XENNON – Single Review: “Hilt”

XENNON is a British synthwave artist/producer who up until recently was based in Tokyo, Japan. His music is heavily influenced by the synthesized sounds of the 80s, as well as Japanese game and video culture. He’s also curator of the Synthwave Sounds playlist on Spotify, which has amassed over 40,000 followers. In September 2019, he released his debut album MIAMI COP, a concept work inspired by the 80s hit TV show Miami Vice, as well as the synth-driven pop-rock that was so popular at that time. MIAMI COP tells the story of an alternative Miami circa 1987, where the city is a dystopian world in which technology has advanced far beyond our own world’s, and crime has spiraled out of control. (You can read my album review here.)

Now XENNON is back with “Hilt“, the first single from his forthcoming second concept album Dark of a Distant World. Inspired by the sci-fi and fantasy movies of the 80s such as The Neverending Story and Masters of the Universe, the album will take the listener on a journey to other worlds as we follow Kurt, a boy who holds the key to saving the planet Eternicron, and embarks on an adventure that transcends time and space. Once again, the concept and featured artwork was done by Travis Wright, who continues to work with XENNON on all of his releases and stories.

The song opens with an assertive synth drum beat that provides a strong rhythmic groove driving the song forward. XENNON then layers a colorful mix of swirling, shimmery synths, pulsating percussive beats and lots of crashing cymbals to create a vibrant, optimistic soundscape that has an almost anthemic quality. As the character Kurt, he plaintively sings of his struggles and self-doubt, not sure whether he has the fortitude to continue, but clinging to the hope that through another’s love and support, he’ll prevail. “I’m not sure I’m getting better. Days drag me down sometimes I’ve found. But maybe if here, beside you I stand, with this hilt tight in my hand. I’ll take it to the other side and get out, safe and sound.”

It’s another great song by XENNON, and I look forward to hearing more tracks from his latest concept album.

Follow XENNON:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

AGENT JOHNNY RED – Album Review: “Run Against the Sequence”

Agent Johnny Red album art

Agent Johnny Red is an electronic musician, singer-songwriter and composer based in Portland, Maine. He’s been fairly prolific in his music output over the past five years or so, recording and releasing several singles, EPs and compilations, most of which are available on his Bandcamp page. At the end of May, he dropped his first official album Run Against the Sequence, a concept work inspired by his own personal life experiences.

He explained that the album “is about how humans get stuck in recurring behavior patterns or programs that are based upon past events. This is an album about Agent Johnny Red running against the sequence or patterns that were ultimately controlling his life. Addiction to bad relationships, food and drugs are all part of the sequence.” He added that the word ‘Against’ stands for how difficult it is to overcome these bad habits: “Kind of like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, no matter what you do you can’t escape it. But the character in this story does eventually escape at the end.”

The album opens with sounds of a man speaking the words “I won’t deny that there’s some strange, evolutionary process going on, but mankind won’t be destroyed. The fact that you and I are already here today is evidence of that“, and thus begins the first track “Just keep Repeating“. Agent Johnny Red uses an array of dark, yet beautiful swirling synths set to a pulsating EDM beat to create a mysterious atmosphere that conveys a feeling of being in a kind of twilight zone. Eventually, the man’s voice returns to say “Another day is done all over again.” “Figure out this Mess” has an equally ominous vibe, with harsh swooping and pulsating industrial synths forming a psychedelic backdrop for Johnny Red’s droning moody vocals.

On “Lightning in a Black Hole“, Johnny Red seems to be speaking to someone who can save him from himself and his troubles: “Tell me what you want me to be. I’ll tell you I’m all that I can ever be. / I just want to go out for a drive. Just to see the sky. I know it’s crazy, but we’ll be fine if we forget about time.” I really like the lush combination of synth sounds and textures he uses in this and other tracks, and how well his music pairs with his vulnerable, rather melancholy vocals.

The album features a number of terrific instrumental tracks, including “Videodrome“, with its fascinating mix of synthwave, sci-fi, EDM and dubstep elements; the uptempo and otherworldly “Destination of Red“; the mesmerizing, psychedelic and spacey “Save Some Space“; the techno-heavy “Survival is Changes“; and one of my favorites “Don’t Destroy the Water“, a wonderful futuristic fantasia of swirling sci-fi synths and haunting female chorale-like vocal drones, set to captivating dubstep beats.

The title track “Run Against the Sequence” encapsulates everything the album is about, which is the struggle to reach a point of mental clarity and emotional freedom from bad habits and addictions that have kept you enslaved: “Every step that I take will get me closer to awake. Every love that you find will get you closer to rewind. I know that time’s confusing. What if it’s an illusion?” Musically, the song has a haunting piano-driven melody, with a colorful mix of wobbly and stabbing synths, accompanied by hand claps.

Hack Time (You Work Harder)” has an eerie, almost goth-like vibe, with throbbing industrial synths set to a hypnotic rhythmic beat. The tinkling piano keys add a nice textural contrast, keeping the track from sounding too dark.  Johnny Red’s electronically-altered echoed vocals sound pained as he laments of wanting to feel better and be free of his demons and addictions that offer only temporary relief from the pain: “Break free from the things in your brain. / You fell asleep at the wheel. You’re happy when you can feel. You’re happy when you heal. / I just wanna move around the sequence. I just wanna hack time.” It’s another one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Save the Light” is the point of escape, when Johnny finds the truth in the pain of not succumbing to addiction. His vocals are auto-tuned, giving them an even more haunting feel as he sings of being trapped by his addiction, and wanting to break free. ‘Seven seas’ are a metaphor for his freedom: “Back when you thought you could be everything, you saw something great in the seven seas. You ran benediction through your head but addiction had you dead. But you were here and you were sure that if you come back to the seven seas. Come back and let me be. I believe this is a dream come true.” He realizes he needs to be strong, keeping freedom from addiction at the forefront of his goals: “Think the way that you can feel. Fight the urge to make the deal. All these scars that will not heal are just dreams, they are not real.”

Yet he continues to struggle with self-doubt and guilt over pain he’s caused others: “No I don’t want to go back home. I want to stay on this earth. I wanna stay on this earth but you keep killing it. I am telling you I don’t want to see them die. I don’t want to see them cry just so I can feel alive.” He ultimately comes to the realization that he wants to live a life free from addiction: “And if I save the light, then the dark might take me tonight. And on the seven seas everything might be alright.” Johnny Red uses complex and lush industrial and psychedelic synths and some lovely guitar notes to create a somber, yet hopeful mood. It’s a magnificent and moving track.

The album closes on a more upbeat and positive note with “A Puzzled Picture“. The track has a lighthearted vibe, thanks to a lively mix of skittering spacey synths. The man’s spoken voice we heard on the opening track returns to offer a few lines of wisdom, though I’m unable to make out exactly what he’s saying.

Not being a musician, nor very knowledgeable about music theory, technique or mechanics, it’s often hard for me to fully articulate what I hear when listening to electronic music. That said, I have nevertheless written about quite a lot of it, and can confidently state that Run Against the Sequence is in the top tier of electronic music albums I’ve reviewed. Agent Johnny Red is a highly creative, talented and imaginative composer, as well as thoughtful songwriter, and should be very proud of his latest work. This is an album that requires a couple of close listens to fully appreciate all of it’s many nuances, but you will be rewarded for your effort.

Follow Agent Johnny Red on Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on BandcampSpotify / Google PlayApple Music

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 10: ABSOFACTO – “Lemon Drop”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that’s been stuck in your head”, and my pick is the delightful “Lemon Drop” by Absofacto. I love the song, which is currently in the midst of a long run on my Weekly Top 30.

Absofacto is the solo project of singer/songwriter and musician Jonathan Visger. He’s been making music for over 15 years, first as a member of Michigan-based indie rock band Mason Proper, and later as a solo artist, and recently scored his first breakthrough hit with his captivating single “Dissolve”. A sleeper hit, the song was originally released in 2015, but went nowhere. In 2017, he signed with Atlantic Records and released his EP Thousand Peaces. “Dissolve” was included on the EP, then re-released as a single in 2018, but once again failed to gain traction, which is hard to believe as it’s such a great song.

Absofacto

In 2019, the song received renewed interest due to a meme on the music and video-sharing app TikTok, and became a surprise hit. It debuted on the Billboard Alternative chart in June 2019, and after a long, steady climb, reached #1 in January 2020. Absofacto followed up with the single “Rewind” in November 2019, then in March 2020, dropped “Lemon Drop”, along with another song “Python”.

On his Facebook account, Absofacto describes his music as “warped cloud odd dream beat / bubblejam / idyllicrunk / spacebass / twilight zoneout / wavewave“, which pretty well paints an accurate and colorful picture of his cool, synthpop sound. “Lemon Drop” is one of his best tracks, with a breezy, uptempo vibe and infectious dance beat. He uses lots of sweet and spacey synths to create a dreamy, atmospheric soundscape for his soft, breathy vocals. They have an ethereal, yet seductive quality that makes them utterly enchanting as he sings to a loved one of his ardor. It’s a fresh and modern take on the age-old subject of romance.

Blond camaro, gold leaf, yellow lemon drop
You’re my one and only, just the way you are
Wanna see the world from the front seat of your car
Tell me you ain’t far, tell me you ain’t far 

Follow Absofacto: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

US3R & Jasper Mitchell – Single Review: “Forever Blue”

I love when artists collaborate on music projects, as the talent and creative energy each bring to the mix often results in some really terrific work. Last week I featured such a song by L.A. artists Harley Bird and Barren Gates, and am now pleased to feature another collaborative effort, this time by Seattle-based singer-songwriter and composer US3R, and Minneapolis-based synth artist and composer Jasper Mitchell. They teamed up to create a deliciously chill song “Forever Blue“, which dropped March 15th.

Us3r
US3R

US3R (pronounced ‘user’, and the artistic moniker of a very nice guy named Kristian Alexander) makes synthwave-inspired electronic pop, dream pop and house music. I had the pleasure of meeting him and his lovely wife last December when they were in the Coachella Valley to visit family and friends before the Christmas holidays. (Kristian grew up in Cathedral City, where I now live.) I asked him about his name US3R, and he said it was inspired by his work in the IT industry: “I’ve been a computer guy since I was very young. In computer terminology/operating systems, there are references to “user” in a million different forms. It felt like an archetypal term that represented computer culture… and also in hacker culture, we have a tendency to talk in “leet speak” (where you swap numbers for letters), so, ‘US3R’ is a reference to the hacky nature of my music.

US3R has had a very busy year, first releasing his debut album 1985 in May (2019), then following up in December with his second album INFLUENCE, a brilliant work addressing modern influencer culture and the loss of intimacy in the digital age. Both are outstanding, and I urge my readers to check them out on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review. In February and early March, US3R embarked on a North American tour covering Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Hollywood, NYC, and Toronto, before it was abruptly halted by the Coronavirus outbreak.

Jasper Mitchell
Jasper Mitchell

Jasper Mitchell likewise creates dreamy chillwave, synthwave and atmospheric electronic music. He released his debut EP Awakening in 2018, and followed a year later with his stunning album Her, both of which I also highly recommend.

Like many collaborations, “Forever Blue” was recorded and produced in different locations. Mitchell came up with the initial music concept, then sent it to US3R, who wrote the lyrics and made some chord changes. He recorded the vocals while in Southern California last December, then sent his vocal recording to Mitchell in Minneapolis, who did the production work on the track. They then worked back and forth over the internet until they got the song just right.

US3R states that the song is about driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in California from Santa Monica to Malibu, “reminiscing about a woman that used to sit in the passenger seat, and every time you do the drive it brings up old feelings.” He adds “Its about reflecting on your life in the face of mortality. We ironically wrote this before Coronavirus happened, but it seems very relevant all of a sudden.”

Employing a colorful mix of warm, sparkling synths, set to a languid trip hop percussive beat, Mitchell artfully creates a captivating atmospheric soundscape evoking a sun-kissed day along the California coast, but with an underlying air of melancholia. US3R has a silky-smooth vocal style that’s immensely pleasing, and the perfect voice for a chillwave song. His soft, almost breathy croons beautifully convey the wistful emotions expressed in the bittersweet lyrics: “If I died tomorrow would I be happy with it all? / I’ve had some good times / There’s so many things I saw / I don’t wanna go / There’s still so much i wanna see / I need to know are you the one who’s saving me? / Forever blue, when I look at you.”

It’s a gorgeous track. Nice work guys!

Connect with Us3r:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud  / YouTube
Purchase:  Google PlayBandcamp

Connect with Jasper Mitchell:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Google Play

XENNON – Album Review: “MIAMI COP”

Xennon Miami Cop

XENNON is a synthwave artist/producer and music teacher who’s originally from the U.K., but now based in Tokyo, Japan, and he’s just released his debut album MIAMI COP. A busy man, he’s also curator of the Synthwave Sounds playlist on Spotify. Inspired by the 80s hit TV show Miami Vice, and the synth-driven pop-rock that was also popular in the 80s, MIAMI COP is a concept album that tells the story of an alternative Miami circa 1987. In this story, the city is a dystopian world in which technology has advanced far beyond our own world’s, and crime has spiraled out of control. Against this backdrop of illegal firearms and drug trafficking stands a troubled police officer named Jack Lancer, the MIAMI COP who aims to do battle with the bad guys.

The album was written, performed, produced and mixed by XENNON, and mastered by acclaimed music engineer Pete Maher, whose clients have included such noted acts as U2, The Killers, The White Stripes, The Pixies, The Rolling Stones, Nine Inch Nails, the 1975, Katy Perry, Depeche Mode, Liam Gallagher, Linkin Park and many more. Additional guest vocals and voice-over work on some tracks were provided by Allie, Bill Fore and Benny Rose. XENNON has dedicated his album to the memory of Jeanette Portues.

MIAMI COP opens with “Miami Beach Chase“, a fast-paced song that sets the stage for the battle to come, as Jack goes on a high-speed pursuit of a criminal on the streets of Miami. The exuberant track immediately reminds me of Patti Labelle’s 1985 dance-pop hit “New Attitude”, which was also featured on the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack. XENNON turns introspective on the poignant “Flashback to Holly“, where Jack reflects on better times with his now ex-wife Holly, who left him because of his drinking and aggressive behavior, and how he wishes he’d treated her better: “But I can’t say the words that are deep in my regret. Like, ‘did I let you down?’ I couldn’t see you smiling back at me at first, but I can now./Let go, moving slow, because time is the only thing that makes it better.” The vibrant, shimmery synths and pulsating percussive beats enhance the powerful emotions expressed by XENNON’s clear, plaintive vocals.

Ominous grinding synths beautifully capture the evil essence of notorious arms dealer Baron Cleeth on “A New Enemy“. Jack comes to terms with what he must do to redeem himself and save Miami: “Saved in me, is the least that I can do to erase what I regret. Now, take me from me./Hating what I’ve done. Know then what I’ll do. Hating what I’ve become. But I know then what I’ll do.” Bill Fore provides Cleeth’s menacing voice-over. “The Visit” sees Jack going to visit Holly in an attempt to win her back, but she’s having none of it. The track has a bouncy, upbeat tempo and sweeping glittery synths that belie the bittersweet lyrics. Guest vocalist Allie sings Holly’s parts as she gives Jack the brush-off: “Shifting blame is what you do best. But I’m tired, yeah I’m tired. And I’m tired of trying.”

The Broken Man” is a near-epic, mostly instrumental track running seven and a half minutes. The music starts off with magical-sounding synth chords, accompanied by a deep, fluttering jazzy bass riff. The music then expands with psychedelic synths and an ominous throbbing percussive beat. Later in the song, guest vocalist Benny Rose performs the spoken voice-over for Jack’s boss Captain Carson, who admonishes him for being stupid and foolish to embark on a dangerous raid, and to use his pain and suffering as the fuel to re-ignite the fire inside him and become the valiant man he used to be.

Heeding his captain’s advice, Jack cleans up his act and pulls himself together on “The Montage“. XENNON employs more of those 80s dance-pop grooves with a bouncy deep percussive beat and lots of shimmery synths, giving the track a sunny, upbeat vibe that complements the hopeful lyrics: “Finally the fog is lifting and I can see everything once again. Achingly, I stand assisting the reason I’m here taking over me.”

With his attitude improved and confidence back, as he prepares to do battle with Cleeth, Jack decides to try again with Holly, sending her “The Letter“. Musically, the song has a strong 80s synth-pop sound, with a chorus that reminds me a bit of the chorus in Starship’s 1986 hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. XENNON’s vocals are especially wonderful here, soaring to a near-falsetto in places as he croons “I’m alive, I’m seeing sights with my soulmate standing by my side. Can’t believe my eyes, where everything I ever wanted is mine. This part of my heart, is forever growing. I hope I show it every day. All the years that we spent, I want more of them. Cause I couldn’t be happier another way.

Everything comes to a head on “The Raid” an exhilarating eight-minute-long tour de force. The track starts off with a cool special FX arrangement by Benny Rose, where we hear crystalline sounds of breaking glass, voices from a crowd of people and a circling police helicopter, all accompanied by deep, throbbing bass. Both Fore and Rose are back, providing voice-overs for Cleeth and Captain Carson, respectively. XENNON delivers a complex kaleidoscope of swirling, psychedelic, and industrial synths to create aural imagery of the epic battle between the Miami police and Cleeth’s gang of thugs. It’s a dramatic finish to a clever and imaginative concept work.

I’m not entirely sure we needed more 80s-inspired synthpop, but XENNON brings a fresh and creative approach to the genre with his ambitious and impressive debut effort. He’s done a very fine job composing exciting music and writing thoughtful lyrics, then using synthesizers to create the distinct moods and sounds that bring his classic tale of good vs. evil to life.

To learn more about the storyline for MIAMI COP, as well the character bios and images, go to XENNON’s Website.  You’ll find everything you need to know about the MIAMI COP universe, allowing you to more fully enjoy the overall experience. All artwork for the album and website was done by Travis Wright.

Connect with XENNON:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

STONED PIRATES – Album Review: “Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll”

Stoned Pirates album art

Stoned Pirates is the music project of Algerian-born Khaled Sahour, a creative and highly imaginative musician, visual artist and filmmaker. Growing up in a home where he was exposed to lots of music and art, he early on developed a love of rock, pop and disco, and taught himself to play music on a broken two string guitar. He started a band and sung his heart out to young Algerian audiences that seemed to connect very well, but eventually relocated to Los Angeles to further his career in music and film. On August 9th, he released his debut album Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll, which I’m pleased to be reviewing today.

Stoned Pirates’ unusual and eclectic music style comes from a wide array of influences ranging from classic rock acts such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses, to the funk of Sly & the Family Stone, the dance grooves of Chic and Nile Rodgers, and the soulful pop of Michael Jackson – all spiced with an Algerian flavor. Not only does Khaled write, perform, record and produce all his music, he also creates his own visuals for his Stoned Pirates project. The album was mixed and mastered by Thomas Juth, and opens with “Turmoil (Intro)“, a brief track that sets the tone for the album. With a backdrop of otherworldly industrial synths and a hypnotic beat, Stoned Pirates chants “I’ve been waiting for the wind to blow. I guess it’s time to rock’n’roll.

Next up is “Nothing“, a dark, trippy song about feeling overwhelmed by loneliness and hopelessness, like one is powerless to change the sorry state of things. Stoned Pirates weaves a mesmerizing soundscape out of a fascinating kaleidoscope of synth instruments and exotic sounds. I love the xylophone, spooky keyboards, deep bass and guitar, accompanied by a cool, carnival-like synth riff. Khaled has a quirky vocal style in which he sometimes sings in a baby-like falsetto that I suppose could be off-putting to some, but once I got into his music I found it sort of charming. Using that falsetto, he sings: “Throw me a bone. Hit me with a stone, I just wanna feel something real.” But then, he sings in a deeper, almost menacing tone: “Nothing, absolutely nothing has changed today. Same old, same old sins and heartbreaks coming in new ways.

The surreal video he made for the song shows an astronaut floating aimlessly through dark space along with various objects like an old TV playing static, boxing gloves and pieces of furniture.

One of my favorite tracks is “The Devil in You“, a great kiss-off song to someone who’s deceived and caused hurt. The song has a sensual beat, with jazzy synths, funky bass, swirling guitar and some really terrific sax. Stoned Pirates bitterly sings “I didn’t see fully the devil in you. What are you truly, if not a foe? Don’t come back crying, knocking on my door.” Keeping with a similar theme, “Mr. Nice Guy” addresses someone who keeps taking advantage of a guy whenever she screws up: “If you cry for help, he will come to you. Convenient nice guy is always at your rescue.” Once again, Stoned Pirates employs a rich assortment of sparkling synths, along with a hypnotic dance beat to create a captivating backdrop for his colorful vocals.

On the bittersweet “In Time“, he laments of his regret about having broken up with a lover: “If I could I would go back in time, I would change the way we drew the lines. If I could I would go back in time. I would try harder to change your mind. Love will come to you in time. Just be patient, don’t cry.” The soulful track has a Michael Jackson vibe, featuring deep, sensual synths, highlighted by funky guitar and brass, all set to a strong, hip-swaying beat. The soulful, funky “Rebound” has him calling out someone who’s using him to get over another guy:  “Oh girl, who you think you’re trying to fool? Oh girl, who you think you’re playing here? Cause all the signs are clear. I’m talking about the rebound.”

Stoned Pirates uses a vampire metaphor on “Midnight Lover“, a sexy song about a seductress who preys on men to get what she wants. I love this lyric: “I saw her on the dance floor still trying to get more. Staring at me in the eyes while biting another guy.” Funky grooves abound on “Where I Belong“, another sultry tune with marvelous swirling synths and a beat so damn infectious it had me doing a lap dance in my chair! The aptly-titled album closer “The End” features a sultry Latin beat and jangly guitars drenched in reverb, accompanied by some tasty exuberant horns. Khaled employs his deeper vocals here, as he sings in an almost menacing whisper: “Sit back, relax, nobody is going anywhere. You think the end, but it’s only just the beginning.”

I’ve got to say that Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll is a marvelous album and a very impressive debut from Stoned Pirates. His innovative music is totally original, sounding like no one else I’m aware of. I love how he’s taken an eclectic mix of influences to create his own unique, fascinating sound. His beautiful, seductive melodies, compelling lyrics and use of a wide array of lush instruments and synths make for some really captivating songs that are pure joy to hear.

Connect with Stoned Pirates:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

CRAIG-RUSSELL HORNE – Single Review: “Sleepwalking”

Craig-Russell Horne is an independent electronic music artist and producer from Glasgow, Scotland. Formerly a member of Scottish alternative rock band The 21st State, he’s been called one of the most promising newcomers to the Scottish electronic scene and, after listening to his music I can fully understand why. He blends a wide array of dynamic synthesized sounds with samples of old films and classic songs to create fascinating soundscapes for his compelling lyrics and distinctive vocals. Following up on his brilliant 2018 debut album WITH THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT, he’s just released a captivating new single “Sleepwalking“.

Craig-Russell Horne2

“Sleepwalking” is about someone with insomnia. Horne explains: “It tells a romantic story of someone who is kept up at night by their past, which constantly runs over in their mind. They can only find solace and, ultimately rest, when with the person they love.  The first half of the track addresses the initial thoughts of regret and fear leading to the insomnia. The vocals are spaced and thin to represent internal thought while also panning from left to right to represent the thoughts spiraling around the head. In the second half, the conversation takes place between the two partners. It is open and honest while also dealing with the embarrassment of opening up. It symbolises love in the form of trust, humility and devotion.

The film samples [heard in the song] are from the 1955 film noir, ‘The Big Combo’, in which a police lieutenant who comes under pressure from a violent gang is helped by the gang leader’s wife to stop their reign over the city. As in ‘The Big Combo’, the two people represented in “Sleepwalking” are unexpected, perfect partners who have experienced very different lives but are brought together by a common bond.”

The track opens with a snippet of conversation between the aforementioned police lieutenant and the gangster’s wife, accompanied by an enchanting little keyboard riff. Once Horne’s vocals enter, the music swells with more of those glittery keyboards, along with somewhat grainy background percussive synths that creates an intriguing contrast in sound textures. Horne has a rather deep, emotive vocal style, but his delivery is understated on this track compared to many of the songs on WITH THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT. His vocals have a vulnerable yet seductive quality as he croons of his fervor:  “Sleepwalking is the only vibe. And you’re the only thing that keeps me up at night. I’ve tried every drug to get me back to sleep. And then I realize that you cut too deep.”

Connect with Craig-Russell:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play / Amazon

THE OCEAN BENEATH – EP Review: “The Ocean Beneath”

The Ocean Beneath is a British electronic music project based in Leeds. Influenced by bands such as Gunship, HVOB and Talk Talk, they combine 80’s synthpop elements with modern recording techniques, analogue synthesis and huge melodic grooves to create music that sounds retro, yet fresh and now. They’ve just released their debut self-titled EP The Ocean Beneath. This EP has been a labor of love for them, working extremely closely with producer Grant Henderson and lyricist/vocalist Nath Jackson to create a first-rate musical offering. The songs were recorded at Loom Studio in Leeds, and mastered by Katie Tavini.

The EP features five tracks, three of which are instrumentals and two with lyrics written and sung by Nath Jackson. The first track “Wake Up” is a trippy instrumental, with spacey, psychedelic synths set to a languid, strutting beat that almost borders on trap. The intricate, pulsating synths have a sci-fi quality at times, giving the track a cool, mysterious vibe that’s almost mesmerizing. It nicely conveys images of that hazy state we often feel upon waking up from a deep sleep.

Next up is “Transcend“, a gorgeous track that calls to mind some of the wonderful 80s songs I loved by A-ha, New Order and Depeche Mode. More of those marvelous spacey synths abound here, but this time they’re delivered with a bouncy, upbeat tempo and accompanied by additional sweeping synths that form a lush soundscape for Nath Jackson’s stunning vocals. He wrote and sings the encouraging lyrics about overcoming one’s fears and uncertainty, and opening oneself up to all the experiences that life offers: “The secret’s hidden in you. Stop and take a look around. You never know what you might have found. Open up, and soak it in. Watch it as your time begins.” I love this song.

The blissful mood is abruptly interrupted by an unsettling, deep-bass synth accompanied by sounds of distant ambulance sirens on the brief but complex instrumental “The Meridian“. The ominous sounds are suddenly replaced with a beautiful interlude of glittery synths before ending with a return of the sirens.

Setting Sun” is a spectacular track, and probably my favorite on the EP. Everything about it perfection, starting with an enthralling EDM beat that grabs me squarely by the hips, transporting me to a dreamy place from which I want no escape. The pulsating, psychedelic synths are darkly beautiful and lush, and have I mentioned that infectious dance beat? Jackson returns to grace our ears with his warm, sensual vocals that are absolutely captivating. I really love his voice! He sings of someone trying their damnedest to avoid committing to love: “Well you may be the last one standing. The devil’s on your tail but you keep on graspin’. Sail your dreams out to the sea. Pull them on the line and bring them home to me. A love line and watch it shine. And I won’t stop until you are mine. You don’t know what you’ve become. And you can’t hide behind the setting sun.”

The brilliant video produced for the song is trippy and beautiful, showing Jackson’s handsome face superimposed with a colorful mix of psychedelic, tech, vintage, urban and nature imagery.

The final track “Nocturnality” is another instrumental, with a powerful, thumping dance beat and intricate, sweeping synths that remind me a bit of the great dance music of European composers Cerrone and Giorgio Moroder that was popular in the mid to late 70s. And, like the music of those composers, “Nocturnality” is fairly long, running nearly six minutes. It’s a wonderful, melodic track.

The Ocean Beneath is a superb little EP and a terrific debut effort for this talented music project. One of the things I especially like about it is that each song sounds and feels entirely different, making for a fascinating listening experience. Some electronic music albums and EPs can become numbing after awhile, when one track after another sounds pretty much the same, but this one always surprises with every listen.

Connect with The Ocean Beneath: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

TED KENNEDY – Single Review: “Not Enough”

Ted Kennedy is a producer/composer of electronic music based in Toronto, Canada. He’s been producing and recording music for several years, and released his first EP Late in 2014, and followed two years later with a second EP Lost, both of which contain some very solid tracks. He also curates a weekly live show called Frequencies, featuring live sets from forward-thinking electronic artists, producers, and MC’s. The shows take place on the third Thursday of every month at Handlebar in Toronto.

After a bit of a hiatus, Ted is once again recording more songs, and released a new single “Forty” earlier this year. Now he returns with another single “Not Enough“, which dropped on April 12. About his latest single, Ted told me “Like a lot of music I have been writing recently, ‘Not Enough’ is inspired by the sounds of Toronto’s underground electronic music scene. Curating Frequencies, I’m constantly blown away by the amount of talent here. It’s tough to be an artist in this city; rents are high, venues are closing, and platforms big enough to give artists any meaningful exposure are nearly non-existent. Everyone has day jobs, roommates, and bedroom studios. Despite the challenges, artists put in the work and create great things. This song is inspired by those artists, their sounds, their creativity, their energy. I just hope I did them justice.”

On “Not Enough”, Ted employs a strong thumping EDM beat and moody, pulsating synths that give the track a bit of a Depeche Mode vibe. In fact, his deep, sultry vocals even sound a bit like Dave Gahan’s here. The driving dance beat is hypnotic and seductive, compelling us to move as it carries us away to a dark, yet dreamy place. Throughout, Ted uses deep bass and fuzzy, otherworldly synths to give the track added texture and depth. I found myself getting lost in the music, not wanting the song to end.

The lyrics speak of a love affair in tatters, in which the love they had is no longer enough to sustain the relationship:

Damn taste of love is all I know
It’s always on, not enough
Your love is my own ruin
A quiet knot undone

Our love is all in cinders
Our love is not enough
I’m always in the windows
I’m always on the run

Ted will be performing “Not Enough” at Handlebar on Thursday, April 18 as part of his Frequencies series.

Connect with Ted on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud

HOUSE OF HARM – EP Review: “Coming of Age”

house of harm ep

It may be 2019, but the lasting legacy of 1980s post-punk and new wave (and all its sub genres) is very much alive and well, probably due in part to the fact it sounds so awesome! I know of several artists and bands whose sound is heavily influenced by the electronics-dominant music of bands like New Order, The Cure and Depeche Mode, to name some of the biggest acts from that period. One such band that I have the pleasure of featuring today is House of Harm, a duo from Boston consisting of Michael Rocheford on lead vocals & Cooper Leardi on guitar and synths. With just a casual listen, they could be unfairly labeled a New Order or Depeche Mode cover band, but a closer listen reveals the guys to be skilled songwriters and composers, crafting outstanding songs that easily hold their own against the aforementioned bands.

House of Harm released their excellent debut EP Demo in June 2017, followed later that year with a darkwave single “Isolator”, and in November 2018, they dropped their second EP Coming of Age, featuring four gorgeous tracks. First up is “Past Life“, a brooding but beautiful song that really channels Depeche Mode both instrumentally and vocally. The guys employ lush swirling synths, razor sharp percussion, and layers of richly textured, chiming guitars to create a magnificent shimmering soundscape.  Rocheford’s arresting vocals convey a sense of urgency and sad resignation as he laments “Let the past lay down tonight, I want it to, I want it to. Let the summer light catch your eyes. There’s someone new, someone new“.

About the track’s meaning, Rocheford told the webzine Vanyaland “The song is about spending time with someone you were formerly involved with and the struggles that come along with that.” Leardi added his feelings about the song: “‘Past Life’ was one of those songs that came to us like a lightbulb flash. All the elements were there. We were coming down from playing a string of shows, completely exhausted, and in one afternoon we wrote and recorded the whole song. It felt wrong to go back and change the magic we got that day, so the version you hear is just that. I can’t deny that there was a certain flavor in the air when we were working on it, something that reminds me of an ecstasy-fueled club in Ibiza or something… I think it puts us in a place and time, and that time is right now. I feel as though the song is there to say ‘We’re House Of Harm and this is what we’re about’.”

Always” is an updated version of a track that originally appeared on Demo. Leardi’s exuberant jangly guitars are the highlight here, accompanied by sparkling synths and wildly crashing cymbals. Rocheford fervently sings “You always keep it still. You always speak until. You always turn it around and smile in pain.” The marvelous title track “Coming of Age” features a powerful driving beat and a deeply resonant mix of swirling and moody synths that create a dramatic backdrop for Rocheford’s impassioned, soaring vocals as he implores to a former loved one: “And would you still run at the sight of me? And do you still you feel that you’ve thrown it away? And would you still lie, if I ever told you? And would you still say it’s a coming of age?” “Valentine” sounds a bit similar to “Coming of Age”, but with a frenetic beat that’s classic post-punk/new wave. If this bouncy, high-energy song doesn’t get you up and moving, nothing will.

Coming of Age is a wonderful little EP, and if you’re a fan of 80s post-punk/new wave, you’ll like this record. The arrangement and production are flawless, and the music and vocals sound clear and perfectly balanced. My only criticism is that with just four tracks, it feels rather like a teaser, leaving me wanting more. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as I eagerly await what House of Harm will grace our earbuds with next.

Connect with House of Harm:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes