LIEMBA – EP Review: “Ever Evolving”

Liemba EP art

Today I’m pleased to introduce Brighton, England-based music act Liemba. I learned about them when one of the band members Simon Gledhill reached out to me about their new EP Ever Evolving, on the recommendation of another artist Fred Hills, who I’ve previously featured on this blog.  Primarily a three-piece acoustic act, Liemba was formed in early 2015 by Gledhill and Nelson Day, who share a love for folk-rock acts such as Crosby, Stills and Nash, early Fleetwood Mac, Kings of Convenience and The Staves.

Capitalizing on their skillful guitar work and sublime vocal harmonies, they released their beautiful debut EP All Costs in March, 2016, then toured throughout the UK and Europe promoting the EP. Vocalist Damien Best joined the lineup later that year, his own distinct vocals providing an added texture for what would become their wonderful signature three-part harmonies. They also began experimenting with drums and bass to create a fuller sound, and in February 2017 released their second EP Burning Wicks, another terrific work. I highly recommend that my readers check out these songs, which are available on all major music streaming sites, some of which are listed at the end of this review.

Liemba2

They followed up with a live acoustic EP Liemba Brighton Electric Sessions at the end of 2017. Moving ahead to 2018, wanting a bigger full-band sound, they recruited Brighton musicians Alfie Weedon on double bass and the aforementioned Fred Hills on drums to record some new material. The result was four stellar tracks recorded and released in 2019 that were ultimately included on a fourth EP Penlands. Subsequent to that project, the band retained drummer Hills and brought on bassist Joe Woodham to record their fifth EP. Gledhill told me this EP represents a new milestone in Liemba’s development, hence its title “Ever Evolving”.

Ever Evolving was recorded this past July at Ford Lane Studios (Royal Blood, Just Jack, Fickle Friends) in Arundel, West Sussex. The band recorded the tracks live to capture the dynamic essence of their sound, then Gledhill and Day spent the next month adding subtle texture and mixing the tracks, which were mastered by Simon James at Homesick Studios. Alice Humphreys filmed the recording process, creating live videos of each of the three tracks that give us a close-up view of the band working their magic.

The first track “PIP” really showcases their superb guitar work and vocal harmonies, both of which are so good they take my breath away. It’s not often that we see a band with three vocalists who can harmonize this beautifully, and Liemba are quite honestly one of the best at this that I’ve heard since Crosby, Stills & Nash. The layered chiming guitars are gorgeous, backed by crystalline synths, Woodham’s subtle bass and Hills’ flawless drumming. The lyrics speak of the heartache and sorrow brought by an evil woman you want to forget: “She’s cruel. The pip in my fruit. Swallowed she grows into the lump in my throat.”

Mirror Man” delivers gorgeous jangly and chiming guitars, along with more of those sublime harmonic vocals. The song is about conquering self-loathing, and learning to accept and love oneself in order to be able to love others: “Mirroman, I hate to bring the mood down. You’re the one person I should learn to love.”

The title track “Ever Evolving” speaks to how as we change (evolve), so too can our relationships, sometimes to the point where our divergence is too great for the relationship to survive. “Coz we are ever evolving. People only help or hinder. Revelations occur, make you realise you’re changing. Me oh my I’m bored of this life on a carousel. I felt like I’d moved but the scenery had too. And to my behest so had you.” Despite the rather bittersweet lyrics, the song has a bouncy, upbeat melody, with cheerful riffs and peppy drumbeats.

Ever Evolving is a marvelous little EP, and my only criticism is that I wish it contained more tracks! I’m so glad to have discovered Liemba, as I love their music. They’re incredibly talented songwriters and musicians, and I especially like Gledhill’s intelligent, thoughtful lyrics that speak to feelings we can all identify with.

Connect with Liemba:  WebsiteFacebookTwitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampiTunesGoogle Play

PETER KLEINHANS Releases New Video for “Something’s Not Right”

Something's Not Right cover

Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer and announcer, decided to turn his love of music into writing and recording songs. His music is a pleasing mix of pop, folk and rock, with thoughtful lyrics and catchy melodies. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice, but his distinctive vocals are warm and comforting. In February 2018 he released his debut album Something’s Not Right to critical acclaim. LA Music Critic hailed it “one of the best debut albums we have reviewed“, while Neufutur Magazine called it “an album that blends together Dave Matthews with the protest tradition of performers like Neil Young and Phil Ochs.”

Last October, Peter wrote a fascinating guest article for this blog about his song “91st Street”, which you can read here. Now I’m happy to feature him again for the release of his brilliant and compelling new video for the title track from his album “Something’s Not Right“. The song speaks to the general sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seem to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. His video, produced by Peter and directed by filmmaker Harrison Kraft, brings his powerful lyrics to life with an entertaining, yet at times troubling, narrative. Peter explains his inspiration behind the song, as well as the making of the video.

“Something’s Not Right” was one of my first songs, and ended up being the title of my first album. I wrote it in 2013, and it reflected the sense of unease I was getting from many of the previously-comfortable friends I had made during my years of announcing horse races in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. I’d taken the couple of years beforehand trying to understand the forces underlying the economy, and became convinced that although the economy was officially ‘in recovery,’ things were not improving for average Americans. This was confirmed for me by the universal sense I was receiving from everyone I knew that there was a deep unease and lack of security brewing from a thinning sense of stability and sustainability.

This song was written three years before the election — it’s not a political song. What interested me was that feeling of unease, the sense of something-not-being-right, and how it emanated not just from economic forces but also from the impersonal face of what the nation was presenting its citizens. The song begins by invoking Applebee’s and Lowe’s as the workplaces of the protagonist, and ends with a desperate appeal to Walmart as the only viable destination for the drive he takes (ostensibly to escape the mundanity of his experience) in the middle of the night.

I am very happy and lucky to have connected with Harrison Kraft and his brilliant and young set of filmmakers, who completely got the idea and brought it to life in this music video. They used the conceit of a July 4 celebration — a party that has lost its true feeling of celebration, and even the reason for celebrating — to convey this overall all-consuming sense of disillusion. It was Kraft’s vision to use mannequins to convey characters playing their roles in life but without really ‘being there’. The protagonist’s girlfriend oscillates from real to a simulation and so do many of the background characters. Reality starts to take on a disturbing turn in a number of ways: the hand flipping the burger suddenly turns to plastic, the son’s firecracker goes the opposite way- it’s supposed to be fake, but it becomes a real explosive. These ideas were all in the hands of the video production team; I’d discussed what I thought the central themes of the song were, and then I gave them free rein to take it wherever they wanted to go. They took the ball and ran with it, and I’m thrilled with the result. Sometimes you have to know when to give up control, but you’ve really got to have trust in your team when you’re doing that. I hope you enjoy the result, and be on the lookout for more music videos forthcoming from Harrison Kraft and his team!”

Peter Kleinhans – Something’s Not Right from Harrison Kraft on Vimeo.

Peter is currently finishing up his second album, due for release in early 2020. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Facebook /  Twitter  / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunesGoogle Play

New Song of the Week – CARL THORNTON: “Let Me Fly”

Carl Thornton

Carl Thornton is a multi-faceted singer, songwriter, actor and dancer based in Brooklyn, New York.  From the very first moment he stood up on stage as a member of his elementary school chorus at the age of seven, Carl knew he wanted to be a singer. He later studied at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, H.B. Studios, and the Broadway Dance Center, and went on to star in the national tour of RENT, where he played the role of Benny. He also performed in the musical 5 Guys Named Moe, as well as From My Hometown, and You Shouldn’t Have Told.

He’s had a successful music career over the past five years, beginning with his 2015 debut dance single “Get Up!” The Carlos Sanchez and Sami Dee remix of the song has garnered over 154,000 views on Spotify. Carl followed up with a number of excellent EDM and pop singles, which culminated in his 2016 EP Destined. He released a wonderful, inspirational dance single “I Depend on Me” in 2018, and now returns with another joyously uplifting new dance track “Let Me Fly“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The lyrics speak to not wallowing in negativity and defeatism, instead choosing a more positive outlook to help guide our way forward. And we can all certainly use a great song with a positive message right about now!

The single, released through Casa Rossa Records, features a lush soundscape of shimmery orchestral synths and percussion, set to an exuberant and hypnotic deep house EDM beat. Carl has a beautiful, resonant singing voice, and his powerful soaring vocals have a commanding, almost gospel-like quality that give the inspiring lyrics even greater impact. It’s a terrific song.

There were times, moments in my life when I felt shattered
My mind is weary, so completely battered
Not willing to go on, I felt defeated
All alone with the voices in my head
I couldn’t shake them
Much negativity, I was surrounded
Kept thinking to myself I might not make it
But then I heard a voice, and let me fly, yeah
Let me fly, yeah

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

ISOLDA – Single Review: “Night Time”

Isolda is a London-based singer-songwriter and musician who recently dropped her debut single “Night Time” on November 13. It’s a captivating track, and an impressive debut for this promising young artist, who began writing songs as a child. Classically trained on the violin and piano, she spent her formative years playing in orchestras, then later performing her songs at the piano in and around London. Inspired by those classical influences, as well as her interest in EDM, synth pop, psychedelic pop and trip hop, she began experimenting with electronic and acoustic elements to create her own unique sound, even learning to produce her own music in her north London home.

Isolda2

With the assistance of Dave De Rose on drums and Ami Kirby on violin, Isolda recorded her first EP Night Time, from which the title track is the lead single. The EP was mixed by noted sound engineer Shuta Shinoda at Hackney Road Studio, and is scheduled for release in early 2020. About “Night Time”, Isolda explains “The song is a hypnotic electronic beat-driven piece, written on sleepless nights and dreamlike states of realisation as time pulls us further away from the persons we loved and the places we have been. [It’s] a contemplation on the identity lost, and the resulting wakeful alertness that persists when the psyche has been disturbed from such reflection during a dark night of the soul, inspired by the inability to sleep when the past haunts someone as they press on towards an unknown future.”

“Night Time” has a rather unusual opening, starting off with a muffled synth chorus that quickly fades out as if the power source has been cut. After a second of silence, a delicate synth riff begins, then the music swells into an enchanting, ethereal soundscape of lush atmospheric synths. Isolda skillfully chooses from a bold palette of sparkling orchestral and percussive sounds to create a dreamy backdrop for her spellbinding, breathy vocals. She gently croons “And on this long road, no turning back. No, there is no, no, no going back. I was in a lifetime, away. It wasn’t my time to find a way. / It’s the night time, but I can’t get back to sleep.”

The fascinating video shows footage of traveling through city streets at night, interspersed with surreal images of Isolda in different settings that one could imagine her experiencing in a dream. Have a look and listen:

Connect with Isolda:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Night Time” on Spotify 
Purchase:  iTunes  

New Song of the Week – ART BLOCK: “The Basement”

Art Block

Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. He’s been making beautiful music for several years, beginning with his 2015 debut L.A.-inspired single “Los Feliz”. He’s released multiple singles and EPs in the years since, most recently his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions earlier this year. Today he drops his latest single “The Basement“, a haunting track I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song was written and performed by Art Block and produced by Ian Barter (Amy Winehouse, Izzy Bizu, Paloma Faith).

The song opens with a softly strummed guitar accompanying Art Block’s tender vocals that are just above a whisper as he croons “When the ocean opens up light, I don’t see the fire. Tell me what I know. Bright light in the sunlight breaks away my fear. What I see is you.” The music then expands with lush atmospheric synths and gentle percussion, his vocals becoming more earnest and heartfelt as he pleads for help and comfort to ease his heartbreak, the ‘basement’ symbolizing how far down he’s fallen emotionally: “Someone left my heart. Someone left my heart in the basement. Come on take it out. Come on take it out of the basement.

The music continues to build as the song progresses, Art Block’s captivating vocals growing more impassioned, before calming back down in the bridge as he sings with a rather sad sense of resignation: “Tell me what you see when you find a little glow in your mind. Tell me what you see. Oh, I’m not the same man I’m supposed to be.” It’s a beautiful, emotionally moving song.

Follow Art Block:  Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

ISAAC GRINSDALE – EP Review: “Entertainment”

Isaac Grinsdale EP Art

I recently learned about British singer-songwriter Isaac Grinsdale when he reached out to me about his new EP Entertainment. I’m so glad he did, because it’s a terrific work. Inspired by such artists as Jimmy Eat World, Radiohead, Placebo, Frank Turner and American Football, the Leeds-based musician writes songs with thoughtful, compelling lyrics and unconventional, yet enthralling melodies. Isaac learned to play the guitar in his early teens, and got heavily into hard rock music, which led him to play in several rock and hardcore bands. Now a bit older and wiser, he’s transitioned into making more introspective, singer-songwriter acoustic-driven music, which has culminated in the release of his debut EP Entertainment.

About his new music direction, Isaac explains “I was really inspired by the ethos of the band Refused: That as musicians we should be playing at the edge of our ability, and pushing the boundaries of our music at all times. Otherwise, we’re not playing the kind of music we should be. It’s always stuck with me and frames how I write.”  Entertainment provides ample evidence that he was right to follow his instincts, as all four tracks are beautifully-crafted and deeply honest. A skilled multi-instrumentalist, Isaac played all the instruments himself, and even produced and mixed the recordings.

Isaac Grinsdale performing

The first track “The Blind Leading the Blind” was also one of the first songs Isaac wrote and recorded. It’s a lovely tune, with a peppy guitar-driven melody that belies the withering lyrics that speak to the divisive rhetoric and false promises of our political leaders. In an interview with the webzine imPRESSED, Isaac stated that the song “is basically about growing up and realising the world we live in is fucked up – completely removed from what I was taught as a child.” His intricate strummed and chiming guitar work is exquisite, and all the supporting instruments are perfectly balanced, providing a strong, albeit understated soundscape that allows the guitars and Isaac’s clear, earnest vocals to shine.

They’re words that I have heard since a child
I hear them now: ‘I promise change!’
I once had no reason to doubt
Oh how strange it all seems looking back

Because now…

The suits fail to hide the Facade
And their words fail in their intended charm
And it all sounds so bizarre
Like a lexicon based on Orwell’s Newspeak

They are words that I have heard since a child
I hear them now again
But here where the blind lead the blind
It will all fall on deaf ears, that’s all they’ll find

In the great deception, our language will strip us, and the world, of any sense of the plural. Now we’re left to speak in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’

Inspired by a book by author Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle, the title track “Entertainment” is about how music, or any other art form for that matter, can provide a small counterbalance or escape to the depressing political bullshit touched on in the first track. Isaac based the cover art for his EP on the book’s cover art of the book, which he explained “captures perfectly the idea that we tend to look at the world through a distorted lens/framework.” The song has a rather interesting and unconventional, but pleasing melody that to my ears has a late-90s vibe reminiscent of artists of that period like Duncan Sheik and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Nullius in Verba” is my favorite of the four tracks, not only because of it’s hauntingly beautiful melody and sublime instrumentation, but also the message of the song, which I strongly identify and agree with. The title is Latin for “not in any words” – essentially “take nobody’s word for it”, and is also the motto of the Royal Society, the British national academy of sciences. Isaac touched on the song’s meaning in his imPRESSED interview: “[It’s] about the importance of science, and rational thinking, slowly creating a more progressive and liberal culture from our draconian past. I had a very religious upbringing, but as a late teenager, I started to discover a lot more about how science, over time, has largely overturned our ideas from our past. One example that springs to mind is that human beings have evolved, rather than being created by a supreme being. For me, these are some of our greatest achievements.” Isaac urges us to view things through open eyes and an open mind: “Take a close look at all the terms we lay down. To look at this as objectively as we can. Just not in words, just not in opinion. No don’t you tell God what to do with his days.”

The first thing that came to my mind when hearing the fourth track “Speed of Film” was Joni Mitchell, arguably one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time. Isaac’s unusual chord progressions and guitar notes call to mind many of Mitchell’s songs, and with his distinctive guitar-tapping technique, the song has a marvelous, fascinating sound. He explained that the song “is about how our memories make us into the people we are today. Lyrically, it’s packed with anecdotes of my friends and family: The great (and not so great) experiences we’ve had together.”

Entertainment is a wonderful debut effort by this skilled musician, who I admire not only for his impressive musical talents, but also for his unflinching stances on social and political issues. An interesting little side thing I noticed about the EP is that the four tracks are arranged such that each one is progressively longer than the one before. The first is 2:30 minutes long, while the last is 4:00 minutes. Isaac just finished recording his second record, an eight-track album titled Paper Crowns that he hopes to release in Spring of 2020, and I really look forward to hearing it. He’s supported acoustic greats such as Jon Gomm, Nick Harper and Beth Orton, and is now gearing up for a major UK Tour in support of his EP.

Follow Isaac:  Website / Facebook / Twitter 
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play / iTunes

New Song of the Week – HANNAH CLIVE: “Where Will You Run?”

Hannah Clive Where will U run

Hannah Clive is a lovely and engaging singer/songwriter based in London, England who writes from her heart and soul. Influenced by such legendary ladies of song as Adele, Carole King, Kate Bush and Janis Ian, Hannah pens observational, often personal songs that cross many genres, including indie rock, folk, pop, alt-country, blues and jazz. Two years have passed since she released her stunning single “Remember to Breathe” (which I reviewed), and she now returns to grace our ears with a brand new single “Where Will You Run?” Inspired by the outspoken and courageous young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the song is a heartfelt clarion call for action to address the existential global threat of climate change. It’s an important message, which is why I’ve chosen it as my New Song of the Week.

The song was written by Hannah and her frequent collaborator Brian Tench (Kate Bush, Hounds of Love, Bee Gees), who also produced the track, along with assistance from his son Jake. The song has a haunting melody that beautifully evokes the seriousness of the subject. Brian employs a rich mix of dark, swirling keyboards and pulsating percussive synths to create an arresting soundscape for Hannah’s enthralling vocals. She has a marvelous singing voice, going from whispered purrs to impassioned pleas with ease, to great emotional effect. It’s a beautiful and deeply moving song.

Our planet teeters on the edge
But money talks with no regrets
Plastic tide washes high
Frost is melting despite Greta’s cry

But the change is not fast enough
Do you need to watch it all burn up?
Before you ditch that coffee cup, where will you run?
When the seas rise, fish will die
When all is lost is that when you’ll cry?
We all wanna live ‘n’ thrive, where will you run?

Hannah also produced an excellent promotional video for the song that’ worth watching:

Connect with Hannah:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  BandcampiTunes / Google Play / Amazon

ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Freak”

Andrew Neil Freak art

Of the hundreds of artists and bands I’ve featured on this blog over the past four years, perhaps the most uniquely compelling life story would have to be that of Andrew Neil. The Virginia-based singer-songwriter is considered an “outsider” music artist along the lines of Daniel Johnston, and in fact, he now ranks as the #1 Best Outside Artist on Ranker, just above the late Johnston. The 31-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.

After growing up as a fairly typical kid and a high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

His sentence was changed to not guilty by reason of insanity, whereupon he was released from jail and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d already written prior to his hospitalization. Andrew writes songs entirely by ear, creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar. He would record songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would then upload to the home computer. To date, he’s written over 400 songs!

Andrew Neil

Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville, where he still resides. Upon his release, he decided to produce an album of some of his songs, many of which were melancholy yet optimistic. Andrew hoped that perhaps his songs might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The result was his debut album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 of the 70 songs he’d written while in the hospital. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them. The art work for the album cover was done by his brother Kyle (the one he stabbed in the arm).

In 2018, he entered a studio to record his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. Some of those musicians included Andy Waldeck, who also produced the album, on bass & guitar, Nathan Brown on drums, Gina Sobel on flute, and  and Jack Sheehan on sax for one track.

While it would seem that Andrew had already faced more than his fair share of challenges in his young life, in June 2019, while wrapping up the recording of his third album Freak, he was hit with yet another health crisis when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected.

Freak was released digitally for streaming on October 15th. It’s also now available on CD, and will soon be available for download, as well as a limited number of vinyl pressings. For the recording of Freak, Andrew was joined once again by Andy Waldeck on bass and Nathan Brown on drums, with additional musicians Matty Metcalfe on lead guitar, baritone electric guitar and marxophone, Nick Berkin on piano, and Andrew’s dad Ray on acoustic guitar and backing vocals on two tracks. His brother Kyle also did the arresting painting for the album cover, which was designed by Daniel Benayun.

The album is an ambitious work, with 14 unique tracks that address topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity. It opens with the marvelous title track “Freak“, and the first thing that struck me is its strong Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe. In fact, Andrew’s unusual, quirky vocals at times sound a lot like Anthony Kiedis. The intricate guitar work is terrific, and I love the track’s funky psychedelic grooves. Andrew’s simple lyrics speak of being a ‘freak’ as a badge of honor, something that sets him apart as a unique individual, rather than simply strange: “In every way, every day of the week, I’m a freak, freak, freak. I got a feeling, like a ceiling leak. And if I could, I probably would grow a beak, beak, beak./ What can I say? I’m so unique, I’m a freak, freak, freak.”

Next up is “Kentucky Whiskey“, a languid and lovely song about throwing caution to the wind and giving into temptation and vices. With a wistful tone in his voice, Andrew croons “Goodbye teacher, goodbye teacher, gonna learn rock’n’roll. Goodbye preacher, goodbye preacher, I’ve already sold my soul. Killing myself, killing myself, with a cigarette. Girl I know, yes I know that we just met. But I’m gonna, yeah I’m gonna make you miss me. Killing myself, killing myself, Kentucky whiskey.” He’s written a captivating melody here, and Matty Metcalfe’s marxophone lends an enchanting addition to the gorgeous guitar work. “Hope” is a pleasing ballad about a girl named Hope who lifts him up with her love and support. The interplay between the guitars and Nick Berkin’s tinkling piano keys is delightful.

By the time we get to the fourth track “Overdose“, it’s clear that Andrew has a real knack for creating compelling and memorable melodies. Each of the songs sound completely different, with an eclectic mix of styles that keeps his music fresh and surprising. This song has a wickedly seductive melody with fuzz-soaked driving riffs, and Nathan Brown’s sexy drumbeats that nicely complement Andrew’s lyrics about submitting to love’s ardor:  “Cause I’m about to overdose. Let my spirit soar. Become a ghost. Walk through your heaven’s door. Overdose.” It’s a great song, one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Help” sees Andrew crying out for support and understanding: “If you only knew all of the bullshit I’ve been through. Then you could give me no blame when I give the blunt a flame.” The jangly guitars and piano keys are sublime. “All Over” is a pleasant love song that starts off with Andrew rapping to a hip hop beat, then 20 seconds in it transitions to an upbeat pop-rock duet, with guest vocalist Savannah Weaver singing with Andrew. Their vocal harmonies are delightful. Here’s a snippet of lyric that provides a great example of his honest, straightforward songwriting that’s so relatable: “Because of you my heart beats. Because of you I got to wash my sheets.”

Awesome bluesy guitars are a highlight of the poignant “Put Me Back Together“, a plea for love and support to heal his broken soul. Andrew references nursery rhymes to make his case: “Mary had a little lamb. So will you love me as I am? / I’m a bloody humpty dumpty. And babe I need your company. Or else.” Another favorite track of mine, mainly due to the lyrics, is “American Dream“, a candid critique of the rat race. Andrew laments “I’m living the American dream, but things aren’t what they seem. I’m living the American dream, and it makes me want to scream. Wake up and go to work. Thank god my boss isn’t a jerk. People really aren’t so bad. But every now and then I get sad. So my doctor gives me pills They make me happy so I pay my bills. What would I do without my wine?

The optimistic “Drum Song” has an Americana vibe, with rousing folk-rock guitars, lively piano keys, and Appalachian dulcimer played by guest musician Roxanne McDaniel. Andrew sings of how the world would be a better place if people were more kind and loving to each other: “Love is in your heart, so find it and play your part./ This life would never be such a bummer, if we collectively loved one another.” Those wonderful bluesy guitars make a welcome return on “Beautiful Dancer“, a song about a woman who could be his savior or his undoing (romance can often be like that): “The birds are flying, or maybe they’re spying, or maybe they’re trying to let me know. That you are my answer, or maybe a cancer. Beautiful dancer. I’m at your show.” I really like the song’s rather sensuous melody, and Andrew’s vocals sound particularly good here.

Andrew takes a bit of an experimental turn on the trippy “Thirty-Two“, with more of those great bluesy grooves, accompanied by Andy Waldeck’s throbbing bass and some fine drumming by Nathan Brown. I love the lyrics “Take a shower, I feel dirty. In an hour, I’ll turn thirty. Life’s so fast and rough. I think I’ve had enough. Then I saw her walk back, and I knew I could make it to thirty-two.” The final track “Disappear” is a bluesy foot-stomper with an infectious country-rock vibe. I’m not sure, but the lyrics seem to speak of the mind-controlling aspects of blind faith: “Fork in the road. Choice is clear, do what you’re told, have no fear./We are free, when we do what it is that gods do. Disappear.

Freak is a wonderful album, made all the more special given Andrew’s remarkable talents, despite the many adversities he’s had to face throughout his adult life. His intriguing melodies, simple, honest lyrics, beautiful instrumentals and endearing vocal style have a way of burrowing into our brain and capturing our soul. I’m genuinely impressed by his imaginative songwriting and sincere musicality, and he’s a true inspiration for all who have experienced challenges, both large and small.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / cdbaby / Google Play

LAGPASS – EP Review: “Ostrich Approach”

Lagpass EP art

Lagpass is the new music project of a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Chicago who’s previously recorded under the name Draft Evader. I’ve featured Draft Evader’s music a number of times on this blog over the past two years, and have always been impressed by his deeply personal lyrics addressing his struggles with depression and self-doubt, then set to aggressive guitar-driven melodies, and backed with bass and drums. I’ve also enjoyed watching him grow and mature as a songwriter, musician and vocalist. Now, wanting his songs to feel even more honest and raw, he’s opting for an essentially guitar-only sound, recording under the new moniker Lagpass. When I asked how he came up with that name, he explained “Lagpass is a term my brother and I used to say when we would play National Hockey League video games. It’s basically just a missed pass after you hold down the pass button too long. It’s bound to happen at least once or twice a game and I catch myself saying “lagpass” all the time.”

He’s just released his first recording as Lagpass, a new EP titled Ostrich Approach, featuring four relatively short tracks that get right to the point with only his guitar and vocals providing the sounds we hear. First up is the title track, which seems to speak to solving your problems by eliminating the shit that’s complicating your life. His resonant, jangly guitar notes provide all the music needed to create a dramatic backdrop for his earnest, almost raspy vocals as he sings:

you can take your numbers
divide them by your clutter
then you should burn that old ski mask
you can take that platform
& add it to your ant farm
then you should dump it in the grass

so sick of hamsters, ghosts, zombies and vampires
I think it’s time that I light a match
but I’m allergic to sulfur
no need to sulk & suffer
here’s a lighter, it’s time to detach

On “Reassurance“, he ponders conflicted feelings of wondering if he’s going crazy, or just going through some difficult times, that everything’s basically okay, and you just got to deal with it. Musically, the track has a folk-rock sound, with fuzz-covered strummed electric guitars.

this constant stress and voices in my head
always talking questioning my sanity
something’s wrong with me
nothing’s wrong with me

replaced eating with dry heaving
two little devils resting on my shoulder blades
reacquainted with high maintenance
you gave your two cents
but you’ve still got hell to pay

i’m exhausted, still nauseous
just looking for a way to enjoy the day
reassurance is just a burden
can’t change nothin’ cept the way you handle fate

Old Ashes” speaks to the difficulties of maintaining a relationship, of the compromises we must often make to keep it alive, worrying about whether it can survive, and struggling with constant doubts. His clear, heavily-strummed electric guitar work here is wonderful.

I take up smoking again
just so I can be with you
I’m overthinking this mess
seems to be all I can do

do you love me?
she said prove that you love me

she got a new address
moved into her granny’s house
on an air mattress
with John Prine and Houdmouth
she said: “prove that you love me
do you love me?”

She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” addresses the sad reality that she’s moved out, leaving you to contemplate what went wrong, and realizing that perhaps it was doomed from the start, given each of your troubled pasts. Man, these lyrics are heavy, and so packed with meaning!

she doesn’t live here anymore
opened my mouth and held the door
scattered across the kitchen floor
she doesn’t live here anymore

don’t wanna live here anymore
too paranoid for close quarters
there’s silence down the corridor
she doesn’t live here anymore

two children both from broken homes
borrowing tape to mend their own

Once again, I’m really impressed by his intelligent and thoughtful songwriting and great guitar work, and look forward to following him on his latest musical journey as Lagpass.

BLOOM DE WILDE – Single Review: “Rock, Plant & Animal”

I recently learned about London, England-based singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist Bloom de Wilde when she reached out to me about her new single “Rock, Plant & Animal.” I was enchanted by her fascinating avant garde sound and imaginative approach to her music, and am happy to feature her on my blog. Influenced by her favorite artists such as Radiohead, Erik Satie, Jeff Buckley, Meredith Monk, Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Björk, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, NIna Simone, Moondog and Toxic Chicken, Bloom fuses dream, ethno and experimental art pop, folk and jazz with surrealistic yet uplifting lyrics and unconventional melodies to create exuberant, colorful soundscapes that transport us to dreamy, faraway places.

Bloom De Wilde2

Bloom has been writing and recording songs for several years, and some of her older tracks can be found on her Soundcloud account. In July, she released a beautiful single “Soul Siren”, and on October 7th, she dropped “Rock, Plant & Animal”, a hopeful ode to nature and our Earth. The track was written and arranged by Bloom and co-produced by her and Nick Trepka, who also did the mixing. Recording was done at the Cowshed Studio in London by Joe Leech, with assistance by Grace Banks, and mastered by Nick Watson. Bloom sang vocals, played guitar, piano and programming, and had assistance by several musicians, including Nick Trepka on bass and programming, Yuval Juba Wetzler on drums, Sam Ritchie on flugelhorn and trumpet, Jally Kebba Susso on kora (a West African long-necked harp lute), Gazel Algan on viola and violin, and Mao Yamada on double bass.

And what a captivating song it is, with the kora, horns and strings adding a dreamy, exotic lushness to the sound. The rich instrumentation and enthralling melody provide a stunning backdrop for Bloom’s bewitching vocals. Her unusual and distinctive vocal style is somewhat reminiscent of Björk, in that she uses her voice like another instrument. She’s not quite a soprano, but reaches almost childlike high notes as her voice sweetly croons and soars, creating quite an emotional impact.

About the song, Bloom explains: “I wrote this song for my children, about this living Earth I love so dearly, and all the precious life upon it. I believe everything in this world has a living essence, a soul, and all is connected. We are all One – Rock, Plant and Animal. We are all instances of the Universe, perceiving itself from infinite subjective perspectives. With everything that is happening in the world right now, I think it is clear the time has come to change our ways. To approach each day with humble gratitude, our hearts open wide, souls radiating, dancing and dreaming a new world into reality. A harmonious, life-sustaining world, where we look after each other, our animal brothers and sisters, and our Earth mother that nurtures us.”

There lives a humble sound
That renders love and peace
It ripples on the water
And rustles in the trees

We’ll make that sound a yes
We’ll make that sound a yes, yes, yes

Of our beloved earth
As puzzle poem beings
Rock, Plant and Animal all dream
We’ll bravely open doors
Our shadows softy cooing
My darling, you’ve done the wait, now sing
Your true song

And make that sound a yes
And make that sound a yes, yes, yes

The enchanting video was produced by Bloom and Kai Nobuko, and stars Bloom dancing about a forest clearing, wearing a colorful floral headpiece designed by Jimmy Boer. As she dances, bright flowers, butterflies and birds issue from her fingertips. It’s all so wonderfully magical.

Connect with Bloom:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play