2020 Vision is a new EP from Kevin Gullickson of Radio Drive. The album contains 6 of Radio Drive’s most successful singles released over the past several years. It might seem cliche to say that these jams rock, but I could honestly feel the bass through my laptop. I’ve reviewed thousands of recordings, and very few have had that effect. The guitars are nice and thick, offering up a jolting, no-nonsense sound on some songs, while conveying a sentimental precision on others. This music is classified as alternative, but it’s more of the powerful variety rather than the whiny, depressing sort (though I happen to enjoy that style as well). This guy actually sings much better than the typical alternative rock vocalist. That’s for sure. At times, his vocals remind me almost of power rock legends like Kevin Cronin, just really solid technical ability and a clean, shattering voice that’s simply been adapted for another genre. Overall, the music is very bright and colorful, like Blind Melon but with more punch to it. My favorite track on this EP is A Taste of Heaven, which is truly a perfect song. The guitars and vocals blend so well into one another that the enhanced result feels like a product of melodic alchemy.
Open Up Your Mind is a new single from Canton/Detroit based band, Second Hand Mojo. Scheduled be released on 7/31/2020, the song captures the authentic classic rock sound. It’s so cleanly recorded and professionally performed, it would not seem out of place on a Top 40 radio station’s rotation in 1987. The vocals are excellent. No autotune or processing sorcery, just a guy who can actually sing. The guitars have some spice to them, too, with some complex riffs and a refined vintage tone. This is like one of those songs you’d hear during the end credits of classic ’80s movie, where you’re all pumped up after the euphoric conclusion. Open Up Your Mind just has that feel. One can’t help but marvel at the musical craftsmanship displayed in this song. It just doesn’t get much better than this.
Best Friend is a new single from artist, KoKou Kah. The track is from Kokou Kah’s latest album, Nefi. Featuring a mellow beat that combines synth and organic, tribal elements, the song is laudable for its melodic chord changes, which provide some goosebump inducing hooks. KoKou Kah doesn’t try to dazzle us with flashy vocals, but he sings with detectable sincerity, and the lyrics are sentimental. He also excels at rapping, maintaining a keen sense of timing as he delivers rhymes with a fluttering quickness. The beat has enough of a kick to it that you can dance to this jam, but don’t discount the melodies.
Bump Yo Head is a new single from artist, Robin West. Blending elements of R&B, soul, and smooth jazz, this peppy jam is brimming with fresh style. Robin’s a great singer obviously, but just as importantly, she belts out her lines with personality and flair. She makes the most of every vocalization, squeezing out every last drop out of melody from words as she delivers them. The often repeated chorus phrase is instantly catchy. This is one of those songs that would easily be a hit if it were given mass exposure. Production quality is terrific, and the jazzy beat and backing vocals give the music an almost retro vibe. Bump Yo Head is so fundamentally well-performed and free of gimmickry that it feels like it could be from another era. This is solid gold.
Firebrand is a new album from Alias Wayne (the side project of singer/songwriter Ranzel X Kendrick). While the songs blend elements of country and rock, they would better be described as Americana. The music is exceptionally polished, but the production allows for the recordings to retain their organic, indie cred. This album doesn’t contain any of the processing excesses of contemporary recording, such as autotune. In that sense it has a slightly classic feel, like you’re listening to a 60′s style song that has been rediscovered and recorded with top-tier 1980s gear. The vocals are quite good, with creative lyrics that touch on unconventional subjects (for this genre) like environmentalism and various social phenomena. The songs go into curious detail and will really provoke you to think about what they’re about, which is a credit to the storytelling ability of the artist. No major surprises here, though. This guy is a pro musician who has been developing his craft since he was a kid. The technical skill is a given. Firebrand distinguishes itself with its creativity and imagination. This fun little album is thoroughly engaging.
Higher Love is the debut album from artist, Spring 84 and was produced by Hap Records. As one might ascertain from the title, the songs are inspired by love. Spring 84 claims that her “passion for music began at the age of two.” Also featuring the musical contributions of Kevin Nelson, the tracks have no shortage of sentimentality. Spring 84′s vocals are tender, romantic and saturated with sincerity. While some songs have a mellow and smooth ambiance, tracks like Your Love Is So Good venture into energetic synthpop territory. Blending elements of dance music, R&B and pop, the common factor in this album is the theme of love, which is presented in a positive and optimistic fashion. Spring 84 is a true believer in the power of romance, and she conveys it in her voice throughout these forthright recordings.
