It’d be wrong to start picking off the cobwebs on OTBEOTB without acknowledging… well, this.
This, AKA Silk Sonic, AKA Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, AKA the Justice League-style dynamic duo you didn’t know you desperately needed to hear until you were first told they paired up, have made the world a funkier place since the early March drop of the pair’s slow-jam single “Leave The Door Open”.
From the strength of the song itself to the “its such a retro clean-cut 60’s/70’s vibe Pablo Escobar would approve” aesthetic of the music video, its difficult not to feel the heavy weight of anticipation on what a full collaboration between Bruno and Andy is going to look like once its (eventually) announced. The talent and immediately evident chemistry of the pair across a full LP, the level of guest stars and musicians that I’m sure have been pulled in to assist… as a listener the possibilities generate endless goosebumps.
Look no further than “Silk Sonic Intro”, a brief lead-in to our main at”track”tion that features Parliament bassist and resident funkmaster Bootsy Collins playing the role of album MC.
Makes it easy to get hyped up doesn’t it? That’s Bootsy baby!
Luckily for us, Silk Sonic also shines an exposing light on the pillars of other iconic, impactful artists who helped them forge their sound. Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson/The Jackson 5, James Brown, Prince, and George Clinton (with both Parliament and Funkadelic) are some of the first that come to mind here, though the well runs much deeper and widespread the farther you search.
I mention this because as important as it is to look forward and feel modern, it’s also of deep meaning to look down into the roots of all the old hooks, noodles and melodies of the past. Fully digest those albums, take the time and hear those stories to not only know how music has evolved, but to also never forget the pioneers and the innovators who birthed various genres in the first place.
Though never let that pigeonhole you into being the type of music consumer/reviewer who only bases opinions off comparisons to others either. Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars as Silk Sonic is wildly exciting simply because of what each and each alone brings to the table.
To the person whose eyes choose to read these sentences,
Greetings. You may or may not know some small piece of the “creative me” via prior posts on this website as you give these current words a scan. At this point its more likely the latter as I’ve been absent since last year, AKA the start of pandemic times.
A combination of slow recovery from right wrist surgery, the changing of the world amid COVID, and a mix of so many of my anxieties kept me far from the computer; glued instead to the undersides of blankets and mind-blanketing side hustles. Fears… they don’t easily go back in the box when life changes radically. At least in my experience.
But I’m not here to magically say I’m better from those wounds now and have returned to become 100% myself again either. Its more a “one situation at a time” kind of vibe where some moments outweigh handling others during a pandemic. I will however say in these currently backward days that seem so unfit to be called something as futuristic-sounding as 2021, it feels wrong to allow time to win and freely pass while only being able to lay in the fetal position staring at its back as it gradually fades away.
So while I can’t perhaps provide the exact essentials many folks need right now, I’m still a writer here to entertain with creativity when I’m able to do so. And I can still do what I’ve always loved best: supporting musicians who just need a signal boost and a voice to listen and help spread the word. Sometimes the best thing we can do as humans (virus or no virus) is to give each other a hand up.
And better to do it sooner rather than later, because most of all we know is finite. The full name for this site (On The Back Edge of the Beat) came from singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle and a random piece of stage banter I happened to see of his on Youtube that ultimately inspired the title. That was all it took to start this project, and as small as it is I’ve always been thankful to JTE for that idea lightbulb.
Sadly, we lost Justin in August 2020 at only age 38. I haven’t had the words to describe how that’s felt since I learned it happened, other than I miss him and I wish it hadn’t had to occur of course. Especially for the sake of his wife and young daughter.
Moments like that have made me realize that its okay to slow down during these times, preserve strength and heal your wounds. However, you can’t just stop the car and hide because that’s easier than life’s potential fortune of possible cruelty. That’s a lesson I’m still working out on the days it feels easier to just be sad or depressed, but I plan to return to do what I do best on this site again, with a small tweak.
I’m now changing the email for all submissions to email@example.com. Its a more direct means of contact that’s easier to handle right now.
Hopefully this is just the start of more to come in the days to follow.
There’s much to be said for the word identity here on this mid-August night, mid-2020.
I recently dug into my family’s past via genealogy. Yes, despite perhaps many valid fears about entities holding onto your DNA, I was too much a history fanatic to resist the temptation of learning about connections. The detective work involved in crafting a story made up of your own chapters.
I think the urge largely came as a result of escapism. The world has embraced such a shattered fetal position in my 30th year of life, and it’s nice to blink it away for just a moment. Not so much to imagine myself as part of the prior cast in my existence so much as where they lived. What the lands looked like, and what was beautiful then. Away from the sheer mess of these current days.
I’ve been your music writer on and off here a long time, but none of those words have felt appropriate during the COVID pandemic. Especially when many, many people are still sick, many of have lost loved ones, and many weeks news only seems to get more frightening in a place I once felt so safe in when I was younger. And while I do believe in distractions to help ease these type of anxieties, the sentences I form have to be more truth than story. More honest than disguised.
And honestly? As just an average person, I’m unsure of almost everything I see. I look at all leadership gone, regular individuals as close as my neighbors struggling, equal, equitable rights for all still being held back, and I have so many fears. I’m concerned for the creators, the small businesses, regular folks just trying to make a go of things.
Are we being left with a future here? It feels less like it by the day.
Thankfully, music is at my side still despite not writing about it. Run The Jewels, Anderson .Paak, Fantastic Negrito, Kathleen Edwards, and Taylor Swift have all been making appearances as of late, and have new stuff that’s worthy of a listen right this second (go now, I’ll wait).
I’m also almost 3 months in to a likely year-long process of healing from wrist surgery, so typing has become a slower, jittery process while the strength rebuilds over time.
Additionally, I’m trying to use this time to figure out how to rebuild. How to find my identity and how to make it in what the world has become. For now, all I can say that feels right is stay healthy, stay safe, and just be good to each other whenever its possible.
Just a regular guy checking in; signing off for now.
I recently had several of my loved ones throw a small celebration in honor of my 30th birthday. It’s the first significant occasion I’ve had take place in a world now altered by COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantine, and one that occurred (safely online) despite those circumstances.
Since the festivities and the official start to my 30’s, I’ve found myself in the mood to reminisce and glance back at the road I’ve traveled so far. Particularly after the many difficult events that have occurred in just the first few months of 2020.
Specifically, I’ve found myself focusing on the relationship between the life miles I’ve traveled and the music that’s been there with its thumb in the wind waiting for me, eager to hitch a ride on the trek. And where better to start, as most stories do, than with the beginning?
I remember so many different bands and artists being played around my house when I was growing up.
Billy Joel (that “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” piano solo!), Neil Young, Ray Charles, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles (so much good Beatles), James Taylor (the first musician I saw live in concert) and Dave Matthews Band. There was also plenty of support from the likes of Nirvana, The Eagles, Alanis Morissette, Nanci Griffith, Collective Soul, Oasis, Tracy Chapman (whose work still haunts me in the most beautiful way), the Crash Test Dummies, Soul Asylum… it was a feast fit to keep many a cassette and CD player well-fed.
It was also just the sort of early flavor palate any music hobbyist aspires to begin learning on. After all, every healthy garden has to start with just a few strong seeds, and the gene pool I developed from had plenty to share.
Eventually, that initial versatility led to my own musical choices, which included some lasting hits (U2, the Bee Gees), as well as a few that didn’t make the long-term cut (the boy band years for instance). However, regardless of their ultimate status, each artistic contribution remains important because much like the flap of a butterfly’s wings causing a hurricane, the smallest change might mean I’d be a different person today.
And that’s not something I’d be willing to compromise on or accept, virus or no virus.
I like to say Warren Zevon was the jumping on point where listening to music became more than just a passing habit of mine. The now-sadly-deceased singer-songwriter was a master of macabre wit, wistful heartbreak, and a trademark, slicked back Mr. Bad Example personality. For me, Zevon was like finding the Holy Grail in another run-of-the-mill junk sale, and nothing would again be the same.
(Knowing you could use the word “brucellosis” in a song… game-changer).
As gifted as he was, Zevon’s talent was held back by varying factors, including a lack of commercial success, subsequently being mislabeled as a one hit wonder with 1978’s “Werewolves of London”, and many years of erratic battles with personal demons. Still, I’ve never heard his kind before or since, and the initial discovery gave my ears their first taste of just how wide and variable the world of melody could truly be outside my small-town knowledge.
I just needed the patience to mine for it.
From there, I was drawn into further revelations later on via the likes of Wilco’s folk-rock experimentalism, Ryan Adams’ sad bastard songwriting sensibility, and Ben Folds’ proficiency for mouthy piano-slinging. Almost like relationships, each connection for better or for worse has paved the way for more progress in my musical paint set the older I’ve become.
Progress though… can be a tough word to reckon with when it comes to the double-edged sword that is the steady forward march of age.
On one hand, the expansion of my horizons in this medium have without question been some of the greatest blessings of my existence. The teenage version of myself holding his first iPod classic would never have been able to imagine the artists I’ve heard and loved up to now, the friends I’ve made through music, and the way its made me a better version of myself.
Yet… I feel an almost imperceptible sense of the blues standing here now, officially 30 years old. Songs like Joni’s “The Circle Game” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” used to make me suffocatingly sad as a kid knowing that those innocent moments I was in when I heard these tracks couldn’t last. That eventually, time comes between the fun and games to take us off to the tasks of adulthood. And at this stage of my days (and in these current times), I can confirm to my youthful past that innocence doesn’t last, and there is a part of me wishing I’d used all that early time for something more than I did.
But that’s part of growing up (and learning to be well-versed in the art of 20/20 hindsight). The good and bad things in this existence are about as adept at escaping their connection as we are at dodging inevitable time or age or death. What matters more is coming to terms with and accepting the ups and downs, and still making the most of them. It’s not easy, but we only get so long to learn and grow and do, and I for one plan to waste no time in carving more musical stories into my next decade.
I’ve been missing from the land of the living, here we are now lonely together…
What a difference a few months can make between updates.
Since my last post in late-February, we’ve all had a front row seat for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t had the virus myself and I’m lucky to say it hasn’t hit too closely to those in my personal life, but regardless the ongoing situation has been a difficult one to attempt to process for a multitude of reasons.
There’s of course the anxiety and fear spent on any possibility of getting ill, as well as worrying for those who’ve gotten sick, are on the front lines fighting COVID, or are just struggling to get by. This period of time has also brought to mind that innocence of childhood, where so much more seems simple and safe.
That well-being, if perhaps a bit naive, felt like an impenetrable shield that acted as protection for any evil big or small. Sadly, part of growing up is learning life can’t always play by those unwritten rules, especially where a problem like a virus is concerned.
Issues like that have a way of getting real in a hurry.
But we will survive this. All the written words of thoughts and feelings aside, there will be another side out of which we will emerge again. I don’t know when that will be and there are still more hurdles to cross, but we will overcome and still be here to speak of music’s perfect melody!
I promise you that.
Be well and stay safe everyone. Much love to you all!
The world of music is much like anything else when it comes to overall activity and how it relates to the time of year. January is usually pretty far removed within the doldrums of quiet, but luckily the pace starts to positively shift and accelerate once February gets a head of steam going.
And luckily for those of you who count yourselves as OTBEOTB readers, that means more features to peruse!
For today’s commentary, we return to artist Randi Fay, who’s on the cusp of releasing her concept album Intuition February 20th. Previously I evaluated the title track from the upcoming LP, now its time to take the vitals of its sibling single “Firefly” to get more of a sense of just what Fay’s concept is all about.
In comparing the two songs off the bat, the musical approach of “Firefly” certainly fits within the same melodic framework and audio-centric story teased at by “Intuition”. It has a fresh, exuberant rush of boisterous, retro 80’s layering mixed into a swelling pulse reminiscent of swirling K-pop, all while still maintaining a unique dance-floor identity.
Don’t let that immediately upbeat nature fool you into thinking this endeavor is only about fun however. Beneath that danceable, rhythmic frenzy lies a sobering lyrical commentary that attempts to discover what’s real and genuine in a world dominated by Instagram filters, like quantities, and ego-boosting smoke and mirrors.
All in all, the contrast between the two opposing sides makes for the best metaphor to truly send the point across home plate.
Much like the song “Intuition”, “Firefly” also has a strong sense for big, constellation-soaring hooks as well as easily ingratiating charm. Fans certainly won’t walk away disappointed.
It’s now the month of February, which is right about the time we Northeast folk can JUST begin thinking about digging out from under winter’s stern, unflinching grasp. And unfortunately, while we are making some progress prying up the season’s fingers, the mood in the air remains an inflexibly grey, lethargic blandness.
Thankfully we have the fiery energy of bands like Mohawk Bends to help melt away some of those frigid blues. The indie rockers recently dropped the sprawling, thrashing hammer of single “See What You Do To Me”, which soars on a wave of arpeggio-ed guitars, massively fun hooks, and confidence oozing out of every pore.
It’s the kind of song at first listen that demonstrates strong musicianship without needing to take itself too seriously. And that’s long been one of the beauties of straight up, not-grown-in-a-test-tube rock n roll. While I can appreciate the next clever set of poetry set to intricate melody as much as the next music listener, sometimes it hits straighter to the point to take screwed-over heartbreak, add a teaspoon of nervy, flexing guitars cranked up to 10, and let the passion and talent take care of the rest.
This Austin-based outfit manages to pull that all together and then some with “See What You Do To Me”, which blends together sounds from the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, Collective Soul, The Whigs and Oasis while still maintaining the nature of its own identity. And that’s one of the most important things to achieve here, when you can make a listener come back based on your approach to musical creativity, not because you just sound like group x, y or z.
The realm of rock is always in need of more worthy ambassadors, and thankfully Mohawk Bends seem up to the challenge with a track like this in their arsenal.
I recently found myself introducing a significant seismic shift into the expanding universe otherwise known as my existence. Namely, by deciding to alter my circumstances and start a new job that’s far removed from my old stomping grounds in media. The decision’s involved making a lot of significant alterations to my life and has left me wondering just what this next choice of a fork in the road has in store for me in the long run.
To be honest, the further outward I travel in that regard, the more I realize there’s a lot to unpack in the hypothetical possibilities.
Those unknown pages are exciting yet somehow dizzying and terrifying all at once, and that internal struggle of feeling makes tackling the present… less than pleasant from time to time. Especially for someone who’s fought chronic anxiety for years now with varying degrees of success.
But luckily, before each fresh morning of my newly-occupied time begins, I am given a small window of a commute for music and melody to come crawling on in to keep me company. The guest stars involved in the event usually rotate quite frequently too.
For a while it was Bruce Springsteen’s 2019 solo effort Western Stars. While I didn’t make a Top 10 album list for the year just expired, The Boss certainly would have made a cameo for this one as this record thrives on one of Springsteen’s main specialties: character songs.
While my car cuts a knife through backwoods, fields and scattered homes set against a rustic terrain, it’s easy to be transported away into the world of Western Stars. For one thing, there’s its engrossing stage of lovelorn daredevils (“Drive Fast (The Stuntman)”), past-prime cowboys (“Western Stars”), and aching nostalgics (“Moonlight Motel”). There’s also Springsteen’s ever-present ability to paint a vivid audio portrait for the listener that’s about more than just the story embedded at the surface.
Inside all those actors, the 70-year old New Jersey native injects honesties that include love, loss, insecurity, the struggles of blue collar living, and plumbing the dark depths of emotional turmoil. And while I never imagined making a segue between these two artists, many of those creative adjectives are also present via another cameo of my weekday listenings: rapper Mac Miller and his 2020 work Circles.
Circles was completed by producer-at-the-helm Jon Brion and recently released following Miller’s untimely demise from an accidental drug overdose in 2018. Like Western Stars, Circles is similarly a brilliantly flawed slice of humanity, not to mention another sort of seismic shift for its creator.
When Miller first came on the scene I remember him coming off as a stereotypical white frat-boy rapper, and as a result an attraction to his work never occurred for me. My car trips with Circles have caused me to bury that presumptive judgement however, as very sadly Miller seemed ready to show us a varied, evolving vision of himself creatively that we now can only get a glimpse of.
For example, album tracks like “Everybody” and “That’s On Me” ditch the hip-hop for a touch of The Beatles filtered through Elliott Smith’s Figure 8, with Miller showing a likable capability as a vocalist. Meanwhile, the title track is a gently meditative intro that slices deep into the cartilage of the musician’s blossoming display of vulnerability. Miller also hits familiar rap signposts with “Complicated” and “Blue World”, but despite the tone shifts the album’s focus remains on looking inward no matter the darkness.
I applaud artists willing to stare into the harshest parts of the mirror, not only for the courage of revealing truths in themselves but for placing those constellations in the sky for their listeners to find too. My experience in this case may be as simple as a few moments spent in the car before a long working day, but albums like Circles and Western Stars make those daily efforts easier to handle.
That’s because artists like these and so many others openly exorcise their fears, worries and anxieties in a way that, when we connect to it, feels like it slays the demons for us a bit too. I can think of few better ways to make the busy weeks just a little bit lighter.
One of my favorite segments to incorporate here on the digital pages of this website involves getting to pull back the curtain and exclusively debut new music for you all to enjoy.
That’s because, on one hand, there’s a certain type of privilege in getting to say you’re the “first” to hear something you want to tell others about. Not to mention, there’s also a particular level of creative trust involved in getting an artist to decide you’re the right person to champion the initial flag flight of their latest gestating endeavor.
And in the land of this freelancing hobbyist of melody I fancy myself to be, that’s a pretty special honor to receive.
But I digress. Today we’re here to discuss and celebrate the premiere of Rändi Fay’s new single “Intuition”. It’s not only the second teaser off of her forthcoming February 20th full-length LP of the same name, it’s also being dropped in tandem with a brand new music video you’ll see here as well in just a matter of paragraphs.
At first glance, as a new release “Intuition” has a vibe like the first initial tendril-ing of the freshness of forthcoming spring as we still sit prone in the doldrums of yet another January winter. The track carries a lightly bright, upright sparkle of waving up-and-down synthesizer grooves that buoy the steady pep of Fay’s vocal in a layer of sunny, well-crafted electronica pop veneer.
But, despite having an arrangement reminiscent of a slice of spacey, 8-bit throwback, “Intuition” still has a straight-up knack for the basic structural heart of what makes a pop song so infectiously memorable. In fact, shortly after my first several listens to the song, I found its themes of love and connection rolling around and around in my head like a thought refusing to be let loose well after the final notes had faded.
And in our world the way it’s been today, we could all use a little more of those topics in our lives. Get your little dosage right here by watching the music video below.
Jonray and Barbara are a couple from Texas who make up the synth-pop duo Moonray. The pair recently released a music video for a sweet new single called “No Stranger to Love”, which possesses both a sprightly bubble in its rhythmic stride as well as an easily-affable ear-worm of a song structure.
As pop tunes go, the pair have a clever knifing knack for the genre as the track is filled with the exuberance of a Jukebox the Ghost with a touch of The Postal Service’s modern sprawl.
This tale of weathering the storm of a reeling romance in just 3 minutes, 20 seconds has an added, non-scientific chemistry as well when you consider the connection of its narrators. Maybe that’s just some type of coupling-induced placebo effect talking at this moment. Regardless, Barbara and Jonray give off an easy, familiar comfort with each other in this tandem as they meld and intertwine seamlessly within the spreading arrangement.
Try NOT to get it stuck in your head, I dare you.
View the lyric video below for “No Stranger to Love”, which is an understated yet equally perfect swipe-right match that wins over the heart of this song.
A big part of the vibe of this track are its synthesizers, which helps spark an infectious beat that carries the melodic backbone. To further elaborate on just how they incorporate these instruments into their music, I will now turn it over to the duo in Moonray, who were ever-so kind enough to tell us a bit more about it, and how “No Stranger to Love” came to be.
Being fans of Prince, Madonna, David Bowie, The Human League, Depeche Mode, amongst others, we always felt that synthesizers were magical, creating soundscapes of unlimited sonic capabilities.
When we first started playing together, synthesis was somewhat new to us. Our first live set up included a Moog bass synth and a Dave Smith polysynth. Once we got our hands on some knobs, the curiosity started endless possibilities of how we could create music with synthesizers.
We started researching and learning about other synths and what some of the greats used. We dived deep into some of the synth pioneers including Laurie Spiegel, Dave Smith, Tom Oberheim, and Bob Moog (who Jonray shares a birthday with). Did you know that synthesizers weren’t commonly used in pop music until the early ’60s? The first synthesizer, which was called the Telharmonium, was invented around the late 1890s and was enormous, weighing around 200 tons. Let’s just say this began a small synthesizer obsession and we began saving up to buy some of the iconic reissues that have been released, such as the OB6 and the Model D.
We later found out about “Switched-On” here in Austin. Filled with many vintage and new synthesizers, we decided to pop in for a visit and by Golly! There it was, right there in front of us, an Oberheim OB-Xa (pictured below) from the ’80s, which was used in Prince’s “Purple Rain” album. It is also most commonly known in Van Halen’s “Jump.” Instantly recognizable magic. After listening and playing with it for an hour in downtown Austin, we were blown away and knew we had to have it. We rushed home, gathered every piece of gear that we could let go of in order to trade in for it. This began a wormhole.
Welcoming the new synth into our home, we immediately wanted to compare it with the reissue OB6. We found them to be extremely different and although today we still love the OB6 and use it for live shows, the vintage synthesizer seems to have a lot more charisma than the newer ones. Maybe it’s the fact that they naturally detune more because they didn’t have the advanced technology we have today with such precise control. They are imperfectly perfect. Our desire even lead us to a 1,200 mile journey to Wisconsin in our van to pick up an extremely rare Prophet 10, pictured below.
We do enjoy having both worlds just as a painter likes to have color options ranging from warm to cool. In our studio, having access to both vintage and modern synthesizers offers us the best of both worlds. There are so many different ways we use our synthesizers—as a bass, a drum, a ripping lead, an orchestral symphony, an arpeggiated sequence, a white/pink noise mimicking wind or ocean, there are endless possibilities. That’s what makes it so much fun. Sometimes we like to turn on multiple synthesizers and let them drone for meditation.
One of our favorite things to do is to travel and write some arrangements via midi with a small midi keyboard such as the Yamaha Reface and Arturia Keystep. We then bring the data back into our home studio and that’s where the real fun begins. We are able to send that data to our choice of various keyboards and sculpt the sound with both hands on the knobs. Some of our synthesizers like the CS-80 do not have midi so, therefore, we usually require four hands, one will play while the other sculpts. We do rely on the reissues for our live performance but primarily use vintage synthesizers and drum machines in the studio.
“No Stranger to Love” was created part in studio and part on the road over a period of a year. We wrote the music for it and revisited later on adding the lyrics. It began with drums and bassline using a TR-808 drum machine, a Moog Model D bass and a Dave Smith Prophet 10 Poly Synth. Although it began that trio, it ended up having 3 iconic drum machines: the Linn Drum (Madonna, Prince, The Human League), TR-808 on tons of hits and Oberheim DX Stretch. We ended up using the Moog Voyageur on the bass, Poly synths included: Jupiter 8, Oberheim OB-8, Jupiter 6, Roland VP-330 Vocoder, Roli (modern software-based instrument), and Rickenbacker 350 V63 Electric Guitar. The guitar was tracked with a line 6 Helix guitar processor outputted into a small 8’ Supro guitar tube amp mic’d with an SM57 and an ELAM 251. Vocals were cut with a Neumann U67 and a Telefunken C12.
Ultimately at the end of the day, you don’t need expensive gear or synthesizers to create a great song, they’re just tools and it’s about what you do with them. We even like to have options such as old Casios priced at $30 off of reverb.com. Even Korg makes an awesome analog like the Korg Minilogue that’s both affordable and amazing. It’s a favorite travel companion due to its size. That being said, as business owners of both Moonray and Moon Lab Studios, we are grateful to be able to offer these unique historical pieces to our clients and keep on creating music we can share. Some of our favorites include The CS-80, ARP 2600, Memory Moog LAMM Mod, Prophet 10, Matrix 12, Jupiter 8, and the modern ones: Moog One and The Schmidt, modern classics.