Steve Smith (guitar, vocals) is a Sydney, Australia-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who has earned a reputation for crafting a good tune, abrupt disappearances at inopportune times and for pulling together some of his hometown’s finest musicians and producers to bring his songs to life, writing and recording five albums with Fallon Cush — 2011’s self-titled debut, which introduced the band’s signature breezy and jangling 70s AM rock-like sound; 2012’s April, which premiered on American Songwriter; 2016’s Bee In Your Bonnet, which revealed a tougher alt-country leaning song and led to the band opening for Son Volt; and 2017’s Morning, which reportedly threatened the band’s future. “By the time we’d finished the last record, Morning, I thought that’d be the end of it. It was really quite difficult getting that record finished for a number of reasons,” Steve Smith says in press notes.

Produced by the band’s Steve Smith, the band’s latest album Stranger Things Have Happened was released last November through the band’s Lightly Toasted Records and was recorded and mixed at Endomusia Studios, near Australia’s Blue Mountains by Josh Schuberth with additional recording by Michael Carpenter at Love Hz Studios in Sydney. Featuring a backing band consisting of Suzy Goodwin (backing vocals), Casey Atkins (guitar, backing vocals), Tim Bryon (keys), Peter Marley (bass, backing vocals), Russell Crawford (drums) and Josh Schuberth (lap steel, percussion), the album’s material finds the members of the backing band drawing from a wider sonic palette while continuing to display Smith’s unerring knack for crafting a tunes that frequently get compared to Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, Wilco and The Jayhawks among others. “This record feels like a bit of a fresh start, there’s an energy around it. It’s a good feeling. Strange but good,” Smith says about the new album

Stranger Things Have Happened‘s latest single is the bittersweet “The Key.” Centered around shimmering and jangling guitars, razor sharp hooks and earnest, a twangy guitar solo and 70s AM rock-like songwriting, “The Key” is the sort of song you’d expect to hear late at night in darkened dive bar or old-timey honky tonk: the song captures a ruminative sense of regret over the mistakes and failures of one’s life — and how they manage to reverberate in your life as time passes. As the band says in a statement, the song “features Casey Atkins’ twangy lead guitar throughout. Casey’s a renowned and in-demand player in Sydney, and an integral part of our sound. His parts on this were his first pass. When it came to the mix, we didn’t bother looking for any other takes.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Live Footage: Emerging French Multi-instrumentalist, Composer, and Producer Hugo De Luca Performs “Yelsi Hill”

Hugo De Luca is an emerging French multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer. Starting off as a guitarist, De Luca later learned to play bass and to produce music. And by 2017, he started composing and producing his own original material, material that found him meshing several different genres — in particular electronica, jazz, hip-hop and ambient electronica (all of which have influenced him and his work) while focusing on creating moods and telling stories. 

The emerging French multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer has collaborated in a number of projects across a variety of different genres, including rock, funk, jazz, reggae and soul: in 2018, he was featured on Oxmo Puccino’s “Un rien.” Last year, De Luca released his debut EP Unexpected Ending. 

De Luca begins 2020 with “Yelsi Hill,” a sultry instrumental jam indebted to Quiet Storm-like soul and smooth jazz and centered around shimmering, bluesy guitar work and shuffling beats. “The aim was to create a relaxed atmosphere with a bit of a sexy vibe,” De Luca explains. “The title is a reference to a band I like, The Isley Brothers for their famous ‘Between the Sheets.'”

Over the past month or so I’ve written a bit about the emerging Brooklyn-based metal act Fliege. And as you may recall, the act which was founded back in 2016 began as an inside joke shared between its founding duo of Coleman Bentley and Peter Rittweger: a metal band based solo upon David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly. Although they initially wrote and recorded their self-titled debut demo for a laugh, the effort received praise from Decibel, who called the six song set infectious, and went on to say “Every once in a while, a band comes along, transgresses all genre boundaries and cuts a demo that stands as a genuine demonstration of a singular sound.”

The band recently expanded into a trio with the addition of Chris Palermo (synths). Building upon a rapidly growing profile, the band’s soon-to-be released, highly-anticipated full-length debut The Invisible Seam is slated for release next week. Interestingly, the newly constituted trio’s full-length debut finds the band moving on to more serious cinema as an influence: Ingmar Bergman’s existential masterpiece, The Seventh Seal. “Our demo tackled The Fly, but we soon realized we had to expand from that universe in order to have anything new to say,” the band’s Coleman Bentley explains in press notes. “So for this one, we chose Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, the story of a Swedish knight returning home from the Crusades to find his homeland ravaged by the plague. He challenges Death to a game of chess, staving off his advances long enough to make it home one last time — questioning mortality, the meaning of life, and the existence of God, while trekking across a dying countryside.  Within the framework of that film, we tackle the nihilism of modern life and the paradox of depression – not wanting to live but not actively wanting to die.”

Musically, the material on The Invisible Seam reportedly features a much more refined sound than its immediate predecessor: the addition of Chris Palermo finds the band adding synths to their sonic palette; but along with that, the album features Bentley’s vocals taking up a more central role while ensuring that it’s also heavier, more heartfelt and more grander, in order to fit the epic concept behind it. Along with this decided refinement of their sound, the newly constituted trio’s full-length effort finds them drawing influences from the likes of Immortal, Nine Inch Nails, Judas Priest, Cloud Rat, John Carpenter and a lengthy list of others.

So far, I’ve written about two of the album’s previously released singles: album title track “The Invisible Seam,” a certifiable Headbanger’s Ball-inspired headbanger, centered around towering 80s metal riffage, thunderous, industrial metal-like drumming, Bentley’s howled vocals and a shimmering and brooding bridge — and “Four Suns” another Headbanger’s Ball-era ripper with atmospheric synths and a decided feel of unease and dread. “Love Plague,” The Invisible Seam‘s latest single features shimmering and atmospheric synth arpeggios, some crunchy 80s power chord-based riffage, pummeling drumming and Bentley’s howled vocals, and while nodding at Moving Pictures-era Rush, Ministry, Slayer and John Carpenter, the album’s latest single may arguably be the bleakest they’ve released to date, as it offers an intensely ambivalent view of love.

 

 

 

New Video: Introducing the Motorik Groove Driven Psych Rock of Paris’ MAGON

MAGON is an Israeli-born, Paris-based psych rock singer/songwriter and producer. His latest album Out in the Dark was released last October through December Square/Differ-Ant Records. And with the release of the album’s first single “The Streets,” the Israeli-born, Paris-based artist quickly established a unique sound, which he has described as urban rock on psychedelics. 

Out in the Dark’s latest single is the decidedly cocaine fueled, glam rock-like “My Reflection.” Centered around a chugging motorik groove, angular and slashing guitars and MAGON’s ironically detached vocals, “My Reflection” may remind some listeners of The Strokes — but with an unvarnished sense post-modern self-awareness. “‘My Reflection’ is one of the most introspective songs on the album,” MAGON wrote to me in an email. “It resumes my life up and evokes my life philosophy. it’s also one o the rare songs for which I wrote the lyrics fully before composing it.” 

Shot on a grainy VHS-like film, the video which is set in a rainy European town, follows a beautiful woman as she vamps, runs, smokes and generally pisses away her time. It’s purposefully DIY — but while possessing a mischievous sense of humor: it evokes what bored, self-aware and yet cool young people do all over the world. “I shot the video one day in December in Bucharest with my girlfriend Alexa and her sister Yvonne, who are natives of the city,” MAGON explains in an email. “We used an old DV camera that my bassist Gauthier gave me, which has a great vintage look, and in post production, we really had fun grading (mainly to b&w) editing and superimposing the footage. Yvonne, who is 17 was really happy with the final result, although she was quite worried it would turn out to be shit. I would like to keep on making videos with Alexa because she’s super talented and intuitive with visual arts.” 

New Video: Rapidly Rising Early James Releases a Southern Gothic-Influenced Visual for Brooding “It Doesn’t Matter Now”

Early James is a Birmingham, AL-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and frontman of the Birmingham-based act Early James and The Latest. Along with bandmates James Mullis and Adrian Marmolejo, the act seamlessly meshes roots rock, the blues, early rock and classic country.  The band is Dan Auerbach’s latest singing to his Easy Eye Sound Records — and as the story goes, Auerbach decided he needed to produce James’ work after watching roughly two seconds of the Birmingham-based singer/songwriter and guitarist performing. “Every line has to mean something to him, personally. It’s not good enough to just write a good song, it needs to have a deeper meaning,” Auerbach says of working with James. “He’s unlike any person I’ve ever worked with. He’s not writing a song to be universal; he’s writing a song for him.”

Singing for My Supper, Early James’ full-length debut is slated for a March 13, 2020 release through Easy Eye Sound/Nonesuch Records.  Reportedly, the Dan Auberach and David “Fergie” Ferguson-produced debut features ten-wide ranging songs that span across blues, folk and old-timey pop crooning that are influenced by Fiona Apple, Tom Waits and the Southern Gothic poets — while being deeply personal, full of world weary wisdom and informed by lived-in experience.  

Singing for My Supper’s second and latest single “It Doesn’t Matter Now” tells a tale of a bitter breakup of a dramatic and dysfunctional relationship with recriminations and accusations and deliberately hurtful actions coming from both sides. Musically, the song is centered around a cinematic and brooding Chris Issak “Wicked Game” meets Mississippi Delta Blues arrangement — reverb drenched guitars, gently padded drumming, a sinuous bass line and James’ incredible vocals, which express the heartbreak, bitterness, pride, longing and ambivalence at the core of the song. 

Directed by Tim Hardman, the recently released video is a Southern Gothic-influenced visual that recalls Deliverance, A Time to Kill and others, as it stars James, his backing band and a collection of sideshow freaks and primarily set in and around a creepily beaten up cabin in the middle of nowhere. But the video’s protagonist are the sideshow freak couple, who inflict pain on each other — and gleefully enjoy it. “The subject matter for this song is pretty heavy. I felt there needed to be some aggression on screen but didn’t want it to play out like a typical break up,” Hardman told Billboard. “For some reason, Sideshow Bennie, whom I worked with several years ago, popped in my head. I looked him up and learned he was now working with a sidekick, Anna Fiametta. When I read how they met, I thought it was a funny story that would fit the song. The thought of them inflicting pain on each other, and the pleasure they receive from it, was intriguing. I pitched the idea to Early and I’m grateful he got it and trusted my vision for his song.”

New Audio: The Wood Brothers Return with a Zydeco-Tinged Meditation on Love and the Balance Between Darkness and Light

Last year, I spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering the acclaimed folk/roots/Americana act and JOVM mainstays The Wood Brothers. Now, as you may recall, I caught the acclaimed trio at The Vic Theatre in Chicago, while they were touring to support their sixth, full-length album, 2018’s self-produced and recorded One Drop of Truth. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with them but their Vic Theatre set was so impressive that I quickly became a fan. 

Last year, the Nashville-based trio released another live album Live at the Fillmore, which further cemented their long-held reputation for live shows centered around performances that defy categorization: their delivery often seem to live at the intersection of arena rock energy and small theater intimacy, while boldly blurring the lines between folk, rock, blues, soul, funk, roots music, alt-country and Americana among other things. During a busy touring schedule, the trio found the time to write and record the highly-anticipated follow-up to One Drop of Truth, Kingdom In My Mind.

Throughout the band’s history together, the trio’s creative process would generally begin with the band writing songs before they got to the studio and then deliberately set out to record them. However, Kingdom In My Mind found the band beginning the process of writing and recording without initially realizing it: When they started, they all thought they were just simply breaking in and test driving their new Nashville recording studio/rehearsal space by tracking a series of extended, instrumental jam sessions.

“If we had known we were making a record, we probably would have been too self-conscious to play what we played,” Chris Wood reflects on the writing and recording process of their forthcoming album. “At the time, we just thought we were jamming to break in our new studio, so we felt free to explore all these different ways of playing together without worrying about form or structure. It was liberating.”

“We weren’t performing songs,” Oliver adds. “We were just improvising and letting the music dictate everything. Somebody would start playing, and then we’d all jump into the groove with them and see where it went. Normally when recording, you’re thinking about your parts and your performances, but with these sessions, we were just reacting to each other and having fun in the moment.”

After listening to their jams, the members of the band realized that they captured something undeniably alive and uninhibited. Much like a sculptor, Chris Wood took those sprawling improvised recordings and began to carefully chisel out verses, choruses, bridges and solos until distinctive songs began to take shape. From there, the band divvied up the material that spoke to them most and began writing lyrics both separately and together.

Thematically the album is an extensive meditation and reckoning with circumstance, mortality and human nature centered around vivid, almost novelistic character studies and unflinching self-examination. The material’s cast of characters all attempt to find strength and solace in accepting what lies beyond our limited control, ultimately pondering how we find contentment and peace in a confusing, chaotic and frightening world. “We all have these little kingdoms inside of our minds,” the band’s Chris Wood says in press notes.  “And without really planning it out, the songs on this album all ended up exploring that idea in some way or another. They look at the ways we deal with our dreams and our regrets and our fears and our loves. They look at the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we balance the darkness and the light.”

But while the lyrics dig into deep philosophical territory, the arrangements draw from a broad sonic and stylistic spectrum. Last year, I wrote about the slow-burning, Dr. John/New Orleans-like jazz ballad “Alabaster,” a song centered around an empathetic portrait of a woman, who has broken free of her old life and relocated far away for a much-needed fresh start. And while featuring an incredibly novelistic attention to detail, the song manages to feel improvised yet simultaneously crafted. Kingdom In My Mind‘s second single was the slow-burning country blues “Cry Over Nothing,” a meditation on the ego, perspective and fate told with a playfully fatalistic sensibility. Sometimes, even the sky is against you — and there ain’t a thing you can do about it. The album’s third single “Little Bit Sweet” was centered around some of the material’s first batch of improvised instrumentation from the early jam sessions that birthed it. Centered around a bouncy bass line and shimmering guitars, the song is part old-timey lament and part world-weary sigh focusing on mortality, the passing of time and getting older, and the impermanent nature of all things. And yet through the tears and heartache, there’s a sense of acceptance and awe of the things that the song’s narrator can’t understand. It just is — and sometimes it’s wonderful because of that.

The Wood Brothers begin the new year with Kingdom in My Mind’s fourth and latest single, the zydeco-tinged stomp “The One I Love” is a meditation on love, and the search for the balance between darkness and light. The song seems to suggest that balance can be found in something seemingly small yet so very vital to all of us — those we love. When our world seems so bleak, so uncertain and so devoid of hope or kindness, we should all take comfort and solace in hopefully having someone who loves and supports us, who will be by our side. It may be rare but man, when we find it, it’s special. 

New Video: Tel Aviv’s Cherie and Renno Release an Old-Timey Visual for Stomping and Strutting New Single “Be My Baby”

Cherie and Renno are an emerging Tel Aviv, Israel-based indie rock act founded by its core duo Ran Shem Tov (vocals, viola) and Shiri Hadar (vocals, keys, bass), with Guy Ben Ami (drums). Interestingly, the rising Israeli act can trace its origins to when its core duo of Shem Tov and Hadar were members of acclaimed act Izabo — but with material centered around a wooden, electronic multi-synth viola that has been built from collected vintage parts. 

“Be My Baby,” the Israeli act’s latest single is a strutting and self-assured track that possesses elements of indie rock, the blues and rockabilly paired with anthemic hooks — and the end result is a mischievously anachronistic sound that’s one part Odelay-era Beck, one part Sun Records, one 60s psych rock and 60s pop. Co-directed by Nissim Farin Shtamper, Lioh Sadeh and Eliran Peled, the recently released video for “Be My Baby” is  fittingly anachronistic visual: shot in an old-timey black and white, the video features stock footage of stock footage of a 60s dance show split with footage of the members of the band performing the song and some low-budget, Twilight Zone-like imagery.  

The members of Cherie and Renno have developed a reputation for their award-winning music production company, The Sound Makers Productions, which specializes in original compositions and scores for film, TV and commercials. They recently wrote the soundtrack for Uri Zohar Returns, a documentary on one of Israel’s biggest cultural figures, including “Summer Smile” based on the film’s theme song.  

New Video: New York Indie All-Star Act Releases an Uneasy and Menacing Visual for Geoff Barrow-like “Calls Your Name”

Formed last year, Activity is a New York-based avant/experimental act featuring Grooms’ Travis Johnson (vocals, sampler) and Steve Levine (drums), Field Mouse’s Zoe Browne (bass) and Russian Baths’ Jess Rees that discard the more weary connotations of indie rock through a natural, minimalist and intelligent use of modern implements paired with organic instrumentation. 

Their Jeff Berner-produced full-length debut Unmask Whoever is slated for a March 27, 2020 release through Western Vinyl. The forthcoming album’s material reportedly sees its creators’ abilities gel with one another to reach new levels of interplay and fruitful cooperation while sonically forming a menacing and uneasy framework to touch upon lyrical themes of paranoia, exposed character flaws and the broader human capacity for growth when an ugly truth is laid bare. The album’s first single “Calls Your Name” is centered around an atmospheric, uneasy and menacing Geoff Barrow-like production featuring woozy and shimmering synth arpeggios, and a relentless stuttering beat paired with half-song half-spoken lyrics inspired by C.S. Lewis’ 1945 novel The Great Divorce. In the novel, characters stuck in a grey, joyless conception of hell repeatedly deny opportunities to be taken into heaven, instead making excuses as to why they should remain in their embittered purgatory states. 

The recently released video captures this seemingly unending sensation of unease as it captures the band members in what seems to be their own personal purgatory.