Corona Virus Rap (a parody of Vanilla Ice’s iconic track, Ice Ice Baby) is a freshly released song from accomplished actress and filmmaker, Giovannie Espiritu. She has a lot of impressive credits under her belt, which include brief roles on generation-defining shows like Gilmore Girls. Giovannie also is known for An Introvert’s World, a Little Mermaid parody which went viral when YouTube Star Tessa Netting allegedly stole the lyrics to it. Being a recluse and a misanthrope myself, I found that An Introvert’s World hit pretty close to home.
Giovannie Espiritu’s Corona Virus Rap was made in response to Vanilla Ice’s cancellation of his latest concert this weekend. The event had been somewhat controversial because such gatherings are obviously discouraged during the pandemic. While Giovannie considers herself more of a writer and comedian than a musician, I have to say that she actually can rap pretty well. She maintains a surprisingly good flow, and her timing is on point. The chorus: Try to be nice, nice baby, stay home is catchy and strangely sensual. Musically, the song is probably better than the original, but that isn’t necessarily saying much. The lyrics have a satirical and comedic element,and Vanilla Ice is always an easy target to make fun of, but the underlying message hits on something more important. A lot of people seem unable to externalize the effects of the coronavirus, focusing instead on their own “individual” risk. As Giovannie points out though, wearing a mask and staying home is also about preventing the illness from spreading to other people you may care about. Wearing is caring. The song manages to incorporate some informative pamphlets, blending them in with the humorous content. There’s not much else to say. It’s a simple track with straightforward, sound advice. Stay home, and if you must go anywhere, mask up.
March ’20 is a new EP from Italy-based artist, ClaT (real name: Claudio Tagliabue). The songs were inspired by songwriting and recording experiments he conducted on a long weekend during the lockdown earlier this year (one of the tracks is literally titled Quarantine). Rather than a depressing and somber ambiance, these songs actually rock pretty hard, as assertive guitars and pulsating beats drive much of the action. Deterioration, a retro-futuristic, a synth driven jam that sounds like it belongs on a George A. Romero film soundtrack, is positively invigorating. Blending elements of rock, punk, synth pop, alternative and new wave, this EP brings everything together cohesively, packing quite a punch into its brief runtime. Given that it was the product of an artist experimenting during odd conditions, it sounds surprisingly professional. This is like one of those old indie records you stumble upon in a thrift store and it turns out to be a gem. March ’20 is powerful and compact. It’s a great example of what can be achieved by combining musical talent with total focus on a project.
JIVE JIVE is a new EP from New York-based artist Corbin Canvas. The songs have a groovy, retro-futuristic vibe. Backed by soulful beats that proceed at a danceable pace, Corbin’s fresh and quick-witted vocals flow smoothly throughout. His voice has a natural charisma, while the lyrics are catchy, clever and occasionally humorous. The synth and sample-driven music is very polished, demanding a strong vocal performance, (which Corbin indeed delivers). Basically, this recording offers an interestingly futuristic blend of hip hop, house, and soul, with some Caribbean elements thrown in. I’ve reviewed thousands of releases, and I haven’t really heard anything quite like this before. That alone makes JIVE JIVE worth listening to, but it helps that it’s also very good.
Dead Wrong is a new album from artist, Demise. It’s slated to be released on July 17th, but the “presave” link is available below. The songs blend elements of hip hop, alternative and emo to create a distinctive, unconventional sound. Matching with the backing music, Demise’s vocal delivery is hauntingly melodic. He also makes creative use of harmonies, particularly on tracks like In My Room (not to be confused with the Beach Boys classic).
Thematically, the tracks combine subject matter like romance, heartbreak, death and demonry. There’s a dark sincerity that gives the album a personal touch. The affliction and angst sound persuasively real, to the extent the listener almost feels like a voyeur listening to recordings that are meant to be heard by someone else specifically. The unease is part of the album’s charm. The synth-driven backing music is wonderful, and one could really zone out to it if this were strictly an instrumental release. My favorite song on here is Living Dead which fully embodies the spirit of emo and which made me nostalgic for MySpace era emo culture and the associated musical acts. This album wears its ripped out heart on its sleeve. Cool stuff.