There’s a lot of musical talent out there, and I’m particularly impressed by the sheer number of exceptional musicians and bands that continue to emerge from the UK – something that’s long been apparent to even the casual music observer. One of the standout artists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in the past year is singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan. The Leeds-based musician is a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice that’s both comforting and beautiful. His music style can generally be described as alternative rock with folk and singer-songwriter elements that make for an incredibly pleasing listening experience, and I love every one of his songs that I’ve heard.
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. Like a lot of musicians who were prevented from touring or performing to live audiences, he made the best of the Covid lockdown situation to write and record new music. He’s released four singles since last May, the latest of which is “Stadiums and Churches“, which dropped April 9th (which seems to be a big day for the release of new music). I’ve reviewed his previous two singles “When This is Over” and “Be Kind”, which you can read by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post. Those two singles have become his most successful yet, and with plans to release a new song roughly every six weeks for the rest of the year, the hard-working artist’s music career is destined to grow exponentially.
He was inspired to write “Stadiums and Churches” during the first lockdown after watching the British sports documentary series Sunderland ‘Til I Die. An episode addressed how sports stadiums have sat empty during the lockdown, which got Liam to thinking about all the stadiums, theaters and churches, where masses of people normally congregate to celebrate events important to them, that were now just empty and lifeless places.
To drive home his message, he starts with a lovely piano movement that forms the basis of the song’s haunting but beautiful melody, accompanied by his strummed acoustic guitar, subtle bass and gentle percussion. He first laments about all the empty places where we once assembled: “The churches and stadiums are hollow empty places now. Nowhere to gather, nowhere to believe, nowhere to go at all” but then seems to address his own personal feelings of abandonment: “Where did you go, where did you go, why’d you leave me here alone?” His guitars and soothing vocals turn more urgent in the choruses, bolstered by sweeping strings and more dramatic percussion that convey a sense of hopefulness about the future as he sings about returning outside: “Head out the window. Can you feel the daybreak?” I love his vocals throughout the song, as well as his exuberant guitar solo in the bridge and the soaring crescendo at the end. It’s a fantastic song, and I think it’s one of Liam’s best yet.
BUEL is a bewitching, smoky-voiced singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, who’s released a number of marvelous singles over the past four years or so. Her recent single “Lemon Smile”, released last October, is a gentle but powerful take-down of phony, duplicitous people, with a mesmerizing, sophisticated synth-pop melody that, to my ears at least, calls to mind some of Madonna’s early songs (not in terms of vocals, but rather in their style and feel). The YouTube video for the song has been streamed over half a million times. Now BUEL returns with a surprising new single – a thoroughly captivating reimagining of the Nirvana classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit“. The song was recorded at Wakeful Studios in Los Angeles, and produced by Burak Yerebakan (who plays guitar for L.A. band Yard of Blondes), who also played the theremin, an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact.
It’s an audacious undertaking to try and cover such an iconic and beloved classic, but she and Yerebakan pull it off with finesse. The song opens with otherworldly, siren-like sounds produced by the theremin, creating a decidedly portentous vibe. Then BUEL’S languid vocals enter along with a deep synth bass-driven trip hop beat, followed by delicate fluttering keyboards and accompanied by an enchanting mix of glittery synths, chiming guitar notes and the spacey warbling of the theremin. Her sultry vocals are gorgeous, with a haunting vulnerability that results in a completely different, but equally compelling, interpretation of Cobain’s provocative and sometimes impenetrable lyrics. Their treatment of the song is more melodic and dreamy, yet still manages to capture the dark rebelliousness of the Nirvana original.
The fascinating video was conceived and directed by BUEL, and shows her and Yerebakan performing the song in what appears to be a vacant derelict meeting hall of some kind, interspersed with scenes of an alien (also played by BUEL) and another shadowy man trying to solve a Rubik’s cube type of puzzle, but ultimately giving up. Watch and listen:
Here’s the original 4:18-minute long version of the song:
Brí is a lovely and talented singer-songwriter from Offaly County, Ireland, who creates hauntingly beautiful and emotionally compelling indie pop with folk and electronic overtones. She released her debut single “Low Supply” in June 2019, then followed in 2020 with “Polite” and “Burying’. On the strength of those singles, Brí sold-out her Whelan’s headline show, received high praise from numerous blogs, gained radio airplay, and was selected to perform at Beatvyne’s Music X Tech Experience. Now she returns with her fourth single “More Than“, which drops today, March 19th. It’s an enchanting slice of atmospheric electro-folk, and I’m happy to make it my New Song of the Week. The song will be included on her forthcoming debut album Hide, due for release in October.
With assistance by her friend Aidan Mulloy on electric guitar and bass, and the production wizardry of Darragh Nolan of Asta Kalapa studios in Wexford, Brí has created a brooding yet soul-stirring soundscape. Floating over an eerily-beautiful, pervasive drone, they’ve layered sparkling keyboards, gentle percussion and Aiden’s gorgeous shimmery guitar notes, all of which create a dreamy atmospheric backdrop for Brí’s soft, ethereal vocals, which she recorded in her bedroom due to Covid restrictions. The captivating music and vocals slowly build into a climactic goosebump-raising cresendo at the end.
As to the song’s meaning, Brí explains: ”‘More Than’ is about craving more than the situation you currently find yourself in. It’s a place where passion and emptiness meet, the point where two conflicting paths overlap and where all that is cloudy becomes clear.” This is beautifully expressed in her thoughtful and honest lyrics: “I can’t be me anywhere there’s not music in the air, I can’t pretend to care about these things that make no difference to me. What about originality? Can I be me? My soul is longing for something more than, more than, more than this.”
The beautiful and haunting video was created after Brí’s initial plans for a big production video fell through. She elaborates: “My original plans for the visuals fell through due to travel restrictions. After a lot of waiting for restrictions to lift, I decided to direct my own music video and my local friend Constance Vance stepped in as my photographer, videographer and stylist. We discovered that she had talent to burn. The photos and video were shot at Charleville Castle, Tullamore. In this video, I long for more than my current situation as I struggle to sit with the spinning wheel which, for me, symbolises that ‘groundhog day’ feeling. Watching this video back reminded me that my passion for songwriting could never have been discovered if there wasn’t firstly a struggle. The very action of writing a song to express this was my answer to feeling the passion and excitement in my life that I was craving. I love the simplicity of that.“
Well, we love your song and video Brí, so please keep making more great music for us to enjoy!
Dunkie is the whimsically-named music project of Welsh singer/songwriter and musician Anthony Price. Based in the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Price has written and recorded songs for many years, and in late December 2019 he gifted the world with his exquisite debut album Working to Design. An ambitious and monumental work, the album is a stunning, meticulously-crafted labor of love featuring 17 tracks. Partially inspired by the books and works of author Richard Matheson, Working to Design is a concept album, filled with heartfelt songs exploring the oft-covered subjects of life, love, the passage of time, death and loss, but also healing, hope and rebirth. (You can read my review here.) It was also a collaborative effort, involving contributions by more than 30 other musicians and vocalists who performed on various tracks, most notably Wayne Bassett, a fellow Welsh musician and producer, who played numerous instruments on several tracks, and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album.
Now Dunkie returns with a lovely five-track EP The Vanishing and Other Stories, another wonderful collaborative effort featuring an eclectic mix of stylistic elements ranging from rock, folk and pop to electronic and alt-country. For this work, Price co-wrote, arranged, produced and mixed the songs with Wayne Bassett. As with the recording of Working to Design, he once again enlisted a dozen other musicians and vocalists to add their talents to various songs. And the album artwork was again created by their friend, Welsh Figurative Artist Michael Gustavius Payne. Recorded at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales, The Vanishing and Other Stories is being released on Friday, March 19 through South Wales music label Dirty Carrot Records, and is available for purchase on Dunkie’s Bandcampprofile.
Having different musicians and vocalists performing on various tracks gives the EP more of a compilation feel, although the common thread running through the entire work is Price and Bassett’s superb songwriting. The songs address various aspects of loneliness, isolation and fear – emotions many of us have experienced or grappled with over the past year. About the EP, Dunkie explains: “Reminiscent of 1950’s & 1960’s short story anthologies, collected together in the world of Corgi and Penguin paperbacks, we’ve aimed to create a similar aesthetic with this EP. These songs/stories are grounded in the mundane yet heightened by a haunting, terrifying and sometimes surreal reality that surrounds us, present with despair for human lives, searching for hope in humanity and our own existence within it. Standalone stories, that exist in the same storytelling world we write.” He’s also provided a line or two of commentary for each song.
The beautiful opening track “The Vanishing” touches on feelings of emptiness that often stem from isolation, and ponders whether love can be a healing force. Dunkie elaborates “When lives begin to pull and push away from gravity and humanity, can one collective last breath of society prevail? Maybe only love can fill the hole within the soul…” The song is absolutely stunning, with lush, sweeping instrumentals highlighted by glittery synths, marvelous guitar work by Price, Bassett and Adam Price, and shimmery mellotron played by John Barnes. Anthony Price has a gentle and distinctive singing voice that sounds like a blend of Thom Yorke and Neil Young, and his vocals are deeply moving as he croons “I could disappear and leave without a trace from this world. I’ve left the human race. Nobody sees me, nobody sees me, sees me anymore / You’ll miss me when I’m gone / Only love can fill the holes within your soul.”
