Author: William Ruben Helms

I'm a music blogger, critic and photographer, who has had articles and photos published in Premier Guitar Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The New York Press, New York Magazine's Vulture Blog, Ins&Outs Magazine, The Noise Beneath the Apple, Glide Magazine, The Whiskey Dregs Magazine and others.

Formed by founding member Mariel Beaumont back in 2014, and currently featuring Michael Liszka (drums), Joseph Wright (guitar) and the recently added Vince Vullo (bass), the Philadelphia-based post-punk act Church Girls have developed a reputation for being one of their hometown’s most promising up-and-coming bands. Since their formation, the band has gone through a series of lineup changes, which has also resulted in the band revising and refining their sound and songwriting approach. Additionally, two years ago Beaumont left her full-time job at a clothing band to focus on music full-time — and as a result, Beaumont has found her relationships and the creative chemistry with her bandmates improving.

Interestingly, the Philadelphia-based post-punk outfit’s soon-to-be released EP Cycles thematically focuses on the dissolution of relationships and the responsibilities one faces in setting boundaries for loved ones, who are in the throes of substance abuse; in fact, the EP’s latest single, EP title track “Cycles,” is centered around a close family member’s substance abuse and how that has impacted the song’s narrator — mainly in the form of cycling anger, forgiveness, guilt, reconciliation and dedication. As Beaumont says in press notes, “This person has a disease. As much as I’ve blamed that family member for certain failures, I have my own. I could’ve addressed the problems at hand, instead of pretending everything was fine and just receding.” Sonically, the song bears a resemblance to the likes of Ganser and others, as it features jangling and angular guitar chords, thunderous drumming and a shout along worthy hook that packs an emotional wallop.

Cycles EP is slated for a January 25, 2019 release through Chatterbot Records, and the band will be embarking on a tour to support it, which will begin tomorrow in Washington, DC. Check out the tour dates.

TOUR DATES
JAN 15th – Washington, DC @ DC9 Nightclub
JAN 16th – Raleigh, NC @ Slim’s Downtown Distillery
JAN 17th – Charlotte, NC @ Petra’s
JAN 18th – Asheville, NC @ The Odditorium
JAN 19th – Atlanta, GA @ East Arcanum Studio
JAN 20th – Birmingham, AL @ The Nick
JAN 22nd – Denton, TX @ Backyard on Bell
JAN 24th – Houston, TX @ Leon’s Lounge
JAN 25th – Austin, TX @ Beerland
JAN 26th – San Antonio, TX @ The Pleasure Hill House
JAN 28th – Phoenix, AZ @ The Lunchbox
JAN 29th – Tucson, AZ @ The Roach Ranch
JAN 30th – Pomona, CA @ dba256 Bar & Gallery
JAN 31st – Los Angeles, CA @ Silverlake Lounge
FEB 1st – Berkeley, CA @ Alternative Music Foundation
FEB 3rd – Sacramento, CA @ Blue Lamp
FEB 5th – Medford, OR @ Johnny B’s
FEB 7th – Portland, OR @ Turn! Turn! Turn!
FEB 8th – Boise, ID @ High Note Cafe
FEB 9th – Provo, UT @ The Superfuzz
FEB 11th – Fort Collins, CO @ Pinball Jones
FEB 12th – Denver, CO @ Seventh Circle Music Collective
FEB 14th – Sioux City, IA @ The Ox
FEB 15th – North Kansas City, MO @ The Rino
FEB 16th – Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews
FEB 17th – Chicago, IL @ Emporium Wicker Park
FEB 18th – Muncie, IN @ Be Here Now DIY Music Venue & Craft Brew Bar
FEB 19th – Cincinnati, OH @ Northside Yacht Club
FEB 20th – Indianapolis, IN @ Healers
FEB 21st – Columbus, OH @ Celler Door

Over the past couple of years of this site’s nearly nine-year history, I’ve written quite a bit about Blonde Maze, the solo recording project of New York-based electronic music artist, producer and singer/songwriter Amanda Steckler. Now, as you may recall Steckler has received attention across the blogosphere for crafting slickly produced, atmospheric synth pop centered by lyrics that give her material an earnest and swooning romanticism.

Interestingly, over the past year or so, the JOVM mainstay has been collaborating with a number of both established and up-and-coming electronic music producers —  including the Iowa City, IA-born, Duluth, MN-based electronic music artist and producer Kyle Stern. best known as Attom.  As the story goes, Stern quietly sharpened and honed his production skills while earning a degree in Informatics from the University of Iowa. After relocating to Duluth, Stern won remix competitions for Parade of Lights‘ “Golden” and Chromeo’s “Jealous.” Building upon a growing reputation, Stern’s first single “Glow” was picked up on the MrSuicideSheep YouTube channel and officially released on the Big Beat Ignition Miami 2015 Playlist, which he promptly followed up with “Cruise,” a track that was released through MrSuicideSheep’s Seeking Blue Records. Adding to a growing profile, Stern won a remix contest for Odesza’s “White Lies,” which led to his first ever live set at Bonnaroo Music Festival. Since then, Stern has released “Her,” which amassed over 500,000 steams across each of the streaming platforms and “Stay,” which amassed 300,000 streams in under a month.

Interestingly, Steckler and Stern’s latest single, the euphoric “Anywhere”  is a seamless synthesis of the duo’s individual sounds and aesthetic as Steckler’s aching and ethereal vocals are paired with a slick production centered around arpeggiated keys, shimmering synths, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, chopped up vocal samples and a soaring hook. Unsurprisingly, the song continues a run of swooning singles by the JOVM mainstay that accurately evoke the feelings of being ridiculously, passionately in love with someone — something that even the most cynical of us have felt. As Steckler explains in an email about the song, “It encompasses the euphoric feeling of being in love and the willingness to go lengths for someone even when you are struggling yourself. It portrays dreamy, upbeat, yet longing vibes, something we’ve both felt a mix of in our lives and know people can relate.”

 

 

Comprised of Lush‘s Miki Berenyi (vocals, guitar) and Moose‘s KJ “Moose” McKillop (guitar), who are married, along with Modern English‘s Mick Conroy (bass) and Elastica’s Justin Welch (drums), the indie rock all-star act Piroshka derives their name from the Hungarian version of Little Red Riding Hood — and while each member may be known for their highly acclaimed individual creative pursuits, they’ve long been connected within a complex and oft-knotted web: Berenyi and McKillop have long been considered shoegaze pioneers with their own bands before they got married and raised a family; Elastica were considered rising Brit Pop stars, and as a result Berenyi and McKillop were familiar with Welch. After Modern English broke up for second time, Conroy joined McKillop’s band Moose. Welch joined the reformed Lush in 2015. Interestingly, when Lush needed a bassist for what turned out to be their final show in Manchester, Conroy filled in.

It was those Manchester show rehearsals that laid the foundations for their current project. But as I write this, I realize that I need to backtrack a bit because backstories are often extremely confusing — and there details I hadn’t figured out a good way to fit in. So here we go: After Chris Acland’s suicide in 1997, his devastated and grieving bandmates felt unable to continue. Berenyi in particular felt that she had to completely get away from music; in fact, Berenyi spent the next close to 20 years as a parent with a full time job — and as a result, she didn’t agree to reunite Lush until 2015.  Adding to the six degrees of musical and creative separation, Welch was a close friend of Acland’s, making it easy to recruit him to fill in. As the story goes, Welch was the one, who asked Berenyi if she’d be up to doing something else, after the Manchester show. As she mentions in press notes, she had never made music outside of Lush and never wanted to do anything solo. “I need someone else to motivate me, and in this case it was Justin,” Berenyi recalled. “He sent drum tracks with guitar parts and odd words, so I wrote some vocals and lyrics, which became ‘This Must Be Bedlam’ and ‘Never Enough.’ When Mick added bass, it sounded great. When Moose added guitar and keyboards — I’d never written like that before, it was such good fun.”

“We sounded great!” Welch added in press notes. “Like a proper punk band. Mick brings a huge amount of enthusiasm and livens up the room, and I thought this is the kind of band I want to be in again.” Conroy agreed, adding “I’d seen Lush so many times, it was like playing with old friends. Miki agreed and it was good fun, too. And with Moose available, we thought, ‘let’s all have a bash, see what happens.’”

