Melbourne, Australia-born and-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Harmony Byrne grew up in a Mormon family, the third of seven children. Early on, she was instilled with a love for church hymns and rock ‘n’ roll, both of which would heavily inform her own life and later, her own music. After enrolling into Melbourne’s Waldorf School of the Arts, Byrne devoted her time to learning guitar and piano, eventually developing her own original material.
Slated for a Spring 2020 release, the Melbourne-born and-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s Jim Eno-produced, 10 song full length debut Heavy Doors reportedly features material that evokes the work of Jeff Buckley, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin. Although to my ears, the album’s latest single, the incredibly cathartic “Come Down vs. Calm Down” manages to bring John Lee Hooker, The Black Keys, PJ Harvey and Heartless Bastards‘ Erika Wennerstrom to mind, as the track is centered around a looping and shimmering 12 bars blues guitar line, simple yet forceful percussion and Harmony’s expressive and searing wailing, which effortlessly evokes heartache and triumph within the turn of a phrase. It’s a song that comes from lived-in experience, so the hurt and the catharsis at its core are familiar and real.
“In essence it’s a song about mental health,” Harmony says of the track. “It started as a cathartic vocal improvisation, allowing whatever came to mind to be sung. Through this process, words that kept reoccurring later became lyric. I feel there is darkness hidden in our minds that often engulfs us, which although hard to talk about, is important to express.
“I wanted to convey this in the song and for it to feel like a victorious roar of will, showing that through really digging in and knowing who we are and how we deserve to be treated, that we can overcome our monkey minds. It may seem like it’s an angry break up song, but really it’s about the different voices in our heads that we battle with every day.”
With the release of her debut EP Everything I Know, an effort that has amassed over 500,000 streams, the San Francisco-based pop artist ZOLA quickly emerged into both the local and national scene for a sound and approach that meshes genres, styles and languages. Building upon a growing profile, the emerging San Francisco-based artist’s latest single, the Tim Vickers-produced “Crystal Floors” is a genre–blurring David Lynch-like fever dream as the track is centered around a breezy, Bossa nova rhythms, shimmering synths, a sinuous hook, and Zola’s alluring jazz-inspired vocals singing lyrics in English and French.
Jesse Cafiero is a San Francisco-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, visual artist and animator — and the creative mastermind behind the indie pop/indie rock recording project Split Screens. With the release of his Split Screens full-length debut, 2014’s Before The Storm, Cafiero quickly established a profile for crafting widescreen pop, as the album received praise from the likes of Impose, My Old Kentucky Blog, GoldFlakePaint and others.
Unfortunately, about a year after the album promotion campaign for Before The Storm, the San Francisco-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, visual artist and animator began to experience severe burn-out. “My passion for why I started making music in the first place had started to dwindle,” Cafiero says of that time, “and while it’s never fun to put a project on an indefinite hiatus, that’s essentially what happened.”
In order to keep his creative juices flowing, Cafiero shifted his focus to making collage art and animating music videos for a number of Bay Area-based bands with some of his work being prominently featured on Vice. Unsurprisingly, his forays into visual art eventually led him back to writing music. “Approaching a new art-form really gave me the perspective and confidence I needed to fight back any self-doubt and dig deep into recording this EP,” Cafiero says of that period — and of his soon-to-be released six song EP, Everyday Static.
While being the long-awaited follow-up to his critically applauded Split Screens full-length debut, Everyday Static is both a reflection of the burn-out he experienced and the result of a prolonged, deeply personal personal journey as an artist and and as a person. With five years of life behind him, Everyday Static’s material is understandably more mature and focused as its imbued with an understanding and awareness of the passage of time — and of course, of one’s own mortality. Interestingly, the new EP continues Cafiero’s ongoing collaboration with producer and engineer Jeremy Black, who has worked with Langhorne Slim and JOVM mainstay Geographer, as well as Tycho’s Rory O’Connor, who contributes drums throughout the EP.
Everyday Static’s latest single “From The Start” is a deliberately crafted, swooning bit of guitar pop that thematically and sonically nods at Wall of Sound Phil Spector-esque pop, The Smiths and Patsy Cline-era country, as the song features shimmering lap steel guitar, reverb-drenched guitars, twinkling keys, a soaring hook and Cafiero’s achingly plaintive vocals. Interestingly, the song manages to be unhurried yet an earnest and urgent expression of appreciation and devotion.
The recently released video for “From The Start” is a fully analog video, painstakingly animated frame-by-frame with images found at library sales, Goodwill and a variety of other donation-based stores with the end result being a lysergic visual that nods at Monty Python and The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. “My favorite part about animating with paper collage are the limitations,” Cafiero says. “The imperfections of shooting frame-by-frame really gives the video a human touch, something that I think is missing in our current digital lives.”
Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about Oslo, Norway-based singer/songwriter, composer and keyboardist Arthur Kay. And as you may recall Kay has been a prominent member of his hometown’s music scene for the better part of the past decade as the frontman of of the galactic jazz act Dr. Kay and His Interstellar Tone Scientists and collaborating and touring with Norwegian rapper Ivan Ave.
Key’s self-titled solo debut EP was released earlier this month, and the EP’s material draws from several disparate and rather eclectic influences, at points channeling Thundercat, James Blake, and Sun Ra Arkestra, all while finding the Norwegian singer/songwriter, composer and keyboardist boldly stepping into the spotlight. Earlier this year, I wrote about “Holiday Pay,” a thumping, house music-based workers anthem with glistening and twinkling synths, cowbell-led percussion and infectious hook that celebrates socialism and socialist policies — in particular, that Norwegian employers are required by law to pay employees a certain percentage of the previous year’s wages to be used for the employee’s vacation time.
The EP’s second single “Higher Ground” was a slow-burning track that was one part dream pop, one part hallucinogenic dirge and one part shoegaze, as it was centered around a sparse arrangement of twinkling keys, atmospheric synths, Kay’s dreamy crooning and narcoleptic drumming. And while arguably the most peaceful song off the EP, the song was fueled by a sweaty desperation. “Lyrically, it is about the silence and calmness that comes after a big emotional and chaotic event,” Arthur Kay explained in press notes. “Those days or weeks where you feel that if you just put everything in your life on hold, to make it through the next hour without remembering or engaging in those memories, you’ll just barely make it through.”
“Say It Out Loud,” the EP’s third and latest single is a two-step-inducing bit of synth-led dance pop that’s one part Teddy Riley-era New Jack Swing and one part Larry Levan-era house music, as the track is centered around arpeggiated keys and synths, thumping beats, cowbell-led percussion, Kay’s plaintive vocals and a sinuous hook before ending with a shimmering jazz-like. And while focusing on his singular voice, the track manages to reveal Kay’s incredible versatility and dexterous musicianship.
Over the past 18 months or so, the rapidly rising, enigmatic and mysterious Brighton, UK-based indie artist Nancy has received attention across the blogosphere from the likes of Stereogum, NME and DIY and airplay on BBC Radio 1 from personalities like Annie Mac, Huw Stephens and Jack Saunders and BBC Radio 6 personalities Iggy Pop, Lauren Laverne and Steve Lamacq.
Earlier this year, the rising Brighton-based artist re-emerged with the release of attention-grabbing single “When I’m With You (I Feel Love).” Building upon a growing profile in his native England, Nancy’s latest single is a the scuzzy power chord stomper “Clic Clac.” Clocking in at 107 seconds and centered around distorted power chords, rapid fire drumming, distorted vocals and a mosh pit friendly hook, the track finds Nancy seemingly drawing from ’77 era punk and glam rock simultaneously. “‘Clic Clac’ is an ode to anxiety, it is much quicker and shorter than anything I’ve written, it’s a head-rush,” the rising Brighton-based artist explains in press notes. “The soundtrack to my ‘quarter life crisis’…or maybe I should just call it a crisis at this point. You’re going to need to strap seatbelts to your ears, cause I’m about to take them for the ride of their life”.
I’ve written a bit about Bristol, UK-based singer/songwriter and soul artist Hannah Williams over the past couple of years. The Bristol-based JOVM mainstay can trace some of the originals of her musical career to growing up in an extremely musical household — her father was a musician and minister. And as you may recall, Williams learned how to read music before she could read words — and as as the story goes, when she was a young girl, her mother introduced her to Motown and Bill Withers, which wound up transforming her life. Interestingly, Williams’ mother quickly recognized that a young Williams had talent and encouraged her to join the church choir.
With the release of “Work It Out,” off 2012’s full-length debut Hill of Feathers, Williams and her first backing band The Tastemakers, quickly emerged into national and international soul circles with the track receiving attention across the blogosphere and airplay on radio stations across the States, Australia and the European Union. Interestingly, at one point “Work It Out” was one of the most downloaded songs in Greece and the video has amassed over 1.5 million streams on YouTube. Building upon a growing profile, Williams played sets across the European festival circuit, including stops at Shambala Festival, Valley Fest, Wilderness Festival, Cambridge Jazz Festival and Larmer Tree Festival, as well as some of Europe’s most renowned clubs, including Hamburg, Germany‘s Mojo; Manchester, UK’s Band on the Wall; Camden, UK‘s Jazz Cafe and others with the likes of JOVM mainstays Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, and Charles Bradley, as well as Cat Power.
Williams’ 2016 Michael Cotto-produced sophomore album Late Nights and Heartbreak was the first recorded output with her current backing band, the Bristol-based soul outfit, The Affirmations, currently comprised of James Graham (organ, piano and Wurlitzer), Adam Holgate (guitar), Adam Newton (bass), Jai Widdowson-Jones (drums), Nicholas Malcolm (trumper), Liam Treasure (trombone), Victoria Klewin (baritone saxophone) and Hannah Nicholson (backing vocals). The album continued to build upon Williams’ growing profile in soul music circles, thanks in part to the Dusty Springfield-like torch song “Tame in the Water” and the psychedelic soul-tinged edition of “Dazed and Confused.” In fact, the album was one of my personal favorites that year.
Over the course of the following year, Hannah Williams and The Affirmations received even greater international attention, after smash hit-making producer NO I.D. sampled the heart aching hook of “Late Nights and Heartbreak” for Jay-Z‘s “4:44.” “It was an incredible catalyst,” Williams says in press notes, “as a change in our collective career, and getting a global audience. Suddenly, there were millions of predominantly American hip-hop fans listening to my voice, going ‘Is this from the ’60s? Is she dead?’” Unsurprisingly, as a result of the attention they received from “4:44,” the rising soul act spent the better part of 2018 on the most extensive touring schedule of their collective careers, including stops at SummerStage, Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, Brooklyn Bowl, the Toronto Jazz Festival and across the European Union, where they expanded their fanbase.
With growing attention on them, the members of the rising soul act were determined to make the record of their lives. And in order to do so, they recruited Shawn Lee, an acclaimed funk/soul artist and producer to work on Williams’ third album 50 Foot Woman. Slated for release this Friday through Record Kicks Records, the album reportedly finds the members of the band accurately capturing the visceral power of their live show on wax — all while further establishing a sound that equally draws from classic soul, psych soul and funk, with a subtly modern take.
“50 Foot Woman,” the album’s title track and first single was a strutting and explosive stomp that sonically was one part Ike and Tina Turner-era classic soul and one part fed-up tell-off to haters, naysayers and others and one part Daptone Records-like soul — with a fed-up narrator, who has finally had enough with the bullshit and games. But at its core, the song is a contemporary feminist anthem of a strong woman being done wrong and who figures out a way to survive and then thrive. The album’s second and latest single “I Feel It” is a primarily a slow-burning ballad, centered around Williams’ expressive powerhouse vocals, twinkling keys, a sinuous bass line, a horn section that can compete with the Dap Kings and a production that’s effortlessly old-timey without resorting to soulless mimicry or homage. But more important, Williams is superstar in the making — she can pair soulful vocals with gut-punching earnestness in a way that’s rare in this age.
Directed and filmed by BD, the recently released video for “I Feel It” is an incredibly stylized and cinematic shot visual featuring the band performing the song in a 60s-like studio space, complete with some brooding close ups of the members of the band.
Johanna Cranitch is an Australian-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer and the creative mastermind behind the electro pop project White Prism. Cranitch grew up in a deeply musical home, where she was immersed in music for most, if not all of her life. Her father was a priest-in-training, who used to sing Gregorian chants around the house — and as the story goes, when Cranitch was a small child, her Hungarian-born father, a jazz pianist. gave her his blessing by openly declaring that “this one will be musical.”
Her parents encouraged her to go to the Kodaly School of Music, where she was classically trained as a vocalist and as a musician. When she was nine, Cranitch performed at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Opera Australia Children’s Chorus. But like most young people, she had a love of pop music – especially Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, New Order, and others. After graduating from high school, Cranitch went on to attend the Australian Institute of Music, where she studied jazz vocals and graduating with honors.
After a stint performing in her native Australia, Cranitch relocated to New York, where she cut her teeth as an assistant recording engineer, writing and recording several hundred demos before joining The Cranberries and The Cardigans‘ Nina Persson as a touring background vocalist and keyboardist. Many of those demos that she wrote and recorded during her stint as a recording engineer, wound up appearing the debut effort of her first solo recording project, Johanna and the Dusty Floor. While as a member of The Cranberries’ touring band, Cranitch spent a lot of her off-time in Iceland, which helped influenced her latest project White Prism, a project that she saw as much-needed reboot.
Several years have passed since I’ve personally written about Cranitch and as it turns out, the Aussie-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer relocated to Los Angeles. where she’s been primarily been working as a producer. Recently, she finally has had the time to release the music she has been working on over the past couple of years — material that continues to be heavily influenced by the aforementioned Kate Bush, Phil Collins, Cocteau Twins and Joni Mitchell among others. And while being e decidedly synth-based, her work is centered around lyrics that frequently tell stories of love and loss, triumph and failure.
“Good Man,” is the first new batch of White Prism material in several years. Centered around a sleek and modern production featuring shimmering and arpeggiated bursts of synth, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, martial-styled drumming, Cranitch’s plaintive vocals and an infectious hook, the song manages to be carefully crafted yet rooted in the sort of vulnerability and earnestness that comes from lived-in experience. Interestingly, “Good Man” is the first single Cranitch every really produced — and came about as a necessity: she didn’t have the budget to hire a producer, so she set about learning how to record and make sounds on her own computer. She then enlisted the assistance of producer and composer Matt Wigton to bring the material home.
“’Good Man’is about fighting for love, for what you believe in and ultimately being on the right side of history,” the Aussie-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer explains in press notes. “I wrote ‘Good Man’ after a difficult period with my then-husband. I was reflecting on our differences and right when I was writing the lyrics, the news came on that Trump had started to attack the health care bill in the courts effectively taking away transgender rights to the health care act. It felt like a very ominous sign of things to come. We were all recovering from the election still and this felt like such an assault on freedom in America.”
Throughout the course of this site’s nine-plus yer history, I’ve written quit a bit about the Brooklyn-based electro pop act denitia and sene. And as you may recall, the act won the attention of the blogosphere for a unique sound that paired Brian “sene” Marc’s hyper-modern and slick production work, which effortlessly meshed elements of electro pop, hip-hop, funk. minimalist electronica, underground and avant-garde pop and neo soul with Denitia Odgie‘s soulful yet ethereal vocals.
The duo’s full-length debut his & hers was a critical and commercial success — the album landed in the Top 10 of iTunes R&B Charts, and the duo were profiled in the New York Times, for their participation in a forward-thinking Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist collective and living space. After the release of their debut, the duo had been busy with individual creative pursuits — Marc was a part of the cast of Netflix‘s Luke Cage, has starred alongside Emma Roberts in Nerve and a lead role in White Girl while Odigie’s solo recording project ADESUWA received attention after the release of the Air Light EP and the project’s full-length debut.
Their sophomore effort, 2016’s love and noir featured album singles “open wide,” a swooning love song centered around a seemingly chilly and subtly industrial production and “favorite” a shimmering and airy song that evoked the happy sigh of waking up next to a lover after you’ve just made love. Although it’s been a while since I’ve written about the longtime JOVM mainstays or their individual projects, Odigie has been busy writing and recording the material off her forthcoming solo album Touch of the Sky. Written as a cinematic ode to nostalgia and the alchemy of love, the album’s material was produced largely from 6am sessions from Odigie’s beachfront studio.
Touch of the Sky‘s third and latest single “Place To Be” follows the release of “Where You Go” and “Waves,” both of which received placement on Spotify’s Indie Stage playlist and Shazam‘s official The Best New Music playlist on Apple Music. Additionally, “Waves” caught attention from Refinery 29, who placed the song on their New Music To Know This Week round-up. The slow-burning “Place To Be” is centered around denitia’s tender and aching vocals, atmospheric synths, and thumping beats. Interestingly, the new track bears more of a resemblance to the cinematic and aching pop of JOVM mainstay ACES — while being inspired by the bittersweet loneliness that frequently sets in during the aftermath of a tumultuous affair.
Over the past couple of moths, I’ve written a bit about the rapidly rising, 19-year-old Baltimore-born multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, producer and current university student Julien Chang (pronounced Chong). Chang surprised his peers when he quietly began releasing original music during his senior year in high school. Initially only thought of just as a trombone player, the Baltimore-born, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer’s earliest material found him playing multiple instruments while meshing pop-leaning melodicism, psych rock and jazz fusion-leaning experimentation and improvisation with a sophistication and self-assuredness that belied his relative youth.
Now as you may recall, those early releases caught the attention of Transgressive Records, the label home of SOPHIE, Let’s Eat Grandma and JOVM mainstay Neon Indian, and the label recently released Chang’s highly anticipated full-length debut Jules last Friday. So far I’ve written about the album’s two previously released singles — “Of The Past,” a sleek, early 80s-like synth funk-based track centered around dexterous musicianship and pop melodicisim and the slow-burning, Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles-like “Butterflies from Monaco.” Interestingly, the album’s third and latest single “Memory Loss” is centered by syncopated blips and bloops, a sinuous bass line, shimmering synths and Chang’s plaintive falsetto and a yearning for an unreachable and halcyon-tinged past. And while seemingly influenced by 80s synth funk, the song continues a run of incredibly self-assured singles featuring some dazzling musicianship and big hooks.
“A worsening memory is something I’ve always been worried about,” Chang explains. “The song was made with a kind of structural rigidity in mind, and about memory’s natural lack of it when having trouble putting faces to names, for example. It’s easy to be frustrated by that feeling, but being left with a sudden emotional reaction sparked by some stimulus for an unclear reason can be as lovely as it is disorienting.”
Directed and shot by Haoyan of America, the recently released video for “Memory Loss” is shot through a disorientating and lysergic haze with a wistfully nostalgic air, as it’s centered around memories of a lover, dreamy and easygoing summer days and trippy imagery. “The ‘Memory Loss’ video was shot by Haoyan of America. The vision was totally his, arrived at after spending some time talking to each other about the song,” Chang explains. “That’s what I wanted to do when we first started looking for video directors—find an artist that I trust and have them commit to their own path of inspiration. I think a lot of music videos require the visual artists to bend to the will of the musician. It was really exciting to see Haoyan work as an artist creating something that both augmented my song and stood on its own an independent and magnificent visual piece.”