Skar de Line is the solo music project of singer-songwriter, producer and composer Oskar Abrahamsson, a talented, handsome, thoughtful and creative artist born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England. Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, he fuses his love for cinematic soundtracks by such composers as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi with hip-hop, rock and electronic metal to create dark, unconventional music that takes the listener on a sonic adventure while giving us a lot to think about. He writes, performs, records and produces all his own music, as well as writing, directing and editing all his music videos.
In October 2019, Skar de Line released his debut single “In Charge”, a fascinating orchestral electronic song about the human need to understand and control our surroundings, followed a year later by “Satisfied”, which explored the concept of satisfaction, posing the question “do we get satisfaction from being right, or merely by the act of searching for what we think we want?” The intensely dramatic song ended up spending 10 weeks on my Weekly Top 30 from January through March of 2021. (I reviewed both singles, and you can check them out by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post.)
Now he’s back with another single “Reset“, a dark and cinematic song that sees him continuing to explore new musical sounds by pushing beyond his comfort zone. He explains that the song “is built on my need to be better. A wish to constantly evolve, but also a fear that nothing ever will be enough. This is a journey out of this mental prison, in order to try to find something that I believe in, something I can hold on to forever.” He further elaborated on his Instagram page “Does every circle, even the ones we’ve created ourselves, hold us back? No matter how positive they are meant to be? As I looked around the room, I knew myself well enough to know that in my search to be better, this moment was just a phase, and would not mean anything in the next moment once I’ve grown beyond it. But I didn’t know if I really could accept that and let that happen, or if I, in this moment, could be more than that… Just take what I needed from myself.“
“Reset” opens on an eerie note, with sounds of Skar de Line’s echoed breathy gasps, which are soon accompanied by a distant rumbling bass and gently ticking drums as he sings in a rather ominous voice “Every time I open my eyes I kill an old version of mine. But I’m not a murderer, no, I’m a maker./ Every time I close my eyes, I am already set to reset.” From there, the music gradually builds as the breathy gasps continue, with the addition of dark orchestral synths and sharp percussion, creating a strong aura of tension along the way. His vocals turn more menacing as the tension continues to build, finally exploding into a bombastic cinematic crescendo, highlighted by a hauntingly beautiful angelic chorus that he states serves to “lift us out of the darkness“.
The brilliant video, filmed mostly in black and white and sepia tones, pays homage to the neo-noir black-and-white art style, and reflects the claustrophobic sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Skar de Line is dressed in black amidst a dark background, representing him feeling deeply trapped in the dark mental prison from which he wants to break free. His mind’s eye envisions a setting sun in a world of color, symbolizing a sense of freedom that still eludes him, and pushing him to fulfill his wish to climb out of this cycle that holds him back.
Holly Rees is a talented and thoughtful singer-songwriter based in Newcastle, England who’s been writing and recording exceptional indie folk songs for the past five years or so. Like many songwriters, her poetic lyrics are inspired by personal experiences that make them highly relatable to us listeners. She then delivers them wrapped in beautiful, understated melodies, fine guitar work and lovely, heartfelt vocals, all of which have earned her critical acclaim and a loyal following, with flattering comparisons to artists like Laura Marling and Courtney Barnett.
Holly released her debut EP Ilex in 2017, garnering airplay on BBC 6 Music and a feature on Tom Robinson’s BBC Introducing Mixtape. In 2018, she performed at the Hit The North and Evolution Emerging music festivals, and released her excellent second EP Slow Down. She followed with “Text Me When You Get There”: The Live EP in May 2019, and that September, dropped her single “Getting By“, which I reviewed. On December 10th, she surprised us with release of The Lost Songs, an all-acoustic EP originally recorded in isolation exclusively for her Patreon supporters (patreon.com/hollyrees) that she’s now gifted to the world.
She explains: “Here are the lost songs – songs I’ve written over the past three years that have fallen down the gaps. I never really intended these sad soft songs to see the light of day, but coming towards the end of another year I thought it might be nice to share them now, as a gentle winter gift before we draw a line under the year and start fresh in 2022. As some of you know, I’ve had to shield for a lot of the past two years, which is where this project started, in isolation. Every part of this project I’ve done by myself – writing, playing, recording, mixing, mastering, even the artwork – and I’m really proud of that. I hope that in listening you might find some of the joy, peace or escape that I found in making it.”
It’s a gentle EP, featuring five melancholy but lovely acoustic folk songs addressing conflicting emotions stemming from lost loves, missed connections, and the passage of time. With only her beautifully strummed guitar notes and clear, soothing vocals, Holly has created exquisite little gems that are simple yet profound, with a quiet intensity that touches the soul. The opening track “heather” is a kind of love song to her home of North East England (she told me that she actually got a heather tattoo right before leaving for her Canada tour in 2019, as an homage to the heather on the moors where she grew up): “I could be anywhere, except that the rain is making me homesick. Cry at your records, you were always such a sensitive soul. I tried to wear my heart on my sleeve but I must have got cold. And I feel open for the first time in a year.“
Likewise, the enchanting “victoria” is a heartbreak song to the British Columbia capital city: “Oh Victoria, I think you always knew that I would fall for her. Victoria. She broke my heart for a year, god was I trying. But first came Victoria, Vancouver Island.” On the bittersweet song of unrequited love “i justwant you“, Holly softly laments about being hopelessly in love with someone who just doesn’t feel the same about her: “Tell me about your family and living with your brothers. Tell me all your favourite streets, your heartbreaks and lovers. Tell me everything except the one thing I won’t ask. You don’t tell me if you feel the same. I know that you can’t do. I know it’s all on me, but I’m sick of writing about things that I can’t change. But I can’t change. I just want you.”
She touches on how shyness and fear of rejection sometimes hold us back, possibly losing out on opportunities for love on “seattle“. She sings of seeing a woman she’s attracted to on a bus in Seattle, but being too afraid to make contact: “Don’t know why I still hide like I’m seventeen. Smile and I won’t meet your eyes. You take down your bike. This must be your stop and we’re out of time. Go to Seattle maybe you were the one.” The serene “glad it’s you” has a bit of a Joni Mitchell vibe, and finds Holly content in a loving and trusting relationship: “Been singing with my all exposed. Been listening with my eyes closed, but my heart’s open. No I haven’t felt like this in a long time a long time, but I’m glad it’s you.“
The Lost Songs is a wonderful little EP that beautifully showcases Holly’s strong songwriting, singing, recording and production talents. I’m confident she’ll continue to impress us with more outstanding music in 2022.
Paul Renna is a singer, songwriter and guitarist based in Dallas, Texas who’s been writing, recording and performing music, first with bands and later as a solo artist, for more than 25 years. His signature music style draws from folk, Southern rock and Americana, with his songs resting comfortably among all three genres. He released his first solo album Portrait in 2003, then after a quiet period lasting seven years, Paul returned in 2010 with his second album Freedom. In the years since, the prolific artist dropped two more full-length albums and three EPs, and in 2019, he released two singles, “Bound to Love” and “All My Life”, both of which I featured on this blog (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now he returns with his latest single “Fire“, a blues-soaked gem that sees Paul delving deeper into Southern roots rock.
Paul actually wrote “Fire” a number of years ago, and originally featured an acoustic version of the song on his 2013 album Unplugged. For the single release, he teamed up with producer Paul Soroski in the creation of an edgier, more hard-rocking vibe befitting the song’s title. The two Pauls get right down to business, as the song opens strong with jarring guitar chords and wailing organ. Things quickly settle into an almost funky groove, as Paul lays down some bluesy guitars, accompanied by that terrific meandering organ and just the right amount of drums. As the song progresses, he layers more aggressive guitars, giving the song a heavier rock feel.
Paul has a commanding and emotive singing voice, with a slightly raspy quality that works especially well on this song, leaving us little doubt as to his lusty intentions: “I don’t need to be adored, up against the wall, down on the floor. We can set this place on fire.” It’s a wonderful bluesy rocker.
With the lifting of Covid restrictions in Texas, Paul is back performing live at venues throughout the Dallas-Ft. Worth region. Check out his Facebook and Twitter pages for dates and locations of upcoming shows.
Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer, trainer 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, but it’s his skill for telling engrossing stories through thoughtful, intelligent lyrics that makes his songs so compelling in a Harry Chapin kind of way. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice – his vocal style is more of a talk-singing – but it’s warm and comforting, and perfect for storytelling.
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.” He later released, in November 2019, an excellent video for album’s title track “Something’s Not Right”, a song about the sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seemed to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. You can read my feature about the song and video here.
In December (2020), Peter returned with his second album I Was Alive Enough, featuring 12 tracks he states are “very specific to this very strange moment we are all living in, with songs about our fear of missing out (“FOMO”) and greed (“Race to the Bottom”), as well as mistrust of the media (“Fake News”). But it’s also hopeful and spirited, about appreciation for NYC graffiti (“91st Street”), a love of horse-racing (“W1775”) and the power and joy of solitude (“Table for One”). What binds many of the tracks together for me is the significance of each song’s characters despite their powerlessness. The befuddled news-watcher in “Fake News” is as real as the story of the horse W1775, the farmer in “Malagasy Uprising”, the homeless man in “Homeless” as much as the hapless narrator walking past, or even the corporate stooges in “Race To The Bottom”, who have more actual power and influence but who are ultimately prisoners of the soulless world they inhabit. One of the main things I was driving at in this album was the significance of every life.“
The 12 songs run the stylistic gamut from gentle folk ballads and bouncy pop to pleasing Southern rock and world music. Peter’s lyrics are so good that I’ll be quoting a lot of them, so bear with me as you read on. The album kicks off with “FOMO“, a breezy pop tune highlighted by some nice jazzy piano keys, along with gnarly guitars and jaunty organ that contrast with the matter-of-fact lyrics addressing his, and everyone else’s, shortcomings and how there must be a pill to deal with all our myriad anxieties: “I’m looking for a doctor just to tell me I’m crazy. My girl says I’m older, vain, stupid and lazy. But no one says what everyone knows to be true, that I’m totally crazy and so are you. / Yes, keep me medicated, keep those bottles full. Cause I’ve got FOMO, can’t handle missing out. You know I’m all about regret and doubt.”
“Race to the Bottom” has a heavier pop-rock treatment, with rousing, multi-layered guitars, thumping drums and tasty psychedelia-tinged organ, all set to a strong foot-stomping beat. Peter sings the cynical lyrics spoken from the perspective of corporations hoping to cash in on a brain-dead public: “We got a fractured nation, a distracted population. Got to take advantage just the best that we can. But we better hurry ‘fore they get their pitchforks in motion, cause they’re getting pretty tired of being taken by the man. So, come with me on a race to the bottom, where the pickins are easy and there’s plenty of prey.”
Continuing on a similar theme, he addresses how we all seek out the kind of news that feeds our own world views on “Fake News“: “So go ahead and play me some fake news, and I’ll just change the channel if want to change my views“, and how some want nothing to do with those holding opinions different from theirs: “Woke up to find someone’s unfriended me today. Doesn’t like the way I see the world. It could be we never were such good friends anyway, but I’m still stinging from the epithets he hurled.” The song starts off as a gentle piano ballad, then expands into a lively melody with guitars, bold percussion and what sounds like clarinet, which adds a nice but slightly unsettling vibe. The song has a bit of a Harry Chapin feel, and is one of my favorites on the album.
“91st St.” is a wonderful ode to the graffiti-covered and abandoned 91st Street subway station in New York City. The station was deemed superfluous by the subway authority and closed in 1954, and later came to be known by New Yorkers as the “Ghost Station”. Peter wrote a marvelous article about the station and the song in October 2018, which I featured on this blog and can be read here. The song has a progressive/jazzy vibe, with a cool drumbeat, funky bass line and fuzzy guitar riff. Toward the end of the track, Peter injects a quirky little psychedelic synth that makes for a great finish.
Peter addresses the oft-covered and eternally relatable subjects of love and relationships on a few tracks, with lyrics that are painfully honest and real. On the bittersweet Americana-tinged “Our Journeys“, he sings of how he let his partner down, but is thankful for the good things they enjoyed together: “Now this song isn’t one of mistake or regret. I chose what I chose, and I’ll take what I’ll get, but when push comes to shove, it still hurts to hurt someone you love. And you were willing to spend your whole journey on me, and the value of that, maybe I just wouldn’t see. So please let me take the time to thank you now.” On the lovely “Table For One“, he sings his praises of being alone: “All I watched as a child, replayed the same scene. Go find a fair princess, make her a fair queen. But repeating the playbook has cost me a lot. Maybe you find who you are when you find who you’re not.” And on “Palpitations“, he sings of traveling the country with his new bride, not caring where they end up so long as he’s with her: “These palpitations inspired by you are invented by me. Palpitations are my body’s way of telling me I’m finally free.”
“Homeless” is a poignant song about how those of us living in big cities co-exist with homeless people as we go about our days, intersecting with each other, yet living in completely separate worlds and fearful of becoming too involved: “There a man I see almost every day. He’s got a black dog with a collar. It used to be ‘could you spare a dime’ now it’s ‘could you spare a dollar?’ Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t, depends what’s in my pocket. But he’s a man locked inside an invisible cage, and my dollar won’t unlock it. There’s no future, there’s no joy. He once was an adorable boy. Once he started to fall, he found no safe place to land. Walk right by that ghost of a man. It’s the crime I commit almost everyday. It’s the violence of looking away.”
On “Malagasy Uprising“, Peter sings from the perspective of a farmer recalling the horrors of the nationalist rebellion against French colonial rule in Madagascar that lasted from March 1947 to February 1949, and now trying to eke out a living in peace. He uses African elements and instruments, along with a lilting chorus by female singers, to give the song an exotic flavor that works quite well. He channels a bit of Tom Petty on “Beneath Two Moons“, a song that speaks to the love of personal freedom over romantic entanglements. And he sings of being with the one he loves in of the Land of Enchantment on the appropriately enchanting “New Mexico“, “where the people think we’re pretty, and there’s turquoise everywhere.”
One of his best ‘story’ songs is “W1775“, a poignant saga about a horse who started his career as an award-winning race horse, then spent time pulling a carriage in New York, and eventually living out his final years in a pasture. Peter elaborates on the song’s inspiration: “I trained racehorses for many years and I earned a deep respect for the animals. One of the things about horse racing that you just don’t find when following other animals, is the story within every horse’s career, all of which is documented and is occasionally remembered but more often forgotten.”
I Was Alive Enough is a delightful album, not only because it’s a pleasing listen, but also due to its great storytelling. As I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Peter is a masterful lyricist and storyteller, not to mention a fine musician. Each song is a gem, with no two sounding alike, keeping the album sounding fresh and surprising from start to finish.
Singer/songwriter Attalie has one of the most amazing and distinctive vocal styles of any artist I’ve come across. Using her colorfully expressive and soulful voice almost like a musical instrument, she produces exquisite vocal sounds and textures with incredible depth and emotional range. In December 2018, she released her marvelous debut EP Polluted, featuring three excellent songs drawing from soul, jazz, Latin and African music influences, then followed up in April 2019 with a wonderful medley of the three tracks, “Polluted: The Medley“, which I reviewed.
Now Attalie returns with a mesmerizing new single “Homeless“, the lead single from her forthcoming second EP Sigh, due out November 5. The track was co-produced by Attalie and Tshepang Ramoba, and mixed by Kudzie Mutizira. Together, they’ve created a bewitching musical arrangement with soulful piano, guitar and percussion, and highlighted by well-placed flourishes of jazzy trumpet. It’s an utterly captivating backdrop for Attalie’s rich and deeply emotive vocals.
About the song’s meaning, Attalie explains: “‘Homeless’ represents the loss of direction one faces when confronted with an unexpected turn of events. This can disrupt the comfortability associated with one’s space, further accentuating lack of direction.” Her smoky vocals beautifully capture this agonizing sense of loss and aimlessness, practically ripping at our heartstrings as she painfully laments:
It doesn’t feel like home anymore It just doesn’t feel like home anymore
A stranger at home, have I become? A stranger at home, am I? Homeless, have I become, hey? Homeless? Am I? Disconnected, I feel so, disconnected
Vicious Rooster is the music project of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Juan Abella. Born and raised in Argentina, Juan began learning to play guitar at the age of ten, and played in bands and wrote songs while in high school. In college, he juggled his business studies with guitar lessons and playing in bands, then after graduation he temporarily set aside his music dreams to focus on his business career and long-term relationship. After the relationship ended, and experiencing stress over some family issues, he made the decision to quit his job and pursue his dream of becoming a musician. He adopted the moniker Vicious Rooster, and relocated to Los Angeles in 2016 to study music business at the renowned Musicians Institute in Hollywood.
