With Spring now in full bloom (the backyard here at DaveCromwellWrites estates a veritable nature preserve), bursting flowers, birds, lizards, bees and many other forms of flying and crawling things abound. Against that backdrop, four new recently recorded works (and an additional entertainment recommendation) are given this sites conscientious brand of literary analysis. While the great (frozen in time shooting star) Dale Bozzio once asked “what are words for – when no one listens anymore?” - a strong commitment to the arrangement of sentences in a coherent manner continues on here at DCW.
Sometimes the name of a band can provide a level of confusion that often undeservingly puts them on the backburner. Take Tashaki Miyaki for example (pronounced Tah-Shock-ee Mee-Yock-ee). Sounding like a singular Japanese solo artist, the images of a willowy red haired woman as their out-front focal point and dreamy sounding vocal music never quite seemed to match up. The periodic promotional reminders (mostly via email) over the years – with the latest coming this past month – finally put an end to all of this procrastinating. Simply put, attention to this band that makes the most wonderfully dreamy, melancholy music is long overdue.
Along with her fellow musicians, the band concept derives from the singularly consistent vison of frontwoman Paige Stark. While initially mistaking Ms Stark for simply the voice and image of this “Japanese band,” further investigation shows her to be the sole visionary for clearly defined image (she directs all the videos) sound, lyrics and mood. Credit must be given to guitarist Luke Paquin – who's dreampop style is integral to the bands sound. Current bassist Sandi Denton (there appear to have been at least a few over time) is more than competent, also providing backing vocals and dark haired attractiveness as well.
In advance of their upcoming sophomore album “Castaway” out on July 2, they've released a video for one of the track's “I Feel Fine.” Much like the album cover itself, the video for this song emphasizes the more muted colors of living. While the record cover shows a cloudy sky Los Angeles (where the band is based) with Paige tiny and dwarfed next to a large structure from decades ago, the video goes even darker. Described as an homage to her favorite vampire films, it's actually the first time the band has appeared in one of their videos. Opening with a simple drumbeat (Paige is the band's drummer – which in general goes against the grain of what a “frontperson” usually is) two women (Paige and Sandi) are sleeping on a couch in a candlelit room (all black and white imagery) with a snare drum by Paige's head (an amusingly clever touch).
As the impeccably disheveled stylish women slowly rise to the sound of twangy guitar wash, they both appear to be enjoying a wake-up popsicle as wall photos reveal images of Tom Waits, Patti Smith and Marilyn Monroe (among others). “Sitting all alone in my bedroom, wishing that I had more headroom” is how the opening lyrics go – processed with a uniquely appealing sheen. As the women put on their sunglasses at night – and looking so vintage in their clothes – they head out onto a night streetscape of subdued tone and occupancy. Paige revealed she imagined the vampires died in the 1950s and they’re still wearing the clothes of their time. The additional element of a romantic couple out on a date is added, providing the “prey” in this cinematic noir depiction.
When the romantic couple's female reveals herself to be a vampire as well, the neck gnawing commences with Paige and Sandi rolling up on the scene just in time to join it. It's both sensual and vicious at the same time, while little details like the kid on the bike from previous scenes appearing in background as an out-of-focus apparition. Before things get too grisly, they all appear back at the homebase together (with an adorable dog slinking through), satiated, asleep (again) with blood stained mouths.
With emphasis on the visual aspects of this production fully explored, the actual song should not be overlooked. It moves at a relaxed, measured pace – all country-western twang and drawl – initially popularized (to this listener) by Margo Timmins and her Canadian siblings band Cowboy Junkies with the breakthrough late '80's hit cover of Lou Reed's “Sweet Jane” - along with some Mazzy Star vibe as well. The lyrics (and vocal delivery) resonate on a thoroughly relatable emotional level. “I can't keep up with all the bad news, it's hard for me to just be me with you, anything I say or do is never right.” With the eventual question: “Is there anything left about us that you like?” “I love you but I can't stand you – after all the shit we've been through. Nothing for me left to do – but try.” “I think I am fine.” Of course that title and sentiment means anything but “fine.” But it's what you say when you are dissatisfied, but still willing to “try” and push through – to try and fix it.
Raising a child from birth to young adult has a profound influence on you in so many ways. One that took to all things anime (and art in general) from an early age provides a daily audio and visual reference point that otherwise may have been overlooked. Listening to the radio together in the car while shuffling back and forth to more serious tasks (like, say going to work) can provide mutually realized moments. Hearing a song by British indie pop band Kero Kero Bonito had both of us instantly captivated, declaring to each other “that sounds like anime show music.” While said offspring continued on their merry way back to (at present) “Steven Universe” (among many others) this writer needed to delve further into the sources behind the sound.
Began by multi-instrumentalists/producers Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled in London now a decade ago, the band is fronted by a near perfect for the sound (and image) vocalist Sarah Midori Perry – who affectionately goes by her stage name Sarah Bonito. Alternately singing in both her English accent and the Japanese language (both of her ethnic heritages) encapsulates a consummate approach to today's target audience encompassing alt pop, computer music, electro-pop with a touch of hip-hop and j-pop thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the guys should have gone “full Ramones” and used the Bonito tag as well. Either way, the band now has a sizeable collected works of recordings and a dedicated, adoring fanbase. Their latest EP “Civilisation II” was recently released with two of the three tracks already receiving a full video roll-out.
The EP's second track (and current release) is simply titled with a date from a year ago “21/04/20.” That track (like much of their music) is driven by an upbeat groove, while lyrically recounting a day-in-the-life, as it were. There's an almost “Our House” talking vibe to the tale as Sarah sings in her appealing childlike voice “Out of bed just after one” (nice – and here I thought sleeping to 11 was being “lazy”) “Down in time to catch the sun. All the bugs are at their business now the flowers are in bloom” (“bugs at their business” - how quaint) “We take a note of their perfume. Underneath the pale spectre of the moon.” An nice vintage sounding synth-sax riffs blows a few hooky notes (we know it's vintage since they literally tell us in the descriptive notes that the tracks are “all completely devised using vintage hardware” - so – take that modern computer equipment!)
As for the groove itself, it's bass-synth driven with those charming ticketty casio-drum sounds so popular in the late 80's (included on every beginner keyboard of that time period). The storytelling and rhythmic vocal cadence continues to mirror “Our House” somewhat – but far more pleasant periodic minor-key interludes than the aforementioned heavy-handed track – one which has not worn all that well over time (with it's constant repetition and frankly beaten-to-death airplay). “Last night's pasta in a tub, Out the fridge for lunch and breakfast, But as I sit down to eat I hear a song riding the breeze - "Happy birthday to Eloise" - Then mum and dad both let out a cheer, They're gonna throw a party another year.” That last line gives the first clue this is actually a dealing-with-the-pandemic-lockdown song.
The video is a wonderful animation that flows horizontally at a relaxed pace, with one panel showing musical notation in ¾ time as Sarah drops a 70's soul vocal phrasing on the line “then mum and dad both let out a cheer” - which is sweet on a number of levels. More hooky keyboard riffs ensue, adding pop lightness to this overall bittersweet melancholy vibe. The story goes on “As I head up the road, A private ambulance zooms off into the distance. In silence, All the shops are closed. With rainbows painted on the glass. Covering notes - That they hope to see us soon. But right now, There's not much they can do.” Hopefully these pandemic blues are coming to an end (there are certainly current rumblings to that effect). Simultaneous with those just quoted lyrics are a myriad of synchronized vocal cadence and instrumental accents, sharp turns and precise rhythmic pauses. That is to say there is A LOT of movement within this 3 minute “pop song.” (It's in quotes because clearly this is far more sophisticated music than so much of the mind-numbing simpleton pap one is forced to endure under the “pop” banner).
“Back at home I play the game, Rewatch repeats, And set a call up with a friend - A means towards an end, 'Til we can meet again. "Hey so how are you doing?" "I'm ok you know the usual kinda weird." It's all so poignant in the most casual conversational way. Speaking to the world and the crisis we all share(d) in our everyday lives. The story concludes, “I can't stifle my yawns - I make my bed up after I floss” - with one new audio element emerging as a percolating sound - “And tuck in tightly” (dramatic pause held here) - “For a new day.” The overall melancholy-to-hopeful sentiment is inspiring.
Check out this wonderful song and video here:
Connect with Kero Kero Bonito via their socials here, here and here.
To learn more about the band in a little over 4 minutes (and who doesn't have that small slice of time to spare) check out this humorous video recap that has the nerve to call itself the “Accurate History of Kero Kero Bonito.”
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Another trusted source consistently presenting exciting new artists is the Gothic/Industrial publicity agency New Dark Ages PR. More than a few from their roster have been featured here over the last couple of years, with the depth of their talent pool impressive and diverse. The latest now comes out of Chicago as "one-woman industrial army" I YA TOYAH enters the realm via her just released EP, Out Of Order and video for the single, "Pray."
That song and accompanying video is a technical tour-de-force combining pummeling industrial percussion, razor shred guitars, passionate vocals and quick-cut imagery that is equal parts glamorous and foreboding. Like much of new material coming out these days, it was written during the pandemic lockdown, combining desperation with hope for a revitalized future. Opening with a whispered plea “pray for me,” an array of buzzing synths, thundering percussion and slashing guitars introduce goth-glam images of the artist in a succession of visual appearances.
The chord progression is sophisticated and unpredictable, while ample room is left for ambient interludes of quieter intensity. As the vocals begin with lines “Somebody stop the world from shrinking,” another visual storyline is introduced, showing the artist “on the road” in a hotel room. An attractive audio element is how words are pronounced. Originally from Poland, the vocalist applies a stylized diction to words like “realm” (which become “ree-alll-ummm”). What's decidedly more clear is the depiction of someone wrestling with mental distress paired to lyrics “lost in the white noise of insanity.”
The chorus is big and hooky, with vocals carefully layered in just the right amount of harmonies and echoed lines. “All I’ve ever known - Is dying within. All that I’ve wanted - I watch disappear.
“Dreams turning against me” (with a delightful rising notes emphasis on the words “against me”). “One by one. So pray to your gods for me - Cause I got none.” It's dark and bleak with the sense of being forsaken, yet the audio aspects are somehow uplifting. Going deeper into the void on the following verse, the “need (for) more than just to survive” (only) leads to “confusion, toxicity” (and the specter of chemical crutches). As the mind is blinded, it hardly makes a difference if it “wonders” (or wanders) as either one can lead to it all falling apart.
The sparsely adorned bass pulse of The Knife's “Silent Shout” (currently in the midst of a 20th anniversary celebration) is referenced briefly. While the sheer power of her operatic singing prowess brings to mind those similar qualities in Amy Lee's Evanescense and the groundbreaking song “Bring Me To Life." Check out I Ya Toyah's wonderful song and video for "Pray" here:
Special kudos to the costume design team (which most-likely is her alone) for reviving Brian Eno's Roxy Music look from their early 1970's “For Your Pleasure” period.
Also be sure to check out This Great Introductory video with the artist, which reveals her eminently likeable qualities as an unassuming, sweet and sincere person.
Connect with and follow I Ya Toyah on all her socials:
In contrast to the slowly unfolding, floating quality on previously reviewed UN.REAL track “Lovely one/Islands,” current release “Sun Like Star” comes on as an uptempo affair. Anchored by songwriter/musicians Hector Caolo (bass), Eden Cruz (drums) and Gardy Perez-Ruiz (guitars), lyricist and vocalist Bernice Cruz completes this dreampop quartet. The track bursts out from the first note in full bloom, with slashing gaze guitars in lavish expanse across the sonic field. The bass and drums are thoroughly audible in the mix (as they should be) pointing to impressive production values and recording techniques. Capping it all off are Bernice's deep and resonant vocals, with opening lines “this is exactly how I feel right now” drawing the listener in. Her voice is pitched deeper this go round, moving away from Liz Frazer stylings and closer to Siouxsie Sioux (and in particular, the song “Shadowtime”).
The chorus goes down in a dreamier manner, with shaded voices supporting the title line (and sentiment) “you are – sun like star.” An immediate second verse leads into the all enveloping chorus once again, followed by a brilliant ambient interlude. At approximately 1:45 (of this 4:14 length song) the percussion drops out completely, leaving room for an emotive bass guitar note statement. The buzzing atmosphere deconstructs even further, washing out all structure (creating the sensation of gazing up into a night sky full of stars). This momentary drift into bliss is ultimately awoken once more with the band returning for a repeated run through the chorus hook. A final minute of pure instrumental and vocal euphoria lifts this gorgeous track to it's ultimate conclusion.
There is also a campaign now where the full 10 song ISLANDS album can be ordered on a limited run color vinyl edition. Check all that out here.
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One of the great advantages provided by our current “streaming” culture is the ability to go back and rewatch an entire catalog of shows from decades gone by. Whether watching for the first time (like millennials are now doing) or re-living what you loved about it the first time you saw it, everything is now at your fingertips and a click of a button. This writer, (also a film and quality tv series fan) is now deeply ensconced in (and thoroughly enjoying) the incredible 2006-2013, 8 season, 96 episodes (12 per season) run (once again) of Dexter. To say this show doesn't get nearly the credit and accolades it deserves is an understatement.
It has everything you could ever want. An “anti-hero” you completely root for even though he is doing “bad things.” The brilliance of this show is listening along with Dexter's mind (impeccably delivered by lead Michael C. Hall). His thoughts-only “replies” to people and situations are hilarious. There aren't that many “cop dramas” that consistently make you laugh out loud, but Dexter provides multiples in every episode. You want strong, good-looking, independent, but totally vulnerable and loveable female characters? This series is loaded with them. It's no secret that long-time crush Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter's sister Deb (that's Officer Morgan to you) holds a coveted place on the Mount Everest of crushes.
She's adorably foul-mouthed and hits all the marks of attractive “normal girl” (as opposed to her anything but “normal” brother Dexter) even if she does suffer from “overlooked child” syndrome. Actually, that only ADDS to her appeal. Then there is their father (played in memory clips only by the criminally underrated James Remar) who's “Harry's Code” informs every one of Dexter's moves. Anyone who hasn't seen the show or would simply like to enjoy it all over again is encouraged to do so. The fact that they are finally coming back with a brand new 10 episode 9th season this year is almost too good to be true.
Dave Cromwell has been writing about music since the dawn of the internet age. In addition to the steady flow of features here on this site, he has been a regular contributor to The Deli Magazine (both Print and Web) since 2010. With numerous Print Issue cover features and weekly contributions on the Deli website, scores of artists have received the Cromwell point of view. Along with ongoing contributions to this site and The Deli Magazine, Dave has written for Dingus, My Social List, The Waster and Soma website magazines.