ANDREW LA TONA – Album Review: “Human”

The great city of Toronto, Canada has a thriving music scene, and I’ve featured a number of artists and bands based there, most recently The Autumn Stones and their stunning album Emperor Twilight. After seeing that review, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Andrew La Tona reached out to me for consideration of his latest album Human for a review, and I’m so glad he did because it’s fantastic! I can say without equivocation that I love his extraordinary album. Andrew’s a creative and gifted composer, songwriter and musician who employs all sorts of experimental and unique instrumentation, melodies and time signature and chord changes that make for incredibly interesting songs that always deliver unexpected surprises for the listener.

Andrew has had a lifelong love affair with music. As he explains in his bio:

“It seems as if music has been my life since the day I was born.  My mother always reminds me that as a toddler, she signed me up for a Mother and Tot music class. A fond memory of mine is that for as long as I remember, there has always been a piano in my home.  At the age of seven, I began formal lessons in piano and classical theory through the Royal Conservatory of Music for seven years. By fourteen I made a commitment to myself that music was to become my life.  I discovered my father’s old guitar hidden in the basement.  I took it upon myself to learn by ear, listening to records and reading guitar magazines.  When I entered high-school I was proficient on Piano, Guitar, Bass and Drums.  I made the band room my home, where I played in all the school ensembles, refined my sight reading and theory, and learned Trumpet, Euphonium and Flugelhorn as a personal project.”

He went on to study Radio Broadcasting and Journalism at Seneca College and School of Communication Arts, and from 1999 to 2006, he played with various groups with long-time collaborator Edward Kramer, with whom he founded the bands Odd Man Out and Yesterday’s Gone.  They recorded four albums together, and Andrew personally completed three solo albums which went on to be the foundation for his and Ed’s band Big Stereo, to which he devoted his full attention from 2006 to 2009. Since 2010, Andrew has continued to work on his own music, and Human is his latest album, which dropped in June.

Andrew La Tona

Human is a commentary of sorts on the current state of things, in which Andrew expresses his antipathy for today’s leaders, our growing obsession with gadgets, and ponders our place within the vastness of the universe. His lyrics are so well-written and compelling that I’ll be quoting a lot of them. The powerful opening track “Leader” speaks of how humankind’s ignorance and greed is wrecking our planet, yet we’re hungry for leadership to help us solve our problems, but our leader (Trump) is a fraud:

Here, we find ourselves trapped inside a fate so paramount 
And we live for ourselves with no regard for other animals 
Our mother earth is threatening with disaster 
We’re blind, we are condemned to live upon the soiled earth 
How could we figure out how to reverse our plight, our misfortune, our ignorance 
Total genocide 

You’re not the leader we want 
Leave or we’ll never have peace 
The way you speak is absurd 
It warps the minds of our young

Musically, the track starts off with a distorted spacey synth, then expands to a rolling drumbeat as Andrew begins singing in his silky, yet vulnerable voice. His layered jangly and chiming guitars are marvelous, and he uses a variety of synths to great effect in creating a very intriguing song.

Borderlines” is a feast for the ears. Andrew employs guitar, bass, organ, horns, cymbals, drums and glittery synths to weave a rich tapestry of sound that unfolds throughout the length of the enthralling track. The song is about breaking free from mind control and expectations placed upon us by oppressive societal norms.

I want to be free. Free from your borderlines
I need to break the mold you’ve always cast for me
And in my mind, there’s a place like this
Without your rules, your greed

Andrew takes on people who feel success is having more money and stuff than everyone else on “At the Top.” The delightful song has a Latin vibe thanks to a peppy Samba beat and instrumentation that beautifully softens the bite of the lyrics:

Boast among your rich yuppy friends 
‘Bout how you trample on all those around you 
All just to end up at the top 
And what’s left for you? 
Is there more than just the cars – the yacht? 
Honestly, I’m not impressed 
Baby, nothings cooler than you, my friend

Power and Prowess” is an incredibly satisfying ‘fuck you’ to Donald Trump, which automatically makes this a winning song in my book! The track has a fast-paced galloping drumbeat, with wonderful intricate guitar work and crisp layered percussion.  Andrew vocals get downright raw as he snarls the scathing lyrics:

“Be the champion”, that’s what you tell yourself 
I guess in your mind you are 
It’s true you shit on johns of gold 
You’re at least champion of that 
So how can you lead the people of today 
Forward to tomorrow? 

I doubt you know the gravity of your post 
I’d say no 
There are people out there who want to love 
There are people out there who don’t want to die 
You’re not one of us 
We should be blessed with human rights 
No one should be groped by you 
No one should be owned by you 
You’re in charge of you, big boy 
And that’s all (And that’s all) 

Weald that sword in battle, head up to the front line 
Bring yourself to ‘fess-up to one crime 
Let us know who’s running the show 
You’re not the man for the job 
Move over, asshole 
We can save the world 

One of my favorite tracks is “The Walls,” a beautiful declaration of love to someone to whom you are beholden. This song is so utterly captivating it gives me chills. It’s as if Andrew has gone out of his way to make the guitars and synths sparkle like jewels of sunlight strewn across the sea. His fervent vocals, which occasionally soar to a smooth falsetto, are positively sublime.

Another favorite is the bouncy “Laniakea Supercluster,” a fascinating track that has a strong Talking Heads vibe. Along with his echoed vocals, Andrew uses lots of otherworldly synths to create a sci-fi feel to go with the lyrics that speak to the fact that, on the one hand, Earth is but an insignificant speck in the overall massiveness of the universe, but on the other hand, it’s our home and so very significant to our survival and well-being.

So Long to the Human Race” is an apocalyptic clarion call after a nuclear war for those who survive and repopulate the world to try and co-exist in peace and be one with the earth. The gritty guitars, heavy buzzing bass,  organ, and spacey synths lend a somber mood.

It makes me sick to look upon all we’ve done
And the little we’ve done to help
And if I could, I’d eat up all the terrible things we’ve done
And shit it down your throat 

Can’t you see that our kind is a warning 
From the first flame, to the first rocket 
So little is left of what we blew all our cash on 
And burned up all the oil 
And killed who we loved 
So long to the human race 

Time Goes Ever By” touches on our obsession with our mobile devices, addicted to the siren song of staying connected on all our social media accounts, at the expense of many other facets of our lives. I know I’m sometimes guilty of this behavior myself. Musically, the track has a lovely melody, with some terrific guitar and organ. And have I mentioned that I love Andrews’ vocals?

Everyone around me seems to be gripped by the same illness 
Never putting down their device 
Never looking up from their trance 
Never have the time to sow seeds 
Never stepping past the bar 
Of this jail we’re put in by ourselves and our will 
Can we find the strength to let drop the rock upon the screen 
And our friends logged on the web

Human is a brilliant album on every level I can think of – composition, melodies, lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and production. Andrew has done a masterful job with all aspects of the album production, and should be very proud of this outstanding work. And if all that weren’t enough, he even did the amazing cover art!

He’s now in the process of forming an ensemble of musicians to perform with him live, and is excited to have them add some amazing character and flavor to the songs from Human, as well as some of his songs from his back catalogue.

Check out Andrew’s Website and connect with him on  Facebook 
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

LOVEPROOF – Album Review: “Neon Blood, Volume One”

Neon Blood album art

Loveproof is a studio project by singer Ciaran Megahey and instrumentalist & producer Brendan McGarvey. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the duo have a long, albeit interrupted, history together. The two met in high school while living in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, formed a band that quickly fizzled, and eventually went off on separate music career paths. Ciaran is also a member of Canadian indie band The Autumn Stones, which I featured on this blog in 2016, while Brendan is or has been involved with Jerkbank, Stereohoax and Sugarkill. As luck would have it, one day in 2013 the two ran into each other on the street as Ciaran was headed to an open mic. That reconnection got them reminiscing about old times, and ultimately deciding to once again collaborate musically. 

Ciaran Megahey
Ciaran Megahey

They began writing songs and soon had an interesting collection of dark and cryptic doom pop on their hands. Originally setting out to create a sound that would combine some of their early favorite bands Joy Division, Guided by Voices and My Bloody Valentine, they later decided to throw in some dub for good measure. They named their project Loveproof, in honor of the My Bloody Valentine classic “Loveless.” Referring to their sound as “Dreamy, Dubby Doom Pop,” the songs they wrote and recorded culminated in the production of their debut album Neon Blood, Volume One, which dropped on December 5, 2017. Ciaran sang all the vocals, while Brendan, who’s primarily a bassist, played and programmed all instruments and produced the album. The album was recorded at Brendan’s home studio in Toronto and mastered by Harris Newman (Handsome Furs, Craft Spells).

Many albums require a couple of listens for the music to grow on me, but this gorgeous album dazed my eardrums the moment I heard it. It kicks off with “The Power,” a dreamy soundscape of crystalline synths set to a hypnotic beat. Ciaran’s smoldering, breathy vocals are captivating as he asks “Couldn’t we do this over? Shouldn’t we do this over? / From your tower, feeling sour by the hour. Have you got the power?” The beautiful track really sets the tone for the album’s moody vibe. The songs deal mostly with relationships that are uncertain or fraught with danger, and the music is darkly mysterious or even sometimes menacing, but always stunning and never depressing or maudlin.

Ciaran dials up the thermostat a couple notches on the sultry “Sister Moonlight,” where he seductively sings of the spell a woman has cast over him: “Sex at dawn. Her every movement turns me on. In her arms I’ve found shadows and light.” Though a bit haunting, the instrumentals and Ciaran’s vocals are breathtaking. The fitting video features scenes from the 1961 B-movie The Devil’s Hand, a horror film about a man who falls in love with a woman who turns out to be involved in a satanic cult.

The mesmerizing “Post” delivers more shimmering synths and a bass-driven beat, and in his soothing, breathy vocals Ciaran reassures an insecure loved one of his eternal support and commitment: “And I am your signpost? With our worlds entwined. Post. Am I just in time? Post. When I make you shine. Post.” Their video for “Post” contains footage from the 1957 film Here Comes Tobor.

The Vortex” features Brendan’s enchanting Spanish-sounding guitar floating above layers of mysterious synths and a determined drum beat. Ciaran sings of a doomed relationship that seems to be based on lustful passion but filled with bitterness and anger: “Hold you close just like a keepsake. Slow to learn. Quicker to slash and burn when we dance into the vortex. Blinds on. Pile on. The lights came on. That’s when I came around. The sounds we made of hate gone twice insane. Dying on the vine.

Now is a good time to point out that Ciaran’s sublime vocals are strikingly similar to Bryan Ferry’s on several tracks. And some of those tracks even seem to channel Ferry’s sound and music style, especially the spellbinding “The Lowdown,” “Tabula Rasa” (which reminds me of “Don’t Stop the Dance,” a song I adore), “Modern Ecstacy” and album closer “Death’s Flower.”

The mysteriously moody “Clever As” has more of an electronica feel, with pulsating synths and a languid kick-drum beat. The biting lyrics speak to the damage caused by people who cleverly lie and intimidate to get what they want:  “Anyone can break your heart in two, mind you. Anyone as clever as you. Where ‘benign’ lecherous tribes prattle on ‘heaven won’t take long.’ When the crude credulous boob follows through all over the news.” That last line seems to perfectly describe the sociopath currently occupying the U.S. Presidency.

The title track “Neon Blood” is perhaps the most haunting song on the album, both musically and lyrically. The brooding, razor-sharp synths and crisp percussion create an icy aura that’s beautiful yet menacing. The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, but my take on their meaning is that people in search of fame – represented by ‘Neon Blood’ – will cheat, lie and prostitute themselves to get it: “Faceless plagiarists, aimless and dangerous playboys, movies stars grovel at your feet. You’re serpentine inverted mind. My Neon Blood.” In reality, those searching for fame are actually the victims: “Howling at your wounds. But you’re the sheep and I’m the wolf.” Some pretty heavy stuff there, and a great example of Loveproof’s exceptional songwriting.

Neon Blood, Volume One is a marvelous and flawlessly produced album that provides a stunning listening experience that draws you in, enveloping your senses in a dreamy, otherworldly soundscape.

Follow Loveproof on Facebook
Stream their album on Spotify and purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes

MELOTIKA – Single Review: “Unaware Part II [Blindside]”

Melotika single

Melotika is a Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based electronic indie/pop project consisting of singer/songwriter Mel Yelle and DJ/producer Jackman Jones, also known as Mista T Dot. Last year they released two singles “Downtown Summer ft. Krosst Out” and “Unaware,” and on January 30 they dropped a sultry new track “Unaware Part II [Blindside].”

According to Mel Yelle, it’s a continuation of the theme expressed in “Unaware,” and open to interpretation. My take is that “Unaware” is about struggling to maintain one’s identity in the face of a relationship that’s unraveling. In “Unaware Part II [Blindside],” she’s confronting the person who blindsided her, telling them she no longer cares, is moving on, and so should they:

Quit callin’ when my make-up fallin’ and I wonder why you’re not alone? 
Big ballin’ and I see you stallin’ while your trippin’ at the mall 
Go getter, why you even bother? When it’s just so clear you see 
No better, doesn’t even matter, no it doesn’t really matter to me 

If you want it! Can you start it! You’re a getaway! 
If you thought it! And you need it! Do it anyway! 
Jumpstart, we won’t be apart; to the unknown 
If you want it, and you need it I won’t ever want you alone 

Blindside of the future, blindside it’s my nature 
Don’t want any part of it, so much more to see 

Mel Yelle

Born and raised in Montreal, Mel Yelle’s rich, smoky vocals remind me at times of fellow Quebecois Celine Dion, with whom she also bears a striking resemblance. Combined with Jones’ sultry hip-hop beats and mysterious echoed synths, together they’ve produced a track brimming with sensuous grooves that raise body temperatures and aim straight for the hips. It’s a marvelous song.

Melotika will be releasing their first EP in March. To learn more, connect with them on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes or Bandcamp