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!
Jacqueline Loor is not a new apparition on Indie Gems. We have previously featured her heart-wrenching self-produced song “I Broke My Heart” (read here), and we are happy to see she is back with a new single, this time a collaboration with Chicago-based singer-songwriter Sunflower Summit. Like many other musical happenings over the past year, this collaboration was undertaken remotely through Zoom sessions, after the two met on an online course.
We hope our song "Carry Through" helps those people who are hurting right now. We hope they know and can feel that they are not alone".
“Carry Through” is a touching piano-powered pop ballad, delivered with delicacy and warmth.
From the very first line, the lyrics strike with their loaded simplicity that packs a punch: “You think you have forever, until you don’t”. Just like with the first line in a book, it’s a testament to the writing prowess of Jacqueline and Maria to open up with such a powerful first verse.
A song about togetherness and relying on another human being to help one out through dark times, it is only appropriate that this is a collaboration. The two voices blend together beautifully to carry through (pun intended) this beautiful tune.
Our favourite part was the outro, which sticks to the realms of athmospheric pop, but really has anthemic potential.
Birmingham duo Beorma release “Drown”, a deceptively ‘fun’ indie-pop bop, where bouncy beats and melodies are cleverly juxtaposed with lyrics conveying darker tones.
Beorma consists of Tom and Ferns, both singers and both previously members of different bands, who joined forces during lockdown in 2020, with their first single released in November of the same year. “Drown” is part of the duo’s EP, “Virtual Emotionality”.
The song starts with a stripped intro consisting only of vocal layers underpinned by a single note synth pad, before it explodes into a lush production of guitar-tinged pop, with energetic beats and synths, reminiscent of No Rome and the 1975. The vocals blend together seamlessly, alternating between stacked harmonies in the chorus, and octaves in the verses. This is particularly effective in achieving contrast between sections, and if the vocal production was consciously inspired by Matty Healy’s vocals, then the duo nailed it.
With lyrics talking about drowning and about feeling like “sometimes I’m not here at all”, Beorma manage to tackle the serious topic of depression under the guise of a catchy pop song with a chorus that is likely to stay stuck in one’s head long after the first listening. Well, this certainly happened to us!
GRAY is a prolific UK singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who released a plethora of singles throughout the second half of 2020, and continues to do so in 2021. We’ll introduce you to his music by featuring his two most recent singles released less than a month apart, from upcoming debut album “In the Absence of Colour”.
Starting with emotional ballad “Loving Lies”, we waste no time with intros to be acquainted with GRAY’s rich and emotionally laden vocals. He sways effortlessly from deep tonalities to flawless falsetto, with excellent use of vocal range and dynamics, and vocal runs tastefully scattered here and there, but impressive enough to offer a glimpse of GRAY’s incredible vocal control.
Indeed, ‘Loving Lies’ is a track of contrasts, of ups and downs, from atmospheric pads, moody piano chords and beats reminiscent of Mansionair’s slower songs, to the explosion in the middle eight with strong beats and strings of epic proportions, then back to ‘taking the cover away’ and exposing the vulnerability of the vocals on their own.
A powerful song with a great delivery and made of all the ingredients of a successful ballad of the kind that made Lewis Capaldi famous, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t hear it ‘Loving Lies’ all over playlists and on the radio!
In contrast to ‘Loving Lies’, GRAY’s latest single ‘Accolades’ is more upbeat and optimistic, fitting the narrative of getting over the previous heartbreak, but still perfectly in line stylistically with his earlier releases.
GRAY’s soulful voice is effectively supported by gospel-like harmonies and vocal layers constructed with great musicality and ingenuity. Add to this a driving beat, a catchy chorus with a real hook, funky bass and shiny brass brought together in a stellar production, and you’ve got yourself a bop!
Dutch duo Maida Rose release their latest dreampop gem, ‘Where Do We Go’, an accomplished second single reminiscent of Alvvays and Men I Trust.
Though it’s only their second single, ‘Where Do We Go’ feels like a work of full artistic maturity. While using well defined tropes of the dreampop genre, it is not afraid to twist the listener’s expectations in refreshing ways.
After a very brief ‘Chasing Cars’ moment on the guitar, the song wastes no time to introduce us to vocals that instantly draw us in. Roos’s ethereal voice has a timeless quality, a timbre that feels instantly familiar but with its own recognisable character, imbued with a nostalgia evocative of Ghostly Kisses or The Marias. The dreamy melodies float effortlessly on top of a groovy Tame Impala-esque bass line, and a drum beat that oscillates with ease between straight rhythms, 3-3-2 and half-time, lending to an arrangement that is engaging and draws you in.
The guitars strongly add to the atmosphere, from the sparkling plucked parts in the verses and pre-choruses, to the sighing motif in the bridge that reminds me of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’. They are slightly chaotic and not over-edited in the may that many contemporary tracks are, which gives it an air of authenticity and organicity. A breathy soundscape in the middle-eight adds to the dreamlike quality of the record. Sparse vocal harmonies are carefully put in places where they can make the most impact.
Talking about the song, Maida Rose explains: ‘The song takes place at the end of a long-term relationship, where the realization starts to sink in that you need to rediscover who you are when not being with your partner anymore. It’s a phase of denial, after unsuccessful attempts to let your lover go.’
Hear it for yourself, and let it take you floating through time and and space, asking “Where do we Go”:
London alt-pop artist Bonze releases new single ‘Jenny (Can You Hear Me?)’, a snappy love letter in musical form with hints of the 1975 and Glass Animals.
The track, humbly written in a shed in winter with nothing but a guitar, piano, microphone and analogue synth, is also humble in subject: finding the words to take the plunge in a new relationship. But that doesn’t take away from it, on the contrary: it adds to the authenticity. In fact, the production quality is top-notch – a testament that with skills and talent, a minimum of resources can go a long way.
The track opens with an introspective and stripped down piano and vocal arrangement, a moody soundscape to convey the tentative emotions before being ready to commit. It comes as a surprise when the moody vibe opens out as a catchy indie-pop guitar pulls us into the main hook of the chorus, with 80s-inspired drums and a most satisfying bass. The catchy falsetto of the ‘Jenny’ chorus, combined with the jaunty guitar rhythm, wah-wah electric piano and dreamy reverb makes for an effective combination, and something of an ear-worm. Bonze has a real knack for writing relatable lyrics and snappy melodies that follow the natural accents of speech, and therefore are easy to remember and fun to sing along.(we can easily imagine ‘Jenny’ to be a fan favourite in live gigs!).
Talking about the meaning of the song, Bonze explains:
“The song is about the beginnings of a relationship with a girl called Jenny. It’s about how emotionally up and down I can be, how I felt that I was fully ready to commit to the relationship and that I just hoped that she was ready too”.
The track has already received airplay from BBC Introducing in London and – with its catchy hooks and groovy bass, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear more of it on radios!
UK Singer-songwriter and producer Magpie releases “Fall Apart with Me, an introspective lockdown gem reminiscent of Lana del Rey and FKA Twigs.
“Fall Apart With Me” features a sparse arrangement crafted from interesting electronic textures, humanised by Magpie’s velvety vocals and relatable lyrics. The artist invites us to share our secrets and take her “to that place”, while transporting us into her own sonic world, as she turns an exploratory gaze inwards.
The kick drum only accentuating the first beat of the bars contributes to the introspective feel of the track, a heart beat resonating with the disjointed flow of past memories and traumas. A bass pulsates along with it, with some unexpected notes and subtle dissonances to contribute to the sense of alienation. It all comes together in the last chorus, with an uplifting sense of hope.
Talking about the meaning of the song, Magpie explains:
“This song is all about being able to look at your inner self, going deep inside and finding your traumas and things that you still hold onto as a result of your past. It is about telling yourself that it’s ok, that you are safe and only YOU are responsible for your inner happiness, only YOU can make that change and that if you have the courage to look inside, everything will become clear and you will be just fine!”
Magpie aka Eve Horne is the founder of PEAKMusicUK and an active campaigner for the equality of women in the music industry, having won a National Business Award for promoting female producers.
We are definitely glad to be able to promote a female producer creating great music and we suggest you do the same by listening to more of Magpie’s work. You can find out more about her on Instagram, Spotify and Bandcamp.
Graywave unveils ‘Swallow’, a heavy yet dreamy track with plenty of guitar and tons of attitude.
The UK-based singer and multi-instrumentalist has just released the track, which features a driving drumbeat and bass riff, hazy shoegaze guitars and breathy vocals.
‘Swallow’ begins with a twangy guitar riff over the main bass and drums parts, gradually opening up through a filtered effect, as if slowly waking up from a dream, before the voice swishes in for the verse. Heavy guitars envelop the choruses and the drums pick up a more energetic beat. Graywave’s vocals are pleasantly husky and airy, while packing a lot of power.
What sets this track apart is the trippy tonality, often found in songs by Queens of the Stone Age or Lacuna Coil, giving the track an etherial, otherwordly vibe. We especially enjoyed the guitar solo which reminded us Nothing but Thieves.
About the track, Graywave writes:
‘Swallow’ is about feeling a loss of control and losing trust within your own thoughts and actions. It’s about the way I feel when something bad happens that is out of my control – I tend to still blame myself even when I am not at fault and this song captures that. The meaning of this song also coincides withthe theme of the EP; a feeling of inner turmoil and a shift in emotions.
‘Swallow’ is the final single off of upcoming EP ‘Planetary Shift’.