Over the past three years or so, I’ve written a bit about the Copenhagen, Denmark-based electro pop duo Palace Winter, and as you may recall, the act, which is comprised of Australian-born, Copenhagen-based singer/songwriter Carl Coleman and Danish-born and-based producer and classically trained pianist Caspar Hesselager can trace their origins to a mutual appreciation for each other’s writing styles and a familiarity with each other’s work through their involvement in a number of different projects individually — and of course, the duo were encouraged to start writing material together.
Comprised of Kyle McCammon and Stephen Johnson, the Los Angeles, CA-based pop duo Lean can trace their origins to when McCammon relocated from New York to Los Angeles and met Johnson. And as the story goes, the duo bonded over a shared love of 90s hip-hop and indie rock and quickly found a formula that combined those influences. “With Stephen’s ear for hooks it came together effortlessly” McCammon said of the band’s conception.
The band made their live debut last March and within their first year together, McCammon and Johnson released five singles that received critical praise from the likes of NYLON, Indie Shuffle, IMPOSE, Buzz Bands LA, and that lead to several high-profile Spotify and Apple Music Playlists, as well as the attention of renowned electronic music label Kitsune. Building upon a growing profile, the duo will be releasing their full-length debut Years on May 25, 2018, and the album’s latest single “On The Fence” is centered around a motorik-like groove, thumping beats, a slick hook and a decidedly soulful and sultry R&B vibe while reminding me quite a bit of The Helio Sequence and others.
Mick’s Jaguar is a New York-based rock septet that initially formed as a drunken Rolling Stones cover band, and after a few years of mainlining Stones songs and playing sporadic shows marred by violence and beer showers, they started writing original material that attracted the attention of RidingEasy Records; in fact, the material on their full-length debut Fame and Fortune, which is slated for a June 22, 2018 release is a much more primal affair, that sounds more like Highway to Hell-era AC/DC, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy and New York Dolls than the Stones, as the album’s songs are centered around 12 bar blues power chords and tight grooves that focus on life, death, cars, blood, murder, sex, drugs and booze — it’s all the classic rock tropes you desperately need in your life. And unsurprisingly, Fame and Fortune’s latest single “The Real Boss” is a scuzzy and gritty, hook-driven anthem that’s perfect for raising beers aloft to shout along the hook, for excessive speeding down a freeway, and for gearing yourself up for a night kicking ass and causing trouble. Let it be a reminder that primal and scuzzy rock is still alive, and absolutely necessary.
Sam Arion is an Iranian-born, Toronto area-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, and the creative mastermind behind Mute Choir. Raised in the Toronto suburbs of Richmond Hill and Newmarket, Arion left the ‘burbs when he turned 18 to seriously pursue a career in music. Eventually, Arion had a glimpse of success as a part of a band that signed to a major label, and although countless young musicians across the world would salivate over such an opportunity, Arion quickly saw that the demands of the situation ran counter to his own musical and creative philosophy. And for the Iranian-born, Toronto area-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, the only solution was to make a clean break and take full command over his artists output with his own solo recording project — Mute Choir.
Behind the Bars Arion’s self-produced Mute Choir full-length debut was primarily written and performed by the Iranian-born Canadian singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer himself. “I’d say that 98% of this album was made by me alone on my laptop at 3 a.m.,” Arion admits in press notes. “I’m not a great drummer so I had to get a friend to do that, but I wrote all his parts. As soon as I started playing music when I was 13, I immediately wanted to learn how to produce because I never wanted to be in a situation where someone else was telling me how my music should sound. What’s most important to me is not feeling like I’m faking it, not just with music but all aspects of my life. That’s what this album represents most—it’s a true expression of who I am.”