Drawing inspiration from such bands as The Beatles, The Black Crowes, Guns’n’Roses and Alice in Chains, among others, Vicious Rooster melds elements of classic rock with Southern rock, folk and a bit of grunge to create his own unique style. He writes, sings and produces his songs, and plays guitar and harmonica. Using songs he’d previously written as well as new compositions, he released his excellent debut album The Darkest Light in 2017. It’s an ambitious and impressive work, featuring 12 tracks and running over an hour in length. Nine of the songs are more than five minutes long! Many of the song lyrics address moments where he felt lost during the transition from his past life and what became his present one.
After a three year long hiatus, he returned in August with his latest single “The Moon is Dancing“, a dark and powerful song with roots firmly planted in Southern rock. The song opens with a melancholy harmonica riff accompanied by a gently strummed guitar, evoking images of the Old West. As the song progresses, Vicious Rooster adds layers of chiming, gnarly and wobbly distorted guitars, along with heavier percussion, all of which build to a thrilling crescendo. He has an arresting and resonant singing voice, and his heartfelt vocals rise along with the intensifying music to impassioned screams that bring goosebumps.
The lyrics speak to feeling overwhelmed by worries, anxiety and loneliness: “The tension’s rising / My mind is going insane / And my defenses slowly crumble down / The moon is dancing / My thoughts are rolling to nowhere bound“; and searching for peace of mind and a sense of purpose in life: “I hope to find some peace along the way / I’m gonna rest my soul / I’m gonna keep on living life like there is somewhere I belong.” It’s a fantastic song.
To learn more about Vicious Rooster, check out his website
Oceanography is the music project of Oakland, California-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Brian Kelly. I recently learned about him when he followed me on Twitter and reached out to me about his music, which I liked at first listen. Drawing from an eclectic mix of styles and genres such as alternative rock, garage, rock’n’roll, punk, folk and pop, and expressed though exquisite guitar work, intelligent lyrics and arresting, emotion-packed vocals that remind me at times of Bono, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows or Robert Smith of The Cure, Oceanography creates melodically beautiful and incredibly compelling songs. Why he’s not more well-known is a mystery to me, as he’s really good!
He released two EPs, the first in 2011 simply titled EP1, followed a year later by the excellent Parachutes of Plenty, receiving critical acclaim from numerous Bay Area music critics. Then, after a seven-year hiatus, he dropped his brilliant debut album Collier Canyon in 2019. Named after a winding road in the hills outside of Livermore, California, a small city east of Oakland where Kelly grew up, he was inspired to write the album after some life-changing events. He explains: “I had planned on moving to LA, but then everything took a turn for the worse. First I was laid off from my job, then my girlfriend (and bandmate) broke up with me. So instead, in my mid-30s, I moved back in with my mom. It was a depressing situation. When I needed to clear my head, I’d take a drive in the hills outside of town.”
For the production and recording of Collier Canyon, Oceanography consisted of Kelly on guitars, bass, synth and vocals, Brock Bowers on drums, and Scott Barwick on keyboards. The album was mixed by Peter Labberton and mastered by Mike Wells. Filled with melancholy but lovely songs about loss and a nostalgia for the past, the album is an outstanding work, and I highly recommend my readers check it out on one of the music streaming sites listed below.
One of the singles Kelly released from the album is “Rainbow Records”, a bittersweet song about missing someone with whom you once had a romantic relationship, but still haven’t gotten over. Back in the days when cassette tapes were popular, many of us would record songs we liked from the radio onto mix tapes we’d make on our portable tape recorders. With this in mind as he thinks back on his own breakup, Kelly wistfully laments: “I’m thinking of you now / I can’t put out the torch, it has to burn out on it’s own / So I pull out your old Maxell tapes and play some radio songs.” He recalls happier times, while quickly acknowledging they’re now gone forever with the passage of time: “I remember you in ’84 knocking it around to ‘Purple Rain’ in the record store / Playing songs we can’t afford, now the tipping point has tipped and our fountain of youth has turned to shit.“
Musically, “Rainbow Records” has a pleasing folk-rock vibe, but with a rather sorrowful undercurrent that makes for a surprisingly impactful track. Kelly’s guitar work is superb, starting off with a beautifully strummed acoustic guitar, over which he layers jangly electric guitar notes along with a humming bass line. Bowers beats the toe-tapping rhythm on drums while Barwick does a fine job with his subtle keyboards. Kelly’s fervent vocals have a strong vulnerability that nicely convey his feelings of heartache and longing expressed in the lyrics.
The terrific video he produced for the song shows a parade of old mix tapes, behind which is an ever-changing background of both real and surreal images, interspersed with footage of Kelly singing the song and playing his guitar.
Benjamin Belinksa is an earnest and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and musician based in Newcastle, England. Born in Stoke-On-Trent to Welsh and Polish parents, Benjamin moved to Newcastle when he was 17, but soon thereafter spent time in Glasgow, Berlin, and then Paris, working at a series of menial jobs while also writing music as time permitted. After meeting fellow musician E.A.R in Paris, the two formed the band Paris, Texas, and released two albums with cult producer Kramer (Low, Will Oldham, Daniel Johnston). Eventually, they moved back to Newcastle together, where Benjamin suffered two serious setbacks: First, while rushing to catch a connecting train in York station, he left behind a suitcase containing most of his early songs, which he never recovered. Then, months later, he was viciously assaulted in a random attack by four guys in broad daylight as he was walking home from work, suffering injuries to his eye and throat that landed him in a hospital.
It was during his recovery period that he decided to stop drifting once and for all, and set down roots in Newcastle. He also got the impetus to write songs for what would become his debut solo album Lost Illusions, set for release on August 28. Thinking back on his years of drifting, and how it became an inspiration for the album, he told Ali Welford in an interview for NARC. Magazine: “Drifting is not a bad thing – it allows you to let go of many illusions, but still, they are very attractive. I wanted to grab hold of one again – namely, that I am the master of my own direction. The title ‘Lost Illusions’ is a reference to the childish disappointment that we all go through when we discover that the world is just a lot of silliness. But despite this, it only has one theme – the extraordinary sadness and wretchedness of human life, and my amazement at the fact that this wretched life can nevertheless be so beautiful and precious.”
On July 31st, Benjamin released “Young in Baltimore“, the lead single from the album. Like all the tracks on Lost Illusions, the song was recorded by Benjamin with a back-up band, and mixed and mastered at Soup Studio in London by Giles Barrett and Simon Trought. It’s a charming dream pop track, with a sunny, retro vibe that calls to mind some of the great soft rock and synth pop songs of the 1980s. The song has a lovely, upbeat melody, with a lively toe-tapping beat overlain by chiming synths and warm guitar notes. It all creates an enchanting soundscape that serves as a pleasing backdrop for Benjamin’s gentle, heartfelt vocals as he sings the bittersweet lyrics about a woman contemplating love’s regrets: “When you were young and dumb, he promised to make you his wife. Natural, and he’s cold, you say you’ve wasted your life.” The song also strikes a particular chord with me, as I grew up in San Jose, California, which is mentioned in the lyrics: “Was the winter in San Jose, yeah, the heart attack by the bay? What will you do, your past is blue, and your life is stuck there.”
About “Young in Baltimore”, Benjamin told me “While writing the song, I was thinking about the pressure to conform that we all go through, and how some of us enter into situations, relationships – not out of passion, but out of the illusion that we have no choice. I had moved to a new city, I was working a job I hated. I kept asking myself questions like ‘Have I made the right decision? Should I be doing this? Was it better before, when I was younger?’ I was also obsessed with Robert Frank’s photo-book ‘The Americans’, thinking about the people in those pictures, imagining their lives. I kept coming back to this image of a woman on a train. All of my regret, reluctancy and nostalgia collided with this image. It became a prism out of which another formed; somebody considering the end of a marriage. Only later did I realise it was a symbol of my life at that moment.
As for the bright-sounding music, it’s there to counteract the story. I was living in Glasgow at the time, too. It rains a lot there, so it was also in defiance of that. A rainy place needs sunny music.”
While most singer-songwriters tend to express themselves through their music to one degree or another, Tyler Costolo really bares his heart and soul on his songs. And like a number of musicians, The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has chosen to articulate his feelings through song under a unique moniker to identify his music project. In Tyler’s case, there are two of them: Two Meters, which he created in 2018, and more recently, Ghost Fan Club, which he started earlier this year.
The music he creates as Two Meters has an edgier, more experimental vibe, with unconventional melodies and time signatures, heavily-textured guitars, harsh industrial synths and unusual lo-fi ambient sounds. Together with his distinctive off-kilter and monotone vocals that go from gentle whisper to impassioned screams, Two Meters’ songs are haunting, sometimes beautiful, and often startling. Under Ghost Fan Club, which he calls his “emo partner to Two Meters”, Tyler explores his softer side, with music consisting of mostly strummed acoustic and electric guitars, accompanied by more understated synths, drum fills and vocals. But with both projects, his deeply personal and honest lyrics explore the dark themes of loss and death.
He’s released a few singles as Ghost Fan Club, his latest of which is the poignant “Speak to Me“, which dropped August 14. Released through the independent label Knifepunch Records, the song was written recorded, produced and mixed by Tyler in his bedroom. It’s a very short track, running only one minute, twenty seconds, but makes quite an impact in that brief time. The song was inspired by Tyler’s memories of his mother: “One thing I didn’t consider when my mom passed away is that I’d eventually forget the sound of her voice.”
The song has a languid, moody vibe, but with an air of hopefulness. Over a reverb-heavy jangly guitar riff, Tyler layers sparking synths and gentle percussion to create a haunting, yet enchanting soundscape. With his soothing, breathy monotone, he expresses out loud his mental conversation with his deceased mother, telling her that he misses her and wishes he could hear her voice: “When I wake up I miss you most. I stay haunted by your Ghost. Speak to me, so I don’t forget your voice.” It’s positively sublime.
That Hidden Promise is the music project and alter ego of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee. Based in Somerset, England, he’s been recording and performing under that moniker since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, creates all his own music, including beats and percussion, and plays acoustic and electric guitar. He’s produced an extensive catalog of alternative and pop-rock music over the past nine years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix, resulting in a varied and eclectic sound, and delivered with exceptional guitar work and vocals that remind me at times of Bob Dylan.
I first featured him on this blog in May 2017, when I reviewed his single “All Things, All Will Come”, then again in October 2018 when I reviewed his wonderful all-acoustic EP Drifted Hope. In August 2019, he released a compilation album All Things Here, Till Now (2011-2018), a sort of greatest hits album volume one, featuring 22 of his best recordings over that seven year period, including the five songs from Drifted Hope. Many of the tracks are really excellent, and I highly recommend my readers give them a listen on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review.
Now he returns with “You Can Have the World“, the lead single from his forthcoming album Who Knows Now?, scheduled for release in early October. The album was entirely self-produced and recorded between March and May 2020, and Lee explains that many of its songs explore the subject of “trying to understand where we are individually and as a society, hence its title ‘Who Knows Now?‘” He further elaborates “The concept behind the single, is of someone looking into a city and world riven by division, chaos and revolution, whilst seeing the potential to rise through sacrifice and failure and up against a system all too quick to take the credit.”
The song blasts open with an onslaught of chiming and fuzz-coated gnarly guitars, accompanied by thunderous percussion that never lets up for an instant. Lee’s intricate guitar work is nothing short of spectacular as he delivers an explosive torrent of ever-changing textures that go from beautifully melodic to aggressive buzz-saw to screaming distortion. It all serves to create an electrifying and powerful backdrop for his plaintive vocals, driving home the urgency expressed in his biting lyrics. I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded.
As the city breaks down I will look across and smile For a thousand times or more, I’ve seen it die
A silhouette of reflections A beating heart of righteous rage Brings us to a point of certain change And it goes And it goes Again
You can have the world If you’re gonna pay Though have you got the nerve To fail again and again Those who lead won’t keep you down They may seek acclaim But it’s clear If I win, If I fail In this world Ain’t a damn thing to do with them