BLANKS is a Dutch musician with an extensive fanbase, counting over 1 million YouTube subscribers on his Music by BLANKS channel. and millions of streams on Spotify. His latest offering “Classic Armstrong” is a catchy synth pop tune, full of energy and earnestness, and is the third single from upcoming album that will be released later this year.
“Classic Armstrong” starts with a retro inspired drum beat, then quickly introduces us to catchy melodies that only grow catchier by the time we get to the chorus, with vocals and production that are top-notch as usual with BLANKS. The song ends in a somewhat unusual way, as in not with a final chorus, but with an instrumental section with a simple lead synth oscillating between octaves.
The witty lyrics are well-crafted to revolve around the idea of comparing a crush to a melody, and even referencing the soulfulness of a ‘classic Armstrong’ record. The musical allegories continue up to the point where the artist compares the loved one to the perfect melody, stating that he doesn’t mind ‘the key’. To a musician such as myself, that seems like the perfect declaration of love!
The single imparts happy, larger-than life feelings of joy, very fitting for a song that is essentially about a crush.
Talking about the song, BLANKS says:
The single comes with a charming music video, that depicts a cute friendship/beginning of a love story, and leaves us waiting for the next instalment of the story. Make sure to subscribe and follow BLANKS on socials to keep up with the next releases and news about the upcoming album!
Dutch alt-folk artist Roos Meijer releases ‘In My Name’, the first single from her upcoming debut LP ‘Why Don’t We Give It A Try?’, set for release in November 2021.
Roos has set herself for quite an ambitious and unique project, with the songs on her upcoming album being inspired by conversations with eight societal change-makers for causes relating to climate, anti-racism, feminism, human rights, orphans, LGBTQ+ youth, and homelessness. ‘In My Name’ is inspired by a conversation with Julia Jouwe, an activist for a free West Papua who took up the legacy of her late grandfather, in the fight for the freedom of his native people.
Musically, ‘In My Name’ is an atmospheric number with dreamy double tracked vocals and deceptively simple vocal melodies, stretched over chord changes that surprise and delight, with profound, politically charged lyrics.
Opening with a strong statement about how history betrayed so many voices, Roos continues with what is a poignant social commentary, that manages to stay elegant at all times, and not fall on the preachy side. This is achieved through the contrast between the uplifting message and the reflective, subdued nature of the music. The arrangement is eclectic, an alt-folk with sparse chamber pop elements and an unexpected but extremely effective ethnic instrument solo at the end. The fade out is longer than usual, maybe depicting those unheard voices that faded away from history.
The music of Roos Meijer is interesting and thought challenging. If the rest of the songs follow the same vein, this will be an album to look out for!
‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ is the newest single from California based Japanese American pop artist Mikara.
Comprising of just an acoustic guitar and Mikara’s sweet-toned vocals, ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ possesses the charming simplicity of a diary entry. Sung over a chord progression that stays the same all throughout the song, yet somehow does not become monotonous, the hazy vocal is imbued with the nostalgia of a relationship that is already becoming a memory.
The delivery flows naturally, a musing monologue with unpretentious lyrics exuding the youthful air of a first love, and first heartbreak. The recurring line that also gives the title of the song, is a subtle hook, but one that proves to be a bit of an ear-worm by the end of the song.
Written, recorded and produced in her bedroom, “You’re Gonna Miss Me’ is an excellent bedroom pop piece.It is intimate, honest and does not need artifice to create a memorable piece that excellently portrays the emotional numbness that comes after a disappointment in a relationship.
Talking about the inspiration behind the song, Mikara explains:
“Breaking up with your best friend HURTS. I went through the stages of heartbreak, anger and disappointment. I felt like I was trapped with these feelings, held hostage to a toxic relationship grasping for a sense of normalcy. It took some time but I’m finally free. I’ve started a new chapter and this is my rebirth.”
Mikara plans to release her debut EP later this year, so if you want to stay up to date with her new music, do make sure to follow her socials:
Bournmouth-based duo Air Circus share a refreshing take on pop with their latest collaboration with DJ Maisie Mais.
The group, comprising of Adam Adrian, Dan Follant and collaborator Maisie Mais, have just released the single, which is a wonderfully bizzare combination of eclectic layers and instrumental elements, all tied together by Maisie’s sweet, straight-forward-pop voice.
The instrumental is a throbbing culmination of warped and detuned, jangly guitars, bouncing electronic elements and retro off-beat synth bass, and the vocals are very Lily Allen. The chorus contains an ingenious instrumental hook intertwined with catchy vocal melodies, on top of a bouncy, fabulously danceable rhythm.
The production draws inspiration from artists such as FINEAS (brother and producer of Billie Eilish), who uses found sounds to create instrumental parts, such as striking a matchstick to create a snare drum sound. Air Circus used the sound of a deoderant can discharging to create a hi-hat sound. It took many takes to get the sound they wanted, and it wasn’t long before they had to open a window.
The track was written and recorded over lockdown, but unlike Leeds-based duo Lines of Flight, Air Circus did not find that working separately really got the creative juices flowing. UK restrictions were only allowing separate households to meet up outside at the time, so the solution? Set up a recording studio in the garden. In fact, two gardens, one at each home. Every part (excluding the vocal, which Maisie Mais recorded at her home and sent over) was recorded outside in this way, with the result that some birds and neighbour sounds can be heard in the recording.
On the meaning of the song, Air Circus explain:
“The Last Time’ explores Maisie’s experience of holding desperately onto friendships and relationships, despite knowing that theoutcome of every single day will be an argument. This self-awareness acts as a sounding board of frustrations, questioning whether she will make it ‘the last time’ or keep getting hurt.”
‘The Last Time’ really is a refreshing take on pop; unusual, interesting yet infectiously catchy. It is the first release as part of a larger project, and we are looking forward to seeing what else will come out of it.
Brooklyn-based artist Freddy Hall answers lockdown loneliness with determined optimism in upbeat, Motown inspired single, ‘Something Good’.
The first release in anticipation of upcoming album, ‘Dazy’, Hall delights us with a refreshingly retro track arranged for big band in the style of Amy Whinehouse and Motown artists such as Stevie Wonder or The Supremes. Produced by Anthony ‘Rocky’ Gallo (John Legend, Cigarettes After Sex, Gavin DeGraw) and featuring the wonderful horns arrangement of Broadway director Cian McCarthy (Moulin Rouge, The Book of Mormon), ’Something Good’ takes a stand against what Hall describes as the ‘loneliness epidemic’.
The bright, upbeat arrangement is counterpointed by Hall’s dreamy indie vocals, and honest lyrics:
“I don’t need much, I just want something good. I’ve been on my own for way too long, and well, something good might stay, yeah, something good might change how I’m feeling now.”
The arrangement is a really interesting blend of 70s soul and indie pop, and it’s refreshing to hear a recording with so many live elements – all the parts are recorded by live players. McCarthy has arranged the horns masterfully, adding wonderful texture, depth and dynamics to the track with bouncing counterpoints and filling the gaps with joyful bursts of melody. Gallo’s production is also top-notch, with a crisp and clear mix that jumps out of the speakers, and the nice additions of crowd ambience add to the message of the song – by adding an atmosphere of live performance, one thing we’ve all been missing throughout the pandemic.
Of all the artistic responses to Covid we’ve seen this year, this one stands out. While many have fully embraced themes such as the ticking clock and boredom, our powerlessness in the face of the situation or the loneliness of isolation, this track boldly antithesises these simultaneously acknowledging them in a tasteful way. The song is about the innate human need to socialise and connect with others.
On the release, Hall says:
“This song has been swirling in my head for many years now but I didn’t know exactly where to take it. I revisited it a few months into isolation and everything just poured out. […] This track has a fun sound juxtaposed with a serious, at times too-honest, and very relateble theme. At the end of the day, don’t we all just want ‘Something Good’?”
The track is also accompanied by a charming stop-motion music lyric video featuring magazine cutout lyrics and a lego concert:
Separated by lockdown but connected through technology, Lines of Flight have achieved something special: producing an album worth of material with nothing more than an iPhone each and an internet connection.
The Leeds-based duo, comprising of Matthew Henderson (vocals & synths/programming) and Helen Whale (vocals), met online and began collaborating using the free GarageBand app which comes pre-installed on the iPhone, sending files to each other via WhatsApp and recording vocals using iPhone headphones and mics. By the time the duo finally met each other, they had already written five songs. Five more followed to create a ten-track album, ’Signs of Life’, which Lines of Flight have since had mixed by Leeds-based producer Ed Heaton, are putting out one track at a time throughout 2021.
Track number three is ‘Heading Out To You’, which was recently dropped on Spotify:
‘Heading Out To You’ is a dreamy synth-pop track that calls back to 80s artists such as Depeche Mode, awash with retro synths and underscored by a dramatic piano and computerised drum beat. The vocals are produced in a lo-fi way, which on first listen I thought was a conscious, artistic decision that works rather nicely, rather than due to working around the limitations of iPhone microphones. Multiple layers of vocals fill out the sound nicely, and when coupled with a lo-fi effect, you get that washy sound popularised by artists such as Sufjan Stevens. It’s also nice that the vocals are not over-produced, and still retain that human touch.
The song itself is about yearning for escape. Of the track’s origins, Matthew writes: ‘This song came about following a drive out to the north-east coast. I was reminded of driving up Sutton Bank in the snow, in a wonderful old car that my dad drove – a 1970’s Datsun Laurel. It felt so luxurious! At the time I was driving to a party and all the anxieties of that I had as a teenager, but in the song I reposition it to be my final drive to reach my dad – to be reunited with him, in his car – to travel to the ‘other side’ as referenced in the song (which in itself is a reference to the ‘why did the chicken cross the road’ joke – the dark existential humour of ‘to get to the other side’, always appealed to me). I did this by remembering that when I was driving to the party I nearly crashed – which I then reframed as a means to reaching my dad.’
‘Heading Out To You’ is also accompanied by a music video directed by Amy Cutler, which was also filmed on (you guessed it) an iPhone:
It’s great to hear how Lines of Flight have taken the constraints of the situation, having to work remotely and having no access to a recording studio, and use these creatively to create something new and unique.
To follow Lines of Flight and hear the rest of the album as it is released, follow them on social media using the links below:
Shoegaze artist Boywithahalo releases contemplative track about life stagnation and isolation.
‘Story’ opens with an atmospheric sweeping texture of flanged vocalising goodness, before the pounding drums underscore a sing-song two and a half minute contemplation from boywithahalo.
The vocals are delivered with an air of fragility and resignation as the song opens with a familiar thought, “what’s the point to my story?”. Boywithahalo wrote “story” while stuck overseas in mainland China during the pandemic lockdowns, cut off from friends and family:
“I had no job, I had no audience, and all of the little amount of friends I had back in the US were inaccessible now due to the firewall and distance, and everything stood still for a long while.”
These feelings of isolation and apathy are conveyed in the song, as boywithahalo explains: “At times it felt like I have lost direction, stuck frozen in place and going nowhere at the same time. This song embodies my inner struggle with belonging, and ends on an optimistic note of approaching acceptance and confidence”. This is a very relatable feeling that I’m sure most of us have felt at some point, lockdown or no lockdown.
This mood is effectively conveyed in a number of ways: the laid-back tempo almost ticking like a clock, the simplistic melody and same two chords strummed on the guitar, and the apathetic and almost satirical tone of the vocals hold a quality that really conveys the layered emotions running through his head: he is fed up, unable to do anything or go anywhere, unsure what to do with his life, rearing to go and yet simultanously resigned to the slow tempo of the new normal. It’s remarkable how he manages to convey this with just two chords and a simple melody, and a testament to his artistry.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The track ends with a note of optimism and resolve, with the lyrical punchline “I’ll find a way to make it out there and I’ll tell you my story”. This is a track to listen to when you just want to slow down and take things a step at a time.
This is the 5th single from boywithahalo, and we are looking forward to the next part of the story.
London-based 6-piece Neon Gru released their debut EP ‘I Am A Bird’ in March, an eclectic and imaginative blend of sounds and styles that bears the mark of great musicianship.
To promote the EP, they released a music video for ‘Moonlight’, track number 4 of the release. The music video was directed by Anna Andersen and Stephanie Sutherland, featuring the latter as choreographer and dancer evocative of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights.
‘Moonlight’ is an atmospheric yet vibrant alt-pop track that strays boldly from formulaic song writing.
It is a five-minute musical journey that draws you in from the start, with tasty tones from the guitar and keys setting the stage before a Radiohead King Of Limbs-esque drum beat rolls us through to the verse. Ny Oh’s smooth and acrobatic vocals come in here and sound great throughout. The guitars and keys dance around the lead vocals until the two-minute mark where there is the first main tonal shift on ‘overcomplicated’.
We hear the first backing vocals, spreading out the sound stage, and simultaneously the drums open out to a side-sticked bossa beat with a more major tonality which really contrasts nicely from what came before. Atmospheric guitars and keys continue to noodle in both ears until we reach the music punchline on the lyrics “A beautiful star / Hiding in the moonlight…”
After a moment’s reflection, the music takes a darker turn, with a restless bass riff underscoring menacing pick scrapes on guitar and soundscape elements. Ny Oh’s vocals, previously pure in tone, returns with a distortion effect with the hook, “Coming in hot, I’ve been waiting…”, on repeat with growing arrangements underneath, until the production opens out with the band’s backing vocals taking up the hook and Ny Oh ad-libbing on top in a dramatic climax of the song.
The track dies down again with the return of the familiar verse drum beat and distorted vocalising bringing us to the close of the piece.
‘Moonlight’ deviates notably from verse-chorus structure we are so used to. It is more of an A/B, with everything before the build-up as section A, and “coming in hot” to the end as section B. This, and constantly evolving arrangement, makes for a really interesting and engaging track which really doesn’t feel like five minutes.
We hope you enjoy this introduction to Neon Guru’s music and their debut EP ‘I Am A Bird’. It is definitely worth checking out the other tracks on the record. Find out more below:
Kallie Marie’s new EP, ‘Should Your Sun Set Before Mine’ is a collection of three deeply atmospheric instrumental tracks, all composed, performed, engineered and mixed by Kallie.
The three pieces are different in mood and feel, but they all pulse with the same dreamlike quality. Kallie masterfully crafts sparse soundscapes that take full possession of the available spatiality, with elements shifting from the left to right in a constant movement that brings the textures to life and engages the listener.
“Be Still” introduces plucked synthetic strings floating on top of tastefully layered beds of synths and pads, and darkly atmospheric cello samples, playing at the edge of dissonance, inducing an unsettling feeling, almost like being trapped in a dream that is disconcerting, but is not quite yet a nightmare.
“Under the Twilight” is build around an ostinato of ascending semitones, channeling Twin Peaks vibes. The piece progresses slowly, rewarding the patient listener with a subtle but satisfying chord change towards the end of the piece, just before the texture becomes stripped down, just like during a sunset the most beautiful colours show right before the darkness sets.
The last piece “On The Road Back” introduces a thumping beat set against another ostinato on electric piano, a symmetrical journey that starts with the piano notes, grows and develops, and ends in the same place.
The pieces are varied in terms of instrumentation, tempos and feel, but they converge to form a cohesive collection, through the compositional voice that is very much distinctive throughout the EP, and the excellent production. We were intrigued by the music, so we asked a few questions to find out more about Kallie and the inspiration and creative process behind this EP.
What inspired you to write this EP?
This trio of pieces is about the process of illness or injury (and that doesn’t have to just be of the physical kind), and about the road to recovery and healing. These three pieces came out of a unique place. A Patreon of mine was ill, and undergoing a series of diagnostic tests. I wrote the first piece for them, as something I hoped they could take with them on those days, having been there many times, alone, myself. The second piece is the treatment phase. Its disorienting, possibly frightening, and the shortest part. It is the time where you relinquish control of yourself to whomever is treating you, what ever that treatment is. The final piece is about recovery. It requires great patience, fortitude, and dedication to healing. Healing is its own journey, not without plateaus, frustrations, and the acceptance that time is part of the process of recovery. As the pandemic started last year, at this time, and I found myself wondering more and more about what collective injuries we had, and what healing we would each need, as individuals, and as a society- now torn by illness and loss, and how to find the road back to healing.
Any particular musical influences?
I am probably influenced by people like Max Richter, Aphex Twin, Michael Nyman, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, and Dead Can Dance when I am writing in this style. I have a lot of influences that people might not expect that are peppered into my work, which I have to sometimes reign in, or shut out, as it were. An influence for example like Tool, Bjork, or PJ Harvey, Nirvana, or Tori Amos. I am sure that they are all there though battling it out in my heart and head. Honestly though, and this is the truth, when I write I am seeing imagery, or feeling so deeply that am not really conscious of things like influences. Sometimes I have intense nightmares and those are more influential than my musical influences, or life in general influences what I end up channeling into the writing.
Can you tell us about your creative process?
The creative process for this EP (Should Your Sun Set Before Mine) specifically, not in general, was quite unusual. The first piece was started quite a while back. Maybe even two years, and once I was done with it, I thought ‘Oh, these need to be a trio’, because I had recently undergone my own health and healing processes, and it had really resonated with me. Of course I was busy working on other projects, producing Makes My Blood Dance, at the time I think, or maybe it was Mary and The Ram… and so I wasn’t writing as much consistently at that time. Then the pandemic hit, and after moving house mid pandemic I refocused, asked my Patreon supporters what pieces in progress they thought I should finish, and this was one of the ones that got voted. When I write I often come from a technical production perspective. I sit down and I create a sound really carve out my own patches, really a lot of music sound design work, and layer them instrument by instrument, and lay down part by part. So many times in the past I have tried to set up templates and it just doesn’t work for me. So there has to be this emotional vision, feelings and pictures in my head, and I build these sounds for myself to interact with. I have no idea if what I just said makes any sense!
You’re not just an amazing composer, but also a skilled producer and audio-engineer, and also an author. What is your favorite ‘hat’ to wear, and why?
Music is always going to be my focus and first choice. Always. I love producing/engineering as much as I enjoy composing. I couldn’t choose one over the other, and being informed about both helps be better at each in turn.
Are you still able to enjoy listening to music as a ‘regular’ person, or does your brain always dissect and analyze the musical elements and production?
Gosh, I don’t know if I know how to listen as a regular person. Music has always been something else for me. I find it very visceral, and I think that’s because I was formerly a ballet dancer, for the first half of my life. So even if I am trying to be a casual listener, I am still finding it hard to sit still and not interact with it. I can’t handle situations where there is live music playing while I am eating. It actually makes me anxious. Like, ‘Why am I eating when I might have to suddenly work!?” So no, I dont think I can shut that off. However, I will say this much, and its hard to imagine this world because of the past year of the pandemic, but going to see a band I love, does remove me a bit, especially if it was a band or artist I have never seen and always wanted to. Then I am just a fan. I still enjoy the music perhaps differently, but songs and things conjure so many memories and there’s that communal crowd experience. Similarly, if I am at a pub, bar, or club and I am socializing I might not be listening acutely, but I will also be VERY put off by music being too loud, or bad acoustics, or bad sound systems. I carry earplugs with me everywhere, filtered custom molded ones, because it will ruin the entire situation if I can’t escape it. I often wear earplugs in movie theaters because they are too loud. And there again – I spend a lot of time in movies being distracted by the music!
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
That producers/engineers, artists, technicians, roadies, etc all of us be paid better, fairer, on time, with transparency, and given some sort of health care. The situation with the devaluation of music with streaming and streaming services is really hurting the industry. And no less important: producers, engineers, mixers, mastering engineers – we need our credits listed! We cant get more work if there are no credits. Imagine if films showed with no credits?? Everyone knows who the artists are, but no one knows who worked on the record, or where it was recorded, or mixed, or mastered? Those facilities won’t stay open if no one knows where to go! Artists please credit your technicians/team, and don’t try to list yourselves as producer because you did a few things at home in Logic or GarageBand. It’s really important to credit people fairly and properly. If we could change that, we’d have a start to fixing all the knock on affects of the above.
What is one achievement that you are very proud of?
This one is always tricky, because I am proud of most of my work, and I couldn’t pick a favorite project. A great experience I had recently was that MPath, the music library I am a composer with, won 2019’s ‘Best Overall Production Music Album’, at the Broadcast Production Awards, for their album ‘Phenomenal Women Vol. 6’ . I contributed a track called ‘After the Flood’. Its special to me because of what MPath have achieved with gender parity at their library, and it was my first contribution to their library, and my first award in the music industry.
What was the strangest or funniest thing that ever happened to you in the studio?
Oh there’s some stories… but what happens in the studio stays in the studio. I will share this much though: I once was hired to engineer a session at a small studio in the LES of NYC. I showed up to the session, this is later in the evening, and the artists were confused about who I was and kept asking the owner of the studio if I was there “to party”. The owner of the studio kept explaining that no, I was going to be their engineer. So I am overhearing all this from the control room while I am getting things ready. The flustered studio owner comes into the control room, shuts the door behind him and says, “They want to know if they can pay for the session in weed. They have two pillow cases full… and some champagne.” I told the studio owner, that I couldn’t pay my rent with that, and that no, they’d have to pay me with actual money, and also how the hell am I riding the subway home with pillow cases full of… NO. I must be paid with money please. So the session didn’t happen. Afterwards the studio owner apologized profusely and we went and sat on a bench and ate ice cream cones at about 11pm before parting ways and taking the subway home.
What advice would you give to someone at the beginning of their career in the music industry?
That’s a tough question because there are so many pathways in the music industry. It would really depend on what the person in front of me wanted to do in the music industry. In general, and I would say this to any creative person, or some one with an entrepreneurial heart, is that you have to be dedicated, self disciplined, and willing to sacrifice. You have to stay focused and ignore people around you who will try to shit on your goals because they cant fathom what you are doing. They only know being a worker bee. They turn up somewhere get a pay check and leave, and go home to their TV or Xbox. If you want that, this is the wrong life for you. If you know you don’t want that, then keep pushing ahead. Don’t be scared of the lean months because if you stick with it you will find your spirit and mind deeply rewarded and enriched. You may never be wealthy in the bank but you will have a life of wealth in friends, experiences, and contributing to the world around you, and if you are lucky you will create things of lasting relevance that will be your legacy, and will inspire and comfort others. If you are signing up for riches, or a lifestyle that seems fun, go do something else. Be ready to pivot, innovate, focus, and chip away at something everyone around you will tell you is hopeless. Lastly, and most importantly: there’s no room for egos, back stabbing, dishonesty or being mean. This isn’t a competitive sport. This is a community. Music is a neighborhood. BE KIND. Work hard.
We have featured Luna Keller previously, at the release of her previous single “Prophecy”, a beautiful song about new beginnings.
A few months later, she returns with “High Low High Low”, an engaging folk pop tune with a driving rhythm, twiddly acoustic guitars and an extremely catchy chorus.
Luna’s distinctive vocals lead the melodies of the verses over Red Hot Chilli Peppers-like guitar patterns played with impeccable precision. The arrangement and production of the song are top-notch, highlighting the great songwriting and shaping it into a radio-friendly song with hit potential.
Inspired by the natural highs and lows of life, of which we had more than the usual share during the past year, Luna’s new single manages to impart a feel-good mood. In fact, it is the kind of song that is prone to elicit a smile one’s face, and the kind that can be listen to over and over, without getting bored!