“Shadows On The Sun” is an incredibly pleasing folk-rock song with a catchy and upbeat toe-tapping melody, and featuring more of the gorgeous guitar work played by the same three who also dazzled us on “The Vanishing”. Dunkie explains the song’s message: “How long can a surface hold its form before cracking? In a world where darkness rises and lights dim, one earthly, broken figure can no longer take it anymore…“
Dunkie takes us off in a different direction with the haunting and contemplative “Choke“. Seven musicians play instruments on this mesmerizing track, highlighted by Terry Payne’s bewitching flute and Jennifer Drew’s inventive percussive textures. Mali Davies sings the captivating lead vocals, supported by gentle backing vocals by Anthony Price and Rob Lear. The lyrics seem to address the fear and desolation of facing one’s impending death, yet the music is ethereal and soothing, conveying a sense of peaceful resignation: “A fading lifecycle.. Visions searing the skin.. and the figure screams as the silent walls close within a room.. Choking the tears begin, again.” The song seems to end at around 4:42 with sounds of a person drawing their final breath, accompanied by a monitor indicting no heartbeat. But then the music abruptly returns, as if to signify the release and rebirth of the person’s soul into another dimension.
“Deep Dark Heart” is a bittersweet song about a relationship in which both parties have drifted apart, becoming almost like strangers and afraid to be honest with each other: “Blinded by inner demons a mute couple attempt to feel what one each feels, but this comes with a price and begins to pull them from underneath… and slowly takes seed.” The song was co-written by Price and Bassett, along with contributions by Mark Purnell on music and Joanne Jones on lyrics. Purnell also played acoustic and electric guitars and sings vocals along with Sarah Birch. Another reviewer, Grayson Jones, compared their vocals to those of Cat Stevens and Stevie Nicks, and I have to agree. Their wonderful vocals are tender and heartfelt as they sing of doubts and unease toward each other: “Is it in my head? Or is it in my heart? Questions go unanswered through the tether of your bark.” Musically, the song has a haunting alt-Country vibe, thanks to the twangy guitars and Terry Payne’s mournful violin.
On “The Vanishing Shadow“, we have the pleasure of hearing lovely vocals by a third female singer, Lauren Coates. The song has a peaceful, atmospheric soundscape, thanks to shimmery synths, delicate strings and gentle percussion. Coates’ soft, captivating vocals perfectly fit the ethereal vibe, which is broken only by the piercing synth sounds at the end. The lyrics seem to speak to people losing touch with each other through fear or indifference, leaving us to wonder if our lives have any meaning at all: “When lifeforms fall out of reach from one another, into an endless pit of fear, the emptiness in space appears… and they question if they are really… gone.” Coates’ sings “The hardest thing to do, is to prove you exist. With every single coat that you paint erased…and I’m gone.”
Those who purchase the EP will get a sixth bonus track, an alternative version of “The Vanishing”, recorded at an Abertawe Road Studio session. This version is somewhat stripped-down, with richly-layered guitars, magical synths, and Price’s sweet vocals the only sounds we hear. But what sounds they are! The jangly and shimmery guitars are deeply resonant, with a fullness of sound that’s incredibly impactful.
To sum up, I must say that Dunkie has gone and done it again, creating another work of musical art that’s as perfect as it could possibly be. The Vanishing and Other Stories is a gorgeous, expertly-crafted little EP, and a testament to the impressive talents of Price, Bassett, and everyone else involved in its production.
London-based Reckless Jacks is the music project of a charismatic singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist named Matt, who with his beautiful, distinctive vocal style and a passion for excellence and authenticity in his music, has built a growing and loyal fan base, me included. Born and raised in San Francisco, Matt spent his teenage years in Paris, then moved to London as an adult, where he established his music career, first as a band, and more recently as a solo act where he collaborates with other music producers.
He’s released seven outstanding singles over the past four years or so, my favorite of which is “Guide You in the Dark”, a gorgeous song that I ranked #61 on my Top 100 Songs of 2018 list. On March 5th, he dropped his latest single “Fugitive“, a hauntingly beautiful song about redemption and forgiveness. The song was written by Reckless Jacks with the help of Lawrence Diamond and musician/producers VOAH and Bob Matthews, who also produced the track.
The song starts off moody and introspective in the verses, as Reckless Jacks plaintively sings about both the pain and hurt he’s caused his romantic partner, and the pain she’s now inflicting upon him in return: “You light the fire just to burn me. Like you’re running after some kind of memory. Is this how we’ll always be? In this dark room, same old stories. If there’s love could you show me a little bit of the way we used to be?” The spooky synths, somber keyboards and measured drumbeats convey feelings of emotional fragility and desperation. His vocals turn impassioned and mournful in the choruses, accompanied by music that swells to a pulsating crescendo as he laments about not wanting to be kept in the dark, and pleading for mercy in the hope of reconciliation: “Fugitive, but I don’t wanna hide, hide no more. / Take, take, take me back, take me back in your life.”
There continues to be such a tremendous amount of new music being released that I simply cannot keep up with it all! Consequently, I’m going to have to do more of these group posts in order to feature more artists and songs. Here are three great new singles by artists or bands located on the west coast of North America, (in alphabetical order) Bealby Point, Matt Jaffe and Yard of Blondes.
