nathan oliver, thank you for your generosity

nathan oliver, thank you for your generosity

In the midst of grief, Nathan Oliver turned to music, as many do.  That is how his newest release came about.  Thank You for your Generosity, which he and his group began working on after the death of a member’s brother in 2017, takes the listener on a journey through the loneliness and confusion that comes with grief.

This journey begins with “Generous Seas”, an instrumental track fit for reflection as a mellow guitar plays over a more chaotic one.  Then comes “Isle Of Youth”, a dive into what it feels like to be lost and distant from everything around you.  This rock track is a standout on the record, blending soulful lyrics with beautiful guitar playing.  This sentiment is also present in “Everybody’s Swimming”, which seems to call attention to the struggle of watching everybody continue to live their lives while you feel stuck in a painful place.  One of the most heart wrenching songs is “Even If You Go”, which acts as a sort of promise that even when the subject is gone, they will continue to live with them by their side.  The journey closes out with “A Tangent in Time”.  A peaceful close to the album, it seems to offer a glimpse of hope, though unsure of exactly where that hope lies.

Thank You for Your Generosity is a vulnerable record that does not attempt to hide any sort of pain that comes along with the grieving process or life in general.  Whether it is through the breathtaking lyrics or the gentle way each sound leaves the speaker, Nathan Oliver is working to enthrall every single listener. 

01. Generous Seas
02. Isle of Youth
03. Everybody’s Swimming
04. Air Control
05. Even If You Go
06. Stand in Line
07. Runaway
08. A Tangent in Time

brontë fall, finishing school

brontë fall, finishing school

by: katy mombourquette

Today, the deeply relevant EP Finishing School was released by Brontë Fall. The literature-infused pen name is the songwriting project of classically trained musician Teri Bracken, who is ever inspired by the Brontë sisters and their courageous defiance of social norms at a time when women’s voices often went unheard. After coming across Emily Brontë’s poem “Fall Leaves Fall”, Bracken fell in love with the idea of finding beauty in the darker seasons of life. In her own life and music, Bracken embodies the spirit of this poem and the Brontë sisters with an openness and eloquence that firmly impresses her messages in her listeners’ minds. Most of all, Bracken wants to use her art to empower those around her and to connect with those who can identify with her experiences. She says:

As a musician, I almost feel like I’m defending who I am and what I want. Perhaps I feel pressure to be a certain way. These songs were written about feeling proud of where I am and what I’m doing. It’s about feeling empowered wherever you are in life, and celebrating the past while building your own kind of future.

Bracken attacks her issues from different places, opting for a tougher sound in “Warrior”, “Bad Ideas”, and “White Dress”, but also showing her softer side in “Six Years”, “Freeway High”, and “Give You A Halo.” No matter her musical approach, however, her words show her courage and boldness to say what she has to say. Finishing School is packed with empowering anthems, sometimes punchy, sometimes subtle, but all with catchy choruses that use repeated words and melodic lines to drive her points home. Each track deals with a female experience, entertaining and inspiring her listeners along the way. 

“Six Years” is a celebration of aging contrary to the praise put on the youthfulness of women in today’s world. Bracken’s voice isn’t loud or confrontational as she sings, but rather it assumes a calmness that comes from a place of complete honesty. Yet at the same time, her voice could fill an entire room, ringing out full and glorious. The track slowly builds, with drums and the bulk of the music only coming in in the second verse, giving it its anthemic quality as Bracken sings “I’m six older, six years smarter, six years stronger with a will that’s unbreakable.” “Freeway High” is all about liberation and letting go. On the surface, this liberation is symbolized in the freedom of an open road but, on a deeper level, it calls to mind the freedom that the Brontë sisters and Bracken herself were (and still are) fighting for. The track has a bit of a country sound, drawing the line between Bracken’s pop and rock influences. Her soaring vocals rise straight to heaven where they’re greeted by angelic harmonies, while a solo violin part adopts its own sense of liberty as it freely moves through notes. In a heartbreakingly tender but equally powerful ballad, “Give You A Halo”, Bracken sings of someone she’s afraid of losing, written for her Grandma. It begins with a ¾ time piano part that reminds one of a black and white scene of a Parisian street in a melancholic french film, setting the sentimental mood for the track. Strings slowly join in, exploring soul-stirring deep ranges that fortify her words. As Bracken sings “Oh late at night I try to call on you without tears in my eyes… but I’m not ready to give you a halo,” with such an earnest conviction, you can’t help but to feel your own heartbreak. 

While all of these tracks are similarly calm with a subtle sense of empowerment to them, Bracken is far from one-dimensional, and the remaining three tracks on Finishing School show it. “Warrior” is tough with its electric guitar and blues-rock singing style. Dealing with the fight against misogyny in business and the music industry, this track is a swaggering anthem that uses a piece of wisdom from Donatella Versace (“A dress is a weapon”) to depict femininity as an arsenal. From her voice to her words, Bracken is unapologetic and badass, singing “go ahead and call me a tease, I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.” “Bad Ideas” has a darker sound to it, with low-range underlying harmonies and short string strokes that add a sense of drama. The song points out how complicated life can be, wanting to “unbreak” someone’s heart even though it’s a bad idea. To close off the EP, “White Dress” returns to the spunky energy of “Warrior” but in an old-fashioned way– using an organ and a bluesy sound that feels somewhat ironic set against her modern feminist words. About the constant pressure to get married, Bracken defies expectations and sings “it may not look like the rest, this is my white dress,” showing that she can find fulfillment outside of marriage. 

This closing track brings us right back to the core of the album: honesty. Bracken is channelling the Brontë sisters and their feminism to provide an EP that not only speaks her truth about the expectations that persist for women even today but also gives validation to anyone out there who wants to break free of those expectations. Finishing School may cross into different genres and explore varied musical elements, but each song is unified by Bracken’s expressive voice, and most importantly, her beautiful and pertinent words.

gaidaa, overture

gaidaa, overture

R&B/Soul singer Gaidaa releases her debut eight-song EP, Overture. Gaidaa’s cover of a Kehlani song caught the attention of Dutch producer and artist Full Crate, which helped to rocket her career. The EP is a breath of fresh air that we all needed, a new sound that demands to be heard. For the release of Overture, Gaidaa says:

To me ‘Overture’ is not only my introduction to the world, but essentially my reintroduction to myself, my rediscovery and re-creation of Gaidaa. It’s about realizing that we are far more complex and hold more depth than we think. ‘Overture’ is the foundation to something more substantial; the beginning of everything that is yet to come and yet to be learned. Gaidaa meeting Gaidaa.

If you had to describe the album in three words it would be vulnerable, soulful and groovy. The first track,“I Like Trouble” is about breaking from the rules and finding your own path. Her voice makes the songs so easy to listen to, not needing to go to extremes to show her talents. “Ride My Way” has a chill vibe and is Gaidaa being completely open, ready to start something new. The instrumental just carries her style further, especially with “Falling Higher”. The song is destined to be a hit, with a falsetto-driven hook accompanied by a steady drum beat. The Netherlands-based Sudanese artist, takes you through a journey that you’ll find yourself relating to. 

Gaidaa had no trouble getting artists on for her debut, including tracks with artists such as Jarreau Vandal, Saba and Joshua J. “Say Yes (Turquoise)” (feat. Joshua J), is one of the best off the EP. Not only do their voices compliment each other, but her voice stands out here. The third verse showcases her talents and is a different take then you typically hear her sing in. “Morning Blue”, her debut solo single, references the campaign #BlueForSudan, which encouraged social media users to make their profile pictures blue in honor of a protesting victim. The song is simple, but has powerful and relevant lyrics, including, “It’s all in, we rise / It’s been a hard, hard time / For the ones who fight / In the land of the Nile”.

The 20-year-old’s debut is no rookie move, it is an example of this craft at its finest.

roderick august, forever the far the closer the near

roderick august, forever the far the closer the near

Music doesn’t just appear from thin air, it comes from experience. After touring over 40 states, Roderick August was inspired to create his debut album, Forever the Far the Closer the Near. The singer-songwriter constantly gigged and made music to gain experience and get closer to making a name for himself. His folky music is reminiscent of the sound of The Lumineers and Bob Dylan. 

As you listen to the 11 tracks, you can tell the writing was seasoned by traveling and his personal experiences along the way. “More Easily” is August going to a place, whether that is mentally or physically, where he can lean back and relax. The transition between this track and “Better Slowly” flows beautifully. “Lightning Bolt” reminds you of how quickly things can strike, and then disappear. Around the chorus, the track picks up and gains more power. The best example of his vocal ability is on “Sonoma”. With plenty of high notes and some rasp in his voice, it’s a showcase of his vocal ability. You can almost envision how this song would sound live at a concert hall. “Run with the Horses” is overflowing with imagery about places on fire, blue skies, and the woods growing rotten. The lyrics, “she cares too much what other people think / ‘cause when you’re living in the city trends become a big thing” seem to flow off his tongue so easily. It is one of the best on the album. 

Forever the Far the Closer the Near is August’s take on American life. His goal is to tell his story, and he is doing exactly that. The songs focus on his voice and aren’t heavy on production for a clean sound. These are stories he crafted with a guitar in hand and an open mind. The album cover even tells a story, taken by August himself one morning in the deserts of New Mexico. For his debut album, August was able to put together a strong collection and we can’t wait to see what he does next!

two, pull the knife out

two, pull the knife out

Aja Volkman and Dan Epand of Nico Vega have come together to form the duo TWO, and just released their brilliantly painful EP Pull The Knife Out last Friday. The EP reflects a traumatic time in Volkman’s life, but while it certainly projects the feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger, and despair that plagued her at that time, a ferocious sense of empowerment surges from within the tracks and overshadows those negative emotions in favour of acceptance and self-worth. Written entirely by the duo and produced by Epand, Pull The Knife Out displays a varied set of seven songs that showcases the duo’s incredible talent in every facet of the record; the vocals, lyrics production, instruments, and even the structure of the songs and the EP as a whole are executed incredibly well.

“Live Forever More” is a hybrid song-poem with spoken word poetry verses and sung choruses. Not only are the lyrics expressive, narrative, and insightful, the rhythm of the words and the melody of the chorus invite you to sing along. The more you sing (or just listen) along, the more you believe in the words and their message. “Whoa Man” is also a spoken word performance, but the atmosphere is hauntingly empty, with Volkman’s voice and deep, throaty “mmm’s” intensified in the vastness. Her words reverberate into the silence when she pauses, amplifying their effect. Again, the words are profound. “If I am to be the woe, and you are to be the man, then let me blow your mind with just how great I am.” Even in this single line, you can recognize the trauma (“the woe”) and the empowerment (“how great I am”) that Volkman has gone through.

“Cage Fighter” also exudes confidence through its music and features more spoken word poetry in the bridge. It’s straight-up rock– heavy guitars, a pounding beat, and Volkman’s incredible gravelly vocals. From the music to the words, this track is powerful. In the bridge, sounding like she’s some higher being, hovering above. She says “when you’re small… it’s an opportunity to have humility and fall,” and “be a ball of fierce compact energy, waiting to explode,” and then the music does just that, launching into the chorus again with sustained energy. The only other song that rivals the energy of this track is “Phoenix”, a song that bleeds determination and resolution. It has a slow but firm beat that emphasizes her words– “you can’t take this song away from me.” Despite the slower tempo compared to “Cage Fighter”, even the quieter parts of this track are filled with energy that feels as though it can barely contain itself. Volkman’s astonishing vocals come to light once again as her voice sails at the climax of the line “for out of the fire I’ll rise again.”

The standout track “In This Rough” is also overflowing, not with energy, but with emotion. Volkman says that she “went through some dark times trying to find the kind of surrender expressed in this song.” As she sings her voice catches, brimming with emotion. The bridge has only drums and her voice in that classic anthemic manner, where, in a live performance, the audience would be screaming out the lyrics alongside her, tears streaming down their faces because at that moment– they’re understood. The guitar, spirited drums, and synths sound relatively carefree, but her words and voice are tortured. In a similarly contrasting way, the music of “Faces” sounds calm and nostalgic, with the initial guitar voices singing an easygoing duet and fun melodic “oohs” in the chorus. The lyrics, however, place the nostalgic sound in a more regretful context. Volkman’s vocals are especially intriguing in this track as well. Her inflections play with the placement of her voice, and it’s impossible to guess where she’s going to go next.

The closing track, “Crazy Love”, is full of conviction and honesty, something that’s easy to perceive in her voice. It begins with a unique drum part that sounds like deep water droplets. The rest of the track is an accessible song about exactly what the title says– a crazy love. In the transition to the bridge, the music feels as though you’re being submerged into water, and in the bridge itself, the classical background vocals contrast with Volkman’s sharp voice, creating quite a unique effect.

Pull The Knife Out is well done from the inside out. Volkman and Epand’s immense abilities as musicians create fantastic music, and their close relationship doesn’t hurt either. Volkman says “Dan and I have always remained close and supportive of each other. He has been my cheerleader for over a decade,” and Epand returns the sentiment in saying “We have been through a lot together, a friendship and a creative collaboration that continues to evolve.” It’s that close bond that truly makes their music shine, and combined with Volkman’s remarkable voice, it’s no wonder that the duo has been generating buzz and accumulating some influential fans including P!nk. The EP is out now, as is a music video for “In This Rough” that was shot in quarantine and written and directed by Epand.

Keep up with TWO here.

samantha crain, a small death

samantha crain, a small death

Grief and trauma can cause enormous pain that will affect the rest of your life. It can change you as a person and make you weaker or stronger. Samantha Crain has taken control of her life and tackled her grief head on with her new release, A Small Death. Her sixth studio LP will leave you in awe of her talents and inspired by her journey. Crain explains , “I didn’t completely die, but I feel like I died a little bit and that allowed me this new beginning…What I was trying to capture with this record, really, was a sense of reconstruction.” 

The Oklahoma-based artist starts off strong with “An Echo” which highlights complex relationships and makes you feel the pain behind her voice. If one track had to sum up the feeling of the record, “An Echo” takes the cake. Not every song is as serious, “Pastime” is a look into Crain’s start of a new romance, but learning more about herself in the process.  She took to Instagram to speak about the track, saying, “when I was writing this song I felt like I was getting to know myself from scratch, peeling off a costume that I was put in as a child and allowing myself, for the first time, to dress myself and fully lean into my curiosities and sensitivities.” This theme seems to follow through to most of the tracks, experimenting and digging deep into her soul. Raw emotions are present in “High Horse” with the feelings of fleeting memories. In the lyrics, “I know the shape of the great heartache / and I know the weight of a big mistake / and I know the feel of a magical moment,” you can hear the strain accompanied by the steel guitar. 

Her alluring vocals pull you in on tracks like “Reunion” and “Joey”. They are soft, yet powerful, similar to artist Brandi Carlile, who she has previously toured with. Crain, who is of Indigenous descent, connects with her roots in “When We Remain”. The track is sung in Choctaw and accompanied by a light instrumental. “Little Bits” closes the record out, by being herself and owning who she is. It’s short, upbeat and to the point, almost as if she was wrapping everything up with a red bow on top. A Small Death follows the 2017 release of You Had Me At Goodbye and is the first release under Real Kind Records, founded by UK-based artist Lucy Rose. It is the beginning of a new chapter for Crain and her music, something that is uniquely her and her experiences. 

gang of four, anti hero

gang of four, anti hero

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.

Keep up with Gang of Four here.

laraaji, sun piano

laraaji, sun piano

Laraaji is cracking open a new chapter in his music with his latest project Sun Piano. The twelve-track album reveals a whole new side to his sound for longtime listeners. From an early age, he had been playing music originally imitating his favorite piano players, such as Fats Domino or Oscar Peterson. Since the late 1970s, Laraaji has been a loved cult-icon based in New York City This is just another chapter in his story, so take a deep dive into Sun Piano.

Sun Piano begins calm, easing you into the album. “Hold On To The Vision” is soft and beautifully composed, the perfect track to play in the morning while you get ready for your day. Throughout the album, Laraaji picks up speed on tracks like “Shenandoah” and “Moods & Emotions”, with various tempos and style. “Moods & Emotions” stands out the most among the others. Through the notes of hard hitting keys, there definitely are tons of moods and emotions on this track. “Resonance” is almost six minutes long, weaving in and out of different keys and showing a range of emotions. The sound, especially on this track, is very rich and doesn’t even come close to falling flat. Closing out with “Embracing Timeless” wraps everything up and returns to a familiar calming sound introduced in the beginning. The uplifting are sure to soothe your soul.

His instrumental accomplishments are unmatched and show the craft has evolved, growing stronger with every release. Listening to this album is sure to put you in a relaxing mood and you can truly appreciate Laraaji’s talent. The rhythm and varying textures is a skill that he has perfected since the 80s. This is the first release in a trilogy all tracked at the same session. The companion LP, Moon Piano, will follow sometime later in 2020.

Keep up with Laraaji here.

another magic, sunderwater/underwater sun

another magic, sunderwater/underwater sun

The masterful work of artist Thomas Arndt has been unleashed upon us with the new album from his solo project, Another Magic. The twelve-track release – Sunderwater/Underwater Sun – dropped today, and we know you will be enveloped in a unique atmosphere from start to finish. With percussion-driven initial tracks “Sites * Bones/Free” and “Breaking Promises,” we get a sense of the transformation Arndt went through while connecting with this project. All we want to do is dance and feel and breathe. “(Gone)” presents itself as a slowdown, notable for the saxophone and melancholy feel. “Set It Off” brings the pace back up, a track we can see being played at your next (socially distanced) outdoor barbecue event. (It’s so good, right?)

The rhythm and the introspective lyrics in “Want to Feel” make this one of the most relatable songs on the release. As Arndt sings of wanting these things, this sense of humanity cascades around you with the music. At a time when everyone is trying to be better and to feel in different ways, this track speaks to us. “Can the Body” takes a slower pace again, a more meandering track that leads beautifully into “Not Loud Enough.” It is at this point that the structure of the tracks comes alive because you can see how Sunderwater/Underwater Sun plays with pace and layers to present a robust audio adventure.

And just like that, “Ocean Goes” offers a reprieve from the cacophony of instrumentals in its predecessor, incorporating sounds that add a sense of tranquility to the atmosphere. It still feels quirky, almost imbalanced, but done so in such an intentional way that we can do nothing but appreciate the humanity in it. “Here (Like Love)” and “Stolen” maintain similar ambiance, whereas “Lost in the Future” takes on an almost Andrew McMahon-feel to parts of it, examining more than just the present moment in its lyrics. “Show for It” rounds everything out quite nicely, once again bringing us back to relatable lyrics, a slower – more calculated – pace, and existentialism laced throughout.

Don’t take our word for it. Take the album for a test drive. Let us know what you think.