Adding another layer to the entangled web of personal, professional and creative connections, Bella Union‘s label head Simon Raymonde was among the first people to hear the band’s demos for their forthcoming full-length debut Brickbat and after listening to them, he quickly signed the band — and as it turns out, his former Cocteau Twins bandmate Robin Guthrie produced Lush’s debut album. Alan with that Raymonde’s current Lost Horizons bandmate Richie Thomas was a former member of Moose. Raymonde then introduced the members of Piroshka to Lanterns on the Lake‘s Paul Gregory to mix the album — with the exception of “What’s Next,” which was mixed by Alan Moulder. Fiona Brice, who was once a Bella Union recording artist, wrote string arrangements while The Higsons and Blockhead‘s Terry Edwards, who also played on Lush’s final album played brass.

Slated for a February 15, 2015 release through the Bella Union, Piroshka’s debut album Brickbat is derived for a slang term for a missile and reportedly, the title hits on how the album is a marked departure from each individual members’ known work; in fact, the material is centered by blunt, forceful lyrics that tap into the fear, loathing, envy and spite at the heart of our sociopolitical moment.  Much of the material was written through the anxious prism of parenthood in a world gone mad. Similarly to JOVM mainstays Atmosphere‘s Mi Vida Local, Brickbat‘s first single “Everlastingly Yours” is rooted in a very real fear — that you can’t protect your loved ones from the constantly evolving dangers of our world. While the song is centered around a shimmering and anthemic shoegazer-like arrangement featuring soaring synths, a propulsive, angular bass line, four-on-the-floor-like drumming and Berenyi’s aching and ethereal vocals, the song thematically as McKillop explains is “about school shootings and our reaction to almost being almost unable to take our eyes off twenty-four hour news and internet feeds.” And as a result, the song points at the vacillating cycle of disgust, depression and powerlessness that we all feel on a daily basis.

Featuring four-on-the-floor drumming, jangling guitar chords, shimmering synths and Berenyi’s ethereal vocals, Brickbat‘s latest single “What’s Next” continues in its predecessor’s footsteps as it’s centered around the urgency of our sociopolitical moment — with the song’s narrator essentially saying “Wait, hold up. What the fuck, man? Shouldn’t we want better?” And throughout there are references to people hitting the streets to protest, out of fear, concern and outrage. Interestingly, as the band’s Berenyi explains in press notes “‘What’s Next’ started life as a guitar-and-drums demo from Justin that he’d called ‘Protest’ – the drums being inspired by the idea of a protest march. It’s one of the very first songs Piroshka worked on together. The lyrics are inspired by the shock and fallout regarding current political upheavals – how this finger-pointing and rage and blame are so damaging, how we need to get back some kind of solidarity if we possibly can because the divisions between us are playing into certain people’s hands. Funnily enough, the song was called Time’s Up when it was first recorded, but that title then got taken so we thought we’d better change it!”

 

Perhaps best known for being a member of critically acclaimed bands Magic Bullets and Terry Malts, as well as Smokescreens and Mike Krol‘s backing band, Corey Cunningham’s latest project Business of Dreams can trace its origins to when Cunningham took leave for his long-running musical partnerships when his father died. Returning back home to Tennessee to grieve and confront his past, Cunningham wrote music that would eventually comprise Business of Dreams’ critically applauded, eponymous full-length debut back in 2017.

Building upon a growing profile, Cunningham with a live backing band opened for Rogue Wave, and played a number of local shows with the likes of Frankie Rose, Real Estate and others. Business of Dream’s sophomore effort, Ripe For Anarchy is slated for a February 1, 2019 release through Slumberland Records, and the album finds Cunningham honing his songwriting both sonically and thematically, with the material touching upon regret, existence and perseverance.”The album is about living in the moment, shedding neurosis, and the desire to discard the general societal malaise we’ve been roped into,” Cunningham says in press notes.

Ripe For Anarchy‘s first single is the shimmering guitar pop track “Keep The Blues Away.” Centered around ethereal and plaintive vocals, shimmering and arpeggiated synths, staccato drum machine-like drumming, shimmering guitar lines fed through delay and effect pedals and a soaring hook, the single sounds as though it could have been released during 4AD Records heyday — and while indebted to the sounds of the past, the track is bolstered by an urgent sincerity that comes from lived-in experience.

 

 

 

Throughout the past couple of years of this site’s almost nine-year history, I’ve written a quite a bit about Ron Gallo, a  Philadelphia-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist and JOVM mainstay, whose was a once the frontman of the Philadelphia-based indie act Toy Soldiers. As the story goes, at one point, Gallo was in a long-term, romantic relationship with a deeply troubled woman — and once that relationship ended, Gallo relocated to Nashville, where he embarked on a solo career, writing and recording material that eventually became his acclaimed 2016 full-length debut HEAVY META. 

Thematically, HEAVY META touched upon a number of themes within his own life, including his own personal ideology of abstaining from drugs and alcohol, self-empowerment, domestication, dead and unhappy love, not truly knowing yourself and the things that could happen to you when you don’t, mental illness from the perspective of both sufferer and close observer, and a burning, misanthropic frustration with humanity and civilization. And yet, there was some level of optimism — that music can wake someone up and get them to change what they were doing. As Gallo said in press notes at the time, “this record comes from my frustration with humanity and myself, and from my wanting to shake us all. At my core, I’m compassionate for humanity and the sickness that we all live with, and from that comes something more constructive.”

HEAVY META’s follow-up Really Nice Guys EP was released early last year, and the EP was largely inspired by the previous year in Gallo’s life in which he was busy touring and promoting his full-length debut — and as a result, the EP’s material wound up being a satirical sendup of the contemporary music industry with the EP featuring songs about rough mixes, broken into three parts — iPhone demo, live band demo and overproduced, autotuned, overproduced to death studio recording; the painfully weird inability for those within the music industry to honestly admit that someone is just an awful musician, so everyone winds up saying “well, they’re really nice guys . . . ,” the number of friends, who will ask to be put on the guestlist so that you can never actually make any money off a show, and more.

Gallo’s sophomore album Stardust Birthday Party was released last October, and the material was inspired by a life-altering, seismic shift in his life. Remember the woman who inspired much of the material on Gallo’s critically applauded debut? Well, as the story goes, she had taken a trip to South America, found a healer and miraculously got herself and her life together. Understandably, when Gallo heard the news, his interest was piqued, and he began reading and searching for a more inward path for his own mental and spiritual development.  Early last year, Gallo booked a trip to a silent meditation retreat in California. Despite his initial reservations and discomfort, the Philadelphia-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter reportedly experienced a profound experience that quickly became the answer for his existential searching — and in turn, the thematic core of the album: how inner transformation impacts both the outside world and your perception of it.

Or, as Ron Gallo says in a lengthy written statement about the album:

Stardust Birthday Party is about human evolution. Specifically, one human’s evolution: mine, Ron Gallo.  That’s the name my parents gave me. Hi.

At one point, I was a very lost mid-twenties person living in Philadelphia, in a relationship with someone struggling with mental health issues and crippling heroin addiction. I was asleep. I didn’t know how to handle my life. I was also writing songs for HEAVY META – my “frustrated with humanity” album. I laugh about it all now, but at the time it all felt like an absolute nightmare. It was the perfect doorway to look inside the place I’d been avoiding forever: myself.

Stardust Birthday Party is about what is happening underneath all of this life stuff. My path inward. The details of my path are pointless because everyone’s path is different. It is about me sitting with myself for the first time and confronting the big question “WHAT AM I, REALLY?” It’s about the love and compassion for all things that enters when you find out you are nothing and everything. I think at one point I wanted to change the world, but now I know I can only change myself, or rather just strip away everything that is not me to reveal the only thing that’s ever been there. And that’s what this album is about, it’s me dancing while destroying the person I thought I was, and hopefully forever.

In the liner notes of John Coltrane’s album A Love Supreme (which we pay tribute to on this album) he wrote: ‘During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.’

That’s it.  That is the pure essence of creativity. Someone embodying what they have realized about themselves and the world that surrounds them. That is why this album exists. ”

Stardust Birthday Party’s first single “It’s All Gonna Be Okay,” was an angular ripper centered around two disparate things — the first a relishing of life’s ironies with a bemused yet accepting smile that points out that there’s a larger connection to everyone and everything; and that the only way we can actually change the world is if every individual on this planet began to take a serious and sobering look at their own fucked up shit and then do the complete opposite. Until then, we’re speeding our way down to hell with explosives and lit matches in the backseat.

Always Elsewhere,” Stardust Birthday Party‘s second single continued in a similar vein as its predecessor as it was an angular and furious ripper that evoked our age of perpetual and unending fear and anxiety that most of us running around like the White Rabbit, looking at our watches in panic and saying “There’s not enough time! There’s not enough time!” As Gallo says in press notes, “Most of the time we perceive the world, ourselves and others as ideas we have about them rather than what they really are. All our fear and anxiety stems from speculation about what COULD happen, not what is actually happening here and now. I’ve done this most of my life and still do, and the best way I’ve found is to become aware that you are not being aware or present, and suddenly you become present, that’s what this song is for — a frantic representation of modern life and our inability to live in the moment.”

Do You Love Your Company,” Stardust Birthday Party‘s third  single was a tense and anxious New Wave and post-punk take on garage rock, centered around angular blasts of guitar, a steady backbeat and an enormous, shout-worthy hook but underneath the rousingly anthemic nature of the song is something much deeper, more urgent — the very modern anxiousness and uncertainty that comes about whenever we’re left to ourselves. As Gallo says the song is “about self-inquiry. I think a lot of people struggle with being truly alone or fear silence because it forces them to look inward, but ultimately, i think it’s one of the most important things we can do to understand ourselves and others.”

Stardust Birthday Party‘s latest single “Love Supreme (Work Together)” is an angular, New Wave-like track that at points sounds indebted to Fear of Music and More Songs About Buildings and Food-era Talking Heads — but centered around a profound observation. As Gallo explains in press notes, “I wrote this song on GarageBand on my phone on an airplane. I was listening to A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, eating my really adorable but terrible tasting airplane meal of bowtie pasta (originally the first verse was about that) and looking down at the earth from the sky where you see no separation between people or things, there is just one thing. The chorus goes ‘God loves it when we work together.’ The God I am talking about is not a specific one, but everything, the one thing that is everything, the common thread in all existence, life, whatever you want to call it. In my head this is the soundtrack to a party in the streets where there is no line between shape, color, size, gender, sexuality, beliefs, anything, none of that shit exists.  Just anyone and everyone dancing kissing hugging laughing at the absurdity that we couldn’t always see that our core we are all the same. Nice!” As Gallo later says of the track,“‘Love Supreme’ is my attempt to write a genuinely positive song, maybe even a song people can dance to (ideally people that normally don’t dance together in large quantities in weird places and pay tribute to John Coltrane on top of that) I wrote this one on my phone on a plane.”

Recently, Claudius Mittendorfer remixed “Love Supreme (Work Together)” and interestingly his remix gives the song a dance floor friendly thump, reminiscent of The B52s.  “We incorporated some new sounds we never messed with before. I feel like I never could’ve written something like this even two years ago but sometimes it feels good to lay down the exhausting, intense, critical outlook and just celebrate life and people and what we all have in common right now, everywhere,” Gallo says. “Thank you to Claudius Mittendorfer (Parquet Courts, Johnny Marr, Weezer) who did this remix, he really brought the song to where it always wanted to go.”

Ron Gallo will be returning to the road this winter on a co-headlining tour with Post Animal. Check out the tour dates below.

Tour Dates:
January 30th – Iowa City, IA – Blue Moose Tap House
January 31st – Madison, WI – High Noon Saloon
February 1st – Minneapolis, MN -Fine Line
February 2nd – Kansas City, MO – Recordbar
February 5th – Denver, CO – The Globe
February 6th – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
February 8th – Vancouver, BC – Wise Hall
February 9th – Seattle, WA – Chop Suey
February 10th – Portland, OR – Doug Fir
February 12th – Sacramento, CA – Harlow’s
February 13th – Santa Cruz, CA – Catalyst Atrium
February 14th – San Francisco, CA – Chapel
February 15th -Fresno, CA – Strummers
February 16th – Los Angeles, CA – Teragram Ballroom
February 17th – San Diego, CA – The Casbah
February 19th – Phoenix, AZ – Rebel Lounge
February 21st – Dallas, TX – Deep Ellum Art Co.
February 22nd – Austin, TX – Barracuda
February 23rd – San Antonio, TX – Paper Tiger
February 25th – New Orleans, LA – Gasa Gasa
February 26th – Birmingham, AL – Saturn
February 27th – Athens, GA – Georgia Theatre
February 28th – Asheville, NC – The Mothlight
March 1st – Charlottesville, VA – The Southern
March 2nd – Columbus, OH – Skully’s

Live Footage: The Blue Stones Perform “Be My Fire” on SiriusXM’s The Verge Channel

I’ve written a bit about up-and-coming alt rock duo The Blue Stones and as you may recall, the band which is comprised of high school friends Tarek Jafer (vocals, guitar) and Justin Tessier (drums, percussion, backing vocals) can trace their origins to when the duo decided that they should start a musical project together, while attending college. Jafar and Tessier spent seven years honing and perfecting their sound, a period which they wrote and recorded an independently released EP. 

Building upon several years of hard work and dedication, the duo released their full-length debut Black Holes last October — and the album features two previously released, attention-grabbing singles, Rolling With The Punches,” a single that received placements on USA Network‘s Suits, Showtime‘s Shameless and ESPN‘s Monday Night Football and lead single and album title track “Black Holes (Solid Ground), which has amassed 8 million streams, furthered cement the duo’s growing profile for  playing blues rock that as the duo’s Justin Tessier says is “lean, raw, tight, without a wasted note.”

Throughout 2017 and 2018, the members of The Blue Stones played sets across the national festival circuit with stops at Carolina Rebellion, Northern Invasion, Winnetka Music Festival and Bonnaroo Festival. Black Holes’ third single, the sultry and anthemic “Be My Fire,” is centered around the sort of enormous power chords, thundering drumming and arena rock friendly hooks that bring The Black Keys, Jimi Hendrix, and North Mississippi All Stars to mind — although the song is actually an urgent and plaintive yearning for someone just out of reach. Recently, the members of the up-and-coming alt rock duo were invited to SiriusXM’s The Verge Channel, where they performed several singles from their full-length debut, including the aforementioned “Be My Fire,” and a cover of The Rolling Stones’ classic “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction).” Check out some live footage of The Blue Stones performing “Be My Fire.” 

 

J. Hacha De Zola is a Rahway, NJ-born, Jersey City, NJ-based singer/songwriter and musician, who became a scientist and a musician because of his father: a year within a Ph.D. program in Biochemistry, Hacha De Zola’s father died. He had to quit school to support his mother and the rest of the family, but the situation presented another life change that pushed him into pursuing a life long passion — music.

With the release of 2016’s Picaro Obscuro, the second of his two “urban junkyard” albums of that year, Hacha De Zola publicly insinuated that he might not continue on to make a third and that if he did, his plan was to “lighten up” the sound that he has previously described on some occasions as “boozegaze.” 2017’s Antipatico was the third album Hacha De Zola and his backing band had written and recorded in over two years — and with each successive album, Hacha De Zola increasingly found his own voice.

Hacha De Zola’s  John Agnello-produced fourth full-length album Icaro Nouveau is slated for a March 8, 2018 release through Caballo Negro Records and much like his previously released material, the New Jersey-born and-based singer/songwriter and his backing band practice his “reductive synthesis” method of what he has called “shooting the arrow and painting the bullseye around it.” Hacha De Zola explains, “I never go to the studio with songs written. I allow the musicians to be themselves and throw all they got at it. Then I’ll go and peel back the various layers to fashion a song from it all. It’s a pretty risky way of making an album because when it’s all done, you may have something that isn’t agreeable to you. Other times, you arrive at something truly magical and the songs take on a life of their own. There’s a certain kind of voodoo there that could not be planned.”

Interestingly, the album’s material is also deeply influenced by the life and death of longtime collaborator, Ralph Carney, a saxophonist best known for working with the legendary Tom Waits. Carney not only served as a player but a spiritual guide and mentor for Hacha de Zola. “He was an integral part of this sound. He was my secret weapon,” Hacha de Zola says. “His horns were ever–present, as was his input. Not having him around for Icaro Nouveau was unsettling for me.” But his spirit was still in the room while they were writing and recording the album.The album’s latest single “On A Saturday” finds Hacha De Zola and his backing band, sonically drawing from classic, barrio salsa — but seemingly played through rusty and busted instruments and with a drunken, lilting wobble.

Led by Frode Strømstad (vocals, guitar) and Anne Lise Frøkedal (vocals, guitar) and featuring bandmates Ole Reidar Gudmestad and Arne K Mathisen the members of Norwegian guitar pop act I Was A King formed the band in Egersund, Norway a picturesque town located on the country’s windswept, Southwestern coast. The band’s forthcoming, Norman Blake-produced album Slow Century is slated for a March 8, 2018 release through Coastal Town Recordings, and the album, which was written, recorded and pressed to vinyl in their hometown thematically illustrates the tension between the lust for new adventures and the comfort of everyday, mundane, small-town life.
“Bubble,” Slow Century‘s easygoing, first single is centered around Strømstad’s and Frøkedal’s gorgeous and effortless harmonizing, jangling guitar chords and a soaring hook. Sonically, the nostalgic-leaning track manages to bring both 70s AM rock and 90s alt rock immediately to mind but as the band’s Anne Lise Frøkedal says of the song, Sometimes old friends can know you annoyingly well – to the point where they’re able to predict when you are about to mess it all up. The best ones will stand by you right through the shitstorm. ‘Bubble’ describes friendship in times of trouble; in times where we are not being the best versions of ourselves.”

 

 

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve written quite a bit about Marlene Oak, a Swedish singer/songwriter and guitarist, who grew up on a small island outside of of Stockholm, where she turned to music as an escape. Oak spent her teenage years busking on the streets of Stockholm’s Old Town, and was serendipitously discovered by someone, who just happened to pass by and catch her playing. After releasing a couple of singles, which helped to develop a reputation for a sound and approach that’s influenced by Bob DylanJeff BuckleyJoni Mitchell, Nina Simone and Janis Joplin, the Swedish singer/songwriter and guitarist built a following playing shows across her homeland at pubs, clubs and elsewhere, opening for the likes of Miss Li, Whitney Rose and Susto, as well as playing sets at Way Out West FestivalSTHLM Americana and Irisfestivalen.

The Stockholm-based singer/songwriter’s “In The Evening” was centered around a hauntingly sparse arrangement featuring Oak’s soulful and plaintive vocals, accompanied by a strummed, electric guitar fed through gentle amount of reverb. Naturally, the sparse arrangement forces your attention on Oak’s vocals and lyrics — with the song thematically focusing on heartbreak, sorrow, achingly lonely nights and desperately figuring out some way to move forward with your life. Recorded in one take, the song possesses a you-were-there immediacy which helps pack a walloping emotional punch. “When I recorded ‘In The Evening’, I wanted to record everything on one take — without a click. And that’s what I did,” Oak says in press notes. “I aimed for keeping the same feeling to the song as I had when I wrote it, and I wanted to sing the words as if they were my last.”

Now, as you may recall Oak is building upon a growing national and international profile with the release of her latest EP Silver Moon, which is slated for a February 15, 2019 and the EP’s latest single “Coming Home” continues in a similar vein as its immediate predecessor “Slip Away,” as the new single is a swooning and plaintive love song. The song, which is both an aching lament and contented sigh centered around an arrangement of shimmering guitars, gently padded drumming, a regal horn arrangement, a soaring hook and Oak’s gorgeous vocals, and in some way the song manages to sound as though it were indebted to classic, 1950s era ballads — but with an immediacy that packs an emotional wallop.

“‘Come Home’ is about a lifetime of seeking for that one soul that you’ve always been longing for” Oak says in press notes. “It can be frustrating and sometimes painful to wait for that person. But once you’ve found each other, it’ll feel like coming home. When you find that missing part, it will make everything feel complete. The song is also about the flip side to loving someone that deeply.”