“I’m So Bummed Out Right Now” by Bealby Point
Named after their favorite beachside vacation spot, Canadian alt-rock band Bealby Point had a rather serendipitous beginning. Comprised of four childhood friends who grew up in North Vancouver – Jack Armstrong (lead vocals), Jordan Studer (bass), Clayton Dewar (lead guitar) and Zack Yeager (drums) – Jack and Jordan were already a two-piece band when, one day in 2018, they stumbled upon music coming from the house of their old friends Clayton and Zack, who were also playing as a two-piece. The four reconnected, quickly realizing they complemented each other’s instruments and music styles, and Bealby Point was born.
On February 17th, they released their debut single “I’m So Bummed Out Right Now“. Recorded with veteran producer Matt Di Pomponio, the single will be included on their forthcoming EP, due out later this year. The band states the song was inspired by missing out on opportunities to hang out, have fun, and create memories with your best friends because of being stuck at home during the recurring lockdowns. The upbeat melody, buoyant guitars and snappy drums create a fun, breezy vibe that contrasts with the melancholy lyrics about feeling lonely and isolated, beautifully sung by Jack in vocals that go from a vulnerable croon to plaintive falsetto: “I’m so bummed out right now. Don’t leave me behind. Don’t leave me inside. Watch my friends through a screen. Stuck in a box, alone without me. Having fun without me. Making me feel, oh so lonely.” It’s a fine debut from Bealby Point, and I look forward to hearing more from these guys.
Matt Jaffe is a talented, hard-working and silky-voiced young singer-songwriter based in San Francisco who’s been making music since his early teens. While playing at an open mic one evening when he was only 16, he was discovered by Jerry Harrison of the band Talking Heads, who went on to help him produce his first album. In the years since, he’s written scores of songs, released three more albums, and has performed as an opening act for Blues Traveler and Wilco, as well as co-written songs with Tom Higgenson of the Plain White T’s. Matt has also served as musical director for experimental theater, collaborated with poets on genre-bending spoken word, and curated residencies among fellow songwriters. And if that’s not enough, he also volunteers with Bread & Roses, a non-profit that brings live music to facilities such as prisons, rehab centers, and foster homes. Having suffered from seizures himself since 2015, Matt also uses his music to unite local and national epilepsy communities.
Matt released his fourth album Undertoad on February 12th, and I especially like one of its singles “Time Traveler“. It’s a melodic and beautiful track, with exuberant jangly guitars and lush sweeping synths that build to a dramatic and glorious wall of sound. I’m a fan of male voices in the higher ranges, and Matt’s vocals are stunning as he fervently sings the lyrics that speak to regrets for past mistakes and time wasted: “I’m the time traveler, and what I were to flip the hourglass. Watch promise of the future turn to phantoms of the past. I wasted all my moments dear, traversing centuries. Cause it not time, but distances, dividing you and me.” “Time Traveler” is a magnificent track, and I think it’s one of Matt’s finest.
From humble beginnings in France as a folk pop duo making mostly acoustic music, Yard of Blondes have come a long way in the years since relocating to Los Angeles in 2014. Now a four-piece, they’ve made a splash on the L.A. music scene with their exciting and edgy style of alternative rock. The band is comprised of French-born singer/songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Vincent Walter Jacob and bassist/vocalist Fanny Hulard, Turkish-born guitarist Burak Yerebakan, and California native Forrest Mitchell on drums and backing vocals. Yard of Blondes are no stranger to this blog, as I’ve previously featured them three times, most recently last October when I reviewed their last single “Do You Need More?” On February 19th, they released “Hummingbird“, the fourth and final single from their forthcoming debut album Feed the Moon, due out later this year. The single and album were produced by Billy Graziadei, mixed by Michael Patterson, and mastered by Maor Applebaum.
Never shy to take on social and political issues, the band actually wrote “Hummingbird” a few years ago after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri that erupted after the killing of Michael Brown, as well as in the wake of yet another school mass shooting. They explain “Being in the U.S. for only a few years at this time, we came to realize America was dealing with a lot of things that were unresolved for decades and centuries. The growing appeal for conspiracies and alternative narratives also [played] a great part in our writing this song. Ironically, in the music video, we tried to picture an invisible threat coming at people, something like a virus, destroying our community. Now that we are in an actual pandemic the song takes on another meaning.“
The song is a rampaging beast, with a barrage of jagged, gnarly guitars, driving bass and pummeling drums, befitting the dark and violent subject matter. Vincent and Fanny’s commanding vocals start off with an angry resignation as they lament “It’s happening again. It’s not a crime to shoot a humming hovering around. It’s happening again in my town. They’re killing hummingbirds. Soaked in blood. They soon grow more impassioned as they furiously scream their refusal to accept that the killings were provoked: “I don’t believe you when you said they attacked you! I don’t believe you now!” It all makes for a fearsome and compelling track, both musically and lyrically, and I think “Hummingbird” is their best song yet.
Liam Sullivan is an accomplished musician based in Leeds, England who’s been writing and performing outstanding music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and as a solo artist. He’s a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice, and his music is a pleasing blend of folk and alternative rock. I first featured him on this blog last May when I reviewed his lovely folk single “When This is Over”. Written and recorded during the COVID-19 quarantine, the poignant song is a hopeful look ahead toward happier times. Now Liam is back with his latest single “Be Kind“, a hauntingly beautiful and deeply moving song I’m happy to make my New Song of the Week.
