OK Cool brings the heat to the engaging “Songs From The Spare Room”

Image Courtesy of OK Cool

As many of you out there likely know, damn it’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your music collection. What I mean by this is while I have shelves and shelves of beautiful artistic material, some weeks I’m happily marooned in the Rap and Funk sections with no proper means of escape. Seems easy to leave, but the hook is in trying to make something else sound as good as what needs to be in my head right that very second.

Thankfully, Chicago-area outfit OK Cool have jumped behind my mental velvet rope to shake up the routine with the recent release of their two-song single Songs From The Spare Room. The duo of Bridget Stiebris and Haley Blomquist chew the scenery on tracks “Self Sow” and “Time and a Half”, capturing emotion in a bottle that’s equal parts anxiety as triumph. Buoyed by waves of guitars reminiscent of Sleater Kinney, Yo La Tango or Television, the pair embody the true spirit of shiny, math-y garage rock in a couple songs that take less than moments to hear in their entirety. The notion is downright punk in its execution and sticks the landing with ease.

Image Courtesy of OK Cool

Lyrically, Stiebris and Blomquist are in a similar place to many of us still processing the lifestyle changes and psychological fallout of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But unlike some musicians who choose to let their words bear the brutal brunt of the soul, OK Cool shows the heart on its sleeve more through these 6 string melodies. “Self-Sow” is an effervescent bird in flight amidst crescendoing thrash, while “Time and a Half” rocks in like a Smiths song played at double speed.

It may seem like cliche, but the short track times work to leave me wanting more in the best possible way. I think the most fun aspect of Songs From The Spare Room is just that, the feeling you’ve heard it before bleeding through the garage wall. And there is such a spirit to that, especially in all the kids who’ve ever started bands that way. It’s raw yet refined, rough around the edges, and has all the untapped potential of a diamond yet to be discovered.

It’s wonderful. Or rather, pretty OK Cool.

Andrew Thomases brings color, shading to the sprawl of “Suburban Void”

Courtesy of Andrew Thomases

As a kid growing up in the embers of a slow-dying small town, I was far from typical. I wasn’t into mindless goofing off with friends and I didn’t go out and get into the kind of trouble that’d inspire Bruce Springsteen to write Greetings From Asbury Park. I might have read about those exploits, but I tended to flee from what helped young people cope with their existential “Thunder Road”.

Thankfully, Andrew Thomases is back here on OTBEOTB to fill in the blanks for me with his new single “Suburban Void”. The track is a power-chording thumper; it feels like an omage to every thrashing band at a teen movie house party with adjoining lyrics to match and set the scene.

Courtesy of Andrew Thomases

Thomases growls his way through this leaned landscape of kids doing the random, mundane, and sometimes downright foolish as a way to escape the nature of their means. And, like all of us when we’re young, those methods eventually include many bad/embarrassing choices. That’s echoed in Thomases words, in which he looks back on these moments and finds them to be pathetic.

But I think that’s to be expected with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. If only we knew then what we know now, as they say. Growing pains are a real thing no matter your status or stature; sometimes we’ve got to get embarrassing to get better.

Just brace yourself, there will be embarrassing hairstyles along the way.

Check out the lyric video for “Suburban Void” below:

Audrey DuBois Harris brings all the soul to tender “Christmas Without You”

Courtesy of Audrey DuBois Harris

At this stage of the year it begins to feel like December is leaking away through our fingers like so much common hourglass sand. 2021 is quickly and quietly escaping to a close, culminating with the imminent conclusion of yet another holiday season. Perhaps this is a gradual sign of my age, but it feels like this holiday process rolls in faster and faster the longer I’ve been around. Hanukkah, Christmas, pick the time… these celebrations come and go with the presence of a lightning bolt nowadays. At least from where I sit 31 years into my own story.

As you might imagine that perspective brings on the occasional cloud of melancholy about aging, even amidst the bright lights and bulbs currently illuminating the streets and shop windows with their luminescent casts. There’s a battle in me waged internally between having appreciation for the happiness of those shimmering moments that count, and a little wistful sigh at watching them smokily float away with both feet on the accelerator. Uncaring of my wish that they might stick around just a bit longer and delay their inevitable conclusion. 

Courtesy of Audrey DuBois Harris

I feel both the sun and shade of those moods within the effervescent vocals of soprano Audrey DuBois Harris on her recent single “Christmas Without You”. The track is a sweetly jazz-smoked ode that is at once as heavy as it is uplifting. That’s all due to the intricately gorgeous timbre of DuBois Harris, who carries emotional layers like the fine gossamer silk of spider’s webs. As beautiful as they are strong. Once dubbed by soul legend Aretha Franklin as her “favorite soprano”, DuBois Harris draws the listener into the stirring heartbreak of existing without the one she loves, while also making “Christmas Without You” into a gorgeously capturing torch song about being with those who matter the most. 

Because when it comes to this time of year, the real priorities lie within our connections to others. There are certainly plenty of presents, parties and pretty light strands to be had, but the true gifts dwell within our shared community. That type of gathering becomes a vision that’s more difficult to see during these pandemic times, which makes “Christmas Without You” a rather perfect ode to so many lives right now. But the single also serves as a reminder that even while COVID is ongoing, its still important to check in with loved ones. Make that phone/Zoom call, reach out and don’t leave regrets hanging. 

If they matter the effort is forever worth the time. 

Andrew Thomases leaves us to wonder can we really “Outrun Evolution” on new single

Courtesy of Andrew Thomases

Last month, we took an unflinching look at the state of our Earth through the lens of humanity with Andrew Thomases and his single “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”. The track is an alt-rocker’s plea to his fellow man to think about the consequences of negative actions against the environment. That’s because we may end up taking a lot for granted that won’t ever come back if we stay on this current path. I think in many ways, we’re already taking a lot for granted that’s already vanished into the stratosphere. It’s a difficult realization to live with, but an important one noted on the song.

This time around Thomases gives us the gear-shifting grit of “Outrun Evolution”, a tempo-bending single showcasing some nasty guitar lines and mankind’s equally nasty poker hand of self-inflicted circumstance. It’s a branch not far removed from “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”, except it looks at humanity’s progress as a Pearl Jam rocker’s edge Icarus fable; destined to burn up in the sun astride trademark wings of white-hot six-stringed wax. 

Courtesy of Andrew Thomases

There is certainly a case to be made that our society is doing too much too fast to remain sustainable for the long haul. That progress without care can lead to cataclysm; fable’s long cursive strokes turned into reality’s nightmare. As I said before that’s a level of emotion difficult to confront head-on most of the time, but Thomases is among those creators who force our eyes (and ears) to dwell on the sights we need to behold. They’re often horrific, but they must be viewed. To paraphrase rapper Mac Miller, sometimes we only grow from anguish. 

From my own perspective, both of Thomases’ tracks gave me pause thinking about the world at large. There’s a part of my soul buried in my spirit that can’t take the subject because it seems so negatively daunting; that we only stand up to lose a little more ground with the passing of each day. But another portion of me applauds Thomases for speaking out; the great rockers, folkers and raconteurs never backed down from a cause no matter the circumstances. 

So take a moment with “Outrun Evolution” and “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”, and never give in to those odds. 

Ricky Mendoza’s “MOVE” single tightly-illustrated in new music video

Courtesy of Ricky Mendoza

I’m really digging the non-stop electric sizzling tempo of Ricky Mendoza’s new music video for his song “MOVE”. The track (off Mendoza’s album THE NEW HURT) was already an absolute burner to begin with, buoyed as much by the arrangement as Mendoza’s rattlesnake rasping vocals taking assertive center stage. The Mexican-American folk-punker brings out the best of both genres on the single by carrying a Clash-like energy, as well as a folk singer-songwriter’s lyrical sensibilities. 

What I mean by that is emblematically displayed in Mendoza’s new video, which finds the artist playing both the pro- and antagonist of the story. In this battle of good and evil, Mendoza stays on the run and just ahead of the representation of his fears and anxieties. As an introvert since childhood, the analogy is a familiar one to me; an ever-constant battle of action versus brain chemistry locked in perpetual duel. 

Courtesy of Ricky Mendoza

But as this production also shows, you can only flee from those emotions for so long before there must be confrontation. And in true punk fashion, Mendoza decides to square off and run down his foe like a knight mid-joust. At first glance that may perhaps seem like the most linear, straightforward route of response, but in our many potential life situations and dilemmas often the best way out is to wind up going straight through. 

And initially, that concept can seem like a scary one. Perhaps even the most feared of all. But Ricky Mendoza’s “MOVE” shows us (as both viewers and listeners) that with a little courage, a dash of grit and a hint of vinegar, we can emerge on the other side better than from where we started. 

It’s hard, but the relief at the end is worth the risk of the trek. 

For more on Ricky, check him out on Facebook and Instagram, or find out more at his website rickymendoza.org.

Choi and Cure classic “Boys Don’t Cry” make for perfect pairing

Courtesy of Karen Choi

Cover songs can be a tricky art, especially when it comes to making them into great cover songs. For example, Hendrix did it with Dylan’s “Watchtower”, Jeff Buckley spiritually redefined Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, while Johnny Cash took Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and made the track’s original pain sink even deeper into the flesh. Often it seems like the best way to make someone else’s song your own comes down to finding a whole new way to interpret how it makes you feel, and how that in turn influences the listener.

Lincoln, Nebraska-born singer-songwriter Karen Choi is one of the most current artists I’ve heard truly accomplish this creativity. She recently took on a new spin of the song “Boys Don’t Cry” by English rock group The Cure, and in my mind has delivered a beautifully definitive version. While the original certainly has its merits as a classic Brit-rock bop, Choi and her band strip it down and rebuild “Boys” as a Nashville pedal steel-shimmered, slow-danced ode to the Midwest red rust in the vein of Kacey Musgraves or Emmylou Harris.

Courtesy of Karen Choi

In fact, I think this allows Choi’s take on “Boys” to have more of an emotional veneer than the original allows for. While Cure frontman Robert Smith sings it with tears neatly tucked behind his sleeve inside an 80’s rock melody, Choi slows down the tempo to show all her feelings front and center. If this homage to “Boys” is a breakup, all the dirty laundry is coming out and, if I know a good country/folk song, those metaphorical clothes are going right out on the front lawn. 

It’s a straight-up take on the track, and shows even if you traditionally think of a song as one way, like a prism its actually much more about the angle of how you view it. Lucky for us as listeners, Karen Choi has provided a perspective that’s absolutely bursting with rainbows of light. 

Listen below:

Anne Bennett’s “Hell Couldn’t Keep Me” scorches with Underworld fire

Via Anne Bennett

When the mood hits just right, blues music has an almost drug-like power of intoxicating promise and persuasion deep within the storytelling of its sandpaper hollowed bones. Take Anne Bennett’s dark, rumbling new song “Hell Couldn’t Keep Me” for instance, which kicks off with an entrancing pattern of assertively arpeggioed acoustic guitar notes. The resulting melody feels like slow surrounding serpentine menace; beautifully engrossing to the eye until it’s too late to see the coils encircling your throat for an unfriendly final squeeze. 

That thunder-streaked, ominous fog is the perfect place setting for the backwoods murder balladry of “Hell”, which feels a bit like the love child of Alison Mosshart and Jack White’s Dead Weather side project, or White’s Raconteurs work (think “Carolina Drama”). It’s the perfect vibe as we get close to Halloween to imagine Bennett’s protagonist suffering a grim and gruesome demise on a dark, stormy night…. only to rise again, pulled back by the pursuit of revenge so fiery, swift and terrible even Lucifer himself can only stand back and watch with awe and admiration. 

Via Anne Bennett

In fact, as the rhythm of the song rises with swirling shades of harmonica, simmering electric guitar heat and chains in the percussion, I suddenly visualize that trademark hand from any horror movie rising from the freshly overturned dirt and dust. Stirred on by the trauma of those sins committed in the deep dark muddy, Bennett breaks free of those chains, her croon as equally unleashed as the ultimate promise of retribution, retaliation and brutal vengeance.  

I can’t begin to describe my sheer enjoyment when it comes to the atmosphere of “Hell Couldn’t Keep Me”. Half of the blues is just that, conveying… real blues and making the listener believe that truth. Take one guitar riff, add a pinch of “I woke up this morning”, but you gotta feel it somewhere down deep in your blood and soul. Lucky for us blood and soul is just the passion Bennett pours into this energizing blitz of a track.

Don’t sleep on meaning unveiled behind Thomases new single “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?”

Photo via Andrew Thomases

I really enjoy the approach musician Andrew Thomases is using to make his appeal for saving the Earth on new single “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?”. To quote the singer-songwriter:

“Throughout my life, I have always been concerned about climate change and the impact humans have on the planet. What will the environment look like in a few generations? Will our grandkids be able to enjoy it like we do? I decided to write a song about it, and I write it in the voice of the environment. “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?” is a warning and a call to action, as we must act quickly to preserve what have for future generations. Otherwise, they may not even know what they are missing.”

Andrew Thomases

Thomases buoys this concept in on the back of jangly, Pavement-style power chord waves bearing an off-center mellowed honesty that holds no weight back in the choogling punch of its lyrical intents. And while some might lead that “warning” with a fueled, angry venom upon their lips, Thomases has a straight-up approach similar to the likes of They Might Be Giants, John K Samson, a rolled smooth Mark Lanegan or the Crash Test Dummies. Words aren’t a poetically overcooked word mince because at the end of the day the stakes and consequences of the subjects are real not whimsical license, and that’s the type of urgent emotion in play here. It’s not a time for games. No matter how you communicate, it’s overdue to make the important matters heard. 

That perspective is echoed and illustrated even more deeply in the official lyric video for “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?”. Issues like severe deforestation, pollution, and rising ocean waters get the top billing as Thomases declares a simple admonishment from the Earth to its people, will you be sentimental when all you knew disappears? It seems like such an obvious question, but as the highest offices/powers in the land go longer and longer willfully without an answer, endgame possibilities start to feel more and more prominent and possible in the months and years ahead. 

Pic courtesy of Andrew Thomases

Music with a message is not only essential for highlighting these matters, but in how it’s meant to stay with the listener once the track has ended. To later ask, how do you see this concern now; did it change your perspective or make you dig your heels down further? In a world with a still-ongoing pandemic the dividing lines between us become easier and easier to discern this way, especially on matters of masks, vaccines, and overall regulations.

But the climate of our world exists outside such black and white perspectives. Good or bad results based on our actions are coming whether we like it or not, and as Thomases points out we’re beyond past needing to start paying attention.

Be sure to check out Thomases and “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?” across social media and on digital music platforms!

Ryan delivers one of his strongest singles yet with “Autumn Rain”

Summertime in 2021 has felt more than a bit abbreviated, especially with the weight of an unprecedented pandemic at our backs. Now we’re in September and it’s already become easier to see the day’s light ending earlier on as the season begins to mull its inevitable change.

With that gradual alteration of perspective moods begin to sway as well, and not always for the greener side of the fence. I’ve been in and out of that crevasse many times, but regardless of the moment music has always been a salve for those invisible wounds. Especially when I’ve felt the words and the emotions were speaking directly to my state of mind. 

I’ve felt that connection with Andrew Ryan’s new, very appropriately-titled single “Autumn Rain”, which comes out on all things digital today. The song vibes perfectly with a feeling of an upbeat smile hiding deeper, lightning-laced storm clouds of weary discontent beneath the airy surface. The track walks a similar path to “Somewhere Only We Know” from Scottish rockers Keane or prime Oasis, and the contrast pays off with great satisfaction.

Ryan’s impeccable knack for mixing and production also sticks out here as it did with his prior single “Never Let Me Know”. The musician is clearly a drummer at heart as every skillful note falls into place as evenly as Tetris tiles, and the layers bear repeat listening to avoid missing the small details (like the piano notes) brought out especially well through headphones. 

As I noted the last time I discussed Ryan’s music, “Autumn Rain” fits like instruments to the background of cinema when I imagine the old days of going to hole-in-the-wall rock show venues. We’ll be able to go back regularly (hopefully) someday, but in the meantime its fun to imagine what might be, soon.

In the meanwhile, check out “Autumn Rain” below, and for more on Andrew Ryan’s work be sure to follow his presence across social media!

Andrew Ryan- acoustic guitar, keys, bass guitar, synth, production, and mixing. 
Will Walden- electric guitar (StaG), 
Eric Slick- drums (Dr. Dog). 
Mastered by Jamie Sego at Portside Sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

.Paak brings the “Fire” on new “Shang Chi” soundtrack

It’s been an absolute joy to me watching the continued rise and success of musician Anderson .Paak. The Oxnard, California native hit the jackpot especially hard this year, largely due to his gold medal-level collaboration with Bruno Mars in their new band Silk Sonic. Debut single “Leave the Door Open” has been all the rage in 2021, possessing a popularity watermark that made the song almost Tik Tok-levels of unavoidable at its peak.  

The duo continues to take their time releasing a full LP (second teaser “Skate” dropped in July), but in the meantime .Paak has kept busy. The rapper, singer, music video director, drummer and jack of all trades makes his latest appearance on the big screen with a song that’s part of the soundtrack for Marvel’s recently released superhero film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Courtesy of Google

“Fire in the Sky” isn’t just some unused session track here to fill time either. 88rising, a record label largely devoted to Asian and Asian American musicians, was brought in to curate the LP; creating a melding flow of artists like Jhene Aiko and NIKI with Marvel’s first tentpole flick that’s primarily focused on Asian and Asian American actors. A similar method was employed for Marvel’s Black Panther; rapper Kendrick Lamar executive produced the effort with a specific vision meant to pay homage to the culture and tones of each moment. 

Shang Chi skillfully paints with a similar brush, using the soulful vibe of .Paak’s wide-grinned musical optimism just as Shang-Chi’s credits roll. And, like so many of his features or one-off appearances on various projects, he always knows just how to hit center stage’s sweet spot. Kicking in with a blissfully hazy piano in a gentle cloud of guitars, .Paak raps, drums and sings with all the rhythm of a buzzed romantic high on another human, sticking out his chest, shooting his shot, and making that lightning rod first connection. 

“Fire in the Sky” is aptly named as its all the sensation of looking at a post-storm horizon, bright swatches of color emerging in wild, intricate streaks of hope after a dark and lost night. Bruno Mars is credited as a contributor/lyricist for the song, which makes sense as its warm throwback vibe sounds right next-door to the Silk Sonic creatives. At the end of the day it all boils down to this one simple point (something I knew well already) .

PAAK DON’T MISS! 

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