen:

Follow Heist at Five: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp / Google Play

PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS – Single Review: “Rock That City”

Philip Morgan Lewis3

British singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis is one of the more creative and adventurous artists I know of. The London East Ender isn’t afraid to explore a wide range of genres and influences for the creation of his own eclectic sound. Drawing from alternative rock, blues, garage rock, folk, R&B and EDM, he crafts exciting blues-soaked rock that nicely complements his distinctive raspy vocal style. He’s one of those artists you immediately recognize upon hearing his songs.

He’s released a fair amount of music over the past decade, beginning with his 2013 EP Karma Comedown. He then released a number of singles, and in late 2017 dropped his brilliant album Grief Harbour, which I reviewed. In 2019, he took a stylistic departure from his usual comfort zone and released a fun album House Works, featuring eight House/EDM tracks. He then followed a few months later with a fantastic bluesy single “Blowtorched Dreams”. Now Philip is back with a great new single “Rock That City“, released on July 13th via label Tx2 Records.

Written and recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown, the song is an ode to many of the social things we’ve all been missing these past several months. Philip says it’s “all about release and freedom”, and the lyrics speak to breaking loose and having a fun night on the town: “Gonna rock that city where life’s so crazy / And I go make it right / Gonna rock that city tonight.” A talented multi-instrumentalist, he plays all the instruments himself, and does a fine job here delivering some  bluesy rock’n’roll. With it’s strong, driving beat, buzzing bassline and grungy guitars, the song reminds me a bit of the great Black Keys song “Fever”. His unusual raspy vocals register in the higher octaves, resulting in a unique style and sound unlike any other singer I’ve heard.

The accompanying video was artfully filmed in black and white on the streets of London during the lockdown. A number of famous sites featured in the video that are normally filled with tourists were totally devoid of people. Philip is shown making his way through buildings, parking garages or the streets, completely alone.

Connect with Philip: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music
Purchase:  Amazon / Deezer / BandcampGoogle Play

BRYDE – Album Review: “The Volume of Things”

Bryde

I was not familiar with the music of Welsh-born and now London-based artist Bryde before my fellow blogger Robert Horvat (whose blog Rearview Mirror is outstanding, so do check it out) asked that I consider reviewing her new album The Volume of Things.  Despite Robert’s confidence, after blogging about music for more than four and a half years, I’m still terribly insecure about my writing, and often feel out of my league when it comes to discussing music. I also often struggle with album reviews, as I find capturing the essence of the songs and what the artist or band is attempting to express through those songs can be a daunting task.

With that in mind, as I customarily do for all artists and bands I review, I listened to Bryde’s back catalog to more fully acquaint myself with her music in order to at least try to sound halfway intelligent in my review of her new album. And I can unequivocally state that I was immediately impressed by her strong, deeply meaningful songwriting, exquisite melodies, richly-layered guitar work and enchanting vocals.

Bryde is the artistic moniker of singer-songwriter and guitarist Sarah Howells, who’s been writing and recording music for over ten years. She started out as one half of alternative folk/pop duo Paper Aeroplanes, who together released a number of wonderful singles, EPs and albums between 2010 and 2015. Also in 2015, she began recording and releasing a series of singles and EPs as Bryde, culminating in the release in 2018 of her marvelous debut album Like an Island. The album is a dramatic collection of 13 stunning tracks exploring darker themes inspired by a break-up, all expressed with a heavier and edgier, yet still fragile, alt-rock sensibility. The lead single “To Be Brave” has been streamed more than 3.2 million times on Spotify.

Now she’s returned with her sophomore album The Volume Of Things, which dropped May 29th. The album was partly inspired by the emotional burnout she experienced following the release of Like an Island, which led her to explore a new paradigm of self-healing. She describes the work as “the calm before the storm – before a new calm I’m working towards.” That said, the record sees her return to a somewhat gentler, more folk-oriented approach, though the tracks still exhibit her passionate songwriting and skill for delivering a rousing, guitar-driven rock song.

This is perfectly exemplified on the beautiful opening track “Silence“. The song opens rather tentatively, with Bryde softly crooning “So, I was restless as a child. Full, like a rain cloud, this desire” accompanied by shimmery guitar notes. Then it blossoms into a glorious, exuberant anthem with driving rhythms and lush guitars as she plaintively sings of seeking inner peace and contentment though the love of another: “Can I come in, can I be part of this silence? And leave here with my heart on the outside. Can I come in, can you satisfy this feeling? I want it to be more than redeeming.

On “The Trouble Is“, Bryde implores to a lover who’s unable to find contentment in life, always feeling that things never live up to their expectations: “I think that trouble is what you want. I think the struggle is just what gets you off. We’re in the same America. Looking for some way to get it right. The things you think to yourself at night.” The song has a comforting vibe, with a wonderful, head-bopping melody, vibrant 80s-flavored synths and a fantastic bass line. But the highlights for me are her sumptuous mix of fuzz-coated and swirling guitars, as well as her captivating vocals that harmonize so beautifully with her guitars.

Done” sees Bryde confronting someone who’s broken her down and killed her spirit until she’s finally done with the relationship:  “…steal all my dreams, insist I ought to have none. Stayed on my hands til they’re numb. My defenses crumble one by one. Stay strong, and stay well. Think I forgot what it was like, this effortless hell. To be here, with you there. Deaden my eyes, poison my mind by daring to dwell in possibility.” She continues with this theme on “80 Degrees“, desperately trying to bring closure to the lingering pain and bitterness over a failed relationship. The biting lyrics are a perfect example of her songwriting brilliance: “And of all the things that you didn’t throw, your fancy gifts were the first to go. Now the charity shops round here know me by name, think I’m insane. / All the things we said we wanted, don’t want them anymore.”

As the album progresses, I’m struck by the superior quality of every track. The hauntingly beautiful “Flies” has a captivating guitar-driven melody that’s absolutely stunning. The music builds to a dramatic crescendo in the bridge – guitars and Bryde’s vocals blazing – then calms at the end as she softly croons the refrain “Negative thoughts divide and multiply like flies.” She taps into her pop-rock alter-ego with the exuberant radio-friendly gem “Paper Cups“. With an infectiously bouncy beat that aims straight for the hips, the song is a delight from start to finish. The chugging, jangly guitars are wonderful, as are her lilting vocals as she sings to someone with whom she’s found comfort: “Call it what you want. Tell me things too loud to hear. Collect all my words in paper cups.” Be sure to check out this cool 360° video.

Bryde takes a darker turn on the haunting, grunge-infused “Hallelujahs” and the moody but beautiful “Another Word for Free“. I love the mesmerizing synths, and her vocals have an almost ethereal quality as she softly croons “Would you be the weight off my shoulders?” She picks up the pace on “Handing It Over“, with fuzz-coated jangly guitars layered over an exuberant uptempo rhythm.

Outsiders” is another hauntingly beautiful track, and one of my favorites on the album. Bryde bares her heart and soul here, entreating to someone she loves who doesn’t share her intensity of feelings: “And I want something more than whatever it is you came here for. You say that no one knows just what they want, but I do. I do. I want you.” The wobbly, mysterious synths are bewitching, and her breathy heartfelt vocals convey a strong vulnerability and sense of longing expressed by the lyrics.

The album closes with the stunning title track “The Volume of Things“. Bryde sings the lyrics that seem to be about the challenges of being completely honest, both to others and to ourselves: “We shed our coats as the temperature rose like a lump in my throat. A voice drowned out by the volume of things I won’t talk about.” Her gently strummed guitar is positively sublime, punctuated by beautiful notes of twangy guitar. Three quarters of the way into the track, a military-style drumbeat enters as the music swells to a sweeping, cinematic crescendo. It’s a magnificent finish to a truly spectacular album.

Follow Bryde:  Facebook / Instagram
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BLOOM DE WILDE – Album Review: “The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe”

Bloom de Wilde album art

Bloom de Wilde is a London-based singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist with a fascinating and eccentric avant garde sound. Born in the Netherlands to a Dutch artist mother and an Indonesian father who lead his own traditional Indonesian music ensemble known as Gamelan, Bloom’s experiences growing up in a multi-ethnic environment led her to develop an innovative and imaginative approach to her music. Drawing from an eclectic mix of influences by some of her favorite artists such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Björk, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Nina Simone and Toxic Chicken, Bloom fuses elements of dream, ethno and experimental art pop, folk and jazz with unconventional melodies and a rich mix of instruments to create exuberant, colorful soundscapes that transport us to exotic, faraway places. Moreover, her unusual and distinctive vocal style has earned her comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Kate Bush and Björk.