Liam wrote “Be Kind” back in 2016 while travelling around Europe, but his lyrics resonate now more than ever as he advocates for kindness and acceptance at a time when many people are feeling anxious, fearful or angry. He states the song “is about getting out of the darkness of the city and finding solace in nature. Using this as a metaphor, it also looks at taking responsibility in relationships and standing up with kindness and not always pointing the finger.”
The opening lyrics speak of someone with a closed mind who doesn’t seem to want to deal with problems: “Meet me in some corner of the dark and distant city. Away from all the handsome men, away from all the pretty. I promise I will listen if you promise not to talk. Don’t talk of indecision and don’t talk of all these thoughts. / I promised my belligerence, you promised to be calm. Just be calm.” Eventually, through the patience and kindness of another, he softens his resolve and opens up to other points of view and toward a common understanding: “Meet me where the trees begin to disinfect the sky. I promised I will live and learn. You promised to be kind. Just be kind.”
Musically, “Be Kind” has a darker, more powerful sound than most of his previous songs, yet still features the stirring melodies, beautiful layered guitars and emotion-packed vocals we’ve come to love in his music. The song starts off as a gentle folk ballad with strummed acoustic and electric guitars and subtle percussion, then gradually builds to a dramatic and stunning anthem, highlighted by bold, fuzz-coated jangly guitars, throbbing bass and exuberant drums. His intricate guitar work on this song is some of his best, and his commanding vocals have a vulnerable fervency that’s really touching. It’s a magnificent song.
There’s a tremendous amount of talent throughout the music world, and I’ve had the pleasure of writing about quite a few truly gifted artists in my five-plus years of blogging. One of the most remarkable of them all is Kristian Møller, a young singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist who’s now based primarily in Copenhagen, Denmark. Not only is he insanely creative and artistically brilliant, he’s also smart, thoughtful, funny and kind. He’s handsome too, though so free of vanity that, unlike a lot of artists who have scores of photos of themselves plastered across their social media accounts, Kristian has almost none. Hence the only photo he provided is the rather spooky avatar of himself that he created, shown above.
I first learned about Kristian in 2017 when he was based in London and a member of the alternative band From the Cave. I featured them and their delightfully eclectic music several times on this blog between November 2017 and April 2019, shortly after which they split up, much to my chagrin. Fortunately, he continued to record music as a solo artist, and over the past three years has released four ambitious, genre-bending albums, beginning in September 2018 with the trippy, experimental work Gamble. He followed with two albums in quick succession in 2019 – Incomplete in August, featuring 16 tracks, and I’m the Fucking Producer in December, containing a mind-boggling 23 tracks! I especially like the title track, a marvelous take down of music producers: “I’m the fucking producer, I’m going to ruin your tune. I take the life out of it, and I make it better, better”, but I digress…
On February 21st, Kristian dropped his fourth album Caldo, an exquisite and loving tribute to his Spanish heritage, specifically, his mother’s homeland of Mallorca, an island in the Mediterranean that’s part of Spain. He explained to me that the album’s title “Caldo” means “broth” in Spanish, adding: “The broth plays a big part in some traditional dishes that my family – and especially my Spanish grandparents – cook.” (He plans to follow up later this year with another album of songs sung in Danish as a tribute to his father’s and his homeland of Denmark.)
The album is nearly epic in scope, running 55 minutes and featuring 18 songs, 14 of which are sung entirely in Spanish, as well as four instrumentals. When Kristian first approached me about reviewing this album, I was a bit apprehensive, as both its length and the fact it was sung entirely in Spanish presented a potentially daunting task. He kindly translated his lyrics into English for me, and once I began listening to the songs, my trepidation quickly evaporated as I found myself thoroughly enchanted by their breathtaking beauty.
Case in point is the opening track “Son Verí“, a beautiful ode to the Mallorcan seaside town where his family has a home: “From the moment I was born, there’s always been a place for me, in Son Verí / In every rock there are stories and thousands of memories that can’t be forgotten.” Kristian’s strummed Spanish guitar is stunning, and his baritone vocals have an earnest vulnerability that’s both comforting and deeply moving. He also creates wonderful, imaginative videos for many of his songs, and the one for “Son Verí” nicely captures the warmth and sun-kissed beauty of his family’s Mallorcan home.
On the next song “Invitación” (Invitation), he continues singing his praises of Mallorca: “I invite you to the view of the cathedral / I invite you to the view of the mountains and the ocean / I invite you to the sun and the nights filled with moonlight / I invite you to the tower of Cala Pi, pa amb oli and olives / We can have dinner together and be joyful people.” Once again, his strummed acoustic guitar work is sublime, only this time complemented by a deep bass groove and a gorgeous atmospheric organ riff.
Besides extolling Mallorca’s virtues, Kristian weaves other subjects such as romantic love, the importance of family, and even his frustrations over the political upheaval that resulted in Brexit, into the narrative of some tracks. On “Tranquila” (Don’t Worry), he sings of his love for another, even though he must leave them: “You know that I’ve enjoyed our time together/ Even though I sometimes lose myself in the things I say, there’s something else that is about to begin / Yet again, I feel the need to make mistakes.” And on “Fuego” (Fire), he compares his passions for – and challenges of – making music with making love: “One hand in hell, another hand in heaven / In the tongue of heat, in the musical notes of pain / The orchestras of the sun live inside of your bedroom.“
Like he did with From the Cave’s music, Kristian skillfully melds together disparate music elements like rock, hip hop, punk and electronic with Spanish folk and flamenco to create his own unique sound. On “Mallorca“, he combines acoustic Spanish guitar notes with a hypnotic dubstep beat to create a contemplative backdrop for his monotonal vocals as he sings of escaping to Mallorca to relieve his stress over worrying about his music career and trying to please everyone: “I’ve attempted it time and time again / I’ve tried it and I always want to be another person just to please everybody / I say “yes” way too quickly / “Yes” – what a load of shit / Here I am, stressed out once again, I need to slow down. Every day I wake up in a hurry to impress / Release yet another song that’s true / I’ve done it more than a hundred times / And so what? In the end, what difference does it make?”
On the rousing “Basura” (Trash), he rails against autocratic leaders like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, and how their divisive rhetoric damages their countries: “People with weird wigs who have presidencies / I want to be better than this / And you can be better than this trash without any shame / We don’t have any other option but to remove these people who don’t have any compassion for the people around them / It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong, they are completely mental.” I love the lively Spanish folk rock vibe and bold, colorful instrumentation and his emphatic vocals. Kristian created a wonderfully trippy animated video showing a fearsome prehistoric-looking creature pulling a large cart containing what appears to be a town square filled with piles of trash and strange robed men with antlers. His avatar stands at a console, controlling the proceedings as they all fly over the countryside, with several plates containing fried eggs circling overhead like flying saucers.
As the album proceeds, the great songs keep coming, including four gorgeous and compelling instrumentals: “Manzana” (Apple), “Agosto” (August), “Aleppo” and “La Casa De Los Abuelos” (The House Of The Grandparents). One of my many favorites on Caldo is “Salsa De Tomate” (Tomato Sauce), a beautiful, uplifting song celebrating the healing powers of food and family: “The plants are growing in your garden and they look like the ones in Son Verí / This black cloud will leave one day / The birds are flying above the wall / We’re people, We’re friends, We’re family.” The song has a powerful, driving beat overlain with enchanting strummed Spanish guitars and haunting flutes that give the song a wonderful Incan vibe. Kristian’s warm vocals are sublime, and the airy, female backing vocals add a nice touch to the song.
“Patatas” (Potatoes) is yet another standout track, with bold strummed guitar notes accompanied by psychedelic synths and snappy percussion that produce a captivating Spanish punk sound. “El Caballero Oscuro” (The Dark Knight) is great too, with its dark, spooky synths, strong driving beat and terrific guitar work. Kristian doesn’t mince words as he tells a lover of his carnal intentions: “I want to be your dark knight / I want to see your face and your ass / I want to return, a tough guy who has a chance of becoming something / In the corner of my mind I’m a good guy who acts way too nicely / And that’s exactly why it isn’t working between us. I’m an animal, In my gut, inside of my medieval soul there’s something else to liberate / Because, I’m the dark knight and today I want to kick it hard.”
The pleasing title track “Caldo” closes the album, summing up its overriding theme of finding solace in the enduring traditions of family, friends and food in a home we love: “Palma de Mallorca /We’re tourists and we’re locals / The broth of life / The broth of tradition / The broth of life.”
I had a lovely chat with Kristian, who graciously answered my questions about his upbringing, career choices and inspiration behind Caldo’s creation.
EML: You are truly multi-cultural Kristian. I know your father is Danish and mother is from Mallorca, which is part of Spain, and I believe you were born in Denmark, is that correct? Where were you raised, and/or did you spend time growing up in both Denmark and Mallorca?
Kristian: I was born in Copenhagen but I spent the majority of my childhood living in Palma De Mallorca. When I turned 12 we moved back to Copenhagen. I’ve been lucky to experience both cultures – the Danish and the Spanish sides – fully. Both my parents speak each-other’s languages fluently so I guess we’ve always had it all very blended together at home.
EML: When you and I first connected, you were living in London. How did you come to live there?
Kristian: Initially I applied for a songwriting degree in Copenhagen, but wasn’t accepted. Then I began looking for other options and we found a songwriting degree in London. I ended up staying in the city for 5 years. I’m glad it turned out that way.
EML: While in London, you had a terrific band From the Cave who played a wonderfully eclectic style of alternative rock with lots of exotic and ethnic elements. I loved your music, and reviewed quite a bit of it before you and your fellow band members decided to call it quits in summer 2019. What made you all decide to end From the Cave, and for you to subsequently relocate from London to Mallorca, or do you now split your time between Mallorca and London and/or Copenhagen?
