Monday, June 1, 2020

Global New Music and Video Reviews - June 2020

Along with the hopeful sentiment among many that we may finally be turning the corner on this measured stasis everyone has been experiencing, comes a new crop of music that deserves to be heard. While the month of June continues to signal that the world is opening up again, the Cromwell periscope focuses once more on new and innovative artists in their respective genres.

The balancing act of humorous lyrics with quality music is a delicate one that hasn't been attempted all that often since the birth of rock and roll in the 1950's. Old timers might remember The Tubes, who's 1975 single “White Punks on Dope” straddled that line perfectly, with a nod backwards towards Frank Zappa (who was also a master of the funny lyrics/awesome music blend). The early 2000's gave us Stephen Lynch who meticulously blended comedy writing with really catchy melodies. Following in this tradition, along comes Ian Lockwood and his brand new EP “Nasty.”

Approaching the art from a number of creative angles, Ian has maintained a presence in stand-up comedy, podcasting as well as being a pop musician. His early influences came equally from the music and comedy scenes, while name-checking The Flight Of The Conchords and Andy Samberg's “Lonely Island” projects as more recent signposts. He eventually made his way to New York to attend (and become an alumni of) NYU Tisch's Experimental Theatre Wing, Second City's Comedy Studies, UCB, and The Annoyance Theatre NY. “Nasty” is his first studio EP.

Opening track (and full feature video) “(I Don't Think This Is) The Club” is a testament to one's solo creativity, as Ian visually crafts a 5 character ensemble using green screen technology. With “the crew” consisting of three female types (sporty-zipup-jacket, open blouse trampy, tiara-wearing-sweater)and one other dude besides Ian (tennis-headband guy), they set out for a night to “forget all the bullshit, the weekend is ours and I ain't gonna go home alone.” Rolling out to what they think is a “Club” has them “stroll right past the tetherballs” (with a humorous “no thanks” punch in) becoming the first clue they've missed their mark. Subsequent mistaken venues in their club-quest unfold (swimming pools, laser light shows, jail, historic locations, special ops missions apparently inspiring people to join the army) like a Saturday Night Live skit. What makes this whole think work, however is the central chorus which is a total catchy ear-worm. Rising melody steps against a funky guitar and keyboard background comes complete with easy-to-learn dance steps. The kind of movements that made former cheerleader Haley Sharpe (the creator of Doja Cat's original "Say So" dance challenge) a “Tik Tok star.” In fact, you can see how Ian's own “dance challenge” has emerged via his Instagram Story of it.

Check out the video here:

Cut two has Ian indulging his inner “gamer” voice on “Horny For Bowser” - that fire-breathing King Koopa turtle-like creature from Super Mario Bros. What becomes apparent with this and all the subsequent songs, is how carefully crafted and thematically on point each set of lyrics are. While, amusing and cleverly rendered, the vocal performance are equally impressive, pairing blue-eyed soul over easy breezy Michael McDonald-style keyboards. An appropriately pixelated lyric video (brought to life by filmmaker @AdamVole) deserves to be checked out here.

Title track “Nasty” zeroes in on the all-too-frequent nature of dating and relationships in this internet-on-smartphone age. Crafting a perfectly bubbly pop song with his musical other-half on this record – Dave Bowers (who produced and played the instruments on this entire record), emphasizes twinkling keyboards and easy dance rhythms. Toxic right from the start, the obsessed controlling lover states: “I'm gonna treat you wrong – gonna lie to your face. I'll separate you from your friends – Family I'll replace.” The real treat, however is the happy-rhythm, catchy sing-along hook that goes “I'll be your one and only. I'll move you out of state. I'll get so mad at you and won't tell you why, cuz I don't communicate.” The capper is a warm, enhanced vocal sheen over the repeated title “Nasty” while cheerful keyboard lines cascade underneath. Completing the picture is a perfectly matched emoji-driven lyric video (that looks exactly like a phone text chat, complete with timestamp, signal bars, wifi and power-remaining images) directed by Thomas Frances and can be experienced here.

Meet Me Online” continues the multiple-decades-now relationship we all have with the internet. This time going back to the early aughts for inspiration, a boy-band style song becomes the basis for Ian's wordiest tome on this record. Once again employing a skilled video associate (@matthewliner) to harness classic meme images from that time period – easily recognizable to anyone who spent “too much time on the internet” (even back then) completes this smart lyrical song. The clever twist here is how sweet teen girl looking for a prom date can also be a 4chan chat forum user who has leared (among other things) how to make a bomb. Too good (both song and video) NOT to be seen - check it out here.

Final track “You, Me, and Your Parents” dips into the staccato rock guitar world of (again early 2000's) emo-pop bands like Jimmy Eat World.  A sweet layer of harmonies drop on the big (bombastic) chorus that goes “You and me got nothing to do,we've got nothing to prove to no one.” It's all rebellious teens looking to get out of “this old town” until an unexpected thematic twist turns everything (amusingly) on it's head. Have a listen to what that “twist” is right here.

Stream the full album on Spotify - and follow Ian on his Socials at  Instagram and Twitter

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Always keeping an ear tuned to what newfound fave label Shore Dive Records is presenting is a smart move no matter what you might be currently listening to. Coming through once again with their momentous 50th release has them rolling out the debut EP by Polish emo-dreampop band Waterville.

Their four song EP “Shades And Whispers” creates of sonic world of interpersonal relationships that feature inventiveness through a heightened sense of awareness. Much of that can be attributed to a natural environment of lakes and tranquil locales that serve to inspire them.

Opening track “Shadows” also comes with a beautifully filmed, self-directed music video, capturing the intense feelings presented when paired with its music. Gentle, reverberated guitar picking is soon met with a rumbling bass and tom-tom drum undercurrents, as images of lush woodlands spliced with car-drive-interiors are set against a twilight mood. As a female and her male companion head out into the open space, hypnotic vocals state how “the dark shadows hide us – the dark mists hide us.” An initial emotional peak is reached with the rising, elongated vocal line “where you are” (where the last word is extended) and the two central figures begin to run towards various symbolic challenges. The dock on a serene body of water foreshadows eventual results.

The accompanying instrumental passages combine an air of mystery as well as building tension through those soft arpeggiated guitar chords and deep rumbling percussion. As guitars overlay and gain intensity, the two video figures are now running with purpose up a hill to vocals “the dark shadows hide us.” Once again an emotional peak is reached with crashing cymbals and the “You are, You are – where you are” refrain. Running across and staring out at gorgeous terrain provides an uplifting sense of hope against the more foreboding lyrics. Guitars and bass intertwine in further creative ways while the drumming undercurrent maintains its relentless pace. It all comes to a logical conclusion with the implied metaphor for taking a necessary risk and plunging into the unknown fully achieved.

The EP's second track “I Keep My Eye On You” develops at a slower, more languid pace. Gentle open note guitar figures mark out the progression as poignant female vocals deliver lyrical poetry of affection. A simple deep-thump “heartbeat” approximation is all the percussion necessary as the voice describes how “flowers of love with suddenly grow.” As much of an ode to that “summer” feeling, it's dreamy, gorgeous and utterly romantic.

Out Of The Window” quickens the pace considerably with arpeggio guitar chords, primary note-only bass and click-clack rimshot percussion. There's a particular charm to hearing vocals delivered in English when it's not the singers primary language. Those words are formed with passion, while the accent adds another level of graceful allure. An unexpected vibraphone (or glockenspiel) sound enters the mix, enhancing lyrics “out of the window I see the rain – see the hail.”

Final cut “Hold Me” continues the moody, open string guitar textures while adding extended ambient tones alongside that. A gentle, delicate rumination that emphasizes singular words and short phrases (“thinking – breathing – beating of my heart”) sung out in an ethereal manner.  The question is asked - “will you trust me when I am wrong? When I go out of my mind?

Find out how to acquire this music here.

Previous features on Shoredive Records artists on this site can be found here and here.

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A trio of Japanese virtuoso musicians writing and recording under the collective name “mouse on the keys” have just released a four song EP titled “Arche.”  As someone who listens to a lot of jazz piano trios in-between all the rock and pop consumed, an affinity for this record was immediately felt.

The trio deviates slightly from the traditional piano-based jazz-combo of drums, bass guitar and keyboards, creating everything instead with a drummer and TWO keyboard players. All three members are credited with “Programming” and one keyboard player adds synthesizer to their repertoire.

The constant line running through any progressive rock and/or jazz band is the highly evolved skill-level of their drummer. Opening track “Praxis” confirms that once again, not only emphasizing Akira Kawasaki's chops, but doubling-down on him having written the entire piece as well. As suspected there is no loss of bass presence, as synth-keyboardist Daisuke Niitome must surely be laying down a flawless approximation of an upright bass. With light and airy piano chords entering the mix, all three elements move forward with an elegant harmonic awareness. Piano lines carve out melodies while the percussion dances between beat propulsion and accented counterpoint.

Second song “Room” begins with bright piano figures, surely at the hands of it's composer Atsushi Kiyota – before the fully syncopated drumming enters the mix. Waves of piano notes in rolling formations alternate between more firmly struck chords. A solid bass pattern is heard once again (not bad for a band that does not have a bass player), moving the track along through open spaces that emphasize more sparse piano notes and percussive accents. Although a clear structure and melody is felt, an additional sense of improvisational playfulness seem to emerge within frequent open spaces. A rising electric piano melody enters the mix as a late-entry sonic element, leading the track to it's conclusion.

Emergence” returns once again to the individual compositional prowess of drummer Akira Kawasaki, where shuffling percussion patterns emphasizing jazzy cymbals lay down a backbeat under boldly struck piano chords. A steady flow of rimshot clacks give the beat a lighter touch while piano note explorations build increasingly complex structures. Soon the snare drum is fully engaged as angular piano chords are interspersed between fleet piano forays. While the drumming increases it's levels of intensity, the piano pulls back and plays only the essential block chords structure.

Final track “Anchor” is keyboardist Daisuke Niitome's writing contribution to the EP, and brings aboard saxophonist Kenji Honzawa as an additional sonic element to the piece. Busy arpeggio keyboard notes are tempered by the longer held, stretched-out and softer sax tones running parallel.  A distinctive bass pattern and quiet keyboard pad with intersecting percussion emerge momentarily before the piano explorations resume.  That higher register Soprano sax is given room to open up with it's own improvisational bursts, while the initial progression cycles through again with subtle variations.
You can stream these tracks here - and find out how to acquire it and all of the bands back catalog. Additionally, you'll see an option from their label Topshelf Records offering a subscription plan that delivers all of the labels new releases digitally, as well as their 47 back-catalog items.

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After being introduced to the music of Louisiana-based sound designer Bug Gigabyte and his SINthetik Messiah project back in January via savvy PR Company New Dark Ages, a review of his work (and the public good he supports) featured prominently here on this site at that time.

The artist is now back with a new release “Split Damage,” serving up two tracks that explores and expands on that 90's trip-hop sound that spawned creatives like Portishead and Massive Attack (to name just two).

The first cut “Languish” is a collaboration with vocalist and lyricist Cat Hall, which provides a foil for the primary composer and sonic manipulator to work off of. Those sounds build out of initially sparser notations, before layers of synthesizers create a mysterious landscape as the vocals unfold. Distorted processing adds a cybernetic effect to certain passages, before more clearly heard lines deliver pointed statements like “I want no limit on my sensations.” That begins a call-and-response cycle with the higher register lines echoing the song's title, responding: “languishing without your eyes on me.” While a mechanized forward march churns underneath, an orchestral feel swirls above with the blending of synths and voices in passionate reverie.

Second track “Emotional Therapy” is an over 7 minute tour-de-force featuring a long slow slithery groove. That extended progression serves as a base for the variety of sonic elements dropped in. Busy clattering percussion and throbbing bass pulses share space with hypnotic, repeated vocal samples used more as instrumental components than any kind of narrative. Extended moments of beatless ambiance provide momentary pause before percussive clacks and pitch-altered voices resume the forward momentum. A push-pull sensation is felt through deep bass and alternating rough-edged buzzing, while a distant higher-end voice is dropped in throughout the mix, providing repeated recitations.

Give a listen and find out how to acquire those two tracks here.

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