VULTURE PARTY – Single Review: “Blood Wolf Moon”

Vulture Party is a Scottish three-piece who, in their own words, play “disquieting Alt Pop for the socially conscious“. Based in Falkirk, a smallish city located roughly halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the band consists of Louise Ward, David King and Dickson Telfer. Having both a male and female vocalist deliver their thought-provoking lyrics also gives their already fascinating sound even greater nuance and depth.

They released their debut single “New Humans” in 2019, followed a few months later with “Sun Dance”, then dropped their eponymous debut album Vulture Party in April 2020, just as the pandemic turned the world upside down and brought everything to a crashing halt. Undeterred, they began writing and recording songs for their second album Archipelago, and in July 2021, they released “Afterlife”, the first of a series of singles to be included on Archipelago. They followed up with “Iso Disco” this past January, and now return with “Blood Wolf Moon“, the third single off the forthcoming album, to be released later this summer on the not-for-profit independent record label Last Night From Glasgow.

About the song, the band explains “‘Blood Wolf Moon’ is a contemporary take on European werewolf folklore where, through isolation and lack of human connection, people were labelled as outcasts, leading to their basic need for love not being met. Our theme for the song and music video is a werewolf searching for human contact and finding love through music and dance. Despite the subject matter, the tune is upbeat and buoyant, influenced in part by European dance and pop.”

Musically, the song calls to mind some of the great European dance-pop songs of the 80s, with its deep, pulsating bass and drum-fueled beat, overlain with sweeping, almost psychedelic synths, sparkling keyboards, edgy guitar notes and crisp percussion. Louise and David’s intertwining vocal harmonies are really marvelous too. I love this type of synth-heavy dance music, and “Blood Wolf Moon” fills the bill quite nicely.

The delightfully silly video, filmed, directed and edited by Neil McKenzie of Keep it Creative, shows Louise as a campy werewolf who’s also a big Dolly Parton fan, sneaking around and trying to take part in a line dancing society event where David and Dickson are participating. She finally succeeds in the end, fitting in with the other dancers.

Connect with Vulture Party:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO – Single Review: “Cosmic Joke”

Formed in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic, talented British five-piece Express Office Portico is comprised of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums). In cleverly naming themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, England, it follows that they would not be afraid to address all sorts of relevant and timely issues, including those related to mental health and emotional well-being. Their debut single “I Like it Weird”, released in late January 2021, dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how it can exacerbate feelings of jealousy over past lovers. Their second single “Mishmesh” explored the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits, while their third single “Then Wave” addressed abandonment and trust issues.

I really like their brand of dreamy synthpop with an edge, and have reviewed all three of their previous singles, which you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post. Now they’re back with their fourth single “Cosmic Joke“, which has a mellower vibe than their previous singles, as well as a more lighthearted message. They’ve provided a bit of background on their creation of the song: “‘Cosmic Joke’ came about by trying and failing to work out the chords to the 70s classic “I’d Rather Be with You” by Bootsy Colins. As big fans of artists immersed in RnB and funk like Erykah Badu, Yellow Days and Steve Lacy, we began thinking, how would an Express Office Portico track with these accidental chords sound? ‘Cosmic Joke’ evolved from there, with other influences such as Men I Trust, Beach House, Yellow Days, Rex Orange County & Mac Demarco adding to its creation. We love comedians that go on long rants that are more like philosophical monologues than stand-up. Bill Hick’s famous ‘It’s Just a Ride’ piece, being the perfect example. From here we decided on using this framing device for the track.

The title comes from an idea in philosophy that the entire universe and life in general is just one big joke. A trick played on humanity by existence itself, or God, or whatever you wanna call it. ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more’. The lyrics are essentially about having an existential crisis and the utter confusion of being a conscious human in the physical world. Everyone is searching for meaning, but life is fundamentally meaningless. So, we might as well just laugh about it all, and try to enjoy it as much as we can! During the recording weekend, we booked ourselves an Airbnb to house us all. After a mild night of drinking, our guitarist Roo had a bit too much nicotine, which resulted in a fairly violent bout of sickness, starting with us all sat around the TV. Who knew too much nicotine could do that to you hey?

The song opens with Olly’s assertive drumbeats, then silky keyboards enter along with Ben’s funky bassline and Reuben’s beautiful shimmery guitar as the music settles into a delicious R&B groove. In her sweet, lilting vocals, Tara cheekily croons “Sit back, relax. As the curtains draw, the microphone stands upon the stage floor. Out walks a comedian. The crowd we roar. Out walks a comedian, and they say ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more. Your ticket’s already pulled, so you may as well just laugh and applaud’.” The song is filled with great moments like the quiet little interlude halfway through the song during which Ben’s funky bass really shines, and Tara and Billy’s wonderful harmonies in the final chorus.

