Friday, August 30, 2019

The Gillum Bros deliver powerful Single

Breakups are never easy and saying something new about the end of a romantic relationship through the medium of popular song is no small achievement. Songs celebrating or bemoaning the loss of love, cars, lust, and having a good time are staples of the rock music and popular song in general, so it is notable when a young act can address any of those subjects with their own idiosyncratic turns of phrase and a fresh perspective. The Gillum Bros originally hail from a longtime hotbed for rock bands, the Motor City of Detroit, and they definitely include some nods to those musical elements in their latest single “Sticky Note”, but other factors play a part as well. There is the hint of balladry in the track, a strong singer/songwriter influence, and even a theatrical bent all coming together in one of the best singles I’ve heard in recent memory.

The theatrical elements are manifold. Vocalist Ryan Gillum brings his fine lyrics further to life thanks to his emotive phrasing, but there’s never any sense of him pushing too hard on the words and melody. Instead, he seems to be coaxing his emotions to the surface of the song as if one verbal misstep might drag him full on into bitterness and recrimination. Glimmers of those feelings do shine through however and take the form of brief flashes of rough hewn humor in the face of heartache. Another way the theatrical component manifests itself is visually. 

The music video for “Sticky Note” positions Ryan Gillum as the central figure in its small cast and he does an excellent job of physically embodying the song’s emotions without ever overstating himself. It is a quality shared by Keith Gillum and the beautiful woman playing his now ex-girlfriend. The video toys a little with listener’s preconceptions about the rivalry between brothers defining so many similar acts in popular music history but, once again, it is understated rather than belabored. Directed by Will DaRosa, the video for “Sticky Note” has a smattering of the same humor we hear in the lyrics and a stunning visual sense guaranteed to hold viewer’s attention. 

 Keith Gillum’s musical involvement with the track rounds everything off. He is a superb musician with arranging talents that leave nothing to chance and cleave any inklings of dross from the composition. His arrangement begins the track on a downcast note with its dark piano lines and he soon fleshes it out in full with the inclusion of spot drumming, organ, acoustic guitar running under the song’s surface, and swaths of electric guitar punctuating the song as a whole. I am quite taken by this track. The Gillum Bros are adept at melding their distinctive songwriting voices with time-honored traditions yet make them sound fresh – as if they are the first performers to turn their hands to a song about a broken relationship. The personality and skill shining through every moment of this song makes it one of the more compelling and satisfying listening experiences I’ve enjoyed in 2019.

Scottie Carlito

The NaveBlues’ “Pale Blue Dot”

If you’re keen on the history of space travel, you’re probably already familiar with the legend of Voyager 1, the probe that carried a gold record with specific instructions on how alien life could find and contact earth’s inhabitants. In the music video for The NaveBlues’ “Pale Blue Dot,” the experimental rock band create their own narrative as to what happened after the aforementioned journey into the unknown – and in the process introduce us to their slickest set of beats yet. It isn’t often said, but space fanatics and lovers of good music alike would be hard-pressed to find another document quite like this one in 2019. 

 Right from the onset of this track, the string parts in “Pale Blue Dot” are vibrantly aggressive but not necessarily assaultive in their adrenaline-laced stomp. The music video’s wary wanderer, The NaveBlues’ own NavĂ© Pundik, runs in near-synchronicity with the opening salvo of swing, creating a cadence that is as hypnotic as the stinging blue light he pursues through the dense forestry serving as a backdrop. Much like the harmonious sway of the guitars, there’s nothing overindulgent about the construction of the video, and more importantly, the means in which the band went about joining its story to that of the music. The vocal component in this song has a little more oomph than it actually needed, but I can definitely understand why The NaveBlues mixed “Pale Blue Dot” the way that they did. 

In giving the lyrical delivery an extra boost of scooped EQ, the monstrous harmonies created by instrumental elements never become so intense that we feel suffocated by the muscularity of the band’s play. Some serious time and energy went into perfecting every inch of this single’s development, and while it might be a bit too complex for some listeners, others (myself included) will probably enjoy it for the sonic symphony that it is. Aside from the single’s profound musical attributes, the video for “Pale Blue Dot” is a remarkable effort in its own right. I’ve seen a lot of really inventive music videos this August, but there haven’t been very many that have caught my attention like this one has – it presents viewers with an understated sense of humor and an anti-pop visual experience, both of which have been missing from a lot of the buzz-making rock music to emerge from the left side of the dial this summer. This is, in all actuality, a rare instance of a video actually trumping the song that inspired it. 

