In today’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we return our gaze to Chris Nole, a seasoned pianist and composer who has been featured several times here on the site. (Including once on the Jukebox Podcast discussing Nole’s music and work with the late John Denver.) A master interpreter and instrumentalist, Nole offers some of his finest work when he reimagines classics through his unique style. Thus, it seems only natural that his next release is a particularly lovely Christmas record, ‘Toyland.'
In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on two new releases from Charles Luck, the leader of the Black Astronaut hip hop collective. The performer released two pop-oriented singles in the last month: ‘Taste Bud’ featuring S-Class and ‘We Are The Astronauts,’ co-written by and featuring Tino Red. Let’s explore the two new tunes and see if they’re worth including in one’s ever-expanding library of Black Astronaut releases.
On Friday, September 15, the independent Australian alternative rock outfit The Pretty Fingers will debut the next track in their series of continued single releases. The new song, entitled ‘Best of Me,’ boasts sonic elements that the band has become increasingly well-known for: passionate lead vocals, fiery, explosive instrumentation, and hard-hitting, memorable performances. The single is set to debut on all major digital music platforms for streaming and download alongside an official music video.
On Friday, September 22, the independent singer-songwriter David Vaters will release his latest studio endeavor. Entitled ‘Volume 2,’ the record comes on the heels of Vater’s first volume of solo work which was released to critical acclaim in February. Infusing Americana music with elements of alternative country, folk rock, and contemporary Christian music, Vater has quickly defined himself as a wholly unique talent quite unlike any other act in the music industry.
On October 20, Suburban Vermin will release the next issue of these recordings, ‘TV Head Nation #2.’ Like the releases that preceded it, it’s short and sweet, clocking in with two songs. The EP, however, is a much meatier endeavor than it may appear, with the band also releasing a 22-page comic book to accompany it amongst other items like trading cards, papercraft figures, and a board game.
ICESQUAD, one of the hip hop community’s most dynamic collaborations, has released their highly anticipated new single. Entitled ‘Go Live,’ the hard-hitting, explosive new track highlights the trio in fine form following their successful 2016 debut album, ‘Metamorphosis.’ The single is available now on all major digital music platforms to stream and download.
Cullen describes ‘Warfare’ as a piece “inspired by the mental, emotional, and spiritual battles that often take place in one’s mind, as opposed to an external, physical war.” Entirely instrumental, ‘Warfare’ is a bombastic piece that clocks in at three minutes. There’s a fiery, intense nature to the track, something that’s accented by understanding the song is a journey through chaos and one's own internal strife.
‘1980 Redux,’ as described by Alien Skin, is “besotted with 1970s Berlin-era Bowie, enchanted by pre-Victorian Mary Shelley, while contorting and shape shifting into the geometric world of 1980.” Pappas’ immense desire to capture and preserve the kind of music that inspired him early in his career is admirable, especially since he digs his heels deep into the experimental nature of that 80s synth-rock period.
Luck’s lyricism, in particular, often has two sides: intense levity or elegant poetic prose. More often than not, his work lands on one end of that spectrum or the other. On ‘Pray,’ Luck and Red explore a rather destitute landscape of hopelessness and societal strife. The two songwriters solemnly refer to areas like the South Side of Chicago as “barren gallows of pain” in a country where “hope was sold and us hopeless souls got roped and rolled into the hole again.”
‘Blip,’ the introductory track, calls to mind, perhaps, Oasis. Dried Arrangement boasts a very surreal, bubbly dream pop style that’s certainly evocative of some of Oasis’ biggest hits. The hints of soft, subtle synthesizers add a beautiful layer to ‘Blip’ and its sonic complexity. The song opens the album with a very strong, well mixed and mastered production, an element that is a mainstay on ‘Sunset.’
With a strong early single like ‘Home,’ Elmont had a high bar set for themselves. Fortunately, it’s immediately clear on the EP that they’ve not only reached that bar, but exceeded it in several ways. The introductory track, ‘Waiting on a Phone Call,’ harnesses a perfect suaveness that ties together Elmont’s brand of alt rock. The slick production is, similar to ‘Home,’ incredibly strong, and the lead guitar musings have hints of Southern influence, drawing parallels to, perhaps, the Allman Brothers or the like.
