HULLAH – Single Review: “Wild as the Wind”

One of my best new finds of 2022 has been British singer-songwriter, producer and sound designer Charley Hullah, who goes by just his last name, stylized as HULLAH. I first learned about the handsome, talented and highly engaging London-based artist as a result of being a guest moderator for the BBC Music weekly song competition Fresh On The Net, for which he’d entered his gorgeous single “Chasing Trains”. I loved it the instant I heard it, so much so that it ended up spending 20 weeks on my Top 30 chart, going all the way to #1.

Born and raised in the Midlands, HULLAH relocated to London in 2013 to study songwriting at The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, where he earned a B.A. Since graduating, he’s worked as a creative freelancer in the music and media industries, writing and producing music for his solo act, as one-half of the electro-pop duo Futuretape (currently on hiatus), and for other artists, as well as sound-designing for theatre, creating digital content, organising music workshops and working on events such as the Artist and Manager Awards. Most recently, he became Content Manager for Disabled Students UK, and has held the role of Content Manager for Alight Media where he developed a content delivery department for high budget nationwide out-of-home media campaigns.

According to his bio, HULLAH “creates music inspired by a passion for nightlife culture and stories from the queer community. Wrapped in the sonic flavours of trip-hop, 90’s house and synth-pop, his tracks emulate a nocturnal spirit and are complemented by the themes of city living, alienation, ambition and a sense of dejection – commonly expressed through his lyrics. His songs, both introspective and solitary, offer insight into how he navigates his way through the noise and distortion of everyday city life.” His music is inspired by such acts as as Everything but the Girl, Real Lies, Portishead and Pet Shop Boys.

He’s just released his third solo single “Wild as the Wind“, and it’s every bit as magnificent at “Chasing Trains”. Written and produced by HULLAH and mixed by Matt Catlow, the track features more of the lush, sultry vibes I loved on his previous song, but with even more sound textures that take it to a higher, more sophisticated level. Whereas “Chasing Trains” was entirely electronic, “Wild as the Wind” is anchored by a deep, sensuous bassline played by fellow musician Gabrielle Ornate, and fortified with spine-tingling distorted guitar work played by Orlando Sadler. HULLAH explains: “I knew that I wanted and needed live instrumentation on this one so I reached out to my great friends Gabrielle and Orlando. Gabrielle laid down killer bass on this that just glues the whole track together. It packs a gut-punch. Orlando mirrored the sense of dejection in the soundscape and lyric by creating these huge, distorted synth-like guitar lines that create an awesome atmosphere.”

Well, I have to say that together, they’ve created something quite spectacular. “Wild as the Wind” is a dramatic, hauntingly beautiful little masterpiece. The combined warmth of Gabrielle’s sensuous throbbing bassline and HULLAH’s plaintive sultry vocals contrasts with – yet perfectly complements – the icy soundscape created by the ghostly industrial synths. There are so many wonderful little instrumental touches heard throughout the track, like the sparkling keyboards and delicate jangly guitar notes. I’ve been listening to it on endless repeat.

As to the song’s meaning, HULLAH elaborates: “‘Wild as the Wind” is an ode to the wilderness I feel inside myself – the parts of myself I don’t understand and have to grapple with. It’s about trying to make friends with your own insecurities, worries, dread, hopes and desires – the things you don’t quite understand but that equally push and pull you in life nonetheless. There’s the ‘us’ that we present to the world and then there’s the ‘us’ that we are when we are alone, uncomfortably alone. That’s what I mean by wilderness, the space in between those two versions of yourself. ‘Wild as the Wind’ is about not trying to contain this wilderness – it’s about truly seeing those aspects of yourself and attempting to accept and be at peace with them. The song was initially written about two people in my life that were going through hard times. As I kept writing, I later realised that it also reflected my own experience navigating this wilderness I felt they were also battling with.”

You've spend a lifetime looking for something on the other side
You could spend another drifting like you do
All that guilt and history is like a thorn caught in your sleeve 
I know the pain, the hurt and how you yearn to let it go

And I can't save the soul you hold
And I can't save you on my own
I can't do that, but you can't see that
If you don't swim now you will drown

You're as wild as the wind
And I can't catch you
Cause you're as wild as the wind
And I can't cage you

You're so warm outside, but so cold within
A smile is a wall that's caving in
You're breathing to a rhythm that you can't play
Little feet don't make big steps without 
Soles that can tread some hard ground
So how many years will be lost before you finally take the reins?

There's no escaping a wild mind
No easy way to win the fight
But you must fight back
You must see that all that you need is in yourself

Cause you're as wild as the wind
I can't catch you
Cause you're as wild as the wind
And I can't cage you
You're full of grace and gold
So let the wind be what you know
And be as wild as the wind
And let it take you

Though time is all you fear
And nothing is all you feel
Keep on running for a reason
Just let that reason be your life

Connect with HULLAH:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud 

Purchase on Bandcamp

CALLUM PITT – Single Review: “Mayfly”

Callum Pitt is a thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England. Inspired by the music of such artists as Elliott Smith, Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Sufjan Stevens, The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, he creates, in his own words, “indie-folk with a grand, orchestral, chamber pop sensibility plus an alt-rock edge”. His music is characterized by lush harmonies, captivating melodies, and honest, meaningful lyrics touching on subjects like depression and anxiety, and social and political unrest, delivered with his soft, pleasing vocals. In other words, his songs are beautiful.

He began writing and singing songs in this teens, performing in pubs and small venues in and around Newcastle. He released his wonderful debut single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can” in 2017, and in the years since, he’s dropped an impressive number of singles as well as a four-track EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. His beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering over 100,000 streams. He’s also earned accolades such as the Alan Hull Songwriting Award for songwriters in 2019, and participated in the Fender Player Plus competition in 2022.

Photos by Daniel Stark

I’ve previously reviewed two of Callum’s singles, both in 2020: “Fault Lines” (which spent 10 weeks on my Top 30 chart and ranks at #84 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list), and “Sea of Noise”. Now he’s back with his first new music in two years almost to the day, a lovely, deeply personal single “Mayfly“. The song was written and composed by Callum, who sang lead vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards. Additional musicians performing on the track include Luke Elgie on bass, Gavin Christie on drums, John Martindale on percussion, Ada Francis and Jodie Nicholson on backing vocals, Alex Saxon, who wrote and played the saxophone line, and James Leonard Hewitson on trumpet. The track was co-produced by Callum and John Martindale, who also engineered and mixed it at Blank Studios. Mastering was done by Robin Schmidt.

The song is essentially about adulthood, and Callum’s feelings of apprehension over the responsibilities he’ll face as a potential parent, fearing he might not be up to the task: “I’m 28 now, eventually not feeling like a teenager anymore and probably will have my own children in a few years’ time. ‘Mayfly’ talks about that worry I have that living with anxiety and bouts of depression will mean I will never be able to provide that emotional stability that children will require. It’s quite a hopeful song though, as I still have a few years yet, and mainly talks about the ambition that I’ll be more emotionally stable and at peace as the years go by. I often look at people in their 30s and 40s and think they appear very at peace, but maybe there are always relative struggles and difficult things to overcome, and we always have to cherish the highs and know that the lows are inevitable.”

“Mayfly” has a lively, upbeat melody that contrasts with the poignant lyrics. One of the many things I like about the song is how each instrument is allowed to shine. With every new listen I hear little instrumental nuances, like the perfect melding of acoustic guitar notes and delicate piano chords in the verses, and how the drums become more intense in the choruses, accompanied by glorious exuberant riffs and swirling keyboards. Callum’s smooth vocals are both comforting and heartfelt, backed by Ada and Jodie’s lovely harmonies, and Alex’s bold saxophone in the final chorus is the icing on the musical cake. It’s another wonderful song by Callum.

The lovely video, filmed and directed by Sel MacLean, shows Callum singing the song in various indoor and outdoor settings in an around Newcastle.

Those of you in the UK can catch Callum at one of these upcoming shows:

Saturday, Nov 19 – The Common Room of the Great North, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Saturday, Nov 26 – Songs From Northern Britain @ The Georgian Theatre, Stockton-on-tees

Saturday, Dec 10 – Avoid Shit Xmas Parties, The Central, Gateshead

Connect with Callum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 20 – Lowry Lane, Onism E, Martin Saint, The Zangwills

With so much new music being released, it’s time for another Fresh New Tracks post. Today I’m pleased to present four outstanding new singles by, in alphabetical order, German singer-songwriter Lowry Lane, New York City-based indie rock band Onism E, Canadian singer-songwriter Martin Saint, and British alt-rock band The Zangwills.

Lowry Lane – “Wasting Time”

Lowry Lane (born Paul Friebe) is an earnest, thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Regensburg, Germany. Influenced by a vast spectrum of acts ranging from Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground and The Cure to Nirvana, The Strokes and Kurt Vile, Lowry creates their own unique brand of alternative indie rock. We’ve followed each other on social media for more than five years, and I’ve featured them several times on this blog, most recently in October 2021 when I reviewed their excellent debut album Lonely War. An ambitious and deeply personal work, the album touched on dark subjects like relationship troubles, personal loss, addiction and mental health, while still offering glimmers of optimism.

Lowry has just released a new single “Wasting Time“, a song that seems to be about the passage of time and making the most of it – or not: “Is stealing time really a crime? Running on empty, while others have plenty. Our hearts may be shattered, our souls may be scattered. We’re still alive and kicking, the clock keeps on ticking. So take me home to places that I’ve never known. Take your time. Yeah, I’ve been wasting most of mine.” The song has a bit of a Kurt Vile feel, with a meandering laid-back groove, highlighted by Lowry’s intricate textured guitar work. I love the elastic ‘rubberband’ sound of their guitar, which nicely contrast with the wonderful chiming riffs. The swirling synths and snappy drum fills are great too. Their smooth vocals are delivered in a casual monotone, yet still sound impactful. I love the endearing artwork for the single, which is from an old photo of Lowry as a child.

Onism E – “It’s Not Over”

Indie rock band Onism E is the brainchild of California-born, Texas-raised and now New York City-based singer-songwriter Eline Chavez (the term “Onism” can be defined as “The awareness of how little of the world you will actually experience.”). In addition to Eline, the band includes Chris ‘Lefty’ Vargas on guitar, Magnus Timbre on bass, and Raj Arenas on drums. Since the release of their debut single “Love You More” in August 2019, they’ve dropped several more outstanding singles, as well as an album Survivors in February 2021. This past May, they released a brilliant single “Lin Manuel“, inspired by Eline’s struggles of trying to make it as a musician during the uncertainty of the pandemic (read my review here). The song spent three months on my Weekly Top 30 over the summer, peaking at #13.

Now they’re back with “It’s Not Over“, a lovely uplifting single, accompanied by a beautiful heartwarming video, that celebrate the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, and that, together with love and support, we’ll make it through the dark times. Musically, the song features a gorgeous blend of twangy and shimmery guitars, accompanied by a subtle bassline, thumping drumbeats and lots of crashing cymbals, and finishing with a blast of distorted guitars before fading out. Eline’s beautiful, fervent vocals are filled with emotion and a vulnerable sense of urgency as she sings “You had this idea that the world isn’t all blue. It’s all kinds of colors, most I never knew. But sometimes love is blinded by the dark. And sometimes it feels like healing takes too long to start. But no one is being left behind. No baby, I’ve got you. There’s no me without you. This river will guide us through. It’s not over. No, we’ve just begun.

Martin Saint – The Law

Martin Saint is a singer-songwriter and guitarist based in Montreal. Active in the local music scene for many years, he’s also currently the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Montreal-based alt-rock band The Ember Glows (whose recently-released EP Where Spirits Play, I reviewed last month), and was previously front man for the band Citylake. He’s released a fair amount of music as a solo artist, including a spoken word EP Fly Tales in 2019, an album One Word Away in January 2020, and the EP Last New Year’s Eve in March 2021. On November 4th, he dropped his latest offering “The Law“, a rearranged cover of the Leonard Cohen original. While Cohen’s original has a slow, almost mournful feel, with sparse instrumentals and a gentle backing female chorus, Saint speeds up the tempo a bit, adds mysterious cinematic synths, a more pronounced beat, and lots of multi-textured guitars. Some of his guitar notes, which go from shimmery to chiming to twangy reverb, are absolutely stunning. His warm, smooth vocals are both sultry and comforting, and as I noted in my The Ember Glows review, remind me of the late Scott Walker.

People have speculated as to the song’s meaning, but Cohen’s use of the words ‘law, arm and hand’ in the lyrics –  “I’m not asking for mercy. Not from the man. You just don’t ask for mercy while you’re still on the stand. There s a Law, there’s an Arm, there’s a Hand. I don’t claim to be guilty. Guilty’s too grand. There s a Law, there’s an Arm, there’s a Hand” – suggest it’s about morality and judgement, whether by oneself or by a higher power, and paying for one’s crimes, whether you feel remorse or guilt for them or not. In a 1985 interview, Cohen said “I always felt this was a ‘post-guilt’ song. There is an age of guilt, and we are in the age after. Guilt is too inflamed an emotion, even for us today…” Others have said it speaks to the chains of love, and the preordained rules which we must follow, no matter how painful or difficult they might me. Whatever it’s meaning, I think Saint does justice to Cohen’s song.

The Zangwills – “Backpatters and Shooters”

Last, but most certainly not least, are British four-piece The Zangwills. Based in Cheshire, they consist of the immensely talented Jake Vickers (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Ed Dowling (bass), Sam Davies (lead guitar) and Adam Spence (drums). Their exciting, highly melodic music is outstanding, with a maturity of songwriting and musicianship as fine as many top big-name bands around today. Though they’ve been actively making music since 2017, when they were all still in their teens, I didn’t learn about them until summer of 2021, when I was blown away by their magnificent single “Never Looked Back”. I reviewed the song, and loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ended up at #24 on my Top 100 Songs of 2021 list.

They followed with another beautiful single “The Feeling” this past February, and on November 11th, they dropped their latest single “Backpatters and Shooters“.  Like their previous singles, the song was produced and engineered by Mark Winterburn and mastered by Ben Booker. And let me say that I was every bit as stunned when I first listened to it as I’d been with “Never Looked Back”. Wow, what a gorgeous song it is, with a haunting piano-driven melody and some of the most achingly beautiful guitar work I’ve heard in a while. Those lush, twangy guitar notes, combined with that haunting piano and glorious sweeping synths, have me covered in chills with every listen. Then there are Jake’s beautiful emotive vocals, which have an incredible vulnerability as he croons the lyrics addressing the pursuit of love and how love far outweighs the importance of anything else: “You know that I’d be the first to plant roses in your face, and frame beauty with beauty. And though I’m dying of thirst, I’m still running in your race. With the men who pat my back, and the men who would shoot me. And when I look up, if I squint I see love. But it’s never that much, and no it’s never enough.” I love this song, and I love this band!

CAITLIN LAVAGNA – Single Review: “Night Bus”

Sometimes the most compelling lyrics are born from adversity and pain, which is certainly the case for the beautiful new single “Night Bus” by Welsh singer-songwriter Caitlin Lavagna. Born and raised in the picturesque Rhondda Valley, with strong Gibraltarian roots, the multi-talented and lovely singer-songwriter, musician and actress has had a life-long love for music and the arts, with a special passion for percussion and drums. Her vibrant vocal style is heavily influenced by some of her favorite artists like Sting, Stevie Nicks, Florence Welch, P!nk and Adele. 

Photo by Akta Photography

In July 2021, Caitlin released her marvelous debut single “How Not To Start a Fight”, which I reviewedNow she’s back with her second single “Night Bus”, which is every bit as good. In addition to singing both vocals and backing harmonies, she also played drums and percussion on the track. And from what I was able to gather from her Instagram post about the song, fellow Welsh musician Mark Croft played guitar and bass, Joe Rodwell programmed synths, and Lucas August Mendes produced, engineered and mixed the track. 

The song was inspired by her experience of moving to London for the purpose of furthering her music and acting career, and the disappointments and struggles she faced while there. She elaborates: “‘Night Bus” is about being a young creative in a big city with life getting in the way of that creativity. Working 40 hours a week, burning money on everything apart from your career, going around in circles and seeing the worst of a city you thought would give you your big break. As a young Welsh Actor Musician, I experienced this recently when deciding to finally leave London and move home to the Rhondda. It was a difficult time, because after all, everyone says you won’t be successful unless you’re in the City. That was not my experience at all. I was so tired. When I did have time, I would be burnt out from work or supporting other musician and actor friends in shows and gigs I couldn’t really afford to go to. I hope people can relate to this track and that it provides them some comfort and escape. It is both angry and triumphant with a catchy melody and beat!

I like how the song starts off slowly, with Caitlin’s lovely pensive vocals accompanied by gently-strummed guitar notes and airy synths, then gradually builds into a dramatic sweeping anthem. The sparkling synths, thumping bass and lively guitars are superb, but just as with “How Not To Start a Fight”, the highlight for me are Caitlin’s commanding impassioned vocals, as well as her exuberant galloping drumbeats that give the track such incredible energy and force. It’s a wonderful track.

I’m feeling sad
Sad girl on the train 
I feel so bad
It’s coming back again 

Come to London City 
When you cry you look so pretty
It’s a waste that no one looks at your face 
When I close my eyes that’s when I feel like I’m alright 
When I’m awake then I get lost in the space 

I’m so tired…

Fist fights
Laddered tights 
Dancing under fairy lights 
Thought I was doing fine 
Night bus 
Reckless 
Everybody look at us 
But not in the morning light 
Woahhh 
Eighteen 
Daydreams 
Circling my bloodstream 
The City that swallowed me up

I learn my lines 
I turn up to play 
I show up on time 
Reject me anyway

Come to London City 
When you cry you look so pretty
It’s a waste that no one looks at your face 
When I close my eyes that’s when I feel like I’m alright 
When I’m awake then I get lost in the space 

I’m so tired…

Fist fights
Laddered tights 
Dancing under fairy lights 
Thought I was doing fine

Night bus 
Reckless 
Everybody look at us 
But not in the morning light 
Woahhh 
Eighteen 
Daydreams 
Circling my bloodstream 
The City that swallowed me up 

Woahhh

(So tired of the City) 
Fist fights
Laddered tights 
Dancing under fairy lights 
Thought I was doing fine 
Night bus 
Reckless 
Everybody look at us 
But not in the morning light 
(So tired of the city)
Woahhh 
Eighteen 
Daydreams 
Circling my bloodstream 
The City that swallowed me up

And I try and I fail and I try and I fail and I try 
(Fist fights
Laddered tights 
Dancing under fairy lights)
I get up again
And I try and I fail and I try and I fail and I try 
(Night bus 
Reckless 
Everybody look at us)
I get up again

And I try and I fail and I try and I fail and I try 
(Woahhh) 
In the City that swallowed me up

Connect with Caitlin:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream her song:  Spotify / Apple MusicYouTube

New Song of the Week: “If I Could Fall Into the Skies” by Marianne Kesler

Marianne Kesler is a Dayton, Ohio-based singer-songwriter with a life-long love for music. A prolific artist, she’s been writing and recording music for over 25 years, and has released five albums and more than 10 singles as a solo artist. She’s also collaborated with numerous other artists, including neo-soul/pop/folk artist Leah Thompson, with whom she co-wrote over 30 songs, as well as her friend Kate Stanton, as part of a duo named Every Lovely Thing, who I featured in an Artist Spotlight nearly four years ago. On top of all that, she’s also written a three-volume trilogy of free verse poetry/prose and photography.

Her pleasing style of folk/pop has earned her comparisons to such artists as Judy Collins, Carole King, Aimee Mann and Sheryl Crow. In fact, she cheekily describes her sound this way: “Imagine if Joni Mitchell got together with Leonard Cohen for a writing session at the coffeehouse where Neil Young and the Counting Crows were playing, folk artist Jan Krist was singing, Tori & Fiona were pouting, Over The Rhine & Aimee Mann opened, and Santana stopped by to play some smokin’ guitar…Yeah, It sounds something like that!

Today, Marianne has dropped a hauntingly beautiful new single “If I Could Fall Into the Skies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Her first release of 2022, it’s a melodically simple but impactful song, dominated by a somber but lovely piano movement, and accompanied by airy synths that create an enchanting backdrop for her gentle, ethereal vocals. My only criticism, and it’s a minor one, is that I wish Marianne’s vocals were a bit more pronounced, as the bold piano keys sometimes overpower her delicate vocals. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful track.

The bittersweet lyrics speak of wanting to know someone – perhaps a romantic interest, but it could apply to any special friendship – better, but being unable to break through to them:

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Staring at the water it appears as though the world is upside down
Summer skies reflected there are shimmering like clouds upon the ground         
I could jump right now … If I just knew how

Gazing in your eyes I glimpse a depth I’ve never noticed there before
Subtle undertow beneath the surface has me aching to explore           
I could jump right now … If I just knew how
 
If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Standing on the edge with everything I’ve ever wanted down below
Painfully aware I’ve never told you how I feel or let you know             
But I could jump right now … If I just knew how
Catch a falling star … Landing where you are 

Starlit skies … In your eyes
Upside down … Spun around 
’Til the world seems out of focus as I fall …

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay.

Marianne created a stunning video to accompany the song, about which she has this to say: “This song was inspired by seeing how the sky was reflected through a window onto my glass top desk ~ looking as though I could fall right into it! I tried to shoot video footage that captured this same ‘world upside down’ reflection (mostly on water) to add visuals to these lyrics of longing.”

Connect with Marianne:  FacebookTwitter 

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

DAN SZYLLER – Album Review: “The Celestial Immigrant”

Album artwork by Sumit Roy

Dan Szyller is an imaginative and earnest Brazilian singer-songwriter and musician currently based in Metz, France. Born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he also spent time living in the U.S. and Israel before emigrating to France, and those life experiences led him to write and record songs for his debut album The Celestial Immigrant. Dan says “It’s the story of many travels I have made and places I have been in my life, mostly as an immigrant.” The album, written and recorded over a six month period earlier this year, was released on Apple Music and Spotify on July 20th. For recording of the album, Dan played guitar and sang vocals, Fabien Pilard played additional guitars, bass, keyboards and sang backup, and Meriem Rezik played drums.

A lifelong lover of music, Dan’s songs are influenced by some of his favorite bands like The Doors, Iron Maiden, King Crimson and Pink Floyd. These influences are readily apparent on the opening title track “The Celestial Immigrant“. With its expansive, moody soundscapes, highlighted by a vibrant blend of jangly and psychedelic guitars, it sounds like a long-lost Pink Floyd song. The lyrics, about a young boy hurtling through outer space toward the Milky Way, seem to be an allegory for Dan’s well-traveled, sometimes beautiful and perhaps at times chaotic, childhood, being repeatedly moved without his consent to several different countries, in search of a better life: “Sent away into the darkness. No warnings were given, the baby. In the wake of the night. The celestial immigrant is on his way, in the Milky Way. Will he ever make it? The stars are watching him—riding the neon wave. Will he ever make it? Will he find new home? All the forgotten faces, all part of a strange dream somehow. All the beautiful places, The journey of the sacred moon-child.”

On the grunge-flavored “My Road“, Dan seems to ponder the fleeting impermanence of life: “Life passes by so fast; old pictures and you’re gone. The Crossroads is coming. Another drifter’s story.” And on the optimistic “Summer Kiss” he sings of the joys of summer, and how people and nature come alive with activities and romance: “The birds are calling, the people will wake. The smell of grass, the children that play. The night is falling, the feast will begin. A man is hunting, a girl is the prey.” The song features some great reverby guitars and 60s-flavored organ.

Some of the progressive influences from bands like King Crimson and Pink Floyd are strongly evident on the next three tracks, with meandering melodies and fascinating instrumental flourishes. On “The Believer” Dan sings of being a world traveler, in search of a better life: “I can see a land of riches. / The howling winds of freedom, my life and blood astray. I dream of a paradise beyond the clouds. I read, the signs are so evident now. Believe, the blind shall see. I am away. I am a troubadour. I have many stories to tell.” His vocals, while not particularly powerful, are emotive and heartfelt, conveying just the right amount of passion and fervor when he sings.

On the dark and dramatic “King’s Hall“, he uses medieval fantasy metaphors to describe what could be the plot of a Game of Thrones episode: “Inside the King’s Hall, love and jealousy. Blades are held high! The old man is gazing from his throne. A lifetime before his eyes.” I’m not quite sure what the story in this song has to do with the album’s overall theme, but it’s an intriguing track nonetheless.

On the introspective and bittersweet “Sunday Again“, Dan wistfully sings of being at a low point in his life, feeling bored and alone, and missing those he’s left behind: “Looking out the window. A quiet street, no life at all. The rain that falls each day. The fog that hides the dawn. Sitting on a couch, I think of her. Could I fall in love once more? My imagination is playing games with me. Happiness seems so far, so lost.” Musically, it sounds almost like two different songs melded together, with the first, more grungy segment ending just after three minutes, and the second segment having a more relaxed vibe, with some great reverby and distorted surf guitars. On this segment, Dan seems to have come to terms with his loneliness, finding solace in his music: “It’s Sunday, I’m free again. In a corner, playing my guitar. La La, La La La.

The final track “Interstellar (Voyager 1)” is a captivating instrumental piece, with more of those great reverb-drenched guitars we’ve heard on several of the album’s songs, accompanied by spacey atmospheric synths that beautifully convey images of traveling through outer space. The only vocals we hear are Dan’s spoken words briefly reciting a description of the Voyager 1 space probe that was “launched by NASA on September 5, 1977, as part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System and interstellar space beyond the Sun’s heliosphere.” The description is taken from Wikipedia, which he cites on his album liner notes, and includes a statistic of how long the space probe has been in operation “Launched 16 days after its twin Voyager 2, Voyager 1 has been operating for 44 years, 9 months and 12 days as of June 17, 2022 (now 45 years, 1 month and 6 days as of today, October 12, 2022). The track brings the album’s celestial theme full-circle, with an overriding message – to my mind at least – that we’re all travelers on this planet, which itself exists within a much greater universe that’s beyond our comprehension.

The Celestial Immigrant is an ambitious and fascinating work, and an impressive debut for Dan Szyller. His creativity, imaginative songwriting and strong musicianship really shine on this very fine album.

Connect with Dan: TwitterFacebookInstagram

Stream his music on SpotifyApple MusicAmazon Music

Turning the Tables – Guest Post by Stephen Choi

This is a guest post by Stephen Choi, a singer-songwriter based in Melbourne, Australia. He creates music under his artistic moniker Duel Native, and is a founding member of London-based indie band Greyhound Green. He describes his sound as a blend of alt-rock, indie-folk and dream-pop, with some environmental science thrown in. Thus far, he’s released three singles and an EP, his latest of which is the lovely single “Hiding Out”, which dropped September 2nd.

He named his music project ‘Duel Native’ for two reasons: First, to reflect his international heritage and dual citizenship, as he’s half-Trinidadian and half-Hong Kongese, born in the UK, and currently based in Australia. Second, it recognizes his multiple passions in life, the two biggest of which are music and his environmentalism. Stephen is also a trained environmental architect who’s currently working on “green music” projects, like reducing waste at festival campsites, understanding the life-cycle impacts of releasing digital music, and exploring alternatives to PVC in records, i.e. non-vinyl vinyl! With that in mind, he’s written an article about the positives and negatives of using vinyl for records, and efforts being made to remedy the problem.

Turning the Tables

People love vinyl. And it seems, every year, they love it more. The vinyl resurgence began in the mid-2000s, and has since grown at an increasing rate. Last year, one out of every three albums sold in the US were vinyl LPs.

Why is this happening? I think it’s because there are things you can do with vinyl that you don’t do with digital music, like… wrap it up and give it to someone, or put the artwork on a wall, or read the liner notes, or – and this one is for real music-lovers – actually listen to an album from start to finish!

As a musician, I love vinyl too, but the problem with vinyl is… well, the vinyl. Or more specifically… the PVC. PVC has been described as “The Poison Plastic”, and “One of the most hazardous consumer products ever created.”

Polyvinyl chloride – or PVC – is a rather controversial synthetic material, typically made from ethylene (found in crude oil) and chlorine (found in salt). To cut short a science lesson, when processed, these two ingredients are combined to form PVC. Throw in some Polyvinyl Acetate to make a polymer, plus a few other additives, and we end up with a mix that is used to make vinyl records. It’s often referred to by the industry as “the most versatile plastic”, because they’re kind of “ideal” for records – you can achieve a smooth finish, it’s robust but not too brittle, and, it’s cheap to make.

The problem is that production of PVC results in toxic, chlorine-based chemicals and dioxins that are building up in our air, water, and food chain, and they spread across the globe quickly.

Scientific studies show these chemicals are linked to severe and wide-spread health problems, including infertility, impaired childhood development, immune system damage, hormone disruption, and even cancer. Musicians aren’t usually au fait with chemistry, but most I’ve listened to know that there’s something about the toxicity of vinyl that they don’t feel so comfortable being a catalyst for.

In recent years, we’re starting to see PVC being removed from all kinds of products from all kinds of companies, from toothbrushes to yoga mats, to kids’ toys. But it’s still the primary ingredient in vinyl records!

So… what to do about our love of vinyl? Do we stop buying it? Do we stop listening to music altogether due to the environmental impacts of doing anything at all?

I would say a resounding NO!

If you love vinyl, there are a lot of things we can do to reduce the impact, such as:

  • Go to a local indie record store and buy used vinyl.
  • If we’ve got records we don’t listen to, give them away or sell them!
  • Finally, let’s look after our records well, because one thing worse than vinyl is… damaged vinyl, because PVC is almost never recycled.

There’s another exciting development in this space… new materials to make vinyl. Later this year, the world’s first bioplastic LP will be released. The mix was formulated by Evolution Music after five years of research, and it contains sugars and starches – not PVC – and does not create any toxic waste in their production!

Being a first-of-its-kind, it won’t be perfect; further work is being done. Like any attempt to shift an industry, change can be scary. But, I believe this is the start of a healthy conversation, and one that will change the vinyl industry for good. So we can keep listening to music and keep supporting artists, and do so whilst caring for the health of our world.

Have a listen to his latest single “Hiding Out”:

Connect with Duel Native:  FacebookInstagram

Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud / Bandcamp

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 19 – brett.grant.5, The Frontier, Johnny Ritchie, Youngy

There’s a literal avalanche of new music being released again, so it’s time for another Fresh New Tracks installment. Today I’m featuring songs by three artists I’ve previously written about – (in alphabetical order) Chicago-based alternative electronic rock artist brett.grant.5, Virginia-based singer-songwriter The Frontier, and Spokane, Washington-based singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie, as well as Youngy, a Scottish singer-songwriter from Glasgow who’s new to me. All four songs were released today, September 30th.

brett.grant.5 – “Ancient Messages”

brett.grant.5 is the artistic name of singer-songwriter, composer and producer Brett Grant, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a member of several bands and as a solo artist. Drawing from a wide and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock, his sound is bold, unorthodox and fascinating. We’ve been following one another on social media for over five years, and I’ve grown quite fond of him, both as an artist and a human. Since 2019, I’ve written about his solo music as well as that of his band A Million Rich Daughters.

With his new single “Ancient Messages“, he continues to push himself artistically by exploring new sounds and techniques, keeping his music innovative and fresh in the process. Brett told me he actually wrote this song a few years ago while still in college, but lost it when his laptop was stolen. He recently stumbled across an old demo he’d recorded, and decided to rework the track. The song has a dark undercurrent, gradually building from a somewhat unsettling and tentative vibe, highlighted by a droning, pulsating synth bass groove, into a magnificent dramatic soundscape of eerie synths and jagged grungy guitars. The lyrics are rather abstract, but my take is that they’re about a growing emotional chasm between two people in a relationship, and being unable to either reach them or quit them: “And if I reach for your embrace, your questions could I even face? I guess I know I’ll never win. My motivation drips with sin. Decaying from within. Why can’t I exorcise you from the claim?

Connect with brett.grant.5: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

The Frontier – “Rather Be”

Another artist I’m very fond of is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter Jake Mimikos. Based in northern Virginia, the talented, gracious and funny guy has released an impressive amount of music since 2015, and we’ve followed each other on social media for nearly that long. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted. As with many singer-songwriters, Jake’s songs are often inspired by personal experiences, and touch on such topics as love, relationships and loss. He lyrics are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend, and delivered with comforting vocals. I’ve loved all of his songs, and have featured many of them on this blog over the years. Three of them – “Dark Places”, “Can We Go Back”, and most recently “Closer” – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 charts.

He never disappoints with each release, and hits a home run with his new single “Rather Be“. It’s a melancholy but lovely song, with a languid guitar-driven melody, nicely enhanced with lush keyboards and percussive synths. Jake’s guitar work is really beautiful, as are his heartfelt layered vocals. The bittersweet lyrics speak of a relationship that’s broken beyond repair due to one partner’s inability to be faithful and honest “All that you said, was it easy to find the right combination of words in your mind? Well I’d rather be lonely than lied to.”

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Johnny Ritchie – “Know Better”

Johnny Ritchie is an engaging and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who I’ve previously featured twice on this blog, when I reviewed his singles “Social Robots” and “Too Much Trouble”. Originally from Indiana, Johnny recently relocated from Great Falls, Montana to Spokane, Washington. With a lifelong love for music, he began learning to play piano and drums as a child, then went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago (where he also met Brett Grant), and in 2020 earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as providing lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation. He also writes and records music in which he fuses alternative and experimental rock with neo-psychedelia and contemporary jazz to create incredibly fascinating and sophisticated soundscapes.

His latest single “Know Better” certainly fits that description, with a progressive jazzy vibe that’s both pleasing and compelling, in a vein similar to some of Steely Dan’s music. The track, which was produced by brett.grant.5, features a meandering free-form melody and a colorful mix of sparkling synths, gentle bass and guitars, and just the right amount of crisp percussion, allowing each instrument to stand out without overpowering the others. Regarding the song’s inspiration and meaning, Johnny said it not only helped him grow and learn as an artist, but also made him thankful for people who, despite no longer being in his life, were nevertheless influential in his development as a person and an artist.

All of us have people who come in and out of our lives over time, some of whom have a significant impact on shaping who we are. The lyrics in “Know Better” are directed at a woman he was once romantically involved with. Though no longer together, he still thinks of her, and wonders if she ever thinks of him: “Sometimes I wonder if you’re missing me. Or missing the person that I used to be. Well I hope you do, I hope you don’t, ooh. Cause now we’re strangers, though I’ve seen your eyes glow. And we’re strangers who have shared our bodies exposed. Yeah we’re strangers./ I wish you could know me better as I am now. I wish I could know you better than memories. I wish present us could sit down and talk but I’ll just keep wishing we had known better than to fall in love.

Connect with Johnny:  Facebook / Instagram

Youngy – “Halo”

Youngy is an artist based in Glasgow, Scotland who recently reached out to me about his new debut single “Halo“. I don’t know very much about him, other than that he was a member and front man of Glasgow indie grunge band Audiotown, who disbanded this past March. Now he’s embarking on the next phase of his music career as a solo artist, and “Halo” is his first single. To prepare to write about him, I listened to Audiotown’s back catalogue of songs, and their songs couldn’t be any more different in style and sound than “Halo”. Whereas Audiotown’s music was grungy and edgy, in the vein of such bands as Alice in Chains, Youngy’s debut track is unabashed synthpop. That’s not a bad thing, at least for me, as I love synthpop, especially when it’s fueled by a strong driving dance beat.

And wow, “Halo” hits right from the start and doesn’t let up. I love this kind of music, so it’s right up my alley. The driving beats, exuberant melody and cinematic instrumentals are all fantastic, and I defy anyone to not get moving while hearing this song. The rather simple lyrics seem to speak to letting loose and enjoying the moment for all its worth: “Living life inside a daydream. No place I’d rather be. Nothing makes me feel so happy. There’s nothing else I need. Smoke rings growing like a halo. Twist up around my head.” Youngy sings in a somewhat gravelly monotone, which I didn’t care for at first. But the more I listened to the song, I think his low-key vocals work well with the mesmerizing music. I look forward to hearing more from him!

Connect with Youngy:  TwitterInstagram

GRANFALLOON – Album Review: “CALENDAR”

I continue to be astounded by all the creativity and talent coming out of the British music scene, and one of my favorites (who I’ve been following for several years) is Granfalloon, the music project of Manchester-based singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax. Using acoustic guitars, synthesizers and drum loops, along with unusual instruments such as vintage Omnichords, the engaging, curly-haired artist creates his own unique style of music that’s a pleasing hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. His songs are enchanting little stories touching on the many idiosyncrasies of everyday life, but with a dollop of quirky surrealism to keep them fun. And his warm, soothing vocals, delivered with a lighthearted cheekiness and charming accent, are so wonderful I would literally enjoy hearing him sing the telephone book. Simply put, his songs make me feel happy.

Since forming Granfalloon in late 2016, Lomax has released a fairly steady stream of singles and albums, beginning with his debut album Down There For Dancing in 2017. He followed two years later with his beautiful second album RGB, then dropped his marvelous third album Positive Songs in August 2021, a collaborative work featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. They invited songwriters to create new music by challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings, rather than negative or depressing songs about feeling isolated and bored during lockdown. The response was overwhelming, resulting in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world. (I reviewed two of the tracks from Positive Songs – “Working On Your Own” and “The Pigeon” – which you can read by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post.)

Now he’s back with his fourth album Calendar, featuring 12 delightful tracks. I’ll leave it to him to explain his inspiration behind the album’s creation: “The roots of this album can be traced back to 2014, when I was recording a debut album with my previous band. It was the 13th time I had recorded that album. Getting it right was proving difficult… A different approach was needed to keep things fresh. I would write new songs, one every week, without perfectionism weighing down the process. By the end of 2014 I had amassed 52 new songs, each one reflecting the week I’d experienced, all framed as fevered journal entries. After founding Granfalloon in 2016 and releasing two albums, I went into the studio in February of 2020 to begin the task of committing definitive versions of the songs from my ’52 Project’.

Obviously the pandemic put the project on hold and ironically, now everyone had a double album of songs squirrelled away. But I never wrote because I had too much time on my hands. Writing has always been a matter of necessity for me. I returned to the studio again in 2021 with a core band from the Positive Songs Project to whittle down the original 52 to 12 songs. These 12 songs comprise this new album ‘Calendar’.”

In addition to Lomax, who sang lead vocals and played guitars, Wurlizter, Omnichord and melodica, a host of other musicians contributed their talents on some or all of the songs, adding a colorful kaleidoscope of instrumental sounds and textures: Daz Woodcock (bass, vocals, organ, keys), Andy Lyth (drums, percussion, banjo), Cleg (guitars, mandolin, vocals), Garreth Knott (trumpet), Sarah-Jane Pearson (vocals), Caffs Burgis (vocals, synths), Dom Major (guitars), Ellie Boney (cello), George Burrage (violin), Robin Melinda Koob (violin), Molly Becker (violin), Tim Davies (drums), Jack Wakeman (bass), and Jason Alder (contrabass clarinet).

The songs encompass an array of styles, from the exotically folksy “Witch of Woodplumpton” and seductively bluesy “Eulerian Circles“, to the whimsically poppy “Bee on a String” and Americana-tinged “A Year After the Party Died“. But the one thing they all have in common is their outstanding arrangements, instrumentation and production values. The album kicks off with “Archive“, which opens with Jason Alder’s fascinating contrabass clarinet notes, nicely accompanied by twangy guitars, George Burrage’s violin, Ellie Boney’s cello, Tim Davies’ military-style drumbeats. and Sarah-Jane Pearson’s gentle vocals.

I like all the songs of Calendar, but I’ll call out some of the standouts for me, as well as some particularly lovely little moments heard on a few tracks. The aforementioned “Witch of Woodplumpton” is pleasing, but with a mysterious undercurrent, and lyrics that speak to the historic and ongoing oppression of women: “From Mary of Eden to Joan of Arc, we’ve been burning and burying you from the start. You have to dig your way out of your own grave.” Richard’s intricate guitar work is sublime, and I think I also hear Cleg’s sweet mandolin notes. And once again, we’re treated to Sarah-Jane Pearson’s smooth backing vocals, Ellie’s lovely cello, and George’s violin, with added violin by Robin Melinda Koob for good measure.

Paint It By Numbers” is a cheeky number sung from the perspective of a professor who can only express their love through mathematical figures: “Shall I compare thee to the fundamental theorem of algrebaic K-theory? Like Pythagorus said, something’s deeply irrational about the square root of 2 where the 2 are me and U. Let me show you the numbers. Tell you in numbers. Lay down the numbers. Paint it by numbers 4 U.

Far and away the highlight for me on the album is the thoroughly enchanting “Please Write Responsibly“, which tells the story of an innocently-written song that goes rogue: “This yarn had caused more harm than was ever my intention. I’d only scribbled words on paper, I hadn’t wanted this destruction. I mean, whoever got hurt by a story? What song brought a government to its knees? What poem dismantled a tank, or started World War 3? And As I tracked the trail of carnage caused by my fantasy, it leapt right out of my computer screen and began to attack me. My Story tore me limb from limb, all the while screaming with glee: ‘Words are more powerful than you ever could conceive So please write responsibly!’” The beguiling song features the musical handiwork of Richard and Dom Major on guitars, Molly Becker on violin, Daz Woodcock and bass, and Andy Lyth on the sweet banjo. I love this song, which is currently enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30.

Another favorite is the bouncy “Bee on a String“, with its lively guitars and Garreth Knott’s warm trumpet. The lyrics describing a woman who keeps a bee on a string trapped in a tupperware box in her refrigerator are an allegory for keeping her man similarly under her control: “I know you’re fascinated by me but won’t you let me be free? Why won’t you let me bee free? O must you keep me in a deep freeze. It makes me sleep so you keep me, and she keeps bees in a deep freeze...”

O Joyce” tells the story of a Joyce over a 60-plus period of years, beginning with how her mother bought a pet Macaw who she named Bobby Corwen when Joyce was a young child. It’s a cute little ditty, with some nice trumpets by Garreth and guitar, Wurlizter and Omnichord by Richard. I also like how he whispers in a slightly seductive voice, “Joyce, make us a cuppa tea“, after each verse.

All My Old Lovers (live on the same street)” is a rather wistful, introspective song about past loves, loss, and the need to move on and away from judgmental neighbors and gossiping tongues: “All the meetings they’ll have about this and that, make you feel so exposed. In a small town like this all you do is exist. This is no place to heal. It’s time to move on – You can’t live here any more.” The song is lovely, with a bit of a melancholy undercurrent, highlighted by gentle chiming guitar notes, cello and violin. Richard’s smooth vocals convey a slightly sad sense of resignation.

In a similar vein, “The Day the Party Died” speaks to loss and the passage of time, with references to several mythical characters like Ahab, Peter Pan and Cupid to drive home the inevitable changes that happen with time. Not all of these changes are for the better, expressed in the lyrics “They’ve turned the club into a takeaway. They’ve turned the pub into a takeaway. They’ve turned our home into a takeaway.”

But then on the album closer “Rushmore“, Granfalloon admonishes us to look to the future with hope and optimism, and not dwell in the past: “Don’t waste your life on a memory. The wind will change, both kind and strange. It’s never as dark as you think.” The song is another favorite of mine, as I love the dramatic shimmery electric guitars and beautiful soaring vocal harmonies in the chorus. It’s a fine finish to a delightfully charming album. With Calendar, Richard and his fellow musicians have created a lovely and thoughtful work that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen, for which they should be very proud.

Follow Granfalloon:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

His albums are only available as a digital download on Bandcamp and in CD format, though several of his singles are also available for streaming on SpotifyApple Music & Soundcloud.

New Song of the Week: “All Said and Done” by RYAN REDWOOD

Ryan Redwood is a creative, charming and affable young British singer-songwriter based in Lowestoft. I’ve been following him since the beginning of 2018, back when he was lead vocalist for alternative indie rock band The Only Route, and reviewed several of their singles. After the band called it quits at the end of 2019, Ryan soldiered on as a solo artist, writing and recording songs influenced by some of his favorite acts like Oasis, The Charlatans, Catfish and The Bottlemen and Blossoms. He released his first single “Perhaps” in December 2020, and since then has released four more singles, the latest of which is “All Said and Done”, which I’m pleased to select as my New Song of the Week.

Ryan says “All Said and Done” is “effectively two songs sort of bashed together“. He’d finished the initial framework for the song, but hadn’t yet developed a bridge. He’d also composed another musical piece, but didn’t feel he could create an entire song around it, so he came up with the idea of inserting it into the middle of “All Said and Done” to change things up a bit. Under the guidance of producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist Sam Wilson, who then recruited his musician friend Dylan Levett to play sax, together they’ve created a wonderful, more melodically complex and interesting track.

The song starts off as a rousing rocker, with a lively blend of shimmery and jangly guitars bathed in reverb and accompanied by assertive thumping drumbeats. At the two minute-and-fifteen second mark, the music abruptly downshifts to a mellow instrumental interlude lasting about a minute, highlighted by Dylan’s terrific saxophone solo, giving the song a jazzy, sophisticated vibe. At the end of the interlude, everything ramps back up to the urgent rock groove heard at the beginning, ending with a strong finish. Ryan has a relatively low-key vocal style that’s not particularly powerful, but he does a fine job here, his earnest vocals rising in intensity along with the music.

The lyrics speak to the inevitable predictability and drudgery of day to day life that eventually afflicts us all as we age, but also taking solace in the fact we have a loved one beside us to help and support us along the way: “I can’t help but shake the feeling I’ll wake up one day, in the same job, in the same house, in the same place. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be me and you. When push comes to shove, it’s always better with you. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be us forever.”

I think “All Said and Done” is Ryan’s best work yet, and nicely showcases his growth and maturity as a musician, songwriter and vocalist.

Connect with Ryan:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple Music / YouTube