Category: Indie Pop

New Audio: Baltimore’s Up-and-Coming Julien Chang Releases a Slow-Burning and Lysergic New Single

Last month, I wrote about the up-and-coming, 19-year-old, Baltimore-born multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, producer and current university student Julien Chang (pronounced Chong). And as you may recall, Chang surprised his peers when he began quietly releasing music during his senior year in high school. Initially only thought of as just a trombone player, the Baltimore-born, multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer’s early material found him playing multiple instruments and meshing pop-leaning melodicism, psych rock and jazz fusion-leaning experimentation and improvisation with a sophistication and self-assuredness that belies his relative youth. Those early releases caught the attention of Transgressive Records, the label home of SOPHIE, Let’s Eat Grandma and JOVM mainstay Neon Indian, who will be releasing his forthcoming full-length debut.

“Of The Past,” Chang’s debut single and the first official single off his debut EP was a sleek bit of early 80s-like synth-led funk that’s centered around carefully crafted pop melodicism, a sinuous bass line and plaintive vocals. But I think the most interesting aspect of the song was it revealed a dexterous songwriter and musician, who can effortlessly bounce between funk, jazz and pop within a single song — and in a mesmerizing fashion.  “Butterflies from Monaco,” the forthcoming EP’s second single is a a slow-burning track that finds the Baltimore-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer seamlessly meshing the blues, 50s rock, 60s psych rock and pop — but with a lysergic haze reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles. Interestingly, the song was inspired by the concept of the butterfly effect — and as a result, the song focuses on the interconnectedness of all things. 

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New Video: Winona Oak Releases Feverish Visuals for Soaring Ballad “Break My Broken Heart”

Earlier this year, I wrote about the up-and-coming, Solleron, Sweden-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and pop artist Winona Oak. And as you may recall, Oak who was born Johanna Ekmark has a rather unique backstory: Growing up  on the small, Swedish island known to Swedes as the Island of the Sun, the up-and-coming Solleron-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and pop artist spent much of her childhood encountering more animals than people. As the story goes, she grew up as a trained horse acrobat and because she grew up in a musical home, she was encouraged to pursue creative endeavors as much as possible: Ekmark began playing violin when she was 5, piano when she was 9, and she wrote poetry and songs at an extremely young age. 

Ekmark eventually moved to Stockholm to pursue a career in music, but a leap of faith that had her attend a Neon Gold Records writing retreat in the Nicaraguan jungle led to her to meet Australian-born and based hit making producer and pop artist What So Not. And from this serendipitous meeting, she went on to co-write ““Better” and “Stuck In Orbit,” before stepping out into the spotlight as both the writer and featured artist on the Aussie producer and pop artist’s “Beautiful,” which was released last year.

Adding to a busy 2018, Ekmark covered HAIM‘s “Don’t Save Me” for Neon Gold Records’ 10th anniversary compilation, NGX: Ten Years of Neon Gold. She then closed out the year with a co-write and vocal contribution of The Chainsmokers viral hit “Hope,” a track that has amassed over 250 million streams across all digital platforms globally — including over 100 million streams on Spotify. And as a result of a rapidly growing profile, Oak signed to Warner-Chappell Music Publishing and to Neon Gold/Atlantic Records.

Oak’s long-awaited debut single “He Don’t Love Me” revealed an ambitious songwriter, who has an uncanny knack for a sultry and infectious hook paired with a sleek, hyper modern production and an achingly bittersweet air. Her latest single “Break My Broken Heart” is a slow-burning and anthemic ballad featuring shimmering and arpeggiated synths, Oak’s yearning vocals and a soaring hook. And while the track sonically manages to recall the atmospherics of JOVM mainstay ACES, it’ll also further cement Oak’s reputation for crafting earnest pop with enormous hooks. “You have to be brave to love someone with all of your heart,” Oak says. “But the biggest risk is not to take any risks at all. As long as we’re breathing, what’s one more scar?”

Directed by Andres Ohman, the recently released video for “Break My Broken Heart” continues their ongoing collaboration, it continues a bit in the vein as its predecessor — cinematically shot but while evoking a feverish dream. 

New Video: Sylvia Black and Lydia Lunch Team Up for a Sultry and Noir-ish Visual for “Walking With Fire”

Born Sylvia Gordon, the New York-based singer/songwriter, bassist and producer Sylvia Black may be best known for her work as the frontwoman of the internationally acclaimed electro pop act K.U.D.U, as well as collaborations with the likes of The Black-Eyed Peas, Moby, William Orbit, Kelis, Spank Rock, The Knocks, and Telepopmusik.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering Gordon’s solo side project Betty Black, a project that received attention across the blogosphere for a sound that drew from an eclectic array of genres and sources including garage rock, Southern gothic blues, Ennio Morricone soundtracks and ambient electronica while thematically exploring love, lust, longing and obsession. 

The restlessly creative Gordon has also released material as Sylvia Black and her forthcoming Sylvia Black album Twilight Animals (Originals and Covers for Tortured Lovers), which is slated for an October 18, 2019 release find Gordon effortlessly hopping from electro pop, noir-ish jazz, Texan blues and twangy country and the sounds of Morocco and India. The first half of the album reportedly evokes a mysterious scene from a David Lynch film full of hazy and hallucinatory paranoia and unease while the album’s later half evokes the campiness and weirdness of a John Waters film. Overall the album is a mix of unique covers and interpretations of songs from the JOVM mainstay’s favorite artists including Fat White Family, JOVM mainstays The Horrors, Psychedelic Furs, Van Halen and Huey Lewis and the News among others. Of course, there are a bunch of originals — and some of the album’s original tracks finds the New York-based JOVM mainstay collaborating with the legendary No Wave artist Lydia Lunch. (In fact, the duo’s collaboration was so fruitful that they’ve also worked together on a full-length album.) 

Twilight Animals (Originals and Covers for Tortured Lovers)’ latest single is the slow-burning and noir-ish “Walking Through Fire,” a collaboration with the aforementioned Lydia Lunch that manages to evoke the work of David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino — or in other words, it’s all doomed detectives,  hazy cigarette smoke, femme fatales, double-crosses and triple-crosses and sultry, late night saxophone solos. Unsurprisingly, the recently released video, which was directed and shot by Sylvia Black is an equally sultry and apt take on the song; in fact, it looks like the opening credits for a classic film noir. 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a bit about Ivan Howard a prolific singer/songwriter,who has spent extensive stints writing, recording and touring with The Rosebuds, fronting the acclaimed indie supergroup GAYNGS, releasing material with his alter-ego Howard Ivans — and writing for Kanye West and Bon Iver. Late last year, Howard wound up in his Portland home with an unusual quiet patch in his schedule. However, as the story goes, that quiet patch didn’t last very long.

Howard found himself reconnecting with longtime friends Robert Rogan and Brian Weeks. “We met my freshman year of college. Brian heard I could sing, and cornered me in a stairway til I sang “Let Love Rule.” We ended up in our first band together, and he helped me realize that life wasn’t all basketball. I might be ok at music, too.” Howard recalls in press notes. Weeks introduced Howard to Rogan, and the three became close, with Weeks eventually joining Ivans in The Rosebuds as a touring musician, in between stints in Wilmington indie bands with Rogan. Coincidentally, around the same time that Howard reconnected with his old friends, Rogan and Weeks had begun working on a new project together. “We recorded 11 songs with scratch vocal tracks, but neither Robert nor I were completely comfortable singing on them,” Brian Weeks says in press notes. Rogan and Weeks decided to send the tracks they worked on to Howard — with the hopes of getting his take on the material.

“When they asked me to sing on ‘Run,’ I originally said ‘You don’t need me, just get Robert,’ admits Howard. “I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes and I liked Robert’s voice. But they kept pushing and I figured, it’s just one song.” Of course, it’s rarely just one song.  Once Robert heard Ivan’s take, he insisted he sing them all. “It was like somebody said ‘Here’s a CD of Greatest Hits of this genre of music without vocals that no one’s ever heard,” Howard explains. “Surprise! You get to sing them!’” The end result is the trio’s latest collaborative project together De La Noche.

De La Noche can trace its origins to Rogan and Weeks’ adopted hometown of Wilmington,  NC. During the middle of 2015 Rogan found himself rudderless. He had gone through a divorce and found that he had a lot of time on his hands — with few distractions. He began playing around and writing material. Feeling isolated, Rogan contacted his pal Weeks to collaborate on material that they wanted to feel closer to the 80s synth pop they’d grown up adoring than the guitar-driven indie rock bands they’ve long played in. Unsurprisingly, Howard, whose solo work also draws from 80s synth pop and soul, found it easy to slip his imitable vocals into the material Rogan and Weeks had been working on. “I tried to let the music dictate the sentiment of each song and just created a character that could fill all these melodic parts,” Howard explains in press notes. 

When asked about how De La Noche differs from his other projects, Howard says that ‘with most of my other projects, I’m the one that usually starts the song, travels with it the long road, and grinds it out ’till it’s finished. By the end, even though I love the songs, I still get tired of them — or they take on a different meaning from the struggles I was going through at the time. With the De La Noche, I just came in 2/3 of the way there. The songs were already written, and Matt Douglas of The Mountain Goats fame had already played his guest sax licks all over it. All I did was just sing them with my slant.” That slight bit of emotional distance from the material reportedly allowed Howard to take a far more adventurous approach in his vocal delivery. 

The project’s full-length debut Blue Days, Black Nights is slated for an August 23, 2019 release through Get Loud Recordings, and as you may recall, last month I wrote about the album’s slinky opener and first single “Avenues,” a track that to my ears was one part Quiet Storm R&B and one part Manifesto and Avalon-era Roxy Music. “Dreams,” Blue Days, Black Nights‘ latest single continues in a similar vein as its immediate predecessor — slinky and sultry Quiet Storm R&B-inspired pop  centered by shimmering guitars, atmospheric synths, twinkling keys, thumping beats and Howard’s plaintive vocals. And the addition of vocoder effected vocals on the song’s hook completes the retro vibes.

Interestingly, the song may arguably be the most emotionally ambivalent of the album’s singles so far — while seemingly upbeat, there’s an undercurrent of uncertainty, bitterness and loneliness that gives the song a razor sharp edge. “This song was written during the darkest period of my life,” De La Noche’s Robert Rogan recalls. “It was like someone muted the sun out just over top of me. Like, ‘Fuck you, Robert.’ The only time that was really bearable was when I was unconscious and dreaming. I hated waking up. The fact that the song sounds upbeat and optimistic is intentionally ironic. Which in turn actually turned the song into something more positive in the end. Maybe I was subconsciously telling myself to hold on? Actually now I look forward to getting up every day. I just went back to daydreaming now like I used to do before that long winter.”

Live Footage: the bird and the bee Cover Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” with Dave Grohl on “The Late Late Show with James Corden”

Comprised of singer/songwriter Inara George and seven time Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, who has worked with the likes of Sia,Adele, Beck, Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney, the Los Angeles-based indie pop act the bird and the bee can trace their origins to when they met  while working on George’s 2005 solo debut All Rise. Bonding over a mutual love of 80s pop and rock, the duo decided to continue to work together in a jazz-influenced electro pop project.

The Los Angeles indie pop duo’s debut EP Again and Again and Again and Again was released in late 2006. They quickly followed that up with their self-titled full-length debut in early 2007 — and with their earliest releases George and Kurstin quickly developed a reputation for bringing a breezy elegance to their work, which finds them putting their own idiosyncratic twist on time-bending indie pop.

Although serving as the long-awaited follow up to 2015’s Recreational Love, the bird and the bee’s fifth album, Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen actually closely follows 2010’s critically applauded Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Hall & Oates. And while Van Halen‘s most anthemic and beloved work may initially seem like an unlikely vessel for the Los Angeles-based duo’s sound and approach, George and Kurstin are both lifelong fans of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. As the story goes back in 2007, George caught her first-ever Van Halen show, during the first tour to feature David Lee Roth as the band’s frontman since 1985. George was so charmed by Roth’s presence, that after that show, she approached Kurstin about writing a song for Roth. The end result was the swooning serenade “Diamond Dave,” which appeared on their 2008 sophomore album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. “We asked him to be in the video, but instead he signed a picture and gave me the yellow top hat he’d worn at the show I saw, which I thought was very sweet,” George says in press notes. “When we were trying to figure out who to cover for the second volume of Interpreting the Masters, we were both a little bit like, ‘Oh my god, can we really do it?’ But then we just went for it.”

Slated for an August 2, 2019 release through No Expectations/Release Me Records, the duo’s fifth album features an impressive backing band of guest musicians including Justin Meldal Johnsen (bass), who has worked with Beck and Nine Inch Nails; Joey Waronker (drums), who has worked with R.E.M and Elliott Smith; and Omar Hakim(drums), who has worked with the David Bowie and Miles Davis assisting the duo in making familiar David Lee Roth-era Van Halen anthems completely their own, imbuing even the most over-the-top tracks with a slinky intimacy.

Interestingly, for Kurstin, an accomplished jazz pianist, who once studied with Jaki Byard, a pianist that once played in Charles Mingus‘ band, one of the greatest challenges he had translating Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar work into piano arrangements that kept some of the spirit and vibe of the original. “I know there’s a jazz influence with the Van Halen brothers, so I tried to channel some of the things that I felt might’ve influenced Eddie,” Kurstin notes. “In a way ‘Eruption’ is almost like a piece of classical music, so I mostly treated it that way as I interpreted it for piano,” he adds, referring to the iconic instrumental guitar solo from Van Halen’s self-titled debut. 

While creating arrangements around Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work will reveal the duo’s ingenuity and playfulness as interpreters and arrangers paired with a deeply nuanced reading of the material, which is influenced by their deep and profound emotional connection to the band.“I remember being 10-years-old and seeing their videos and feeling both excited and totally terrified—I responded to them in this very visceral way,” George says in press notes. Kurstin, who also is a lifelong fan, actually got a chance to work with Eddie Van Halen in the early 80s when the Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist was a 12 year-old member of Dweezil Zappa’s band. “I got to hang out with him in the studio and go backstage when Van Halen played The Forum, which was a really big moment for my younger self,” Kurstin recalls.

Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen‘s album’s second single “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is a slinky New Wave-like take on the original, centered around an angular and propulsive bass line, atmospheric electronics, shimmering and arpeggiated synths and while bearing an uncanny resemblance to New Order and It’s Blitz!-era Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the track is imbued with a feverish quality.

While much of Van Halen’s material, whether it was David Lee Roth-era or Sammy Hagar-era is seemingly familiar to the point of well-worn, the first two singles off Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen finds the duo crafting a loving and thoughtful take on beloved material. And they manage to do so in a way that retains familiar elements but within a playful, post-modern, decidedly feminist fashion. 

The duo were recently on The Late Late Show with James Corden, where they performed their sultry rendition of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” with a special guest — Dave Grohl, who played drums. 

Sophia Exiner is a Melbourne, Australia-based indie pop singer/songwriter and producer, best known as Phia. Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site for some time, you may recall that Exiner initially received international attention for a genre defying, playfully experiential sound centered around loop pedals and kalimba, an African thumb piano-like instrument popularly used throughout sub-Sahara Africa. Building upon a growing international profile, Exiner has played hundreds of shows across Europe, including appearances at Melt Festival, Berlin Festival and Fusion Festival.

Several years have passed since I’ve personally written about Exiner, but in that period she has released a handful of singles, two EPs, her full-length debut, 2016’s The Ocean of Everything — and she’s the founder of a the contemporary choir ensemble, Melbourne Indie Voices. Exiner’s latest single, the infectious and  sugary pop confection “Full Circle” is centered around a looping, 12 bar blues guitar line contributed by her longtime collaborator Josh “Josh The Cat” Teicher, handclap-led percussion,  a 50 person choral arrangement that weaves itself in and out of the mix, Exiner’s self-assured vocal delivery and an infectious hook. And while being a sugary sweet and carefully crafted pop confection, the song thematically asks an important question that must be considered as you get older: How can we honor our childhood aspirations through the weathered and wearied lens of adulthood?

 

 

 

 

 

New Video: The Rocket Summer Returns with a Slick Visual for Anthemic “Blankets”

Dallas, TX-based multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer Bryce Avary is the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed, solo indie rock/indie pop recording project The Rocket Summer. With The Rocket Summer, Avary has released six albums and a couple of EPs, including 2010’s Of Men and Angels, which landed at #1 on the Top Album spot on iTunes and 2012’s Life Will Write the Words, which landed at #58 on the Billboard 200 and #12 on the Billboard Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums Chart, as well as #12 on the Top Independent Albums Charts.

Avary’s soon-to-be released seventh album Sweet Shivers is slated for an August 2, 2019 and as you may recall, the album’s third single “Peace Signs”  was one part ardent plea for peace and one part ironically detached sire. centered around a breezy, summery groove an enormous Silversun Pickups-like hook. “Blankets,” Sweet Shivers latest single continues a run of singles featuring enormous, arena friendly hooks paired with motorik-like grooves, shimmering synths and Avary’s plaintive vocals. And while infectious, the track thematically focuses on surrendering a bit to the flotsam and jetsam that life will inevitably toss in your path — and finding whatever silver linings we can. Along with that, the song suggests that the cliche is true: there is strength in numbers. And that more important, that if you’re struggling, you’re not alone; we’ve all been there at some point. 

“I wrote the song in the middle of the night watching fuzzy TV in a cabin in rural Texas, long before I tracked it, but I’ll never forget what it was like having to cut this vocal in the studio only 2 hours after catching wind that my childhood friend had taken her life,” Avary says of the song’s creation. “While only parts of the song point to that type of narrative, I think it will forever resonate with me as a lyric that just simply needs to be sung. ”

“Sweet Shivers (which comes from a lyric in ‘Blankets’) is referring to an emotion: a feeling of excitement and joy in the unknown, even if the unknown itself is more dressed up in less than ideal feelings of uncertainty,” Avary continues. “A letting go of sorts; beauty in the free fall. Sonically, to me, the melancholic yet contrastingly hopeful spirit within the journey of the free fall is what this song sounds like. 

Directed by Dillon Slack and Ben Busch, the recently released video for “Blankets” stars Brianna Brill and Nick Morbitt, who travel through literal blankets to find one another. At its core, the video tells the story of two people, who come to terms with life and its chaotic moments — through the comfort of another.

Julien Chang (pronounced Chong) is an up-and-coming Baltimore-born 19-year-old, multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, producer and current university student, who surprised his peers when he began quietly releasing music during his senior year in high school. Interestingly, only thought of as a trombone player, Chang’s early material found him playing multiple instruments and meshing pop-leaning melodies, psych rock and jazz fusion experimentation and improvisation — with a sophistication that belies his relative youth.  Those early releases caught the attention of Transgressive Records, the label home of SOPHIE, Let’s Eat Grandma and JOVM mainstay Neon Indian, who will be releasing his forthcoming full-length debut.
Self-recorded and self-produced in his bedroom, “Of The Past,” Chang’s debut single is a sleek bit of early 80s-like synth-led funk that’s centered around carefully crafted pop melodicism, a sinuous bass line and plaintive vocals — but interestingly, the track reveals a dexterous songwriter and musician, who can effortlessly bounce and dart between funk, jazz and pop in a mesmerizing fashion.
Chang will be embarking on his first ever tour in October — and the tour begins with an October 15, 2019 stop at Baby’s All Right. Check out the rest of the tour dates below.
Tour Dates
10/15 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
10/28 – London, UK @ Bermondsey Social Club
10/29 – London, UK @ Servant Jazz Quarters
10/31 – Brussels, BE @ Botanique Witloof Bar
11/01 – Berlin, DE @ Musik & Frieden