One of the most frequent features here on the Independent Spotlight is Charles Luck, the driving creative force behind the Black Astronaut hip hop collective. His release style, at least until now, has consisted primarily of dropping random singles every few weeks, some incredibly thought-provoking, some incredibly loony. Now, Black Astronaut has released their first full EP, an endeavor entitled ‘The Walrus, The Ninja, and The Gypsy From Sydney.'
‘Don’t Give A Shit’ is one of Luck’s most carefree lyrical efforts to date. His songwriting on the track is exceptionally witty as Red muses about a squirrel that bit him, his burnt toast, a relationship in ruins, amongst many other rather bizarre items. There’s something so freeing about the track: Luck is shamelessly self-deprecating in his songwriting and Red’s delivery exudes the perfect amount of apathy necessary to make ‘Don’t Give A Shit’ immensely amusing.
A.J. Harrison performs on a twelve string Ovation, his primary instrument aside from the occasional exploration into MIDI instruments. The latter is in full abundance on ‘One Voice In Two-Part Harmony,’ something exhibited immediately on ‘Long Distance Love Affair,’ the album’s opening tune. It’s doused in bubbly, bright synthesizers and drum-machine beats. Aside from Harrison’s vocals, which true to the album’s name, are in a two-part harmony, the song is populated primarily with what sounds like MIDI production. The intense nature of the synthesizers is becoming of Harrison, though, and makes ‘Long Distance Love Affair’ a bit infectious in its own way.
To put it bluntly, I don’t receive contemporary gospel/Christian music across my desk often, and when I do, it’s usually generic, cookie-cutter praise music that sounds like every other popular song spinning on K-Love. The community has created a very specific, incredibly recognizable sound that its own artists struggle to break away from. That is the key component of Morgan’s music worth lauding: he sounds like he’s crafting his own style by utilizing his faith as an authentic device for inspiration. That’s what makes him excellent.
Luck, ever the fascinating songwriter, wrote ‘The Stairway’ after receiving a poem from a suicidal girl at a Waffle House early in the morning last year. The track explores the idea of climbing up or down the ‘stairway to heaven,’ and what doing so means for someone. One’s actions lead to their judgement at the end of the path, the song argues, and only they can take control of that. Oddly enough, the sample at play here isn’t ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ but rather, ‘Dream On.’ Yes, Black Astronaut has made the only cool sampling of Aerosmith under the sun. It’s a beautifully executed sample that fits the song perfectly.
The title track of the ‘Animal Instinct’ EP is indeed brashly sexual, but in a particularly lovable way. It’s chock-full of cheeky, zoo-themed imagery and innuendo. The punchy, infectious atmosphere of ‘Animal Instinct’ sounds like, perhaps, Mini Mansions or The Kooks. The aforementioned Oasis influence is abundantly obvious, and the suave nature of the Arctic Monkeys is present, too. (Though The Lovepools take themselves less seriously than Alex Turner and company have a tendency to do these days, which is very welcome.) The synthesized brass sections are brilliant, too, pairing perfectly with the thudding piano and organ.
On Thursday, July 28, the well-respected independent bluegrass outfit, Fennario’s Wolf, will perform a free concert at the City Dock in Annapolis, Maryland. The show, which kicks off at 6:30 pm, is the first of a series of performances Fennario’s Wolf has slated this summer influenced by bluegrass legends, The Del McCoury band. The group will be joined by Dave Brumberg of The Brummy Brothers on upright bass.
It’s not often a debut like ‘Pacifico,’ the first release from the alternative pop artist Brice Sedgwick, comes across my desk. The nine track endeavor isn’t just a polished sonic excursion through some fascinating themes, but rather, a solo artist’s surprisingly cohesive journey through combining a bevy of unlikely genre influences. While ‘Pacifico’ is “pop” in its core, it’s doused in alternative and psychedelic rock, hip hop, industrial, and so much more.
Mike Bee and the Dead Soldiers is a solo act, despite its name, and it draws influence from classic psychedelic, freakbeat, and acts the likes of David Bowie and Pink Floyd. There’s a whole lot at play in Mike Bee’s music, and that’s perhaps best exhibited by his newest single, ‘Jane’s Gone Into The Shadow.’ The punchy, powerful track embraces psychedelic rock influence, but it also has the brevity and tactfulness of a pop track.