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.

New Audio: Rising Aussie-born Los Angeles-based Singer-Songwriter Hazel English Releases a Woozy 60s Inspired Pop Tune

Hazel English is a rapidly rising Australian-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and musician. Her Justin Raisen and Ben H. Allen co-produced full-length debut Wake UP! is slated for an April 24, 2020 release through Marathon Artists/Polyvinyl Records. Recorded in Los Angeles and in Atlanta, English hopes the album will serve as a klaxon, a sort of warming horn that will give the listener a meaningful shake from their doldrums — and to encourage the listener to become more present in their own lives. “Sometimes, I feel like we’re just sleepwalking through our lives,” English says in press notes. She goes on to say that she hopes the album helps “make people become more aware and mindful.” 

Wake UP!’s fourth and latest single, “Five and Dime” is a woozy, mid-tempo track that sounds indebted to late 50s country and Phil Spector-produced 60s girl group pop. Centered around reverb drenched guitars, finger snap-led percussion, twinkling Rhodes, English’s expressive vocals, some twangy pedal steel and a rousing hook, the track is part playful love song and part bitter lament, as the song’s narrator muses on a love interest, who has become so consuming to her that she’s distracted.  Ah, to be that infatuated! 

“It’s about the desire for space and independence when feeling stifled in a relationship,” English explains in press notes. “I wrote it about a trip I took to Oakland when I just needed to get out of LA for a bit. ‘Five and Dime’ is actually an old slang term for the area code 510 which covers the East Bay, so I thought it would be a fun way to refer to the place that once used to be my home, while also invoking a sense of nostalgia for a time when a phrase like five and dime was very common.”

New Video: Rising Canadian Pop Artist GRAE Releases a Sultry Jazz Age-Inspired Visual

GRAE is a rising Toronto-based singer/songwriter and pop artist. Initially inspired by Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which she played on repeat as a child, the up-and-coming Canadian started playing piano and guitar when she was very young. Last year, GRAE released her attention-grabbing debut EP New Girl, which landed on the cover of Spotify’s Outliers Playlist — and since its release, has amassed over 2 million streams.

Building upon a growing profile, the Toronto-based artist will be releasing her highly-anticipated sophomore EP Bang Bang — and the EP’s first single is a slow-burning and sultry “Slow Down.” One part seductive Quiet Storm-like soul, one part jazz chanteuse and one part slickly produced pop, “Slow Down” the track is centered around a palpable sexual tension: its narrator is about to give into her temptations and rush into intimacy without knowing if the situation will be good for her. Most of our romantic relationships are initially centered around the confusing push and pull of lust, shame and our desire to be connected to someone — and the song evokes those feelings with an uncanny accuracy.

“‘Slow Down’ was fun to write because I had never explored this kind of topic before,” GRAE says in press notes. “I find, as a woman, sometimes it’s hard to express your wants and desires, in fear of being judged or shamed. So I wanted to touch on this subject to get more in tune with that side of myself.”

Directed by Priya Howlader, the recently released video for “Slow Down” employs a minimalist concept: the up-and-coming Canadian artist as a jazz chanteuse, performing the song in front of a red curtain. While performing the song, she winds up seducing an intrigued onlooker — and as the video progresses, we see that the pair have an unmistakable and irresistible sexual chemistry in which they’re pulled closer to each other.

“The video stems from a vision I had of me singing in a old jazz cafe in front of a classic red curtain,” the up-and-coming Canadian artist explains in press notes. “Priya, the director, really made it come alive with her treatment and ideas. The concept is minimal but so beautifully executed.”

Over the past couple of years, the rapidly rising Paris-based electro pop trio Keep Dancing— Louis, Joseph and Gabrielle — have quickly emerged as one of France’s hottest and most exciting new acts with the release of their debut EP, 2017’s Initial Public Offering and a handful of critically applauded, dance floor friendly singles.  They’ve also toured throughout the European Union with Blossoms — and across the UK, developing a reputation as highly-regarded live act.

Building upon a growing national and international profile, the rising Parisian act’s highly-anticipated Tom Carmichael-produced full-length debut Embrace is slated for release later this year. Recorded between Paris and Margate, UK, the album’s 12 tracks finds the band crafting remarkably assured and ambitious club anthems that effortlessly meshes 80s New Wave, electro pop and disco — much like the album’s critically applauded first single “Could U Stop.” “Start Up Nation,” Embrace‘s second and latest single. Centered around layers of shimmering synth arpeggios, four-on-the-floor drumming, sinuous dance floor friendly grooves and a rousing hook, the track is an incisive and ironic commentary on our contemporary economy and its lack of opportunities.

Best known for being the frontman of New York-based indie act Wild Pink, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Ross is also the creative mastermind behind the ambient and electronic solo recording project Eerie Gaits. Ross’ Eerie Gaits’ full-length debut, 2017’s critically applauded Bridge Music was inspired by driving over bridges. And under the Eerie Gaits moniker, Ross released a digital 45 with Dondadi in 2018 — and last year, as Eerie Gaits, Ross remixed Wild Pink’s “All Some Frenchman’s Joke” on the 5 Songs EP.

Slated for a Friday release through sound as language, Ross’s highly-anticipated sophomore album Holopaw derives its title from Holopaw, FL, the unincorporated community near where Ross grew up. Because Holopaw is technically not a town, village or even a hamlet, it’s administered under the jurisdiction of Osecola County, rather than its own municipality. And as a result, the 5,000 or so people who live in Holopaw don’t have a local government to call their own with its residents living in a liminal space between established community, odd backwater and remote hinterland.

Aesthetically, Holopaw‘s material bears an uncanny similarity to its namesake: untied to genre and unmoored from singular temperament. The album’s nine instrumental compositions undulate and ripple around arrangements that feature strummed guitar, contemplative and atmospheric synths and full-bodied yet placid indie rock, similar to what he has written with his primary gig.  Ross explains that Holopaw is “darker and more joyful at the same time.”

Interestingly, Holopaw‘s second and latest single is the incredibly cinematic and upbeat “The Rainbow Trout and the Wicker Creel.” Centered around shimmering and atmospheric  synth arpeggios, rolling drums, strummed guitars, “The Rainbow Trout and the Wicker Creel” is a contemplative track that evokes rippling and undulating water — and while intimate, possesses a widescreen and cinematic air.

 

New Video: Rising Aussie Electro Pop Artist Alice Ivy Teams Up with Imbi the girl and BOI on a Feminist Anthem

Annika Schmarsel is a Melbourne-based singer/songwriter, electronic music producer and electronic music artist, best known as rising Aussie electro pop sensation Alice Ivy. Schmarsel is the daughter of West German immigrants, who settled in Geelong, Australia in the late 80s — and interestingly enough, the rising Aussie electro pop artist can trace the origins of her music career back to a trip her family took to the ancestral homeland when she was 12: during that trip her grandmother taught her some guitar chords and her uncle taught her how to play Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” 

As a high schooler, Schmarsel was a member of a 25 member soul big band and a musical project by the name of The Sweethearts. In 2014, Schmarsel relocated to Melbourne to study for a music industry degre, and was introduced to the music software, Ableton. She also learnt about influential electronic producers. including J. Dilla. 

In early 2015, Schmarsel released her debut single as Alice Ivy, “Charlie.” And over the next handful of months, Schmarsel released a handful of attention-grabbing singles, the which helped Geelong-born, Melbourne-based singer/songwriter, electronic music producer and electronic music artist win 2016’s Triple J Unearthed’s Listen Out competition. Building upon a growing national profile, Scharmsel release her full-length debut I’m Dreaming to critical applause in her native Australia and elsewhere. 

Schmarsel’s highly-anticipated Alice Ivy sophomore effort, Don’t Sleep is slated for a July 17, 2020 release through Last Gang Entertainment, and the album finds the rising Aussie producer cementing a reputation for simultaneously being a producer and tastemaker, who has proven to be equally adept at uncovering new dimensions to the sound and approach of established, household names and for helping to break new talent — in particular, female and non-binary producers and pop artists. The album finds her collaborating with a who’s who of up-and-coming Aussie talent, including Thelma Plum, Ecca Vandal, Ngaiire, Safia’s Benjamin Joseph, Odette, Bertie Blackman and Imbi the girl among others. 

Interestingly, Don’t Sleep’s second and latest single, is the swaggering album title track “Don’t Sleep,” which finds Scharmsel teaming up with Imbi the girl and BOI. Sonically, the track is a perfect taste of what the listener should expect from the album: a slick synthesis of dub, trap and alt pop, centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, atmospheric electronics, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, reggae riddims, a soaring hook, tons of irie vibes and a decidedly feminist, girls and non-binary people to the front spirit.

“‘Don’t Sleep’ is one of those songs that came out of nowhere! Imbi, Boi and I were in the studio on the last day of a songwriting camp (shoutout Ricochet!) and at the start of the session we were all feeling pretty burnt out,” Alice Ivy explains. “But something special happened between us and I think it had a lot to do with how inspired we were feeling after a week at an all-female/non-binary camp. We came up with a super powerful song and it’s definitely one of my favourite collabs I’ve ever been a part of. The lyric, ‘Our bodies are ours so keep your hands away’  hits me every time I hear it.”

Directed by May Tusler, the recently released video for “Don’t Sleep” follows Schmarsel, Imbi and BOI dancing and rocking out to the song, while a collective of young Junior Motocross riders race and tear shit up. “It’s an empowering song… so obviously I had to recruit a bunch of junior motocross riders to tear it up in the video!” Schmarsel explains. 

Shiner — currently, comprised of Jason Gerkin (drums), Paul Malinowski (bass) Allen Epley (guitar) and Josh Newton (guitar) — is a Kansas City, MO-based post hardcore act that initially formed back in 1992. Shortly, after their formation, the band signed to DeSoto Records, owned by Jawbox’s Kim Coletta and Bill Barbot, and had a prolific and busy six year run that included some relentless touring and a handful of well-received albums of hook-driven, power chord-based material that ended with 2001’s critically applauded The Egg.

The band broke upon 2002 but the The Egg was re-released on vinyl for the 10th anniversary of its release, and the band reunited to play a handful of sold-out shows to support it, including stops in Los Angeles, Kansas City and Chicago, which were some of the biggest shows of their careers. Interestingly, in 2018 the members of the band’s current lineup decided that the act wasn’t finished yet — and that their story should be continued onwards. After a handful of recording sessions over the next 18 months at Paul Malinowski’s Shawnee, KS-based Massive Sound Studios, the band emerged with their self-produced, forthcoming album Schadenfreude, which is slated for a May 8, 2020 release. We’ve always been extremely hands-on, even when working with someone else technically ‘producing,’” the band’s Josh Newton says. “With The Egg we ended up remixing and adding things to almost half the record on our own. At this stage in our existence, we know what we should sound like.”

Reportedly, the album not only finds the band not missing a beat despite the lengthy hiatus, the album’s material manages to stand on their own. “A lot of themes on the album are pretty dark but always with a silver lining around the edges,” the band’s Allen Epley says in press notes. “The title itself is a commentary on the most common human trait of enjoying your rivals’ demise. Or your apparent enemies.”

Last month, I wrote about “Life As A MannequinSchadenfreude‘s first single, Songs for the Deaf-era Queens of the Stone Age and One by One-era Foo Fighters-like dirge, which featured some arena rock friendly hooks. “The song came together very quickly; we had the arrangement laid out literally the second time through the tune,” the band says. “The simple kind of Willy Wonka vocal melody on the verse belies the heaviness of the lyrics and the urge of pure elation of giving into your worst tendencies, like scratching under a cast you know you really shouldn’t but it feels so good. Or the recovering alcoholic having a hard day and just deciding to really turn on and say ‘fuck it, i’m getting drunk tonight.’” Schadenfreude‘s second and latest single “Paul P Pogh” is an explosive track centered around enormous power chords, thunderous and angular drumming, arena rock hooks and plaintive hooks that sonically sounds like a sick synthesis of Superunknown-era Soundgarden and Thrice. But underneath the studio polish and self-assured performances, is something much darker.

“The name Paul P Pogh was a name I chose for my fake ID when I was in high school for buying beers at liquor stores in Louisville, which surprisingly worked,” the band’s Allen Epply explains in press notes. “It seemed appropriate for this song about ‘acting nets out to the liquor signs’ and a life spent chasing addiction.”

 

 

 

New Video: Seattle Punks, The Unfit Release a Furious Ripper

Formed back in 2012, the Seattle-based punk act The Unfit — longtime friends and grizzled Seattle scene veterans Jake Knuth, Michael Lee, T.J. Johnson and Tyler Johnson — have a history of sporadic recording sessions and scattered postings of tracks online. After almost a decade together, the members of the Seattle-based quartet will be releasing their self-titled, full-length debut on June 5, 2020 through Share It Music. 

Drawing from 80s and 90s punk, grunge and indie rock, The Unfit’s sound is forceful, loud as hell, at times sludgy and at times hardcore punk-leaning. Thematically, their full-length debut focuses on finding meaning, belonging and honesty in a bleak and unrelenting hellscape where those things are harder to find — and figuring out a way to cope with the lack thereof. Underlying the material is the sentiment that in our world, the survival of the fittest is titled towards those with the greatest capacity for dishonesty, shamelessness and zealous self-interest, one can perhaps take pride and finding belonging in being one of the proverbial unfit. 

Clocking in at a little over two minutes, the self-titled album’s first single, album opening track “Caged Rats and Hamster Wheels” is a feral and furious ripper, built around enormous power chords, thunderous drumming, a propulsive bass line, mosh pit friendly hooks and howled vocals that’s fueled by the desperate urgency of our moment. At it’s core is an incisive criticism of not just the capitalist rat race but of us that’s centered around the album’s central idea: the world is a bleak and uncertain hellscape of festering bullshit, greed and selfishness — and that bullshit, dishonesty, greed an selfishness may get us all killed. Worse yet, is deep down we all know this, even if we can’t immediately accept it. 

Directed by Ryan Taggart and the members of The Unfit, the recently released video for “Caged Rats and Hamster Wheels” is split between gorgeously shot and intimate footage of the band performing the song in a studio, which makes you feel as though you’re in the room — and stock footage of scientific experiments on lab rats. The rats gradually placed in situations in which the competition for food and survival is at its most primal and vicious. 

Deriving their name from a playful, Anglophile nod towards the famed physicist Issac Newton, the Paris-based electro pop act Isaac Delusion —  founding members and creative core Loïc Fleury (vocals, guitar) and Jules Paco (keys) — was formed back in 2010. With the release of 2014’s self-titled debut effort, the act received attention for a sound and approach that meshed the acoustic instrumentation with a bold use of electronics — while nodding a bit at dream pop.

The duo then toured exclusively across France and the rest of the European Union to support their full-length debut. Interestingly, 2017’s sophomore effort Rust & Gold found the duo’s sound shifting from the ethereal and atmospheric dream pop of its immediate predecessor with the material focusing on tangible emotions, soulful rhythms and insightful observations on one and the human condition.

The Paris-based electro pop’s first two albums have managed to amass over 500,000 Spotify streams a month. Building upon a rapidly growing profile across their native France and elsewhere, the act played Pitchfork Paris, as well as sold-out headlining shows at venues like  L’Olympia and Elysee Montmarte.

Microqlima Records released the French duo’s third album uplifters last year. Thematically, the album was centered around misplaced nostalgia for one’s long-passed youth, As a result the album’s material is imbued with a longing for the freedom, simplicity and unguarded honesty of their younger selves — and regret for the missed opportunities you can never get back. And much like its predecessors, uplifters‘ material was written and sung primarily in English with a handful of songs written and sung in their native French.

Album single “pas l’habitude” was one of the few album tracks written and sung in French. While the song is a breezy synth pop song, centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, plaintive and dreamy vocals, a sinuous bass line and an infectious hook — but the song’s breezy and easygoing nature is superficial: the song is actually an achingly bittersweet ode to the proverbial loss of innocence and getting older. Life and its ambiguity after all, will break your heart countless times over. It’s up to you to pick up the pieces and move forward.

Franc Moody is a London-based electro pop collective, centered around its core duo and creative masterminds Ned and Jon. Jon comes from a family of classical musicians and as  result, he grew up surrounded by oboes, cellos and violins. Ned grew up listening to the music that his parents played on car trips — classic soul, 50s/60s New Orleans music, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Eddie Cochran. “I loved the melody and the groove of that music, but I think really I loved the energy of it as well,” Ned explains in press notes.

The London-based collective’s core duo met when they ere part of a a collection of bands and musicians, who took over an abandoned warehouse in North London back in 2014. “It was called the Arch,” Jon recalls. “When we moved in, it was bare bones concrete walls. A horrible place basically. We built these two analogue recording studios. There were old microphones, hammered organs, and beaten up guitar amps. It was quite craggy.”

The Arch quickly became known for raucous and packed live shows and parties that went well into the night, with live bands frequently getting on around 3am. We’ve all been to similar parties: there’s no bouncer, one port-a-potty with a line of being desperately waiting to pee but the vibe is amazing. Interestingly, Ned and Jon cut their teeth as live musicians in that environment. “We learned to love performing music that made people dance, in the same way those old funk and soul artists used to,” Ned explains. “In fact, what we were doing at the warehouse was sort of in a similar tradition to the Zydeco sessions and crawfish boils around South Louisiana, purely focused around dancing. It was quite simple.”

Franc Moody started in earnest when the duo moved out of The Arch and began to focus on a project that meshed their various influenced. No longer living in the warehouse, they struggled to find a space big enough to fit a drum kit. Instead, they stated programming drums and an electronic aesthetic began to permeate through their older influences.

Their debut effort, 2016’s self-titled EP consisted of a series of Giorgio Moroder-like instruments; but their breakthrough single, the critically applauded “Dopamine” found the band truly establishing their sound: a disco-tinged sound that was subtly indebted to Prince. Building upon a growing profile, the duo released their sophomore EP, 2018’s Dance Moves which eventually amassed over 20 million streams.

They’ve also developed a mesmerizing live sound, inspired by the warehouse rave scene that they came up in — and those live shows find them surrounded by a cast of collaborators and friends as their backing band. In fact, they’ve opened for Friendly Fires  and a number of other acts. Recently, the London-based electro pop collective remixed “pas l’habitude.” And while they retain Loïc Fleury’s achingly plaintive French vocals, they turn the song into Random Access Memories-era Daft Punk like club banger, centered around a sinuous bass line, shimmering synth arpeggios and four on the floor drum programming.