The NaveBlues are at the top of their game in this latest experimental treasure, and though they’re still operating with an outside the mainstream-style sound, they’ve definitely made a lot of progress in making their music as potent as it can possibly be. 2019 has been a crossroads of sorts for a lot of seasoned bands like this one, but from the looks of “Pale Blue Dot,” this is a group that we can count on hearing a lot more of in the next decade. Their story isn’t even close to being over, and this track and its video are evidence of their continued evolution as a unit. 

Scottie Carlito

Thursday, August 29, 2019

"God Bless You & Protect You” is a single with ideal modulation

“God Bless You & Protect You” is a single with ideal modulation – the folk duo Owls and Lions, comprised of vocalist/violinist Nicole DeLoi and vocalist/guitarist Jay Della Valle respectively, know what the track demands to be successful and never push it into disarray or heavy-handed dramatics. It begins on an intimate note with Valle’s acoustic guitar providing a melodic musical platform for DeLoi’s voice, but Valle soon joins her on vocals and brings an immediate sense of completion to the performance that endures for the entire track. They make excellent musical partners and seem to share the sort of telepathic connection the best tandems share and their emotive talents seamlessly dovetail into each other without fail. It is an excellent introduction to their latest EP release There’s a Light. 

 The song draws its guiding impulse from the wildly popular NBC drama This Is Us without ever making direct reference to the show or its characters. The lyrics are staged as a dialogue of sorts between a father and his daughter and take a freewheeling chronological view – present and past connection is celebrated rather than focusing on a specific moment in time. Owls and Lions produced a video, as well, for the song featuring Valle, an actor and filmmaker as well, in the role of the father while DeLoi’s daughter plays his child. There is a wealth of visual imagery contained in the video reinforcing the song’s virtues. Valle works under different musical paradigms away from Owls and Lions, but his chops as a bonafide folk guitarist are without question when you hear “God Bless You & Protect You”. 

There’s a near lyricism to his acoustic guitar playing and he shows great restraint and tastefulness with his electric guitar contributions. Drummer Kevin Walters is the final piece of the musical puzzle; he has an assertive style that never overwhelms the track’s sensitivities. It is muscular while still sounding finessed. The structure of the song serves listener’s needs. Moving from a low-key opening into a near striding mid-tempo pace highlights the song’s lean dynamic energy and builds in an intelligent manner towards choruses with a rousing uplift. Even these moments, however notable, are tempered – the obvious experience and skill both DeLoi and Valle bring to the song makes for a captivating yet stylish listen. It is difficult, if not impossible, to dislike this song – I certainly cannot. 

Though I have yet to hear the remaining four tracks on There’s a Light, I am confident based on “God Bless You & Protect You” alone they are promoting a real winner with this release. Owls and Lions offer something you hear less and less of in the modern musical world – an unaffected and honest artistic experience free from even a whiff of pandering and, instead, reflecting a human impulse to communicate with audiences in a clear yet artful way. There is no fat on this song, no self-indulgence. Owls and Lions’ “God Bless You & Protect You” is a moving and deceptively simple song that I love without reservation. 

 Scottie Carlito

“Alone” by Kodiak

If hard rock is a dead genre, let’s be grateful no one ever told Kodiak or producer/rock legend Carmine Appice. Appice mans the production booth for the New Jersey band’s debut release and they’ve kicked off its initial promotional work by releasing two impressive singles capable of whetting even the most jaded appetites. The newest single “Alone”, like the first, is released with a video as well. It has more than a little artistry working in its favor thanks to its creative use of animation and color alongside traditional footage and communicates the customary sense of unity and shared vision any new band feels trying to realize their ambitions for stardom. They say hard rock bands have a rough way to go nowadays with the commercial ascent of modern country and rap music, but the landscape is more hospitable to such acts in 2019 than years past. Bands like Kodiak and Greta Van Fleet are reminding a new generation of the guitar’s potential and how sweeping hard rock anthems with memorable hooks can unite audiences and leave them feeling physically invigorated. 

Moreover, it doesn’t need to be facile. “Alone” definitely has a commercial edge any attentive listener will note soon enough, but it has an adult point of view rather than just regurgitating well worn subjects like women, cars, and the fleeting joys of youth. They play and sound far more mature than their years. Another indication of that is their nonchalant refusal to indulge flashiness in a meaningful degree. There is some flair to this performance, for sure, but they apply those moments with artful restraint. The lead vocals are wide open and brimming with energy and emotion. Charismatic front men are every bit as much the bread and butter of this style as first class musicianship, particularly on guitar, and Kodiak checks that box in a big way. You never sense the musicians or vocals are out to prove something, per se, but they both exhibit boundless confidence in themselves and the material that helps make listeners believe every second of the performance. The chorus and subsequent refrains are the musical highlight of the track for me. Everything comes together in those moments and the band knows exactly how to make the most of those climatic moments without ever obscuring the value heard elsewhere in the track. Their transitions between verses and choruses alike show surefooted skill and an understanding of hard rock dynamics that many bands never consistently master. It is all the more impressive when you consider the band has been together less than two years at this point. 

 Kodiak are more than just potential; their two debut singles point towards promise fulfilled. The debut album will further flesh out the scope of their accomplishment when it lands, but I am confident enough in their talents to say, without question, the sky is the limit for this New Jersey based four piece band. They have the necessary ingredients for a long and substantive career rather than sounding like a flash in the pan. I’m eager to hear the debut album in full and you will be as well. 

 Scottie Carlito

Onlap are dishing out some of the biggest and baddest grooves

French hard rock syndicate Onlap are dishing out some of the biggest and baddest grooves of the summer in their latest single, “Miracle,” and its potently exciting music video, both of which (justifiably) have critics from one side of the Atlantic to the other abuzz at the moment. While it’s definitely a riff-oriented rock song, “Miracle” isn’t about celebrating the chest-beating swagger of its genre exclusively – here, Onlap act as poetic storytellers with a lot to say about where we’ve been going lately and, more pressingly, what we’re supposed to do about it as a people. Put simply, this is real rock with a conscience. 

The bassline is as much of a beast as the guitars are in “Miracle,” but I think that it’s important to point out just how well-defined it is in the master mix. Unlike many of the metal-influenced singles that have been making headlines this August, this track doesn’t have any sort of muddiness in its multilayered attack – actually, it’s one of the crisper cuts that I’ve heard out of any rock group in 2019. Onlap don’t have to assault us with noise to make us feel the intensity of their wallop, and they were wise to avoid such excesses here. Even though all of the different components within “Miracle” have their own moment in the spotlight, you could definitely make the argument that everything in this song – from the percussive pattern to the structure of the riffs and right on down to the very cadence of the bass and drum interplay – is constructed as to keep the lead vocal track at the center of our attentions from beginning to end. Even in the music video, it’s quite difficult to focus on anything else when our singer is lashing away at his backing band with one crushing verse after another. He’s on fire here, and setting his fellow players ablaze with every word he belts out.

 As far as rock videos go, this one just might be the most cinematic that I’ve seen in a long time. The premise is minimalist in spirit, but the colors, the audio and the way that director Mathieu Spadaro strung all of it together is truly larger than life. This isn’t a group that needs a lot of bells and whistles to look the part of a modern rock god-collective, but they’re certainly shining their brightest in this music video and the source material that inspired its creation. Onlap have struck gold yet again in this latest slab of heavy metal might, and even if you’re not the biggest fan of hard-edged rock n’ roll, “Miracle” is a track (and a music video) that I would recommend taking a peek at just the same. It isn’t often that I come across a song of its style that has as meaningful a narrative as this one’s got, but at this point I’ve come to expect the unexpected from one of France’s most criminally underrated bands. They’re on their way to genuine mainstream exposure here, and by the time this year is over, my gut tells me that a lot more people are going to be talking about the majestic music of Onlap thanks to this recent release. 

 Scottie Carlito

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Best of Matthew John

“Shine for Me,” track two in the four-song compilation The Best of Matthew John, might start off a little slower than most pop anthems do, but what it unleashes over the course of the next four minutes is anything but slothful. It is in this composition that Matthew John shares with us some of the most emotional singing he’s contributed to a studio record, but as entrancing as this brilliant slice of musical swagger is, it only accounts for a quarter of what The Best of Matthew John contains (both figuratively and literally). I came across this 2018 EP just recently, but I’ve definitely become hooked on everything that it represents from an aesthetical perspective. 

This is good, clean pop with a touch of old fashioned soul where it counts the most. The percussion in “You Are There” is tucked beneath the stirring lead vocal of John, but it’s strong enough in the master mix to make a noteworthy impression on anyone who has their stereo playing at a decent volume. There’s a lot of texture in its finish, a lot of emotion in its calculated arrangement, and yet it doesn’t feel even remotely overcomplicated in structure. Judging from the way that Matthew John approaches the mic in this track, he doesn’t get intimidated by cerebral compositional concepts, nor does he have any issues attacking a really swanky verse like he was born to serenade us with its message. He isn’t an international superstar, but he sure sounds like one in songs like this one. 

“Let’s Begin Again” is the Matthew John song if there ever was one. As confident as he sounds in the other recordings on this EP, it all pales in comparison to what he does in this track, which features a Cheaters-esque dangerousness to its hook that isn’t all sizzle. There’s substance in every stitch of this song; the guitars grind against a chic bassline as if to dump fuel on the fire of rebellion that exists within each and every one of us, the drums echo the broken cadence of a weary heart, and the vocal harmony that binds all of the pieces together howls with the ache of a hundred hungover mornings spent staring at old photos on the bathroom floor. John doesn’t just act cool in “Let’s Begin Again;” he’s cool personified. I’ve always had a soft spot for easy listening-style pop, and tracks like “Reach for the Stars” are the reason why. 

Matthew John reiterates a rousing narrative through simple, albeit heartfelt, poeticisms that don’t devolve into cheesiness (even when it might have been catchier to do just that). His talent is all-natural, untainted by the external, non-artistic influences and still charged with a potential that has only been somewhat exploited since his arrival on the scene some years ago. These four songs might be the hardest-hitting numbers that he’s got in his discography at the moment, but something tells me that they give us but a limited melodic mockup of what he could accomplish if provided a more liberal recording budget. 

Scottie Carlito

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Ronnue is taking us back to the golden age of hip-hop

A thick, bumpy bassline menacingly flexes its muscular tone. In its wake, a sizzling synth comes scorching through the center of the track, paving the way for Ronnue to drop a monstrously melodic lead vocal in “17 Days (The Hood Mix),” one of the most haunting and harmonious songs found on his latest album, Introduction 2 Retro-Funk. Ronnue is taking us back to the golden age of hip-hop here and ironically sounding more progressive than many of his experimental peers have recently. Introduction 2 Retro-Funk is an unstoppably addictive offering, and compositions like “17 Days (The Hood Mix)” are the reason why. Ronnue’s lyrical attack has never been stronger than it is in tracks like “Something About U (The Retro-Funk Mix),” “I’m a Lesbian,” “Why,” “If We Stayed 2gether” and “Give in 2 Me,” not to mention his technique is noticeably more efficient than it was in past outings. He’s using the full depth of his vocal in these songs, but more importantly than that, he’s developed a really unique flow that sets his verses apart from most anyone else in or out of his scene at the moment. There’s no question who is at the mic when he sings, and that’s half the battle in becoming an icon nowadays.

This mix is boastfully unsophisticated from beginning to end. It’s downright guttural in some spots – namely “I’m a Lesbian,” “In Love” and the ferocious funk of “You Tried Me (The Man’s Anthem)” – and it makes all of the music that we hear in this record feel and sound so much more authentic, hard-edged and fresh as a result. Ronnue was brilliant to stay away from a traditional pop sound on Introduction 2 Retro-Funk; he’s getting a ton of positive press for his decision, and I can see it having a big impact on his local scene moving forward. The lead singles here, “Something About U (The Retro-Funk Mix)” and “Be Your Freak,” were definitely well-chosen from this tracklist, and I think that they hold just as much appeal to the college radio crowd as they would the occasional R&B fan curious about the new and exciting sounds coming out of the Seattle underground this summer. It’s been a rough decade for indie rappers and experimental funk artists like Ronnue, but if he can move the needle a little more towards his scene’s direction, finding a home on the mainstream side of the business won’t be very difficult at all.

Introduction 2 Retro-Funk is one of the strongest candidates for album of the year that a west coast urban pop songwriter has submitted in the last decade, and even if you’re not up to date on the Northwest beat that produced Ronnue in the first place, you should take some time to give this record a listen this August. Ronnue is making some bold moves on his latest album, striving to make something different from what his contemporaries are, and most of all, giving the summer the added dose of funk that it has been in need of since the end of last June.

Garth Thomas

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Ooberfuse releases “Call My Name” remixes

Through the thick, surface-level grooves and melodies that we find in the first sixty-seconds of ooberfuse’s “Call My Name – Push The Frequency Festival Mix,” we see specks of a bass tone that will slowly grow into a suffocating, unmatched force in this remix, which is only one of five found on ooberfuse’s new Call My Name EP. Trying to escape the clutches of this subtly surreal harmony and it’s uncompromisingly strong bassline prove futile in the next couple of minutes that follow, and as we look deeper into Call My Name, we discover this isn’t the only bit of sonic sorcery that the record contains. 

 Emotions are raw in “Call My Name – Hal St John Radio Edit,” and they all start with singer Cherrie Anderson, whose heart is on her sleeve as she lays into the first verse with a soft, Cocteau Twins-like ethereality. Her vocal is pleasant and pondering, which makes the whimsical swing of the percussion even more thought-provoking than it already would have been. It doesn’t surprise me that St John nailed this track as well as he did – after all, “Call My Name” is a direct product of the compositional chemistry he has with Anderson when they’re making music together under the ooberfuse moniker. “Call My Name - The Noise,” as well as “Call My Name – Paul Kennedy Radio Edit,” seem like ridiculously cautious efforts in their own right when compared to St John’s edit and the Festival mix, but deliberately so.

Everything – from the percussion to the very crunch that the bassline makes in the Kennedy edit – has a very specific part to play in creating as moody a narrative as producers can in these two mixes, and while they’re not the easiest to digest of this tracklist, it makes total sense that they would be included here just the same. The music video for “Call My Name,” featuring Paul Kennedy’s treatment of the song, is really good, clean electropop fun, and personally I think that it isn’t so all-encompassing that ooberfuse couldn’t make four additional videos for the other remixes as well. Each one of these tracks is so unique and different from the others that they sit next to on the EP, and as much as the generic look of the Kennedy video will probably jive with audiences from one side of the globe to the next, I think that it doesn’t necessarily represent the full artistic capabilities that ooberfuse are becoming known for with their studio work. 

Though it’s fair to say that the Call My Name EP was conceived with the serious European club-pop fan in mind, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t appeal just as much to Americans and other electronic-crossover buffs around the world this summer. Ooberfuse have been peeling back one layer after another in their incredibly melodic sound for over five years now, and I think that with the release of this new record, they’re showing us their most cultured style of play thus far. I hope to hear more before the year is out, and with all the buzz they’re getting this season, I think I’m going to get my wish. 

 Matthew Rowe

Monday, August 5, 2019

Project Grand Slam releases PGS7

Outfitted with beats that are as big and boisterous as they come, a string section burning hotter than the Chicago fire, lead vocals that could make even the hardest hearts of stone melt in an instant, sax vibrancy of the most divine quality, basslines that move mountains at the right volume and a percussive thrust guaranteed to get your speakers moving as much as your hips will, Project Grand Slam’s PGS7 is, simply put, a juggernaut of an album. 

 In the Robert Miller-founded jazz fusion project’s latest full-length release, we find an exotic rhythm in songs like “Funk Latino” and “No One’s Fool,” foreboding harmonies that tell us more about these musicians than words ever could in “Take Me” and “I Don’t Know Why,” as well as scathing lyrical commentary in “Get Out!” and the brutally honest “Tree of Life,” but despite the incredible diversity of its tracklist, PGS7 is unquestionably one of the most cohesive LPs to join the Project Grand Slam discography. Miller and his collaborators are more in tune with each other than ever before here, and it’s listeners who reap all the rewards of their studious labor in this unparalleled LP. There’s really no simple way to classify a lot of the music that we hear in this record, but not because of any compositional fragmentation – quite the opposite, actually. If anything, Project Grand Slam are amalgamating so many different styles, textures and tones in these tracks that they simply defy the very concept of genre altogether. There’s as much rock n’ roll in songs like “Get Out!” and the riff-centric “I Don’t Know Why” as there is R&B in “Redemption Road,” funk in “Python” and midcentury jazz in “The ‘In’ Crowd.”

 What holds everything together in this piece is Miller’s dexterous leadership of the group, which finds the perfect voice to convey its message in vocalist Ziarra Washington, a singer who has become one of my very favorites in recent years. Following the release of 2017’s The PGS Experience, it became next to impossible for critics to dismiss the credibility of this group, but in the wake of what they’ve cultivated in PGS7, I think that it would be appropriate to start referring to Project Grand Slam as a top tier indie unit, regardless of genre classification. 

I’ve been listening to Robert Miller’s work for a few years now, and this is undeniably one of the tightest records that he’s ever attached his name to. In terms of physicality, it goes unmatched among the output that we’ve heard from Project Grand Slam’s contemporaries both in and outside of the underground this summer, and while I’m fairly certain that this won’t be the last time that the band’s music makes its way into the headlines on the international level, something tells me that this is going to become one of their most beloved releases. PGS7 has the look and feel of an anthology album, and even though it comes in at a full-bodied fifty minutes in total running time, its tracklist is one that I’m sure most jazz and experimental rock fans will find to be listenable time and time again. 

Janelle Washburn 

The music of PROJECT GRAND SLAM has been heard all over the world due to the promotional services offered by Danie Cortese Entertainment & Publicity. Learn more here -