Friday, February 17, 2023

Enveloping Scrutiny of New and Recently Released Music and Video

The relatively mild weather here in New York this current month of February has been a welcome respite. Presently spared from backbreaking snow shoveling and near sub zero temperatures allows more time for music listening and writing reviews. Back with brand new music is a long-time friend of this site and frankly at this point a UK Legend. Another returning collective has also released stunning new material in that most-beloved hazy-gazey genre. New to the site finds the recent work of an LA-based artist also receiving the now world-famous DCW detailed analysis.

Back in 2019 this site did an extensive historical recap and review of English recording artist Sophie Ellis Bextor on the release of her orchestral “greatest hits” album “The Song Diaries.” That album and this review both did well and all was sailing along smoothly. Sophie even managed to work in a trip to Japan in early 2020, before as she says “the world tilted.” Pinned down in our homes as we waited out this crisis, Sophie kept us entertained with her Friday “Kitchen Disco” internet shows. We were welcomed into her home for these half-hour concerts. Looking back from our perspective in 2023, those shows were a delightful silver lining, allowing a view into her home life and a temporary reprieve from not being able attend shows.

When things began to open up again, Sophie started taking her “Kitchen Disco” shows on the road, much to the delight of live entertainment starved concert goers. In that time she also published a self-penned autobiography and cook book with her husband Richard Jones (which also pivoted off the “Kitchen Disco” theme, as in “Recipes From”). In addition to renewed print and tv appearances, Sophie continued her successful ongoing “Spinning Plates” podcast series, as well as spots as a DJ on BBC Radio. Now there is news of her next full-studio album “Hana” being set for release at the beginning of June this year. With this being her 7th album of entirely new material, an advance single “Breaking The Circle” has just been released and receives a detailed review below.

Deep, low-tone strings introduce the track before a cymbal swirl leads into the piano-driven progression. Sophie's vocals commence right away with her asking “do you want to know what I think?” Well – yes – indeed we do. “Do you want to hear what's in my head?” follows as a lively drum pattern thumps along in tandem with those hammering piano chords. “It's too early to go to bed” she continues. “Do you want to hear a secret? I think there may be a day when the sun doesn't rise!” Oh, my. She's posted how “it’s a song all about those philosophical conversations you have at 3am when anything feels possible,” and that may have contributed to its creation. However, one feeling here (along with the universal meaning of “breaking a circle” - ending some kind of cycle) is a reference to the current fears of a full-on nuclear war, where “the sun doesn't rise” because it's been the end of us all.

However, the mood switches to a change progression where she states how “I can see a new horizon in your eyes.” That pivots into the big chorus “here we go into the light of the great unknown” ultimately “soaring up into the twilight zone” to the resolution of “breaking the circle.” Moving forward there is a “crashing through” an “edge of destiny” calling out to “come with me and we can chase what the end might be.” Resolving with “and when the morning comes – will everything feel the same?” Late night existential musings indeed. The hard-edged piano rhythm and matched percussion continue to established a driving musical propulsion.

Can you sit a little closer” she continues to ask. “There's a magic in the night time air,” with an uplifting rise in her vocals on that final word. Repeating the “night time air” again for good measure, the bridge-to-chorus cycles around once more, this time with an alternating background vocal line running parallel against. Additional vocal overlays include a celestial “here we go” and “come with me.” Other subtle sonic chances seem to have the hammered-piano motif morphing into a more synthetic keyboard sound.  Sophie adds further vocal lines like “don't want to live like days gone bye” and “it's time to rip it up and let it die.” A quick-stop, dramatic pause momentarily punctuates – before the final Big Chorus takes the track out to its conclusion – ending on a final question - “and when the morning comes, will everything feel the same?

Listen to this latest song here:

The upcoming album 'HANA' is out 2nd June 2023, and available to pre-order now.

Connect with Sophie Ellis-Bextor online:

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Another musical collective having a bit of history here in the DCW metaverse are the Sydney, Australia new school fuzzpop and lofi gazer 5 piece band Trillion. After prior reviews of their EP's and singles here on this site, the group has now released their debut full-length album “So Soon Now.” Having previously waxed on about their “modulating glazed and gazey guitars,” “impressionist murk,” “blissful reverie,” “buoyant bass,” “billowy guitars,” - not to mention the “warbling” and “shearing” (oh, and there must be “shearing”), a head-first dive into these new tracks follow below.

Opening (and title) track “So Soon Now” wastes no time getting off the ground as it kicks in full-throttle from the opening note. It's aggressive stomp emphasizes the bands trademark 3 guitar approach over the deeper low-end of bass and punchy drums. Male-female tandem vocals echo the Mbv/Slowdive/Blonde-Redhead fractured cadence in both diction and mix placement. There's a touch of “romantic” feel with the swooning chords that also touches on what Ringo Deathstarr does so well. Follow-up cut “Lo-Fi Days” progresses at a more measured pace, with a delightfully muted clarion-bell guitar stroke standing out as an every-4-beat delineator. As the chorus explodes with guitars and voices all crashing together in a singular sonic meld, its impressive how the drums stay clearly defined within that fray. A momentary pause at the 3 minute mark serves as buffer, before the push to conclusion (which includes an enchanting :25 second ambient guitar coda).

Third entry “Atomic Sunshine” makes inventive use of echo and delay on the opening drum beats. That is soon met by a wall of dream-gaze guitars as a snaking bassline provides counter-melody underneath. Strong tandem vocals with the females voice mixed slightly in front sing out lyrics that can actually be heard. Extended passages of softer, easier-going sentiment connect with more dynamic bursts. The album's first video single release “Cherry Blossom” is a hard-driving, forward charging affair that is self-described as “a song about the judgement that comes with living life to the fullest.” An instant affinity was felt with this track as it's title is the same name as one of our beloved cats. Although we initially named her “Sakura” it was quickly translated to Cherry Blossom (and then just Cherry), symbolizing the ephemeral nature of life.

Check out this amazing song and video here:

Fifth track “Kusanagi” (also Japanese mythology referencing a sword that represents the virtue of valor) features classic gazey pitch-bended, down-stroke guitars, double-time drumbeat and brightly stated vocals. Strategic open passages of only drums and a single guitar give reprieve as well as setting up the explosive guitars and alternate chord advancement that follow. The single title word chorus matches seamlessly with it's associated progression. “Falling Down” clocks in at a mere 2:09 making it the shortest entry on the album. The shapeless razor-burn guitar churn and submerged vocals elicits recall of something Brian Eno said when hearing a particular MBV track – calling it “the vaguest song he ever heard.” That description would apply to this cut as well. Recently released second video single “Take It Slow” brings back the bass and drums rhythm support, anchoring everything under scorching guitars and subtle melody lines. Vocals float in and out with a multi-layered chanting cadence, and chord structures following clearly defined patterns. There's a bit more emphasis on the lower-end sonic hue cycle, as guitars pitch downward in a more blended form with the bass.

Check out this metaphysical video here:

Close Your Eyes” comes on with that heart-tugging, gazey-haze that a band like the aforementioned Ringo Deathstarr frequently dabbles in. Vocals are appropriately submerged for maximum dreaminess, as those starry-eyed guitar chords churn away. Crafted melody lines emerge over the turbulent textures, exhibiting the power of a three guitar assault. “The Silent Sea” pivots off a backward-leaning guitar chord down-stroke before moving into four-on-the-floor structure. Pitch-bended off-kilter (or as they self-describe “offset”) guitars push the pace forward, while a singular unblended voice provide lyrics. A Sonic Youth-style breakdown emerges in an unexpected (but welcome) midpoint sequence. Final track “Sometimes it's Alright” is a symphonic tour-de-force of ambient experimentation. Beatless, shapeless and relying solely on texture, it is actually quite soothing in it's measured rise and equally gradual fadeout.

Check out this amazing album here:

Follow Trillion on all their Socials:

A Previous Feature Review of Trillion (which includes links to all the others on this site) can be found Here.

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The circular way an album or artist finds their way toward a review here on this site is a curious and fascinating one. In the case of accomplished recording musician Julian Shah-Tayler, the most-likely spotting of a recent Night Crickets write-up inspired contact regarding their own recent work. As it turns out, Julian has been making music in one form or another (both in bands and solo) for a substantial amount of time now. In fact, he's written over 300 songs, which is impressive by any measure. A full-length album of original songs titled “Elysium” was released a few months ago, which now receives a deep-dive review below.

Taking note of the vintage glamour cover image photo tribute (slyly recreating Roxy Music's 1973For Your Pleasure” which featured model Amanda Lear), we're already off to a great start. Opening cut “End Of The Line” combines electronics with funk-style bass guitar and deep-vocal stylings, immediately delivering on the Bowie/Prince hybrid influence promised in the liner notes. Catchy keyboard hooks after each chorus line and in-between verses serve up pleasing synth textures. A Robert Fripp-esque guitar solo and deconstructing end-out emphasize its unexpected conclusion.  Second track “The Devil Knows” boasts the musical assistance from famous and accomplished friends in the guise of David J on bass and Mark Gemini Thwaite (henceforth referred to as MGT) on guitars. Having written about the famous David's latest output with new band Night Crickets just last month, it was 3 years ago when coverage of MGT's guitar mastery in Peter Murphy's live band first appeared here on this site. Both musicians add cachet to this intimate (yet danceable) lyrically driven song.

Romance and sensuality are the driving forces on the dreamy lovesong “Melt.” With vocalizing morphing between the aforementioned deeper-toned Peter Murphy and David Bowie's mid-range tenor, impressive lines like “I have to make you love me tonight” (as opposed to the more de rigueur “I have to make love to you”) stand out.  “Secret” pulls together throbbing synth-bass, chunky soul rhythm guitar and hand-clap percussion on verses displaying a free spirit. The chorus is lively and upbeat, with horns behind extended words for singalong emphasis. A tasty, wirey guitar solo adds a dose of rock and roll to this pop confection.  “Evolution” comes on full electronica with it's bright synth melody line and pulsating machine-driven rhythms. While still maintaining rhythmic continuity, the chorus moves into a smoother aural state, utilizing multiple-voiced harmonies for dreamy effect. Irregular guitar textures emerge as the song progresses, adding counterpoint to the dominant synth-melody line.

Opening with the howl of a wolf, “Lupine” builds around plucking bass notes and repeated audio sample. Morphing into a chugging guitar-bass+drums rocker, an analogy of human desire as an animal hunger is fully explored through the lyrics.  “All Good Soldiers” continues that simpler guitar-bass-drums blueprint further by stripping it down to the basics. Vocals are delivered with an uncanny similarity to Bowie in both tone and phrasing. A substantial instrumental section allows for buzzing guitar forays, leading into a gentle bass guitar and softer percussive accompaniment.  “Head Up High” benefits from a solid drum track and richly textured keys (via Sam West and Nathan van Hala, respectively) along with its beautiful melody and finely crafted lyrics. One of the best produced tracks on the album, the positive message presented makes it an instant favorite.

Kintsugi” featured another guest drummer, as Chris J Olivas (Berlin) lays down a raucous pattern underneath new wave guitars. Lyrical references to Japanese precious metals repair techniques serve as a metaphor for the emotional turmoil of the heart. “Earthquakes” combines ambient synths, a bold, rubbery, bouncing bass-line and heartfelt vocals that encapsulate the best 80's new wave singers. In this instance, Cy Curnin of The Fixx comes to mind. Additional lyrical points are given for working the thematic imagery of “shifting tectonic plates” in as an allegory for (once again) emotional devotion.  “Bet Your Life” is an acoustic guitar driven composition that layers in elements of buzzing ambience, busily descending bass-lines and metallic percussion. It's extended coda rewards the listener with an enveloping instrumental dreamscape.  Resolving all the themes laid out in the previous songs is final cut “Darkling U.” Syncopated electronic keyboards and percussion are met with an angular bass pattern, creating an otherworldly, futurist dance track. Elements of industrial emerge in the harsher tones and aggressive forward pace. While the songtitle reapportions something the aforementioned Prince would do (change “darling” to “darkling”), it feels more Nine Inch Nails in the synths and execution. Kudos once again to Nathan van Hala for the clarity of mix and to all involved in its brilliant production overall.

Check out this eclectic album here:

Connect with Julian Shah-Tayler/The Singularity via his Social Media here.

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