Sometimes we face challenges in life and these struggles tend to be portrayed negatively or stereotyped. Artist Dan Croll is no stranger to the feeling and is upfront about how mental health has affected his life, showing the struggles he has faced. “Hit Your Limit” emphasizes the need for each of us to offer empathy to anyone who has run out steam. Now, artists are more open about their struggles, but not many tend to tackle these issues in their songs like Croll does. Not only does he give us these songs, but he has a Dial Dan line which provides an outlet for those who need help easing the pressures of loneliness. Embracing his emotions has created such a positive environment for not only him but for a whole community of people.
Croll’s soothing voice makes for easy listening, in addition to the light instrumentals. The track sounds like it could be a part of a coming of age movie when the main character is reaching their breaking point. “Everyone succumbs, everyone’s got their point/everybody bends and breaks/believe me when I say it’s as clear as night and day / you’ve hit your limit” These personal, yet encouraging lyrics are meant to calm people’s fears. Everyone needs this reassurance, especially in a time like the one we are in right now.
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!
Toronto-based producer, songwriter, and singer Kennen first wrote “City Lights” 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 city lights 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 “City Lights” 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 “City Lights” on your preferred platform.
When L.A. born singer-songwriter Niki Black wrote her new single “American Spirits” back in September of 2019, she had no idea how prophetic her words were. The track was originally supposed to be a contemplative look back at her American experience as she prepared to move to Paris to pursue a master’s in philosophy and art history. All throughout this past year, she has been releasing singles from her highly anticipated album LILITH, but she was saving “American Spirits.” After the recent events that transpired in the US, she decided to release this one-off single because, as Nina Simone once mused, “it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times.” The result? A poignant commentary on American today which answers the questions “What does it mean to have American spirit?” and “Can I still connect with my American Spirits as the daughter of an Iranian immigrant mother?” by saying “Yes, I can and I will,” but not without confronting America’s “bloody conception and its chaotic, violent reality today.”
Although originally from L.A., Black’s father grew up in Chicago, and her mother in Iran, giving her an expansive range of influences to work with, from the blues to the sounds of Iranian pop legend Googoosh. The uniqueness of her “ahs” in “American Spirits” in particular points to this mixed heritage of hers, but reverberations of it are felt throughout. Otherworldliness and ambiance emanate from the transient song, which doesn’t seem to exist within the bounds of genre or time itself. The thing that gives Black an edge, however, is her voice, ringing out sweet but striking. Her words pack a punch of their own, too. “Useless conversations all across the nation,” “violence in our lungs, black as the paths we come from,” are more significant now than ever before. If you weren’t planning to already, I recommend listening to the track with headphones, to better experience the atmosphere and audio panning that fully immerse you within the song. Stream “American Spirits” here, and stay tuned for the official music video (watch the teaser here) which will be released later this month!
Neo-soul artist Ego Ella May released her debut album Honey For Wounds, an album of honest lyrics backed by smooth instrumentals. A year after the release of her debut EP, So Far, this comes as the first release off of John Boyega’s UpperRoom record label. The album has a solid foundation to be a hit with May’s effortlessly warm vocals taking you through a journey of pain, love, and power. The South London artist took to Instagram to share her feelings about the release saying, “I made it to heal myself, but in turn my intention was and is to provide music to heal to for you as well! I hope I’ve done so. I hope it helps you feel validated, and held.”
“Alright” featuring Theo Croker is a great introduction for what is to come on the album. There are few vocals, but they stand strong alongside the delicate sounds of the trumpet. It is the most calming track off the album, although they all have this similar relaxing vibe. “Tonight I’m Drowning” is the end of a relationship, but still missing that person. The steady click of the drums keeps the song moving against the lyrics. Similar to “Song For Bobby” with light melodic patterns, May faces changes and deals with running through memories. Like many others after a relationship, there are these past memories that are haunting. Her vocals effortlessly float through lyrics like, “Raindrops, minimal light, and Etta James / Always the cure when you leave / You show up out of the blue, I cloud you with green / This distant thing still haunts me.” Not only does she reference Etta James, but in “Give A Little” she mentions Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”, “Joni said You don’t know what you got / Til it goes away.” In the midst of her lyrics, she shows some of her music taste, while remaining graceful. Here May is trying to navigate a neutral ground and find her footing, after being down a familiar path of heartbreak.
However, she is not afraid to sing about things other than relationships and heartbreak. Both “Girls Don’t Always Sing About Boys” and “How Long Til We’re Home” bring up current societal issues like environmental pollutants, problems for same-sex couples, and with the government and media. Songs about love and breakups might be easy and what sells, but May is not afraid to go beyond those and she does it effortlessly. If one doesn’t listen closely to the lyrics they might end up liking the song without realizing the messages weaved into it. “How Long Til We’re Home” is a perfect example of creating a beautiful song with an important message, but not having it overpower the song. “In The Morning” is a fresh start, indicating the struggles of women with lyrics like, “Reading about trauma In our daughters / Has got me shook I got things to learn, / I got fears to burn … Been here before, kinda sick of myself / But also quite proud / It’s hard, being at the mercy of man / And dealing my cards with my wrong hand.”
“Never Again (Marlissa Interlude)” showcases May’s sweet vocals, with a repeated set of lyrics throughout. It echoes the struggles and feelings she has put into the other tracks. In “Science” the lyrics are very poetic and a personal look into her life. Mentioning little details like a blue Cadillac and her roots in Igbo, provide a clear background about memories in her life. “Table For One” might be the best song on the album. With all the right elements packed into a six-minute track, it shows her vocal range and unique style. May shines here brighter than ever before. She finds her way through all of this on “For Those Who Left”, coming out with lyrics at her most confident. It is simple, but a fitting ending to all the emotions in the tracks before it.
Honey For Wounds already is catching people’s attention and recently was Tidal’s Rising Album of the Week. The production on these 11 tracks is strong with graceful touches of horns and drums to match her delicate vocals. Ego Ella May released a powerful record that comes from navigating and experiencing the ups and downs in life. If you are looking for something new to listen to right now make sure to check out this album, you won’t regret it.
DC-based Soul and R&B project Summer Dennis & Rhymes address some hard truths about the US in their recent single “Ghetto Rona.” Rhymes is a composition and performance powerhouse spearheaded by Bill Moore and Summer Dennis. Moore brings with him a deep experience with performance in multiple genres. Together they produce powerful, independent songs interwoven with femininity. Rhymes has appeared on several media outlets, including EARMILK, Soulbounce, Celebmix, Great Day Washington, and Blog Talk Radio. “Ghetto Rona” is the product of the difficult lessons learned about America in the past year. It’s a soulful indictment of the country, and aims to redefine the idea of “ghetto.” About the underlying theme of the song, Rhymes says “For so long Black and impoverished communities have been referred to ‘the ghetto’ even though we live in a nation that can’t house its taxpayers, can’t feed its children, and imposes police brutality on its citizens. How can a society with so little to offer refer to anyone as ghetto? We all know where the ghetto really is now, and it’s not race-specific. We can see the truth as clearly as ever.”
The song itself begins with the spoken words “And now, this is America,” leaving no room to mistake what the track is going to be about. A funky bassline and drum beat and tensile surrounding harmonies provide the foundation for Dennis’ sleek vocals. Her soulful voice decorates the melody lines with deft runs that give us a taste of her wide range. However, the lyrics remain the focal point of the song, coming through clear and concise. Halfway through, harmonies join in, lifting Dennis’ voice and words up to augment their meaning.
Summer Dennis & Rhymes are a mighty duo who say what they have to say using a mix of rock, R&B, Latin, pop, and reggae music to appeal to a wide demographic. Check out their most recent album Second Summer to hear more of this eclectic pair.