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)

Follow Heavenly Faded:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Google PlayBandcamp

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.

Follow Yellow Shoots:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudTidal
Purchase:  AmazonGoogle Play

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!

Connect with Council:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / ReverbnationApple Music
Purchase it:  iTunesGoogle Play

TWO FEET – Album Review: “Pink”

Two Feet 2

Amidst all the bad news of late regarding rogue viruses and collapsing financial markets, one of the few bright spots has been the release of the new album Pink by singer-songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Two Feet. Released via Republic Records on March 13th, I’ve had Pink on repeat for the past several days, and can emphatically state that it’s the best album of 2020 so far. I’m writing this review with a bit of trepidation, as I hope to do justice to this magnificent work.

For those unfamiliar with Two Feet, he’s the musical alter-ego of New York City-based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Zachary William “Bill” Dess, who I think is one of the finest guitarists around today. His songs are slow burns, characterized by soulful, smoldering vocals, intense, bluesy riffs, cool jazz and hip-hop undertones, and booming synth bass grooves that cut straight to our cores. He also writes brutally honest and compelling lyrics that resonate with many of us. As beautifully described in his Google Play bio, “his songs are the soundtrack for staying up late into the night, aching to figure out how to remedy heartbreak, anxiety, and uncertainty.”

Two Feet first gained notoriety in 2016 with the release of his single “Go Fuck Yourself”, which quickly went viral on Soundcloud. He soon followed up with a couple of EPs (the cleverly titled First Steps and Momentum), then hit the big time in the summer of 2018 with his breakthrough hit “I Feel Like I’m Drowning”. The gorgeous song went to #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart, and ended up at #18 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the Decade. That October, he released his extended EP A 20 Something Fuck, which featured “I Feel Like I’m Drowning” and the beautiful track “Hurt People”, a deeply personal and haunting duet with Madison Love.

I had the pleasure of seeing him perform in Los Angeles in November 2018 (you can read my review here). He spent the first few months of 2019 touring with Panic! At the Disco, which exposed him to a whole new audience who hadn’t heard of him previously. I relished reading all the tweets from people who’d gone to see PATD and came away enthusiastic new fans of Two Feet. In fact, I have to say that his are some of the most fiercely loyal and devoted fans I’ve seen for any artist. He’s made a point of being open and honest with his fans and followers about his own personal struggles with depression and anxiety, and engages with them fairly regularly on Twitter. That’s pretty rare for artists once they become well-known, so it shocked the hell out of me a few months ago when he tweeted words of encouragement to me in response to my tweet about feeling depressed and overwhelmed. Needless to say, I was deeply touched, and it made me love him even more.

Two Feet 3

He started writing songs for Pink in the fall of 2018, some of them influenced by events happening in his life. In September 2019, he began teasing his fans by dropping a series of tracks in advance of Pink’s release, beginning with “Lost the Game” – though it falls squarely in the center of the track listing. In a heartfelt statement, he expresses his hope that the album will touch us in a meaningful way, also recommending that we listen to it in its entirety, from beginning to end: “With the way the world is going right now, I hope listening to it gives you some peace, or makes you cry, or makes you feel sexy, or makes you happy, or briefly brings you to a different world. As long as you feel SOMETHING, I’m good with that. I worked hard on the track list. This isn’t an album of singles, it’s a ‘thing-in-itself’. Please listen in order. Front to back.”

Two Feet records and performs his music with the assistance of his longtime keyboardist/drummer Geoffrey Hufford (aka Huff), who is adept at delivering the deep, floor-rattling synthesized bass that gives his music such incredible depth. This can clearly be heard on the minute-long opening track “Intro“, with chest-thumping beats surrounded by swirling psychedelic synths and Two Feet’s bluesy guitar notes. Up next is the title track “Pink“, a song that beautifully encapsulates the album’s overall theme. He states “A lot of the songs deal with the passage of time and how you interpret it.”, a topic nicely articulated by the song’s introspective lyrics: “25 don’t feel the same way… / And I keep getting older / My mind is getting colder / The things that all once mattered, I know for sure won’t last.” His intricate guitar work is stunning, and even if you didn’t listen to another track on this album, you’d still have to concede that he’s a phenomenal guitarist.

For this album, Two Feet incorporates a wider range of elements into his songs than ever before, resulting in a more diverse and exciting overall sound. “BBY” is a good example of this, with its bouncy EDM beat that builds as the song progresses. Once again, his guitar work is fantastic, and I love the sweeping spooky synths and his seductive, breathy vocals. “Call Me, I Still Love You” is a gorgeous and bluesy instrumental interlude that provides a perfect segue to “You?“, a dark scorching-hot song about coming to the realization that the relationship was always one-sided: “So tell me the truth was it me then, who needed you?” I realize I’m sounding like a broken record, but once again the intricate guitar work is breathtaking, and I love how the music alternates from a sultry vibe in the verses to a bombastic explosion of fiery riffs and earth-shattering percussion in the choruses. “You?” is perfection from start to finish, and easily my favorite track on the album. It spent five weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 30 from late December through late January.

Two Feet had an official video made for the song, but I like this live studio performance better, as it features a killer extended guitar solo that really showcases his fearsome guitar skills. You can hear the original version on the Soundcloud playlist at the end of this post.

On the moody, synth-driven “44 Lies“, he seems to touch on how we delude ourselves in order to help us fit in, feel accepted, feel ‘normal’: “44 lies / Told in your 20s / Keep you alive / Make you feel empty / All of the guys / Wearing the same shoes / Telling me things / Praying they ain’t true.” Figuratively speaking, the melancholy “Lost the Game” represents the emotional low point on the album. The lyrics speak of coming to the painful realization that the relationship is over for good, with no hope of reconciliation: “And what can I do, I do, I do I know it’s over / Cause I lost the game, I can’t get lower / Caused you pain, it’s taking over.” With all hope now gone, “Grey” sees him rationalizing his fate and accepting that he must move on. Likewise, his mood has evolved from black into something a little less bleak – a shade of grey: “Before I fall away I feel like I should say I’ve always liked your eyes / But now I’ve got to leave / It’s okay It’s alright / I feel good I feel fine.” Musically, the song is dominated by a deep, buzzing bassline set to a mesmerizing hip hop beat, over which Two Feet serves up some of his signature bluesy riffs.

The smoldering track “Maria” was apparently a last-minute addition to the album. Overflowing with menacing synths, throbbing beats and haunting choruses, it’s one of my favorite tracks. Concurrent with the album release, Two Feet released a dark and sexy video for the song, his first to actually tell a story to fit the narrative of the lyrics. It opens with an ominous image of just his eyes, then shows him having a drink in a rather seedy bar, along with an assortment of shady-looking characters. Maria saunters into the bar, orders a beer and sensually dances while all the men gaze at her longingly. She eventually goes home with one of the guys as Two Feet laments “Oh oh oh while you’re getting in his bed, I’m alone without a friend tonight / Maria Maria, I tell ya I need ya..” Maria and the guy start to have sex, and she ties him to the bed. Sadly, he doesn’t get lucky, as she ends up stealing his valuables, even ripping his gold chain from his neck and leaving him tied up. We’re left wondering whether she’s just a gold digger who breaks men’s hearts (and wallets), or if she’s working in cahoots with the guy portrayed by Two Feet.

After the intensity of “Maria”, we need a bit of relief, which he nicely delivers with the captivating and soulful instrumental “Felt like playing guitar and not singing part 2“. The song is a nod to a similarly-titled track that appeared on A 20 Something Fuck. “I Can’t Relate” is a lovely, bittersweet tune that sees him revisiting what went wrong in the relationship: “The winter wind when we first fell in love was cold / You touched my face, my mind began to run, yeah / But you don’t care now, you tell me its all set and done / I’m numb ’cause I can’t relate / Oh, I can’t relate to you.”

Another favorite of mine is “We Will Be Alright“, a poignant and hopeful song reassuring a loved one that your love will endure til the end, and all will be well: “And I, I want you by my side / And I, I need you ’til I die / And when that day comes you will be alright / Because we will love through time. The lyrics could represent either a coming full-circle back to the beginning, or else the birth of an entirely new relationship, but either way, it ends things on a more upbeat and positive note. Musically, it’s more low-key and stripped back than most of his songs, with the only sounds coming from his gently strummed guitar and comforting vocals.

The album closes with “Pink Reprise“, a bewitching instrumental track that revisits and continues upon the haunting melody first introduced with “Pink”. It serves as a fitting closure for the album, and a vivid reminder of Two Feet’s spectacular guitar-playing skills. Properly listening to Pink is an immersive experience that needs to be done in a single sitting for maximum enjoyment, and to fully appreciate it’s immense power and beauty. I don’t normally grade albums, but I would give this an unequivocal 10/10.

Two Feet is donating $1 from every sale of Pink to the Siegel Rare Neuroimmune Association, which benefits those diagnosed with rare neuroimmune disorders like his own sister, GG.

Connect with Two Feet:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music / Google Play 

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

Connect with Carl:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  iTunesGoogle PlayBeatport

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.

Follow Blue Vines:  Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal
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 

Guest Post: ‘The Ghost of Graffiti Past and The Allure of the 91st Street Subway Station’ by Peter Kleinhans

Peter Kleinhans

This is a guest post by Peter Kleinhans, a musician based in New York City who this past February released his debut album Something’s Not Right. After spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer and announcer, at the age of 50 he decided to turn his love of music into writing and recording songs. He explains a few thoughts about his new-found music career:

“I wish I’d begun writing music at an earlier age, because as a father of two who also drives harness racehorses, bets thoroughbred horses professionally, raises organic beef, chicken, and lamb, and is engaged to be married for the third time, I find that the music often gets squeezed to the sidelines. But I’m happy with what I have had the time to create, and I hope that listeners will find something to enjoy here.

Although I’ve only started with music over the past couple of years, I credit the years of racing horses, often in the Midwest, hanging out with the Runyonesque characters of that business, and sharing their daily travails, for much of what I’ve written. I was born and raised in New York City, left it for twenty years, and am now back. It’s an amazing city, full of amazing people, but New Yorkers are just as often oblivious to the daily existential struggles of a family in Indiana as the other way around. The horses aren’t my full-time business anymore, but I still drive occasionally.”

In his thoughtfully-written article, Peter discusses his inspiration behind a new song he’s recorded called “91st Street,” in which he describes the storied past of the former 91st Street subway station.

The Ghost of Graffiti Past and The Allure of the 91st Street Subway Station

At the time of writing, I have a gig in six weeks, and three unfinished songs to get done for it.  If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you might be familiar with the fact that it’s easier to write about what you’re working on instead of working on it.  It’s a variation on that disastrous first-line-of-a-poem that goes something like “I sit here, waiting for ideas to enter my failed brain.” But the song I’m currently writing, about the abandoned subway station on 91st street and Broadway, begs for context.  It’s written for those people who know about the history of New York’s subway system and graffiti’s place in it. But I realize that those people are becoming further and further between, so for those who don’t know much about that history, here’s some context, here’s something of what I’m trying to get at.

Kleinhans 91st St Platform
The view of the 91st street platform recalls a different New York.

If you ride the 1 train in New York regularly, there’s a good chance you’ve been riding past an iconic piece of the city’s ever-changing history without ever noticing it.  Between the 86th and 96th street station is what some New Yorkers call the “Ghost Station.”  When the subway was built in 1904, trains were shorter, and stations were built at 86th, 91st, and 96th.  With longer cars entering the scene in the 1950s and no real justification for three stops within such a close proximity, the IRT company, who then ran the 1 train, made the decision to close the station in 1954. The station has remained dormant since.  However, its relatively easy access combined with a healthy dose of  spookiness, intrigue, and mystery, have made it a magnet for subway connoisseurs, especially those with a hankering to remember what New York looked like just a few short decades ago.

In 2002, Henry Chalfant, along with co-conspirators Tony Silver and Martha Cooper, released the twentieth-anniversary edition of Style Wars, regarded by many as the iconic documentary piece on the emergence of hip-hop, most specifically the then-emergent phenomenon of subway graffiti.  The anniversary edition contained a treasure trove of new material, most excitingly a seemingly never-ending montage of Chalfant’s photographs of the city’s most creatively-bombed subway cars.

But 16 years have passed, even since the twentieth anniversary of Style Wars. Nevertheless, a fascination continues with the work and culture from the 70s and 80s, and one of the few places to actually feel a bit of that old texture is the 91st street station. I haven’t had the guts to jump down onto the tracks from 86th street and run along them for five blocks to visit the station, at least not yet. I don’t have a bucket list, but that would be on it.  Although it doesn’t take much to find graffiti, it’s increasingly hard to remember that graffiti and subways used to be inseparable as medium and message.

But the trains are now gone as the artists’ primary canvases, ever since the MTA claimed victory over subway graffiti in 1989. The subways, once seen by some as “masterpiece art galleries” and which tourists had once come New York to witness, were now clean and cool – a huge quality-of-life improvement from the point-of-view of most New Yorkers. For some, nostalgia lingers.  I grew up riding the subway in New York and I miss the graffiti deeply.  The subways may have had a bad last couple of years as far as ‘signal problems,’ but anyone who remembers the subways in the 70s would be quick to point out that they encompassed an entirely other level of dysfunction.  Graffiti grew out of these difficult and dangerous times in a city on fire, and to completely glamorize it as an art, while glossing over its flipside of danger and violence is to sanitize it in a way completely counter to its original intentions.

As a New York Times review of the 20th anniversary edition of “Style Wars” put it back in 2003, Absent the urine-soaked subway platforms and pervasive sense of danger that accompanied the rise of graffiti art in New York in the 70’s and 80’s, viewers can happily sit back in their parlors and decipher the green and brown polka-dotted caterpillar scheme that unites ‘’Seen’ and ‘Doze,’’ or Quik’s inventive letter-ending arrows pointing sideways, outward and upward to a seemingly endless universe of graffiti.

Klenihans Pic 2
Dondi’s legendary “Children of the Grave”, 1980; it ran two days before being painted over.

Kleinhans pic 3
The “white elephant” car used as one of the first in a series of graffiti-control measures that started in New York City under Mayor Ed Koch, circa 1981.

The subway train cars were quite literally whitewashed in the 1980s, marking the beginning of the end of subway graffiti. The closure of 5 Pointz in Queens in 2013 – a graffiti landmark substantial enough to  draw crowds – marked another dramatic victory of the corporate over the merely creative. 5 Pointz is now being developed into a 40-story luxury residential building in Long Island City.

5 Pointz was painted over — with no advance notice to the artists whose work had been displayed there for years — over the course of one night.

Kleinhans pic 4
5 Pointz, in its glory, April, 2013

Kleinhans pic 5
5 Pointz, whitewashed, November, 2013

My inspiration for writing the song “91st Street” was to honor this fading culture.  Although graffiti is everywhere now, the culture has been commodified, made clever, palatable, and digestible like everything else.  You can create a masterpiece on your computer using only your brains and your fingers; once you had to straddle a parked train and decorate it from top to bottom, with paint you had stolen, in the middle of the night, the police or a rival gang around a curve and ready to pounce.  And you knew that even if you succeeded, your work had no permanence — it would be painted over within days.

What makes the 91st street station important is that it’s one of those weird lost-in-time places that, from simple benign neglect, has become a repository for a fertile period in the history of New York art.  Taggers continue to make the short pilgrimage to view and perhaps to tag one spot in the one place in the New York subway system that is more like a shrine to the past here than just about anything else.  After all, cleaning it up wouldn’t make anybody any money, and therein lies its durability. Like a root cellar where one can imagine all manner of unnameable fungi finding a foothold, it maintains its spirit of dankness and chaos in a world that would love to be done with such inconveniences. It holds a special place in my heart and some day I hope to stand on its platform like the anachronism I suppose I am.

“91st Street” has a progressive/jazzy vibe, with a simple but cool drumbeat, funky bass line and fuzzy guitar riff. Toward the end of the track, Peter injects a quirky psychedelic synth that makes for a great finish. You can listen to “91st Street” by clicking the link below:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzMXix1s0HGeZk9meVBoRExwcVN1YU1rcGg2SDlVeEFmWVo0/view?usp=sharing

To learn more about Peter, check out his website and connect with him on Facebook /  Twitter  / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes