Six months ago (in July 2021) I wrote a feature article about Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Craig Mapstone, in which I focused on his intent to write and record a new song every week throughout 2021 (read my article here). At the time, he had successfully reached the halfway point in his very ambitious goal, with 27 songs under his belt. Well, I’m happy to report that Craig fully achieved his objective of faithfully releasing a new song every week, and by year’s end, he’d put out a total of 53 songs, including two Christmas-related tracks. He’s now asked his followers to let him know what our five favorites of his many songs are, and I’ve decided to write this post to tell him! 

Secret Postal Society - Craig Mapstone

Before I get to my picks, I want to say a few things: First off, Craig is one of the kindest, most gracious and humble musicians I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know as a music blogger, and I’ve become quite fond of him both professionally and personally. He’s also incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working, and his discipline and ability to remain laser-focused on his goal puts many others – including me – to shame. Which leads to my second point, that I’m absolutely dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song – along with an accompanying video – week in and week out for an entire year is amazing in itself, but to achieve such a high level of quality in nearly every track is nothing short of astonishing.

Though his sound can generally be described as singer/songwriter-oriented pop and soft-rock, infused with touches of indie folk, his music is actually fairly eclectic. Some of his songs feature elements of grunge, progressive, post-punk and alternative rock, so there’s something for just about everyone in his discography (other than for fans of R&B or hip hop). It was extremely difficult winnowing down my list of favorite Secret Postal Society songs to only five, but herewith are my top five picks, followed by six honorable mentions that could all have easily been among my top five. Worth noting is that most of my favorites were written and recorded in the latter half of the year, an indication that Craig’s songwriting and musicianship grew better and stronger the more songs he wrote. 

1. Fly

Though Craig doesn’t have an especially powerful voice, its comforting warmth is well-suited to his generally laid-back musical style, and no more so than on “Fly“, my favorite of all his songs. His 21st song, released last May, it’s his longest track, running over six minutes, and also his most beautiful. Craig’s twangy strummed guitar notes, accompanied by lovely strings, xylophone, and what sounds like a mellotron, create a hauntingly beautiful soundscape. His gentle vocals exude a deeply heartfelt sense of sadness as he sings the bittersweet lyrics expressing pain and regret over a relationship that’s ended, but remembering glimmers of what brought you both together in the beginning: “The ones we love are the ones we hurt the most. We fly so close. We fly so close. I kissed you once, and it took my breath away.”

The accompanying video is courtesy of The Internet Archives, and features footage from the classic 1923 silent film Safety Last!, directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor and starring Harold Lloyd.

2. A Thousand Times

Released in July as his 31st song, “A Thousand Times” is a perfect pop tune, with a breezy vibe reminiscent of songs by such bands as Fleetwood Mac, The Outfield and the Gin Blossoms. Craig’s jangly guitars and sunny synths are delightful, and the song is just so catchy and feel-good that it makes me happy. The lyrics seem to speak of a budding romance between two people who’ve been playing emotional footsie with each other for a while: “We both have secret smiles and glances. We play games young lovers still play. I believe we deserve second chances. I’ll wait a thousand times for you love.

3. Alive

While it might not be one of Secret Postal Society’s most interesting songs from a musical standpoint, “Alive” is nevertheless one of my favorites because of Craig’s thoughtful lyrics, not to mention that it was released on my birthday in August as his 35th song. Many of his songs speak not only of romantic love, but love for humankind and each other, and this one’s a fine example of that. He acknowledges that while he may not be all that important in the scheme of things, he’s glad to be alive, and urges us live our lives with love and understanding for one another: “So we fight to survive through the lows and the highs ’cause we’ve got to keep going. So I look in your eyes. You know it’s OK to cry. I’m just grateful that you are alive.” It’s a warm and pleasing track, and the guitars and keyboards in the bridge are really lovely.

4. I Will Follow You

Released in October as his 40th song, “I Will Follow You” has a strong R.E.M. feel, which is why it appeals to me so much. Craig’s a fine guitarist, and his work is especially good on this track. The lyrics are spoken to a loved one, assuring them that they’ll always have your love and support: “Time and again I was always with you as a friend. But I guess that I never told you. I know that life’s hard. No one said it was easy at all. But we’ll be fine, and I will follow you.” The beautiful video was produced by Yaroslav Shuraev (Pexels). 

5. Something From Nothing/Points of Light 

Released in November as song #47, “Something From Nothing/Points of Light” is sort of a couplet, like having two songs for the price of one. With its urgent, intricate riffs and driving melody, “Something From Nothing” has a Foo Fighters vibe, but unlike the Foos’ similarly-titled song that ends in an explosive crescendo, Secret Postal Society’s ends on a calm, lovely and contemplative note with “Points of Light”. I like that Craig’s young son Reuben sings these optimistic closing lyrics along with him: “Don’t you let your sun go out. And never let the others dim the shine of hope you have inside. I see in you the light eternal.” 

Very Honorable Mention:

Numb – A terrific alt-rock song with swirling synths and a great guitar riff reminiscent of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups

Hurt – A darkly beautiful, grungy track with industrial-sounding synths and fantastic reverby guitars.

Halfway There – A lovely guitar-driven track featuring shimmery keyboards and Craig’s soothing vocals, with optimistic lyrics addressing both his half-year milestone, but also a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment.

A Song For Leaving You – A great kiss-off song with a captivating hip-swaying beat, spacey synths and some really gorgeous guitar work.

What’s Up Dude? – A languid and cool alt-rock song co-written and sung by Craig and his young son Reuben, with lyrics directed at slackers, encouraging them to get busy: “This is not a game of chance, you have to do the work, SO DO IT!

It’s Not a Christmas Song (Unless the Sleigh Bells Are Ringing) – A thoroughly delightful contemporary Christmas song that’s as good as many I’ve heard from major artists. And once again, we’re treated to Reuben’s sweet vocals.

Craig is now enjoying a well-deserved rest from his exhaustive songwriting and recording schedule, and isn’t quite sure where he’ll take Secret Postal Society going forward. But I for one hope he’ll continue putting out more great songs, albeit at a more reasonable pace.

Follow Secret Postal Society:  Facebook / Instagram 

Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube

JAMIE ALIMORAD – Single Review: “Give a Little Lovin'”

Jamie Alimorad is a talented, charismatic and congenial singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles. Music has been a big part of his life since his early teens, and by the time he was a college student at Northeastern University in Boston, he released his first EP Cornerstone (in 2010), then followed up two years later with his critically-acclaimed full-length album Words Left Unsaid, winning several music and songwriting awards. His very first video, for the song “Beautiful” from that album, has been viewed over 2 million times. Jamie then experienced a creative slump lasting several years, during which he became filled with crippling self-doubt, wondering if he’d ever be successful again.

He eventually decided to take a few classes with famed singer-songwriter, musician and producer Gino Vannelli, who offers small Art of  Song & Voice Master Class sessions at his music studio outside Portland, Oregon. The two hit it off, and Gino eventually became his mentor. The two began working together writing and recording songs for what would become Jamie’s outstanding second album This is Tomorrow Calling, which was released in September 2019. (You can read my review of the album here.)

Jamie in the studio with Ross Vannelli

Now Jamie is back with a great new single “Give a Little Lovin’“, his first release in more than two years. The song was co-written by Jamie and composer, songwriter and producer Ross Vannelli (Gino’s brother), who also produced and arranged the track. The duo spent several months last year writing, arranging, recording, and mixing lots of new songs that Jamie plans on releasing in 2022. “Give a Little Lovin'” is the first of them. Drawing inspiration from the music of Prince, Morris Day & The Time and Bruno Mars, the two have fashioned an infectious and upbeat pop gem imbued with sexy swagger and funky grooves. From the wonderful opening guitar strums to the swirling synths, sultry strings, funky bass and lively drumbeats, the song is a master class in arrangement and instrumentation. Everything about the song is flawless and fresh-sounding, without ever feeling over-produced.

Jamie told me the song is “essentially about the chase; man sees woman, falls in love/lust with woman. Will she let him in?” As always, his strong, emotive vocals are exquisite, perfectly capturing his feelings of being intensely besotted with a beautiful woman:

Cross my heart and hope to die
I want you and that’s no lie
Never been so captivated
Don’t wanna make it complicated
I hope that I can make it clear tonight

From the moment that I saw you
I couldn’t live my life without you
I wanna make it all about you
Oh oh oh oh oh

Give a little lovin’

“Give a Little Lovin'” is marvelous, and if Jamie’s upcoming songs are half this good, we’re in for a treat!

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

PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS – Single Review: “Redchurch Street Blues”

British singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis is one of the most creative and prolific artists I’ve encountered in my more than six years as a music blogger. Drawing from an eclectic range of music genres and influences, including alternative rock, blues, R&B, soul, garage rock, folk and EDM, the London East Ender crafts his own unique style of blues-soaked rock. That unique style, combined with his distinctive raspy singing voice that sounds like no one else, makes his music instantly recognizable as only his.

Over the past decade, Philip has released an impressive amount of music, including two albums – Grief Harbour in 2017 (which I reviewed) and Now + Then this past September – as well as two EPs and scores of singles. I’ve also reviewed several of those singles, most recently “I.O.U” this past August (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the hard-working musician returns with a fantastic new single “Redchurch Street Blues“. In addition to writing, singing and producing the track, Philip also played slide and electric guitars and organ. Drums were played by Jon Harris, bass by Ben Jones, additional electric guitar by Rob Updegraff, and backing vocals were sung by Philip, Vicky and Little A. The track was recorded at One Louder Studios London by Alan Emptage, and mastered at Fluid Mastering by Tim Debney.

I’ve stated previously that one of the things I like about Philip’s music is its unpredictability, and how no two songs of his ever sound alike. With every release, we’re treated to an entirely different sound and vibe than the song before, and “Redchurch Street Blues” is another fine example of that. The song is a raw and bluesy ode to the hardscrabble East London neighbourhood he once lived in, which in recent years has undergone gentrification, along with all the positive and negative changes that comes with it.

The song’s retro and bluesy vibe has one foot planted in late 1950s rock’n’roll, with noticeable shades of Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Elvis Presley. In fact, Philip seems to channel Vincent with his be-bop-a-lula-esque vocals in the bridge. The other foot is firmly planted in the present, with a contemporary blues rock sensibility similar to some of the music of two of my favorite bands, Cage the Elephant and The Black Keys. The dual intricate guitars of Philip and Rob Updegraff are outstanding, floating over Ben Jones’ pulsating bass groove and Jon Harris’ thumping drums keeping the tight rhythm.

About his inspiration behind the song, Philip elaborates: “Redchurch Street is set in Shoreditch. I used to live a couple streets down on Bethnal green which is rougher and saw a good deal of the riots; it’s part of the poorest borough of London, Tower hamlets. It’s the home of the colourful Bricklane market and of course the Cockneys which by the way my daughter is as she was born in Whitechapel. Gentrification started a while back as posh shops and franchises moved into the area and most of the little shops, tenants and businesses had a hard time surviving with rent rising and all. I guess this is the way of the world, but the contrast remains stunning from one street to the other, with the City of London and its billions looming over in the east end of London.”

Builders aren’t building
Landlords evicting
The rent is trebling
No signs of easing

Cars are burning
While my baby is sleeping
The streets are a-blazing
And the bonfire grins

I’ve got the red church street blues
And I’m down in the gutter
There goes the neighbourhood

We toil everyday
For a misery pay
Ain’t got too much to lose
When you’re down with that blues
Now shops they are closing
And the malls keep on thriving
Got a bag full of nothing
And the pawnbroker’s spleen

I’ve got the red church street blues
And I’m down in the gutter
There goes the neighbourhood

Now the tables are turning
Heads are consulting
Inflation is rising
And my blood pressure steams
I’m just a dead man walking
Lord I’m up to my chin
I’ve been played now I spin
And the banker still grins     

I’ve got the red church street blues
And I’m down in the gutter
There goes the neighbourhood
It seems like yesterday
Will never fade away
No matter what you hear
No matter what they say
You’re on your own

I’ve got the red church street blues
And I’m down in the gutter
There goes the neighbourhood

Here’s a video of Philip’s acoustic performance of the song:

Connect with Philip: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music
Purchase:  Amazon / Deezer / Bandcamp 

LIAM SULLIVAN – Single Review: “Rodion’s Poem”

Leeds, England-based singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan has become a favorite artist of mine ever since I first learned about him in Spring of 2020. He’s a thoughtful and talented songwriter and guitarist who pens lyrics addressing the oft-covered topics of life, love and loss, but in a way that really speaks to our souls. He then delivers them with a vibrant and warm singing voice that’s both beautiful and comforting, accompanied by his exceptional guitar work and superb arrangements. Liam’s been writing and performing music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and, more recently, as a solo artist with a back-up band of musicians he assembled to help bring his poetic lyrics to life.

Last year, Liam set himself with an ambitious goal to release a new single roughly every 6-8 weeks. While he hasn’t quite met that frantic schedule, he has released eight singles over the past year and a half, the latest of which is “Rodion’s Poem“. (I’ve reviewed four of his previous singles, most recently his beautiful song “Jerusalem” this past July. You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.)

As its title suggests, “Rodion’s Poem” was originally a poem written by Liam about Rodion Raskolnikov, a fictional character and protagonist of the 1866 novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Liam decided to turn the poem into a song that he planned on releasing some time next year, but worried he wasn’t moving forward quite fast enough, he ended up recording the track for a late 2021 release. The words of the poem, which are now lyrics to the song, are Liam’s take on Rodion’s life, reflecting on the love that is bestowed on the character despite his wayward actions. He felt the melancholy vibe of the song made it an ideal track for wintertime.

There’s another poignant aspect to the song as well. The nylon string guitar Liam used in the recording of the song was once owned by the father of a close family friend. After the father passed away, Liam was helping his friend clean out his father’s house and came across the guitar. He instantly fell in love with it, and his friend kindly gave it to him.

Like many of Liam’s songs, “Rodion’s Poem” is a gentle and stunning track. But unlike most of his songs that are built around guitar, this one is built around the piano. And what beautiful piano notes they are, accompanied by gorgeous cello played by Christine Avis and Liam’s delicately strummed guitar. Then there’s his warm vocals, backed by lovely harmonies, all of which make for a truly exquisite track, and one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a while. It’s the perfect song for sitting by the fire with a loved one on a cold winter’s night.

Connect with Liam:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube

MMIV – Single Review: “The Drugs Are Running Out”

MMIV is the music project of young British singer-songwriter Max Rawdon. I actually first wrote about MMIV two years ago when it was a fledgling band comprised of Max and two other musicians he’d met while at the University of Leeds. Alas, they weren’t able to survive the challenges of the pandemic, and eventually went their separate ways. Now based in East London, Max has decided to continue MMIV as a solo artist, and has released his first single “The Drugs Are Running Out“.

Calling it “a sad indie ballad in pop song’s clothing“, Max wrote “The Drugs Are Running Out” to address his conflicting emotions about turning 22, and the realization he’s now fully into adulthood, with all the added responsibilities that entails. He explains “The song chronicles the creeping awareness that youth won’t last forever, and the moment that the party is peaking, but also, unfortunately, about to end, knowing that work is always there in the morning.” The track was written, performed and recorded by MMIV, and produced by George Murphy (Drug Store Romeos, The Specials, The Coronas).

It’s a charming pop tune, with a catchy toe-tapping beat and thumping bass groove, accompanied by snappy drum fills, ethereal synths and breezy guitars that gradually build to a joyous crescendo as the song progresses. Max’s clear, low-key vocals have a pleasing quality too, with just the right amount of emotional intensity that grows in tandem with the music.

I've not been agreeing with my food recently
Told me you know someone great that I can go and see
One day, we're caught in the rain 
So we'll get off the street and back to your place
And open up a bottle of wine
Take our wet clothes off and hang them to dry
Then it's a party with all of your friends
But you know that the night will come to an end
And you're all laughing, but you don't know why
While clothes are hung to dry

I told you I was leaving for a new town, a new city
I thought that it was sad that I couldn't stick around or take you with me
You know that I adore some fun, so why don't we stay a little longer
You said in that case maybe we'll need something stronger

So the next day we do it again
We get off our jobs and back to your place
And open up a bottle of wine
Take our work clothes off, head into the night
Where it's a party with all of your friends
But you know that the night will come to an end
You're all laughing, but you don't know what about
Cause your friends are hung to dry and the drugs 
The drugs are running out
Yeah, the drugs are running out
The drugs are running out
Yeah, the drugs are running out

“The Drugs Are Running Out” is a terrific song, and a fine debut effort from Max. I look forward to hearing more songs from this promising young artist.