With “Cosmic Joke”, Express Office Portico keep their perfect score of putting out stellar singles fully intact.

Connect with Express Office Portico:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / deezer

Purchase on Bandcamp / Amazon 

BRANWELL BLACK – Single Review: “Lay On Me”

Branwell Black is a charismatic young singer-songwriter, producer, dancer and model who creates alternative electro pop-rock influenced by some of his favorite artists like Kate Bush, Madonna, Charli XCX, Kerli, Evanescence and Tokio Hotel. Born in Oxford, England, raised primarily in France, and now based in London, Branwell has recorded music both in French and English as a solo artist, and as part of the band Brothers Black/Posie that he formed with his brother Morgan. Both he and Morgan developed a love of music at a young age, as their father was an accomplished rock drummer. 

In September 2019, Branwell released his debut single “J’attends L’amour”, then quickly followed up with “What You Want”, as well as an EP Posie with his band Brothers Black/Posie. In May 2020, he released his sultry single “Love Life” (which I reviewed), then followed that October with a marvelous electronic cover of the Verve classic “Bittersweet Symphony”. Now he’s back with “Lay On Me“, the first single from his forthcoming Lay On Me EP, due for release by the end of the month. That EP will also feature a rave remix of “Lay On Me”, as well as a live version of “What You Want”. 

About the new song, Branwell explains: “‘Lay On Me’ is the first song I’m releasing which features my live band [with] Harvey on guitar and my insane drummer Alexandra. It’s a sonic reintroduction of sorts, as it’s a little heavier than my original music, and also a tease into the direction I’ll be going. We’ve been touring the UK and have grown our sound into something even more exciting as a bridge between rock and pop. The song also takes influences from the Vogue scene with elements of ballroom vogue songs, and is a sexy number about taking control of situations and appreciating your beauty and knowing how to use it. The lyrics ‘But I’ll be me’ represent a realization that you’re always in control of your own enjoyment and knowing what you want.

When I first listened to “Lay On Me”, it seemed to be primarily a catchy dance-pop song. But with repeated listens, the brilliance of Branwell’s songwriting was revealed as I detected elements of house, trip hop, electro and psychedelic rock he’d artfully injected into the mix. Though the song’s driving dance groove is undeniably hypnotic, it’s the variety of stylistic elements and textures that make it such a compelling and sonically fascinating track. I love the thick synth bass groove, Harvey’s funky riffs, Alexandra’s galloping drumbeats, and the colorful blend of gnarly and spacey industrial synths. Branwell’s bewitching and breathy vocals have an understated seductive quality that perfectly complements the captivating instrumentals. It’s a terrific song.

Connect with Branwell:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Deezer / Soundcloud
Purchase:  AmazonBandcamp

EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO – Single Review: “Then Wave”

In naming themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, England, it’s no surprise that British synth-pop band Express Office Portico do not shy away from tackling relevant and timely issues. Since forming in early 2020, the talented five-piece consisting of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums), has released three singles touching on mental health and well-being.

Their first, “I Like it Weird”, dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how it can exacerbate feelings of jealousy over past lovers. Their second, “Mishmesh”, explored the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits. (I reviewed both of those singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) Now they’re back with a new single “Then Wave“, which addresses the struggle of coping with abandonment and trust issues. The track was produced and mixed by Joshua Rumble and mastered by Fluid Mastering. The beautiful artwork was created by Antonio Pacelli.

With “Then Wave”, Express Office Portico gifts us with another beautiful synthpop song, overflowing with their signature swirling synths and Tara and Billy’s captivating harmonies. The sounds of theremin, accompanied by Ben’s throbbing bass notes and Olly’s perfect drumbeats, creates a dreamy backdrop for Tara’s enchanting vocals as she plaintively sings the lyrics describing someone struggling to reach out for affection amid their fears and anxiety over letting people get close to them. As she sings the verses, Billy repeats the words “Can’t get up” over and over, driving home the feelings of anxiety and helplessness in overcoming one’s insecurities:

Let me be swallowed by my own self doubt
Nauseous from constantly spinning around
   (Can't get up)
Time to sit with my shame
   (Can't get up)
Feeling flows through my brain
   (Can't get up)

