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.

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100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #53: “Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man

The song at #53 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Human” by British blues artist Rag’n’Bone Man. An intensely powerful song with a gospel feel, “Human” was a huge breakout hit for the imposing singer/songwriter born Rory Charles Graham. With his soulful and raw bass-baritone voice, he passionately sings of having human frailties, and that he’s neither a saint nor a demon, nor does he have all the answers: “Some people got the real problems / Some people out of luck / Some people think I can solve them / Lord heavens above / ‘Cause I’m no prophet or messiah / You should go looking somewhere higher/ I’m only human after all / Don’t put the blame on me.” I love the deep, booming bass line, thunderous percussion and soaring string synths.

The song was released in July 2016, but didn’t chart in the U.S. until early 2017. It reached #1 in many countries, including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovakia, as well as the Billboard Alternative and Adult Alternative charts. Shockingly, it peaked at only #74 on the Hot 100, a chart I personally now find largely irrelevant.

The video for the song has been streamed more than 1.175 billion times.

New Song of the Week – CALLUM PITT: “Sea of Noise”

This past summer I had the pleasure of learning about the immensely talented young British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt when he reached out to me about his single “Fault Lines” (you can read my review here). A beautiful song with biting lyrics decrying governmental and media efforts to divide and polarize society, “Fault Lines” has enjoyed a 10-week run on my Weekly Top 30. The prolific artist has been releasing singles every two months in 2020, beginning in May with “Out of the Trees”, followed by “Fault Lines”, “Ghost” and now his latest, “Sea of Noise“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England, Callum writes folk-inspired alternative and dream rock songs influenced by such great acts as The War on Drugs, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. With his soft, pleasing vocals, rich harmonies, captivating melodies and meaningful lyrics, he’s captured industry attention and built a growing fan base since the release in 2017 of his gorgeous first single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can.” His equally beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed nearly two million times on Spotify, an astonishing feat for an indie artist. 

About his latest single, released on October 6th by label Humble Angel Records, Callum explains “‘Sea of Noise’ alludes to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness while feeling surrounded by quite a lot of negative things. Despite this, it mainly discusses the importance of having a person (or activity) which takes your mind away from that mindset, keeps it away and gives a feeling of having a form of control in life.”

With “Sea of Noise” Callum delivers yet another outstanding track for our listening enjoyment. The song is beautiful, with a sweeping back and forth melody driven by a powerful stomping percussive beat, and accompanied by a lush mix of shimmery synths and moody strings. But the highlights for me are his gorgeous intricately-strummed chiming and jangly guitars and enchanting falsetto vocals. His voice nicely transitions with ease from a gentle tenderness to soaring passion as he sings of finding solace from the surrounding din through another’s support: “The colours were running from all this distortion in my head / The speakers were humming, circling feedback in our ears / Swept by the currents further until the choruses blurred and your shout was a murmur / Felt your tug away from the crowds ‘cause, everything always seems so loud / While we’re drifting in this sea of noise flooding in our ears and our eyes.”

Follow Callum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Amazon iTunes

Jono McCleery – Single Review: “Call Me”

After more than five years of blogging about music – which enables me to learn about a least a few new artists or bands literally every day – I’m still surprised when I discover an artist who’s been putting out superb music for several years that I knew nothing about. Just goes to show how many talented artists and bands exist out there, making some really great music. One such artist is British singer-songwriter and guitarist Jono McCleery, who’s latest single Call Me – which dropped October 23rd – has captured my attention. He also released a beautiful accompanying video for the track on October 29th.

Based in London, McCleery was deaf until the age of four, unable to perceive any acoustic stimuli. But when he turned 11, he picked up a guitar for the first time and took to it immediately. He eventually became part of the lively London “underground” and a member of One Taste Collective (OTC), a project founded in 2004 to support musicians and poets of all styles. Some of the artists who emerged through the collective include Little Dragon, Jamie Woon, Kate Tempest and the Portico Quartet, all of whom McCleery has worked with.

As I do with all artists and bands I write about for the first time, I checked out McCleery’s back catalog of music – which is pretty extensive – to get a feel for his sound and style. After listening to quite a few of his songs, I can unequivocally state that I love his music. He plays an incredibly pleasing style of what I’d loosely call contemporary folk, though many songs feature elements of electronica, world music, shoegaze, dreampop, soul and jazz. His music is characterized by captivating melodies, lush but understated instrumentation and his warm, soothing vocals in a style that to my ears is reminiscent of such artists as Sufjan Stevens and James Blake.

His first release, in 2008, was his self-produced debut album Darkest Light, a collection of eight lovely acoustic folk tracks. He followed in 2011 with There Is, a stunning, more experimental work with a greater emphasis on world, electronic and jazzy elements, and featuring collaborations with renowned artists Fink and Vashti Bunyon. One of the album’s tracks, a mesmerizing cover of Black’s 1986 hit “Wonderful Life”, has been streamed more than 3.6 million times on Spotify.

2015 saw the release of his third album Pagodes, another beautiful work that received widespread acclaim. Deutschland Funk called it “a stroke of genius”, while Rolling Stone described it as a “flawless album”. And in 2018, he released Seeds of a Dandelion, a marvelous album of covers in which McCleery re-interpreted songs like Roy Davis Jr.’s dance classic “Gabriel”, the Cocteau Twins’ “Know Who You Are at Every Age”, Atoms For Peace’s “Ingenue” and Beyonce’s “Halo”, an enchanting track which has been streamed over 8.8 million times on Spotify. Webzine Line of Best Fit called the album “a strong collection of songs, made with the upmost respect for its inspirations.”

Now he returns with “Call Me”, the second single from his forthcoming fifth album Here I Am and There You Are, set for release on November 20th via the Ninety Days Records label. The album, which McCleery recorded in just four days with the help of a few musician friends, is an homage to the Afro-American jazz musician Terry Callier, who died in 2012. I’ve had an advance listen of the album, and it’s every bit as stunning as his previous works. “Call Me” was written and sung by McCleery, who also played guitar. Supporting musicians include Steve Pringle on keyboards, Milo Fitzpatrick on bass and Dan See on drums. Production and mixing was done by Brett Cox, and mastering by Emil Van Steenswijk.

The song touches on the struggles of separation and finding inner strength. McCleery explained his inspiration for the song: “When I revisited the song before recording the album, I decided to dedicate a verse to Terry Callier’s song ‘Dancing Girl’, and these are his lyrics: ‘I saw a dream last night, bright like a falling star, and the sources of light seemed so near, yet so far. I thought I was in flight out where the planets are, moving between day and night. Here I am, and there you are.’ And then more recently whilst listening to the album recordings as quietly as possible, that line ‘here I am and there you are’ stood out. And I decided to use it for the album title.“

The song has an enchanting, almost jazzy vibe that’s at once melancholy and beautiful. McCleery’s gently strummed guitar, accompanied by subtle bass and the softest of toe-tapping beats, immediately draws us in, and once he begins singing the poetic lyrics in his soothing vocals, we’re more than eager to follow along. The instrumentals become more lively and his vocals more earnest in the choruses, and I love the haunting little piano chords that enter halfway into the track.

The gorgeous video was produced by France-based screenwriter and videographer Giovanni Di Legami, and features clips from his movie Idem, starring actors Roxane Colson and Jean Yann Verton.

Connect with Jono:  FacebookTwitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud / Napster

Purchase:  Bandcamp 

THAT HIDDEN PROMISE – Album Review: “Who Knows Now?”

That Hidden Promise is the music project and alter ego of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee. Based in Somerset, England, he’s been recording and performing under that moniker since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, plays acoustic and electric guitar, and creates all his own music, including beats and percussion. He’s produced an extensive catalog of outstanding alternative and pop-rock music over the past nine years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix. The result is a varied and eclectic sound, delivered with exceptional guitar work and distinctive vocals that remind me at times of a young Bob Dylan.

I’ve featured That Hidden Promise on this blog a number of times over the last three-plus years, most recently just two months ago when I reviewed “You Can Have the World”, the lead single from his new album Who Knows Now?, which dropped October 2nd. The album is an ambitious and meticulously-crafted work featuring 12 tracks that, in Lee’s own words, “explores what it is to be in these times, through the joys, the frustrations, the anger, injustice and how do we even know what our place is in this world anymore?” The album was recorded and entirely self-produced, mixed and mastered by Lee between March-May 2020.

The album opens with “Intro“, an ominous instrumental track with a harsher and more psychedelic feel than any previous songs I can recall hearing by him. The spooky industrial synths and mix of wailing and distorted guitars set a darkly beautiful tone for what’s to come, and I love it. Next up is “You Can Have the World“, and as I wrote in my review of the song, Lee’s intricate layered guitar work is nothing short of spectacular as he delivers an explosive torrent of ever-changing textures that go from melodic to aggressive buzz-saw to screaming distortion. It’s an electrifying and powerful wall of sound for his plaintive vocals, driving home the urgency expressed in his biting lyrics that speak to finding strength through one’s confusion and rage over a corrupt and unjust system in order to survive and ultimately rise above it: “You can have the world if you’re gonna pay / Though have you got the nerve to fail again and again / Those who lead won’t keep you down / They may seek acclaim but it’s clear / If I win, If I fail in this world, Ain’t a damn thing to do with them.” I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded.

On “Your Own Enemy“, he urges us to live our own truths and forge our own paths forward in life: “Cut out all the voices, all the actions not working for you / Act free Act simply Act in your best interest / Forego your ego / Your shackles, release them / Construct your own self, not one projected for you.” Over a driving rhythm of throbbing bass and urgent toe-tapping beats, he layers a mix of gnarly and jangly guitars, all of which makes for a rousing and satisfying folk-rock song.

Caught in Yesterday” is a breezy and pretty tune, with lots of great guitar work and pleasing horn synths. The lyrics are an assurance of unconditional friendship, acceptance and standing by someone,: “You’ve got nothing to prove to me / If the world should split in two I’d be on the side with you / If the world should break in four we’d belong for evermore.”

Following on that thread, “End Game” is pre-apocalyptic, and speaks to finding acceptance and peace of mind when the end does arrive: “As we reach the end game / As we near our time don’t let fear sweep over / Just learn to free your mind / So take me with you to paradise / Away from conflict Away from these times.” It’s a musically complex and stunning song, and a real testament to Lee’s impressive songwriting and musicianship. The song opens with an ominous-sounding drumbeat, accompanied by gentle industrial synths, then a lovely strummed guitar enters along with shimmery synths, softening the mood as Lee begins to sing. Eventually, the languid vibe is briefly interrupted by a flourish of screaming guitar, only to calm back down. This back and forth continues through to the end, punctuated by some really stellar guitar work. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

As the album progresses, I’m struck by how really good every track is, as well as the variety of melodies, textures and sounds he’s used. It holds our interest from one track to the next, keeping the record from ever feeling monotonous or predictable. “One Day Other Than This” is a melancholy but lovely song with his heartfelt vocals accompanied by gentle string synths and beautifully strummed guitars, whereas the gorgeous “Stop Praying For the Sun” has a sweeping cinematic feel like a song you might hear in a Western movie soundtrack. Lee explained to me that lyrics are about not waiting for things that are out of your control to happen (praying for the sun), and also whether what you’re doing or where you’re headed is just delusion: “A new delusion of false design / If the best of times will come / Stop praying for the sun.”

Not In This World (Or the Next)” has a folk/Americana vibe, with a bouncy, head-bopping beat and lively riffs of jangly guitars. That Hidden Promise seems to ponder about our purpose on this earth: “I’ve given more than I can take / How much longer should I have to wait? / There’s time to come, there’s time to try / You give your all, but is it right? Alright.” The hauntingly beautiful “What Lies Beneath” is another favorite of mine, thanks to its eerie melody, piercing synths, and incredible guitar work.

That Hidden Promise turns more hopeful with “Calling All You Seekers“, a poignant ballad about holding on to our sense of adventure and optimism, and never giving up: “Calling all you seekers / The places yet to go / The majesty of wanderlust forever taking hold.” And even more so on “In the Night Time“, a celebratory folk-rock song about grabbing hold of one’s dreams and trying to make them real: “In the night time I’m inspired, and I just can’t settle / On fire / And this fever burns inside.

The closing track “Screaming in My Soul” seems to be somewhat auto-biographical, or at the very least, touches on some of the demons that plague musicians and songwriters if I’m reading these lyrics correctly: “Do you know what’s it’s like? To have a demon strip your soul / Well I know /All the songs that are trapped in my head / All the words that are lost in some black hole / I wish I could know how to bring them home / Got a screaming in my soul now.” Over a pulsating hypnotic groove, he layers swirling synths and a mix of intricate guitar riffs and textures to create a mesmerizing track.

With “Who Know Now?, That Hidden Promise has created his best work yet. It’s an exquisite album filled with exceptional songs, and his impressive songwriting, musicianship and production skills are evident on every track.

Follow That Hidden Promise:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Tidal / Napster
Purchase on  iTunes /  Amazon / Google Play

ART BLOCK – Single Review: “Borderline”

Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. A prolific musician, he’s been making beautiful music for several years, and has released multiple singles and EPs since 2015, including his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions album in 2019, and The Basement EP this past March. Last November (2019), I reviewed the haunting title single “The Basement”, which you can read here.

Over the past few months, he’s been releasing remastered versions of some of his earlier songs. One of them is “Borderline“, a beautiful but melancholy song about the lingering pain from a love that’s faded away. The music and lyrics were written by Art Block, who played the electro-acoustic guitar. The Electric and steel guitars were played by Ben Walker, who also produced and mixed the track. Aurora Dolby did the remastering. 

The guitar work is sublime, particularly Walker’s mournful steel guitar that gives the song a bit of a Country feel, as well as creating a stunning backdrop for Art Block’s tender, heartfelt vocals. He has a lovely and incredibly emotive singing voice, with an ability to convey a deep sense of sorrow and despair as he sadly laments: “What must I do? To win the fair alliance with you? Why don’t you shred my soul? ‘Cos our love is so weak and old. Who are the lost ones walking with me? Who are the wounded all I can see? Oh, Borderline in the sea. Oh, cross the line here with me. Oh, Borderline.”

It’s a wonderful song, with a quiet intensity and poignancy that rips at our heartstrings.

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

BENJAMIN BELINSKA – Single Review: “Young in Baltimore”

Ben Belinska

Benjamin Belinksa is an earnest and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and musician based in Newcastle, England. Born in Stoke-On-Trent to Welsh and Polish parents, Benjamin moved to Newcastle when he was 17, but soon thereafter spent time in Glasgow, Berlin, and then Paris, working at a series of menial jobs while also writing music as time permitted. After meeting fellow musician E.A.R in Paris, the two formed the band Paris, Texas, and released two albums with cult producer Kramer (Low, Will Oldham, Daniel Johnston). Eventually, they moved back to Newcastle together, where Benjamin suffered two serious setbacks: First, while rushing to catch a connecting train in York station, he left behind a suitcase containing most of his early songs, which he never recovered. Then, months later, he was viciously assaulted in a random attack by four guys in broad daylight as he was walking home from work, suffering injuries to his eye and throat that landed him in a hospital.

It was during his recovery period that he decided to stop drifting once and for all, and set down roots in Newcastle. He also got the impetus to write songs for what would become his debut solo album Lost Illusions, set for release on August 28. Thinking back on his years of drifting, and how it became an inspiration for the album, he told Ali Welford in an interview for NARC. Magazine: “Drifting is not a bad thing – it allows you to let go of many illusions, but still, they are very attractive. I wanted to grab hold of one again – namely, that I am the master of my own direction. The title ‘Lost Illusions’ is a reference to the childish disappointment that we all go through when we discover that the world is just a lot of silliness. But despite this, it only has one theme – the extraordinary sadness and wretchedness of human life, and my amazement at the fact that this wretched life can nevertheless be so beautiful and precious.”

On July 31st, Benjamin released “Young in Baltimore“, the lead single from the album. Like all the tracks on Lost Illusions, the song was recorded by Benjamin with a back-up band, and mixed and mastered at Soup Studio in London by Giles Barrett and Simon Trought. It’s a charming dream pop track, with a sunny, retro vibe that calls to mind some of the great soft rock and synth pop songs of the 1980s. The song has a lovely, upbeat melody, with a lively toe-tapping beat overlain by chiming synths and warm guitar notes. It all creates an enchanting soundscape that serves as a pleasing backdrop for Benjamin’s gentle, heartfelt vocals as he sings the bittersweet lyrics about a woman contemplating love’s regrets: “When you were young and dumb, he promised to make you his wife. Natural, and he’s cold, you say you’ve wasted your life.” The song also strikes a particular chord with me, as I grew up in San Jose, California, which is mentioned in the lyrics: “Was the winter in San Jose, yeah, the heart attack by the bay? What will you do, your past is blue, and your life is stuck there.”

About “Young in Baltimore”, Benjamin told me “While writing the song, I was thinking about the pressure to conform that we all go through, and how some of us enter into situations, relationships – not out of passion, but out of the illusion that we have no choice. I had moved to a new city, I was working a job I hated. I kept asking myself questions like ‘Have I made the right decision? Should I be doing this? Was it better before, when I was younger?’ I was also obsessed with Robert Frank’s photo-book ‘The Americans’, thinking about the people in those pictures, imagining their lives. I kept coming back to this image of a woman on a train. All of my regret, reluctancy and nostalgia collided with this image. It became a prism out of which another formed; somebody considering the end of a marriage. Only later did I realise it was a symbol of my life at that moment.

As for the bright-sounding music, it’s there to counteract the story. I was living in Glasgow at the time, too. It rains a lot there, so it was also in defiance of that. A rainy place needs sunny music.

Connect with Benjamin:  FacebookTwitter
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: BandcampGoogle Play 

THAT HIDDEN PROMISE – Single Review: “You Can Have the World”

That Hidden Promise single art

That Hidden Promise is the music project and alter ego of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee. Based in Somerset, England, he’s been recording and performing under that moniker since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, creates all his own music, including beats and percussion, and plays acoustic and electric guitar. He’s produced an extensive catalog of alternative and pop-rock music over the past nine years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix, resulting in a varied and eclectic sound, and delivered with exceptional guitar work and vocals that remind me at times of Bob Dylan.

that-hidden-promise-photo

I first featured him on this blog in May 2017, when I reviewed his single “All Things, All Will Come”, then again in October 2018 when I reviewed his wonderful all-acoustic EP Drifted Hope. In August 2019, he released a compilation album All Things Here, Till Now (2011-2018), a sort of greatest hits album volume one, featuring 22 of his best recordings over that seven year period, including the five songs from Drifted Hope. Many of the tracks are really excellent, and I highly recommend my readers give them a listen on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review.

Now he returns with “You Can Have the World“, the lead single from his forthcoming album Who Knows Now?, scheduled for release in early October. The album was entirely self-produced and recorded between March and May 2020, and Lee explains that many of its songs explore the subject of “trying to understand where we are individually and as a society, hence its title ‘Who Knows Now?‘” He further elaborates “The concept behind the single, is of someone looking into a city and world riven by division, chaos and revolution, whilst seeing the potential to rise through sacrifice and failure and up against a system all too quick to take the credit.”

The song blasts open with an onslaught of chiming and fuzz-coated gnarly guitars, accompanied by thunderous percussion that never lets up for an instant. Lee’s intricate guitar work is nothing short of spectacular as he delivers an explosive torrent of ever-changing textures that go from beautifully melodic to aggressive buzz-saw to screaming distortion. It all serves to create an electrifying and powerful backdrop for his plaintive vocals, driving home the urgency expressed in his biting lyrics. I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded.

As the city breaks down
I will look across and smile
For a thousand times or more, I’ve seen it die

A silhouette of reflections
A beating heart of righteous rage
Brings us to a point of certain change
And it goes
And it goes
Again

You can have the world
If you’re gonna pay
Though have you got the nerve
To fail again and again
Those who lead won’t keep you down
They may seek acclaim
But it’s clear
If I win, If I fail
In this world
Ain’t a damn thing to do with them

Connect with That Hidden Promise:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music on  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Tidal / Napster
Purchase on  iTunes /  Amazon / Google Play

1i2c – Album Review: “Lockdown Made Me Do It!”

1i2c

Electronic music seems to be a genre that’s alive and flourishing, as there are lots of artists around the world still making it in all its myriad forms. I’ve featured a fair number of them on this blog, and one of the more interesting – and eccentric – is British composer and producer 1i2c (one eye to see). Based in Stevenage, a mid-size town north of London, 1i2c is the music project of John Whitaker.

Heavily influenced by the music of some of his favorite artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Depeche Mode, The Prodigy and Royksopp, he’s an imaginative and innovative composer whose music spans across a wide range of styles within the electronica genre. He’s also quite prolific, having produced a tremendous output of music over the past five years, beginning with the release in January 2016 of his debut album The Great Distraction. Since then, he’s released an astonishing 11 albums, as well as numerous singles and EPs. I reviewed his December 2018 album Winter, (which you can read here), and am now pleased to feature his latest release Lockdown Made Me Do It!, which dropped July 27th. It’s a concept album obviously inspired by the COVID-19 lockdown that’s upended just about everyone’s life over the past five months.

All of his releases have essentially been concept albums based on an overriding theme, with the sounds and titles of each track reflecting an element of the album title. For example, Power Struggle contains industrial techno songs with titles like “Electron”, “Incandescent” and “High Tension”, Horror Show features songs with more of a psychedelic goth and darkwave vibe, titled “Monster”, “Lunatic Waltz” and “Doorway to Hell”, and Winter includes appropriately-named tracks like “Cold Season”, “Chill” and “Deep Freeze”. So too with the tracks on Lockdown Made Me Do It!, with titles like “Confusion”, “Virus” and “Keep Your Distance”. 1i2c states that he wants his album themes to paint visual pictures in our minds, further adding “My journey will continue until I run out of ideas.”

The album opens with “Spirit“, a rather enchanting yet mysterious composition with a galloping EDM beat overlain by lush, spacey synths that call to mind some of the late 70s music of European composers Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. The song is really pretty in the beginning, but turns darker as the synths take on a harsher, more industrial tone, as if to indicate that something is amiss. The next track “Confusion” confirms that something is indeed amiss, as the melody becomes more urgent, with gnarly industrial synths and an almost chaotic percussive beat that give the song an ominous vibe. Still, there are bits of beauty to be found in the delicate piano keys as well as the almost cheerful sounding xylophone notes at the end.

Trauma” is an interesting track, as it starts off scary and harsh, but soon settles into a mesmerizing dance beat, accompanied by a mix of sharp industrial sounds combined with some lovely synths that make for a darkly beautiful song. As our journey through the extended lockdown continues, we find ourselves immersed in “A Dark Place“. To a repetitive whiplash beat and harsh psychedelic synths, a woman’s haunting voice repeatedly asks “Sometimes I wonder why?“, a question I suppose we’d all like some answers to.

Reality” sets in with a hypnotic EDM beat overlain by pulsating industrial synths that convey a continual state of ennui brought on by endless days of lockdown. Is this the new reality? By now, we’re left feeling like were “Sleepwalking” through life, unable to participate in the many activities involving social interaction that we once took for granted. Musically, the track has more of a rock feel, thanks to electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The intense, buzzing synths are harsher as well, giving off a decidedly menacing vibe.

1i2c has produced a brilliant video for the song that’s at once funny and disturbing. The video starts off with scenes of bright blue sky with fluffy clouds, then transitions to black and white as he’s shown sitting in the middle of a country road, blindfolded with his hands tied and wearing a bad wig and a shirt on backwards like an improvised straightjacket. He then gets up and stumbles down the road in a sort of macabre dance, as if he’s losing his mind. Didn’t I say earlier that he’s eccentric? He eventually makes his way back to his car, gets in, and drives off. As he drives through the village in the rain, the color returns at the end, as if to possibly signify that all is not hopeless and brighter days lie ahead.

And speaking of disturbing and eccentric, 1i2c delivers both in a big way on “Virus“, coughing and hacking his way through the track, sirens wailing in the background. As to be expected, the instrumentals are deliciously dark, harsh and menacing. To try and avoid catching the virus, one must do our best to “Keep Your Distance“, and the message is delivered by a volley of cacophonous industrial synths and dark, skittering percussive beats, accompanied by creepy sounds of buzzing flies.

The terrific video for this song was actually conceived by Nicolai Kornum. He pitched the concept to Whitaker, then shot some footage for Whitaker to compose the music around. The video stars Whitaker and M. W. Daniels, and was filmed, edited & directed by Kornum. Shot in black and white, it opens with a masked man played by Daniels standing on the sidewalk next to what appears to be a bus shelter, reading the newspaper. An ad for Chiquita bananas on the back of the shelter states “we are bananas”, a cheeky little nod to our current societal state. Whitaker walks up to the man from behind and coughs heavily, then turns and walks away. Incensed, the masked man then follows Whitaker through the streets of London, temporarily losing sight of him in a park. He soon sees him walking and resumes following him to a bridge across the Thames, where Whitaker has stopped to take in the view. The man taps him on the shoulder, and as Whitaker turns around, the man pushes him over the railing and into the river. It’s an extreme measure to rid himself of another potential virus carrier!

Those pesky buzzing flies are back in full force on the album closer and title track “Lockdown“. Once again, 1i2c uses razor-sharp industrial synths and sets them to a pulsating electronic beat to create a sense of foreboding and losing one’s mind. It’s the perfect ending to a brilliant album that beautifully captures the stress and emotional trauma inflicted on society by the COVID-19 lock down. He’s a talented and incredibly creative artist, and I strongly urge my readers to check out more of his works.

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CALLUM PITT – Single Review: “Fault Lines”

Callum Pitt single art

As a music blogger, I’m sent a continuous flood of music by artists, bands, labels and PR reps for my consideration for possible reviews. While a lot of it is decent or even quite good, I cannot possibly write about all that comes my way. But every now and then, a submission stands out among the rest, grabbing my attention or resonating with me in such a way that makes me want to share it with my readers. Such was the case when young British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt reached out to me with his powerful new single “Fault Lines“. I was not familiar with Callum, but after listening to it and his previous songs, I became an instant fan, as I love his music.

Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England, Callum writes folk-inspired alternative and dream rock songs influenced by such acts as The War on Drugs, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. With his soft, pleasing vocals, rich harmonies, beautiful melodies and meaningful lyrics, he’s captured industry attention and built a growing fan base since the release in 2017 of his gorgeous first single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can.” His equally beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed nearly two million times on Spotify, an astonishing feat for an indie artist. He’s followed those two singles with several more over the past three years, as well as a four-song EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. Also in 2019, Callum won the Alan Hull Award for songwriting. The award, named for the Newcastle-born songwriter and founding member of Lindisfarne Alan Hull, recognizes song-writers living and working in the North East.

Callum dropped his latest single “Fault Lines” on July 24th, which was released via Humble Angel Records. Although he’s addressed social and political issues on previous songs, with “Fault Lines” he takes a more direct and outspoken approach. He explains: “‘Fault Lines’ is about polarization. It is directed at the British government and right-wing press who have incited hatred and division in the public through their rhetoric over the past few years in particular, splitting us down the middle as ‘leavers’ or ‘remainers’, demonising immigrants and refugees, and allowing the stain of white supremacy to spread. It encourages ignorance and prejudice to be met with education and conversation.”

Though the lyrics are rather scathing, Callum delivers them with beautiful instrumentation and sublime vocals. His strummed guitar work is really wonderful, and complemented by lovely keyboards and crisp percussion that create a resounding backdrop for his fervent vocals lamenting the current socio-political divide afflicting Britain. The lyrics also describe the situation in the U.S. pretty well, which is why the song resonates so deeply with me. The large ceramic pitcher Callum holds in the photo that’s been broken and glued back together symbolizes our fractured society that can still be repaired if we have the will to come together in open and honest conversation.

Seems like all you do is fight and see the world in black and white
Spinning truths like you can move our minds as wind upon a kite
And we feel so small, like we can’t stem the tide at all
As papers sow the seeds of anger, setting off like a snowball

Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers
Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded
I push my head above the water
Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise

We got fault lines running through our bones
The division grows and leaves these empty holes

We rise and fall under the weight of words that fan the flames of hatred
When we demonise, we form a mind that will not be persuaded
Well I am so small and I can’t change too much at all
I’ve got no answers to these fractures, other than breaking these walls

Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers
Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded
I push my head above the water
Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise

We got fault lines running through our bones
The division grows and leaves these empty holes

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Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon