LYIA META – Single Review: “Deserving of Love”

lyia meta2

One of my favorite female vocalists is Malaysian singer-songwriter Lyia Meta. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Lyia is a lovely woman both inside and out, with a dazzling powerhouse voice. With her deep, resonant vocal style and ability to cover multiple genres ranging from blues and rock to pop and country with ease, she’s become an international star, winning numerous music awards over the past several years. I first featured her in early 2018 when I reviewed her gorgeous single “Without Walls”, then again this past January when I wrote about her pop-rock anthem “All of My Love”. Lyia now returns with a dramatic new single “Deserving of Love“, her first foray into metal rock.

About the song, Lyia told me “This is the first time I am doing/writing metal. As a multi-genre artist, I try not to limit myself, and because my heart/influence is rooted in rock and blues it seemed a natural sort of thing to gravitate toward this. As I started this adventure with [producer] Mike Hall, I must say I was a bundle of nerves throughout the entire process. Almost all my songs are written from a personal place. So this song is no different.”

“Deserving of Love” storms right out of the gate with an explosive mix of Mike Hall’s shredded guitar and Lyia’s raw, impassioned vocals. Soon enough, Mike delivers thunderous staccato riffs as Lyia demands to be heard and understood in her desperate longing to be loved.

Don’t cut me down
Cos’ I speak the words you need to hear
Don’t shut me out
Don’t cut me down

The dramatic soaring chorale vocals in the chorus have a chilling, almost Gothic feel that gives the track incredible power and depth. By this time, Mike’s shredding his guitar nearly to the breaking point as Lyia unleashes all of the raw emotion she can gather as she pleads:

Do you hear me?
Bare my soul I’m in need

Lay it there see me bleed
I’m so weary but I’m so deserving of love
So deserving of love
I’m deserving of love

“Deserving of Love” is a terrific song, and Lyia does quite an admirable job singing heavy metal. So play this one loud! As a side note, Lyia is also an accomplished visual artist, and designed the striking artwork for the single.

Connect with Lyia: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

Artist Spotlight on the massively talented TREVOR JAMES

I get followed by – and follow – so many artists and bands on social media that I often don’t have time to properly listen to all their music and, sadly, many slip beneath my radar. One such artist I’ve somehow missed out on listening to until yesterday is the massively talented and versatile singer/songwriter and guitarist/bassist Trevor James. The Los Angeles-based artist has been making music since the age of 14, and has been especially prolific over the past five years or so, releasing several outstanding albums and singles, the latest of which is the lovely and soulful “Always Be There”, which dropped earlier this month. Since hearing that song, I’ve been making up for lost time by binge-listening to his incredibly diverse music. I was going to review the single, but his music catalog is so varied, extensive and impressive that I’ve decided to do an Artist Spotlight on James instead.

James refers to his music style as “a combination of John Mayer and Lenny Kravitz with a touch of Jimi Hendrix“, and I’d say that pretty accurately describes one aspect of his sound, although it’s so much broader than that. In 2014, he released his first EP Show Time, a fine collection of songs melding pop, hip hop, R&B and funk. One of the standouts is “Mystery Girl”:

Completely changing direction, in 2016 he released two gorgeous albums – The Dreamer and World – that delved deeply into jazz fusion. The Dreamer is an instrumental-only production that really highlights James’ talents for writing beautiful and intricate melodies, and bringing them to life with his skillful musicianship and awesome guitar-playing. All 11 tracks are superb, but I’ll share the title track, which provides a good example of the album’s flavor:

World is more experimental and, like its title suggests, features greater use of world music influences, as well as sparse vocals on some tracks. James inserts elements of rock, funk, blues and soul into the jazzy mix, making for a fascinating and often captivating listening experience. The tracks are all named after natural or weather phenomena. One of the highlights out of many for me is “Earthquake”, where James’ funky guitar work shines. Take a listen to this gem:

Changing direction yet again, it’s on his monumental 2017 album My Train where James really taps into his John Mayer/Lenny Kravitz/Jimi Hendrix aura. Holy shit, this man can play the guitar! The Herculean album kicks ass with a mind-boggling twenty tracks (five of which are over seven minutes long), and every single one of them is fucking phenomenal! James lays down scorching, bluesy riffs in track after track, and I’m sorry I missed out on hearing this album when it came out in 2017, because I’d have named it among the best of that year. I strongly recommend my readers take the time to give this incredible album a listen, but I’ll share a few of my personal favorites.

First up is “Howling Wind”, a blistering, bluesy stunner that pays beautiful homage to Jimi Hendrix with some jaw-dropping guitar work:

Another spectacular track is the 9:22-minute-long epic “Drunken Blues”. James’ bluesy guitar runs are so gorgeous they bring tears to my eyes. Wow!

In 2018, James dropped his fourth full-length album Maxine, yet another exceptional work in which he continued to explore his rock side, only this time channeling his inner Lenny Kravitz by delving further into guitar-driven, melodic alternative rock grooves. Staying true to his eclectic influences, he still manages to incorporate ample amounts of funk, blues and jazz into the dynamic mix. The title track “Maxine” is one of the standouts, with dirty, bluesy riffs, soulful keys, crunchy drums and a funky-as-hell bassline. James’ raw vocals beautifully express his exasperation over Maxine’s intransigent and cruel behavior toward him: “Maxine, you’s the one I want. Maxine, what do you want from me? Maxine, how could you be so mean?

Since the release of Maxine, James has dropped a number of great singles in 2019, one of which is the fiery rocker “Turn Me On”, with a sexy video that’s as hot as the track. It really showcases his strong charisma and good looks, and Jennifer’s pretty easy on the eyes too!

“Pick Up Your Phone” is another fantastic R&B single, and here’s a wonderful video of a live performance of the song by James and his backup band. It was recorded this past Spring at Joshua Tree National Park (located an hour from my home) as part of Dynaudio Unheard’s Desert Sessions:

Finally, I get to his latest release “Always Be There”, which instigated this entire post! It’s a sweet and charming love song, and one of the more pop-oriented of his tracks, with mostly acoustic guitar, subtle synths and crisp percussion. James tenderly sings of his undying love and devotion:

You’re my everything
I can’t explain, you’re my sunny day
You’re sweeter than some sugarcane
I’ll always be there for you
Take my hand, baby I’m your man
Don’t you know, I’m your biggest fan
You’re my queen, baby I’m your king
I’ll always be there for you girl

The music and James’ vocals gradually build as the track progresses, and he thrills us with a scorching-hot distorted guitar solo in the final chorus.

As I’ve tried to make clear in this post, Trevor James is a remarkable talent, and one of the most versatile artists I’ve come across in a long while. He’s a great songwriter, composer, vocalist and, most of all, a truly gifted guitarist and bassist, and I cannot gush enough about him and his music! Plus, he’s a gracious and kind man. I hope my readers will take the time to listen to some of his songs, and grow to like him as much as I have.

Connect with Trevor:  Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / cdbaby

BRETT.GRANT.5 – EP Review: “disqui.etude”

Brett Grant

I’ve been following the young singer-songwriter and composer Brett Grant for a long while, and am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to feature him on this blog. The Chicago-based artist goes by the moniker brett.grant.5, and drops his second EP disqui.etude today. Brett’s been involved in music for many years, both as a solo artist and in several bands. He plays guitars & synths and sings for A Million Rich Daughters, and previously pounded drums in Sleep For Dinner and TOOFUNCHILD. He released his first solo EP digital dirge in 2016, and in addition to his work with the aforementioned bands, managed to earn a B.A. Degree in Music, graduating just last month.

Brett’s fascinating and eclectic sound draws from a wide range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to video game music and experimental progressive rock. He wrote all the songs and played all the music on disqui.etude, as well as recorded, performed, mixed, and mastered the entire project himself.

The EP opens with the eerily beautiful title track “disqui.etude“, an apt name as it’s essentially a disquieting etude. The song’s an instrumental, consisting of only a haunting piano riff, accompanied by rather menacing synths that build as the track progresses. It would make a great soundtrack for a horror film, and in fact reminds me of the music from the film Eyes Wide Shut. Brett states it and the album title are intended to represent the anxieties and unease he’s dealt with in his own life, which are expressed in the lyrics of the songs on the EP.

Next up is “Truth Be Told“, a moody track with spacey industrial synths set to a bouncy, stop-start bass-drum beat. Brett has an unusual but pleasant singing voice that’s strongly emotive as he sings of the misery and guilt he feels over the death of a loved one:

Truth be told, I never thought that you’d be dead
Truth be told, I just can’t get you out o’my head
Truth be told, I’ve been obsessing for so long
I’d give anything to write a different song
Truth be told, I should have been the one to go
Truth be told, this burden’s getting hard to hold

The poignant “Empty Bottles” features a beautiful but melancholy piano-driven melody, backed by delicate, sparkling synths. Brett’s vocals, which range from a low croon that seems to emanate from deep within his core, to just below a falsetto, are nicely displayed on this song. He sings of destructive and futile attempts to drown one’s troubles in alcohol: “You’ll see in the end this was the old me. And all my insincere apologies, like lobotomies, came off the top of me. Apostles of endless empty bottles. As we both drive full throttle to the bottom of my problems.”

Brett dives deep into electronica on “New Goner“, employing a rich mix of glittery and otherworldly droning synths to create a spellbinding track. On the apocalyptic, synth-driven “Might Make My Way“, he speaks to the downsides of the internet and social media, and the thought control we’ve allowed ourselves to become imprisoned by: “Alien intruder, watching from a computer. Alias abuser, flying fear producer./ The sci-fi officers playing cops and robbers. Have nothing to offer and keep us in coffers. You can’t run, you can’t scream, it’s all part of their dream. Bright lights and loud noises, foreign distorted voices. If they transport me safely, might make my way back maybe.”

The final track “Hitting Backspace“, which Brett released as a single in February (on Valentine’s Day), is the darkest and most intense track on the EP. The song starts off with an ominous throbbing synth, then 10 seconds in a loud piercing synth enters, sounding a bit like a slowed-down version of the shrieking music heard in the famous shower scene in the film Psycho. He wanted to create a similar disturbing backdrop for his gloomy lyrics about feeling like being buried alive by the weight of his problems:  “It wasn’t like I anticipated facing all this in the time since yesterday. Sands keep falling. Feels like I’m slipping away… And trapped hitting backspace./ It wasn’t like I could keep up pacing, keep up pacing through the sands of yesterday.” At the end of the first verse, the music intensifies with deeper synths and heavier percussion that continue until fading out at the of the song.

disqui.etude is a marvelous work that beautifully showcases brett.grant.5’s singularly unique songwriting, composing and production talents. One of the things I especially like about it is how every track sounds totally different, which makes for an interesting and surprising listening experience. If you like music that’s innovative and unlike anything else you’ve heard before, you’ll enjoy this brilliant EP.

Follow Brett: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple Music

BEN PRIORY & CHARLIE PEREIRA – Single Review: “Here We Go”

Herewego (2)

Aside from the thrill of seeing one of my posts go viral (which almost never happens), my biggest joy about having a music blog is writing about music I really love. And boy, am I in love with the stunning debut single “Here We Go” by two young artists from Portsmouth, England: Ben Priory and Charlie Pereira. What’s especially astonishing about the quality of the song and vocals is that they’re both only 17 years old!

Ben and Charlie started making music together at the age of 12, when they’d have drum battles in Ben’s bedroom. Ben wrote the music for “Here We Go” last September (2018), then recorded all the instruments, including synths, piano, bass and drums. Charlie wrote the lyrics, and recorded the vocals over two sessions, the first in December 2018, and the second in February 2019. Ben produced and mixed the song, then sent the track to Peter Maher (U2, The 1975, Snow Patrol, Katy Perry) for mastering.

The song is perfection from start to finish. It opens with night sounds of crickets and waves crashing on a distant beach, setting a rather pensive mood. Then a somber piano riff, accompanied by finger snaps and bass, enter the mix as Charlie softly sings with an air of sadness in his voice of the hurt and disappointment someone’s caused him:

So I’ve been sitting here for the longest time
And it’s just not fine with me
But what you’ve done
And how you thing it’s all fun
But it just can’t run
You made that sacrifice
And I had to pay the price
For you to do what you do but it makes me blue
And you don’t even have a clue

Suddenly, the tone shifts in the chorus to a joyful, upbeat vibe with the addition of lush, shimmery synths, guitar and a bouncy bass drum beat. Charlie’s vocals are now more ardent and hopeful as he sings of the pleasures of making music, providing an escape from the sadness he was feeling earlier, and perhaps giving the relationship another go:

So here we go now
Hearing our soft sound
Hear the bass drum pound
But we don’t know til we will hit the ground
But hear the bass line flow
It’s faster yeah, never slow
Let’s do the show
Here we go, here we go, here we go

Yeah let’s take it back
Listen to the sweet guitar
It’s not a competition you’re my superstar
Just go for a drive
Let’s get away
We can take my car

Ben and Charlie have created a beautiful song that’s the perfect summer tune. I’m quite impressed by the quality and maturity of their sound, especially given their youth, and hope to hear more music from these guys very soon!

Connect with Ben:  Facebook / Instagram
Purchase “Here We Go” on iTunes

ANDY K LELAND – Single Review: “A Chair is a Chair”

Andy K Leland Chair Art

Like most singer-songwriters, Italian indie folk artist Andy K Leland is a poet of sorts, penning lyrics loaded with meaning and expressed mostly through his pleasing acoustic guitar and quirky, off-beat vocal style. Andy – who was born Andrea Marcellini – refers to himself as Andrea’s “shadow-self, and the two selves fear each other.” That dichotomy is clearly evident in his songs, where his sometimes dark, depressing lyrics sharply contrast with his simple, catchy melodies and mellow lo-fi vibe. Despite his cynical, often bleak lyrics about life and relationships, his songs seem to tell us to not take life too seriously, or at the very least resign ourselves to life’s inevitable travails without losing our minds in the process.

Like a lot of artists I’ve reviewed lately, I’ve previously featured Andy several times on this blog, and you can read some of my reviews of his music by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post. He’s now released a wonderful new single “A Chair is a Chair“, and it’s one of his best songs yet. It still has the charming signature lo-fi acoustic vibe of all his music, but features added instrumentals in the form of mellotron and ambient drone guitar, played by guest musician Simone Laurino, giving the track a lovely, poignant and fuller sound. Andy recorded the song on his old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, but the sound quality is quite good.

Regarding the song’s meaning, Andy told me “I wrote the first two lines of the verse right after an old weird memory about a chair came back. Don’t really know why that memory showed up… but that’s how it started. I can say that the song is totally about a dream I haven’t had yet. That’s pretty much it!”

Concentrate
Get your head
Hold it tight
Hold it tight
Release your head
Grab a chair
Use your brain man
Use your brain

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Up to you
Up to me
What could we do friend?
What would we do?
If you prefer now
Go out tonight
Stay put and beg your God to
Drift us apart, us apart

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Welcome all that’s my garden
Very nice place to be
The air is cool
So
Come lie down…

The trippy video, which was also directed and produced by guest musician Simone Laurino, shows a variety of psychedelic, sci-fi and kaleidoscopic images that represent the kinds of surreal things the mind would imagine in a dream.

Follow Andy:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on:  Bandcamp / iTunes

SARAH MAY – Single Review: “The Journey”

Sarah May2

Sarah May has one of the most striking voices of any female artist around today. Based in London, England, she’s a seasoned singer/songwriter and music producer who’s been writing and recording songs since she was a teen. With a smooth, captivating vocal style, Sarah in her own words “musically vents the woes of being a female in the modern world.” Her poetic lyrics are honest and pure, and never overly symbolic or impenetrable, which makes her songs highly relatable. And when she delivers those lyrics with lovely music and sublime vocals, listening to her songs is an incredibly pleasurable experience.

Since the release of her gorgeous single “Nothing to You” in December 2018, Sarah’s been on a roll, dropping a new single every month or so. I featured that song as well as her bold follow-up single “Because I Turned You Down” on this blog (you can check out those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the bottom of this page). She subsequently released the singles “Oops” and “Fly”, and now returns with her fifth single “The Journey“, a bittersweet song about meeting someone and feeling an instant attraction and connection with them, but life circumstances will likely prevent the formation of a romantic relationship. I know from personal experience the dual emotions of euphoria and heartache that occur under these situations.

The song, which was written and produced by Sarah and mixed and mastered by James Preston, is beautiful, with glittery atmospheric synths, subtle bass and soft percussion. The tinkling keys, xylophone, and mesmerizing organ synths are exquisite, creating a dreamy soundscape for Sarah’s enchanting ethereal vocals. It’s her fifth consecutive winning single, keeping her perfect score in delivering stellar tunes fully intact. Well done, Sarah!

Hey you come over here with those sad eyes
Let me get to know you
Tell me what’s on your mind
And I’ll tell you too

And maybe we’re perfect for each other

Time stops when you’re in the room
And its just me and you
I’ve never felt my soul so understood
You get me and I get you

And maybe we’re perfect for each other

Meeting you was so magical
I don’t understand how something so beautiful
Could be so painful
Can we find our way home
I don’t know

In you I found what I didn’t know
I was looking for
But the journey carries on I’ve got to go
And you’re still unsure

But maybe we were perfect for each other

Meeting you was so magical
I don’t understand
How something so beautiful
Could be so painful
Can we find our way home
I don’t know

Connect with Sarah May: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud 
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play

SCOTT RAMSAY – Single Review: “I Need Love”

Scott Ramsay

Scott Ramsay is a photographer and videographer from Austin, Texas who also happens to be an accomplished musician, songwriter and vocalist. He’s opened for Sheryl Crow and shared the stage with Blues Traveler. I learned about him when his good friend and fellow musician Paul Renna (whose single “Bound to Love” I reviewed in February) reached out to me about Scott and his wonderful new single “I Need Love.”

Released on May 5th, “I Need Love” was produced by Omar Vallejo at 512 Studios in Austin, and features additional guitar work by musician David Self. The beautiful track is a moving tribute to love and its power to nurture, sustain and heal us as we struggle with the difficulties and challenges that life throws our way. Musically, the song includes both Scott’s pleasing strummed acoustic and David’s more dramatic electric guitar, accompanied by gentle percussion and stirring background synths. Scott’s warm, smooth vocals are heartfelt as he sings the poignant, hopeful lyrics:

And I need love
I need some tenderness
I need a hand to hold while I’m growing old
Help me through this mess
I need some faith
I need to rise above this place
Break the chains that bind and ease my mind into a better space

I may not know what I’m talking about
But I know what I need
My world’s on fire
It’s burning me down
And it brings me to my knees

I need love
And I need some hope
Something to carry me through
And when things get bad
I can change all that with just the thought of you

And I need some time
Give me that precious time
I would roll back the years and dry the tears that I left behind
And I may not know what I’m talking about
All I know what I need
My world’s on fire
It’s burning me down
And it brings me to my knees
And I need love, love, love, love
I need love, love, love, love

It doesn’t matter who you are
Makes no difference where you’re from
Everyone, everyone needs love
Love, love, love

And I need strength
I need something to believe
Cause when it hits the fan
I’m gonna be the man that I wanna be

It doesn’t matter who you are
Makes no difference where you’re from
Everyone, everyone needs love
I would walk a thousand miles
Sail out on the sea
Just to find the love, love to set me free
And all the silly bullshit and negativity
It all comes down to love my friend
It’s what everybody needs
Love, love, love

I need love
I need some tenderness
I need a hand to hold while I’m growing old
And help me through this mess

Purchase “I Need Love” on iTunes

FOREVER X2 – EP Review: “Forever X2”

Forever X2 art

As I’ve stated previously, one of the many things I enjoy about having a music blog is learning about new indie musicians and bands who are making some really fine music. Another recent find is Los Angeles-based indie rock artist Forever X2, the music project of singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Peter Verdell, who drops his debut EP Forever X2 today, May 22nd. He recently wrapped up an April residency at The Satellite in Los Angeles, which was presented by the legendary L.A. alt-rock radio station KROQ Locals Only program, featuring numerous standout acts from the L.A. music scene.

In his bio, Verdell establishes that he “wants to play power chords. And sing with some fuzz on his vocals. And make music that both his modern brain and his teenage brain would be psyched to hear on the radio.” Well, after listening to the six tracks on Forever X2, I would say that he accomplishes his goals quite nicely. He wrote all the songs in his apartment in downtown Los Angeles, and recorded them in a hot, non-air conditioned garage in Silverlake (where I lived for a brief time back in the 1980s). Verdell sang all vocals and played all the music, including guitars, drums, and keyboards.

In describing his creative process, he explained “I wanted the songs to capture how I felt when I first started playing music. Informal and fresh, sweaty and loud. The EP is special to me for a lot of reasons. It was about as DIY as it could get, and I needed it to be that way. I needed this new band to be fun and fresh and for there to be as few barriers between my brain and the recordings as possible. I worked with two talented dudes on the producing and mixing (Ari Berl and Yianni EP from a band called Pink Skies), and they did a great job. I wanted the songs to feel new but also to feel like they could’ve been on rock radio in 1997. I don’t know how close I got to that, but I’m in love with how the songs turned out. I think they feel fresh and new but also kind of familiar.”

Forever X2

In advance of the EP, Forever X2 released each of the six tracks as singles, beginning in the Fall of 2018 with “Keep the Devil Waiting”, which was recently licensed for an episode of CBS’ TV series Seal Team. The song has a rousing post-grunge vibe with grimy guitars and tumultuous drums. I like how Verdell inserts bits of distortion and reverb into the mix, ramping up the tension and excitement. His fuzz-soaked vocals have a seductive quality, a perfect match for the gnarly music and suggestive lyrics “So give me your love in a hurry. And leave your bible in the nightstand.”

“Think About It” is a fun, sexy song, and one of my favorites on the EP. I love the strong bouncy beat, chugging riffs of fuzzy guitars, and playful, almost psychedelic synths. Forever X2 tries to convince his love interest to quit wasting her time with Hollywood poseurs and get with him: “You need a man like me, someone you ain’t had. Try first with a name and a handshake over jack and a cola. Think about it. Tell me what you’re missin’. A man with a vision, and babe I see you so good.” Lyrics just don’t get any better than that!

The third single “Walk the Ocean” is another great grunge-pop tune, and received substantial airplay on KROQ for several weeks. The infectious song, as well as the following track “Mad For Me”, are both catchy as hell, with irresistible head-bopping beats that aim straight for the hips. Forever X2’s intricate guitar work is really quite marvelous on both songs. “God Don’t Want” has a moodier vibe, with harsh industrial synths and percussion, deep, pulsating bass and heavier, more distorted guitars that reach ear-piercing levels later in the song.

The final track and most recently released single “Forever Times Two” is a darkly beautiful love song, and my favorite on the EP. According to the website Get Some Magazine, which featured the single, the lyrics were inspired by author Stephen King’s book 11.22.63, about a time traveler named Jake who attempts to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For the song, Forever X2 specifically addresses the doomed love affair between Jake and a woman named Sadie, who in the book is accidentally shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, and dies in Jake’s arms.

The song is musically complex, slowly building in intensity as different instruments and sounds are gradually added in layers, creating a breathtaking and powerful soundscape for the deeply moving lyrics. Starting off with a sci-fi synth, a mix of percussive sounds – including drumbeat, hand clap and bell – ensue, accompanied by ominous synths and sounds of French police sirens as Forever X2 begins to sing in a breathy voice. As the music swells with warm keyboard synths, he sings “Softly calling. I’ve been waiting. I’ve been tracing lines to get back here Sadie. All my days, I’d trade ’em all over again. And I want to be with you ’til I’m gone.” Lush, swirling synths and chiming guitar are added as the music builds to a crescendo, at which point he repeats the lines singing as both Jake and Sadie. The music continues on, accompanied by his gorgeous soaring chorus, for a dramatic finish that leaves me completely covered in goosebumps.

Forever X2 is an outstanding EP, with six stellar tracks that beautifully showcase Verdell’s brilliant songwriting and musicianship. I love his sound and really enjoy listening to these songs again and again. I’m definitely adding this EP to my collection.

Connect with Forever X2:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play

TWO METERS – EP Review: “The Blue Jay EP”

Two Meters EP art

While most musicians generally tend to express themselves through their music to one degree or another, Two Meters really bares his heart and soul on his songs. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Two Meters is the music project of singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Costolo. Starting off with deeply personal and often brutally honest lyrics – which he expresses through vulnerable, slightly off-kilter vocals that go from barely a whisper to impassioned screams – he adds layers of heavily-textured guitars, harsh industrial synths, and other lo-fi ambient sounds to create impactful songs that elicit strong feelings from the listener. I’ve been replaying his songs for the past few hours and hear new details with every listen.

I asked Tyler how he came to call his project Two Meters. He explained “I have been playing water polo for about 15 years now. I did in college, and I was coaching too when I first started recording. Two Meters is a reference to the sport; it’s kinda similar to an offsides in soccer. I thought it sounded cool and was relevant to my life.”

Two Meters released his debut self-titled EP in June 2018, and now returns with The Blue Jay EP, which drops today. Released via the label Very Jazzed, The Blue Jay EP features five tracks that continue to explore the dark themes of loss and death that Tyler first introduced on Two Meters. He wrote and sang all lyrics and played all instruments on the EP (other than drums, for which he used sample loops or drum sounds from his  production software). Mixing was done by Yuuki Matthews and mastering by Warren Hildebrand.

The EP opens with “The Morning Train“, a brief lo-fi instrumental track consisting of dark, gnarly synths, pulsating bass and an ominous drumbeat that set a somber tone. This is followed by “Pools“, a powerful track that speaks to thoughts of drowning by suicide. Tyler explained: “I really was spending a lot of time by pools while I wrote that song and I was constantly having ‘call to the void’ type visions. I tend to gravitate toward darker themes in the music I listen to, so it makes sense that’s what I end up writing too.” The track starts off with a captivating twangy guitar riff, then moody, throbbing synths are added as Tyler sings in a morose tone “I spend a lot of time by pools. Looking deep in the water. Thinking how easy it’d be to slip under./ Just as dark sets in, it’s too late to swim back up.” Suddenly, we’re bombarded with an explosion of tortured, grinding synths and reverb-heavy distorted guitar that would make Marilyn Manson proud, as Tyler repeatedly screams “It’s too late!

Next up is “Ground“, a song about feelings of worthlessness. Tyler explained its meaning:  “At the time of writing the EP, I was feeling incredibly worthless. The idea being that in the grand scheme of everything, my life was the same as the poor bird I saw that died overnight.” The track opens with layers of heavily-strummed guitars and Tyler’s somber humming, followed by him singing in a monotone, as if to convey his emotional ennui. Then, with the introduction of distorted guitar notes, the tempo abruptly shifts as Tyler refrains the line “I am the bird, alone on the ground” in dual voices – one a dispassionate monotone, the other a desperate wail. Man, it just rips at your soul!

The appropriately-titled “Intro to an Attack” is another brilliant instrumental track. Like many Two Meter songs, it starts off with gentle synths and a bucolic strummed guitar, but 30 seconds in, the calm is shattered by that promised attack of glorious bone-crushing industrial mayhem and distortion. The final track “In the Wake” is a decidedly more hopeful song, despite its rather bleak vibe. Tyler said it speaks to his problems with panic attacks and anxiety, and how having his girlfriend Margo Dellaquila (who real life sings the reassuring vocals to him on the track) around really helps to keep him grounded.

The Blue Jay EP is a brief but astonishing work of incredible nuance, contrast and emotional honesty. Two Meters is skilled at lulling us with soothing melodies and vocals one moment, then punching us in the gut with brutal ferocity at others. The more I listened to this EP, the more I loved it.

Connect with Two Meters: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify 
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

DEREK SCHMIDT – Album Review: “Major Arcana”

Derek Schmidt Major Arcana

Derek Schmidt is an imaginative and talented queer composer, songwriter, and sound designer based in San Francisco, and he’s created one of the most uniquely wonderful and ambitious musical works I’ve ever come across. With over 15 years experience working and performing in the Bay Area in solo performances and as front man for three different acts – folk band All My Pretty Ones, queer electronic band Adonisaurus, and Oakland electronic band Partyline  – Derek has produced numerous albums across many genres, and has been a featured composer on independent film and performance art projects, including the feature length film Home And How To Break It. Most recently, on March 1st he released an opus concept album Major Arcana, a monumental 22-song interpretation of the trump cards (or major arcana) of the tarot deck.

The album was a five-year-long undertaking made possible through the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Individual Artist Grant, one of the city’s most prestigious awards for individual artists. Each song explores one of the 22 trump cards, from 0 The Fool to 21 The World (Universe). As Derek explains: “Each card is a meditation on the symbolism within that card, as well as my own personal relationship to the card. Utilizing samples as a form of sympathetic magic, a mixture of both personal and more transcendent lyric writing, acoustic and electronic arrangements in combination with lush harmonies, Major Arcana has become a set of exploratory rituals attempting to capture the wisdom of each card, for myself and for everyone.

Derek Schmidt2

With a running time of one hour and 38 minutes, listening to this album is an immersive experience. If you allow yourself the freedom to do so, you can easily get lost in its enthralling soundscape of electronic dream pop magic. Musically, the album features a bold array of synthesizer sounds and textures, complemented by Derek’s enchanting ukelele. I’ve never fully appreciated just how beautiful music from a ukelele can be, but Derek draws forth sounds that are exquisite and utterly charming.

I generally tend to discuss or at least mention every track on my album reviews, but with 22 of them on Major Arcana, doing so would turn this review into a thesis. So, I’ll instead touch on some of what I consider to be highlights or my personal favorites. The album opens with “0 The Fool”, named for the first card of the tarot deck. One of my favorite tracks on the album, it perfectly showcases Derek’s skill at using synthesizers to create richly complex musical compositions. He employs all sorts of exotic and quirky synths, pulsating drumbeats and clicks, over which he layers his lovely strummed ukelele, and the result is an absolutely captivating song. Derek’s pleasing vocals have an earnest vulnerability as he sings: “Before I begin, and after I’m gone. That’s where I’ll be. That’s where I belong. Not afraid anymore, my arms open wide./ What is real, always was. And cannot be destroyed. And a fool for me. I’m a fool for you.”

Derek continues to explore each card in the tarot deck, artfully tailoring the synth sounds and song lyrics to the card’s themes.  Swirling spacey synths highlight “I The Magician” and “II The High Priestess”, with the latter featuring sharp thunderbolt-like sounds that conjure up images of spells being cast. The exuberant horn synths at the beginning of “IV The Emperor” symbolize the power and majesty of the position, and Derek’s ukelele riff later in the song is sublime.

On “VI The Lovers”, Derek uses sunny, whimsical synths as a backdrop for his lyrics extolling the joy of his love affair: “I love to love my lover so. To understand all that I don’t. It’s his fluency, won’t scare me. We laugh like kids, we find out things./ Where I am and where do you begin?” “IX The Hermit” sees him pondering loneliness and isolation: “It all comes down to a room of one’s own./ And all I need is a little more time. A few more hours in the day, and then I’ll turn to everything I’ve put aside. / Rearrange the furniture and open windows, give yourself some air.” And on the gorgeous “XI Lust”, he expresses ardent desire and passion through dramatic, soaring synths.

As would be expected, “XII The Hanged Man” is dark, with moody synths, a mournful backing chorus and a pensively strummed ukelele, accompanied by a funereal march drum roll. Derek sings of things from the point of view of a man about to be executed: “Hanged man sees it differently. Upside down, blood rushing to my head. Unfriendly faces become smiles instead. How many times have I been here before? Caught up, emotionless and always wanting more.” “XIII Death”, on the other hand, is not at all depressing, and in fact is one of the more beautiful songs on the album, with glittery, uplifting synths and Derek’s soaring ethereal vocals. He envisions life’s end as a new beginning: “A great unknown, behind the door. The ocean floor. A mystery yet to solve. The ones unmet. The tears unshed.”

A standout track is the mesmerizing and powerful “XIV Art”, for which Derek has created a fantastic video with the help of visual artist Video Hole (J Mason Buck).

Another of my favorites is “XVI The Tower”, one of the more musically complex tracks on Major Arcana. It’s a rather melancholy song, yet contains many beautiful and melodic passages that continually surprised and held my interest at it unfolded. And “XVII The Star” is pure delight, with its spacey sci-fi synths, sweeping melodies and lovely ukelele. “XVIII The Moon” is another highlight, and was the first song Derek wrote for the card cycle. In an interview with webzine Out Loud Culture!, he explained: “I was inspired by the meaning of the card, which usually involves ideas around intuition, illusion, and a general mystery. To me the moon is an ever present set of symbols like all of the cards that capture some aspect of the human condition. It’s a playful card but it can be bewildering, and I loved writing a song about that mystery. It was like a meditation.”

Closing the album is “XXI The Universe”, an appropriately epic six and a half-minute-long fantasia of glorious sound. Derek pulls out all the stops in creating a song of such incredible beauty and nuance that it takes my breath away. He uses a dazzling array of intricate synths ranging from glittery keyboards and shimmery strings to sharp industrial, sci-fi and atmospheric sound effects. All of this is of course accompanied by his beautifully strummed ukelele and richly-layered ethereal vocals. It’s one of the most spectacular tracks on the album, and a fitting conclusion to this magnificent and monumental work.

Connect with Derek:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream on Spotify
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / cdbaby