Kristian: Thanks man. We always loved your reviews and they provided us with a lot of moral support. I think I realized that I wasn’t going to stay permanently in London. It was very expensive to get by. The prospect of a hard Brexit also creeped in on everyone. I realized I could move to our summer house in Spain, without having to pay rent. I felt that quitting everything – including my job at a recording studio – to focus on our own music was a slightly scary but necessary step. There are other aspects to the story that I won’t go into detail with, but I’m very happy that all of us (including past From The Cave members) have been friends first and band-members second. We still keep in touch and I look forward to seeing everyone soon. We really had a great run and so many awesome memories and experiences came from the project. I’m thankful for all of it. I’m now based in Copenhagen but I also spend several months a year in Spain.
EML: Caldo is the first of two albums you’re making that pay homage to your dual Spanish and Danish heritage, and is a kind of beautiful love letter to Mallorca. What inspired you to want to make these two albums?
Kristian: During the 7 years that I lived abroad I found it hard to choose which family I should visit during the holidays. When you have your family spread out over two different countries – and you live in a third place – it becomes a bit tricky. I’m very close to both my families, and it felt wrong not seeing them more often. When I moved to Spain I was finally able to make up for some of the lost time. Eight months later, when the pandemic hit, I had just arrived in Denmark to visit my Danish grandparent. During that stay I wrote the first song of the Danish album which will be released later this year. At the same time, my cousin had been sending me some short stories that he had been writing. They were really honest and beautiful. They took place in our own world, the world of our families. It found it very inspiring to read. In a way I think it also opened a door for me lyrically.
EML: The songs on Caldo are quite beautiful and melodic, nicely conveying images of an enchanting and fulfilling life on Mallorca. Many of the tracks touch on food and its importance to the culture, but others speak of the vagaries of love and passion. What were some of your inspirations for the songs, both musically and lyrically?
Kristian: Thank you, that’s very kind of you. The running theme of food is something – I must admit – I stole from one of my favourite bands: Sleaford Mods. In their album Eton Alive, they use food as metaphor and red thread throughout the album. I think it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. It made me think about the role that food plays in our own family. For us it’s a central gathering point. A ritual where we show love and care for each-other through these traditions. Even meeting up for a coffé has a powerful symbolic value. I try not to be too nostalgic, but I feel like these things are a remedy for coping with the rapid passing of time. At least I feel like daily life is gradually accelerating more and more. This gives these rituals even more importance.
EML: You stated that you wrote, recorded and produced the album in your family’s basement. Did you do everything yourself? A few songs, such as “Salsa de Tomate” have female background vocals. Who sang them?
Kristian: Yes, I did everything here on my own. But I can’t claim that I’ve done it alone. My family have been incredibly supportive throughout the process, and I’ve shared all of the demos and demos and more demos… some more demos…with them on the go. Their company has been fundamental. On top of that my parents paid for some equipment, the guitar that I’ve used on everything on the album, and helped me make the home-studio in our basement. We really went all in on this thing haha! In response to all of that support I’ve given it everything I had. We would go on daily walks and talk through the ideas and the process. The vocals on “Salsa de Tomate” are from my aunt Ñesi. She’s a songwriter herself and she’s preparing the launch of her solo project soon. I’ve heard her new songs and they’re amazing. My two nieces are also singing in the background of the third chorus of the song. My aunt heard them sing the song spontaneously during her recording and then recorded it for me as a surprise.
EML: That was sweet of her! Is there anything you’d like to add that I may have neglected to ask?
Kristian: I would just like to thank you for taking the time to do this review and showing some genuine interest in the project. I really appreciate it and it’s been very fun to answer your questions. I look forward to continuing making music and try to enjoy it as much as possible. Muchas gracias!
Thank YOU, Kristian, for bringing the world some badly-needed joy and pleasure with your beautiful album. Listening to it is an immersive experience, and should be heard in its entirety to fully appreciate the beauty and brilliance of its many musical textures and sounds. In my not so humble opinion, Caldo is a masterpiece, and I implore my readers to do yourselves a big favor by taking the time to give it a full listen, and let its songs envelop you like they do for me!
Last October, I featured Michigan-based artist Au Gres (the music project of singer-songwriter Joshua Kemp) when I reviewed his charming debut single “Nervous”. A delightful melding of indie rock, lo-fi and synth pop elements, the song speaks of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in order to more fully experience the joys of life, love and relationships. I liked it so much, it spent two months on my Weekly Top 30.
Now he returns with his second single “At Home in the Dark“, another stellar and dreamy track, but this time featuring a somewhat edgier rock vibe he describes as “indie pop with teeth”. The song was produced and mixed by Jake Rye at the Social Recording Company, and mastered by Mike Cervantes (the same guys who worked with another Michigan artist Dawning, whose stunning EP Petals I reviewed a few weeks ago). Josh and fellow musician Noah DeLeon played guitars, and both they and Jake all had a hand in programming synths. Brodie Glaza played drums, and Josh’s girlfriend Linsley Hartenstein played the lovely piano in the outro.
“At Home in the Dark” is essentially a sweet love song, in which Au Gres assures his romantic partner that he’ll be there to support and comfort her through good times and bad: “I want to be there when it rains / I want to know you on your bad days, baby / I want to be there when you start to think the wrong things in the right time frame / So I’m on my way to hold you close / If it rains outside we’ll stay indoors with a glass of red we’ll sing in prose / We’ll do what it takes to feel at home in the dark.”
To drive home his message, he and his fellow musicians start with a palette of delicate swirling synths, then layer multiple textures of guitar and percussion to create a lush, emotionally-powerful soundscape. The music swells to an exuberant crescendo in the choruses, highlighted by a dramatic guitar solo in the bridge. Interestingly, the song opens with the same crescendo that later appears in the choruses, putting the song on a strong footing right from the start. Josh has a fine singing voice, and his lovely comforting vocals are perfect for conveying the tender feelings of love and devotion expressed in the lyrics.
With both “Nervous” and “At Home in the Dark” to his credit, Au Gres maintains his perfect score of releasing outstanding singles. I’m confident we’ll be hearing a lot more great music to come from this talented man.
I’ve previously noted several times on this blog of my fondness for dream pop, as I’m a sucker for beautiful melodies, luxurious instrumental arrangements and pleasing vocals. With that in mind, I’m excited to feature the artist known as Dawning, who’s just released his stunning debut EP Petals. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dawning is the music project of singer-songwriter Aaron Senor, who’s quickly making his mark on the Michigan music scene with his gorgeous songs and captivating live performances. All the songs on Petals were written, performed, recorded and produced by Aaron, with the exception of “Rose Hips”, which was co-written by Jake LeMond of the band Michigander, and the guitar solo at the end was performed by Aaron’s father Brian Senor. The EP was mixed by Jacob Rye and mastered by Mike Cervantes.
Released on Valentine’s Day, Petals was initially to be comprised solely of love songs, but Dawning’s approach evolved toward creating something altogether different. “The plan was I’d write each song about a former relationship, tie all those memories up in a bow, put it out, and never write a love song again. ‘Petals’ was always meant to be the carrying out of this, but it never was. Contrary to my plan, most of these are not proper love songs at all, but rather, explorations of feelings I’ve had in the past that I thought were love, but really were not. This has been my effort to decipher what those feelings in fact were, if not love. Embedded in each song is a question: What is the difference between infatuation/having someone make you feel really good, and love? Is it possible to be obsessed with someone romantically, but still not truly love them? Where does physical attraction end and love begin? Why do we seem to sometimes realize how much we love someone only after they’ve gone? I have not presented anything in Petals as a definite answer to any of these questions, because this project was never an essay. Rather, it’s an expression of my own experience, and that mere expression gave me the solace of a satisfactory answer. I hope ‘Petals’ gives you that same solace as well.”
The first track “Bloom” is a lush, dreamy affair with sultry R&B overtones in the vein of artists like James Blake. Using a rich palette of fluttering shimmery synths, crisp percussion and sparkling keyboards, Dawning creates a sumptuous atmospheric soundscape replete with well-placed moments of chirping birds and flourishes of soaring brass. His soulful vocals alternate between ethereal croons and commanding entreaties as he sings of being besotted by a lover: “Love full of color / Skies turning blue / I like the way your eyes always see the world / Everything, all in bloom / You are an ocean / Precipitate / My breath becomes so easy when I drown in you / My little hurricane.”
Dawning dials up the heat on “Liturgy“. With it’s sensuous thumping beat, sultry bass, and that bewitching organ, combined with his silky falsetto and breathy whispers, it’s downright sexy! When I didn’t think he could top the first two tracks, Dawning blows me away with “Rose Hips“. The songs starts off slowly, with pulsating synths and his gentle, plaintive croons, then explodes into a gorgeous cinematic wall of sound, highlighted by Brian Senor’s fiery guitar solo that leaves me covered in goosebumps. His vocals turn more passionate with the music as he channels The Weeknd with a beautiful soaring falsetto.
On the Sufjan Stevens-esque “Rose Lights“, Dawning sings of a brief love affair that didn’t survive the summer. The only sounds we hear are his lovely acoustic guitar and enchanting layered vocal harmonies, yet the song has a vibrant fullness of sound. His echoed breathy vocals evoke a sad resignation as he softly laments “I did you wrong it’s apparent, just know that I always cared but messed it up / Summer love, rising through the month of June / In my life, August came and went too soon / Summer love, falling in and out of you.“
Though it contains only four tracks, Petals is a rich and colorful feast for the senses. Every song is brilliantly executed and sonically beautiful, and I’m really impressed with Dawning’s incredible songwriting, musicianship and vocals. My only criticism of the EP is that I wish it were longer! I guess I’ll have to wait for him to record more music.
I’ve included links for the EP in two formats, YouTube and Spotify: