Friday, January 15, 2021

Fresh Analysis + Reviews in the New Year

 With 2021 now finally upon us, a fresh start to the year featuring brand new artists' material serves as the driving force on this January DaveCromwellWrites entry. While the records reviewed are recent, some of the creators have been honing their musical skills for a number of years. Trusted media brands continue to shine light on works most deserving by songwriters and sound designers worthy of the deep dive their music receives here.

Returning to a seemingly bottomless well of brilliantly formed dreamgaze artists, Shore Dive Records' January 1, 2021 release “Summerheads And Winter Beds” by The Raft is a stunningly beautiful collection of 13 tracks. Conceived by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Phil Wilson (who has been writing, recording and performing under the name The Raft since 2003), an elite group of dreamy female vocalists are employed throughout the album, providing necessary lush counterpoint to Phil's own voice.

Opening track “Clear Water” features the multi-layered vocals of co-songwriter Claire O'Neill, who morphs between soft breathy and full throated operatic styings. It's all mood and majesty against Wilson's and co-writer/co-producer Jpedro's dramatic instrumentation. Follow-up cut “There's No Going Back” holds closer to the alternative rock format pioneered by bands like The Cure, Stone Roses and Ride. Bright guitar hooks, driving bass and Loz Colbert-style drumming (presumably played by a combination of Wilson and JPedro) has Ms. O'Neill returning to sing harmonies on Phil's storytelling vocals. Third track “So Bright” drops the pedal harder on what “gazey” music is all about, without ever losing sight of melody or rhythm. Sure, there are moments of shearing guitar, and a full chorus of blended female backing vocalist (the aforementioned Ms. O'Neill, joined by Red Shelly, Ellie Long and Milly Winter), however distinct instrumental hooks also play a substantial part.

The truly gorgeous “Hold Back The World” serves up a heart-tugging, emotional tour-de-force of melody, rhythm and lyrics. As Phil sings in tandem and harmonies with his team of female vocalists (Liz Kramer the new addition along with O'Neill and Shelley), a perfect blend of keyboards, guitars, drums and tambourine lifts this track into the stratosphere. This song is so lovely, it can even melt the heart of the most cynical amongst us. “You're An Animal” pulls out the chiming acoustic guitar for this Mark Gardener and Ride-style vocal homage. While Phil's vocal timbre clearly resembles the aforementioned master, Ms. O'Neill's higher register harmonics continue to assist in pointing everything in it's own unique direction. “Skeletons” slows the pace down, as Phil and Claire present this unfolding story via tandem studio-sheen vocals. Eastern-influenced percussion dominates, while bright guitars and keyboards come carefully placed across the sonic field.

Jingle-jangle breeze runs through the sweetly sentimental “Another Day.” Acoustic guitars and electric melody lines are impeccably placed over keyboard pads in the just right measure, while Phil, Claire and Liz do that blended vocal thing so well. “Heavy Metal Eyes” comes on slow and deliberate, with Phil pitching his voice down lower into Jim Reid/JAMC territory. The female vocal tandem soon arrives with Liz Kramer, Red Shelley and newcomer Dani Mari providing their individual parts, and ultimately merged into sonic walls of bliss. “Thinking About You” pivots off a bass and percussion style most-often associated with “dance” music – without actually devoting any real time exploring that well-trod genre. Instead the lush vocal harmonies (Kramer, Shelley and Phil this go round) are complimented by guest keyboardist Mike Collings, who delivers an impressive organ solo.

The impressive Claire O'Neill takes the dominant vocal position on 10th track “Twisting.” With only an acoustic guitar backing for the songs first minute, Claire's lead vocals stand out, providing a “twist” indeed to what has come before. Phil's backing (and blended) harmonies fill out one more series of powerful melodies and lyrics. “This Is War” builds off the traditional 1-2-3, three-quarter waltz time signature. With a razor buzz sheen on Phil's vocals, Liz and Shelley are called in to provide harmonic depth. Clever layers of deep percussion and synthetic pulses are paired against more spacious, guitar-centric passages. Conversely, “You Need Me” chugs along like a straight-ahead rocker. Sung (mostly) in tandem with Ellie Long and/or Red Shelley, a strong guitar-bass presence matches Phil's vocal cadence. Concluding track “The Story Or The Song ?” returns to a ¾ time progression for it's epic length proportions. Claire appears one final time to join with Ellie and Shelly on backing vocals, adding the beauty and lift that is so apparent with every single track on this album.

Find out more about this artist, including how to acquire their album HERE.

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Another recent release from Shore Dive Records is the debut EP by French duo Tender Tones. Cleverly titling this record “Youth Retirement Club,” Manon Deruytere & Maxime Pargaud delve into the nostalgic side of gaze, synth and dreampop. The Ep serves as a partnered co-release between ShoreDive and American label Somewhere Cold Records.

Opening cut “In Dreamed Lives” puts the synths out front and center with a retro-pulsed fade in of arpeggiated brass tones. The percussion is clean and bright, leaning more towards the less-is-more scenario. Manon and Maxime sing in tandem with the lower male voice serving to support (in this instance) the female lead counterpart. Verse recitations come against fundamental percussive beats and individual keyboard stabs, which alternate against a return to the dominant opening hook and dreamy chorus. There's an intoxicating spacious minimalism to it all, luring you in with it's seductive calm.

Strangers From Ultra” comes on at a quicker pace, with guitars and bass pulses working their way into a busier percussive mix. Vocals are now presented in a least two formations, with the first in pure tandem, while the second reflects a similar audio separation found on the opening track. That second vocal passage comes enhanced by rolling tom-toms and throbbing bass guitar progression. Catchy hooks abound on a beguiling chorus that recites the English language song-title with charming French accent pronunciation.

Red Lovers” relies on deep rising bass-tones to apply sonic drama underneath higher-pitched synth swirls. Verses are then delivered against a sparser background, with dispersed percussion and airy open space. That allows for an alternating cycle of uncluttered passages followed by climactic resolutions. The overall feel brings to mind powerful 1980's recordings of bands like The Human League and their seminal album “DARE.” “Pay More Pray More” quickens the pace, while still relying on an electronic jungle-drum-beat, whooosing background synth-textures and blended male-female vocals in equal measure. With momentary levels of unsettling sonics building tension, a snaking synth-bass rumbles underneath vocal declarations. It's uncertain if the songtitle is meant in literal sincerity, or references continued propaganda of current times, and into some dystopian future.  

A singular drip-drop pulse introduces “Still White Noises,” which subtly mutates in pitch before giving way to fuller instrumental representation. Relying predominantly on a sinuous wavelike synth-bass motion, whispery vocals are accompanied by sharp percussion and otherworldly sonics. A strong melodic chorus is still the hook you hang your hat on, with clearly defined (and stated) structure. Final entry “TournĂ©e Au Japon” emerges from a hypnotic, far-Eastern-style rhythm that would reflect the songs title. Full keyboard pads underscore French language vocals that presumably reference a tour of Japan. With female vocals taking the majority of delivered lines, male vocals provide deep harmony support at specific moments.

Follow these links to find out more about this band, and how to acquire their music.

Facebook -- Instagram -- YouTube -- Album/Youth Retirement Club

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The specialty music publicity brand New Dark Ages PR has also provided a steady stream of new and established artists to this site. Focusing on Gothic/Industrial, EBM, Black/Death/Heavy Metal and Hard Rock, there's always something compelling to dig in to. The latest to emerge on the DaveCromwellWrites radar is Goth-Industrial artist Night Terror, with their new full-length release “Freak On The Inside.” This solo work of musician Jeff Heveron presents a unique blend of deep goth-style vocals (straight out of the Peter Murphy school) with synth-driven industrial grooves.

Opening track “Wreck It” (accompanied by an official video release which can be viewed down below) bubbles up via arpeggiated low-register synths and complimentary rising singular note pads. Bass-drum thump lays down the steady heartbeat, before quick dropouts signal a percussive turnaround as the lyrics begin. As previously mentioned, there is a strong Peter Murphy vibe in vocal tone and inflection on what are autobiographical, yet poetic verses. Keyboard melody runs over percolating undertow make it clear this is a song you can actually dance to. However, frequent ambient passages and rhythmic divergence serve to avoid any sense of static monotony.

Addiction” begins with a cinematic “movie score” vibe, sonic atmospheres one could perceive accompanying tension-riddled scenes in horror films. Synth stabs and factory-sound percussion undergird busier keyboard lines over top. “Oh my God I've lost this purity” serve as a lyrical reference to the tracks overall theme. In interviews the artist speaks freely about how his path to sobriety has led to a more productive life. Those who've also lived this journey know all too well the truth in this life-enhancing choice. “Get back to the dream I had – build a life” are inspiring lyrics of positivity.

Go Now” builds off of an intriguing pitch-bended synth-texture. The combination of simple defined instrumental lines and busier rhythmic crosscurrents evoke similarities with synth-pop pioneers like New Order and Depeche Mode. “This darkness rises” serves as a lyrical tentpole for an unfolding internal struggle. “Maxxed out” combines spacious ambience, measured synth notes and distant spoken word “public service” announcements with more forcefully defined progressions. There's more urgency found on the mechanized advancement of “Get Out Of This Place.” Vocals come narrated more than actually sung here, which adds an ominous level the whole proceedings.

Viral Attack” tackles the top story of 2020 and the fear this pandemic has wrought. Referencing the confusion and disinformation surrounding it as well points to a worldwide problem still gripping everyone's lives. “Beloved” plays undistorted bell-like keyboard lines against harsh pummeling rhythmic structures. As Murphy-esqe vocals return in full form, those busy industrial sonics throttle underneath creating an abrasive dancefloor groove. Buzzing brassy keyboard tones are employed as melody-motion for the word-heavy, lyric-driven “Falling time.” “I find my life on the ground – it's falling time again” is the sentiment, set against engaging syncopated percussion. Close-out track “Twenty Twenty” is a moody, entirely instrumental piece that emphasizes steampipe hisses, thumping heartbeat bassdrum, hand-clap percussion, and giant empty iron vessel atmospherics.

"Freak on The Inside" by Night Terror is out now on Tigersquawk Records, and can be acquired via these links:

Facebook -- Instagram -- YouTube -- Bandcamp

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