Interestingly, Arion has dubbed his sound “post-electronic” as a nod to a split musical personality as a balladeer and experimentalist; in fact he admits that his songwriting has almost always been a bit melancholy but that incorporating electronic music elements became almost like meditation, as it has allowed him to lose himself in the music. “Growing up in a generation musically dominated by EDM, I saw how powerful the ability to make people dance can be,” Arion says. “It brings music into the physical realm. I want to bring that out in people, I want people to lose themselves in the music the same way I did making it, but not necessarily as a means of escape. It’s also very important to me to have lyrical content and themes that also allow listeners to think and reflect on their lives.” Thematically speaking, the album reportedly focuses on freedom — particularly, the freedom to live your life however you choose, and the freedom to follow your creative vision wherever it leads. Of course, in order to develop and have a concept of freedom, there has to be the experience of its direct opposite, so the album in some way also focuses on that dichotomy and how it clashes in one’s personal and creative life.
Behind the Bars‘ latest single “Election Season” is an anthemic bit of electro rock/synth rock that immediately brings to mind Empire-era Kasabian — but within an expansive song structure centered around bombastic hooks, arpeggiated synths, thumping, tweeter and woofer rocking beats and a sinuous bass line that features a gorgeous and cinematic string arrangement before building up to a cathartic cacophony. It’s the rare song I’ve heard this year that’s both dance floor friendly and mosh pit worthy but underneath the self-assured swagger is some thoughtful and ambitious songwriting.
Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve written quite about the Utrecht, The Netherlands-based singer/songwriter Annelotte de Graff and her solo recording project Amber Arcades, and as you may recall with the release of her full-length debut Fading Light, de Graaf received international attention for an album that thematically focused on the and the relativistic experience of it, magic, jet lag and her own dreams, which have managed to influence much of her personal and creative life; in fact, as the story goes, De Graaf used her life savings for a flight to New York and studio time to record her debut with Ben Greenberg, who has worked with The Men, Beach Fossils and Destruction Unit, and a studio backing band that included Quilt’s Shane Butler (guitar) and Keven Lareau (bass) and Real Esate’s Jackson Pollis (drums) — both of whom she had specifically hand picked because she had dreamt of working with them. Along with that, De Graaf had a long-held dream of working for the UN, and she eventually worked as a legal aide on UN war crime tribunals and n human rights and immigration law, assisting Syrian refugees.
Last year, saw the release of the critically applauded Cannonball EP, which was among my favorite releases last year — in particular, the gorgeously shot video for “Wouldn’t Even Know,” which featured a guest spot from British singer/songwriter, composer, producer and guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones brought back memories of riding trains through the Dutch countryside from Amsterdam to Dordrecht, passing through and by towns like Abcoude, The Hague, Breukelen and others. Along with that, EP singles like “It Changes” and her cover of Nick Drake’s “Which Will,” revealed a singer/songwriter with an self-assured yet uncanny knack for a catchy hook within jangling guitar pop.
De Graaf’s latest single “Goodnight Europe” is the first taste of her forthcoming sophomore, full-length album slated for release later this year, and the single finds the renowned Dutch singer/songwriter’s sound leaning heavily towards Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, T. Rex and Sgt. Pepper and Let It Be-era Beatles, as the song features some impressive and bluesy guitar work paired with a gorgeous string arrangement — and the song manages to further cement De Graaf’s ability to craft a razor sharp hook around some thoughtful songwriting; in fact, the song is a meditation on the current state of the European Union, written from the perspective of a dysfunctional and confusing romantic relationship that’s inescapably odd. As De Graaf explains in press notes, “I guess about half of it is me actually being worried about the current state of the Union. The other half is me kind of messing around with, and making fun of, this archetype of the tiresome existentialist academic in me.”
Over the past few years, I’ve written quite a bit about the Oakland, CA-based indie rock act Wax Idols, and as you may recall that after 2013’s critically applauded album Discipline + Desire, the band went on hiatus as the band’s founding member, primary songwriter and frontperson Hether Fortune joined the equally acclaimed punk rock band and JOVM mainstays White Lung. That was followed by a heartbreaking and life-altering divorce, which informed much of the material on the band’s critically applauded, third album, 2016’s American Tragic.
Informed by the one of the saddest and most difficult experiences of Fortune’s life, as Fortune explained that American Tragic wasn’t “. . .a sad album.The whole spectrum of grief is represented here — shock, pain, anger, loneliness, and then finding a way to work through all of that, and not only survive, and thrive. That’s what I was going through. I was kind of trying to save myself.” Fortune wrote and recorded every note and every single chord on the album, and as a result, it gives the album a deeply personal vision and point of view in which the heartbreak and grief at the core of the album is visceral and haunting — especially if you’ve ever experienced the dissolution of a long-term romantic relationship, as it evokes the lingering ghosts and resentments, the push and pull of longing, confusion and hatred towards that person, who may well never be in your life again; but it’s all underpinned by the recognition that if you’ve known love, you may know it again and again and again, and that somehow you’ll pick up most of the pieces and move forward. And while thematically being among the most soberING and thoughtful material Fortune has written, the material sonically is reminiscent of Too True-era Dum Dum Girls, Concrete Blonde, Siouxsie and the Banshees and others.
Slated for a May 16, 2018 release through Etruscan Gold Records, Wax Idols long-anticipated forth Monte Vallier-produced album Happy Ending finds the band heading towards new thematic territory as the album finds the band exploring the abstraction and finality of death from philosophical, political and personal perspectives, continuing on the deeply personal tone and vibe of their critically applauded American Tragic. Additionally, the album finds the band continuing onward after a series of lineup changes with the band’s founding member and primary songwriter Fortune backed by Peter Lightning (guitar, bass, organ, piano), Rachel Travers (drums) and Marisa Prieto (bass, backing vocals) and The Mallard’s Greer McGettrick joining the band after the album was recorded.
Now, as you may recall Happy Ending’s first single “Scream” was a rousingly anthemic, 80s-inspired post punk track with with a deeply personal, idiosyncratic vision, complete with some impressive guitar pyrotechnics that make the song seem as though the band drawing influence from Boy and October-era U2. As Fortune told NPR, “Finding inspiration in one of my favorite poems, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas, I used this song as a vehicle to meditate on the concept of free will & how one could choose to exercise it even at the brink of death.” She adds, “The protagonist is someone who is young, madly in love AND desperately wants to live — though they know that they will not. They have chosen to use their final seconds, the only breath in their lungs, to scream out the name of the one that they love.” Interestingly, the album’s latest single the mid tempo power ballad, “Crashing” continues on a similar vein as its predecessor as it’s a swooning and urgent ballad centered around twinkling piano, propulsive drumming and an anthemic hook with some gorgeous guitar work. Much like Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” and others, “Crashing” is the sort of song you can envision earnestly shouting along with a beer held aloft, with the knowledge of life’s fleeting nature.
Treya Lam is a Brooklyn-based, classically trained vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter, who specializes in crafting cinematic material centered around Nina Simone-inspired piano, meditative guitar, lush chamber pop arrangements and gorgeously ethereal vocals. Lam has shared stages with Yo-Yo Ma, Billy Taylor and has frequently collaborated with renowned guitarist Kaki King. Interestingly, Lam is the first artist signed to King’s label Short Stuff Records, and her forthcoming Kaki King-produced full-length debut Good News continues Lam’s collaboration with King, as King also played several instruments on the album. Along with King, the album finds Lam collaborating with an accomplished array of female musicians, including Catherine Popper (upright bass), who has performed with Ryan Adams, Jack White and Norah Jones.
Good News’ first single “Magic” is a gorgeous and meditative song featuring a hauntingly atmospheric arrangement featuring slide guitar, ukulele and mbira — and while sonically nodding at 70s AM rock, Sting’s “Fragile” and Chris Issak’s “Wicked Game,” the song was written as a gift for close friends, who had just become parents; in fact, the mother, Megan Faye contributes violin and ukulele on the track. As Lam explains in press notes, “In 2012 one of my closest friends had just given birth to a child. The couple met on a flight to Hawaii after having spent some time in Africa and I had hoped to allude to this by incorporating the mbira, ukulele and slide guitar. The chorus was written the week that the Sandy Hook shooting took place. Beyond the unspeakable loss of 20 children and 6 adults, I was horrified by the idea that the surviving children in that community would lose their childhoods. . .This is not a song about a perfect world but rather one that aims to encourages listeners of all ages to look for, hold onto and create as much magic as we can.” As a result, the song has a deeply meditative and sobering vibe, just underneath the gorgeous arrangements; after all, it’s a reminder that in our constantly connected yet fragmented world, that we should be paying attention to the small moment that make us human.
Born Rebecca Maria Molina, the 25 year-old, Copenhagen, Denmark-based singer/songwriter, producer and electronic music artist Molina can trace the origins of her music career to when she was 8. As the story goes, Molina began writing her own music, inspired by the music her mother played for her including Bjork, Kate Bush and Royksopp. “I remember wanting the Basement Jaxx’ Rooty album for my birthday at the same age as I was dancing to children’s music.” Molina recalls.
In her teens, Molina furthered her musical education by searching the corners of the internet and following a trail of like-minded bands and artists, and as a result the Danish singer/songwriter, producer and electronic music artist quickly became obsessed with Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, 70s-80s new wave and punk , shoegaze and Japanese music — in particular, the work of Miharu Koshi and Mariah among others. And all of those disparate styles and sounds have influenced Molina’s solo work within her solo recording project Molina.
With the release of her debut EP Corpus, Molina received attention internationally from the likes of BBC Radio 6, Beats 1 Radio, The 405, The Line of Best Fit among others for a sound and songwriting approach that embraces experimentation while drawing from late 70s and 80s synth pop. Her latest single “Hey Kids” is centered around woozy and dizzying arpeggiated synths, boom bap-like beats and Molina’s ethereal vocals. Additionally, the song features a guest spot from Swedish artist and co-writer Late Verlaine, who contributes vocals on the song’s second verse. And while revealing a young artist, who’s self-assured and confident beyond her relatively young age, the track to my ears reminds me quite a bit of Peter Gabriel‘s work in the sense that it manages to be enigmatic and completely out of left field while being accessible and radio friendly.
Dan Sultan is an acclaimed Fitzroy, Australia-born, Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who started playing guitar when he was four and wrote his first song when he turned 10. As the story goes, his mother’s friend gave the young Sultan an old electric guitar, and he began playing gigs at local pubs. In 2000, Sultan met a fellow singer/songwriter and guitarist Scott Wilson at a Williamstown, Australia pub and the duo began writing songs together. As Wilson recalled in an interview “What struck me at first was that he [Sultan] could play piano and guitar, and he was a great foil for what I was doing . . . After a while playing together, he said, ‘Can I Sing this one?’ I said, ‘Do you know the words?’ . . . [he had a] might voice. A lot people can play guitar . . . not many can sing like that.”
Sultan’s Scott Wilson-produced, full-length solo debut, the genre-defying Homemade Biscuits was released in early 2006 and consisted of tracks written by Wilson or co-written by Sultan and Wilson, and a featured number of local musicians and collaborators, including Lazare Agneskis, Neil Gray, Elijah Maiyah, Lochile McKlean and Ben Wicks. Sultan’s debut also featured two attention grabbing tracks — “Your Love Is Like a Song,” which won a 2007 Deadly Award for Single Release of the Year, and “Rosyln,” a song Sultan wrote about his mother, who was a member of the Aboriginal “stolen generations,” which he performed during 2007’s National Day of Healing concert. Adding to a growing profile that year, Paul Kelly invited Sultan to record a cover of Kev Carmody’s “This Land Is Mine” for a compilation tribute album of Carmody’s work titled Cannot Buy My Soul — and with a backing band of Eugene Ball (trumpet), Ben Gillespie (trombone), Joshua Jones (bass), Peter Marin (drums), Ash Naylor (guitar) and Gina Woods (keys), Sultan and company played Australia’s festival circuit over the next two years or so, including set at the Sydney Festival and the Queensland Music Festival.
Sultan’s sophomore album 2009’s Get Out While You Can was a massive, commercial success as it charted on the ARIA Albums Chart Top 100, eventually reaching #1 on the independent Australian charts and was a Triple J featured album. Along with that, Sultan won ARIA Music Awards for Best Male Artist and Best Blues & Roots Album, and Australian Independent Records Awards for Best Independent Artist and Best Independent Blues & Roots Music Music.
In early 2014, Sultan opened for Bruce Springsteen‘s Melbourne and Hunter Valley shows during his Australian tour, which Sultan promptly followed up with the release of his third full-length album Blackbird, an album that reached #4 on the ARIA Albums Charts and spent 13 weeks in the Top 50 — and the album won a Best Rock Album Award at that year’s ARIA Awards. Building upon an impressive year, Sultan released the Dirty Ground EP, which reached the ARIA Albums Chart Top 100.
Sultan’s fourth album, 2017’s Jan Skubiszewski-produced Killer was nominated for three ARIA Awards — Best Male Artist, Best Rock Album, and Best Independent Release. Interestingly, Killer Under a Blood Moon EP which was recorded over the course of four days finds Sultan continuing his successful collaboration with Skubiszewski — but also collaborating with some of Australia’s brightest and most talented, up-and-coming talents, including A.B. Original, Camp Cope, Meg Mac and Gang of Youths‘ Dave Le’aupepe to reinterpret a series of tracks from Sultan’s commercially successful fourth album as a way to give his material new bodies, new ways of being while having a good time doing so. Unsurprisingly, the album is part of a growing trend of artists from wildly disparate genres collaborating together to create music that’s unique and difficult to pin down, frequently challenging the status quo of the major record labels and mainstream genre boundaries.
The EP’s latest single “Drover” features Gang of Youth’s Dave Le’aupepe taking over vocal duties on a swaggering, arena rock-friendly blues centered around power chords, stomping beats, a looped choral sample and an anthemic hook reminiscent of The Black Keys. It’s a marked and muscular departure from the soulful and blues original that manages to retain the song’s bluesy vibe.
Comprised of long-time friends and collaborators Hope Sandoval and David Roback, the renowned Santa Monica, CA-based indie duo Mazzy Star formed back in 1989 and can trace their origins to the breakup of Roback’s previous band Opal. As the story goes, Roback recruited Sandoval to replace departing vocalist Kendra Smith. Of course, if you managed to come of age in the early 1990s, you’d remember the duo’s smash hit, the moody and haunting “Fade into You,” off their sophomore album So Tonight I May See as it peaked at #44 on the Billboard Top 100 and was #3 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks charts — and if I remember it correctly, it was also featured on an episode of 90210.
Sandoval and Roebuck’s follow up, 1996’s Among My Swan wasn’t as commercially successful as its predecessor, and the band went on a lengthy hiatus with Sandoval recording solo material and collaborating with Massive Attack and My Bloody Valentine’s Colm O’Coisog in Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions. Since 2011, Sandoval and Roback have sporadically recorded together releasing a handful of singles, 2013’s bluesy Season of Your Day, which was the first full-length effort from the duo in over 15 years, and a 2014 Record Store Day release, “I’m Less Here.”
Slated for a June 1, 2018 release, Still EP is the first batch of recorded material in over 4 years, and the band will be playing a series of tour dates for the first time in about 5 years — and it will include their first ever tour dates in Australia, as they’ll play three dates at the Sydney Opera House. But to the business at hand . . . The EP’s first single “Quiet, The Winter Harbor” consists of gorgeous and sparse arrangement of piano, twangy guitar and gently tapped drums over which Sandoval’s imitable and achingly lonely vocals ethereally float — and much like Season of Your Day the track is a subtly bluesy/old-timey country expansion of their sound that retains the moody, late night vibes that we all expect.