You are infecting my very body
So close I can feel you inside of me
Time to sit with my shame
   (Can't get up)
Feeling flows through my brain
   (Can't get up)
I stop calling your name
   (Can't get up)
Then wave, calling your name
   (Can't get up)

Connect with Express Office Portico:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundclouddeezer

Purchase on Amazon

EML’s Favorite Songs – “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield

One of my favorite songs from the 1980s is “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield. Released the day after Christmas in 1987 as the second single from the Pet Shop Boys’ second album Actually, it’s my favorite track of 1988. On the strength of “West End Girls”, their first chart single in the U.S., and my favorite song of 1986, British synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys (consisting of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe) became one of my favorite acts of the late 1980s. And who doesn’t love the legendary Dusty Springfield?

“What Have I Done to Deserve This?” was written in late 1984 by Tennant and Lowe, with help from American songwriter Allee Willis (who co-wrote the Earth, Wind & Fire hit “Boogie Wonderland” with Jon Lind). It was originally intended for inclusion on the Pet Shop Boys’ first album Please (which includes “West End Girls”, “Opportunities” and ‘Love Comes Quickly”), but they couldn’t come up with a female vocalist suitable to sing the other half of the duet. Various popular singers of that time period were suggested to them, including Tina Turner and Barbra Streisand, but none seemed suitable for the song. Tennant and Lowe wanted a woman whose voice suggested both experience and vulnerability, warmth but also a tough, independent attitude.

Their manager’s assistant eventually suggested Dusty Springfield, whose 1969 album Dusty in Memphis was a favorite of Tennant’s. But EMI did not want her, believing her career had been in decline for too long and that she would not bring anything of value to the song. Tennant insisted that they choose Springfield, but after reaching out to her with a demo of the song, she turned them down. She had no idea who the Pet Shop Boys were, and wasn’t interested in singing a duet with them, so the song was left off Please. Many months later, Springfield heard “West End Girls” on the radio and liked it so much that she reconsidered. She was living in California at the time, so flew to London in December 1986 to record the song. In an interview for The Sunday Times, Tennant later recalled the vocal session with Springfield:

She arrived at the studio on time, in a black leather designer jacket and high-heeled boots, with blonde hair and black eye make-up, clutching the lyric-sheet of the song, annotated and underlined. Chris Lowe, Stephen Hague and I began to consult with the living legend about how to sing our song and she was very nice, surprisingly a little lacking in self-confidence. As if by telepathy, a Dusty fan appeared on the studio doorstep and was invited in to listen. Dusty’s English secretary arrived, bearing a new compilation cassette. ‘They keep repackaging the old songs,’ the legend marveled. Then she went through to sing. Her voice was the same as ever. When she sang her solo part Since you went away everyone in the control room smiled. She sounded just like she used to. Breathy, warm, thrilling. Like Dusty Springfield. ‘Is that the sort of thing you want?’ she asked.

Though the song has a bouncy, upbeat vibe with exuberant synthesized orchestral instrumentation, the bittersweet lyrics describe a dialogue between two adults in the aftermath of their acrimonious breakup. Each of them wistfully observes that they should be happy to now be free of each other, yet wonder how they’ll move forward without them. Tennant rap/sings with resentment from the male point of view: “I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers. I read you books and talked for hours. Every day, so many drinks, such pretty flowers, so tell me what have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?

Springfield then responds with feelings of regret and second thoughts: “Since you went away, I’ve been hanging around. I’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down. You went away, it should make me feel better. But I don’t know, oh how I’m gonna get through?/ We don’t have to fall apart, we don’t have to fight. We don’t need to go to hell and back every night. We can make a deal.” Their wonderful vocals complement each other’s so beautifully, particularly when they harmonize.

It’s a marvelous song, and peaked at #2 in both the U.S., where it was kept from the top of the Billboard chart by Exposé’s “Seasons Change” and fellow British singer George Michael’s “Father Figure”, and the UK, where it was held back by Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. It’s also Dusty Springfield’s highest-charting single, and would help revitalize her career by introducing her to a new generation of listeners.

The official video for the song barely features Dusty Springfield at all, so I’ve instead chosen their live performance at the 1988 BRIT Awards. Unfortunately, they lip sync the song, which was still typical for that time period.

And here’s the song on Spotify:

5ON5 – Single Review: “Runaway”

5ON5 is a collaborative music project based in Berlin, Germany, and consisting of four distinctly unique artists who’ve come together to make music that, in their own words, is “a little new, a little naughty, and a bit different.” The quartet itself is a bit different, its members spanning two generations and coming from very different music backgrounds. The brainchild of Max Koffler, a singer-songwriter, musician and producer with over 20 years of experience in the music industry, and who’s previously released two albums Taboo and GAMES as a solo artist, the project also includes singer-songwriter and producer $INAN (aka Sinan Pakar), rapper and visual artist Maxx B, and singer Yumin. Their unusual name 5ON5 was born out of Max’s music label sonsounds, and reflects their eclectic mix of music genres and styles, including EDM, synthpop, hip hop and alternative rock.

Over the past year so so, Max and $INAN have been writing songs for their upcoming EP, which the group then came together to record. The first single is “Runaway”, actually a ‘maxi-single’, featuring an original version of the song, along with a special party remix. Drum production was performed by Steve van Velvet, and piano by Hansol Cho. Both tracks were mixed and mastered by Jeson Huang.

The song is infectious as hell, with a wonderful uptempo groove that finds its sweet spot between dubstep and EDM, though the beat most definitely compels our hips to move. Things start off with a simple keyboard riff, then a dominant pulsating bass line enters, putting the track on a solid footing. As the song unfolds, 5ON5 gradually layers a rich palette of swirling synths, lovely piano keys, crisp percussion and edgy surf guitars to create an enchanting soundscape awash in colorful textures and sounds.

But as good as the instruments are, the contrasting vocals and pleasing harmonies of the four members are the real highlight for me. Max’s echoed vocals are sung mostly in a higher register just below a falsetto, giving his verses a mysterious, almost otherworldly vibe. $INAN mumble raps his verses, then with near-perfect harmony, he, Max, Yumin and Maxx B sing the chorus “Would you run away from me, away with me, away with me, would you run away now?

The cool animated video shows the band members walking through a landscape by both day and night, fleeing from troubles and ultimately emerging free and into the light.

The party remix was created by Max, and to my ears sounds pretty similar to the original, other than having a somewhat sharper and cleaner sound with sparser synths. The accompanying video is similar to the main version, except that it’s produced in dark blue hues.

Stream “Runaway” on SpotifyApple Music

MACHINA X – Single Review: “Belong to the Night”

Electronic future-pop duo Machina X (pronounced Mac-in-a) have been making music for more than four years, yet have never actually met in person. Annie lives in Yorkshire, England and works in education, and Cyrus is a musician/producer living in Myanmar. The two met through an online songwriting course in 2017, and after a few collaborative projects, they officially formed Machina X in early 2018. Together, they create a refreshing and distinctive style of what they call ‘electro-eclectica’ that spans across multiple genres, fusing drum and bass beats with ambient, dreamy psych-pop. They’ve recorded both their original songs as well as terrific covers of such iconic songs like Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.

Their songs have garnered airplay around the globe, both on internet and FM radio stations, including a BBC Music Introducing Mixtape appearance on BBC Radio6Music this past January. They were named Exile FM’s New and Emerging Artists of 2020, 3rd Best Electro Act by Radio Wigwam, playlisted on Best of BBC Upload 2020 and selected three times as ‘Fresh Favs’ on Fresh on the Net, which resulted in their song “Closure” being featured on Tom Robinson’s Introducing Mixtape in February 2021.

Their latest single “Belong to the Night” is one of five tracks that will be included on their next EP, which the duo state will be “a conceptual and very reflective collection of songs – an emotional jigsaw that draws some parallels with the five recognised stages of grief, journeying through different emotional states. ‘Belong to the Night’ focuses on nostalgia, with it’s dream-like piano intro and soft vocals tapping into an in-between state of something that was, but is no longer.”

The hauntingly beautiful song is awash in shimmery synths, sparkling piano keys and gentle break beats, all creating a dreamy atmospheric soundscape, but with a melancholy undercurrent befitting the bittersweet lyrics. Annie’s soothing vocals are bewitching as she wistfully laments of a relationship lost but not yet come to terms with: “I just wanna feel, feel the way it was before. But life’s forever changing – we both know. Time, she finds new ways to slip away, through our fingers. / We don’t wanna find all the precious things we have destroyed. But maybe it is just a matter of time. And happy endings only happen to other people. I don’t wanna see you cry in the rain. I don’t want to see you belong to the night.” Annie and Cyrus’ ethereal vocal harmonies in the choruses are particularly captivating.

For the time being, their music is available for streaming or purchase only on Bandcamp, while videos of several of their songs can be seen on YouTube.

Connect with Machina X:  FacebookTwitterInstagram 

Stream/download their music on BandcampYouTube

New Song of the Week – EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO: “Mishmesh”

Six months ago, I reviewed the marvelous debut single “I Like It Weird” by British synth-pop band Express Office Portico (which you can read here). Formed in early 2020 and named after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, Express Office Portico consists of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums). Now the talented five-piece are back with a gorgeous new single “Mishmesh“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The band states “Mishmesh” (whose title means a collection or mixture of unrelated things) explores the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits. To drive home their message, the band starts with a rapid, pulsating synth line, then adds deep bass and punchy drumbeats to produce a powerful hypnotic groove that quickly draws us in. Soon, the song expands with lush swirling synths and gorgeous layers of chiming and jangly guitars, creating a hauntingly beautiful backdrop for Tara and Billy’s stunning vocal harmonies. The song is really breathtaking, and I’m blown away by the bandmembers’ exceptional musicianship.

Barring any last-minute changes, those of you in the UK can catch Express Office Portico at one of these upcoming shows:

Friday, August 6 - Chameleon Arts Cafe, Nottingham, w/Oliver Marson & Ben Bickley
Thursday, August 12 - The Lexington, London, w/Oliver Marson & Conspirators
Thursday, August 28 - The Bodega, Nottingham, w/Swim School, Scuttlers & Grayce

Follow Express Office Portico:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream I Like it Weird on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase on Amazon

9fm – EP Review: “First One, Ninth Fifteen”

9fm (short for Ninth Floor Mannequin) is the solo music project of New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone. Drawing influences from some of his favorite artists like Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes and James Blake, Pedone melds elements of folk, alternative rock and synth pop to create fascinating songs with a pleasing, often otherworldly vibe. He’s also a huge fan of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone, as well as the more recent Twilight Zone-influenced British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror, and many of his song lyrics are based on particular episodes of those shows.

I first featured 9fm on this blog back in September 2018 when I reviewed his marvelous EP Little House. Now I’m pleased to share his new EP First One, Ninth Fifteen, which drops today. The unusual title is a combination of words from the titles of each of the four tracks. He wrote the music and lyrics, sang vocals and performed or programmed all music, as well as the recording, mixing and mastering of the tracks himself in his home studio. He’s a thoughtful lyricist, and each song tells a story based on a real-life incident or a TV episode.

The first track “Fifteen Minutes” addresses the traumatic brain injury Jarrod suffered in September 2012, when he was struck by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident while out jogging. He was put into a coma, then endured a grueling period of outpatient physical and mental therapy, as described in the lyrics “With no name or number, John Doe fought for his life. For one day he was someone, but then he went and survived.” Ultimately, it was his return to creating music that proved to be the most successful form of therapy, though he uses self-deprecating lyrics to describe his progress: “But still he plays and keeps on writing, with no good reason why. He sure wasn’t great in the first place, but now he’s barely alright.”

Using a cacophonous mix of instruments and eerie, lo-fi industrial synths set to an almost frantic driving beat, he creates an unsettling, chaotic soundscape that conjures up images of the pandemonium that must have ensued after he was struck and left fighting for his life. I especially like his guitar notes and jazzy saxophone played by Matthew Silberman that add to the overall moody vibe. The song ends with sounds of monitors and medical staff one would hear in a busy emergency room.

“Below the Ninth Floor” was inspired by one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes “The After Hours” from Season 1, in which a woman named Marsha, played by Anne Francis, is taken by elevator to the ninth floor of a department store to buy a gold thimble, even though the indicator above the elevator shows only eight floors. The entire floor is empty, without any merchandise save a single gold thimble, which is exactly what she’s looking for. The employee who waits on her is a mysterious woman who asks a lot of probing questions. As Marsha rides the elevator down, she discovers the thimble is scratched and dented, and is directed by the elevator operator to the Complaints Department on the third floor. When she tries to convince the sales supervisor and store manager that she bought the item on the ninth floor, they tell her the store doesn’t have a ninth floor. To make matters worse, she has no evidence of the transaction as she paid cash, and has no receipt. Marsha spots the salesclerk who sold her the thimble, and is shocked to discover that the woman is not a salesclerk at all, but one of the department store’s mannequins. Things continue to go downhill from there. Jarrod also named his music project ‘Ninth Floor Mannequin’ after the episode.

For this song, 9fm’s lyrics speak of people putting up a false front and creating an image they think will impress others, as if they’re like a perfect mannequin: “Just before the stage lights up to a new crowd. Don’t fuck it up, don’t be yourself, or try too hard. Getting lost in the part, and go all in, give the people what they want.” Musically, the song seems to have an almost lighthearted vibe, with breezy synths and a relaxed, toe-tapping beat, but a closer listen reveals a slightly melancholy undercurrent, befitting the darker lyrics.

The third track “First Blush” is based on Season 3, Episode 4 of Black Mirror, entitled “San Junipero”. San Junipero is a simulated beach resort town where the deceased can live and the elderly can visit, all inhabiting their younger selves’ bodies in a time of their choosing. The plot involves two women, Yorkie and Kelly, who meet at a nightclub, and eventually become romantically involved. They meet up at different times over the years in both San Junipero and in the real world, where they face real-life complications. In the end, both are euthanized so that they can be together in San Junipero.

Starting with skittering percussion and assertive drumbeats, 9fm layers gauzy synths, humming keyboards, and what sounds like a bass guitar, though it could also be guitar that’s been fed though a pedal or some other device to give it a deeper tone. The result is a dramatic, fast-paced song that captures the sense of urgency and emotional intensity described in the lyrics about an unusual and logistically challenging love affair. His smooth vocals have an ethereal quality that’s quite pleasing as he sings “At first blush I came on way too strong. I’d never known someone like you. So I knew first, the path that I would choose. I’d trade that life for one with you. Please see it through, you’re all I have to lose.”

The final track “One for the Benders” is based on the Bender Family, also known as The Bloody Benders, a family of serial killers who lived in and operated a general store and small inn in Labette County, Kansas, from May 1871 to December 1872. While the exact number is unknown, it is believed they killed at least a dozen travelers and buried their remains on their property before their crimes were discovered. 9fm’s lyrics are sung from the point of view of the Benders to their visitors, lulling them to complacency as they move in for the kill: “Never could tell you that you say one lovely grace. Sorry to stop you, it’s just how we pray (prey). It’s been fun, I mean it really was. Now get some rest. Lie down, relax, put your feet up.

The fascinating song has a bouncy, almost upbeat cadence, however 9fm uses a dark array of mysterious synths, spooky sounds and haunting echoed vocals to create a decidedly menacing vibe befitting the macabre subject matter. It’s another great example of how adept he is at producing soundscapes that strike the perfect tone for each story. First One, Ninth Fifteen is a fine and extremely compelling little EP, and the more I listened to the songs, the deeper they bored themselves into my brain.

Follow 9fm:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloud / iTunes
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

New Song of the Week – ASHRR: “Otherside”

Los Angeles-based alt-rock band ASHRR make some incredibly captivating music that’s strongly influenced by such acts as Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem. Comprised of singer-songwriter Steven Davis and artist/producers Ethan Allen and Josh Charles, the seasoned and highly-accomplished trio collectively have a long and impressive musical pedigree. Bringing together their diverse musical background and eclectic, wide-ranging experience, the three joined forces in 2018 after meeting through mutual musician friends, with the aim of collaborating to create the kind of music they all wanted to make. Charles explains “Our collective love of analog synth pop, classic new wave melodies and songwriting, and taking modern production to the limits, defines us. We all come from different backgrounds, which is what can be heard inside the music.” 

In October 2018 they released their beautiful debut single “Don’t Wait Too Long”, which premiered on NPR and garnered regular airplay on famed Los Angeles alt-rock radio station KROQ. They dropped their self-titled EP ASHRR a few months later, then followed in May 2019 with their outstanding debut full-length album Oscillator, which contained all the tracks from their EP, plus five new tracks. That October, they released an enchanting single “Sacrifice“, which I reviewed, then followed with three more singles, the latest of which is “Otherside“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Released via Wehearnoise Records, it’s a darkly beautiful song that seems to address feelings of breaking free from the isolation of being in lockdown, and celebrating the joys of once again openly socializing with friends and loved ones: “Locked up inside another sundown, Let’s take a ride to the ghost town / I wanna be alive, shining on my face in the morning light. I still need you so…Come out in the open, meet me on the otherside.”

To convey their hopeful message of emerging from the darkness into the light, ASHRR builds upon a strong pulsating beat with a palette of bewitching darkwave synths in the style of Depeche Mode, then layers a rich mix reverb-soaked fuzzy and jangly guitars. The result is a brooding yet optimistic backdrop for Davis’s mesmerizing vocals as he sings the hopeful lyrics.

Connect with ASHRR:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase:  iTunesBandcamp