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

New Song of the Week – MELOTIKA: “Beautiful Disguise”

I follow thousands of indie artists from around the world, and have featured several hundred of them on this blog over the past five and a half years. One that I’m particularly fond of is Canadian artist Melotika, the alter-ego of singer-songwriter Mel Yelle. The hard-working, charismatic and personable artist began her music career in Toronto, releasing her first music in early 2018, but moved back to her home town of Montreal last summer. Her distinctive, sultry vocal styling, exotic beauty, and strong sense of individuality and determination coupled with an endearing vulnerability, set her apart from a lot of other female artists. Her honest and relatable lyrics touch on the universal subjects of relationships and love, as well as timely issues such as the minefield of social media and how pressures to conform can affect our emotional well-being.

I’ve featured Melotika’s music on this blog several times over the past three years, when I reviewed her singles “Unaware Part II [Blindside]”, “Bittersweet Reality“ and Bury the Bones, a dark, haunting song about a woman who’s a psychopathic killer. And just last month, I featured a collaborative single “Eternal Eclipse” that she recorded with German electronic music producer Lazer Squad as one of four fresh new tracks.  Now, the prolific artist returns with her latest single “Beautiful Disguise“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Released on February 12th, it’s the lead single from her forthcoming album Dancing Without You, due for release this coming fall. She wrote the lyrics, and the music was composed by her frequent collaborator Sean Savage, who also mixed and mastered the track.

A concept album, Dancing Without You will be a collection of songs that Melotika states are “sort of like a personal diary exposing super vulnerable moments of my life, through alternative electro pop dance music. If I were a teenager, this would have been the perfect pop album to listen to.” Especially fond of artists like Blondie, Eurythmics, Madonna and Depeche Mode, she wanted to capture the essence of their 80s dance-pop/new wave sound for “Beautiful Disguise”, and I think she and Sean succeed quite nicely. The mesmerizing song features a lush palette of shimmery, almost haunting synths and bold hand claps layered over a hypnotic dance beat. Melotika’s rich, sultry vocals were run through tape, providing a captivating vintage texture that’s quite appealing.

“Beautiful Disguise” is based on a song Melotika first wrote in her late teens. She shared some details about it on her Facebook page: “The original song was called ‘Misery’ then switched to ‘Victim’ for some time. The song was a generic angsty break-up type song. Last year when I looked back at it, I decided to reinvent the song and add some more fictional story telling. I thought that a typical break up song would be cliché and over done, so I created a tale about a beautiful forbidden lover, and breaking free from the toxic situation. The lyric ‘The devil inside of me is the devil inside of you when you got nowhere else to go’ refers to the concept ‘misery loves company’. Do we fall in love with bad people or are we obsessed and fall in love with the drama?

Connect with Melotika on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on iTunesBandcamp 

EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO – Single Review: “I Like it Weird”

Given all the political, social and economic upheaval of the last couple of years, greatly amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that so many artists and bands are writing songs addressing some of the anxiety and stress impacting their – and our – collective mental health. I’ve featured a fair amount of those kinds of songs over the past many months, and my latest is the wonderful debut single “I Like it Weird” by British synth-pop band Express Office Portico, which dropped January 29th. The Nottingham, England based five-piece, who named themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of town, consists of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums).

The song was inspired by band member Billy Townsend’s struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), combined with emotions of love and jealousy about previous lovers. The band told webzine IndieCentralMusic.com, “Once Billy was able to realise that OCD massively exaggerates events, which in most cases may not have even happened, he was able to detach the OCD and the intrusive thoughts that came with that from his emotions, resulting in the inspiration for the song.” The band coupled their hopeful lyrics with a dreamy, upbeat vibe to drive home their message and reassure us that overcoming our personal demons and challenges is possible.

“I Like it Weird” is really quite marvelous, opening with a terrific little bass riff that serves as a strong rhythmic foundation for the song. Soon, our ears are bathed in a lush soundscape of sparkling synths, subtle guitar notes and crisp percussion, all melding together beautifully to create a captivating backdrop for Tara and Billy’s gorgeous harmonies. I’m a big fan of dreamy synth-pop, and this song hits me in all the feels, both musically and vocally. Express Office Portico have struck sonic gold with their debut single, and I cannot wait to hear more from this very promising group.

Follow Express Office Portico:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream I Like it Weird on SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Amazon

ImageBeatZ – Single Review: “Now or Never”

ImageBeatZ is the latest music project of British composer and producer Justin Stephens. Based in the historic town of Ipswich in the eastern English county of Suffolk, the prolific musician has recorded and produced an impressive amount of electronic music since early 2016, both as a solo artist and in collaboration with other artists. He’s covered a wide range of styles, including Deep House, Chill House, Chill Step, Trap, Trip Hop and Lounge, though his preferred style is Deep House.

His first music project was called Infected Sun, and I reviewed one of his mini-EPs “Summer Nights” in 2018. He created his second music project AudioBytes in early 2020, and continued to release a tremendous output of music, including a terrific 18-track album Hold Me Tonight in September. He also hosts Friday Night House Sessions, a two-hour Deep House show he runs every other week on Facebook Live at 7:30 pm GMT, where he’s often joined by other special guest DJs. It’s an enjoyable show, so check it out if you’re into House music. He’s amassed more than a quarter million streams under that name. Now he’s created yet another new project ImageBeatz, which he’ll launch on New Year’s Day 2021 with his first single “Now or Never“.

With his latest project ImageBeatZ, Stephens blends Deephouse with NuDisco and pop to create a more upbeat and accessible sound. His first single “Now or Never” is an infectiously catchy dance song that aims straight for the hips. The lyrics speak to taking a chance on something or someone new. Starting with a thumping Deephouse EDM bass groove, he layers crisp percussive beats and sultry synths, then tops it off with a deliciously funky Nile Rodgers-style guitar riff. His use of a more prominent guitar is something new for Stephens, and I like the extra textural dynamic it adds to the track.

The lovely vocals are provided by a singer who, for reasons that both Stephens and I cannot fathom, does not wish to be named. She sings to someone to whom she’s attracted, wanting to be more than just friends: “I believe we can find what we’re looking to find / Someone to make us whole again / Doesn’t take very much to look around and see us, maybe we can be more than friends / You know we’ll make it feel right / We can turn this night into something new to relive again / So take my hand, take a chance / Let’s not let this night end, again / Now or never, let’s take a chance and do what we would never do.”

“Now or Never” will be available for streaming on Spotify and for purchase (if you would like to support the artist) at Beatport.com on 01/01/2021.

Stephens also hosts the Friday Night House Sessions, a two-hour Deep House show he runs every two weeks on Facebook Live at 7:30 pm GMT. He’s often joined by other special guest DJs like DJ JerryS and DJ Embrace. It’s an enjoyable show, so check it out if you’re into House music.

Follow ImageBeatZ:  FacebookInstagram

JONNY POLONSKY – Album Review: “Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death”

This past April, I wrote a feature article about Brooklyn-based artist Jonny Polonsky, along with a review of his marvelous album Kingdom of Sleep, which you can read here. An accomplished singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, he’s been actively involved in the music industry for over a quarter century, both as a solo artist and as a session musician and/or member of a number of bands, including Big Nose (with Audioslave/Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford) and Puscifer. On November 13, Jonny returned with his eighth album Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death, featuring eight songs touching on the good, the bad and the ugly of this thing called life. He wrote, arranged, recorded, produced and engineered the album at home during the pandemic lockdown in Spring and Summer 2020. Mixing was done by Mike Tholen and mastering by Dave Collins. 

Jonny Polonsky3

The album kicks off with “Electric Tears“, a foot-stomping psychedelic rocker that seems to touch on the vow “til death do us part”. With lyrics like “To the sound of thunder we’re torn asunder / O, Dulcinea! So sweet the vulture / The main offender, the plane descender / We fall together and live forever!“, I’m guessing the two lovers are about to perish in a plane crash, confirming their love for each other. On the timely and topical “In Between Worlds“, Jonny lobs a scathing attack on racism and bigotry, and those afraid or unable to accept that America continues to evolve, both socially and demographically: “I think your thinking is deranged / I see the sadness in your soul /Morbid, bent /And strange how you still fail to see that these changing times are not your enemy.” In the terrific video, he plays both a TV newsman reporting the news and a musician performing the song on a television show stage, accompanied by footage of street protests and a defeated-looking Trump. Musically, the song has an urgent, piano-driven melody, with gnarly guitars, organ and dark synths. The piano work is especially good here.

Imitation Life” is a lively power pop gem, with a strong driving beat and wonderful jangly guitars that give the song a retro 60s sound. Jonny admonishes another to let go of phoniness and superficiality, and live her truth: “Sad eyes, you shouldn’t waste your time / Realize, this is no imitation life. You’re alive.” One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Summer Soldiers“, a melodic tune featuring lovely vocals by singer-songwriter and former member of the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin. The song’s uplifting lyrics seem to be telling us not to let others define us, nor keep us from living our full potential: “Don’t let ’em lay you down and roll you out / And when you’re alone and don’t know who to trust / Tempted to self destruct / Discarded and left to rust.” The song starts off with a brief snippet of Little Richard’s hysterical laughter, then settles into a pleasing mid-tempo beat, with enchanting spacy synths, shimmery keyboards and crisp percussion. I really like how Jonny and Jane’s vocals are in perfect harmony.

On the brooding “Under Your Spell“, Jonny uses sweeping industrial synths and beautiful distorted guitars to create a haunting cinematic soundscape that gives the song a bit of a David Bowie vibe. He has an unusual vocal style that’s both raspy and breathy, which he uses to great effect on this track. The lyrics speak to him having fallen for someone who seems to be emotionally unavailable, insecure and afraid of revealing their true self:  “How’d you end up on the inside? How do you know me so well? With your eyes on fire and your coat made of eagle, now I’m under your spell.” Another standout track for me is “Completely Surrounded by Love“, with its gorgeous blend of twangy and jangly guitars that give the song a folk-rock feel. The song seems to be a thank you to someone who helped him overcome his personal demons through their love and devotion: “I was afraid, so afraid of my own mind / I believed in you / I couldn’t think for my own self / But I know I am completely surrounded by love.

Jonny saves the best for last with the stunning and bittersweet “Where the Sunset Sets“. Starting with an achingly beautiful melody, he layers shimmery keyboards, chiming guitars and airy synths to create a breathtaking atmospheric soundscape. His vocals are deeply heartfelt as he sings to someone who seems to be slipping away, possibly from dementia or even on the verge of their death: “And everything that had binded me to you, just leaves you sad and confounded / What once had been a folie a deux, is just a memory you detest. Your name, it doesn’t matter / Your face, you will soon forget / Our eyes, beaming into one another / Leave a trace in anyone you’ve ever met .” The seven-minute-long song has an epic and cinematic quality, and is my favorite track on the album.

Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death is a wonderful album that gets better with each listen. I like how Jonny keeps things sounding fresh and varied by using different music styles, tempos and sounds on each track, and as always, the production values and arrangements are first-rate.

Jonny will be releasing a deluxe 12-inch vinyl version of the album, pressed on transparent red vinyl, with a full color cover and lyric insert with photos, and including a 16.5″x23″ fold out poster and free digital download card. Purchase of this deluxe album includes unlimited streaming of Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more. Shipping is anticipated on or around February 1, 2021.

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Stream his music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  BandcampAmazon