ASHRR – Single Review: “Sacrifice”

ashrr-sacrifice-final

Though a relatively new band formed just last year (2018), Los Angeles-based ASHRR collectively have a long and impressive music pedigree. Comprised of singer-songwriter Steven Davis and artists/producers Ethan Allen and Josh Charles, the accomplished trio have a seasoned and eclectic musical background, combining their wide-ranging experience and diverse stylistic influences. Davis has headlined at the famed Rainbow Room, sharing the stage with Diana Krall and Tony Bennett, co-written songs with pop legend John Oates, and had his music featured on several TV shows and films, including Criminal Minds. He’s released numerous albums, including his jazzy, easy-listening What Happened to Romance and This is Christmas in 2015, a collection of great standards The Way You Look Tonight in 2016, and his tribute to 80s pop-rock classics Departure in 2018.

Allen is a record producer, mixer, engineer, writer, and multi-instrumentalist musician originally hailing from Austin and New Orleans. His credits include Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ben Harper, The 88, Tricky, Luscious Jackson, The Cult, Gram Rabbit, Sheryl Crow, Tim Finn, Brant Bjork, Donita Sparks, Meg Myers, Patty Griffin and Better Than Ezra, as well as many licensing placements in film and television.

Charles is a critically acclaimed piano prodigy, guitarist, singer, producer and songwriter, mentored by the legendary Dr. John. He has recorded for Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, Island Records and Elektra Records/Warner Music Group, and has produced/co-produced and written/co-written seven albums, including his own Love, Work & Money (2010) and 1974. He’s also produced exclusive sound content for Native Instruments and Splice, and has had many of his songs played on radio, film and TV, including several cuts with the aforementioned John Oates.

ASHRR2

ASHRR joined forces after meeting through mutual musician friends, seeking to collaborate 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.” Their sound is strongly influenced by Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem, among others.

In October 2018 they released their first single, the captivating “Don’t Wait Too Long”, which premiered at NPR.org 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 this past May with their debut full-length album Oscillator, which contained all the tracks from their EP, plus five new tracks. In October (2019) they released a stellar new single “Sacrifice“, which I’m reviewing today. The song was co-written by all band members, vocals were sung by Davis, and instruments played by Allen and Charles, except for Blair Sinta on drums and Grant Curry on electric bass. Allen and Charles produced the track, which was then mixed by Allen and mastered by Dave Collins.

The uplifting song seems to me to be about looking back on one’s life, realizing that all the hurdles we faced, all the pain we may have experienced, were worth going through to get where we are now, to be the better person we’ve become. Davis’ rich, beautiful baritone vocals are backed by a dreamy soundscape of sweeping orchestral synths. Sinta and Curry provide a mesmerizing rhythm accompaniment with their jubilant percussion and resonant bass lines, respectively. It’s a gorgeous song.

The rain it will come
And the wind it will blow
You wanna stay true
Don’t forget what you know

Haunted with memories
Blinded by noise
Too much to take
A crack in the voice
You lost the hope in your eyes
Was it worth the sacrifice

Preachers preach
Poets rhyme
The years tick slowly out of time
Angels watch while devils stare
We took the poison without care
The ferryman will name his price
We all know the sacrifice

Innocence is all you have when you are young
Darker days have come to pass
And we are stronger
looking back now
on all those dreams denied
It was worth the sacrifice

Connect with ASHRR:  WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music: SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  iTunesGoogle Play

JAMIE ALIMORAD – Album Review: “This is Tomorrow Calling”

Jamie Alimorad

Singer-songwriter Jamie Alimorad has had music in his blood practically all his life. As a teen, he played in a garage band, for which he wrote all the songs, and in high school, he was literally the face of the music department. By the time he was attending college at Northeastern University in Boston, he released his first EP Cornerstone (in 2010), then followed up two years later with his critically-acclaimed full-length album Words Left Unsaid, winning several music and songwriting awards. His very first video, for the song “Beautiful” from that album, has been viewed over 2 million times! Writing and recording songs had always seemed to come easy to him. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t so easy anymore.

Starting in early 2015, and continuing over the next few years, he wrote and recorded dozens of songs for a new album, but none of them satisfied him. He grew frustrated and filled with crippling self-doubt, wondering if he’d ever be successful again. So, he took a couple of classes with famed singer-songwriter, musician and producer Gino Vannelli, who offers small Art of  Song & Voice Master Class sessions at his music studio in Troutdale, Oregon. Jamie took one of his songs “A Moment Is All I Ask” to the second class, and after working on the song together, he and Vannelli realized they’d make a great team collaborating on an original project. That project ultimately became Jamie’s second album This is Tomorrow Calling, which was released on September 27th.

Working with Vannelli was an artistic rollercoaster ride for Jamie, filled with unique challenges and opportunities. He recalls “No one had ever told me in music, ‘It’s not good enough.’ No one had ever said, ‘You could be better.’ Gino put me on an island. No map, no shelter, no supplies. Make the island paradise, find a way out, or die. Those were the options, and it was up to me to create my tomorrow. Eventually Gino and I recorded eight songs together. Upon moving to Los Angeles, I did two more cuts with [Gino’s brother] Ross Vannelli. These two legends took me under their wings and opened my eyes to who I am. I’m eternally grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”

For the album, Jamie sang lead and backing vocals, and played keyboards, acoustic guitar and programming. Gino Vannelli played additional keyboard, organ, acoustic guitar, synth bass, drums, percussion and programming. Ross Vannelli sang backing vocals and also played keyboard, electric guitar, synth bass, drums, percussion and programming. Additional keyboards and programming were provided by George Whitty and Greg Goebel, electric guitar by Dalton Cyr, and backing vocals by Julie LaMeng and Moorea Masa. The album was produced by Gino Vannelli, though two of the tracks were produced by Ross.

Jamie’s pleasing sound could probably best be classified as adult contemporary pop-rock, although his music includes elements of folk, Americana, country and jazz. His thoughtful, relatable lyrics are set to catchy melodies and brought to life through superb instrumentation and rich sound textures. Listening to This is Tomorrow Calling, I’m struck by how good it sounds – the beautiful arrangements, lush soundscapes and, most notably, Jamie’s marvelous vocals. Every track is superb, showcasing his skillful songwriting, musicianship and impressive vocal range, but I’ll highlight my personal favorites.

The album opener “Brighter Days” is a terrific, upbeat song about not letting your problems overwhelm you, and staying positive in the hope that things will get better. A phrase in one of the lyrics is the album’s title, and really encapsulates its overall theme of love and resilience. “When living’s hard and you think you’re better off dead. This is tomorrow calling, there are brighter days ahead.” The genre-bending song has an infectious dance beat, with a bit of a country-rock vibe thanks to twangy guitars and some great vocal harmonies, and hits us in all the right feels. In conjunction with its release this past August, Jamie partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise funds for their cause. Proceeds from sales of a “Brighter Days” t-shirt at https://www.teepublic.com/user/jamiealimorad will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

On “Not Just Another Pretty Face“, Jamie sings of the many virtues of the object of his affection in addition to her good looks. “You’re more than a heavenly sight. Not just a Renoir on the wall, or a statue in a marble hall. You’re not just another pretty face. That’s what I love most of all.” The jazzy piano, organ runs and lively percussion, along with his smooth vocals and occasional scatting, make for an incredibly delectable song in the style of Michael Bublé.

Down on Golden Shores” is a lovely but bittersweet song about loss, with some especially poignant lyrics like these:  “Poor Louie was one of the best-looking dudes you ever did see. Kandahar sure did a number on his perfect body. /My Alex was so full of life. I thought someday to make her my wife. But the world is full of best-laid plans, made by sea and golden sands.” The piano, gentle guitar, harmonica and strings are all sublime, as are Jamie’s heartfelt vocals.

The radio-friendly “Not Ready to Say Goodbye” was the lead single from the album, and with its haunting melody, beautiful guitar work and infectious Latin rhythms, is definitely one of the standout tracks. Jamie passionately implores to the woman he’s fallen for to not end their budding relationship: “I fell head over heels, I jumped when you said jump. Too fast, too deep, just call me a chump. Not ready to say goodbye. Not ready to take the fall. Not ready to say goodbye. I’m in it for the long haul.”

A track that jumped right out at me on my first listen of the album was “Lucky Me“, a delightful kiss-off song that Jamie wrote as needed therapy after a bad breakup. The amusing lyrics describe how he quickly fell for her, only to discover that she was toxic: “They popped right out of my head when I laid my eyes on her, not knowing what kind of claptrap lay in my future. Lucky me! She came and went in a New York minute. Lucky me! It’s a beautiful world and I’m right back in it. The two best days of my life: One was finding her. Ooh the second one was losing her. Lucky me.” With its jazzy organ, guitar and percussive grooves, the song has a cool, late 70s Steely Dan vibe, and is one of my favorites on the album. And need I mention yet again how good Jamie’s vocals are?

How Could I Love Again” is a poignant song about having such a deep, intense love for someone that you don’t believe you are capable of ever loving another. The beautiful, piano-driven melody provides a moving backdrop for Jamie’s heartfelt vocals as he laments “Once I loved one woman such, that I thought to die without her touch. Because I loved her far too much, how could I love again?

On the album closer “Nights In the Back Bay“, Jamie seems to recall his experiences while attending college in Boston, and wanting to recapture the passion and creativity he had for making music back then. “I remember when the road had no end. My faith has been shaken, my heart keeps aching to return to those nights in the Back Bay. I’ve gotta get born all over again.” Musically, the song has a hauntingly beautiful melody that sounds brooding at times, yet uplifting and hopeful at others. The laid-back twangy guitars give the track an Americana feel, and the tinkling piano keys, synths, bass and crisp percussion are all wonderful.

This is Tomorrow Calling is a gorgeous work, with some of the finest production values of any album I’ve heard in a long while. Jamie and the Vannelli brothers should be very proud of their creation, as it’s impressive on every level. While its laid-back, easy-listening style probably won’t appeal to everyone, anyone who enjoys quality music, great lyrics and beautiful male vocals will enjoy this album.

Jamie will be opening for Gino Vannelli on Saturday, October 12 at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, CA.

To learn more about Jamie, visit his Website
Connect with him on:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon /  Google Play

STONED PIRATES – Album Review: “Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll”

Stoned Pirates album art

Stoned Pirates is the music project of Algerian-born Khaled Sahour, a creative and highly imaginative musician, visual artist and filmmaker. Growing up in a home where he was exposed to lots of music and art, he early on developed a love of rock, pop and disco, and taught himself to play music on a broken two string guitar. He started a band and sung his heart out to young Algerian audiences that seemed to connect very well, but eventually relocated to Los Angeles to further his career in music and film. On August 9th, he released his debut album Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll, which I’m pleased to be reviewing today.

Stoned Pirates’ unusual and eclectic music style comes from a wide array of influences ranging from classic rock acts such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses, to the funk of Sly & the Family Stone, the dance grooves of Chic and Nile Rodgers, and the soulful pop of Michael Jackson – all spiced with an Algerian flavor. Not only does Khaled write, perform, record and produce all his music, he also creates his own visuals for his Stoned Pirates project. The album was mixed and mastered by Thomas Juth, and opens with “Turmoil (Intro)“, a brief track that sets the tone for the album. With a backdrop of otherworldly industrial synths and a hypnotic beat, Stoned Pirates chants “I’ve been waiting for the wind to blow. I guess it’s time to rock’n’roll.

Next up is “Nothing“, a dark, trippy song about feeling overwhelmed by loneliness and hopelessness, like one is powerless to change the sorry state of things. Stoned Pirates weaves a mesmerizing soundscape out of a fascinating kaleidoscope of synth instruments and exotic sounds. I love the xylophone, spooky keyboards, deep bass and guitar, accompanied by a cool, carnival-like synth riff. Khaled has a quirky vocal style in which he sometimes sings in a baby-like falsetto that I suppose could be off-putting to some, but once I got into his music I found it sort of charming. Using that falsetto, he sings: “Throw me a bone. Hit me with a stone, I just wanna feel something real.” But then, he sings in a deeper, almost menacing tone: “Nothing, absolutely nothing has changed today. Same old, same old sins and heartbreaks coming in new ways.

The surreal video he made for the song shows an astronaut floating aimlessly through dark space along with various objects like an old TV playing static, boxing gloves and pieces of furniture.

One of my favorite tracks is “The Devil in You“, a great kiss-off song to someone who’s deceived and caused hurt. The song has a sensual beat, with jazzy synths, funky bass, swirling guitar and some really terrific sax. Stoned Pirates bitterly sings “I didn’t see fully the devil in you. What are you truly, if not a foe? Don’t come back crying, knocking on my door.” Keeping with a similar theme, “Mr. Nice Guy” addresses someone who keeps taking advantage of a guy whenever she screws up: “If you cry for help, he will come to you. Convenient nice guy is always at your rescue.” Once again, Stoned Pirates employs a rich assortment of sparkling synths, along with a hypnotic dance beat to create a captivating backdrop for his colorful vocals.

On the bittersweet “In Time“, he laments of his regret about having broken up with a lover: “If I could I would go back in time, I would change the way we drew the lines. If I could I would go back in time. I would try harder to change your mind. Love will come to you in time. Just be patient, don’t cry.” The soulful track has a Michael Jackson vibe, featuring deep, sensual synths, highlighted by funky guitar and brass, all set to a strong, hip-swaying beat. The soulful, funky “Rebound” has him calling out someone who’s using him to get over another guy:  “Oh girl, who you think you’re trying to fool? Oh girl, who you think you’re playing here? Cause all the signs are clear. I’m talking about the rebound.”

Stoned Pirates uses a vampire metaphor on “Midnight Lover“, a sexy song about a seductress who preys on men to get what she wants. I love this lyric: “I saw her on the dance floor still trying to get more. Staring at me in the eyes while biting another guy.” Funky grooves abound on “Where I Belong“, another sultry tune with marvelous swirling synths and a beat so damn infectious it had me doing a lap dance in my chair! The aptly-titled album closer “The End” features a sultry Latin beat and jangly guitars drenched in reverb, accompanied by some tasty exuberant horns. Khaled employs his deeper vocals here, as he sings in an almost menacing whisper: “Sit back, relax, nobody is going anywhere. You think the end, but it’s only just the beginning.”

I’ve got to say that Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll is a marvelous album and a very impressive debut from Stoned Pirates. His innovative music is totally original, sounding like no one else I’m aware of. I love how he’s taken an eclectic mix of influences to create his own unique, fascinating sound. His beautiful, seductive melodies, compelling lyrics and use of a wide array of lush instruments and synths make for some really captivating songs that are pure joy to hear.

Connect with Stoned Pirates:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

YARD OF BLONDS – Single/EP Review: “Je veux danser tout l’été”

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. They released a self-titled two-track EP in 2011, then followed up with a second EP Murderology in 2013. In 2014, they shot a documentary film “Joshua Trip” for French television program France 4, which inspired them to write the song “Born Again”. Jacob and Hill decided to settle in L.A., and eventually expanded the Yard of Blondes lineup with the addition of guitarist Burak Yerebakan and drummer Forrest Mitchell. They’ve been writing and recording new music for a full album being produced by Billy Graziadei (Biohazard, Powerflo) and mixed by Michael Patterson (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club).

Yard of Blondes2

The first single they’re releasing is “Je veux danser tout l’été“, which translates to “I wanna dance all summer long.” It’s a fun, upbeat track that the band states is “lighter, happier and more pop-oriented” than their usual songs. The single was released as an EP on July 19th with three versions: the original rock version (produced by Billy Graziadei), a synth-driven remix by Joachim Garraud, and the initial demo version produced by the band themselves. The song features layers of Jacob and Yerebakan’s jangly and gnarly guitars, fortified by Hill’s buzzing bassline and Mitchell’s lively, thumping drumbeats. Jacob fervently croons about the joys of dancing with sheer abandon, while Hill giggles in the background: “I never felt so young. I never felt the lights. Like a blessing, like a symphony, shining on the pavement. A first time of the year that I can hear the buzz outside. And the lights are calling me. A call to dance around. Je veux danser tout l’été.

For the filming of the video, they collaborated with DJ/producer Joachim Garraud, who also did a special remix of the song in his unique and innovative solar powered and completely self-contained recording studio on wheels he’s dubbed LAGOODVIBE.

Here’s an entertaining video chronicling the band’s adventure traveling from Los Angeles out to the Mojave Desert to record the track, under the direction of Joachim Garraud on his LAGOODVIBE.

Catch Yard of Blondes at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Saturday, August 31

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

FIONA GREY – Song & Video Review: “Saviour”

Fiona Grey is a colorful and charismatic singer-songwriter with a lot to say about the current state of affairs. With her sassy, sultry vocals and glamorous, yet playful style, she defines her dynamic sound as “dirty pop.” To my ears, her sound is a mash-up of Charli XCX, Gwen Stefani and early Madonna. Alternative newspaper LA Weekly recently named Grey the best pop singer in Los Angeles.

Chicago-born and now based in Los Angeles, Grey draws inspiration for her songs from the world of Hollywood, namely, it’s unrealistic expectations and the vices that people use to escape their anxiety and pain. She hopes her music will help listeners aim to be the most pure and honest versions of themselves. “There is a lot about living in a pop culture centered world that we deem as normal behavior“, she explains. “I hope that the music can remind the listener that this follower-centric, alternate persona universe we live in is all temporary happiness.”

Fiona Grey

She released her wonderful debut EP Belladonna in 2014, then followed with a series of singles, culminating in the release of her second EP Cult Classic in September 2018. That EP addresses the cultural issues Grey feels strongly about, expressing her vulnerability and anger towards the world we’re living in, and her desire to make it a better place. She states, “Each song has its own identity and story it wants to tell.” She’s just released a brilliant video for “Saviour“, one of the tracks off the EP.

It’s a gorgeous, compelling anthem about female empowerment, that women don’t need a man to ‘save’ them. Musically, the song features sweeping cinematic instrumentation, including lush orchestral strings, piano and glittery synths, backed with soaring vocal choruses. Grey’s beautiful vocals are amazing, exhibiting a broad range that goes from soulful croon to impassioned cries. The track also includes lovely guest vocals from singer Emma Cole.

And you can’t be my saviour
I don’t care what they say
All the rules you’ll have to break
You watch me fall apart
And you can’t come and save us
All the times you failed to try
I won’t be a trophy wife
And you can’t be god

The stunning video is an ode to Fellini, Marie Antoinette and the dark and dreamy black and white films of the 1960s. Says Grey, “This video is a stylized version of relationships I felt weak in, and this song was the inspiration to regain strength.” The story was written by Grey, Josh Allen and Sean Berger, filmed by Colin “Stinky” Trenbeath, choreographed by Kevin Stea, styled by Alexandra Mandelkorn, and directed by Sean Berger. Besides Grey, the other women dancers include Kelly Powers, Leslie Duner, Alexa Russo, Megan Campbell and Charlotte Smith. The Lover Boy was played by Conner Floyd.

The video depicts people at what appears to be a reception after the wedding of a couple portrayed by Grey and Floyd. Grey sings of her love, but also her refusal to bow down or be a trophy wife to him, as she and the other women dance and cavort about. There are some tense moments, but with a fresh understanding, they come together in peace and love at the end.

Connect with Fiona:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase on Fiona Grey Music Shop / Apple Music

BRIDESMEN – Single Review: “Overwhelm”

Bridesmen

I have a special admiration for artists who are willing to speak out about social and cultural issues, working to break down barriers. With that in mind, I’m pleased to feature Los Angeles-based artist Bridesmen, the music project of the astonishingly talented and thoughtful singer/songwriter Kenton Chen. Known for his work on NBC’s a cappella singing competition program Sing-Off, as well as his performances with Postmodern Jukebox and Scary Pockets, Chen’s latest project Bridesmen is a departure from his jazz/soul/a cappella roots. Through Bridesmen, Chen strives to explore the darker side of human nature, and the struggle over how to be a good person in a world that marginalizes you, i.e. a ‘bridesmen’ at a wedding.

As a gay Asian second generation immigrant, Chen grew up feeling isolated, constantly hiding behind masks to protect himself. With Bridesmen, he aspires to uncover these masks in an effort to live a boundless and truthful life. Through his songs, he tries to articulate feelings of loneliness and the effect it can have on people. Chen explains “We hurt when we don’t understand each other and we hurt when we are unwilling to change. The best thing we can do is be ourselves within the context of what we were given. I want people to know that as I have grown and matured as an artist and a human being, I’ve come to realize that my specific experiences of being gay and Asian are not particular to me. My life story reverberates far beyond my specificities, and anyone from any race or sexuality can empathize with the need to belong and be understood.”

Following the success of his soulful single “Someone Who Loves Me”, Bridesmen has released a gorgeous new single “Overwhelm“, along with a captivating video. The song speaks to our internal battles we have over our emotions. As Bridesmen explained to online magazine PRIDE: “Many of us walk through life with dual personalities: the strong, defensive façade, and the soft, sensitive core that we struggle to protect. We view our softness as weakness, as something we need to suppress or hide—whether with television, alcohol, or other distractions. But the more we push it down, the more it begins to fester, until it all boils over in a dark cloud that feels overwhelming. Thus, ‘The Overwhelm.’” He adds, “We Americans don’t talk about mental health, and the shame we attach to it is prohibiting us from addressing it head-on. It’s a vicious cycle. We feel isolated, so we produce negative thoughts, but because we don’t discuss our struggles, we feel more isolated, driving us deeper and deeper into the abyss.”

Musically, the song starts off with atmospheric keyboard synths as Bridesmen softly sings “Oh I’m not fighting this anymore. It never did me no good.” The music gradually swells into a sweeping soundscape, providing a lush backdrop for his breathtaking vocals as he plaintively croons of suppressing his overwhelming pain: “Swallow it down, swallow it down, before it consumes me. Seeing it now, wondering how, how not to lose me. I’m afraid to fade away, so I take in all the pain.” He really has a remarkable voice – so clear, resonant and beautiful.

The stunning video shows two dancers, played by Stephanie Kim and Raymond Ejiofor,  interpreting the song through their movement, and interacting with Bridesmen. He explains, “By letting them actually express themselves, I am setting my emotions free. I can learn to love the naive child and also the jaded guardian, recognize how important they are, as they guide me through The Overwhelm”. The video was beautifully directed by Seth Iliff.

Connect with Bridesmen:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play

FOREVER X2 – EP Review: “Forever X2”

Forever X2 art

As I’ve stated previously, one of the many things I enjoy about having a music blog is learning about new indie musicians and bands who are making some really fine music. Another recent find is Los Angeles-based indie rock artist Forever X2, the music project of singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Peter Verdell, who drops his debut EP Forever X2 today, May 22nd. He recently wrapped up an April residency at The Satellite in Los Angeles, which was presented by the legendary L.A. alt-rock radio station KROQ Locals Only program, featuring numerous standout acts from the L.A. music scene.

In his bio, Verdell establishes that he “wants to play power chords. And sing with some fuzz on his vocals. And make music that both his modern brain and his teenage brain would be psyched to hear on the radio.” Well, after listening to the six tracks on Forever X2, I would say that he accomplishes his goals quite nicely. He wrote all the songs in his apartment in downtown Los Angeles, and recorded them in a hot, non-air conditioned garage in Silverlake (where I lived for a brief time back in the 1980s). Verdell sang all vocals and played all the music, including guitars, drums, and keyboards.

In describing his creative process, he explained “I wanted the songs to capture how I felt when I first started playing music. Informal and fresh, sweaty and loud. The EP is special to me for a lot of reasons. It was about as DIY as it could get, and I needed it to be that way. I needed this new band to be fun and fresh and for there to be as few barriers between my brain and the recordings as possible. I worked with two talented dudes on the producing and mixing (Ari Berl and Yianni EP from a band called Pink Skies), and they did a great job. I wanted the songs to feel new but also to feel like they could’ve been on rock radio in 1997. I don’t know how close I got to that, but I’m in love with how the songs turned out. I think they feel fresh and new but also kind of familiar.”

Forever X2

In advance of the EP, Forever X2 released each of the six tracks as singles, beginning in the Fall of 2018 with “Keep the Devil Waiting”, which was recently licensed for an episode of CBS’ TV series Seal Team. The song has a rousing post-grunge vibe with grimy guitars and tumultuous drums. I like how Verdell inserts bits of distortion and reverb into the mix, ramping up the tension and excitement. His fuzz-soaked vocals have a seductive quality, a perfect match for the gnarly music and suggestive lyrics “So give me your love in a hurry. And leave your bible in the nightstand.”

“Think About It” is a fun, sexy song, and one of my favorites on the EP. I love the strong bouncy beat, chugging riffs of fuzzy guitars, and playful, almost psychedelic synths. Forever X2 tries to convince his love interest to quit wasting her time with Hollywood poseurs and get with him: “You need a man like me, someone you ain’t had. Try first with a name and a handshake over jack and a cola. Think about it. Tell me what you’re missin’. A man with a vision, and babe I see you so good.” Lyrics just don’t get any better than that!

The third single “Walk the Ocean” is another great grunge-pop tune, and received substantial airplay on KROQ for several weeks. The infectious song, as well as the following track “Mad For Me”, are both catchy as hell, with irresistible head-bopping beats that aim straight for the hips. Forever X2’s intricate guitar work is really quite marvelous on both songs. “God Don’t Want” has a moodier vibe, with harsh industrial synths and percussion, deep, pulsating bass and heavier, more distorted guitars that reach ear-piercing levels later in the song.

The final track and most recently released single “Forever Times Two” is a darkly beautiful love song, and my favorite on the EP. According to the website Get Some Magazine, which featured the single, the lyrics were inspired by author Stephen King’s book 11.22.63, about a time traveler named Jake who attempts to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For the song, Forever X2 specifically addresses the doomed love affair between Jake and a woman named Sadie, who in the book is accidentally shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, and dies in Jake’s arms.

The song is musically complex, slowly building in intensity as different instruments and sounds are gradually added in layers, creating a breathtaking and powerful soundscape for the deeply moving lyrics. Starting off with a sci-fi synth, a mix of percussive sounds – including drumbeat, hand clap and bell – ensue, accompanied by ominous synths and sounds of French police sirens as Forever X2 begins to sing in a breathy voice. As the music swells with warm keyboard synths, he sings “Softly calling. I’ve been waiting. I’ve been tracing lines to get back here Sadie. All my days, I’d trade ’em all over again. And I want to be with you ’til I’m gone.” Lush, swirling synths and chiming guitar are added as the music builds to a crescendo, at which point he repeats the lines singing as both Jake and Sadie. The music continues on, accompanied by his gorgeous soaring chorus, for a dramatic finish that leaves me completely covered in goosebumps.

Forever X2 is an outstanding EP, with six stellar tracks that beautifully showcase Verdell’s brilliant songwriting and musicianship. I love his sound and really enjoy listening to these songs again and again. I’m definitely adding this EP to my collection.

Connect with Forever X2:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play

SHIPS HAVE SAILED – Single Review: “Escape”

Ships Have Sailed

I’ve followed Los Angeles duo Ships Have Sailed on Twitter for a couple of years, but have somehow neglected featuring them on this blog. I’m now remedying that sad situation, as they’ve just released a beautiful and deeply moving new single “Escape“, and I love it. Ships Have Sailed is the brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Will Carpenter, and after collaborating with a number of fellow musicians starting around 2012, the lineup now permanently includes drummer Art Andranikyan. They play a pleasing and infectious style of pop-rock characterized by memorable melodies and thoughtful, uplifting lyrics. I had the pleasure of meeting Will last year in Los Angeles, and his gentle kindness comes through in his sublime vocals.

Ships Have Sailed released their debut EP Someday in 2013, and followed two years later with Moodswings. They also released a few EPs between 2015 and 2017 that featured remixes or acoustic versions of previously recorded songs. More recently, they dropped two stellar singles – “Up” in 2017 and “Let’s Just Dance” in 2018, along with some great remixes for both. Their latest effort is “Escape”, which dropped on February 22nd, and I think it’s one of their best songs yet.

From the moment we hear the opening guitar chords and delicate synths, we’re enveloped by a warm and heavenly soundscape. Then Will’s soft, comforting vocals enter the mix, and it’s pure bliss. He has a beautiful voice that melds perfectly with the gentle instrumentals. The music intensifies in the third verse as Art’s crashing cymbals and assertive drumbeats bring drama to the track. Will’s vocals rise to the occasion, becoming raw and impassioned, raising goosebumps on the back of my neck.

The song speaks to a person struggling with personal demons and addiction. About the inspiration behind the song, Will explains: “Everyone has struggled. Born as the stark expression of an especially trying year, ‘Escape’ represents a shift from what we’ve become best known for, exposing a more vulnerable angle. It represents musical honesty in its most raw form, and we truly hope it makes you feel something.

So you stumble through the world run against the grain…
There’s a demon in your mind with a boiling rage…
Screaming at the sky do you feel insane? Someone better hold you down.
Someone better figure you out…
Someone better hold you down…
Get off this ride…

If you look into the sky can you feel the rain?
Does the needle in your arm take away the pain?
Do you wonder if you’ll ever find a home again…
beyond this cheap escape…my friend.

The powerful and stunning video shows scenes of Will and Art performing the song, alternating with scenes of a young man experiencing emotional turmoil. Filmed in and around Los Angeles, it was directed by Michael Easterling & Jaala Ruffman of Talkboy TV, and produced by Ruffman. The cinematography was done by David Parks, and the actors are Caleb Thomas, Zarah Ruffman & Clarity Ruffman.

To learn more about Ships Have Sailed, check out their Website

Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes  / Google Play

DAVID GERGEN – Album Review: “The Golden Light”

David Gergen2

David Gergen is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. He’s been making music for over two decades, and just released his 7th self-produced album The Golden Light in early February. He seems to drop a new album every four years – previous efforts being The Dreaming in 2014, The Nearer It Was…The Farther It Became in 2010, and Haunting Whirlwinds in 2006 (although he did release a five-song EP Odyssey in 2012).

Incorporating elements of alternative, indie and experimental rock with Americana and easy-listening, he writes beautiful piano and guitar-driven melodies to accompany his thoughtful lyrics about love, loss and renewal. He explains his writing process on his website: “I write songs faster than I can record them….lyrics are important to me. I change direction with each piece of work and rather than submit to any trends, I create music that I like first and foremost. Music that keeps me interested, that is the secret to longevity I think.”

As I listened to The Golden Light, I was struck by David’s exceptional piano playing and skill at writing melodic piano compositions, both of which are well represented on the lovely album opener “Closer to the Light.” The main piano riff is serene and hauntingly beautiful, and backed by a second layer of piano, as well as a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, mandolin and strings. The track has a spiritual feel, with lyrics that seem to be about hitting rock bottom and seeking a way out of the hole you’re in through love and redemption. David’s smooth vocals have a quiet intensity as he implores “I’m falling, fallingFalling, I’m falling…down. Down, worn and busted. Can love save me again? The only must have is light coming in? Closer, closer, closer to the light.” The song is one of the album highlights for me.

Talking About Love” is an uptempo song with more of a progressive rock sound, thanks to the predominance of electric guitar and a more aggressive drumbeat. The layered guitars on this track are really good. The brooding “Here and There” ventures toward an Americana vibe, and features some awesome moody guitars and piano keys that convey the sentiments expressed in the lyrics: “Slowly, the twinkle is leaving those eyes. Somber days the overture of the times. The moment you notice it’s already gone. I’m afraid to notice who’s driving this train. I know I’m falling in love with this feeling that’s here and there.

Another beautiful piano-driven track is “Looking Glass,” a poignant song that seems to be about facing your own truths with honesty and an open mind. David’s piano playing is exquisite, and the accompanying acoustic guitar and soaring string synths make for a really gorgeous song. His vocals are comforting as he sings: “Don’t run away there’s a price to be paid, it’ll come back to find you again. So many of us running in circles to find out what’s lying within. Life is so pretty like a beautiful city with its lights climbing up to the moon. High rising wild fire burns what it needs to renew. It passed through the looking glass….it’s gone, gone, gone, gone.

Sirens” is an interesting track with rather unusual melody progressions that keep us just a bit off balance, but in a good way. David employs otherworldly synths and a funky distorted guitar riff to create dissonance and a sense of uncertainty that complement the lyrics: “The sweet singing on the red sea leads you right to the edge. The sirens watching are breaking us in. How many signs does it take.

Another unconventional track is “Mountain,” which has two distinct parts. The first 50 seconds of the song consists of eerie, discordant synths and an echoed pounding drum that impart a sense of foreboding. That disturbing part ends with an abrupt shift to a melodic and pleasing Americana song with strummed and chiming guitars, lovely synths and piano. David croons “Can anybody see through the mountain? Can anybody see what’s there? If you only see, what you want to see. It’s an easy way to get lost.” The track closes out the last 10 seconds with a repeat of the discordant sounds, perhaps symbolizing the feeling of being lost?

David goes off in an experimental rock direction on the fascinating “Coffee in Bed.” He uses layers of differently-textured strummed guitars that are sometimes discordant, backed with spooky, ethereal synths to create a hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizing soundscape. David’s soothing vocals are almost seductive as he sings about the ardor of love’s desires: “Calm breeze, sun on her face. I bring her some coffee, she wants me to stay. Not in a long time has anyone said, you must be waiting for coffee in bed.

He follows up with “Big River,” a pleasing Americana ballad about making it home to be with his loved one, and closes the album with “Clouds and Lightning.” Piano is the only instrument on this lovely track about what appears to be death and rebirth, whether in the literal or figurative sense: “It’s easy now, when it comes. Separate the heroes from the villains. Higher than the clouds. The offering to guide you on the way out.  Talk slow, it’s me you’re looking for. Why are you trying to be so strong? Resting clouds, resting angel. There’s a story she’s trying to tell. And then they’re gone, crimson angels.”

I must concede that The Golden Light is a remarkable work that requires at least a couple of listens to fully appreciate the nuance and complexity of the music and poetic lyrics, though the songs still sound wonderful to the casual listener. I discovered new sounds and meanings with each additional listen, and grew to like the songs more and more, to the point where I now think the album is brilliant. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys piano rooted alternative and experimental rock music that’s just a bit out of the ordinary.

Connect with David:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

JOHN DEFEO – Single Review: “Unwind”

John DeFeo

John DeFeo is a soulful R&B/hip hop artist based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and he’s got one of the hottest new singles I’ve heard in long while. Taken from his EP Champagne Heart (which just dropped in February, is marvelous, and I urge everyone who reads this to give it a listen), “Unwind” is so steamy it’ll leave you needing a cold shower.  With a sensuous mellow dance groove that aims straight for the hips, the track is reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body,” only better and sexier. Jangly, funk-infused guitars seem to flirt with the erotic bass-driven hip hop beat, and quite honestly, who can blame them!

DeFeo’s seductive vocals leave little doubt about his romantic intentions as he tries to convince a woman to give him a try: “Live a little, don’t be stuck up and beautiful. You got too many Instagram followers. I’ll give you the attention you need. We should leave soon.” I can’t get enough of this song, and the video’s awesome too!

Connect with John: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes