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.
Instrumental-based music is a fascinating case study that really exposes the true nuts and bolts of a song and how it functions from a dictionary A-to-Z.. And that all gets started with the group’s players. Because for every high-power vocalist and scene-chewing frontman holding down the spotlight, there’s guys (and girls) playing pivotal roles like drummer, bassist and guitar player out there excavating their own bits of melodic truth.
While Robert Plant will always be Robert Plant, it certainly didn’t hurt to have Jimmy Page and the rest of Zeppelin around making sure the whole rocking production didn’t go sliding off one big crashing, musical cliff.
By letting the instruments handle the “singing”, I feel as though that grants a greater window into the true artistry gifted musicians present in their work. It’s a lot of time, attention, detail and PRACTICE to be good at the sound that you play and aspire to put out into the world. Then, once that happens, its the job of fans like myself to witness as much of it as possible and rave about it in writeups like this. As any good diehard does of course.
Luckily I have that privilege once again with the group I present you now: Dog Drive Mantis with the music video for their new single “Volta”, premiering right here on OTBEOTB.
While I must admit at initial introduction the band’s rather heavy-metal-sounding (and awesome) name and song title had me thinking of a slightly different sound, what I discovered left me impressed.
“Volta” begins as a dreamy, humming psychedelic lullaby as the band starts to settle into their groove. The track then proceeds to dip into moody, rising rock, Dave Clark 5 jazz-isms aided by some stellar saxophone lines, and a dipping, darting pace that keeps the track’s ultimate vision fun and excitingly upbeat. The boys in DDM seem to have a tight, well-honed chemistry together as well as they handle all the song’s rhythmic twists and turns with ease and spread a wealth of influences out on the table while doing it.
And when it comes to the video, while there’s still something to be said in art for productions in music, sometimes the best thing is simply being able to witness the live performance, unadorned. Getting to see those slivers of a show’s intimacy and/or bravado as though you’re right there in the room with that vibe. It’s also a sign that the talent you’re hearing isn’t staged or endlessly studio enhanced to sell a digital single. It’s a real, spiritual thing wrought from hard work and the love to create art.
So if you haven’t already, check out the electricity of Dog Drive Mantis and how it sparkles here. You won’t regret watching them go to work.
I love being able to delve into a lot of different tones and types of music on this blog. As my tastes advance, branch out and find new avenues in the cracks of this genre highway, it continues to be refreshing to be able to share what moves me and fascinates my ear. And it’s time to do that once again, this time in the form of a New York City-based alternative-rock band and their new record “Generic.”
Silver Relics begin their journey on this newly-released LP with the computery, electrified “Fame”, a song ruminating on the topic in a musical descent reminiscent of Bob Mould’s “Workbook” mixed into his later album “Modulate”. With drummer Justin Alvis providing Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight” thunder downs from behind the kit, lead vocalist and songwriter Alex Sepassi brings an almost industrial-sounding Gothic, Smashing Pumpkins-processed gloom within his Billy Corgan-splashed vocals on this track.
“Generic” meanwhile has a more Depeche Mode, stadium rock 80’s ambition that soars with a psychedelic expanse, while “End of Zero” is an acoustic-shaded dance beat of a song. “Time Bomb” wades into cutting guitar lines reminiscent of Sonic Youth, and “Wanderlust” abruptly turns from that musical thought into something resembling Duran Duran.
Silver Relics certainly comes as catchy as some of my prior references advertise, with track after track hitting ear-worms and hooks with a regularity requiring repeat listens just to break down the layers.
“Generic.” is an LP that doesn’t hesitate to move and get loose around the space it creates for itself and its melodic character, while still staying a bit more dark and digital with its soundscapes. The record title may imply something common or easily passable, but Silver Relics has done anything but that here in this expanse.
Check out the album below, as well as a few tour dates when Silver Relics may be in your neck of the woods!
‘Record Release Listening Party’ at The Scratcher, NYC – May 28
Swedish singer-songwriter JANOS recently released a new single entitled “Zero” that grooved its way into my ears this week. Much like this month’s forthcoming shift into May, the summer-teasing, synth-drenched anthem of the track is an appropriately upbeat, well-timed recipe to kick off the occasion. Especially as we begin to shift from the gloomy days of dull grey to the radiant rays of a new time of the season.
The lyrical mood of “Zero” reflects that same shiny, glass half full look as it tackles the negativity of people and how to not let them bring you down in pursuing your passion. And indeed it quickly becomes difficult to remain in a subdued state of mind as the song exudes a buoyant, Rachel Platten pump-your-fist mood that perceives how to rise above instead of getting dragged below. “Zero” has an infectious dance hall sheen reminiscent of Terence Trent D’Arby while still maintaining an organic heart and meaning beneath the layers that’s akin to a musician like Joseph Arthur.
It’s that fusion of funky yet defiantly honest that sets JANOS apart here. What really struck me is that while he does lean more heavily electronic on the track, there are still winding guitar lines and the gentle keen of violin keeping the orchestration from flying too heavily into the 1’s and 0’s.
So go get in your car on a beautiful sunny day, pull onto a highway or long country road, and throw this on with the windows fully rolled down and the miles streaming out behind your wheels. “Zero” deserves to be in a playlist with some horsepower.
Anderson .Paak has been feelin’ it lately with an ever-versatile, high-stepping vengeance.
In case you’ve been stuck under some rocks, the Malibu singer/songwriter/rapper/drummer/producer helped end 2018 on a strong note with his Dr Dre-collaborated, rap rave-up Oxnard. The record drew mixed reviews soon after release, though I suspect that was due to it being an album that required time and repeated listens to level up.
It would also have flowed much better without the skits that don’t age well after a lot of repeats. But I digress.
That’s why, as someone who’s written about music the last several years, I often hesitate to talk about new work the day it releases or soon after. There’s certainly a high associated with those initial listening experiences, but taking the time to study the puzzle pieces has a way of expanding the angles of creativity being brushed into this mix of many melodies.
So when the announcement for Ventura inevitably came along… that mental battle began. Especially with how quickly I’ve enjoyed the record since it dropped earlier this month.
“Come Home” is a retrograde-groove, come to attention album-starter that almost smells like an old LP sleeve and benefits from .Paak’s time-and-again sense of flow (not to mention slapping drumwork). The whiplash of a blistering second half verse from Outkast’s Andre 3000 certainly adds to its case, helping to put this one straight into the “Winner’s Circle” (Ventura song title joke, it happened, let’s move on).
“Come Home” brilliantly melds the warm R&B vibe that was promised in early Ventura teasers with the story Oxnard began late last year, and the theme threads throughout the album. Because in many ways the pair are a double album to each other, just speaking separate sides of the same coin. One that ran hard to chest bump and bass thump, and another… that just had to talk about love a little bit.
Speaking of love, tracks like “Make it Better” just make me smile. A slow-swaying ode to lost affection featuring a crooning .Paak backed by the velvet voice of Smokey Robinson, the singer who helped make the torch song croon what it is today? That’s a kind of magic you can’t deny, especially when you’re encircled by that chorus. I get the same vibe from .Paak’s back and forth with the vocals of the departed Nate Dogg on “What Can We Do?” Try not to belt along when you know musical church is in session.
“Reachin’ 2 Much” feels like a drum and horn-floated, tempo-chopped cruise down the coast of Miami Vice with a touch of .Paak’s own tune “Lite Weight” scattered in for tempo-switching flavor. While “Winner’s Circle” samples the classic “A Bronx Tale” before proceeding into a Thundercat-assisted slapping punch of rhythm that slips with satisfaction into “Good Heels”.
While I would say .Paak’s far from alone in creating these genre fusions, his songs always speak in their own voices. Some in certain seasons, others with connection to particular moments. And while I won’t go making the exhausted “is Ventura better than Malibu?” comparison, it is a VERY fine addition to the .Paak library.
And something tells me he’s still just getting started.
The music of Owen-Glass gives me a new kind of rooster-necked, bobbing kind of flow I didn’t know I needed in my life until now. The mix of guitar, horns, and gently shaken percussion in the intro to the band’s new single “Saint” give way woozily to the gently gritty vocals of Kelly Wayne Conley. Conley, a singer-songwriter from East Texas, and his “trusty sidekick” guitarist Cole Humphrey have chemistry like a breaking wave. To stretch thin a basketball metaphor, Conley provides the perfect, soulfully moody vocal alley-oop toss to Humphrey’s heavy jam of guitar lines, and it makes “Saint” shine as a result.
There’s a bluesy gloss in the heartbeat of this track, though it doesn’t stop the shape of the song at just that parameter. Humphrey’s at times shreds with a reckless abandon I’ve only heard in several extremely proficient Japanese players, and a well-honed organ solo straight out of a song by The Zombies adds to the track’s direction of descent into lyrical madness. A saxophone also appears, and it bears mention simply because the presence of a sax is always enjoyed in my mind (and it works well on “Saint” too).
For only having formed so recently, Owen-Glass musically attack from multiple angles with a confident balance suggesting musicians who’ve played together for a much longer period of time. The amount of instruments that appear on “Saint” never become cluttered though, and instead suggest an intriguing potential portrait of what their upcoming May 10th debut album “The Rope & The Rabbit” may be painted on.
As the song here says I’m certainly not a saint by any means. But I am a follower and believer of what Owen-Glass has made here. Put a bookmark in this one folks, “Saint” is an appetizer for an album that’s already logged on my “one to watch” list.
Dark and foreboding. That’s the opening melodic spread of the paintbrush on “Lose a Love”, the first song off Cubbi’s upcoming April 19th EP nothingspecial.
The South African producer, songwriter, and artist’s opening piano strokes on the song build into an unsettled, murky scene of barely contained emotional wreckage. Combined with the undertow of Cubbi’s eerily swaying vocals, “Love” holds a gentle wave of shape somewhere in the spiderwebbed, machine organic world of a James Blake or Bon Iver.
The track has an apt name for the aching it creates. The loss of what our heart dares to hold onto in this world can be a gossamer, fragile thing. It can be as solitary as the back attic closet and as wide open as the ocean floor. Especially when shattered. And this song feels those moments in its roots.
Some can dismiss the element of electronic sound in the art of music with sentiment. That true cathartic release can only come at the expense of showing off the barest broken bones under the most unfiltered circumstances. But songs like “Love” demonstrate the truth of what molding one’s fingers into that digital clay can create. There’s still plenty human to be found beneath the 1’s and 0’s.
“GTFO” trades in the solitary gloom to roll on a dance floor of shiny hip-hop rhythm, while “Fall Out Boy” adds a shot of X Ambassadors with a chaser of club remix throwing down the gauntlet of a hopping bass line. “Rippling” meanwhile sounds like Ed Sheeran in a blender with Radiohead’s “Faust Arp”. And when that quiet acoustic intro chops and spreads out into an ink bloom of an earworming groove… you’ll stay well-attached to the repeat button.
“White Lies, Like Flies” closes nothingspecial like a slow breath as it returns to the dwell introduced by “Lose a Love”. It’s haunting lines evoke Perfume Genius, but this world belongs purely to Cubbi as he reflects on a broken relationship. It may be one of humanity’s most well-known plot lines at this point, but there are few things on the planet more evocative than someone that can truly sing of pain, turmoil, and loss. Especially when love goes… and you have to learn to go with it.
Listen to singles “Buzzkill” and “White Lies, Like Flies” below, and check out Cubbi on Facebook!
JD and The Straight Shot’s “The Great Divide” begins on the strength of its title track, which is a catchy, folk-rock anthem incorporating a woozy, 60s-sounding build of a chorus. The band’s got an immediate chemistry for melody and harmony on the track, which makes for a unified contrast against the song’s subject matter of growing division in America.
That’s a topic certainly-not-unfamiliar to the folk realm, and “Dead Men Tell No Tales” stays squarely in that wheelhouse as a grooving tavern sea shanty throwing a wink and a nod to the classic murder ballads as much as Davy Jones. The Straight Shot’s swivel of vocalists add to the unsettling nature of the track as baritones dwell uneasily against the sultry storyteller like a dark fog heading down to run amok on the innocent scenery below.
“The Great Divide” functions at its best when it settles comfortably into those rootsy, Americana elements that attack with an acoustic edge. “Invisible” feels like another retro return to an almost Crosby, Stills, and Nash vibe on a classic music revue show, while “Anything But Love” evokes James Taylor within its opening six-stringed pluckings. The music’s arrangement is a well-honed, close up affair, which adds to the intimacy level a record like this needs in order to hit the right notes. JD and The Straight Shot sound as though they’re sitting just around your headphones, different voices arcing and waning in a songwriting circle of different motions and ideas.
“Walkin On A Wire”, other than reminding me of the Richard and Linda Thompson song, brings to mind latter-day Mark Knopfler and Elvis Costello tacked to a backwoods backdrop. While covers of “Happy Together” and “Jessica” are faithfully interpreted with just enough flair to bring this album home on the band’s own terms. And while I recently learned the JD in JD & The Straight Shot is New York Knicks’ owner James Dolan, I chose to leave that until the end of this review because of that very thing: letting this album speak on its own terms. And in this non-basketball realm, “The Great Divide” does very well in accomplishing that.