Connect with MMIV:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

SAM RAPPAPORT – Single Review: “Journeyman’s Ballet”

Sam Rappaport is an engaging, tousle-haired singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York, and he’s just released a wonderful new single “Journeyman’s Ballet“. It’s his second single as a solo artist, following the release this past February of his debut single “Till the Morning Comes”. Sam is also a founding member of Brooklyn indie R&B/blues rock band Gooseberry, who’ve released a number of terrific singles over the past couple of years.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California, Sam began playing piano at the tender age of five, however, he never considered himself good enough to be a “musician”. Throughout his youth and well into his years at Vassar College, basketball was his first love. But as he told NYS MUSIC earlier this year for their article about his debut single: “I held onto the NBA dreams as long as I could, but once I hit college it was pretty clear that those dreams were out of reach. Still, I spent the first three years of college thinking that I’d end up overseas playing in some Euro league. I remember finishing a practice my senior year, running to the bathroom, heaving all the liquid in my body into a trash can, and thinking–I don’t want to do this anymore. So I quit.

After college, Sam worked at a variety of jobs, including as a case manager at a welfare office, a reporter for local newspapers and a bartender at a Sichuan restaurant. But through it all, he never lost his passion for music. He settled for a few years in Chicago, where he played keyboards for R&B singer Brandon James, then relocated to Brooklyn, where he honed his music skills by playing at open mics, house parties and comedy shows. Through those performances, as well as his live shows with Gooseberry – not to mention both his and Gooseberry’s fine music releases – he’s garnered a growing base of loyal fans and followers. I was amazed by the outpouring of love and support for Sam and his single on Instagram today.

“Journeyman’s Ballet” was written and sung by Sam, who also played piano. The remaining instruments were played by Daniel Alvarez and Jordan Dunn-Pilz of the band Toledo, who also produced the track. Mastering was done by Mike Kalajian of Rogue Planet Mastering. The song has a pleasing jazzy soft-rock vibe reminiscent of late 70s/early 80s Steely Dan. Sam’s sparkling piano keys are nicely complemented by Daniel and Jordan’s lilting guitar notes and gentle percussion that enhance, rather than overpower, allowing his lovely piano to really shine. Sam’s smooth, understated vocals are soothing and lovely, and perfectly suited to the song’s languid melody.

About the song’s title, Sam explained it’s “about the dance of someone who is avoidant, always on the move, always looking to escape, to outrun the monsters within. This dance does welcome isolation.” The lyrics speak to those operating under the delusion that they can escape their problems or outrun their personal demons, hoping for a desired outcome simply by changing jobs, romantic partners or where they live, without directly addressing their inherent issues first. (I hate to admit that I’ve been guilty of this myself more than once.) In the song’s chorus, he ponders “Who are we for the mile we walk alone? Who are we when the lies become our home? Who are we when the night turns day, and the monsters still remain.

For the song’s video, Sam enlisted the help of Cassandra Angelini-Vazquez, who dressed him in a tutu and filmed him at Coney Island. Unfortunately, the video won’t be ready for several more days, so for now we’ll have to settle for this audio and a still of Sam standing in New York Bay.

Sam’s music may be found on: SpotifyApple MusicYouTubeAmazonBandcamp

BOY CALLED KILLIAN – Single Review: “What is Tomorrow?”

Boy Called Killian is the new music project of Shane Radford, a singer-songwriter from Kansas City, Missouri who I’ve been following for more than five years. He’s also a member of Kansas City alt-rock band Lost in the City, who’s currently on hiatus. I reviewed their excellent albums, “Genesis” in 2016 and “Leaving Home” in 2018, and it’s hard to believe it was that long ago! At any rate, I’m happy that Shane is continuing to make new music, and he’s just released his debut single as Boy Called Killian, “What is Tomorrow?

Shane came up with the idea for his moniker ‘Boy Called Killian’ by combining his love of Peter Pan and middle name Killian. His sound is influenced by an eclectic range of genres ranging from 80s pop to 90s hip hop to modern rock. He felt compelled to write “What is Tomorrow?” as a way of expressing his feelings of exhaustion and numbness resulting from the pandemic, which hit close to home for Shane. Sadly, he lost his grandmother to Covid, and all the lies and false information some people were spreading about the virus, masking and vaccines made him frustrated and angry. He wrote, sang and played all instruments and programmed all synths on the track, which was recorded and mixed by Bret Liber at Red Roof Productions.

The song is darkly beautiful, with swirling otherworldly synths over a droning synth bass that create a rather ominous atmospheric soundscape. But he lightens the vibe with numerous musical touches like a skittering percussive beat and sparkling keyboards to provide glimmers of hope. His earnest vocals sound better than ever here, nicely backed by own lovely soaring harmonies as he laments “Everybody’s got somewhere to be. Everybody but me, me, me, me. So what is tomorrow? Will we ever be normal again? Everybody’s got an opinion. Everybody has got a wrong opinion./ What’s the point in spouting off? You look like an asshole./ Maybe you should shut your mouth.

It’s a wonderful, expertly-crafted song that really strikes a nerve, as well as an excellent beginning for his new Boy Called Killian project.

Click here to watch the special animated video Boy Called Killian created for the song.

Connect with Boy Called Killian: FacebookInstagram

LOWRY LANE – Interview & Album Review: “Lonely War”

Lowry Lane is an earnest, thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Regensburg, Germany. Born Paul Friebe, and inspired by “the naive and bold simplicity of Andy Warhol, and the sobering and disillusioning insights of Hunter S. Thompson“, he named his solo music project after English painter L.S. Lowry as a way of exploring his “musical self discovery, which aims to recklessly unfold the inherent conflicts he finds within himself and in the world around him.” He names an extensive and eclectic list of artists and bands as influences for his melodic and complex style of alternative rock, including The Smiths, Fugazi, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Libertines, Joy Division, The Cure, Nirvana, Wavves, Pavement, The Strokes and Kurt Vile. 

I learned about Lowry four years ago when he followed me on Twitter, and was immediately impressed by his debut single “Find A Way”, a superb track with strong Nirvana elements that I liked so much I reviewed it. He followed with another fine single “Why Bother” in early 2018, and had planned to release a full-length album later that year. However, his struggles with personal and financial issues, as well as trying to juggle university studies with making music, led Lowry to put the album on hold, though he continued writing and recording new songs. Happily, he finished the album, which he’s named Lonely War, this past summer, and began releasing a series of new singles in anticipation of its release. One of them, “Angel Falls”, I reviewed in September.

Lonely War features 14 excellent tracks touching on dark topics like relationship troubles, personal loss, addiction and mental health, while still offering glimmers of optimism. In preparation for reviewing the album, I asked Lowry some questions about how he got into making music and his creative process, which he kindly took the time to answer.

EML: Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions Paul. I’ve been a fan of yours ever since first hearing your debut single “Find A Way” four years ago. I know you started out playing with other bands while in your teens, and decided in 2017 to branch out on your own as a solo act. I’m guessing that, like many musicians who’ve played in bands but later go solo, you wanted to make music entirely on your own terms, am I correct?

LL: Thanks for having me and for the kind words, Jeff! Making music on my own terms definitely played a large role in starting a solo project, in a way it has really streamlined the whole process of decision-making. It allowed me to focus more on my musical instincts when it came to songwriting. But there were also other, more practical aspects, that played a role. Many of my band mates at the time were taking university and or work a lot more serious than I ever did, so there was this really great disparity in terms of free time available between us. I also felt the great desire to get a lot more involved in making music and to take on other roles as a recording and mixing engineer and as a producer. Lowry Lane was an opportunity for me to work on these things day in and day out for the last four years. In the long term, however, my hope is for Lowry Lane to evolve into a proper band, like we saw happen with projects like Wavves or Bass Drum Of Death.

EML: You’ve cited as influences for your music such iconic acts as Nirvana, The Pixies, The Cure, Sonic Youth, The Strokes and Fugazi, as well as more current acts like Kurt Vile, Surf Curse and the aforementioned Wavves, and I can definitely hear elements of their music in your exciting and wonderfully eclectic sound. This may be a dumb question, but how do you go about incorporating those many elements into your songwriting?

LL: I think that’s a really interesting question, albeit a tough one to answer. I think a lot of it happens unconsciously. And a lot of it probably comes down to being shaped by what music you listen to in your youth and throughout your lifetime in general. For me, those bands and their music just feel deeply ingrained into my sense of self. The way it usually works for me in practice is that a certain song or an element of a song takes my mind on some kind of journey. They remind me of a place I’ve been, a dream I had or a situation or feeling I’ve lived through. Then I just let that mood guide me through the whole process of writing, recording and mixing.

EML: Of all those acts, who would you most like to have the opportunity to open for at a concert?

LL: Honestly, opening for any of them would be a dream come true, so it’s impossible for me to decide. Realistically, I think opening for Lunatics on Pogosticks or Gringo Star one day would be amazing!

EML: You’re an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who I understand plays all instruments on your songs. As someone who plays no instruments whatsoever, I find that to be an incredible and admirable talent. Has your ability to play so many instruments been mostly or entirely self-taught, or have you had some musical training?

LL: I took a few guitar lessons at 14 or 15, when I started playing guitar, but other than that I had no musical training in the traditional sense. But there are so many other ways to learn music that I just didn’t really feel the need to take lessons. I’ve been very lucky to have met a lot of amazing musicians over the years. I regularly jam with my friends at our rehearsal space and I learned so much simply by playing together with great musicians. At some point I just started banging around on the drums before and after our jams, got a few tips and tricks from our drummers and just kept practicing for a few years. And then there’s of course the internet. I learned a lot of stuff from message boards, blogs, and YouTube videos, too.

EML: I’ve reviewed a number of other German musicians and bands over the years, all of whom write and record their songs in English. I’m guessing that doing so opens their music up to a potentially wider audience, right? What is the German music scene like these days?

LL: The potential audience for English lyrics is a lot bigger, that’s true. And it’s also the language of music that a lot of us here have grown up with. I very rarely listen to music with German lyrics (with the exception of Isolation Berlin). I’m not really that informed about the German music scene in general, but the indie music scene, at least here in Regensburg, is very small. Most professional live musicians I know make their living from teaching and playing at weddings, fairs and festivals. We have a few small venues here, like Alte Mälzerei, where you can regularly see cool indie and underground artists, but a lot of places closed in the last years, even before Covid-19. And there are a few places that used to have open stage nights, which were really fun sometimes, but I don’t know if they’re still around. The scene is much bigger in cities like Berlin, of course. Usually, when I want to see a band from overseas, I have to drive to either Munich or Berlin. And at that point there’s really only a few concerts a year I’m even considering going to. It’s great for seeing amazing indie bands at really small venues, though!

EML: I love your new album Lonely War. As with many singer-songwriters, your songs are often inspired by your own experiences. Many of the album’s tracks address topics like failed relationships, loss and mental health, while still offering glimmers of hope and optimism. Has writing these songs been cathartic to you on any level?

LL: Absolutely! Making music is by far the best emotional outlet I have. Every song on the album has some personal story behind it. Be it about my on/off relationship, the difficulties between me and my parents, substance abuse or simply the ongoing journey of finding myself. And writing about that stuff can really help you reflect on things and heal. Psychotherapy has also helped me a lot with improving my mental health and also with finally finishing the album.

EML: The Covid pandemic prevented artists & bands from performing live for much of 2020 and early 2021. Do you have any plans to tour or do live shows to promote your new album?

LL: Not at the moment, sadly. I would love to play live again (it’s been years..) and I hope I can get a band together sooner than later, but we’ll have to see.

EML: Is there anything I’ve neglected to ask that you’d like your fans and my readers to know about you or your music?

LL: Well, I’d like to say that I’m definitely planning on putting out new music much more frequently in the future. Also, Matthew Agoglia from The Ranch Mastering did an amazing job on the album!

Lowry in his element, and just look at that amazing hair!

So let’s get into the album, shall we. Lonely War is fairly long, with 14 tracks and running over 51 minutes. It opens with “New Waves“, a gentle rock track with a mesmerizing guitar riff that instantly reminded me of the Smashing Pumpkins’ iconic song “1979”. When I mentioned that to Lowry, he told me I was spot on, as the song was definitely an inspiration for “New Waves”. The poignant lyrics speak of looking back on past events, some good and some bad, that shape who we are today, also realizing that time marches on in a continuous stream of waves: “New waves form. I know you from before the storm. Don’t regret a thing. Despite our struggle, memories of you keep me warm and out of trouble.” He has a fine, mellifluous singing voice, and his vocals here are especially pleasant and soothing. The same goes for “Tuesday” a lively song with a wonderful garage rock vibe, highlighted by jangly guitars that border on surf.

One of my favorite tracks is “Angel Falls”, a glorious hybrid of new wave and punk, with elements of Joy Division and early The Cure. I love Lowry’s psychedelic and jangly guitars that are perfectly layered over a chugging bassline, assertive drumbeats and ominous swirling synths, all creating a dark, almost menacing soundscape The lyrics seem to describe someone who’s losing touch with reality, and possibly having a mental breakdown or experiencing a drug overdose: “Messy wiring, Flashing images, Neurons firing, Hidden messages, Thoughts expiring, Brain cells in distress, Oh so tiring, Oh so limitless./ Voices in the walls, Haunting silent calls, Echo through the halls, Another angel falls.

Ghosts” is another favorite, both musically and lyrically. The interplay between Lowry’s jangly grunge-like guitar riffs and strong bass notes is really wonderful, and I love his plaintive vocals. The lyrics are spoken to a former loved one, expressing regret and sorrow for the mistakes he’s made that caused the relationship to fail; “No excuses in the end. I know I failed you as a friend. Torn apart with every tear. You’re in my heart, but you’re not here.” “White Noise” is a rousing rock track with fast-paced gritty riffs, punctuated by a blistering little solo in the bridge.

Lowry taps into his love for grunge on several tracks. “Comfort Zone” is a dark song about feeling of pain and ennui, highlighted by trippy psychedelic guitars and his monotone vocals as he drones “So much comfort in my pain. Every morning feels the same“. The Nirvana-esque “Boring” is yet another favorite, as I love the fantastic mix of jangly and grungy guitars. The song speaks to feelings of dissatisfaction with a partner he’s done with: “Never coming back again. I always hated all your friends. I don’t want to stay with you another day, boring. That’s okay, you never had a chance to run. I just don’t think that I could take it any longer. I know I’m not the only one.” And on “Super Silver Haze“, he uses a mix of grungy and psychedelic guitars and synths to create a dark and trippy vibe.

Midway through the album, Lowry unleashes “Black Hole“, an intense track featuring a relentless barrage of reverb-soaked, super-gnarly guitars, accompanied by spooky synths and a droning bassline. His calm vocals contrast sharply with the menacing soundscape to great effect. “Water” lightens the mood markedly, with a bouncy melody and beautiful chiming guitars, but “On My Mind” brings us back to a darker reality. Similar to “Ghosts”, the lovely but mournful song is an honest confession of regret for the hurt and pain he’s caused: “Goodbye friend, I guess it’s time to move on and draw a line. And I know you know I would make it better if I could. Kill the pain I put you through. Fix our broken hearts with glue. You are always on my mind.
I was wrong and I was blind

Lowry closes the album on a decidedly more upbeat note with the final three tracks. “Easy” is a pretty song with a bit of a Beach Boys feel, thanks to his sweet, echoed vocal harmonies and jangly surf-like guitars. “Sea of Tranquility” is an outlier on the album, in that it’s an instrumental only track and, running 6:48 minutes, far longer than any others. Featuring a repetitive strummed guitar line, and accompanied by airy, somewhat spacy synths, pleasing piano keys and a pulsating bassline, the song has a languid, relaxing vibe, as suggested by the title. The Green Day-esque closing track “Here” has a lively post-punk feel, with a rousing melody, snappy drumbeats and colorful frantic riffs.

What more can I say about Lonely War other than that I absolutely love everything about it! I love Lowry’s songwriting and poetic lyricism, his brilliant musicianship – especially guitar-playing – and his beautiful vocals. He’s done an impressive job with the album’s arrangements, recording and production, and once again, credit must be given to Matthew Agoglia for his expert mastering.

And here’s the album on YouTube:

Connect with Lowry:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Find a Way”:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube
 Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

Fresh New Tracks Vol. IX

It’s been a while since my last installment of Fresh New Tracks, and truth be told, I’ve been rather hesitant to do more of these posts, as I suspect a lot of artists don’t appreciate sharing the limelight with others. That said, there’s just so much great music being released nearly every day, and my time to write posts and reviews is limited, so combine them I must.

For my latest installment, I’ve chosen new singles by three of my favorite indie artists, all prolific musicians who possess really beautiful singing voices – Australian singer-songwriter G. Samedi, American singer-songwriter The Frontier, and Canadian-American singer-songwriter Shimmer Johnson. I’ve previously featured each of them on this blog numerous times, and love their new songs so much that I have to share them.

“Rearview” by G. Samedi

Sam looking cool as always

G. Samedi is the music project of Sam Dawes, a remarkably talented and dangerously charismatic singer-songwriter from Sydney, Australia. He’s also lead vocalist and songwriter for the wonderful soul/funk/jazz/pop band Thunder Fox, who I’ve written about several times as well. He has a distinctive soulful and silky vocal style that effortlessly glides from smooth, sultry croons to a plaintive falsetto and back again. Drawing from R&B, soul, trip hop, electronic and alternative rock elements, Sam creates moody and sensuous soundscapes for the expression of his bold lyrics addressing the darker and more introspective aspects of love and relationships. He writes all his own music and lyrics, records and programs all instruments, sings all vocals, and produces and mixes all tracks. The only think he outsources is the mastering.  

While still actively involved with Thunder Fox, who will be releasing their second album next month, Sam began recording and producing some of his songs as a solo artist in early 2020. In less than two years, he’s released an astonishing 10 singles, one of which, “Icarus”, I reviewed this past May. His latest is “Rearview”, which dropped October 16th, and it’s another stunning & dreamy track. I love all the colorful instruments and sounds he incorporates into the song, highlighted by sparkling synths, enchanting organ, and a mix of shimmery and gnarly guitar notes. As always, his layered vocals are smooth, sensuous and incredibly emotive.    

Connect with G. Samedi: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

“On the Other Side” by The Frontier

Jake sharing a moment with his trusty sidekick Atlas

Regular readers of this blog know I’m a huge fan of The Frontier – aka Jake Mimikos, who’s based in Fairfax County, Virginia. Jake is an enormously talented guy with a kindness and sense of humor to match, and I’m quite fond of him both as an artist and human. Since 2015, he’s released an impressive amount of music both as a solo artist and as a band under The Frontier moniker, and we’ve been following each other on social media for nearly that long. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is always incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted. As with many singer-songwriters, Jake’s songs are often inspired by personal experiences, and deal with love, relationships and loss. He prefers to write lyrics that are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend. I’ve loved all of his songs, and have featured several on this blog, most recently “Shattered”, which I reviewed this past July. Two of his singles, “Dark Places” (from 2019) and “Can We Go Back” (from earlier this year) reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30, while “Sleep” (released in late 2020) reached #2.

On October 15th, he dropped his latest single “On the Other Side”, a beautiful song with heartfelt lyrics directed at a former romantic partner that’s hurt him, and who he now wants to try and get over: “Gotta get my head right, gotta get you out of my mind. Tell me what it feels like on the other side.” About the song, Jake told the blog Cool Top 20The music for this song came to me, oddly enough, when I was creating a video on Tik Tok. At the time, I was just messing around and posting little videos of me playing with my looper pedal. One of the loops I created had this really cool lead part over this simple progression. When I heard it I knew instantly I wanted to develop it a bit more and turn it into a song. You can hear the lead guitar part over most of the song in the background. It’s really simple, but to me it was the coolest thing hearing it come together.” It sounds very cool indeed Jake!

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

“Starts with You” by Shimmer Johnson

Shimmer working her magic

Let’s kick the mood into high gear with a hot new dance-pop song, “Starts with You” by Shimmer Johnson. Originally from Edmonton, Canada and now based in Los Angeles, Shimmer has an incredibly beautiful and resonant singing voice. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals are strong, but with a raw vulnerability that beautifully conveys the subtle yet powerful emotions expressed in her heartfelt lyrics, enabling us to connect with her songs on a deeply personal level. In addition to her amazing vocal talents, she’s also a fine guitarist and pianist, and has collaborated with several songwriters and producers to create an impressive repertoire of outstanding songs over the past few years. She started out singing Country songs, but eventually transitioned to a more adult contemporary pop sound. 

I’ve featured Shimmer several times on this blog, most recently this past June when I reviewed her powerfully moving single “It’s Fate’s Turn”. Her latest single “Starts with You”, released on October 15th, sees her venture into dance-pop, and I absolutely love it! Co-written by Shimmer, her husband Corey, and Ted Perlman, the song features an infectiously upbeat dance groove guaranteed to have even the biggest wallflowers on their feet and swaying their hips. It’s essentially a song of love that starts off with the singer feeling a bit unsure about her new lover’s intentions: “All alone feeling emptiness. She’s leaving. He won’t see me. What I need, I can’t breathe” but ends up with her feeling happy and secure: “He does see me. What I need to be free (Feel this moment). He helps me see all the things I can be.” I love the funky little Nile Rodgers-like guitar riff and Shimmer’s smooth, breezy vocals. It’s a great track that’s already one of my favorites of her many songs, and I’m certain it will be a hit.

Connect with Shimmer:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

dwi – Album Review: “Mild Fantasy Violence”

As a blogger who writes about new music, I’m continually inundated with submissions from artists, PR firms and record labels, all wanting me to review their music offerings. There’s no way I can possibly write about or feature even a tenth of them, so must carefully pick and choose those I feel are standouts, or that resonate with me in some way. And so it was when I received an email from a nice man at Nice Marmot PR about Canadian artist dwi – aka Dwight Abell – and his debut album Mild Fantasy Violence, which dropped October 1st. Though several days passed before I was able to give the album my undivided attention, once I did I was hooked on this exquisite and beautiful work. I’ve listened to it multiple times since, and love it more with each play. The songs are brilliantly written and executed, with such compelling lyrics and memorable melodies, many remain stuck in my head long after hearing them.

Based in Maple Ridge, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Abell is also bassist for Canadian alternative/power pop band The Zolas. When the global pandemic shut everything down in March 2020, he decided to create his solo music project, which he dubbed dwi after the first three letters of his first name. With time alone (albeit with his wife and two young children), he had a chance to reflect on his own life and insecurities, as well as the crazy world around him, which led him to create this deeply personal record. Influenced by some of his favorite acts like The Beatles, The Cure, Oasis and Damon Albarn, dwi’s music is wonderfully refreshing and innovative, spanning with ease across a wide range of genres and styles.

Released via the label Light Organ Records, Mild Fantasy Violence explores feelings of disconnect from the normalities of relationships and society, touching on such topics as childhood, friendships, addiction, politics and environmentalism. “It’s about using extremes of both escapism and deep self reflection to come to terms with everyday life” Abell explains, adding “There’s so much I want to say about this album, but I honestly think everything I want to tell you about it is already in the songs. I’ve been dreaming about this moment ever since I heard Oasis for the first time at the tender age of 10.”

The album was artfully produced, mixed and engineered by James Younger, bassist of Canadian synth-rock band Yukon Blonde, who also played bass on “Intuitive”, as well as synths on some tracks. Abell played all other instruments except for drums. In listening to his songs, two of the most immediately striking aspects of dwi’s sound are his outstanding guitar work and quirky, endearing vocals that remind me at times of Declan McKenna or grandson, yet are uniquely his own. Then there are his disarmingly pointed lyrics that are so honest and relatable.

This is immediately evident on the first track “Intuitive“, a bouncy tune with a sort of hip hop beat, highlighted by a blaring distorted guitar riff. The song opens with noises one might hear at a party or bar as dwi bemoans his jadedness and ennui: “You said you brought the good shit, but I can’t taste the difference no more.” Later in the song, he expresses his desire for a hooker, knowing that nothing’s gonna come of it: “Senorita of the night. You’re stuck in bathrooms practicing your lines. I wanna love you but both my hands are tied. I wish I wasn’t so intuitive all the time.”

His skill for writing a great melody is showcased on the darkly beautiful “Reverse Engineering“, which to my ears has a strong twenty øne piløts feel. The song is really terrific, with elements of hip hop, alternative rock and dream pop, and I love the glittery synths, lovely piano keys, twangy guitars and snappy percussion, not to mention dwi’s wonderful vocals. And on the brilliant title track “Mild Fantasy Violence“, he ventures heavily into electronica to create a futuristic soundscape as a backdrop for the lyrics about addiction, using video games as a metaphor. He explained to Colleen Flanagan of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News that the song “is about someone who has an urge to play a video game and by the end of the song they are completely sucked into it. I love it lyrically and I love the progression of the song. It’s kind of like three songs in one. The first half of the song describes the struggle. The second half is like you are going through this tunnel and you’re getting all these warnings thrown at you. By the end you’ve just escaped and you’re inside this thing that you really didn’t want to be in but it’s glorious nonetheless.”

Freak N Out” speaks to the emotional trauma many have experienced as a result of both the Covid pandemic and the destructive political divisiveness of late: “We’ve poisoned the well again but that’s old news I guess. The news is division of class and races no.” The hauntingly beautiful and sweeping orchestral and psychedelic synths and bold jangly guitars are fantastic. The dark and trippy video, directed by Sterling Larose, shows dwi seemingly losing touch with reality – i.e. freaking out – as he dances about in a wet field on a rainy night while interacting with a giant rather scary-looking teddy bear.

The album’s vibe makes an abrupt turn with the deliciously-upbeat, radio-friendly track “Good Friend“. The lively but poignant pop/rock song is about “discovering that a friend had been struggling with something dark and wishing you knew more at the time so you could help them through it” explains dwi. Against a backdrop of hard-driving rhythms and frantic riffs, he plaintively laments “Had I known you were broken inside. Had I known you were empty inside. If I was a good friend, I’d a known better. If I was a good friend, I’d have done better.” It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

On the Weekend” has a languid, doo wop sound, with a wonderful mix of reverb-soaked jangly and distorted guitars, accompanied by swirling synths and gentle percussion. The lyrics seem to speak to wasting time with momentarily pleasing, but ultimately unproductive, pursuits like porn and watching strippers: ” Oh porno on the weekend helping the time go a little slow. Well I was in a daze until I finished, deleted the history but it wasn’t my history.” That x-eyed teddy bear makes a return appearance on the quirky surreal video, in which dwi performs the song with a backup band and a host of characters doing weird shit.

On the catchy “Summer’s Shut Down“, another radio-friendly tune, dwi laments about his ruined summer thanks to Covid, and how he misses his friends and fun times: “Just like a hunger strike, but at least with that you can put up a fight. My only vacation is staring at my laundry trying to figure it out. I guess my summer shut down.” The musically complex “Balance” sounds like a song that could have been recorded by the Talking Heads. I adore the bouncy groove and, as always, dwi’s guitar work and vocals are superb. The album closes with the achingly beautiful “Soon“, another of my favorites. Oh hell, they’re all favorites, as I love the entire album! The bittersweet lyrics seem to speak to feelings of disconnect and that something’s missing in your life, but remaining optimistic that things will be better soon: “I’m always home, but I’m never quite there. Like a lion’s roar that’s too loud to hear./ Soon. Hold my breath for me./ This land was grey, but the weather has changed.”

Mild Fantasy Violence is a brilliant and beautifully-crafted album filled with wonderful, outstanding songs. It’s an impressive debut effort, and a testament to dwi/Abell’s strengths as an imaginative and innovative songwriter and musician. He should be very proud of what he’s accomplished here, and I thank him for gifting us this lovely record.

Abell will be touring Canada in November with The Zolas to promote their latest album Come Back To Life, as well as perform his own songs. The tour starts in Montreal on November 4, and will finish in Victoria on the 27th.

Connect with dwi:  TwitterInstagramFacebook