COUNCIL – Single Review: “Faded Purple White Trash Royal”

Alternative rock band COUNCIL have come a long way over the past five years, and have been a favorite of mine since I first learned about them back in 2016. The three-piece is comprised of twin brothers Patrick (bass, lead vocals) and Doug (drums) Reeves, and their younger brother Andy (guitar). Raised on a farm in rural upstate New York, they now split their time between tending the family farm and working on their music in New York City.

Their dynamic sound – which they describe as ‘dark optimism’ – is characterized by dramatic, sweeping melodies, bold instrumentation and anthemic choruses that have seen them favorably compared to Imagine Dragons. Their magnificent debut single “Rust to Gold” received worldwide acclaim, including being played at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, as well as on American IdolSo You Think You Can DanceWorld Of Dance and Premier League. The life-affirming song has been streamed more than 11.7 million times on Spotify, and ended up on my list of 100 Best Songs of 2017.

I’ve featured them numerous times on this blog, most recently in March 2020 when I wrote about their single “Savages”. (You can check out some of those reviews under “Related” at the bottom of this post.) Now they return with their latest single “Faded Purple White Trash Royal“, a powerful, socially-relevant song that addresses the self-destructive aspect of pursuing success and/or material things at all costs and how it often leads to always wanting more, yet never feeling satisfied. In an interview with webzine StarryMag, the brothers elaborated about their inspiration for writing the song: “We had been talking about what ambition had cost us personally and what it can cost people trying to always get ahead. It can be a never-ending cycle. Oftentimes, leading to a dark side of ambition which we address. In the chorus we talk about ‘guns, money, sex, drugs’ and how ‘we want it all till the darkside breaks us.’ Ambition can be full of lies, excuses, highs and lows and certainly can be feeding your hidden addictions. At the end of the day, we realized that this blind ambition can leave you alone despite everything you achieve.”

The song starts off with Andy’s urgent acoustic guitar riff, then Patrick plaintively laments at a rapid pace “Even on my very best I’m faded purple white trash royal. I needed you to fill me up and keep me on the dotted line. Now every word is murder and I’m stuck here feeling dead inside.” The music builds to become a stirring anthem in the choruses, thanks in large part to Doug’s forceful drumming and the guys’ soaring harmonies as they all sing “Guns, money, sex, drugs…We want it all. Dirty hearts are dangerous. We want it all till the dark side breaks us.” It’s another terrific song by these talented brothers.

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PETER KLEINHANS – Album Review: “I Was Alive Enough”

Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer, trainer and announcer, decided to turn his love of music into writing and recording songs. His music is a pleasing mix of pop, folk and rock, but it’s his skill for telling engrossing stories through thoughtful, intelligent lyrics that makes his songs so compelling in a Harry Chapin kind of way. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice – his vocal style is more of a talk-singing – but it’s warm and comforting, and perfect for storytelling.

In February 2018 he released his debut album Something’s Not Right to critical acclaim. LA Music Critic hailed it “one of the best debut albums we have reviewed“, while Neufutur Magazine called it “an album that blends together Dave Matthews with the protest tradition of performers like Neil Young and Phil Ochs.” He later released, in November 2019, an excellent video for album’s title track “Something’s Not Right”, a song about the sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seemed to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. You can read my feature about the song and video here.

In December (2020), Peter returned with his second album I Was Alive Enough, featuring 12 tracks he states are “very specific to this very strange moment we are all living in, with songs about our fear of missing out (“FOMO”) and greed (“Race to the Bottom”), as well as mistrust of the media (“Fake News”). But it’s also hopeful and spirited, about appreciation for NYC graffiti (“91st Street”), a love of horse-racing (“W1775”) and the power and joy of solitude (“Table for One”). What binds many of the tracks together for me is the significance of each song’s characters despite their powerlessness. The befuddled news-watcher in “Fake News” is as real as the story of the horse W1775, the farmer in “Malagasy Uprising”, the homeless man in “Homeless” as much as the hapless narrator walking past, or even the corporate stooges in “Race To The Bottom”, who have more actual power and influence but who are ultimately prisoners of the soulless world they inhabit. One of the main things I was driving at in this album was the significance of every life.

The 12 songs run the stylistic gamut from gentle folk ballads and bouncy pop to pleasing Southern rock and world music. Peter’s lyrics are so good that I’ll be quoting a lot of them, so bear with me as you read on. The album kicks off with “FOMO“, a breezy pop tune highlighted by some nice jazzy piano keys, along with gnarly guitars and jaunty organ that contrast with the matter-of-fact lyrics addressing his, and everyone else’s, shortcomings and how there must be a pill to deal with all our myriad anxieties: “I’m looking for a doctor just to tell me I’m crazy. My girl says I’m older, vain, stupid and lazy. But no one says what everyone knows to be true, that I’m totally crazy and so are you. / Yes, keep me medicated, keep those bottles full. Cause I’ve got FOMO, can’t handle missing out. You know I’m all about regret and doubt.

Race to the Bottom” has a heavier pop-rock treatment, with rousing, multi-layered guitars, thumping drums and tasty psychedelia-tinged organ, all set to a strong foot-stomping beat. Peter sings the cynical lyrics spoken from the perspective of corporations hoping to cash in on a brain-dead public: “We got a fractured nation, a distracted population. Got to take advantage just the best that we can. But we better hurry ‘fore they get their pitchforks in motion, cause they’re getting pretty tired of being taken by the man. So, come with me on a race to the bottom, where the pickins are easy and there’s plenty of prey.

Continuing on a similar theme, he addresses how we all seek out the kind of news that feeds our own world views on “Fake News“: “So go ahead and play me some fake news, and I’ll just change the channel if want to change my views“, and how some want nothing to do with those holding opinions different from theirs: “Woke up to find someone’s unfriended me today. Doesn’t like the way I see the world. It could be we never were such good friends anyway, but I’m still stinging from the epithets he hurled.” The song starts off as a gentle piano ballad, then expands into a lively melody with guitars, bold percussion and what sounds like clarinet, which adds a nice but slightly unsettling vibe. The song has a bit of a Harry Chapin feel, and is one of my favorites on the album.

91st St.” is a wonderful ode to the graffiti-covered and abandoned 91st Street subway station in New York City. The station was deemed superfluous by the subway authority and closed in 1954, and later came to be known by New Yorkers as the “Ghost Station”. Peter wrote a marvelous article about the station and the song in October 2018, which I featured on this blog and can be read here. The song has a progressive/jazzy vibe, with a cool drumbeat, funky bass line and fuzzy guitar riff. Toward the end of the track, Peter injects a quirky little psychedelic synth that makes for a great finish.

Peter addresses the oft-covered and eternally relatable subjects of love and relationships on a few tracks, with lyrics that are painfully honest and real. On the bittersweet Americana-tinged “Our Journeys“, he sings of how he let his partner down, but is thankful for the good things they enjoyed together: “Now this song isn’t one of mistake or regret. I chose what I chose, and I’ll take what I’ll get, but when push comes to shove, it still hurts to hurt someone you love. And you were willing to spend your whole journey on me, and the value of that, maybe I just wouldn’t see. So please let me take the time to thank you now.” On the lovely “Table For One“, he sings his praises of being alone: “All I watched as a child, replayed the same scene. Go find a fair princess, make her a fair queen. But repeating the playbook has cost me a lot. Maybe you find who you are when you find who you’re not.” And on “Palpitations“, he sings of traveling the country with his new bride, not caring where they end up so long as he’s with her: “These palpitations inspired by you are invented by me. Palpitations are my body’s way of telling me I’m finally free.”

Homeless” is a poignant song about how those of us living in big cities co-exist with homeless people as we go about our days, intersecting with each other, yet living in completely separate worlds and fearful of becoming too involved: “There a man I see almost every day. He’s got a black dog with a collar. It used to be ‘could you spare a dime’ now it’s ‘could you spare a dollar?’ Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t, depends what’s in my pocket. But he’s a man locked inside an invisible cage, and my dollar won’t unlock it. There’s no future, there’s no joy. He once was an adorable boy. Once he started to fall, he found no safe place to land. Walk right by that ghost of a man. It’s the crime I commit almost everyday. It’s the violence of looking away.” 

On “Malagasy Uprising“, Peter sings from the perspective of a farmer recalling the horrors of the nationalist rebellion against French colonial rule in Madagascar that lasted from March 1947 to February 1949, and now trying to eke out a living in peace. He uses African elements and instruments, along with a lilting chorus by female singers, to give the song an exotic flavor that works quite well. He channels a bit of Tom Petty on  “Beneath Two Moons“, a song that speaks to the love of personal freedom over romantic entanglements. And he sings of being with the one he loves in of the Land of Enchantment on the appropriately enchanting “New Mexico“, “where the people think we’re pretty, and there’s turquoise everywhere.”

One of his best ‘story’ songs is “W1775“, a poignant saga about a horse who started his career as an award-winning race horse, then spent time pulling a carriage in New York, and eventually living out his final years in a pasture. Peter elaborates on the song’s inspiration: “I trained racehorses for many years and I earned a deep respect for the animals. One of the things about horse racing that you just don’t find when following other animals, is the story within every horse’s career, all of which is documented and is occasionally remembered but more often forgotten.”

I Was Alive Enough is a delightful album, not only because it’s a pleasing listen, but also due to its great storytelling. As I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Peter is a masterful lyricist and storyteller, not to mention a fine musician. Each song is a gem, with no two sounding alike, keeping the album sounding fresh and surprising from start to finish. 

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HEAVENLY FADED – Single Review: “CTRL”

Heavenly Faded

New York City band Heavenly Faded has been making some really fine melodic alt-rock since forming in early 2018. They released their debut EP Set Your Sights that May, then followed up over the next year and a half with several outstanding singles. With the release of their song “Constellations” in November 2019, however, they broke the hearts of their fans with the announcement they were splitting up, after their drummer and lead vocalist decided to leave the band. Thankfully, the two remaining members, guitarist/vocalist LP Francisco and bassist Rijk van Zanten, were able to quickly find replacements in lead guitarist/backing vocalist Jake Stamoulis and drummer Jared Pease. And so they began 2020 with a new lineup and fresh optimism toward the future.

Well, we all know what happened beginning in early Spring of 2020: shows got cancelled, studio sessions ground to a halt, and everyone isolated themselves at home. Fortunately, the band still had several songs in their arsenal, and managed to record “CTRL”, which they released as their latest single on June 5th. The song sees Heavenly Faded exploring a heavier sound than on their previous releases, with a darker, grungier feel befitting the lyrics that speak to a lack of control and a voice adequate enough to rise up against authoritarianism.

The guitar work is superb, with LP and Jake serving up layers of intricate riffs in a plethora of textures ranging from grimy fuzz to shimmery reverb to bluesy wails. Then there’s Rijk’s grungy, throbbing bassline providing the driving force for the song, which along with Jared’s aggressive drums, keeps the hard-hitting rhythm on full throttle. As new lead vocalist, LP steps up to the plate here and delivers the rock goods. His vocals are deeper and more raw than the band’s previous vocalist, contributing nicely to the track’s edgier vibe as he almost snarls the biting lyrics expressing his weariness about having to make decisions, but being even more frustrated about not having much of a voice in the democratic process:

I hear you callin’ my name
Old ways are hard to change
I know I was born in control
I bleed myself dry to get rid of it all

I don’t wanna be in control x2

So you got no one to blame?
Clear the way, only you remain
Or the bloodthirsty, heathens in power
Who just wanna drain you like the plague

But I wanna be in control
I wanna be in control x2
Crawling outta this hole
Gonna rise up and save my soul

I wanna be in control / Who’s gonna save my soul?
(repeated)

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YELLOW SHOOTS – Single Review: “Wonderful Day”

Yellow Shoots wonderful day art

Man, time flies when you’re having fun! It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it’s already been more than four years since I last featured Brooklyn, New York-based artist Yellow Shoots on this blog. (You can read my article here.) I remember being blown away by his soulful and sultry vibes, and it’s heartening to see his star continue to rise. He fuses R&B, soul, funk, jazz, psychedelic and hip-hop grooves to create his own unique neo-soul sound that envelops you in raw sensuality and emotion.

Yellow Shoots is the music project of singer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Matthews. His artistic name comes from his experiences with synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway, such as sound, leads to an automatic, involuntary response in a second sensory or cognitive pathway, such as sight. He sometimes sees vivid yellow colors when hearing music (a common form of synesthesia is known as chromesthesia, for sound to color), hence his name “Yellow Shoots.”

He started releasing music after moving to Brooklyn from Philadelphia in 2014, beginning with his single “Pieces”. He’s put out a fair amount of music in the years since, including his marvelous Prince-influenced album everything in 2018. One of the singles “make it to the summer” has been streamed more than 446,000 times on Spotify. Now he’s back with a new single “Wonderful Day“, from his forthcoming EP Naked, due out in June. Released via LaReserve Records, the song was written, performed and produced by Yellow Shoots, mixed by Javon Gant-Graham, and mastered by Dan Millice. The track has already been featured on TIDAL’s official .WAV playlist.

Yellow Shoots
Photos by Elijah Craig

About “Wonderful Day”, he explains: “This song combines my 90s rap and R&B roots with late 60s/early 70s records I dug as a teenager. It’s sorta like Nelly meets Zeppelin. It’s a trippy love song I wrote last Summer about being comfortable with the past.” The song has a languid and funky trip hop beat that forms a chilled backdrop for his strummed acoustic guitars, soulful bass, gentle percussion and hazy psychedelic synths.

Yellow Shoots electronically alters his warm, sultry vocals at various spots in the track by doubling and/or speeding up the pitch in a manner similar to what Prince was doing in the 80s. The result is quirky and utterly charming as he croons the sweet lyrics to the object of his desire, hoping she has similar feelings for him: “I put my cards on your table, throwing out the clues / If an apple or a pear, I need your divine / And I think about you every day. I’m hoping I’m the paper underneath your pen.

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New Song of the Week – COUNCIL: “Savages”

Council Savages

I’ve been following New York alternative rock band COUNCIL for the past four years, and have featured them on this blog a number of times, beginning in 2016 when I reviewed their debut EP Rust to Gold, and most recently in June 2019 with the release of their single “Born Ready”. (You can check out those reviews under “Related” at the bottom of this post.) Through their signature sweeping melodies, bold instrumentation and anthemic choruses, COUNCIL’s dynamic sound has been compared to Imagine Dragons. Their magnificent life-affirming single “Rust to Gold” received worldwide acclaim, including being played at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, as well as on American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, World Of Dance and Premier League. It’s been streamed more than 7 million times on Spotify, and ended up on my list of 100 Best Songs of 2017.

Council3

COUNCIL is comprised of three strikingly handsome brothers – Patrick, Doug and Andy Reeves. Patrick (bass and lead vocals) and Doug (drums) are twins, and Andy (guitar) is a year younger. Raised on a farm in rural upstate New York, they now split their time between tending the family farm and working on their music in New York City. The guys have just released their latest single “Savages“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

It’s a darkly beautiful and grandiose anthem, highlighted by a complex mix of dramatic industrial synths. The track opens with spooky synths and haunting plucked guitar notes that set an ominous tone. The music then expands with sharp percussive synths, deep bass and thunderous echoed reverb sounds that add a palpable sense of tension and foreboding. The instrumentals are really spectacular, and the finest of any song COUNCIL has done thus far.

The lyrics speak of a couple for whom the love that originally brought them together has turned into hate and acrimony for one another. Patrick fervently laments that they now behave like savages to each other, his vocals soaring to a passionate wail in the chorus.

All the plans that we made were just a lost cause
It’s like we turn a parade into a death march
A dirty angel landed on my shoulder
She said be calm and let the drums take over
I’m just trying to blow these ashes into sparks
We live like savages, savages…oh oh, savages!

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PETER KLEINHANS Releases New Video for “Something’s Not Right”

Something's Not Right cover

Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer and announcer, decided to turn his love of music into writing and recording songs. His music is a pleasing mix of pop, folk and rock, with thoughtful lyrics and catchy melodies. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice, but his distinctive vocals are warm and comforting. In February 2018 he released his debut album Something’s Not Right to critical acclaim. LA Music Critic hailed it “one of the best debut albums we have reviewed“, while Neufutur Magazine called it “an album that blends together Dave Matthews with the protest tradition of performers like Neil Young and Phil Ochs.”

Last October, Peter wrote a fascinating guest article for this blog about his song “91st Street”, which you can read here. Now I’m happy to feature him again for the release of his brilliant and compelling new video for the title track from his album “Something’s Not Right“. The song speaks to the general sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seem to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. His video, produced by Peter and directed by filmmaker Harrison Kraft, brings his powerful lyrics to life with an entertaining, yet at times troubling, narrative. Peter explains his inspiration behind the song, as well as the making of the video.

“Something’s Not Right” was one of my first songs, and ended up being the title of my first album. I wrote it in 2013, and it reflected the sense of unease I was getting from many of the previously-comfortable friends I had made during my years of announcing horse races in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. I’d taken the couple of years beforehand trying to understand the forces underlying the economy, and became convinced that although the economy was officially ‘in recovery,’ things were not improving for average Americans. This was confirmed for me by the universal sense I was receiving from everyone I knew that there was a deep unease and lack of security brewing from a thinning sense of stability and sustainability.

This song was written three years before the election — it’s not a political song. What interested me was that feeling of unease, the sense of something-not-being-right, and how it emanated not just from economic forces but also from the impersonal face of what the nation was presenting its citizens. The song begins by invoking Applebee’s and Lowe’s as the workplaces of the protagonist, and ends with a desperate appeal to Walmart as the only viable destination for the drive he takes (ostensibly to escape the mundanity of his experience) in the middle of the night.

I am very happy and lucky to have connected with Harrison Kraft and his brilliant and young set of filmmakers, who completely got the idea and brought it to life in this music video. They used the conceit of a July 4 celebration — a party that has lost its true feeling of celebration, and even the reason for celebrating — to convey this overall all-consuming sense of disillusion. It was Kraft’s vision to use mannequins to convey characters playing their roles in life but without really ‘being there’. The protagonist’s girlfriend oscillates from real to a simulation and so do many of the background characters. Reality starts to take on a disturbing turn in a number of ways: the hand flipping the burger suddenly turns to plastic, the son’s firecracker goes the opposite way- it’s supposed to be fake, but it becomes a real explosive. These ideas were all in the hands of the video production team; I’d discussed what I thought the central themes of the song were, and then I gave them free rein to take it wherever they wanted to go. They took the ball and ran with it, and I’m thrilled with the result. Sometimes you have to know when to give up control, but you’ve really got to have trust in your team when you’re doing that. I hope you enjoy the result, and be on the lookout for more music videos forthcoming from Harrison Kraft and his team!”

Peter Kleinhans – Something’s Not Right from Harrison Kraft on Vimeo.

Peter is currently finishing up his second album, due for release in early 2020. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Facebook /  Twitter  / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunesGoogle Play

New Song of the Week – CARL THORNTON: “Let Me Fly”

Carl Thornton

Carl Thornton is a multi-faceted singer, songwriter, actor and dancer based in Brooklyn, New York.  From the very first moment he stood up on stage as a member of his elementary school chorus at the age of seven, Carl knew he wanted to be a singer. He later studied at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, H.B. Studios, and the Broadway Dance Center, and went on to star in the national tour of RENT, where he played the role of Benny. He also performed in the musical 5 Guys Named Moe, as well as From My Hometown, and You Shouldn’t Have Told.

He’s had a successful music career over the past five years, beginning with his 2015 debut dance single “Get Up!” The Carlos Sanchez and Sami Dee remix of the song has garnered over 154,000 views on Spotify. Carl followed up with a number of excellent EDM and pop singles, which culminated in his 2016 EP Destined. He released a wonderful, inspirational dance single “I Depend on Me” in 2018, and now returns with another joyously uplifting new dance track “Let Me Fly“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The lyrics speak to not wallowing in negativity and defeatism, instead choosing a more positive outlook to help guide our way forward. And we can all certainly use a great song with a positive message right about now!

The single, released through Casa Rossa Records, features a lush soundscape of shimmery orchestral synths and percussion, set to an exuberant and hypnotic deep house EDM beat. Carl has a beautiful, resonant singing voice, and his powerful soaring vocals have a commanding, almost gospel-like quality that give the inspiring lyrics even greater impact. It’s a terrific song.

There were times, moments in my life when I felt shattered
My mind is weary, so completely battered
Not willing to go on, I felt defeated
All alone with the voices in my head
I couldn’t shake them
Much negativity, I was surrounded
Kept thinking to myself I might not make it
But then I heard a voice, and let me fly, yeah
Let me fly, yeah

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BLUE VINES – EP Review: “Fever Dreamy”

Blue Vines

Blue Vines is a young indie rock duo from New York City, comprised of singer-songwriter Nick Gonzalez on vocals, guitar and drums, and Andrea De Renzis on bass. A new act who only formed earlier this year, they released their debut EP Fever Dreamy this past August. It was recorded at Cobra Sun Studio in Staten Island, N.Y., engineered and produced by Gary Nieves Jr., and mastered by Josh Kaufman at Local Legend Recording in Grand Rapids, MI.

Fever Dreamy is rather short, running just under nine minutes total, but its five tracks are so musically intriguing and packed with deep meaning they made quite an impression on me. With their vibrant indie pop-punk sound, Blue Vines’ songs seem to touch on themes of youthful angst, romance and self-doubt. The titles of all five tracks are interesting in that none of them are actually included in their song lyrics, which themselves are somewhat ambiguous, requiring a bit of imagination and concentration on my part to decipher as to their meanings.

The EP opens with the 43-second-long title track “Fever Dreamy“, a sweet tune consisting of just a simple acoustic guitar melody and Nick’s lovely vocals as he searches for meaning in his life after a period of painful unrest and awakening: “Ill equipped inquisitor descending over everything I do. Shine your light upon a year laid bare, and salt the wounds.

Next up is “Lanch Party“, which seems to speak to the fears and anxieties one feels when becoming romantically involved with someone, worrying about whether they’ll still like you as they get to know the ‘real’ you: “Do you still regard the statue as a work of art, once you’ve spotted all the cracks? Maybe a work in progress? I’d settle for that.” The track has a bass-driven, kick-drum beat with flourishes of gnarly guitars, accompanied by Nick’s urgent vocals.

Great Kid! Don’t Get Cocky!” is a bouncy rock tune that seems to be about struggling to keep it together in an increasingly bewildering world: “Breaking, climbing up the walls, start shaking. Skin begins to crawl. A tin can phone between our padded rooms. I’ll forever call for you.” Nick’s layered guitar work and emotion-charged vocals are great. I’m guessing “I’m A Whole Damn Town” is about the healing power of love: “Call it whatever. Things of the heart could put back together and mend what was pulling apart.” To a frantic punk-rock beat, Nick lays down intricate riffs of swirling and jagged guitar while Andrea keeps a steady rhythm with a smooth bass line.

The final track “Big Knife” is a terrific post punk tune, with a rapid guitar-driven beat that gives it a bit of a Green Day vibe. The lyrics seems to express the crippling self-doubt many of us have experienced while growing up (or even later in life like I have): “Despite a focused regimen of mental calisthenics, I could never hope to comprehend what it’s like to feel settled”, but gaining comfort through the presence of a loved one at your side: “I’m always on the edge of hyperventilating. It’s your hand on my hand that helps me breathe easy again.” Nick pours the full force of his emotions into his vocals here as he goes from a heartfelt vulnerability to plaintive wails.

Fever Dreamy is an amazing little EP that packs a lot into its 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Every track is relatively brief, yet each one of them makes an indelible impact in their economical running time. We’re left wanting more as each song ends before launching into the next lively track. Nick and Andrea are fine musicians, and Nick is quite the poetic wordsmith and vocalist. I’m anxious to hear more from this talented duo.

The lovely artwork for the EP was created by Nick’s cousin Ryan Gonzalez.

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Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon / Google Play

DVR – Album Review: “All Good Things”

DVR All Good Things - Copy

DVR is a studio music project by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olav Christensen. Originally from Denmark, Christensen is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and writes, records, produces and masters all his music. He’s been recording music for a number of years, sometimes as a solo act, but often collaborating with other musicians as well. His songs are very eclectic (I like that!), ranging from electronica to alternative rock to pop, and everything in between. He began releasing singles in 2015, and dropped his first full-length album California in 2016, then followed up with an EP Down in July 2018, which I reviewed, then an experimental all-instrumental album Instantiate in June 2019. Now he returns with an ambitious concept album All Good Things, in which he explores the state of the world today and imagines the possibility of a terrible outcome.  

Christensen explains: “All Good Things” is an imagined snapshot of the moment – of our collective realization – of the end of everything. We all knew it was coming at some point in the future but surely not in our lifetime or our children’s, right? It starts with our leaders failing to lead. Too busy enriching themselves, they march us all steadily towards our own inevitable annihilation. There is a moment of clarity, tangible around the world. It is a moment of precious truth when a single looming event on the horizon, threatens to end all of us. Now, when it is undeniable; we each react in our own way. Do we reflect on our lives? Do we find comfort in each other? Do we just have a party and go out dancing?”

The album opens with the instrumental “Prelude – The March Towards Inevitability“, a quirky, experimental-sounding track that sets a somewhat unsettling mood. While at times feeling discordant and chaotic, the song still has a melodic, almost contemporary classical structure that makes for an intriguing listen that’s actually rather soothing. This discordant, experimental vibe continues with the title track “All Good Things“, as DVR employs a rich mix of spacey, psychedelic synths and sounds, accompanied by a driving percussive beat and additional guitar by Bjørn Ginman. With a gentle soaring chorale sung by Rorie Kelly, Nico Z. Padden and Pauline Salotti as a backdrop, he sings: “So this is how things come to pass. All that remains is dust and gas. And all good things come to an end. Whatever you believe in, whatever you pretend. For what it’s worth, we had a good run right down to the end.”

Special Friends, Arrow of Time, Entropy” is an unusual track, actually three different songs strung together, and running ten and a half minutes long. It feels almost like a classical piece with three distinct but related movements. The first part, “Special Friends”, features more of those quirky, psychedelic synths, accompanied by Christensen’s daughter Hadley Rose’s baby-like electronically-altered vocals, which are mostly unintelligible. They’re kind of endearing, yet have an almost menacing feel when combined with the music. At around 3:30, the track changes to “Arrow of Time” with a transition to smoother, ethereal synths that give the track a dreamy, atmospheric vibe. Some lovely delicate guitar work is provided by David Rolo. At 6:50, the track abruptly shifts to “Entropy” with the entrance of a voice over by Alan Watts: “Memory, is a dynamic system. It’s a repetition of rhythms. Reality escapes all concepts. You, are just as much the dark space beyond death as you are the light interval called life.” From there the song takes a jazzy turn with some cool guitar work by Andy Pitcher and double bass by Dean Johnson. Later, Watts offers up a matter-of-fact conclusion: “Let go of the breath. You can’t hang on to yourself. This isn’t terrible. But it’s just going to be the end of you as a system of memories.”

Come Inside” has a Peter Gabriel vibe, both in terms of the song’s structure and melody and DVR’s plaintive vocals. His intricate jangly guitar work is terrific, and so is the smooth bass by guest musician Bobby McCullough. Additional female vocals by Rosie Bans provide a nice contrast to DVR’s.  One of the lovelier tracks is “Quiet Breakdown“, thanks to swirling synths, sublime guitar work and the enchanting sape, a traditional lute originating from Central Borneo played by guest musician Rayhan Sudrajat, who also played bass. DVR sings “I’ll come at you lightly, I’ll meet you halfway. I’m headed for a quiet breakdown. I think it won’t be long.”

We’ve now arrived at “Here We Are“, where we’ve made the decision to go out in style and just party.  My favorite track, it’s an upbeat dance pop song that contrasts with the rather morbid lyrics about going all-out to celebrate the end of humanity. “Here we are, at the apex of humanity. Standing tall before the fall. Falling over each other to witness the final act. The hottest show in town tonight. Everyone dresses sharp for the end of all mankind. It’s going to be out of sight.” Guest vocalist Courtney Hans sounds like a young Madonna, which is partly why I like this song so much. Additional guitar is by Justin Chamberlin, and Bobby McCullough returns on bass.

All Good Things – Reprise” is a different take on the title track. The song opens with the sound of a phone busy signal, then a mix of glittery and Polynesian synths enter, along with a voice over of Noam Chomsky talking about the existential threat of global warming and how the current U.S. administration has chosen to not only disregard that threat, but actually accelerate the problem. Once his voice over ends, we hear the lyrics now sung by guest vocalist Aradia. The music gradually swells into a rock feel, with a terrific guitar solo by TJ Dumser, and bass played by Michael Friis. The track finishes with the ominous beeps of the Early Warning System.

This is the Day” closes the album on a predictably dark note, but with a smooth, soft-rock groove that keeps things from being too maudlin. Guest musician Bjørn Ginman is back, laying down a hypnotic and haunting guitar solo that’s so good. DVR croons with a sad air of resignation “This is the end of the night. Your immaculate decay. And if you’ve ever wondered what that was like, what that would feel like, hey, this is the day. This is the end of the road. You’ve come a long way haven’t you?

All Good Things is a brilliant concept album that artfully shines a light on the precarious geopolitical situation we now face, while presenting it in an entertaining and enjoyable manner though compelling lyrics and intriguing soundscapes. I love that Christensen collaborated with such a wide range of musicians and vocalists to give his music an incredible variety of styles, textures and sounds.

Connect with DVR:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream on Spotify
Purchase on Bandcamp

New Song of the Week: COUNCIL – “Born Ready”

Council Born Ready
Photos by Evgeny Photography

New York alternative rock band COUNCIL are an act I’ve been following for over three years, and it’s been gratifying to watch their star rise (I hope they’ll still remember me when they get huge). With their sweeping melodies, bold instrumentation and anthemic choruses, COUNCIL’s dynamic sound has been compared to Imagine Dragons. I first featured them back in September 2016 when I reviewed their debut EP Rust to Gold, and they’ve been on an upward trajectory ever since. Their magnificent life-affirming lead single “Rust to Gold” received worldwide acclaim, including being played at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, as well as on American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, World Of Dance and Premier League. It’s been streamed more than 4 million times on Spotify, and ended up on my list of 100 Best Songs of 2017.

Council

COUNCIL is comprised of three strikingly handsome brothers – Patrick, Doug and Andy Reeves. Patrick (bass and lead vocals) and Doug (drums) are twins, and Andy (guitar) is a year younger. Originally raised on a farm in rural upstate New York, they now split their time between tending the family farm and working on their music in New York City. The guys followed “Rust to Gold” with another great single “The World is on Fire” in July 2017, which I also reviewed, and now return with their first new single in nearly two years, “Born Ready“, which drops June 21st.

Like many of their songs, “Born Ready” is a powerful, uplifting anthem. Musically, however, it’s a bit of a departure for them, with a darker, more synth-heavy sound. It opens with an ominous bass-heavy horn synth as the guys chant “Born ready, born ready…oh oh oh, oh oh oh!“, which is then followed by a high-pitched electronically-altered vocal chorus repeatedly wailing “Born ready, born ready“, giving the track an otherworldly feel. As the moody synths swirl, somber piano keys, wobbly bass and thunderous drums enter the mix. Patrick fervently sings “I was born with a storm inside me. Hurricane full of rage set me free. Try to pray but the devil he finds me. Someone lift me up, someone lift me up./ On the run, here it comes.” Then all three brothers sing the soaring chorus “I was born ready, born ready. Oh oh oh, oh oh oh!”

Doug told me the lyrics were written from the perspective of a person who comes to terms with who they are, realizing that instead of allowing themself to be beaten up by the world, they have to acknowledge they were always “born ready” to empower themself to rise up and face all the shit the world throws at them. Although I don’t think “Born Ready” is quite as strong a single as “Rust to Gold”, I really like its dark, anthemic melody and edgier, synth-heavy vibe. And, as with all their songs, the production values, instrumentation and vocals are first-rate. I also like that COUNCIL is experimenting with their music and trying new sounds and styles, and can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.

COUNCIL will be appearing with The Strumbellas on Saturday, June 29 at Sharkey’s in Liverpool, New York. Order tickets by clicking here.

Connect with Council:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase it:  iTunes