New Song of the Week – YOUNG DECADES: “Sinner”

It was a year ago almost to the day when British band Young Decades released their beautiful debut single “Islands”, on April 24, 2020. A few weeks later, I wrote a review of the song, in which I went into some detail about the band’s back story, which you can read about here. Formed during the early onset of the Covid pandemic, like every other artist and band around the globe, they were unable to tour or perform live. The guys decided to make the most of their down time, setting themselves on a frenetic mission to build up a catalog of songs and get them out to the listening public. Following the massive success of “Islands”, they released four more excellent singles, as well as several collections of remixes and alternative versions. On March 5th, they released an EP Let You Down, which featured all five of their singles.

A few months after I wrote my review, the band parted ways with their drummer, and soldiered on as a three-piece. Since they weren’t able to play live, not having a permanent drummer did not prevent them from recording new music. Nevertheless, just this week they’ve recruited a new drummer named Lee Cameron, so they’re back to being a foursome. In addition to Lee, their lineup consists of James Tidd (vocals), Scott Harvey (guitar, keyboards) and Liam Downey (bass). The various band members are scattered about the Midlands and North West England, but meet up for rehearsals and recording in the city of Stoke on Trent.

Today, April 23, they drop their latest single “Sinner“, which I’m pleased to name my New Song of the Week. The track was produced by band songwriter and vocalist James Tidd, with assistance from Human League bassist Ian Burden and long-time friend and engineer Tom Longworth, and mastered by Mike Marsh, who’s also worked with such bands as Phoenix, Chemical Brothers and Empire of the Sun. The song is a gorgeous sweeping anthem, with exuberant swirling synths and layers of roiling and jangly guitars. I love the throbbing bass and strong thumping drumbeats that make up the track’s powerful driving rhythm, and the dramatic piano flourishes add wonderful texture and depth.   

The song’s buoyant, uplifting melody contrasts with the rather cynical lyrics. As I previously noted in my review of “Islands”, James has a phenomenal singing voice, and his vocals are beautiful and heartfelt as he plaintively sings of his personal failings, admitting he’s a sinner who doesn’t want to be saved. “A funny thing is this life. You only get what you take. Ever feel you’re surrounded by wolves? Cause I do, I saw them in the news. But I’m not that guy. I’m not that good. I pray you do. I say not what I do. I’m a sinner now. I’m a sinner. And I don’t need saving.”

“Sinner” is a stellar track, and I think it’s Young Decades’ best single yet. So long as they keep making outstanding music like this, their star will surely continue to rise.

Follow Young Decades:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: Bandcamp / Amazon

THE LOVEPOOLS – Single Review: “White Lies & Palm Trees”

The Lovepools single art

Though they’re located in Los Angeles, a roughly two-hour drive from my home in the Coachella Valley, it was through my Twitter friend Mark Winder (theretweeter) – who lives in Northern Ireland –  that I learned about indie pop-rock band The Lovepools. Formed in 2017, the undeniably charismatic trio consists of singer-songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Anthony Shea, bassist/vocalist Aria Cruz, and drummer Fabrizio Cavallaro. They call their music “indie rock for hopeless romantics”, and with their melodic, Britpop/shoegazey vibe, not to mention Shea’s vocal style, they do sound like they could be from the UK. Their music also reminds me a bit of Saint Motel, another L.A. band I really like.

The+Love+Pools++(27)

The Lovepools in short order released a couple of EPs, as well as a terrific single “See You In The Funny Papers” that was featured on the Season 9 premiere of the Showtime hit series Shameless. In July 2018, they released their first album The Catch, which included all of their recorded songs up to that point. One of the highlights is the gorgeous “A Dixie Cup to Save You”, but they’re all great songs, and I strongly urge my readers to check them out on one of the music platforms listed at the end of this review.

They returned in August 2019 with their latest single “White Lies & Palm Trees“, a beautiful, dreamy track that the band states is “a departure from their guitar-based indie-rock roots into a new synth-pop sound.” The song was written by Anthony Shea and Taylor Ravenna, and was inspired by Shea’s monotonous experiences living in L.A. (but honestly, I know from my own experience that monotony can occur pretty much everywhere). The track has a sunny, dream pop vibe, thanks to an exuberant, sweeping melody and lush, sparkling synths that offer a hopeful antidote to the numbing monotony expressed in the lyrics. Shea’s upbeat vocals are wonderful, as are the guys’ soaring harmonies in the choruses. It’s a fantastic song, and sure to be a hit for The Lovepools.

Living in a daydream
Dark eyes, eighteen
Trusting everyone you meet

Every day’s the same thing
White lies, Palm trees
Broken hearts on every street

Oh, light up and let yourself go
Oh, go make your way back home

Driving Sunset all night
Stoned eyes, red lights
Kissing ’til the light turns green

Every night’s the same thing
Dark skies, palm trees
Broken glass on every street

Oh, light up and let yourself go
Oh, go make your way back home

Lights upon the hillside
Fade away as you drive by
Time is on your side
Not on your mind
But it’s all you have to live by

The Lovepools are playing a show tonight at Mal’s Bar in Downtown Los Angeles, and another show on Wednesday, October 16th at Good Times at Davey Wayne’s in Hollywood.

Connect with The Lovepools: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Deezer
Purchase: Google PlayiTunes

THE FRONTIER – Single Review: “Dark Places”

The Frontier

The Frontier is an unsigned indie-pop/alt rock band from Vienna, Virginia (the Washington D.C. area). The band was formed in 2016 by singer/songwriter and guitarist Jake Mimikos, who first released an EP Chaos to Clarity as a solo artist in 2015. He initially called the band The Internal Frontier, and released a wonderful self-titled EP The Internal Frontier, which I reviewed in July 2016.

Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in line-up over time, and now consist of Jake on vocals & guitar, Eric Boggess on lead guitar, Eric Dolinger on bass, Kate Stanley on synths & vocals, and Eduardo Santana on drums. They changed their name to simply ‘The Frontier’, and released the terrific and upbeat singles “Young Machine” in late 2017 and “Follow This Feeling” in May 2018. Now they return with a gorgeous new single “Dark Places“, the first single to be included on their forthcoming EP Luminescence, to be released later this year.

“Dark Places” is a stylistic departure for The Frontier, featuring a moodier, more synth-driven sound and I love it! As the title implies, the song is dark, but also quite beautiful, with a captivating vibe that immediately hooked me, compelling me to move to the sensual beat. The shimmering synths are exquisite, enveloping me in a dreamy soundscape I’m happy to remain trapped in. Subtle guitars, gentle bass and the perfect amount of crisp percussion complete the glorious instrumentals. Jake’s smooth, ardent vocals are enthralling, soaring into the higher octaves and sounding better than ever before. Kate’s backing harmonies are really wonderful too.

The lyrics speak to the internal struggles many of us experience with our darker side, and the attendant fears, anxieties, anger and even bad thoughts we must grapple with. Jake stated that they were inspired by a show he watched on Netflix about serial killers.

Maybe I’m just a little lost
Sometimes I lose myself in my obsessions
I’m just a victim of my thoughts
I’m only human, with imperfections

I’ve been to dark places in my mind
Seeing shadows in the night
It get’s a little lonely when I’m in dark places in my mind
Falling further from the light
It gets a little lonely when I’m in dark places

“Dark Places” is absolutely marvelous, and I’ve had it on repeat all morning. The Frontier have struck sonic gold with their first single on what I’m certain will be a fabulous album.

Connect with The Frontier on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

STILL OPTIMIST – Album Review: “Velvet Season”

Mysterious. Captivating. Sensuous. Moody. Gorgeous. All words that describe my impressions when listening to the brilliant debut album Velvet Season by the experimental band Still Optimist. Formed in Paris, France in 2017 by Ukrainian artist Bina Timurova (vocals, songwriting, composing, guitar), and Hungarian Mihaly Sipos (keyboards, synthesisers, electronics, programming), Still Optimist creates an arresting blend of electronic/ trip-hop/ ambient/ cinematic music. In their bio, they colorfully describe their major influences: alternative and electronic music bands such as The Cure with its contradictory ambivalent of joy and sorrow; Massive Attack with their dark bass lines and atmospheric synth pads; Bjork and her multi-layered meaningful lyrics and the way she moves with her voice on an extreme scale; Tesla Boy with the whole 80’s synth pop vibe and tunes;  The Chemical Brothers for their outstanding soundscape and constant motion in sounds, and many more, such as Phantogram, Atoms for Peace, Him, Depeche Mode, Underworld, FSOL, and Archive.”

Another strong influence for the duo in the creation of Velvet Season was the 2013 Jim Jarmusch vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. They state: “The slow, dark melancholy, the constant whispering presence of passion and crunchy guitar tunes somehow beautifully lifted, transformed into a fully coherent album.” But whatever their influences, what’s clear is that their songwriting is exceptional, with intriguing lyrics, complex and unusual melodic structures, and innovative musical techniques.

This is immediately apparent on the opening track “Another Space,” which starts off with mysterious industrial sounding synths, a sharp drumbeat and buzzing reverb. Bina’s unusual vocals are baby-like, yet sultry as she sings “I am raising my eyes to the sky. But I’ll never see all the stars in the space. That one day are destined to meet. And their beautiful light, like a beacon for lost ships, will be mixed in a fatal dance. And those stars are destined to meet.” The tempo then shifts to a strong hypnotic EDM beat, as the industrial synths and heavy buzzing reverb continue. Bina croons “And they will be absorbed in their final farewell ball. They could even collapse, giving birth to a Black Hole.” It’s a mesmerizing track.

The creative visuals and design are also an important aspect of their production, as evidenced in their videos like this one:

Next up is the trippy “Dark Places,” with it’s spooky soundscape of grinding psychedelic synths and sensuous keyboards. Bina’s vocal gymnastics are impressive, reminding me at times of Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel. “Voices” has a Depeche Mode vibe, with lush synths that are mysterious and fuzzy.  Bina’s vocals are enthralling as she sings about her fantasies and desires becoming a reality:  “And these voices around my head they are getting louder. Voices around my head they remind me I like it.”

Here Comes the Sun” is a beautiful triphop song about how natural forces always triumph over humans’ attempt to subjugate them: “Plants overgrown on blocks, drain the strength of concrete, take them into possession.  People are full of absurd in their paltry attempts to transcend over Nature.” This becomes a metaphor for a loved one’s irrepressible nature: “Green sprouts grow through cracks in grey stone. As did your lust for life through all my years.” Bina’s soaring vocals are sublime.

Chance” opens with a bit of surf guitar riff and strong drumbeat, then glittery synths and what sounds like skittering snare drum are layered over the repetitive drumbeat. With breathy vocals, Bina sings “If I only had a chance to feel your presence next to me. It’s more than I could give or take, that’s something that I can’t admit.” Heavy, distorted reverb and psychedelic synths are dominant features of the mysterious “Free Fall.” Bina passionately implores: “Don’t ask me why I’m afraid ’cause I won’t give you the right answer. When you jump out of a plane in free fall there’s no button to cancel.”

Nomad” appropriately has a Middle Eastern feel with a beguiling melody and richly exotic synths that evoke the mystery of the fabled Arabian Nights.  Bina’s sensuously breathy vocals are alluring as she sings to one about not being afraid to embrace their final moments of life: “Tell me all if you can about sorrows in your heart, things that you regret. Spell things out if you can. That you had in life, that you won’t forget. Don’t be afraid of nomad, I won’t hurt you bad. In your place some people would be glad. Don’t be afraid, my virtue, I won’t steal from you. I’m here for one thing that I owed you. Cause I’m your death.

One of my favorites is the dark and haunting title track “Velvet Season.” The song opens with a foreboding piano riff and Bina softly singing. The music and her vocals gradually become more dramatic, conveying a sense of impending danger as the song grows more ominous. The keyboards and other synths are really fantastic. The song lyrics seem to be spoken to the vampire who’s kiss – i.e. bite – has forever changed her existence: “I know that you won’t feel the swelling that sucks the life out of me. / I already miss you, your kiss on my neck. We both know it clearly, there is no way back. / You ask me if I’m scared, yes I’m scared to close my eyes when I’m in bed. I’ll tell you, honey; there’s always a little reason to extend a bit my Velvet Season.” “With You” is a fine triphop song with grainy, otherworldly synths that impart a decidedly psychedelic vibe.

The album closes on a bittersweet note with the hauntingly beautiful “My Shoes.” The complex, layered synths on this track are exquisite, and accompanied by some wonderful guitar work. Bina’s heartfelt vocals are gorgeous, fervently expressing deep sorrow and regret over past sins and transgressions: “There is a time that I want to forget. For the peace of my mind. And if I just could I would erase it all, those horrible things. / Guess, my shoes didn’t fit you. My shoes didn’t fit you as they’re full of broken glass inside. Cause my traumas are full of crime.”

Velvet Season is a truly impressive debut for Still Optimist. Their captivating melodies, outstanding songwriting, and Mihaly’s creative and skillful use of synthesizers, makes for incredible and deeply compelling music. Toss in Bina’s amazing vocal abilities, and the result is a brilliant work of musical art. This is an album that can, and should, be listened to repeatedly, as the complexity of the compositions always offer up new discoveries.

To learn more about Still Optimist, check out their website
Follow them on Facebook / TwitterInstagram

Stream or purchase their music on YouTube / Spotify / Soundcloud / Google PlayApple Music / Bandcamp

Featured Song & Video: VOX EAGLE – “No Sleep”

Australian indie electro-psych pop duo Vox Eagle have been busy guys since forming in 2015. Andy Crosby and Luke Hamel, who make up Vox Eagle, spent time traveling throughout the U.S., writing and recording songs for their upcoming EP, scheduled to drop this summer (which I’ll be reviewing just prior to its release). They’ve released two amazing songs thus far, “No Sleep” and “Come Over,” along with a video for “No Sleep” that I’m featuring now.

The infectiously catchy song is steeped in lush atmospheric dream-pop grooves, with swirling synths floating over an irresistible bass-heavy dance beat. Andy’s smooth vocals occasionally rise to a stirring falsetto as he croons: “Is it any wonder? The current pulls us under. No sleep no sleep for the wicked no./ I keep on counting sheep. Days into nights, nights into weeks. Out of sight, out of mind, never mind.

Connect with Vox Eagle:  Facebook /  Twitter
Stream their music:  Soundcloud / Spotify
Purchase it:  iTunes

EP Review: CURE FOR GRAVITY – “Cure For Gravity”

From the moment I first listened to the opening song “Tonight” on alternative rock band Cure for Gravity’s new self-titled EP, I was bowled over by the sheer magnificence of their sound.  On October 14, the Berkeley, California based group dropped Cure For Gravity, a collection of six exceptional tracks that combine lush atmospheric synths with dazzling guitar work and strong percussion. The EP – and band for that matter – are aptly named, as their music soars straight to the heavens.

The band consists of three highly-skilled musicians – Joe Markert (Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars), Chris Gamper (Drums & Percussion) and Dave Walcott (Guitars, Wall of Sound, Backing Vocals). They released their first EP Fallen Stars in 2012, which featured four solid tracks with a mix of acoustic and harder rock sounds. They’ve taken a more experimental approach with Cure For Gravity, and the results are pretty incredible.

cure-for-gravity

“Tonight” opens with sounds from a rocket launch, then segues into distorted guitar, heavy bass and crashing cymbals before the track settles into a gorgeous sweeping affair with a Pink Floyd vibe. The song seamlessly transitions into the awesome second track “Sunspots,” by which time I was helplessly in love with this band’s music. The blistering guitar riffs in this six-minute long song are a wonder. Markert’s urgent vocals rise and fall perfectly with the music. The two tracks combined run over ten minutes, yet they’re so good they seem over in an instant.

“Just Like Candy” is pure delight, filled with playful guitar riffs that dance across big synthesizers and a buzzing bass line. With equal playfulness, his voice alternating from smoldering to falsetto, Markert sings of a woman who drives men crazy with her teasing indifference: “Violence on the dance floor / She wants less, but he wants more / They move left to right like an underwater knife fight / You’re blowing me down / She’s just like candy / Wearing a hole in me.”  At 3:25 the song erupts with a rapid, hard-driving guitar riff that reminds me a bit like the ending guitar flourish of an Allman Brothers song.

Things turn dark and heavy with the psychedelic-tinged “BlackMetal.” Once again, the band’s nimble guitar work is amazing. And the music and vocals are so gorgeous in the moving rock ballad “Push” that I’m nearly blown away. The superb closing track “Killing For the Queen” offers up more soaring synths and mind-bending guitars that prove without a doubt that these guys are masters of their craft.

To sum up, I love this fantastic EP and am now a huge fan of Cure For Gravity. Learn more about them by checking out their website, and support these guys by following on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Stream their music on  Spotify and Soundcloud, and purchase on iTunes or Bandcamp.

Album Review: The magnificent “What Comes Around” by Matto Rules

I’m head over heels in love with the astonishingly beautiful album What Comes Around by alternative electronic pop/rock band Matto Rules.  The album, which dropped in May 2016, is a sonic masterpiece of lush electro-synth chords, sleek guitars and gorgeous vocals.  I think it’s one of the best albums of 2016, with 11 superb tracks – any one of which could be a hit single!

Hailing from Bern, Switzerland, the band’s name was inspired by Matto, the insane ghost and fictional ruler of a psychiatric clinic portrayed in Swiss author Friedrich Glauser’s pulp crime novel In Matto’s Realm.  But there’s certainly nothing insane about Matto Rules, except to say their music is insanely awesome!  The band told me they thought Matto was a good metaphor for the atmospheric and psychedelic touch of their music.

Matto Rules consists of frontman and lead vocalist Lorenzo Bonati, bassist Fabian Baer, drummer Thomas Blanchat and lead guitarist Pascal Glauser (no relation to the author). The band recorded their first single “All Over” in 2012, then released a follow up double-sided single “Syd” in 2013, followed by a four-song EP “Lonely Cat” later that same year. Through that early music, the band gained a fan base and rave reviews as they toured around Switzerland and Europe.

Matto Rules 2

Wanting a more polished sound for their new album, the band enlisted Chicago producer and sound engineer Ben Treimer (who’s worked with MUTEMATH and Emmylou Harris, among others), and the result is the stunning What Comes Around.

The first single, released prior to the album in November 2015, is the mesmerizing, psychedelic-tinged “Crystal Bay.” This gorgeous song seemingly floats on water. Shimmering guitars and smooth electronic synths, along with Bonati’s captivating vocals and airy backing vocals by Monica Gibbs, all serve to create an ethereal, atmospheric mood. The heartfelt lyrics address the wish to overcome a painful, addictive relationship:

“My flesh is strong, my will is weak. Insanity rushing in, swelling over me. I need to get away, clear my mind and let my world sink in to Crystal Bay, just want to fade away. I’m off to detox, off to detox for a day. I’m off to detox, off to detox once again.”

The rather dark video – which contains footage of images of various objects artistically tied together symbolizing trash, a man driving a motorboat that’s towing pool floats, Bonati dressed in a colorful patterned suit paddling a raft, and the trash burning on the shore – was filmed at beautiful Lake Lucerne.

The first track on the album and second to be released as a single, “Tonight” is a sweeping, joyously upbeat synth-pop tune that’s as exhilarating as it is beautiful.

“Let’s outrun all of our troubles, like we did when we were young.  808’s until the sun’s up, tomorrow it will be the same. But we’re here tonight.”

We’re introduced to the song by Bonati’s sublime vocals accompanied by gentle synth chords, then hammering drums and swirling guitars rain down in a cascade of rich synthesizers, all held together by a thumping bassline. It’s so gorgeous I don’t want it to end.

The fascinating, clever video shows the band playing the song in a series of traffic circles at night, with the camera panning around them.  A woman driver circles them in her car, taking photographs she later uses to create artistic geometric images on her computer that are then superimposed on the traffic circles.

“Somewhere Else” keeps the energy flowing with a driving, synth-fueled beat and chiming guitars that shred at just the right moments. The song has a decidedly 80’s feel, which is why I love it. The pace slows a bit with the melodic, synth and bass-heavy “Alive,” with its beautiful harmonizing vocals.  Synthesizers rule and guitars sing in the Depeche Mode-esque tracks “Let it Rain,” “In the Agency” and “Sleeper.”  Bonati’s vocals in these tracks are so damn good!  Well, truth be told, they’re damn good in every single song.

The lovely, melodic ballad “Caveman” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Gentle percussion, beautiful piano and captivating guitar riffs make this song soar to the heavens. Another awesome track, “Monster,” has a bit of a Tears For Fears vibe, and really showcases Bonati’s impassioned vocals:  “I feed a monster, in my unconscious. From time to time, it gets the best of me. Growing stronger everyday. I feel it’s time to let you hunt. I’ll drive you out, my little monster.”

The parade of gorgeous songs continues with the lush, synth-rock “Evil Eyes.”

“Let’s seal the contract. Engrave it with a promise. Denial will be useless. I’m always close behind. Show me your pain, and I will give you an escape. There is another path that you can take.”

The album closer “New Beginning” is a hopeful, psychedelic-infused anthem that’s the perfect ending to a perfect album.

Show Matto Rules the love by following them on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Stream their music on Spotify or Soundcloud, or purchase on Bandcamp or itunes.

Album Review: Paul Iwan – “Reveal”

British singer-songwriter and multi-instumentalist Paul Iwan has been playing in bands since he was 14 years old. He’s toured the UK with various bands over the years, and played international festivals in Germany, France and the U.S. In 2008 he was mentored and championed by Ray Davies (of The Kinks) and continues to collaborate with other artists and friends across the UK.  After years of writing songs and perfecting his craft, he has finally created and self-produced his first album, and it’s a thing of beauty and a real tour-de-force!

Set to be released in September 2016, Reveal is – in Paul’s words – “a collection of songs exploring themes of truth, honesty, regret and rebirth. Evoking early Simple Minds, it channels the avant-garde artistry of Melt era Peter Gabriel via the soaring melodies of Vince Clarke to create a deeply personal yet uplifting body of work.”

Paul Iwan pic

Paul’s highly melodic music is primarily synthesized, with lush orchestration featuring multiple instruments.  The opening track, “I Come Alive” is an exuberant celebration set to gorgeous sweeping orchestration, throbbing bass and nimble guitar riffs. Paul’s high-pitched vocals soar along with the arrangement. The second track – and the first album cut to be released as a single – is the beguiling electro-pop gem “Dream Stealing.”  Once again, we’re treated to lush big synth orchestration and dazzling guitar riffs. Take a listen:

Another great track is the lovely but bittersweet “Red and Gold.”  Set to a rather catchy, funk-infused beat, the song addresses the pain of a lost love. “I turn my face towards the sun, and it’s red and gold. And I slowly walk towards the shore, as the sea inhales. Yet there’s one thing I know, you will always be here. When I’m alone and crippled with fear, reaching out to nothing, thinking you’re hear with me.”

“My Heart Bursts Into Flames” and “Poles Apart,” are two of the more radio-friendly pop/rock-oriented tracks on the album, with gnashing guitars and assertive drums.  Paul turns things down a notch with “My Scars,” where his dramatic piano takes center stage. “The Sun In January” is a lovely, upbeat ballad about love and commitment, with some pretty neat jangly guitar. Paul dials it back up with the joyously uptempo “Midnight Angel,” where his vocals soar once again to great heights.  “How Far the Apple Falls,” is another fine song about regret over a failed relationship.

One of my favorites is the alt-rock instrumental “Something Came In With This Storm,” which has a bit of a Pink Floyd vibe, with a formidable, extended guitar riff.  The album closes with the beautiful, hopeful “Reborn,” which features great rock guitar riffs toward the end.  It’s quite evident that Paul poured his heart and soul into this extraordinary debut album.

Support Paul by following him on Twitter and Facebook, and stream his music on Soundcloud. Reveal may be pre-ordered on Bandcamp and, after September 16, purchased on itunes or Amazon.