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.
Singer-songwriter Stephen Babcock makes a fresh return with new music in just a little less than two weeks on June 28th in the form of upcoming single “Fight I Need”. The one-off is the followup to Babcock’s exceptional 2018 EP “Fiction”, and represents yet another linear step ahead in the development of the musician’s sound.
Material like “Fiction” and Babcock’s prior 2016 LP “Said & Done” largely felt most at home in a stripped down, coffeehouse format allowing the upfront intimacy of the moments to flow cleanly off the acoustic guitar strings. “Fight I Need” doesn’t exactly lose that well-shined sensibility for the landscape. Rather, it just surrounds it with an added edge of slinky organ work, trailing harmonies, and the bright punch of electric guitar fills racing right out of the melodic gateway.
That auditory kiss with a fist makes for a fitting companion to the track’s lyrical energy, which takes the notion of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” and riffs on it as a way to describe a desire for a relationship’s emotional toil. And indeed, either experience feels akin to 10 rounds in the boxing ring, with equal amounts of stamina needed just to outlast the conflict.
You can see Stephen live just after “Fight I Need” comes out at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2 for a release show June 29th at 9pm!
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
There’s a very strong early rabbit theme to Owen-Glass’ new LP The Rope & The Rabbit. There’s the title of course, but the initial track is called “Rabbit Hole” as well, and it feels very much like the dreamlike fall of Alice at the start of a pre-Wonderland excursion into this album. The pastoral folk strummer of a track begins small and grows into a varied, undulating thing. Like the rise and fall of sleeping breath into rigorous LSD fever-dreams.
How fitting then to be followed by “Here It Comes”, a Beatles Sgt. Pepper-vibing psych-rocker that makes the creatures of this “Wonderland” shuffle-dance together to a wave of Cole Humphrey’s George Harrison guitar lines and Anthony Earl’s hauntingly satisfying sax. This is all while Kelly Wayne Conley’s hushed vocals raggedly dart in and out of the arrangements, equally as capable shining on the gently-traced Springsteen meanderings of “Devil Don’t Mind” as the rugged groove of “Saint”.
Owen-Glass doesn’t hesitate to flex its strong cast of collaborators on The Rope & The Rabbit, or its desire to experiment out into different melodically-inclined avenues. It seems like a fitting decision given how many of these tracks lyrically deal with the vast complexity that is human conflict and emotion. An evocative musical backing just makes connecting to each song’s inner workings that much easier.
“General Butler” has a wry, Afro-Caribbean sway that brings to mind alt-pop outfit Jukebox the Ghost, while “Leave It Alone” is a full-on, moody burner. Meanwhile, “Paper Chains” feels like a jammier b-side off the Dave Matthews Band’s 90’s smash “Under The Table & Dreaming”.
To latch on to the word “jammier” for a moment, I applaud the group for putting out a song like “Paper Chains”. It’s a track almost 6 minutes in length that lets the musicians stretch their chops out a bit and not simply wrap up a theme in three minutes or less. In a world so dominated by digital singles and putting out work a piece at a time, to see those kind of album-focused moves (on multiple songs here) is a refreshing nod to how viable a good LP still is (and will always be).
Closing track “The Rope” returns to the humbly simple beginnings of the record as it mixes together dusty folk-rock with hints of something almost… chamber pop Parisian. The Rope & The Rabbit is content to keep the listener from just that, being content. Getting comfortable with good music and getting too boringly acclimated with what you’re hearing are two different things, and the latter usually lie forgotten after a time. Not so with Owen-Glass or this album, which offers the kind of intriguing variation to keep me going back to the start of “Rabbit Hole” to begin the journey again.
Check out more on the group and order the album on owen-glass.com!
Today it’s my pleasure to release the premiere of “So American”, a brand new music video from the band Owen-Glass. This is a cover the group did of a song originally written and performed by Portugal. The Man off their 2011 album In The Mountain In The Cloud.
Portugal’s version is a bouncy, psychedelic joy-rave somewhere between The Flaming Lips “Do You Realize?” and The Kinks. But while Owen-Glass’ take may enter the starting gate acoustically similar to the original, it proceeds to lean away from building up and chooses instead to embrace a more bare-boned folk edge.
The video takes hold of a similar strategy as there are a few mixing visuals of the band, but nothing that takes away from the mood and strength of the performance. The upfront intimacy of the moment feels very much like an installment of NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series, which further lays vulnerable “So American” and its lyrical critiques of hypocrisy and dysfunction in these United States.
For a song that debuted in 2011, those themes almost feel more relevant from where we sit today in 2019. But without any further insight from me here’s the video from “So American”, as well as a quote from Owen-Glass singer-songwriter Kelly Wayne Conley on why they chose to cover the track.
“We wanted to sort of pay tribute to some of the songwriters and bands that had a major impact on us, and John Gourley was an obvious standout. Portugal. The Man’s story is really special to us, because we followed them from the very beginning and now, after more than a decade of grinding on the road, promoting real, soulful art, those guys have finally gotten their due.
It’s a testament to the demand that still exists for real music, y’know. Like, these are artists in a universal sense, practicing their craft—using real instruments and building out cohesive projects that have a clear, artistic message by and for the common man.”We chose ‘So American’ because it really fits with who we are as a band, and we feel like it translates well in our sort of folky Americana style…
The message in ‘So American’ cuts right to the core of the culture we grew up in—seeing everything—politics, religion, whatever—through this American lens, and all of John’s songs pushed us to view the world differently and find a new level of empathy and even affected our spiritual awareness in those formative adolescent years. That’s not something you get from just any song by just any band. It’s really a special thing. I guess, in a way, our performing this song is our way of saying thank you to John, Zach and the rest of the guys for enriching our lives with their art.”-Kelly Wayne Conley
British Columbia singer-songwriter Kuri recently released a video for his single “Human Nature”, a cut from an EP with the same title. Before I break down the visuals a little bit, this is my first exposure to Kuri’s work and plenty needs to be said for this song as well.
“Human Nature” is a gorgeously delicate, intricately woven patchwork quilt of airy folk that begins in a rustling whisper of leafy harmonies and culminates in sunshine-washed waves of strings and percussion. My first thoughts immediately fly to Damien Rice’s 2014, often-cinematic My Favourite Faded Fantasy for the song having that same pastoral ambition (as well as a knack for words of gut-dropping melancholy slipped within the breaths of the melody).
That lyrical introspection is given life in vivid illustration via the video for “Human Nature”, which captures the thin-railed frailty the title hints toward. We seem to be witness to an almost typical whirlwind of a romance in this story, but not is all as the perfectly arranged scene seems. A tender embrace includes a lost, rigid look into the distance. Moments of connection are sought with a passion, but fall apart like dreams become smoke become the unrelenting reality of one person who just can’t let release the unattainable.
But, as Kuri’s words fall out so appropriately, “it’s human nature to need some impeccable force”. Sometimes we’re that Jim Carrey character from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind simply refusing to forget a mountainous presence no matter how much we try to erase it. Or how it might lead to our own self-destruction. And much like the film, the visual’s end remains open… uncertain.. flawed…. yet still willing to fight even if only to end in doom.