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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
“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) .
Sometimes there’s a fine line between being “too fun” or “too serious” in an artist’s music. Don’t go over the Florida Georgia Line, and CERTAINLY don’t cross the Mark Kozelek Divider (these days anyway).
Thankfully, the Lone Bellow’s Zachary Williams is well-trained in the balancing act. Williams has a solo album called Dirty Camaro due out October 22nd, with debut single “Game for Guessing” having just dropped (featuring the lovely Robert Ellis who helped produce the LP).
Like Williams, Ellis is an earnest goofball at heart, and that tandem strikes early here with “Game for Guessing”. The lyrics don’t always make sense and lean heavy on well-crafted humor; something Ellis relished in on his underrated 2019 solo release “Texas Piano Man”. But they’re a lot of fun, especially as the band rocks with wild abandon.
The accompanying music video for “Game” adds perfect illustration to that mood, as Williams dances through an old house wearing a brightly colored robe with shiny slippers and later winds up running down the street in a hospital gown. It’s something to be witnessed (see below).
Knowing Williams, there’s also going to be a hell of a lot of heart and emotions on Dirty Camaro. That’s just the wonderful way he rolls. The only thing left to do now is wait for release day in order to find out.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has truly deprived the world of the joy of personally seeing so much young and hungry music talent that’s out there. I know that in my case, I have a quantity of wonderful memories seeing several bands in an evening, maybe knowing one of them, and coming home a fan of others I hadn’t even heard of before that night.
This is all while being packed into a sweaty sardine heap inside a charming blink-and-you’d-miss-it venue that might be violating fire codes by having so many people there. Nevertheless, there was always a certain kind of magical love affair I experienced getting into the club trenches and being on the lookout for the next best thing creatively. Even if by our current pandemic standards such a scenario now seems impossible.
I’ve long felt Andrew Ryan belonged directly in the ranks of these diamonds in the on-stage rough. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the St. Louis native live and in person, fortunately in the digital age I’ve been able to slowly witness his artistic progression at length from the studio side of the glass.
Ryan’s latest single “Never Let Me Know” is a deeply dreamy, psychedelic Midwestern rocker that feels as woozily disconnected as its lyricisms imply. Ryan lets his producer heart out within the tightly wound layers of tipsy guitar, drum and heartbeat-like bassline, the building of which only adds to the equal tapestry of fogging emotional murk.
It’s been impressive to watch Ryan build his sound from basics such as acoustic guitar, percussion, and a sprinkle of bass into material with greater and greater nuance. “Never Let Me Know” has a rich, ragged flow akin to Lord Huron that only adds to the listener’s ear appeal, and that’s vital when constructing world building melodies.
From my perspective, I love great headphone albums or songs that reveal layers. They reward repeat listens by scrubbing off the surface to reveal intricate bass runs, guitar style techniques, and notes that might never be discovered with the naked ear. Fans don’t lie sometimes when they say all a good LP needs is more time to listen to it in order for it to truly flourish.
I believe the same is true with “Never Let Me Know”, especially as it enters into my now fall-themed playlists. Give a listen to the track below, peep the personnel who helped give this song life, and keep it tuned here September 22nd when we visit Ryan again to evaluate another new project!
Strand of Oaks is the moniker created by Timothy Showalter, a 38-year old Indiana-born musician (and former Hebrew school teacher) who broke onto the scene in 2009 with album Leave Ruin.
I crossed paths with Showalter’s Oaks project in 2014, a year in which Tim’s album HEAL was a constant topic of conversation around indie rock circles. This was for good reason, as HEAL remains a desperately beautiful, screamingly raw, deeply delving insight into the deathly horror of mental, personal breakdown and the resurrection of finding the healing hope and reasons to still go on.
HEAL also was speaking a lot to what I was feeling then. I had recently enjoyed being introduced to Dinosaur Jr’s brilliant J Mascis only to find his enigmatic guitar playing on “Goshen 97”, while the aching of loss I felt for Songs: Ohia musician Jason Molina after his tragic death at 39 was perfectly eulogized in the rattling “JM”. Even bonus track covers of Ryan Adams’ “My Wrecking Ball” and The National’s “Pink Rabbits” fit in line with other artists that obsessed me at the time.
HEAL is a true “complete” album without a misstep in an era that needs a lot more of them. That song on the radio may stay with you a day or a week; a true album is a staple of life.
I also empathized with Showalter nearly giving up the craft until fate intervened in the form of My Morning Jacket guitar-slinger Carl Broemel (leading to the recording of the gorgeous 2019 Oaks revival record Eraserland). I’ve long loved working in creative writing, but on more than one occasion I’ve felt the compulsion to quit based on anxiety, crippling self-criticism, and thinking I had nothing left to say anyone cared to hear. It’s connecting to hear someone singing and persevering through what I felt and what I still deal with mentally today.
Someone being real.
Tim Showalter is one of those musicians talented enough to consistently bring that baggage of emotion out for some recording booth catharsis, and that continues with the lead single from the upcoming Strand of Oaks album In Heaven, due out October 1st.”Galacticana” has an uplifting swing in mentions of joy and ecstacy, but like storm clouds amidst summer sun it also dwells on the human fear and insecurity that lies beneath those gold rays.
But instead of that worrying “I don’t wanna drag you down” suggestive earworm on this track, that reveal of vulnerability instead feels like a badge of kinship. It’s a powerful bonding connection between Showalter and his listeners, which is more than can be said for a lot of musical projects.
For example, take a band I’ve enjoyed a long time who recently dropped a record with a producer I greatly respect. Despite the anticipated team up, the majority of this band’s new tracks just felt lifeless and meandering. But sometimes that’s just it, you can book the best producer behind a great veteran band with a handful of songs, but when there’s no soul in it…. you’re just ironing an empty shirt.
Not so with Strand of Oaks. If “Galacticana” is any indication, In Heaven is already a dark horse contender for 2021’s Best Of list.
The Prince Estate recently announced their latest foray into unveiling more of the legendary rocker’s treasure trove of unreleased creative material. Entitled Welcome 2 America and due out in July, the 12-track LP (recorded in 2010) was initially slated to accompany a then-ongoing tour of the same name. However, for reasons known only to the artist himself, Welcome 2 America was scrapped; bound instead to gather dust on the shelves of the much-spoken-of Prince Vault.
The lead single (and title track) is perhaps at first listen not the type of promotional introduction one would typically expect. The 5+ minute funky slink plays almost like jazz club improvisation, with Prince providing a spoken monologue against the gorgeous vocals of trio Shelby J, Elisa Dease, and Liv Warfield. Lyrically, the single confronts themes like the dangers of escalating technology, endless greed amongst the aristocrats, and oppressive societal rule, issues that have only grown worse and more toxic since Prince wrote and spoke these words to tape.
That seems to tap into the broader mindset of where this posthumous album will dwell. To quote the Estate’s Welcome 2 America press release:
“(The album is) a powerful creative statement that documents Prince’s concerns, hopes and visions for a shifting society, presciently foreshadowing an era of political division, disinformation, and a renewed fight for racial justice”
This certainly isn’t new territory for His Royal Badness, as his albums Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times most famously highlighted themes including fears of nuclear war, the AIDS crisis, and trying to survive while the world is falling to pieces. Even Prince’s final studio album Hit n Run Phase Two opens with “Baltimore”, a rock’d up ode for peace following the 2015 death of 25-year old Black man Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore police officers.
So it seems appropriate that even from beyond the grave Prince has more statements to make that fit into the mood of our modern times. And while I have pondered at length just what he might have thought of his Estate releasing this recording and several others since his passing in 2016, the facts are these: Prince put no plans in place for the future of his creative works and didn’t seem to care what might happen to it all.
As a result, I just want to hear the music. Ordinarily I seek to respect the wishes of the artist and creator first and foremost, but with no knowledge of that and the mythical whisper of the Prince Vault coming to call… its time to just enjoy these little musical feasts as the treat that they are.
Prince was a once in a lifetime talent; hearing more his thought process in this world is a good thing.
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.
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.