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

WONS PHREELY – Single and Video Review: “The Night Has An Alibi”

Wons Phreely Single Art

I’m a huge fan of Australian-born, and now Los Angeles-based, singer/songwriter Wons Phreely. The talented, hard-working musician has an interesting and unique voice to match his artistic moniker (his birth name is Justin Wonsley). He grew up in Perth, one of the world’s most isolated large cities, where he also felt isolated with regard to his desire to become a successful musician. So, in 2015 he relocated to Los Angeles and quickly immersed himself into the creative artistic environment where he could more fully grow as an artist.

Wons Phreely2

In 2016, with assistance from his backup band The Horses, he released an excellent single “Stars” (which I reviewed) that addressed his experiences overcoming self-doubt and fear of change, and enabling himself to make the life-altering move from Australia to Los Angeles. In November 2017, he followed up with a sparkling new single “The Night Has An Alibi,” inspired this time by his feelings of being out of place in Perth, and subsequently landing in the accepting artistic community of L.A. The hopeful lyrics speak to embracing all the surprises life has to offer, not letting fear keep you from living life to its fullest:

Daylight creeps in like a kick in the guts and the rush of blood
Check your look in the mirror, are you young enough
Cause it took you so long to get up dancing alone, while all the lights were down
In or you’re out, boy don’t wait around
Sister I know we should settle but I cant live a lie
Too long running, true blood pumping
Man I just get this feeling like I might explode inside
Because the night, the night, the night, the night
The night, the night, has an Alibi

The exuberant track opens with throbbing synths overlying a thumping beat, seemingly channeling “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen, whose music has strongly influenced Phreely. His fervent vocals quickly enter the scene, backed by joyous riffs of jangly chiming guitars that are freaking awesome! A warm saxophone is introduced in the bridge, melding beautifully with the bouncy synths and ramping up the track’s already high energy. The lush wall of sound on the track reminds me of two of my favorite bands – The War on Drugs and Future Islands. Not wanting the song to end, I kept hitting replay.

Phreely has now released a rather creepy but brilliant video for the song. His inspiration came from the webzine NYLON.com when they premiered the single, where they stated it “belongs on the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack.”  The idea of ‘strange things’ struck a chord and led him to conceive of the very unusual visual for the song’s video. He explained “Since moving to L.A. I’ve been really engrossing myself in the film making world. I’ve been acting in a bunch of things too, so for this music video I decided to gather a lot of the talented people I’ve met on set, including an amazing cinematographer friend, and with their help I got to direct and produce the strangest video I could think of.

And has he ever! The video opens with a scene of Phreely asleep in bed with his girlfriend. As he awakens, the camera pans down to reveal him as only a head! He’s then shown resting atop the kitchen counter while his girlfriend reads the newspaper. Next she’s carrying him under her arm as she walks down the street, later placing him on the roof of the car as she drives to a club. When the doorman points to a sign notifying patrons of a $10 cover per person, she opens her bag to show him Phreely’s head. Soon he’s situated on the bar trying to down his drink, then his head is knocked off the bar and onto the floor. He ends up being placed on a stool on stage and sings with the band while everyone dances. At dawn, he leaves with another woman he met at the bar as she carries him away, at one point dropping him on the sidewalk! I love his facial expressions throughout the video that manage to make something that could have been creepy be lighthearted and hilarious. Have a look:

Phreely has begun working on a new album with his backing band The Horses, and I can’t wait to hear it! To learn more about him and his music, check out his Website

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