holy hive, float back to you

holy hive, float back to you

Brooklyn based trio Holy Hive pairs transient harmonies and Paul Spring’s exceptional falsetto with poetic lyrics in their tranquil debut album Float Back To You. Following their acclaimed EP Harping and successful live shows, Holy Hive combines Spring’s folk guitar playing, Homer Steinweiss’ precise drums and Joe Harrison’s grounding bass to create their soulful, vintage sound. The album also features several guest musicians, including Mary Lattimore on the harp, Leon Michels on saxophone and keys, Shannon Wise on backing vocals, Dave Guy on trumpet, Nick Movshon on bass, and Spring’s wife Sophia Heymans on the piano. Each of these talented musicians brings something unique to the table, pushing Float Back To You passed the boundary of a simple folk or soul album.

While generally, the album is laden with dreamy harmonies and jazzy drums and bass, each of the songs also brings their own individual flair. “Broom”, “Hypnosis”, “Blue Light”, and “Float Back To You” each use the dreamy sound to their advantage. “Broom” parlays the hazy harmonies into a smooth brass interlude. “Hypnosis” uses them along with harp and electric piano to create a mesmerizing sound. “Blue Light” sounds like lounge music and has a pensive, wistful mood to it. The harmonies in the title track “Float Back To You” serve to augment the potent feeling of longing within it. These tunes all feel suspended in the air, but each in subtly different ways.

Other songs on Float Back To You take on a more unique persona and use surprising harmonies to pique your interest. “Oh I Miss Her So” is undoubtedly a standout track. Its whimsical use of harp sounds like something out of a fairy tale, and the unexpected harmonic changes are enchanting. The beginning of the song floats into the sky, but then the drums bring it back down to earth and drive a gentle groove. “Red Is The Rose”, on the other hand, is more mysterious, and carries with it undertones of sadness. It is a reimagining of an Irish folk tune, and the mystical music really plays into that folklore element. “Embers to Ash” also has a darker, almost spooky tone to it created by the electric organ and phantom-like keys. The concluding track on the album, “Sophia’s Part”, begins with discordant piano notes, yet the clash isn’t unpleasant. In fact, as the motive repeats it slowly becomes pleasingly crunchy. All of the instruments in this song seem to be completely in their own world, yet somehow the song remains cohesive and satisfying.

Paralleling one another both in title and in sound, “Be Thou By My Side” and “You Will Always Be By My Side Forever” are two love songs that feel more like classic folk. “Be Thou By My Side” features some beautiful guitar picking and is simple, tender, and infused with love. “You Will Always Be By My Side Forever” has more going on, but still has a folk quality to it. While its music is somewhat sparse, it gets the message across, and the sax and jazz organ outro prolong the easy vibe of this track to ease you into the final song.

Finally, we have the individuals of the album. The bass, drums, and piano at the beginning of “Didn’t You Say” have the most obvious jazz/funk sound to them, and the harmonies in the chorus are delicately soulful. This track shares a lot of the same characteristics as the others (falsetto, touches of brass, jazz undertones), but it also feels as though it could easily stand on its own. It finishes with a fleeting piano outro that transitions into “Embers To Ash.” “Cynthia’s Celebration” is an instrumental interlude. This is an unexpected inclusion but at the same time it makes total sense considering the abundance of skilled musicians at the band’s disposal. In it, blurred sounds from the bass, harp, and electric keys are set against the crisp drums and piano, making for a relaxed but engaging sound.

Float Back To You has a lot to offer. It uses several elements to produce twelve songs that calm your mind but excite your heart. The album is available digitally, on CD and on vinyl, so you can listen to it however you please. You can also watch the music videos for “Broom”, “Be Thou By My Side”, and “Float Back To You.”

emanuel, session 1: disillusion

emanuel, session 1: disillusion

R&B artist Emanuel released his debut EP Session 1: Disillusion, the first installment for his debut album ALT THERAPY. The four-track EP is full of melodies that will have you falling in love with the Ontario singer. With a voice that resembles John Legend, but with his own unique sound, Emanuel crafted a beautiful and immersive introduction to the music world.  Emanuel released the EP on June 19, Juneteenth, and introduced it by saying:

“Debuting to the world on Juneteenth, a symbolic day in the celebration of freedom and emancipation for all enslaved Blacks in America … immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of love, hope, and healing as the world shifts right before our very eyes.”

“Need You”, the first track on the EP, is all about falling in love with someone and wanting it to be different. The first verse deals with exactly that, with Emanuel even saying he fell in love like a song on the radio, but wanting it to be different than past relationships. This powerful ballad is Emanuel expressing his need for this pure love. It is the perfect introduction to how honest he is on this record.

“Thought It’d Be Easy”, is Emanuel’s most honest and vulnerable track. He goes deep inside his heart and comes to the realization that he is not over a past relationship. Being with another girl does not stop him from thinking about this girl, something that many people can resonate with. Listen carefully to the lyrics and hear the pain in his voice, because he carefully lies his heart out on the line here.

“Addiction” has you floating in and out of a high. With Emanuel’s vocals layered on top of a head-bopping beat, the track is all about getting high and wanting to stay in that feeling. Even though he knows it might not be right, he embraces the nights like these. The lyrics, “I get a funny feelin’ when the plane goes down / It’s the same feelin’ when the drugs run out / I’m so high, I don’t wanna come down / The buildings and the people look like ants right now” give a chill vibe, similar to the sounds of Frank Ocean. This song has the potential to rise up the charts and become the next addition to your jam playlist.

The EP ends with a remix of “Need You”, wrapping up the EP perfectly by adding a little extra to the track. It is fun to listen to, spicing up the original version without going overboard. Deeper beats and more instrumental gives the song a new life and speeds it up. Including the remix along with the original shows he isn’t afraid to switch things up in his music.

Session 1: Disillusion is the strong first collection of music Emanuel needed to showcase his talents. Dealing with self-reflection, drugs, sex and relationships seems to be his forte, and it is working out in his favor. With Idris Elba as the Executive Producer, as well as curating the video for “Need You”, and Gary Noble mixing the record, the R&B singer has already surrounded himself with big names in the industry. After listening to the tracks, I think you will find yourself listening on repeat until the next collection is released.

Enjoy Session 1: Disillusion now.

john legend, bigger love

john legend, bigger love

John Legend released his much-anticipated album Bigger Love on Friday. Inspired by his wife, and family, the album explores themes of love, sensuality, and intimacy, but also draws from the extensive tradition of black music that has influenced Legend as an artist. Among the anxiety induced by the pandemic, and the outraged and mourning protesters flooding the streets, Legend explains how he intends for this album to fit: “During these painful times, some of us may wonder if it’s ok to laugh or dance or be romantic… but it’s important for us to continue to show the world the fullness of what it is to be black and human. Through our art, we are able to do that. This album is a celebration of love, joy, sensuality, hope, and resilience, the things that make our culture so beautiful and influential.” In a nod to his debut album Get Lifted, Legend offers Bigger Love as an uplifting, heartfelt work that inspires you to love, dance, and be happy.

Listening to this album, the overarching quality that comes to mind is soul. Bigger Love is soulful in its music, Legend’s voice and the surrounding harmonies, and even its message. The use of “big” in the title refers to the album’s expansive amounts of joy, soulfulness, and diverse range of musical styles. The tracks embody many different genres, and expressive vocals, gospel-like harmonies, and Legend’s expert falsetto are ever-present. Every song has an easy, untroubled sound to it, but they also have unique touches that elevate them to a higher level.

“Ooh Laa” tells you right away what the album is going to be like: a clash of contrasting forces. It kicks things off with two wildly different genres– 50’s doo-wop and trap music. The doo-wop comes from a sample of a 50s recording of the song “I Only Have Eyes For You” by the Flamingos. Continuing in the vein of hip-hop, “Actions” samples a song known from “The Next Episode” by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, reminding listeners of that era of hip-hop. The central lyric plays on the phrase “actions speak louder than words,” a mantra that is especially relevant to the protests that have been happening recently.

Moving over to funk, “I Do” and “One Life” are dance songs. They have groovy basslines and are mellow but have catchy choruses that make you want to move. “One Life” stretches into contemporary jazz and uses strings to add some individuality. The chorus, with lyrics like “We’ve got one life, I won’t waste it,” are universal and inspiring, they really feed into the uplifting sentiment of the album.

Beginning with “Wild” featuring Gary Clark Jr, we begin to see a lot of slow jams and ballads, but there is still some contrasting material inserted in between. “Wild” tugs at you. It is a song that you would play in the car on an open road at dusk with the windows down. Its hard-hitting beat and the chromatic upwards motion in the guitar part pulls you along with it. “Bigger Love” takes a right turn with its Afro-Caribbean beat, but continues to include elements of gospel and house music in the vocals of featured artist Natalie Imani. It really drives the central message of the album: hope, optimism, and resilience.

Bringing the energy back down, “U Move, I Move” featuring Jhené Aiko is about two people in complete harmony. What’s unique about this track is how the beginning has a very minimal amount of music. Legend’s voice really stands on its own. When the music does come in, it’s swelling and romantic. Aiko’s voice complements Legend’s nicely, but it has its own distinct timbre that adds interest to the song. Despite being recorded in quarantine, the effortless harmonies between the duo are coordinated perfectly. In “Favourite Place”, short brushstrokes of harmonies paint the background. The tune is sultry and alluring, with more trap beats and gospel harmonies. “Slow Cooker” on the other hand, is all about taking it slow. It’s infused with cuisine-related metaphors, which work well for Legend since he and his wife Chrissy both like to cook. The swaying 6/8 time makes one think of a couple slowly moving to the music, delicately enveloped in an intimate moment.

Just when you think the album has hit a plateau when it comes to genres, some folk music is thrown in. “Focused” reaches out to ordinary people with lyrics like “everybody has their days when the work feels like chains.” Its defining musical characteristic is the acoustic guitar, but the connections to gospel and jazz remain strong thanks to the harmonies and jazz chords. “Conversations in the Dark” is a soulful love song reminiscent of Legend’s 2013 hit “All of Me.” It highlights the small intimate moments in a relationship. “Don’t Walk Away” features artist Koffee, who pilots a return to the Afro-Caribbean flavour from earlier. Gentle harmonies subtly support the infectious chorus that really highlights Legend’s control over his voice in this song.

For the last four tracks, deep emotions move to the forefront. “Remember Us” featuring Rapsody uses lounge piano, flute flutters, and deep bass to make a beautiful musical foundation that supports the emotional lyrics which remember some departed friends. Rapsody adds a contrasting but fitting quality to the music, expertly spitting out lyrics but still matching the vibe of the song. “I’m Ready” featuring Camper recalls Marvin Gaye’s soul-stirring music and is a tribute to him in that way. This track has a very cool a capella beginning that establishes some surprising rhythms and harmonic changes which continue throughout the entire song. “Always” is another love song. It has a simple, sweet message and relatively straightforward music but still has some twists along the way.

The final song, “Never Break” is an anthem for 2020. It discusses the power of the human spirit, something that is crucial for the valiant protesters around the world. Suspended chords create a deep sense of passion, which is amplified by the wonderfully jazzy chords. Towards the end, there’s a powerful build-up before the haunting final “no” that instills a great sense of resolve within you. The track, with its resilient sentiment and hopeful mood, is the perfect ending to Bigger Love.

Ultimately, this is an album you won’t want to miss. It sweeps through and lifts you up at a time when things feel low. Give it a listen on Spotify or other streaming platforms, and be sure to check out the amazing cover art painted by artist Charly Palmer.

diana ross, supertonic

diana ross, supertonic

Are you looking for fresh music to play this summer? Look no further because there is a new remix album of Diana Ross singles that will give you the perfect tracks to dance along to in the car. Supertonic, which was mixed by Eric Kupper and produced by Diana Ross herself, turned nine of her classic tracks into a collection of party jams. These songs remixed just add to the incredible sonic atmosphere Ms. Ross has been producing for years. Whether it is “Love Hangover,” or “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” you will find yourself bopping your head, if not full out dancing,  and singing the lyrics you already know by heart.

Earlier this year “Love Hangover 2020” topped Billboard magazine’s Dance Club Song Chart, making it her fourth consecutive No. 1 remix with a song that had been No. 1 for its original release. This only proves further the power and legendary status Ms. Ross has in the music industry. Not only is Supertonic available now, but she and Kruper released Supertonic: Instrumental Mixes which can be found on digital release and cd or crystal-clear vinyl on June 26. Enjoy the magic of Ms. Ross and stream Supertonic now.

cady groves, bless my heart

cady groves, bless my heart

There’s something so incredible about the connection of an artist to their work, and then the work’s fans to that artist. The announcement of the death of indelible singer-songwriter Cady Groves at the tender age of thirty this spring has left a large demographic of both pop/punk fans and country aficionados floored. I, myself, remember the days when she toured with punk banks and I requested her haircut at the salon. (College was a trip, and she has always been gorgeous.) Seeing her name in headlines in my social media feed made my heart stop, and I haven’t heard much of her more recent work. But the world has been celebrating her all along, and her fandom has been wrecked over the news.

Cady spent the last four years of her life writing and preparing new music in Nashville that both reflects her personal experiences, and makes her even more relatable than before. Her EP Bless My Heart was released at the end of May posthumously, and she couldn’t have hit the mark more if she tried.

With a little whimsy, she approaches the collection with the first track “Bartender,” a quirky, honest, beautiful ballad to the carefree nature of a full bar on a hot summer night. Perhaps the reality of political unrest and pandemic make this song feel that much more nostalgic, because we actually felt ourselves tearing up, listening to a song about drinking. The title track comes in quick to justify the tears, however, as Cady addresses personal anecdotes and makes us feel that even those who fall – hard – have the opportunity to be blessed in life. She rips any wounds wide open in this track, and this vulnerable side is going to be the thing we miss most.

“Camo” seems to have a title that is very stereotypical – and perhaps widely indicative – of its audience, but the metaphor prevails as a gorgeous reminder to make yourself seen. “Cigarettes and Sunsets” takes on a rhythm and pace that lure us into the thought that we might be about to watch 1996 blockbuster hit Phenomenon. (That is not an insult in the slightest. We imagine this track sounds like the perfect amalgamation of Clapton-style guitar and the Northern California cowboy demographic that surrounded the cast of Phenomenon during filming. But I digress.) Either way, the track belongs in a film. (Do you hear that, sync friends?!)

Last track “Crying Game” visits personal anecdotes, and reminds us a bit of earlier Cady Groves’ work sonically. The song specifically addresses the deaths of two of her brothers (Casey and Kelly), and the emotions that come along with their memories. It all feels like a way to round back to the beginning, as she takes her final, audible, bow.

To feel as though you have witnessed an entire career in just five songs seems a bit cheesy. But this release makes us feel closer to Cady than ever before.

keffa, victimless crimes

keffa, victimless crimes

Canadian singer, rapper, producer, and songwriter Keffa released his new EP Victimless Crimes on June 1st. Produced by the Multi-Platinum and GRAMMY award winners Ken Lewis and Brent Kolatalo, the EP delves into the melancholia that results from failed relationships, but in a light-hearted way. While the music is classic R&B in many ways, it also includes elements from many other genres such as indie and experimental. Keffa compares it to the controversial 1994 film Bitter Moon which featured similar themes of relationships and heartbreak in different ways.

Each track gives us a glimpse into the types of complicated, failed relationships that one can have.

“Bethlehem” stirs up emotions you may not even know you have deep down inside you. It begins atmospheric, and includes hopeful messages like “It’ll be alright, I’ll be by your side.” But halfway through the clouds clear, the line “pick up a loaded gun” cuts through, and things become more painful. “Bethlehem” exposes the listener to this pain, setting the stage for the rest of the EP.

“Rock You” tackles loneliness, the idea of being with someone only for companionship and not for true love. As Keffa says “There’s no point in loving me, ‘cause I have no empathy,” the hard-hitting bass notes and upward synth gestures in the music sound like slow, steady breaths. It’s as though the music is breathing through the pain, through the loneliness. Immediately after, we get “Twenty Four Days” in which Keffa switches gears and starts talking about how he’s in it for the long run with this girl he loves, although there seems to be a lack of trust in the relationship.

“Disconnect” is a standout track. It deviates from the other tracks as it prominently features dreamy, broken guitar chords and surprising turns of harmony. It deals with space, “disconnecting” from a stifling relationship. “Victimless Crimes” is the most unsettling song on the EP. In essence, it’s about how things that were once uncomplicated can become twisted.

Keffa ends the EP on a cheerful note, musically speaking. “Try Harder” is fun to listen to, with a catchy chorus amidst smoothly rapped verses that just glide on top of the jazzy background music. The lyrics still continue the theme, however, highlighting a one-sided relationship where one person isn’t making as much of an effort as they could.

Listening to Victimless Crimes, it’s easy to see why The Source Magazine hailed Keffa as a “Canadian mastermind” after his second EP release, and why he was featured in Respect Magazine as “Toronto’s Emerging Creative Enigma.” Keffa not only shows how it’s possible to innovate R&B music, but also shows the world what Canada has to offer in the hip-hop genre.