Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Gravity by Paul Mark and the Van Dorens

Gravity by Paul Mark and the Van Dorens is a strong collection of songs that pay attention to the songwriting just for the sake of song to deliver such a thing of wonder. This is a brilliant album, the 11th release which happened to be in-the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. The album was produced by Paul Mark and mastered by Bruce Barielle, New Orleans LA. Arranged, recorded and mixed by P. Mark in NYC, with Christian Howes, Eli Bishop, Greg Byer on strings Tess Primack, Connie Laws on background vocals P. Mark - Vocals, piano, bass, guitar, organ, xylophone, drums, accordion.

PAUL MARK: https://paulmarkthevandorens.bandcamp.com/album/gravity

The songs on Gravity tend to speak for themselves, including the Yardbirds cover toward the end of the disc, and it stands up to former releases dating all the way back to the Go Big OR Go Home CD. The disc kicks off with what might as well be the title track, “Gravity Is Failing,” and it sets the tone with a narrative approach in the lyrics. But there’s a lot of things to be said about the musical arrangement as well, as it plays like a variety of everything from ragtime piano to folk music. This is a very swash buckling sort of song with an esoteric feel that combines piano and violin. 

“Forever” is the next track and once it starts you know this is a concept album with some storyline holding it together, almost as if it were written with current affairs in mind but I also sense that is a coinciding thing that Paul Mark is not alone in doing. This is a fantastic ballad, and although I have not delved much into his back catalog, I have heard enough to call this on par with what his fans expect him to deliver on. 

“I Spin When You Grin” is a more enthusiastic song with a lot of Leon Russell flair to it, in fact I am most reminded of him and Doctor John on this album, and they’re two artists anyone wouldn’t mind being compared to. In fact, it’s hard to know what is-a cover and what isn’t when something sounds very familiar like this but leave it to Paul Mark because he’s a great songwriter. And this is just as evident on every self- penned track as it continues with “The Next Fight,” which is a bit slower but just as entertaining as anything on this fine album.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Gravity-Paul-Mark-Van-Dorens/dp/B086V4TDVN

By this time you’re drawn into what’s going on and the rest is gravy, starting with the very Baroque sounding “Coronation” instrumental to set up the next track “Con Man VIP” which clearly references the political climate of late. The organ work throughout this album is a highlight and no exception to this track. But the next track is a more sobering piece with a very soothing on outcome, “Friend Gone Astray” and it is another excellently played and sung tune. Also, worth noting are “You Can’t Take It With You” and a respectable version of the classic “Heart Full Of Soul” by the aforementioned Yardbirds. 

Joshua Beach

Monday, August 3, 2020

308 Ghost Train


Soft but strong enough to draw together a harmony seemingly out of thin air, the keys that we find in the new single “Bleed Over Me” from 308 Ghost Train are pivotal to the creation of a mood in this latest release from the rising rock group. 308 Ghost Train put a lot of stock into the power of melodic ribbonry here, but while “Bleed Over Me” is perhaps their most pop-friendly effort to see widespread release thus far, it’s hardly a step away from the rock n’ roll lexicon that they’ve been building their name within lately. In this single, we’re introduced to a band that doesn’t care much what you think about retro pop/rock magic - they’re playing to the fundamentals of this genre (and sounding pretty incredible in doing so).  

SOUND-CLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/user-153508539

The melodies here are supremely rich from an instrumental standpoint, but nothing feels particularly overdone at all - on the contrary, I would even say that this is a rather lean and mean composition when taking into account its being stylized as a power ballad. 308 Ghost Train are careful to stay away from the overindulgences that have brought down many of their contemporaries, and influences for that matter, in “Bleed Over Me,” but at the same time they aren’t shy about putting as much oomph into the mechanics of their performance as can be mustered from within the four walls of a recording studio. They’ve got a good handle on their depth for a group that is as fresh on the scene as they are, and I doubt I’m going to be the only critic that notes as much this summer. 

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/308ghosttrain?lang=en

These string parts have a great tonality to their harmonies that really balances out the vocal parts wonderfully. Had each of the different components in “Bleed Over Me” not been given as much of the spotlight as they ultimately were afforded in this instance, I can’t be sure whether or not the single would feel as chill-inducing as it does - even after numerous listens. There’s still a lot that we need to discover within the artistry of 308 Ghost Train, but if there’s anything we can collectively take away from this most recent dispatch, it’s that they’re all about the details (no matter how seemingly small or insignificant).  

APPLE MUSIC: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/308-ghost-train/1464782600?ign-gact=3&ls=1

If this is just a preview of what 308 Ghost Train are going to be bringing to the table on a regular basis in 2020 and beyond, then you can absolutely count me in for more of their work in the future. They’ve got a unique sound that is reminiscent of some serious heavyweights in the history of classic rock, but while the comparisons to the old guard will be inevitable, there’s nothing archaic about the way they’re doing business in “Bleed Over Me.” This is a modern, very mature look for their brand, and if it’s any sort of representation of who they are at their most emotional, it won’t be the last heavy-rocking ballad they deliver to critical acclaim.  

Joshua Beach

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

“Habibi” by Ilyah



Chic and cosmopolitan in the surreal “The Only One,” cutting and full of a brooding emotionality in “Miscommunication,” it’s impossible to ignore the warm vocal of Ilyah no matter which of his songs is playing. In the last couple of years, this pop singer/songwriter has been steadily gaining steam in the international underground on the strength of his vocal prowess, and having been introduced to his music a little while ago, I can understand why he’s getting another wave of buzz this spring. On the heels of his latest release, the single/video combo “Habibi,” Ilyah has been attracting some renewed interest from the indie press, and based on the growth he’s displayed over the course of the last few years, he’s more than worthy of the hype for sure.  

While Ilyah’s music videos have always been sparkling with polish, his most recent visual dispatch in “Habibi” is perhaps his slickest piece of material to see widespread release thus far. Where “Girls Like You” and “Miscommunication” sampled from the same indulgent influences that this release does, there’s more of an attention to the relationship between shots and songcraft here than I was initially expecting to find. He’s got so much he’s trying to get off of his chest via the harmonies in the master mix, but beside them, we’ve got a smorgasbord of stimulating frames that keep our attention glued to the screen as much as it is the speakers. It’s very well-rounded material, and a great look for its creator.   

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/ilyahofficial/?hl=en

I absolutely love the use of melodic contrast in the tracks “The Only One,” “Girls Like You” and this latest cut “Habibi.” Borrowing some elements from avant-gardism but avoiding the pitfalls that come with sounding overly experimental, Ilyah strike an interesting balance between alternative aesthetics and pop simplicity (which is no easy feat for any artist to tackle). He’s got quite the gift for amalgamating texture and tonality together, and if there were any critics not lauding his skillset in this department prior to now, I think they will be in the next year. 2020 is already off to a tremendous start for this player, and with a little more airplay on the college radio format through the summer, he’ll be ready to enter the autumn season as one of the underground’s premier voices.   

You don’t have to be a pop fanatic to dig the direction that Ilyah is taking his music in at the moment, but for those of us who carefully follow the genre’s every movement, this is definitely an artist that you need to be paying special attention to moving forward. Ilyah doesn’t have a particularly theatrical presence in his studio recordings – he’s raw, real and, frankly, never hesitant about putting his emotions out there through both his melodic attack and the words it’s designed to convey unto us. He’s come a long way in an incredibly short amount of time, and if he keeps his nose to the grindstone through 2020, he’ll see even more success in this decade than he did the latter half of the last.   

Joshua Beach 

Friday, May 29, 2020

“Head in the Clouds” by Reverse Mechanic


In his new single, “Head in the Clouds,” the musician known simply as Reverse Mechanic explores string-born harmonies with more of a rambunctious moxie than he’s ever displayed in-studio before. Whether we’re listening to the song by itself or taking in its fun-loving music video, its core hip-hop aesthetic comes to us flanked with a pop/rock melodicism that I can’t recall hearing in the genre before. It would be untrue to suggest that other rappers haven’t tried to fuse elements of rock or pop into their work prior to now, but among those who have experienced any degree of success, Reverse Mechanic’s effort is definitely among the more interesting.

Official Website: https://reversemechanic.com/

The concept behind this track comes almost entirely from the idea of preserving the melodic relationship between vocal and verse. Whether he’s rapping or harmonizing with the guitar parts here, Reverse Mechanic sounds very relaxed and unflustered, doing everything in his power to maintain a fluidity in the hook that wouldn’t be possible with a more rigid performance. Even the verses he spits out with a furious intensity later on tin the song have a tonal warmth I haven’t come across in a long time, let alone in material out of the American hip-hop underground.

I really love the guitar element to “Head in the Clouds,” and I think that, in more ways than just the obvious, it accents the beat here better than anything else would have. There isn’t any sort of bassline indulgence for us to sift through in this song; in fact, I actually think it’s a little thin on the low-end of the spectrum. That said, there hasn’t been a single quite this crisp to bear a hip-hop categorization label in all of 2020, and that alone makes it a rather interesting listen for those of us who follow the scene.



Reverse Mechanic was smart to go with a streamlined mix over anything super bombastic here for a couple of reasons. First off, it helps for us to retain focus on his vocal virtuosity, which is on display from beginning to end in “Head in the Clouds” for all to hear and appreciate. Second of all, by avoiding the surreal glow that so many of his peers have been trying to capture in their own work lately, he not only distinguishes himself as an anti-establishment rebel, but more importantly, as a player who wants to make his own brand of musicality in 2020.

If this is on par with what Reverse Mechanic is going to be doing throughout the next chapter of his career, I doubt “Head in the Clouds” will be the last time he winds up in the headlines with his work. There is certainly a lot to get excited about in modern hip-hop; the genre has reached an apex of sorts that is resulting in a diversification unlike anything many critics would have predicted just a decade earlier. Artists like Reverse Mechanic are ushering in this next era marvelously and, mostly, because of the indie ethos they adhere to so well.

Joshua Beach

Thursday, May 28, 2020

“Greyhound Bus” by Jefferson Thomas

For the last few years, singer/songwriter Jefferson Thomas has been building up quite the following on the underground side of his scene. In his new single, “Greyhound Bus,” and its eclectic music video, Thomas swings for the fence with a robustly rhythmic rock tune and ends up scoring as big as he could have hoped to. “Greyhound Bus” has all the makings of a classic heartland rock song, but its contemporary edge and lack of political lyricism give it a unique quality few tracks of its kind possess. This is a good time to be following indie music, and right now, this is one of the month’s best new releases. 

Official Website: https://www.jeffersonthomas.com/

I really love the clean-cut stylization of the master mix here. Both the music video and the single feature a lot of instrumental detail that feels textured and highly contributive to the overall narrative in the lyrics. There’s never an instance where it’s difficult for us to discern one element from another, and for the most part, Thomas’ vocal harmonies dominate every angle in the arrangement. He’s got such a charming energy about him in “Greyhound Bus,” and between his words of wisdom and the melodies that accompany his every utterance, he’s sounding like a seasoned pro at this medium. 

Part of me does wonder if “Greyhound Bus” would sound ever better in a live setting than it does in this studio recording. There’s a jam energy to Jefferson Thomas’ recently released material that sounds inspired by freeform sessions spent alone with his own thoughts, and on stage, I think we could potentially get just as powerful a performance from him. He has all the cards on the table with us in this single, and whether meaning to or not, I do believe he has raised the bar for both his own future output and that of his scene in general.

 

You don’t have to be a big heartland rock fan to appreciate what Jefferson Thomas is piling on our plates in “Greyhound Bus,” but those who are will probably regard this as one of the sweetest new songs of 2020. With the immense division the nightly news discusses on a daily basis, it’s always nice to find some untainted Americana that reminds all of us of what really matters most in the American identity. This is a fantastic new single and music video, and more than enough to bring me back to Thomas’ work in the future.

Joshua Beach

“Antherius" releases "Midnight Cowboy"

Living amidst a pandemic hasn’t been easy on any of us, but for cities like New York, the cultural difference is indescribable to say the least. The once bustling metropolis has been reduced to ghost town-status in the last few months, and in the music video for Antherius’ cover of “Midnight Cowboy,” we see just how barren its streets have become. A reminder of the city’s persevering identity transformed into a blushing ambient soundtrack, Antherius’ “Midnight Cowboy” is a commentarial look at the state of society as we see it today, and moreover, the optimistic future still sitting on the horizon ahead.   

Tonality is the primary channel of communication in any instrumental ambient track, but that’s all the truer in this single. The synth play melds into the distorted guitar parts, reverberating percussive grooves and understated bassline beautifully. Though he’s not singing, Antherius is articulating a story through little more than texture and musical presence, which, as any critic will tell you, is no easy feat for even the most talented of players to pull off. The production quality here is top notch, but even with its stylish polishing, “Midnight Cowboy” glows with a cerebral tension you don’t find very often on the FM dial.   

Official Website: https://www.antherius.com/

The synthesizers in this song are some of the smoothest I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in 2020. There are no examples of tininess nor hollow melodic faceting here that I can point to as shortcomings, and better yet, the synths never sound particularly artificial in the grander scheme of things. Much like the lights that dot the numerous skyscrapers high above the Hudson, they feel like the perfect adornment to the foundation of harmonies here, which is a lot more than I can say for some of the other synthetically-stylized instrumentals I’ve heard recently.  

Although I would probably describe “Midnight Cowboy” as being an ambient single in spirit, there’s an underlying jazz sensibility to Antherius’ delivery here that can’t be discounted. Unlike other adaptations of this legendary track, there’s a diversity to the framework of this particular recording that sets it apart right out of the gate. Whether intending to or not, he’s put a unique stamp on a piece of musical history that feels strangely appropriate this May, 2020 (with the ultimate irony being that this was first recorded about three years ago as a standalone single).  

 

If you’re looking for something totally different than what the status quo in pop calls for this season, Antherius’ “Midnight Cowboy” is a great addition to your favorite ambient playlist. Its music video is a stellar optical view into the uncomfortably silent street activity of New York City these days, but more than that, it offers us a one of a kind insight into the artistic soul of its creator. Antherius is a deep-thinking musician, and though he didn’t write “Midnight Cowboy” himself, he makes this song sound and feel like something as original and unrecycled as anything topping the Billboard charts in the past couple of months. 

Joshua Beach

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Andy Michaels releases “Darling it Hurts” (single)


Two people stand atop a mountain, their hands joining as they look upon the peaks and valleys set out before them. We suddenly cut to another scene, this one set at a dinner table, as the pair exchange vacant stares and sip from large wine glasses. The scene shifts again to an open-air venue, but much of the same sentiments from the previous sit-down have carried over to this one. Andy Michaels is crooning in the background, his voice accompanied by a beautiful string melody, as tears are shed and headaches find little comfort on screen in this video for the all-new single “Darling It Hurts,” and though we are not in the physical presence of its two characters, their emotion is tangible to us nevertheless. 

URL: https://andymichaelsmusic.com/

“Darling It Hurts” boasts one of the more spellbinding videos I’ve seen from an independent artist this March, but its real allure is the music it delivers to us, packaged in a light pop polish but left relatively unchanged from the form we find it in on the critically-acclaimed Incendiary Heart, Michaels’ latest album. The first half of the song is dominated by Andy Michaels and the strings that shelter every emotional statement he makes, but as we get deeper into the track, another voice decides to join him in what will become, at least in my opinion, one of the best duets you’re going to hear this spring. Their connection is as intimate as the players on screen, and they convey the mood of the unraveling imagery perfectly. 

I wouldn’t change a thing about the production style Michaels decided to go with in the video for “Darling It Hurts,” and frankly, the same goes for Incendiary Hearts as well. All of his music is defined by its intricate detail, but in this latest release, I get the feeling that he wanted the simplicity of his songwriting to steal the show away from any of the minute elements that make-up the melody here. He’s got a lot of talent, and given how short his time in the spotlight has been, he’s truly come a long way (especially when comparing his development with that of his mainstream competitors) both in the studio and as a composer. 

APPLE MUSIC: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/andy-michaels/315637461

Though it’s marred in melancholy and occasionally difficult for the recently brokenhearted to digest, pop and adult contemporary fans would be crazy to pass up the new music video for Andy Michaels’ amazing “Darling It Hurts” single. Melodically, I’m not sure if he’s ever sounded quite as on-point as he does in this latest release, and if there’s any chance he makes it over to the States to carry out a proper tour in support of Incendiary Heart’s release, I definitely plan on being there to see what he can do in person. Michaels seems determined to climb through the underground ranks this year, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s earned a place on my personal ‘Artists You Have to Hear to Believe’ list without any need for reanalysis. 

Joshua Beach