Bloom De Wilde2

Bloom has been writing and recording songs for several years, and some of her older tracks can be found on her Soundcloud account. In July 2019, she began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Soul Siren”, which won both the International Songwriting Award for best female singer songwriter, and the UK Songwriting Competition for Best Video. That October, she followed up with “Rock, Plant & Animal”, a hopeful ode to nature and earth. That song won the Alternative Friday Award for best Folk & Art-pop track. She later released two more singles “Atlas Cassandra” and “Do & Be”, and on June 12, dropped her debut album The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe.

Released via Dream Society Records, the album features those four tracks plus two others. I asked her why she’s calling it an album when it contains only six tracks. She responded that “format-wise it’s an EP, but content-wise it’s definitely an album.” The songs were written and arranged by Bloom, who sang all vocals and played several instruments including piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, guitar, harmonium, glockenspiel, organ and synth programming. The tracks were co-produced by her and Nick Trepka and Sam Ritchie, who also played some of the instruments. In addition, ten other musicians played various instruments on the album, including flugelhorn, kora, viola, violin, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, tuba and double bass, all contributing to the songs’ lush, dreamy sounds.

About the album, Bloom explains: “These songs have all been inspired by the human beings and cats that are closest to my heart; and as we are all the Universe perceiving itself through infinite subjective perspectives, I feel it is via the Heart that the Universe speaks. In these strange and challenging liminal times, I feel it is possible for us to create a new reality – a life-sustaining harmonious world where people are kind and generous to all earthlings, human or animal, and look after the planet and it’s plant life with love and care. This album is an invitation to celebrate life in all its wondrous, colourful exuberance. Let’s sing, dance, dream, paint, play and meow a new world into existence.

Bloom opens her album with “Soul Siren“, a delightful song of love. Employing an exotic and lush array of instruments, highlighted by soulful trumpet and shimmery notes from a West African kora, she fashions an enchanting backdrop for her quirky vocals. She uses her voice like another instrument, reaching almost childlike high notes as her voice sweetly coos, then soars with an emotion-filled confidence in the choruses.  She sings of her strong emotional and physical connection with her beloved – she’s the siren to her soulmate: “I will show you all the secret hearts I’ve hidden in my chest. We could now do all the things that we always wanted to, but never dared. I’m all yours, your Soul Siren.”

On the pleasing and catchy “Do & Be“, Bloom urges us to just live our lives as simply and honestly as possible, keeping in touch with the real world and the natural beauty around us, and not overthink everything: “Sleepers should be dreamers, oh i know It’s so obvious it drives me crazy.” The colorful and whimsical video she made for the song showcases her creativity and playfulness.

Atlas Cassandra” has a rather dark spiritual vibe, with Bloom sounding like a high priestess as she croons against a dramatic and mysterious backdrop of tinkling xylophone, somber drumbeats and soaring strings. The captivating “Rock, Plant & Animal” is a beautiful, uplifting tribute to earth and nature. She explained her inspiration for the song: “I wrote this song for my children, about this living Earth I love so dearly, and all the precious life upon it. I believe everything in this world has a living essence, a soul, and all is connected. We are all One – Rock, Plant and Animal.” (You can read my detailed review here.)

The exuberant anthem “Animal Spirit” was written in 2018, and in a sense could be considered Bloom’s theme song. It expresses her philosophy – her inherent ‘animal spirit’ if you will – of her reverence for earth and all living things, and how she chooses to conduct her life on this planet, promoting respect for life in all its myriad forms: “I won’t stop, I’ll never give up. I’m inside this eternal movement. I will not be held back by darkness or heaviness. Never, never cease to be driven by the heart, by the art, the magic and the marvellous.”

Pale Moon, Golden Light” is a tender and languid ballad, with a more stripped-down sound consisting of only piano and light percussion. Bloom softly croons to a boy with assurances that her love can calm the savage beast in him: ” What’s the matter with you boy? Madness strikes under your window with a sword. Climbing up & down the ladder. Who is there? I’m there. / Could it be that you’re the one for me?

The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe is an utterly enchanting and eccentric little album that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard by any other artist. Bloom de Wilde is a brilliant, creative and innovative artist, though I can imagine that her style and sound might not appeal to everyone. But if you like music that’s colorful, avant garde and thoroughly unique, you will enjoy this album.

Connect with Bloom:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

JAMES BAKIAN – Single Review: “Kiss Tonight”

James Bakian Kiss Tonight

One of the youngest artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog over the past couple of years is the remarkably talented British singer-songwriter James Bakian. (You can check out my previous reviews, which are listed under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this page.) Based in London, England, the hard working and charismatic teen began writing songs and playing piano as a child, and released his first EP in 2016 when he was only 13. He writes all his lyrics and music, records and/or programs all the instruments, and even produces and mixes his own songs. Since 2016, the prolific young artist has released a second EP and more than 20 singles!

Now he returns with his latest single “Kiss Tonight“, which drops today, June 5. It’s a romantic, feel-good love song about the strong feelings of desire you get when you’re around that one special person, but also a bit frustrated that they’re being slow to respond in kind. Like many of his songs, the melody is driven by his jazzy piano keys, accompanied by warm synth bass and mellow, toe-tapping percussive beats. James adds funky guitar notes and ethereal swirling keyboard synths to the mix, creating a lovely musical backdrop for his smooth vocals.

I’ve been following James for well over three years, and it’s been gratifying to see him mature and grow professionally. Not only has the quality of his songwriting continued to improve, but as he’s gotten older the sweetly innocent vocals of his early teens have nicely matured into a rich and deep baritone that sounds more soulful than ever. Despite the fact he’s still only 16, his beautiful resonant vocals convey a maturity and confidence that makes us believe him when he sings of his ardor:

I’ve been waiting for this
Endless searching for it
Everything I wanted
I need someone who I’ll miss tonight
I need someone I might kiss tonight
Oh yeah
Just give me your all
Give me everything
I won’t hesitate
I need someone I might miss tonight
I need someone I might kiss tonight

Now I’m waiting for you to say something
But you’re not giving me what I wanted
So I’ll sit back and wait for you
Wait for you to make your move
Cause it’s impossible to ignore you
I could try but I really don’t want to
Yeah you got me feeling the blues
I got nothing better to do

Tell me what you want
I mean come on there’s gotta be something
somebody who you can trust in
Oh
Tell me what you need
Maybe I could supply it for you
in my head I just wanna adore you

“Kiss Tonight” is another stellar single, and I see only a continued upward trajectory for this very talented young artist.

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase on  iTunes / Google Play

HAN BLOOM – Album Review: “Higher State of Mind”

Han Bloom Higher State of Mind

Han Bloom is a classically trained pianist, composer and singer-songwriter based in London, England. Strongly influenced by modern jazz, progressive rock and experimental music, she uses her classical training to musically explore themes of interest to her such as society, politics, culture, ideology, conformism and big brother, among others. In her bio, she states that she “always strives to be as original and free thinking as possible. Creativity is the answer.” Sounds like a winning combination to me.

With that in mind, Han recently released her ambitious debut album Higher State of Mind, which dropped on May 1st. She wrote all music and lyrics, played piano and all other keyboards, programmed all instruments (other than the drums that were played on some tracks by Eddie Van Dorgen), sang all vocals, and produced, mixed and mastered the entire album herself (with the exception of one track “Free Me Now”, which was produced by Harry Powell). With 13 tracks and running an hour in length, there’s a lot to listen to, but I’ll touch on the songs that really clicked with me.

The album opens with “Bach Got Funked Up“, a fascinating instrumental track that fuses contemporary classical, modern jazz and experimental elements. Employing an array of ominous wobbly and spacey synths and jazzy piano chords, Han creates a trippy and mysterious soundscape that whets our appetite for what’s to come. Next up is “Burn“, a bewitching track that starts off quietly, with distant sounds of storms accompanied by the most delicate of keyboard synths. As her low-key, quirky vocals enter, the tempo changes to a toe-tapping beat, with jazzy piano, organ, cool synths and gentle percussion. I like the whispy little ‘whoosh’ snare sounds she uses to convey a feeling of water being softly poured onto a smouldering fire.

Blasphemy” resonates strongly with me, as I like Han’s biting lyrics touching on the hypocrisy that so often exists in religion and democracy: “Don’t tell me with your shit decree, excuse my Christianity. Don’t tell me about blasphemy, when you don’t know how to live in peace. Don’t tell me with your shit decree, about democracy, cause you don’t know nothing about me. But it don’t matter, so I won’t shatter, But they don’t listen, so I keep on living in sin, gladly.” I really like the song’s cool, jazzy grooves, and the deep synth bass,  moody piano keys and tapping percussive beats that make it a great listen.

One of my favorite tracks is “Finer Things“, both for it’s great tongue-in-cheek lyrics and mellow, jazzy vibe. Han’s conversational-style vocals and nimble piano work give the song a fun, casual quality that makes it sound like a live recording of a performance you’d hear in an intimate little nightclub. In fact, I think her music style is well-suited for that format, and it would be fun to see her perform live. About the song, she says “‘The Finer Things’ is a disposable comedic tribute to Frank Zappa that utilises the ridiculousness and profound impact of ‘influencers’ and ‘influence culture’, and the subsequent snowflake generation that it resonates with.”

I love the lines decrying influence culture and the fact she’s doesn’t quite measure up to their shallow definition of success: “Hello, my name is Hannah Bloom, and this song is about the death of influence culture…hopefully. I wanna shop at Liberty, but they welcome me bitterly, ’cause I ain’t got no money. I’m sorry, ’cause in my disposable song, don’t get me wrong. I like the finer things and I sure do love the joy that it brings. I love Pucci, Emilio Pucci…so much better than Gucci. So tutti frutti, but instead I’m wearing Tom Sweeney, which is for men.” Exasperated, she later asks “Can somebody please explain to me what an influencer is? “Cause in my mind it just makes sense that they’re professional beggars. And a lot of people would say the same thing about musicians. And they do say the same things. But we actually do stuff, and we’re just undervalued, whereas influencers are like super valued in society. And it’s like please stop making our generation stupid and meaningless.” I couldn’t agree more!

On “Free Me Now“, Han uses a greater electronic approach and somewhat darker tone to address the subject of addiction. In her notes about the track, she states that she developed the song’s framework off a Korg Tribe drum pattern machine she’d been experimenting with. She then layered delicate piano and organ keyboards to create an enchanting soundscape for her airy vocals. About the song’s meaning, she explains: “Lyrically it depicts a prior relationship with addiction that I needed to express in a raw and free form; hence the experimental instrumentation found in this track.” Her blunt lyrics get straight to the point: “I have an obsession. Addiction, yeah. My mind is imprisoned. Loneliness is not your friend. Free me now. You gotta let me out. Free me now. I don’t wanna be a burnout.

On the moody “These Games” – which Han says was inspired by the George Orwell classic 1984 – she rejects the expectations and ethical wrongs of social conditioning practiced by Western societies, pressuring us to conform to a specific set of social norms, and leaving us often feeling like our lives are unfulfilled. Han croons “So she goes to work for the man. Hiding his sweet lies, pulling the wool over their eyes. She says ‘I don’t know why I do it. And I don’t know how I do it. But I need to survive’. / So he says he stayed at work late today. Hiding his bitter lies. Wasting his own time, and he knows he’s not right to do it. But he just can’t say no ’cause money’s his goal. / And I see it happening every single day. And I don’t know why they play these games with themselves.” The song has a languid, piano-driven melody, with delicate synths, subtle organ notes, and Eddie Van Dongen’s gentle percussion.

My absolute favorite track is album closer “Light and Love (Coda)“, a stunning eight-minute-long instrumental that really showcases Han’s impressive compositional and piano-paying talents. She weaves a rich tapestry of ambient and glittery atmospheric synths, then adds vibrant piano keys to create a breathtaking contemporary classical piece that can easily hold its own among the works by many of today’s classical composers. I would love to see her put out an entire album of this kind of instrumental music.

I’ll be honest that it took a couple of plays for this album to grow on me, as the melodies are more experimental and free-form than typical pop, folk or rock music, requiring a more careful listen to fully appreciate its many nuances. I love when artists fuse multiple elements and genres into their music, and I applaud her courage to experiment with her sound and create a style uniquely her own. If you like music that strays from the conventional, with more contemporary, experimental and progressive jazz, pop and rock vibes, delivered by some really superb piano work, then you will enjoy Higher State of Mind.

Follow Han:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

BRANWELL BLACK – Single and Video Review: “Love Life”

Branwell Black Love Life
Photo by David Pear

I recently learned about the talented young British artist Branwell “Bran” Black when he followed me on Instagram. Influenced by some of his favorite artists like Kate Bush, Madonna, Charli XCX, Kerli, Evanescence and Tokio Hotel, the London-based singer-songwriter, producer, dancer and model creates captivating synthpop music. Born in Oxford, England but raised partly in France, both Bran and his older brother Morgan developed a love of music while very young, as their father was an accomplished rock drummer. Being around live music much of his life and seeing fans reacting to his father’s music inspired him to start producing music of his own. During his years in France, Bran started to write and produce music with Morgan, with whom he eventually formed a band called Brothers Black/Posie. Spending part of his youth in France exposed Bran to a different culture and different musical elements as well, and a result he’s also recorded and produced music in French.

Bran has been a busy guy over the past year. In September 2019, he released his debut single “J’attends L’amour”, then quickly followed up with “What You Want”, as well as an EP Posie with his band Brothers Black/Posie. This past February, before everything shut down in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, he performed at a sold out show with his back up band at O2 Academy Islington. And on May 8, he dropped his latest single “Love Life“. Bran told me the uplifting song has a double meaning: “It’s a reflection on my love life, and also a voice to tell me to love life itself.” He wrote the music and lyrics, played piano, sang vocals and produced the track, with Morgan providing added vocals. Matt Willis played guitar, Dan Rosu played drums, and mixing was done by Edwin Harris.

The song has a sunny and sensual retro 80s vibe, with a pulsating EDM beat and vibrant, shimmery synths creating a captivating soundscape. I really like Bran’s tinkling piano keys, as well as Matt’s edgy guitar notes at the end of the track. Bran has a soft, sultry vocal style that’s seductive, yet vulnerable as he plaintively sings of wanting not only another’s love, but also being able to love oneself and the life he has. Morgan’s vocals are also lovely as he sings the refrain ‘love life’.

I wanna be with someone that’ll love me forever
Laying staring at the stars never believing in better
All around is all I see and all I see is you
Love the one you’ve always known is true

If your heart really wants it tell me that you want it
Wake up
Well I don’t need another star-crossed lover’s breakup

So baby, I wanna be with someone that’ll love me forever
Telling memories, I want to be the one you can treasure
Forever, and ever
If your heart really wants it tell me that you want it
Wake up
Well I don’t need another star-crossed lover’s breakup
That’s life
That’s what it feels like
Love life

I wanna be with someone that’ll love me forever
And wherever I’ll be they won’t forget me in December
Love life
All around is all I see and all I see is me
Forever, and ever
Love life

In addition to his musical side, Bran has started to incorporate dancing into his performances to bring his music alive through physical expression. What that in mind, he’s now released a stylish new video for “Love Life”. The video was filmed, directed and produced by David Pear, and showcases Bran’s strong charisma, as well as the influence of artists like Madonna and Charlie XCX, exemplified by his and his fellow models and dancers’ voguing.

Follow Branwell:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicDeezer / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Amazon

New Song of the Week – JAMES BAKIAN: “Find Me”

James Bakian is an exceptionally talented, hard working and charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, England. He wrote his first song at the age of six, began studying piano at seven, and released his first EP By Your Side in 2016 when he was only 13. He followed up in late 2017 with his appropriately-named second EP Unstoppable, a really fine effort featuring six tracks. Since then, the prolific artist has released an astonishing 18 singles, his latest of which, “Find Me,” drops today, March 13th. I’m pleased to choose the soulful track as my New Song of the Week.

James Bakian 2020

James writes all his lyrics and music, records all the instruments, and produces his own songs. I’ve been following him for over three years, and it’s been gratifying to watch him grow professionally. Now 16, his songwriting, music and vocals get better and better as he matures, and he’s grown from a cute kid into a teen heartthrob. (I’ve featured him three times previously on this blog, and you can check out those reviews, which are listed under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this page.)

“Find Me” is languid and sultry, highlighted by James’ sublime piano keys that have an almost jazzy feel. With his piano riff as a centerpiece, he adds warm, shimmery synths of strings and gentle percussion to create a romantic soundscape for his smooth and soulful layered vocals. As James has matured, his voice has likewise deepened quite nicely. The music, melody and vocals are all incredibly pleasing, resulting in an exceptional track.

The lyrics speak of longing for a girl to the point of obsession, even though she barely knows that you exist:

Just leave me be
I’m doing my own thing
Didn’t suspect that you would notice me
Tryna figure out if I still fit in my skin
And I ain’t tryna change
Take me back
Back to the time when I didn’t have a care in the world and I knew I had a purpose
I don’t wanna live in a world where I can’t share my life with somebody who is worth it

I think I’ve found a girl but she gotta find me
Cause I know that one day ima call her baby
and I’ll tell her what I want whispering it slowly
When I look at that smile I keep going crazy

I keep dreaming ‘bout you
Always longing for you
Ain’t no reason not to
And I’ve been meaning to let you know
I keep dreaming ‘bout you
Always longing for you
Ain’t no reason not to
Oh-oh-oh
I’ll let you know one day as long as you find me
I’ll let you know one day as long as you find me

Girl you got what I been needing
Everything about you turns me on
Do I gotta have an explanation
I’m obsessed with you is that wrong?
Tell me what I need to do
If I wanna spend whole my life with you
I’ve been all alone in my feelings
Ain’t nobody who make me feel like you do

Ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody
Ain’t nobody make me feel like you do
Ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody
Ain’t nobody make me feel like you do

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase on  iTunesGoogle Play

ISOLDA – Single Review: “Night Time”

Isolda is a London-based singer-songwriter and musician who recently dropped her debut single “Night Time” on November 13. It’s a captivating track, and an impressive debut for this promising young artist, who began writing songs as a child. Classically trained on the violin and piano, she spent her formative years playing in orchestras, then later performing her songs at the piano in and around London. Inspired by those classical influences, as well as her interest in EDM, synth pop, psychedelic pop and trip hop, she began experimenting with electronic and acoustic elements to create her own unique sound, even learning to produce her own music in her north London home.

Isolda2

With the assistance of Dave De Rose on drums and Ami Kirby on violin, Isolda recorded her first EP Night Time, from which the title track is the lead single. The EP was mixed by noted sound engineer Shuta Shinoda at Hackney Road Studio, and is scheduled for release in early 2020. About “Night Time”, Isolda explains “The song is a hypnotic electronic beat-driven piece, written on sleepless nights and dreamlike states of realisation as time pulls us further away from the persons we loved and the places we have been. [It’s] a contemplation on the identity lost, and the resulting wakeful alertness that persists when the psyche has been disturbed from such reflection during a dark night of the soul, inspired by the inability to sleep when the past haunts someone as they press on towards an unknown future.”

“Night Time” has a rather unusual opening, starting off with a muffled synth chorus that quickly fades out as if the power source has been cut. After a second of silence, a delicate synth riff begins, then the music swells into an enchanting, ethereal soundscape of lush atmospheric synths. Isolda skillfully chooses from a bold palette of sparkling orchestral and percussive sounds to create a dreamy backdrop for her spellbinding, breathy vocals. She gently croons “And on this long road, no turning back. No, there is no, no, no going back. I was in a lifetime, away. It wasn’t my time to find a way. / It’s the night time, but I can’t get back to sleep.”

The fascinating video shows footage of traveling through city streets at night, interspersed with surreal images of Isolda in different settings that one could imagine her experiencing in a dream. Have a look and listen:

Connect with Isolda:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Night Time” on Spotify 
Purchase:  iTunes