The earnest love song is a hackneyed premise at this point but Mashmellow’s “Heaven is You” bypasses jaded filters with its freshness of spirit and complete lack of irony. Its melodic bass line paired perfectly with jangle-y guitars is reminiscent of something you might have heard from The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen or The Cure at their most upbeat. Masha Shurygina’s effervescent yet soulful vocals sit prominently in the mix expressing a sincere affection with directness and clarity hedging no bets about her real feelings. The song reflects that headlong rush of love but also leaves time toward the end of the song to allow yourself some space and time to reflect and embrace what you know is real. Listen to “Heaven is You” on Soundcloud, connect with Mashmellow at the links provided and look out for the group’s new EP Sunday Club.
Velladon may have quit his bands Vampillia and Violent Magic Orchestra (aka VMO) in 2019 but his gift for otherworldly composition remains intact for his solo efforts. Whereas those bands blended classical music structures with the brutality of extreme metal, Velladon’s music for his new album Wisdom Truth (released on June 3, 2020) is more in the realm of ambient and noise. Lead track “SMILE” is initially glitchy and disorienting and returns to that, like someone rapidly changing television stations that seem only to get in malfunctioning feeds, but those extreme bursts of textured sound are spread throughout a transcendent, tranquil passages. Some of those are like floating through a space occupied by decayed radio signals, others are distorted washes, yet others a blissfully gentle melodic drone. Given the context of Acid Thermal’s video treatment for the song one gets the impression of Velladon having tried to take in the grand sweep of human history with snippets borrowed and expressed as a commentary on the angst of the present. In that way it’s like an abstract Zen parable about information overload and how it might distort our perception of events around us. The rapid shifts in tone, tempo and texture in a steady flow are like Sturm und Drang cast in post-industrial sounds. Watch the video for “SMILE” on YouTube and connect with Velladon at the links below.
Daniele Sciolla wrote “SCHERZO” while visiting and recording in some of Europe’s best studios featuring analog synthesizers. The appropriately titled song which is a musical term meaning “a vigorous, light, or playful composition, typically comprising a movement in a symphony or sonata” is an energetic, layered composition of synth arpeggios and tonal drones that make for an uplifting melody and short journey that seems to capture what it must be like to be a subatomic particle attaining higher quantum states until the end when all individual elements of the song unify in the outro. The effect is not unlike a light flickering at increasingly shorter intervals until it stays on. Musically it’s akin to the music for 80s science fiction and horror movies with all those evocative soundtracks but the tonality is bright rather than brooding and dark. Watch the beautifully minimalistic video for “SCHERZO” on YouTube and connect with Daniele Sciolla at the links provided.
Starlight Girls’ “Teenage Crime” deftly combines emotional urgency with a languid pace and melancholic undertones. Angsty guitar work bursting over a minimalistic keyboard melody washing underneath Christina Bernard’s focused vocals tracing the ebb and flow of mood give the song an unconventional rhythm. Without overcomplicating the soundscape the band uses a wide-ranging and expressive dynamic in the percussion and low end that syncs with the other elements of the song operating in their own dynamics and unifies it all toward a goal of making a song that feels expansive, contemplative and emotionally vibrant. It’s a bit like if Air and modern, noisy, psychedelic band collaborated to create a song that is cool yet fiery that washes the nervous energy in your brain away. Listen to “Teenage Crime” on Soundcloud, connect with Starlight Girls at the links below and look out for the band’s new EP Entitled which was released on June 9, 2020 and available on the group’s Bandcamp page.
Sam Damask saw his artist friend Skele go through a time of tribulation and come through it like a champ. So through his project Grand Commander, Damask wrote a mini epic in homage to his friend casting Skele as a superhero and master of the underworld. With acoustic guitar and some background synth this Grand Commander track is a bit different from the wonderful bombast of some of the project’s other music. But this approach to the songwriting is also more tender and affectionate making Skele the larger than life aspect of the song and not the music itself, like a tale that needed to be told where the music utilized in helping express the emotional colorings is the backdrop that accents and gives structure to the story but is very much allows Damask to paint a picture of his friend’s glorious existence. We should all get such a loving tribute from someone in our lives. Listen to “Skele” on YouTube and connect with Grand Commander at the links provided.
“Written Answers” finds Toronto’s Away Forward channeling a bit of C86, chime-y guitar tunefulness, the intricate, interlocking simple guitar work one hears in 90s shoegaze rock and the dusky nostalgic tones of Julee Cruise. The way the song turns on beautifully executed minor chord progressions and then blossoms into transporting melodies is especially evocative. The band doesn’t find a groove and ride it into affinity. No, its songwriting and gift for dynamic shifts and the emotional impact of not filling in all available space with all sounds in its sonic palette gives the song with a familiar feel and comforting swirls of atmosphere a repeated lisenability. In that way it’s reminiscent of early material from The Sundays but brimming with Slowdive’s penchant for drawing you into a mood of deep introspection and reverie only possible when a band is able to perfectly meld deft songwriting with expert soundscaping. Listen to “Written Answers” on Soundcloud, connect with Away Forward at the links provided and give a listen to the group’s 2020 album Catching The Sun on the project’s Bandcamp page.
Zoë Phillips sounds confident yet introspective on her song “Figured It All Out.” Her voice is bright and seems to drive a sweeping piano line and spare yet expressive percussion. But the effect by the end of the song is one that conveys a feeling of having been caught up by events in one’s life and looking back with a sensitive eye for where and when maybe you had moments of misguided action based in overconfidence and too much faith in the efficacy of your beliefs and feelings as though those wouldn’t change and would be adequate for the rest of your life. Without explicitly saying so the song in the sophisticated simplicity of its composition says that sometimes we need to take a pause to consider if what we’re doing is the right thing or if it’s something we’ve talked ourselves into and justified in the name of the expediency of promoting our agenda without considering the ripple effect of those actions for our own lives and that of others. Phillips just says this with the poetry of a pop song without overthinking it and because of that the song has a directness and immediacy that an essay on personal accountability couldn’t convey with such economy. Listen to “Figured It All Out” on Spotify and connect with Zoë Phillips at the links below.
Sam Koechlin aka Sam Himself sounds like he’s tired of struggling with himself and outmoded notions of his own identity on his single “Like A Friend,” coming to accept that what he once thought was a core part of his identity was just like an awkwardly outfit that you keep telling yourself is cool but makes you look like an idiot. Most people do this in their lives insisting truths about themselves that they embrace as central to their entire being even if it limits them and comes to hurt them long term. But rather than a self-disintegrating blowout, Sam casts this process as a melancholic, compassionate goodbye and to take this news, this realization like he’s hearing it from a good friend who knows what to say even when it’s something heavy and hard to say. A friend who knows how to tell you some aspect of your personality and identity is bullshit that is dragging you down but without brutality so that you have time to embrace the change as painful as it can be with resignation with the blow landing softly. It’s unrealistic to expect people to change quickly because of all the ingrained habits of life and mentalities that reinforce the core of who you are or who you think you are but it’s also not so difficult to make that change once you understand why the changes are necessary. The lush song and its downtempo, late night vibe with Sam Himself’s brooding croon is reminiscent of Nick Cave is paired well with a music video taking place in the gritty part of Zurich, Switzerland like something out of a Jim Jarmusch film and all the creative use of darkness and color to suggest a mood, a spiritual quality to the setting that enhances the meaning of what you’re witnessing. Watch the video for “Like A Friend” on YouTube, connect with Sam Himself on Soundcloud linked below and look out for the songwriter’s new EP Slow Drugs.
20 is an odd and awkward age. It sits exactly between being a teenager and being 21, the age at which you’re supposed to be an adult or at least you have all the rights and responsibilities of adulthood. When you’re younger it seems so far away and people who are 21 seem like they’re “old” or worldly when, once you get there, you realize how funny these notions are. But at 20, or thereabouts, you start to have an inkling that your teenage bravado about what you think you know is misplaced but don’t yet possess the hilariously unfounded confidence of your mid-twenties when you are sure you’ve seen it all and thought it all and the world is your oyster and if you haven’t made your mark by 25 or certainly by 27 then you’re a failure. Only you’re not. But going back to 20, the Port Lucian single “20z” has a charming, jangle-y guitar melody that maintains a rhythm and tone while Portia Maidment’s vocals swirl slightly commenting on days that seem so significant and summers that seem to last forever giving you the time to go on long drives and talk about whatever comes to mind as though it’s the most important thing in the world. Anyone over 22 remember that time and miss it a little? That sense of the magic of having the luxury of ample unstructured time to fill with contemplating your dreams and aspirations? Of course you do even if your specific experience isn’t quite parallel. That emotional space has been eloquently preserved in this Port Lucian song. Listen to “20z” no Soundcloud, connect with Port Lucian at the links below and look out for the Port Lucian’s Prince of Oddities EP out September 18 on Z Tapes.
Rinkaku’s “Retaliation”single has a dusky and enigmatic quality with deep vocals reminiscent of a Japanese language TR/ST or John Maus. Its lo-fi electronic production sounds like something from the soundtrack to a Yoshiaki Kawajiri film with the edgy vibe like you’d expect when someone makes a movie out of one of Inio Asano’s darker manga. Rinkaku aka Yoshitaka Delahaije started out making trance before moving on to a wider range of soundscaping and “Retaliation” reflects an amalgamation of ambient, darkwave, trap, noise, glitch and, yes, trance. This eclectic aesthetic gives the song a quality that may seem brooding and menacing on one level but in the end about the affirmation of life and what makes it worth living even in the bleakest of times in one’s own life and in the world generally. Perfect for the crisis-wracked world in which we now find ourselves. Listen to “Retaliation” on Soundcloud and connect with Rinkaku at the links below.