There’s something about 6/8 time that can really amplify emotion in music. Sarah Barrios exploits the time signature and the passion it nurtures in her new single, aptly titled “Emotional.” The pop/indie/blues singer-songwriter has found great success in her musical career so far, including being a finalist in the Guitar Center’s National Singer Songwriter Competition. She has also won various musical awards, but she maintains that her music’s main purpose is to foster connections with her fans.
Her single, “Emotional”, is about the inner frustration that comes from being too sentimental, too emotional. This feeling manifests itself in the song in two ways. First, as the song begins, Barrios sings on top of soothing guitar and nothing else except hints of other instruments. This creates a wistful atmosphere, quiet and thoughtful. The song builds, however, and by the time it reaches the second verse it becomes stronger. Three pounds of a beat mark the first bar, and while they are subdued and fit the relaxed vibe of the song, they evoke– just for a moment– the image of someone pounding their fist on a surface in frustration. Barrios’ voice embodies the essence of “pop,” singing her varied vocal lines with an expert fluidity. For instance, “why am I so damn emotional” is a lovely, lilting melodic line. “Emotional” is a pop treasure that bonds with Barrios’ fans and first-time listeners alike. It’s now available to stream, as is her newly released EP Letters I Never Sent.
The English post-punk legend Gang of Four’s new EP Anti Hero dropped today. The EP is a celebration of the life of band member Andy Gill who passed away in February. Gill’s widow Catherine Mayer joined together with the band to memorialize Andy through music and to fundraise for Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital– the hospital that worked tirelessly to try and save his life. All net receipts received by the band from sales and streams of the forthcoming EP and associated singles will be donated to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust so that they can continue their valuable work. Anti Hero features two new tracks and new versions of old songs that were completed at the time of Andy’s death. “Change the Locks” and “Glass” were written before we were really in the throes of quarantine, but resonate with it nonetheless. “[Andy’s] ability to write songs that remain relevant was unparalleled,” says singer John Sterry. Bassist Thomas McNeice worked with Andy’s longtime friend and collaborator Santi Arribas to produce and mix the EP. McNeice says “I like to think that this EP exhibits a progression in Gang of Four, while paying tribute to a unique talent that I was extraordinarily lucky to work with.”
The title Anti Hero comes from the first single off the EP, “Forever Starts Now.” Written by Gill and Sterry, its original working title was “Hero,” referring to the lyrics which describe “a character who sees himself as the hero of his own life and manipulates his partner into supporting this fantasy,” according to Sterry. Andy was always wary of narratives surrounding supposedly great men, hence the word “anti” in the title. You can hear the aggression and conviction of the character in “Forever Starts Now”, especially in the bass. There are two bass parts, one electronic, one physical, and both attack each note with the ferocity of a deluded man. The rest of the music is made up of these short, fragmented motives in several different voices that give the track an unsettled quality, which also plays into the instability of the character. All these fragments create a really full sound, however, using mostly physical instruments but also some hints of electronica. It’s disjunct and edgy, yet incredibly easy to jam along to.
This unsteadiness is also mirrored in the second single, “Day Turns To Night”, but rather than being fueled by delusion, it’s fueled by the inner turmoil that one experiences after a loss. Sterry wrote the song only days after Andy’s death, and while he didn’t intend the song to be about him, it evolved into a tribute anyway. The track is made up of chaotic electronic sounds interspersed within a foggy musical atmosphere. Touches of angelic, but ghostly harmonies peek through every once in a while. This amalgamation of sounds are overwhelming, like a sensory overload, reflecting how grief can feel. However, the lyrics are clear. They are a plaintive but touching message to Andy with lines like “Is it too late to say thank you?” and “You forever changed my fate.” In some sense, it’s as though the mayhem in the music is giving you an out– something to focus on. Because if you pay attention to the lyrics, the emotions are piercing.
To complete the EP, the two reworked tracks “Change The Locks” and “Glass” update the sound to fit the vibe of the EP. “Glass” retains some of the 80’s energy from the original 1979 version, such as the DEVO-esque vocals, but it feels edgier with the pounding beat of the drums and guitar. The repetitive guitar licks and lyrics bring back the unstable sound of the first two tracks– as though the whole song is twitching. It’s short and restless, ending abruptly.
The original version of “Change The Locks” is much more recent than that of “Glass”, appearing on their 2019 album Happy Now, and consequently sounds more modern with lots of electronic elements and a pop-punk character. The Anti Hero version leans more towards alternative rock, with less bouncy electronic sounds and more distorted guitars that sound almost like buzzing. Funk comes into play in the bassline which maintains a steady groove throughout the track. The bridge adds a deep uniqueness that makes “Change The Locks” the standout track on the EP. It begins with simple, static drums, guitar, and bass. As Sterry sings “bang bang on the drums,” the drum beats ring out like shockwaves. It then dissolves into an old-timey sounding piano part before the chorus comes back, sounding familiar but also different after the mood shift that just occurred in the bridge.
Anti Hero is a wonderful celebration of a valuable band member. It honors him, not in a lachrymose way, but in a way that connects with who he was as a person and musician. The skilled musicians create music that has ties to the 80s post-punk roots of the band that Gills co-founded back in 1976, and highlights songs that Andy wrote, but also songs that capture the impact he had on those around him.
Toronto-based R&B dancehall artist Lexxicon will soon be releasing a single and video from his upcoming EP Tropical R&B, called “I Don’t Deserve You.” Lexxicon is known for fusing his Jamaican roots with pop and world music genres. For this single, the producer, singer, and songwriter used this fusion to create an ultramodern ambiance that combines the genres of dancehall and electro-R&B. The track hones in on the feelings of desolation and detachment that loom over us during quarantine. Lexxicon found solace in the moodiness of R&B and decided to use it to express his feelings during the lockdown when he wrote Tropical R&B. As he reminisced about better days in the past, he developed “I Don’t Deserve You” to be about finding someone who you can brave the world with. The song is bittersweet, however, because although it expresses a deep love, a feeling of unworthiness is also present. “Sometimes when you finally get the love you deserve you don’t know how to accept it and you feel unworthy,” says Lexxicon.
A somber tone engulfs the music video. It alternates between several different scenes, but Lexxicon is alone in each one. His melancholic vocals gently sound in places like a vacant street or empty home. The loneliness in these settings is augmented by the somewhat sparse texture of the music. Some scenes are under a cover of darkness, others are a room with a soft red light. Even Lexxicon’s facial expressions are solemn, his eyes staring into the camera with a look of poignant longing. There is also a subtle tension within both the music and video. Flickers of overlaid patterns, colours, and scenes put you slightly on edge, and the buoyant beat and melodic ornaments clash against another, gloomier countermelody. On top of the rich scene-setting provided by the visuals and music, Lexxicon’s lyrics are compelling and all-embracing.
To listen to “I Don’t Deserve You” is to feel understood in these trying times. Stream it and watch the video when they are released this Friday, July 17th.
The illustrious TaylaParx is gracing the world once again with a video for her recent single “Dance Alone.” Parx has an extensive collection of achievements under her belt: Grammy nominations for her work on Ariana Grande’s hits “thank u, next,” “7 Rings” and “My Everything”, Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, Christina Aguilera’s “Like I Do” featuring GoldLink, The Internet’s “Ego Death” and Hairspray; guest performances on Lizzo and Anderson .Paak’s tours, and the establishment of a songwriting camp called “Burnout.” She was born in Dallas where she trained with the legendary choreographer Debbie Allen. After sharpening her skills in LA, Parx released her mixtape TaylaMade in 2017, which now has over 25 million streams. By the time she released her debut album We Need To Talk in 2019, she had already become the first female songwriter to have three simultaneous top 10 songs in the Billboard Hot 100 since 2014: “7 Sings”, “thank u, next”, and Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes.” We Need To Talk itself was lauded by critics from The New York Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, and more. The album held characteristics that we also hear in “Dance Alone”: playfulness, a conversational tone, the blend of pop, R&B, and traces of rap, and high notes not unlike those of Grande herself. Parx is a creative powerhouse, already gearing up to release her new album Coping Mechanisms later this year.
The video for “Dance Alone” ties in with the concept of coping mechanisms as well. To cope with quarantine and social isolation, Parx offers a breezy video of her dancing at home in her pajamas. She says “We need human connection, but at least when you’re home dancing in your pajamas while blasting your favorite song, you feel a little less alone.” The video is captivating, drawing you in with an adorable dog shot at the beginning, then keeping your attention as you watch Parx move through her home in elegant pajamas, bathed in dreamlike purple and blue light. Her smooth and carefree moves put a smile on your face. The music is made up of funky bass, guitar, and drums and provides an infectious groove for her to dance to. But instead of the music being simply a foundation for her to maneuver upon, the two feel more like distinct equals, like they are keeping each other company. Parx’s vocals are spectacular as well. She attacks her high notes precisely and deftly, with no need to prepare. They are like little gems that give the track an extra sense of enchantment.
“Dance Alone” is sure to have you dancing the quarantine blues away in no time. Get your dose of sunshine here.
JennyMarch, a Los Angeles based rising singer/songwriter, has released her first single off her forthcoming EP: “November Nights.” This moody track and accompanying music video are inspired by a past relationship, one that maybe wasn’t very healthy but the longing for love and validation made it addicting nonetheless. “November Nights” has March’s signature personal and electrifying sound that empowers girls to have fun. Whether that means going out and partying or anything else that they enjoy, March’s music encourages them to go for it, regardless of what other people think.
The music video is a picture of glamour. March’s several stylish outfits, her dazzling “BABE” choker, and the flashing lights and nighttime setting all point to the partying atmosphere that she unapologetically enjoys. But the inky night that pervades through every shot also reveals some darker undertones, reminding us of the compulsive relationship which “November Nights” was inspired by. From a musical perspective, this song is minimalistic pop that exudes feminine power. There is only an inkling of background music, but this music lays the groundwork for March’s voice and lyrics to really shine. Her lyrics affirm her self-proclaimed reputation as an “open-book” artist, dealing with this deep topic in an approachable way, writing lyrics as though she’s texting.
Watch the video for “November Nights” here, and be sure to check out March’s non-musical endeavors as well! In her weekly Instagram live show “Wednesday Sessions,” March brings in an artist to perform and engage with. She will also be a social ambassador for Rihanna’s SAVAGExFENTY line, giving her an opportunity to combine her love of music with her obviously stellar fashion sense that we see in the “November Nights” music video. She certainly is on the rise, and you’ll want to catch her on her way up.
Cincinnati, 2003. “Heartless Bastards” was incorrectly answered when a multiple-choice trivia game question asked, “What is the name of Tom Petty’s backing band?” From this amusing origin Erika Wennerstrom’s band “Heartless Bastards” was born. It began as a recording project but eventually evolved into a live band backed by a revolving collection of musicians. After playing regularly in the Midwest, Heartless Bastards got into the game when Patrick Carney of the Black Keys was taken with the band and passed on their demo to his label at the time, Fat Possum Records. By 2009 David Colvin, Jesse Ebaugh, and Mark Nathan had joined on drums, bass, and guitar to complete the group. Between 2009 and 2015 the 4-piece recorded several critically acclaimed albums, but for the last 5 years, fans have been craving something new. Well, some good news: the wait is finally over! Heartless Bastards are back in the studio to record an album featuring the same tried and true musicality that their fans have come to know and love: Wennerstrom’s paradoxical vocals that simultaneously exist in the planes of sweetness and intimacy but also grit and depth, and the band’s smoky blues sound.
Wennerstroms describes “Revolution” as a lesson in self-love and how it’s the key to a more tolerant society. She believes that humanity needs to learn how to be satisfied with less and to stop needing to feel like they’re better than others in order to validate themselves. For her, “Revolution” is both a mantra and a reminder for herself to avoid playing the commercialism-driven game and to focus on connecting and helping people rather than “beating” them at this game. She states “Dave Chapelle said at a show years ago “Poverty is a state of mind.” That really stuck with me. I was in the Amazon several years ago, and it struck me how little people had materially, and children were running around and they all seemed so happy. Aside from the basic necessities of sustaining our lives I think giving and receiving love is really what we need the most. All the rest is just a bunch of noise.”
“Revolution”, however, is anything but noise. It begins with a soft acoustic guitar that rivals the passionate title. Then it builds steadily, layering heavy guitar and marching band-like drums under Wennerstrom’s unique vocals that remind one of Colin Meloy (The Decemberists). It continues on like this until it revolts into this classic blues-rock song decorated with short guitar licks. The chorus’ recurrent phrase “the Revolution is in your mind” recalls the quote from Chapelle, “Poverty is a state of mind,” perhaps nodding to its sentiment. This is a song that is immediately gratifying on the first listen, but if you dig a little deeper there’s a whole lot of insight to be found.
The track is out on Bandcamp, and a portion of the proceeds will be going to the ACLU in support of civil rights. Listen here!
Here to write anthems for future generations, multi-instrumentalist Michael Desmond inspires the people of the world to march to the beat of their own drum with his forthcoming EP LocalNomad. The EP is part of Desmond’s project, also called LocalNomad. He gives insight into the dichotomous name by saying “LocalNomad is the resistance of sedentary life. It’s about seeking the strange and embracing the unknown. Wondering. Wandering. Young and Old. Everywhere and Nowhere.” Desmond plays every instrument on the EP excluding drums. He draws from a variety of sources including Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello, and Phil Collins to produce a fusion of indie-pop and alt-rock with soulful vocals, heavenly synths, and lustrous drum beats. Originally from Long Island, NY, Desmond began his career as the frontman of the orchestral indie rock band Gabriel the Marine. The band found success and performed with bands like Taking Back Sunday, Glassjaw, Mew, Jacks Mannequin, and The Dear Hunter. However, after going through a period of rapid change in which he graduated from college, ended a long term relationship, and watched a family member tragically pass away, Desmond’s mind was racing a mile a minute. The only way he could slow things down was to write, and thus LocalNomad was born as a snapshot of life during this unstable time.
While LocalNomad is worth listening to for Desmond’s expert and fascinating use of instruments to create an array of idiosyncrasies within each track, there are also captivating overarching qualities that will intrigue even those who might want to listen passively.
The anger-fueled opening bop “Love is Gone” and rueful “Young Vampires” are “explosion” songs. “Love is Gone” keeps things chill with an alluringly groovy bassline in the verses, before erupting into sound in the chorus. It’s vocal line is compelling and surprising, you find yourself listening intensely to see what will come next. “Young Vampires” is about a toxic relationship, turning each other into vampires– monsters. It displays wistful guitar in the verses but also has a sonic explosion in the chorus.
“Gates” and “Getting Old is a Bitch” are more self-contained, but each have a quiet, yet powerful energy. The contagious beat in the chorus of “Gates” leaves you no choice but to jam along. All of the instrument parts in “Getting Old is a Bitch” are pertinent to the feeling of getting old. It also has a dominant bass beat and riff that hits you hard, much like growing up does. The “do-do-do”’s in the background almost sound like they’re taunting each of the melancholic main lines. Turmoil and instability in the distorted guitar solo reflects how it feels as the world seems to be moving on without you.
Finally, we have those songs that “clash,” although their conflicting elements end up working to their advantage. “Gates” elevates the sound to a celestial sphere with ethereal synths, but at the same time, the hearty guitar brings things back down, adding a wholesome, down-to-earth quality. A great guitar riff comes in towards the end, but it has that heavy rock sound to it, providing a deep contrast with the synth. The clash in “Summertime”, on the other hand, comes from the happy-go-lucky synth harmonies set against the wistfulness of days gone by in the lyrics. It’s about young adults trying to keep up with life and thinking back on the naivety of their youth. With the beat, sunny harmonies, and fluttering synths, you find yourself thrown back into a summer from years ago, tinged with nostalgia and regret. These tracks are dichotomies, much like the name LocalNomad itself, and the crunch between their conflicting qualities make them ever-so satisfying to listen to.
There’s a lot of potential in LocalNomad to discover more unique elements in the tracks, but no matter what you’re guaranteed to hear some anthems with great beats, full, well-rounded choruses, and colourful instrumentation. The EP will be released on July 10, 2020, but some of the singles are available to stream now!
Toronto-based producer, songwriter, and singer Kennen first wrote “CityLights” at 16, but recently decided to use his production talents to really bring the song to life. It depicts an idealistic romance– the picture-perfect relationship that eludes him even now. Thick textured, soft-edged samples create this sense of complete ease under citylights and the night sky. The young artist shares that as someone who feels like he’s missing out on those “main-character moments” you see in coming-of-age films, that “CityLights” is a chance for himself and his listeners to immerse themselves in a life of young and carefree moments, if only for 3 minutes. One thing that caught my ear is that the music, even Kennen’s voice, sounds somewhat removed, creating the dreaminess of an imagined scenario. Aside from the imagery and mood, there are several features in the track to listen for, one being the stop and go music around the chorus, creating a beat in the silences. It gives the effect of a Tokyo street, at peace in the nighttime, and basking in the soft glow of the stars.
Don’t miss out on this charming piece of musical cinema, and listen to “CityLights” on your preferred platform.
Dive into the raw innermost thoughts of Michael McArthur with his profoundly personal EP Oh, Sedona. Over a decade ago McArthur gave up his stake in the bistro he owned with his brother and left to pursue music. His career launched swiftly, but as he was playing cross-country tours, alone or with an ensemble as large as the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, he grew closer to losing himself, and farther away from his wife. After 8 active years he brought things to a halt to rebuild his marriage and himself. Incidentally, he sparked one of his most creative bouts thus far. The result was his acclaimed 2019 album Ever Green, Ever Rain, which was the first release on his own label, Dark River Records.
On Oh, Sedona and his other EP that is still to come, How to Fall in Love, McArthur offers some acoustic renditions of songs from Ever Green, Ever Rain such as “We Live & We Die”, and “Wild in the Blood”, but keeps things fresh with new tracks as well. A man who has always used songwriting as a form of therapy, McArthur’s music is a lifeline that he is tossing out into the world for anyone who might need a hand, especially in a time when the physical connection of a live concert isn’t possible. That being said, he also wanted the recordings to imitate how songs take shape in a live setting: “Performed in the way that I wrote them, there’s something about the uncovering of a song that invites you to reach down a little deeper. To listen with both ears. To be at ease.” The introspective artist says that the integrity of the songs depends on them being revealed in their most fundamental form. The title track, “Oh Sedona”, is written in remembrance of his recently departed grandmother and her influence on his life, whose funeral has unfortunately been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. The song puts this immeasurably mournful experience into a different light. McArthur says “You can’t know the importance of a funeral, of that collective remembering, the final farewell, until you’ve attended one, or until you’re unable to.” It’s this kind of heavy emotion that unifies the EP, and invites the listener to dig deep.
While emotion is the glue that holds Oh, Sedona together, McArthur’s voice is undoubtedly the crowning feature. It is in many ways the quintessential American folk voice, tinged with vibrato, earthy and absolutely gorgeous. Honestly, I could go on and on about it. “Oh, Sedona” first showcases the powerful conviction that is ubiquitous in the vocals of all of the tracks. The ends of his falsetto lines in “We Live & We Die”, “Wild in the Blood”, and “Elaine” diffuse into the silences, like a breath of relief. “We Live & We Die” as well as “Elaine” also highlight his lower, more robust voice which is equally potent.
Despite being closely intertwined, each of the four original tracks have something unique to offer. The idea of not being able to say goodbye in “Oh, Sedona” gives it a heartbreaking intimacy that intensifies in the middle of the song before coming back down to rest, quietly melancholic. The entire tune is so down to earth, from the unplugged sound to the harmonica to the open-hearted subject. “We Live & We Die” begins with some intriguing rubato guitar picking and yearning suspended chords that build the tension until the pain consumes McArthur at the end, sending shivers down your spine. “Wild in the Blood” sneaks up on you. It has this sweeping sadness that you don’t notice is building up until it overtakes you. “Elaine” features touching lyrics whose intimacy and tenderness is deepened by the name in the title.
The cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” deserves its own consideration. Piano, drums, synth strings, and various other instruments create the grand slow-jam feel of the 8 minute long original tune. It features a guitar solo, soulful harmonies, and Prince’s unmatched voice. McArthur completely strips it down, cutting out 4 minutes and trading in all the instruments for acoustic guitar. It’s completely his own take. The soul is still there, but instead of McArthur trying to simulate Prince’s soul, it’s McArthur using the original song’s words and melodies to bare his own soul. He exchanges the epic slow-jam feel for his token sincere and intimate sound, allowing the cover to adopt the same tone as the rest of the EP.
Oh, Sedona is a raw, genuine expression of poignancy, and worth feeling vulnerable for. It’s available on all major streaming services, as will How to Fall in Love on August 14th, 2020.