New Song of the Week – ASHRR: “Otherside”

Los Angeles-based alt-rock band ASHRR make some incredibly captivating music that’s strongly influenced by such acts as Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem. Comprised of singer-songwriter Steven Davis and artist/producers Ethan Allen and Josh Charles, the seasoned and highly-accomplished trio collectively have a long and impressive musical pedigree. Bringing together their diverse musical background and eclectic, wide-ranging experience, the three joined forces in 2018 after meeting through mutual musician friends, with the aim of collaborating to create the kind of music they all wanted to make. Charles explains “Our collective love of analog synth pop, classic new wave melodies and songwriting, and taking modern production to the limits, defines us. We all come from different backgrounds, which is what can be heard inside the music.” 

In October 2018 they released their beautiful debut single “Don’t Wait Too Long”, which premiered on NPR and garnered regular airplay on famed Los Angeles alt-rock radio station KROQ. They dropped their self-titled EP ASHRR a few months later, then followed in May 2019 with their outstanding debut full-length album Oscillator, which contained all the tracks from their EP, plus five new tracks. That October, they released an enchanting single “Sacrifice“, which I reviewed, then followed with three more singles, the latest of which is “Otherside“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Released via Wehearnoise Records, it’s a darkly beautiful song that seems to address feelings of breaking free from the isolation of being in lockdown, and celebrating the joys of once again openly socializing with friends and loved ones: “Locked up inside another sundown, Let’s take a ride to the ghost town / I wanna be alive, shining on my face in the morning light. I still need you so…Come out in the open, meet me on the otherside.”

To convey their hopeful message of emerging from the darkness into the light, ASHRR builds upon a strong pulsating beat with a palette of bewitching darkwave synths in the style of Depeche Mode, then layers a rich mix reverb-soaked fuzzy and jangly guitars. The result is a brooding yet optimistic backdrop for Davis’s mesmerizing vocals as he sings the hopeful lyrics.

Connect with ASHRR:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase:  iTunesBandcamp

ANIA – Single Review: “Tuesdays”

Los Angeles has long been a magnet for young musicians wanting to establish themselves as artists, and I’ve featured many on this blog. One young and promising artist who caught my attention last summer was Ania Thomas, a massively-talented guitarist, songwriter and singer who identifies herself simply as Ania. Born and raised in Poland, she developed a love for music at a young age. She emigrated to America as a teen, first to Chicago, where she studied music at the School of Rock, then to Los Angeles, where she’s now based, to study music at USC and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Inspired by such artists as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Blondie, St. Vincent, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, L7, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, her aggressive music style is characterized by modern synth textures, killer guitar solos and bewitching vocals.

In 2019, she released two terrific hard-rocking singles “Run Away” and “Doors Close”, then followed in May 2020 with her third single “Poison“ (you can read my review here). After that, she collaborated on two singles, with Noir Production on “Miyako Sushi” and Marcio Hendrik on “Hollywood Moon”. In December she dropped her fourth solo single “Tuesdays“, for which she’s just released an accompanying video on January 22nd. Ania wrote the music and lyrics, arranged the song, played guitar and sang vocals. Bass was played by Philippe Mark, keyboards by Vito Vincenzo Sicurella, strings by Barry Fowler and drums by Seth. “Tuesdays”, along with her three previous solo singles, will be included on her forthcoming debut EP Ania in Chains, due out later this year

Ania was inspired to write “Tuesdays” by the many soul-crushing challenges we all faced in 2020 – the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout, the deep and bitter political divide, and so on. “The song is really about being lost and finding yourself, I think. About finding your way. When the idea for it came to me, I was just walking around the mountains in LA and was trying to find myself again in nature. We’re all kind of lost right now, I think. We’re all there or we’ve all been there, all struggling with different things. But we’ll make it through.”

She delivers her hopeful message with a barrage of intricate fuzz-coated riffs, punctuated by some serious shredding and grinding distortion that create a strong sense of foreboding. Her amazing guitar work is backed by a powerful rhythm section of driving bass and tumultuous percussion that heighten the overall sense of tension quite nicely. Her commanding vocals are both seductive and urgent as she impels us to gather our inner strength and forge ahead through the difficulties with the belief that things will get better: “Inhale, Inhale. And now times have changed. But don’t give in / You’re gonna find a way. All out! All out! I beg you know A WAY.” I think “Tuesdays” is her best single yet!

Follow Ania:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase her music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube / Amazon

leaving richmond – Album Review: “Visions”

leaving richmond is the instrumental electronic music project of Los Angeles-based composer and producer Jordan Pier. He recently reached out to me about his latest album Visions, which dropped November 13th. As I always do when preparing to review an artist or band’s music for the first time, I checked out his back catalog to better acquaint myself with his style and sound, and was surprised at his considerable music output over the past 10 years. From what I can tell, his first release, in 2010, was the EP The Secret Traditions of Washington Ave., a very respectable work featuring five tracks. Since then, he’s released another two EPs, several singles and five albums, the latest of which is Visions.

His works have received widespread acclaim from both music critics and fans alike, with several of his songs garnering airplay on NPR and other radio stations around the world. Despite the pandemic, he says 2020 has been an amazing year for him from a musical standpoint. In addition to composing and producing a new album, he also saw a number of his tracks land placements on popular TV shows as well as advertisements.

About his new album, Pier explains: “Following the release of [his previous album] ‘Great Distances’, I took a deep dive which bore fruit in multiple ways, particularly in honing my composition, production and engineering capabilities in aspects that were exciting and inspiring. I strove to take all the new skills I had learned and combined it with the organic songwriting I so loved. The melodic, layered guitar as the main and guiding instrument represents a return to roots as I simultaneously embraced new electronic techniques. As a result of this new outlook on songwriting and experience in the studio, the ‘Visions’ LP was born. Every track on this album is tied to and inspired by a visualization of some sort. What this album has allowed me to do is combine my love for music and imagery into one offering. It is my hope to provide a soundtrack for the thoughts of the listener and offer some respite.”

All tracks were composed, arranged, produced and engineered by leaving richmond, and mastered by Brian Hazard. The album kicks off with “You Must Break Yourself“, an enchanting track featuring a kaleidoscope of shimmery and spacey synths punctuated by dubstep-like percussive beats. The result is a dreamy and optimistic soundscape that, to my ears, evokes a sense of breaking free from whatever it was holding you back and entering an aura of enlightenment.

Memories of Another You” is a stunning feast for the ears that really showcases leaving richmond’s impressive compositional and production talents. He intertwines layers of gorgeous chiming guitar notes with glittery string synths and delicate skittering piano keys to create a scintillating soundscape that’s truly magical. It’s an instant favorite of mine. The lovely “There Is So Much to See” has a somewhat more subdued and introspective vibe, with warm, sumptuous synths.

Inspired by the 1879 painting Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Adherence” is a rather dark and somber track, with a deep bass synth-driven melody overlain with swirling synths and reserved jangly guitars that nicely convey Joan of Arc’s sense of purpose and valor. “Daydreams at the Cannery” was inspired by a character in the 2017 video game What Remains of Edith Finch?, developed by video game company Giant Sparrow. The shimmery guitars and glistening synths are intended to honor the beautiful storytelling and cinematic art of the game.

On a more spiritual level, “Washing Over Us” attempts to convey through music the concept that, in his words, “pure emotion can surround, envelop and cleanse us like the beautiful waters in the oceans and lakes around the world.” He skillfully employs watery synths, chiming guitar notes and ethereal choir-like vocals to create images of water nymphs singing in a crystalline lake. “The Frequency of You” is a beguiling guitar-driven track with wonderful spacey synths and a hypnotic toe-tapping beat. Once again, his guitar work is quite marvelous.

leaving richmond’s love of neon light signs was the inspiration behind the sublime “Red Orange Light“. The track opens with muffled sounds of neon gas pulsating through glass tubes, followed by a building cinematic soundscape of spacy synths and delicately-strummed jangly guitars, accompanied by a gentle dubstep beat. It’s an enchanting and beautiful song. Keeping with the more techno-oriented sound, the enchanting “The Soul is Greater” serves up more of those spacey, otherworldly vibes, highlighted by leaving richmond’s signature gorgeous shimmery guitars.

I’ve run out of descriptors and superlatives by now, so let me just say that closing track “And Then We Begin Again” is yet another exquisite song, and a fine finish to a stunning album. I’ve listened to a lot of electronic instrumental albums over the years, and Visions stands among the very best. leaving richmond’s skill for writing beautiful and compelling melodies is impressive, and his guitar work and keyboards are truly breathtaking.

Follow Leaving Richmond:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  BandcampAmazon

YARD OF BLONDES – Single Review: “Do You Need More?”

From humble beginnings in France as a folk pop duo making mostly acoustic music, Yard of Blondes have faced some of the same challenges and struggles as many young artists and bands experience since relocating to Los Angeles in 2014. Now a four-piece, they’re finally on an upward trajectory and making a name for themselves with their exciting and edgy style of alternative rock. The band is comprised of the hard-working French-born singer/songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Vincent Walter Jacob and bassist/vocalist Fanny Hulard, guitarist Burak Yerebakan, originally from Turkey, and Northern California native Forrest Mitchell on drums.

I’ve previously featured Yard of Blondes twice on this blog, first in July 2019 when I reviewed their marvelous bilingual single “Je veux danser tout l’été”, along with two alternative versions, then again this past February when I reviewed their single “Lowland”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) Now they’re back with “Do You Need More?“, the third single from their forthcoming debut album Feed the Moon, due for release early next year. The single and album were produced by Billy Graziadei (Biohazard, Powerflo), mixed by Michael Patterson (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and mastered by Maor Applebaum (Faith No More).

In a recent interview with music blog TrueStyleMusic, Vincent provided some background on “Do You Need More?”: “It was one of the first songs we wrote for our upcoming album, and it’s the song we always play first at our shows. It’s a song that seems very straight forward, but it evolves into a more complicated piece as Fanny is adding more and more layers of vocals, and as we end up breaking the installed routine with some surprisingly heavy bridge. Regarding the lyrics, it’s also a tricky song. It feels like a love song at the beginning, but it’s actually a toxic love story where one gaslights another, and it ends up with kind of a Stockholm syndrome situation.

The song is a rampaging beast, storming through the gates like a bat out of hell with furious riffs of grimy guitars and a thunderous barrage of explosive rhythms. Fanny’s throbbing bass line propels the song forward while Forrest keeps pace with his pummeling drumbeats. Meanwhile, Vincent and Burak are busy laying to the airwaves with their aggressive, intertwining guitars, delivering chugging riffs of shredded distortion that threaten to blow out the speakers. Vincent and Fanny’s expressive vocals rise to the occasion, becoming downright feral in the chorus as they wail “Do you need more? Do you really need more? Gimme, gimme, gimme some more! I want it all!” Finally, everyone spent, the song fades out in a hum of reverb.

If the three singles released thus far – “You and I & I”, “Lowland” and “Do You Need More?” are any indication, Feed the Moon is guaranteed to be a terrific album.

Connect with Yard of Blondes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #95: “My Type” by Saint Motel

The song at #95 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “My Type” by Los Angeles-based Saint Motel. I loved this song the moment it first hit my eardrums back in late 2014, and it turned me into a big fan of the band. Their rousing, sophisticated sound is a nod to the brassy exuberance of the Big Band era, but delivered with a fresh, contemporary indie pop approach. “My Type” is a deliriously catchy song with a powerful driving dance beat and an exuberant horn-driven hook that make for a joyful and fun listen. It also has one of the best tongue-in-cheek lyrics ever: “You’re know you’re just my type. Oh, you’ve got a pulse and you are breathing.”

Band front man A.J. Jackson, who has a terrific singing voice, produced and directed the stylish video for the track, which was filmed in a cool Mid-Century Modern house in L.A.

ANIA – Single Review: “Poison”

Ania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Ania:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube
Purchase:  Google playAmazon

SURRIJA – Album Review: “Surrija”

Surrija Albumcover

This past January, I introduced my readers to Surrija, the music project of the hyper-talented singer-songwriter Jane Lui, when I reviewed her marvelous single “Nothing Love”. The song was the lead single of her self-titled album Surrija, which dropped April 3rd. Born and raised in Hong Kong, and now based in Los Angeles, Lui began studying classical piano at the age of five, and that traditional training, combined with her love for the music of artists like Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Björk, helped shape her unique sound and music style. She has a gorgeous and unusual singing voice, and uses it almost like another instrument in her arsenal, seducing us with tender whispers one moment, then startling us with a feral urgency the next.

Recording under her given name, Lui produced three studio albums between 2004 and 2010, along with numerous singles and covers, which you can find on her SpotifySoundcloud, and YouTube pages. Despite her success, however, she felt constrained, and wanted to make music that more closely reflected what she refers to as her “slightly feral tendencies.” It was with this new approach that Lui rebranded herself as Surrija. In 2016 she spent time in Barcelona, Spain, where she initially found inspiration from Picasso’s artistic output during his own years spent living there. But eventually, she became fascinated instead with his famous lovers and muses who he kept in the shadows, often preventing them from realizing their own potential. Wanting to tell their story, she began researching about some of them and writing songs for what would become her debut album Surrija. As a concept album, Surrija is a complex and remarkable work, with a lot to unpack. Not being a musician, I approach this review with a bit of trepidation, as I hope to adequately articulate at least some of its many nuances.

The first album cut and lead single “Nothing Love” actually predates her time spent in Barcelona, as it was written in 2013. The song – and the entire album actually – is a musical feast for the ears, with an impressive array of instruments, synths and sounds. Starting with a foundation of stuttering dubstep beats, Surrija and her team of musicians layer a rich and colorful kaleidoscope of sounds and textures to create a dramatic and rather chaotic soundscape that thrills and surprises at every turn. Surrija plays the Moog synthesizer, electric organ, piano and mellotron, Matt Chamberlain plays drums, mixed percussion and modular synths, Maxwell Gualtieri plays electric guitar, Sophocles Papavasilopoulos plays piano and clarinet, and Christine Tavolacci plays the enchanting flute that’s one of the song’s highlights for me. Lui told the webzine Clout: “‘Nothing Love’ is about the kind of heartbreak that hurts so much it feels absurd”, and her fervent vocals most definitely convey that kind of emotional intensity.

Surrija and gang
Albert Chiang, Surrija, Maxwell Gualtieri & Sophocles Papavasilopoulos

Next up is “Barcelona“, one of my personal favorites on the album. Like most of the tracks, it was co-written by Lui and Albert Chiang, and while the lyrics are ambiguous to me, the song’s arrangement and Surrija’s captivating vocals are incredible. The song starts off almost tentatively, with wobbly industrial synths set to a slow dubstep beat as Surrija’s softly croons. Subtle keyboards and haunting guitar notes enter as the song builds, soaring to a dramatic crescendo in the chorus as she passionately sings “I’ll be waiting in Barcelona”, covering me in goosebumps.

A number of songs are named for Picasso’s paintings, muses or lovers, the first of which is “Sylvette“, which is also the title of Picasso’s 1954 painting of a young woman with a pony tail. The model for the painting was a young French woman named Lydia Sylvette David, who worked in a pottery studio near Picasso’s studio. Finding her appearance appealing, he ultimately created 40 works inspired by her. It’s been said that she was an inspiration for actress Brigitte Bardot and the Roger Vadim film And God Created Woman. Now 85, Lydia starting drawing to pass the time while she sat for Picasso, and became an artist in her own right. (Wikipedia) Musically, “Sylvette” has a throbbing synth-driven dance vibe with funky guitars and sharp drumbeats. Surrija’s soulful vocals remind of a bit of Madonna on this track, which actually sounds to me like a song Madonna could have sung in the 90s.

Minotaur” is inspired by Picasso’s fascination with the mythical creature, which was a prominent and recurring motif in his artwork from 1928-1958. The bull is a significant element in Spanish culture, representing power and strength, as evidenced in the rituals of bullfighting and the running of the bulls. For the online art webzine Widewalls, art critic Balasz Takac observed that Picasso “apparently perceived himself as the Minotaur, a creature of huge physical power and sexual energy, which suited his need for expressing the male principal in all of its glory. He somehow saw the battle in corrida through the prism of his own relationships with women. On the other hand, it is also important to point out that the bull is a rebellious and durable animal eager to resist the attacker, which is relevant in the light of Picasso’s political engagement and reaction on the rising Fascism in the 1930s.”

I may be way off, but the lyrics “Behind the terror where the gentle lives / Breathing heavy always counting on the scars and open wounds / She knows those lilies and nightlight” seem to speak to how one of Picasso’s lovers would deal with him in the context of his identity as a Minotaur.

Another favorite track of mine is the enchanting “Dora“, highlighted by beautiful violin, deep, resonant piano keys, and Surrija and Albert Chiang’s exquisite vocal harmonies. The song is named for French photographer, painter and poet Dora Maar (aka Henriette Theodora Markovitch), who had a tempestuous affair with Picasso from 1935-43 (even though he was still somewhat involved with his previous lover Marie-Thérèse Walter). He painted many portraits of her, often depicting her as a tortured, anguished woman, which she did not appreciate. The most well known of these portraits is “The Weeping Woman.” Her sentiments are vividly expressed in the lyrics: “You introduced me to your war / I learned a lot keep folding it in / Take care of the dark / Knife between the roses on the table top / The blood I kept and promised / Like a dream come true / You’re a dream come true.

Serial philanderer and overall louse that he was, Picasso dumped Dora for his next lover Marie Françoise Gilot, with whom he had a stormy affair from 1943-53, and subject of the song “Gilot“. She was also an accomplished artist, but her professional career was eclipsed by her involvement with Picasso. After they split up, he discouraged galleries from showing or buying her work, and tried to block the publication of her memoir Life with Picasso. (Still alive at 98, she later married Jonas Salk, developer of one of the first polio vaccines.) “Gilot” has a harsher, lo-fi sound, with a skittering dubstep beat and spacey synths, highlighted with some somber piano keys. With breathy, ethereal vocals, Surrija softly laments as Gilot, coming to terms with Picasso’s shortcomings and finally choosing to move on: “You could be here with history waiting / Keep still for a moment / ‘Cause I know you and all you want to take / I see you through your loops and endings / Sweet wreckage awaiting / It’s hard but i will walk away.

Turnstile Hostile” seems to address Picasso’s penchant for having a revolving door of lovers, and his mistreatment and ultimate discarding of them: “Turnstile hostile temperamental / We lined up for your blows / Arms up gun point my anger hollowed / Can’t feel the quiet it’s time to go.” The gnarly synths, gritty bass and punchy drums create a discordant vibe that suits the biting lyrics. “Semibelieve” is a rather haunting, ethereal song with ambient psychedelic synths, delicate piano keys and distant sounds of crickets. I can’t figure out what the lyrics are about, but Surrija’s soft, breathy vocals are lovely as she sings them.

Mercy Street” is a beautiful and haunting cover of the song written by Peter Gabriel that originally appeared on his 1986 album So. Though unrelated to the subject matter of the other tracks, it seems to fit the album’s overall theme quite well, The album features two brief instrumental tracks, the first of which “She Learned to Not Be Scared” consists of a pensive but lovely piano melody accompanied by ambient sounds of rain and thunder, broken at the end by sounds of a tape recorder being turned on with some entirely different music playing before being abruptly shut off. The second is “H.U.M.“, which is essentially 30 seconds of deep synth bass.

The album closes with the beautiful piano ballad “Almost Time“, a bittersweet song that seems to speak to broken relationships and the pain they leave in their wake: “Well it’s almost time / Maybe you’ll get lucky / At least in my mind / No answers for I know I’d lose / But i can say ‘least I tried so I can hide.” The only sounds we hear are Surrija’s captivating piano and vocals that start off tender and heartfelt, then rise to an impassioned plea in the chorus that brings chills.

Surrija is a brilliant and innovative work, and one of the most fascinating albums I’ve heard so far this year. Though each track can stand on its own, I think the album should be listened to in its entirety from beginning to end to fully appreciate its beauty, power and nuance. Surrija and her fellow musicians have crafted a stunning work that should make them all quite proud.

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

New Song of the Week – WONS PHREELY+theHorses – “Restless to Run”

Wons Phreely Restless to Run

I’ve been following Australian-born, and now Los Angeles-based, singer/songwriter Wons Phreely (aka Justin Wonsley) since first learning about him in 2016. He’s an interesting, funny, thoughtful, hard-working and highly creative guy, and I love his music and off-beat vocal style. He grew up and began his music career in Perth, but relocated to Los Angeles in 2015 in search of a more dynamic and varied artistic environment where he could grow as a musician and artist.

In 2016, with his backup band The Horses he released an autobiographical single “Stars” that addressed his experiences overcoming self-doubt and fear of change, and enabling him to make the life-altering move from Australia to Los Angeles. In November 2017, he followed up with another great single “The Night Has An Alibi,” accompanied by a strange but brilliant video he directed in which he’s portrayed as only a head.  I reviewed both singles, each of which ended up placing on my Top 100 Songs lists for 2016 and 2018, respectively. (You can check out those reviews under “Related” at the end of this post.)

Now he returns with a brand new single “Restless To Run“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. As with all his songs, Wons was inspired by his own life experiences: “I wrote the song about your (my) famous first romantic tryst and how it got all messed up.”

But he elaborates on a larger, more philosophical level: ‘Restless To Run’ is about all the many paths we can choose in life, and how sometimes we have to run down the wrong ones, fall down, get back up and then choose a new road to head down. We all mess up, fail and have false starts, I signed a with a big management and publishing label, but I had this feeling like it wasn’t right, like I had to get away, start again, and run in my own direction. Then I got to LA, where I felt more like myself. Even if I’m struggling daily, I’m doing things on my own terms, like directing music videos, or writing songs for people. Its not easy, but it’s the right road for me. And sometimes the failures can be what make us feel alive. 

I’d like to dedicate this song to the spirit of embracing failure. That’s what I connect to in rock and roll. I wrote it after the passing of David Bowie. I actually found myself crying a little, which is something I’ve never done over the passing of a famous person. It felt almost like the end of an era when artists could experiment, and still be accepted by pop culture, with no consideration for commercial results. Just self expression on who they are and how they felt. Bowie’s first few albums completely flopped, and yet an industry and the public still supported him until he had formed his musical identity and began to connect through a very personal expression of who he was. Same goes for artists like Springsteen, Prince and Elton, who were failures for their first couple of records, but carried on anyway. And these artists arrived at some truly unique styles and self-expression that still resonates today. Time is a tricky one. It’s about learning who you are as you grow into yourself. Bowie made me want to make music that’s fun, camp, glamorous and sexy.”

Like all his songs, Wons starts with a catchy melody and bouncy, head-bopping beat, then layers jangly guitars, snappy drumbeats, and exuberant, swirling synths that evoke a sun-kissed and carefree Southern California afternoon. But the real highlight are his delightfully quirky but pleasing vocals that start off with a plaintive croon, then veer off into a joyous, breathy falsetto that’s so endearing. And I love how his Australian accent shines through.

He’s also released another clever video to accompany the single, about which he explains: “I wanted the video to feel like simpler times. It was deliberately shot with a lo-fi approach using a handheld iPhone with no lenses or smooth, stabilized shots. The aim was to convey innocence and romanticism—a longing you can only really capture and express through music.”

Wons also made a lyric video for the song that opens with an aerial shot of Hollywood that zeroes in on a billboard on Hollywood Boulevard that shows the video playing.

Follow him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / YouTube / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google PlayiTunes

BARREN GATES & HARLEY BIRD – Single Review: “Last”

It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to meet a real-life music artist up close and personal, but that was the case this past November, when I had the pleasure of meeting Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and musician Harley Bird. He and his girlfriend are good friends with my nephew, and came along with him to my home for Thanksgiving dinner. Harley’s as gracious and kind as he is talented and handsome, and we had a great time discussing and sharing music. He’s just released a dark and powerful new single “Last“, in collaboration with L.A.-based music producer Barren Gates, which I’m thrilled to feature today.

Harley Bird
Harley Bird

A native of L.A., Harley has been involved with music for many years. He has a beautiful voice and undeniable charisma that make him a successful artist who’s very much in demand. He started out honing his craft by busking on the streets, and was the front man for alt-rock band The Shadow Heist from 2014-16. But his career really took off after he posted his cover of a song he recorded on Instagram. An electronica music producer who saw the post reached out to him about working together on his song that needed lyrics and vocals. Once they released that song, some of the music producer’s peers reached out to Harley about doing collaborations with them, and things spread like wild fire from there. Over the past four years, Harley’s worked with other musicians and producers both in the L.A. area and across the globe on scores of songs that have collectively racked up over 45 million streams on Spotify.

Barren Gates
Barren Gates

Barren Gates (aka Brandon Lutowsky) is a highly accomplished and prolific electronic music producer and composer who’s also collaborated with numerous other artists on more than 40 songs and remixes. He and Harley previously worked together on their songs “Tomorrow” and “S.O.S.”, and “Last” is their latest collaboration. Barren arranged and produced the song, while Harley wrote the lyrics and melodies, played piano and sang vocals. The song has been released through the indie label Valiant Records.

The song opens with the sounds of Harley’s haunting piano chords, then quickly expands into an ominous and captivating soundscape of dark, spooky synths. Eventually, Barren injects a deep, grinding trap beat into the mix, taking the track into even darker territory. At about 1:17, the beats stop and the music calms back down to an interlude of the dark, reverby synths and bewitching piano keys we heard earlier. The music gradually swells, once again exploding into a repeat of the heavy, crushing trap beats that continue through to the end of the song.

With a vulnerable urgency in his breathy vocals, Harley lays bare his soul to a woman he’s strongly attracted to, fearing she may be toying with his emotions in order to use him, but hoping that perhaps her intentions are sincere: “Draw us in and kick us out. Girl you look so fuckin’ proud. Should I stay or should I go? I’ve gotta chase, I’ve gotta know. / I know I’m not the first guy to try tonight. But maybe I’ll be your last.” It’s a brilliant and stunning track.

Connect with Harley Bird: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube

Connect with Barren Gates: FacebookTwitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music

New Song of the Week – YARD OF BLONDES: “Lowland”

Yard of Blonds LOWLAND

Yard of Blondes is a French alternative rock band now based in Los Angeles. They started out as a folk pop act made up of singer/songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Vincent Walter Jacob and bassist/vocalist Fanny Hill, and after relocating to L.A., they expanded the band lineup with the addition of guitarist Burak Yerebakan and drummer Forrest Mitchell. They were featured on the 2016 compilation I love you all the time, along with Eagles Of Death Metal, Florence & The Machine, Kings Of Leon, Jimmy Eat World and many more. All the proceeds were given to the victims of the Paris attacks.

I featured Yard of Blondes last July (2019) when I reviewed their marvelously upbeat bilingual single “Je veux danser tout l’été”, along with two other alternative versions, a remix by French superstar DJ and producer Joachim Garraud, and a grungy home demo. The remix was produced in Garraud’s 100% solar-powered RV turned into a recording studio, in the middle of the Mojave desert which is documented in the music video for the song. Since then, they’ve been writing and recording new music for their first full-length album Feed the Moon, due for release later this year. The album was produced by Billy Graziadei (Biohazard, Powerflo), mixed by Michael Patterson (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and mastered by Maor Applebaum (Faith No More).

On November 1, 2019 they released the first single “You and I & I” from the forthcoming album, and returned on Valentine’s Day with a second single “Lowland“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The single is accompanied by the release of a wonderful video produced by Fanny and Vincent, featuring footage filmed at LAX and Disneyland on their phones. About the song, Vincent explains “‘Lowland’ depicts the dark place we always go to when we are distressed. It’s the place where all our monsters live. In the song I feel I’m going back to that dark place, but this time you’ll accompany me to get out of here, just like Orpheus going to get Eurydice from death, except here the roles are reversed because Fanny is the one who is pulling me out from inside.”

The song features chugging riffs of exuberant layered guitars, propelled by hard-driving rhythms. Vincent and Burak’s guitar work is superb, and Forrest’s drums are spot-on, assertive yet restrained where needed. Fanny lays down a solid bass line while lending her soft backing vocals to the mix. Vincent’s beautiful, plaintive vocals convey a strong sense of vulnerability as he pleads for emotional support. Everything explodes in the bridge into a maelstrom of blistering riffs and thunderous percussion, Vincent’s raw, impassioned vocals rising to the occasion, and covering me with chills. It’s a fantastic, exhilarating track.

I got a one way ticket going back to Lowland
Keep me awake before I fall into the quicksand
Every plane I take
Every train I ride
Finally always lead me to that same old place

You take my hand
Sing a lullaby
Light the fireflies
Light the fireflies

I’m on my very own land I know every corner
I know exactly where is hiding the coroner
The tiger is here
Beside the lake of tears
I know exactly though the sun never rises

You take my hand
Sing a lullaby
Light the fireflies
Light the fireflies

Drifted eyes in fear
Scary palms shaking
All around

You take my hand
Sing a lullaby
And light the fireflies
Light the fire
You make me feel alive
Pull me out from inside
Your eyes are like a lighthouse
As you feed the moon I cry

Connect with Yard of Blondes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play / Amazon