Jefferson Hyll aka Phillip E. Mitchell, was the winner of the open category of the UK Songwriting Contest in 2021. He’s also placed seven more songs in the finals of the contest, two of which were under Jefferson Hyll. Hyll also received a special mention in the International Songwriting Contest. Quite the accomplishments, I’d say! Since 2019, Hyll has slowly moved from Americana to alternative rock, with hints of his previous approach. The artists’s sound is influenced largely by ‘80s Springsteen and Dylan, The Wallflowers, Tom Petty, The War on Drugs, The Waterboys and others. The album Dark, reviewed here, was mixed and mastered at his home in Chatsworth, Georgia.
“Radio Nights” starts things off with a full rock sound - a warm, comforting musical style reminiscent of Springsteen and The Wallflowers. Hyll also adds a bit of piano too - which sounds real sweet next to the harder edged guitars. “If I Sleep” features soft piano and a reverberating guitar hook. This song has more of a modern indie style about it, not sounding dated at all. Michael McGough accompanies Hyll on backing vocals. The two voices couldn’t have matched any better. The title track to the album has a soulful sound, with perhaps, hints of ambient as well. Hyll’s voice complements his choices in musical styles very well - his natural instrument having a beautiful, baritone range. Other singer’s voices like Jackson Browne, Jeff Tweedy and Jakob Dylan come to mind when hearing him sing. “The Seven Seas” belts out a catchy guitar hook, (and a guitar solo played by Joel Davis), a rumbling low drum beat and an overall inspiring sound. This tune has a certain Waterboys appeal to it. Hothouse Flowers comes to mind, too. The song mixes soul and rock, that are played in a key that some would say have an inspiring “church hymn” like style. Jason Kesler helps out on background vocals.
On “City Inside” Hyll offers a gorgeous melody and melancholic lyrics that sing about “childhood days.” One of the most introspective sounding songs on the album is “Human Heart.” This slow-tempo song covers themes of hope, forgiveness and “driving back roads for the holy vision.” The next tune “Stars” has an interesting mix of pulsating bass beats, soft guitars, both clear sounding and distorted, and a low, rumbling rhythm. A guitar solo is played by Cade Roberts and backing vocals sung by Joshua Spence are featured on this track. In my opinion, this is one of the songs that has great commercial appeal - something I can picture being in a movie soundtrack, with a screenplay about childhood themes or a coming-of-age, feel good story made for the big screen. Good stuff! Next up is “Window of Time” another song that has a hopeful, inspiring feel to it. Hyll mixes styles of roots rock, indie rock and alternative. I liked the chime bells towards the song’s end - a nice touch.
For fans of Chet Baker (myself included), this next song is for you. “Crying for Love” offers lush, feathery work on the guitar and piano. This “he played till he fell” sad story about the cool jazz trumpeter who died way too young, is very moving - even spiritual. “The sound of his voice - crying for love” is heartfelt and you can hear it in Jefferson’s voice and words. Arden Miller accompanies Hyll on vocals. She also joins in on the next song “Black Car from Avalon” a faster song, which also features congas. This tune reminds me of driving on some open road in the summertime - it just has that certain sound to it. I guess it seems fitting anyway, since ‘car’ is in the title. Moving on is “Heart’s a Riddle” and this one features a little treatment on the synths and a driving beat. This is another tune with Joel Davis playing a solo. Overall, with more of an electronic, pop rock feel, this song has an early ‘80s love song appeal. The album’s last track “Hold That Thought / Hold Me Tighter” offers a cool sound, with soothing synth, low backing vocals sounding effortless and echoey and another guitar solo by Joel Davis. This reminded me of Springsteen’s late ‘70s work from Darkness on the Edge of Town but maybe also his early ‘80s albums Nebraska or The River. A really fantastic track to round out Hyll’s latest effort. All in all, there’s not one bad track on this album. For fans of the above mentioned musicians and bands, I think you’ll enjoy Dark.
Become A Fan
Necktie Social was started as a studio project by Dusty Owen and Joey Torres in 2021. In 2022 Corey Davis and Jacob Veal joined the band. They mention they have a range of influences including Foo Fighters, Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen and other like-minded artists.
They started releasing a number of singles in 2022 including “I’ll Never Learn,” “Old Coal River” and “Hold The Line.” Their most recent release is entitled “Devil.”
I would say the band has an accessible sound that for the most part is pretty straightforward. Their songs have hooks, follow a rock format and are the type of songs that in my opinion you can listen to on most occasions.
“Devil” starts with drums and a crunchy guitar riff. The song has more of a classic rock flavor and even more particularly I was picking up on a southern rock vibe with these songs with a bit of ’90s hard rock thrown in as well. There’s a brief guitar solo which quickly sinks into the verse.
The verse revolves around drum, bass and vocals with occasional guitar fills sprinkled in. I liked the vocals right off the bat and the groove was easy to bob your head to. The chorus comes quick and the rhythm guitar adds a good amount of energy. Owen sings “I’m not falling for your foolish lies / that’s just not my style / and I see right through your blood red eyes / and you’re the devil in disguise.”
The band gets back to the verse and this time around instead of guitar providing the fills it’s an organ. It’s a subtle but effective swapping of instrumentation. After the second chorus, the band goes into a bit of a breakdown. The drums and bass lay low in the mix and the main guitar solo erupts from that and then seamlessly gets back to the hook. For the outro the band amps things with Freebird like guitar while the vocalist repeats the hook.
The band has a broad appeal in my opinion. There isn’t much experimentation to my ears but they more or less perfected an accessible rock/pop format with this song. The band is still young so I’m hoping to hear an EP or album in the not too distant future. This is a solid start. Take a listen.
HADEE. is an alt-pop/rock artist from South Florida. According to his website the artist takes influence from ‘80s new wave likened to The Cure/Billy Idol, ‘70s Bowie glam, a touch of classic film noir. HADEE. finishes off this blend with a balanced mix of modernity not unlike The Killers, Two Door Cinema Club, The 1975 and Young The Giant.
The artist recently released “Kerosene” which I found to be a pop-friendly single. It’s an accessible song that has all the elements you typically want in a single. The song starts off with some atmosphere and quickly a bass and percussion are introduced. There’s a bread and butter drum beat and syncopated bass. The vocals sound good and other elements like additional guitar and what sounds like synth in the background come out as well.
There’s a bridge section where the drums become a little more complex and guitar patterns cascade across the mix. The hook is smooth when it arrives. That first falsetto note sounds great against the distant sounding guitar and airy elements.
The hook is quick and brief and doesn't overstay its welcome. We go for another round around the track. When you hear the hook for a second time there’s a good chance you will be singing along.
I really liked what was happening after the second hook. It gets more intense and builds to a breakdown. There are filtered vocals that hang around like ghosts. The song gets lush but quickly starts to build up with more elements. I loved the guitar melodies and the changes to the drums were subtle but effective. The song gets to one last explosive section which is really the climax and ends with delayed vocals.
This was a great song and I think there’s a far and wide audience who will appreciate this type of sound. The song had a lot of things going for it and I thought the production and songwriting was top notch. Take a listen.
Flora Algera is an artist who has quite a back story. According to her reverbnation bio “Algera spent much of her time attending concerts for local bands in small venues throughout Boston and taking notes from the punk-rock genre.” She spent a couple of years traveling around the country and began writing poetry. Algera was also a former competitive opera singer and even worked with the famous composer John Williams.
In 2020 Algera worked with accomplished producer William D Lucey on her first single “Anthem For The Psych Ward Kids.” Algera now has a new single coming out soon entitled “Idols.”
The song starts with a lush arrangement of instruments. There’s a tom heavy beat, a steady bass line and sparkling guitars. I loved the sound of the instrumentation right off the bat which reminded me of a number of indie rock bands like Broken Social Scene.
Alger’s vocals on the verse are intimate and delivered in a comfortable range. There’s a slight sense of melancholy. That feeling mutates into something more inspirational once the additional guitars and organ comes in on the hook. The hook is catchy and I thought the vocal melody was memorable.
I thought the transition back into the verse was smooth. Algera reflects poetically about what seems to be a former relationship. Some of the brilliance here is the lyrics are interpretive and could be applied to many different situations.
The hook comes around for a second time and transitions into a gorgeous outro. Algera is essentially displaying a sense of yearning or regret depending on how you look at it. She starts every sentence with “Wish I had.”
I thought the production was top notch. The mix of instrumentation was warm and inviting. I also appreciated the dynamics of the song especially when the chorus came.
If this single is indicative of what’s to come from Algera, I’m eagerly anticipating what’s ahead. Her sound was reminiscent of a number of my favorite acts including Broken Social Scene, Feist and Stars. This is a great song and l Iook forward to hearing more in the not too distant future.
Become A. Fan
Multi-instrumentalist Brandon Schafer hails from Indianapolis and records under the name of Nodnarb, which is his first name spelled backwards. Schafer was a sideman in various groups over the years, and currently plays pedal steel for The Jeremy Vogt Band. He calls his debut solo EP Windfall “a sonic distillation of rawk, country and noise pop” in which Schafer sings and plays everything himself. That’s maybe common nowadays, but Schafer’s arsenal includes guitar (with B and G benders), bass, synths, drum programming, pedal steel and even saxophone.
All recording took place in Schafer’s home studio using Logic without tons of bells and whistles: “I don’t really feel like paying for much other software.” Aside from download, this album is available in a cool, collectible 45 rpm vinyl pressing.
My first impression of the EP is that Schafer has a great, grungy guitar sound that bespeaks several decades of hard rock and alternative influence. Given my theory that any song with pedal steel turns into a country track, a couple tracks do seem to switch genres in midstream, which I immensely enjoy. As with many indie artists (and I speak from experience) Schafer’s singing voice is a bit rough hewn; somewhere between Sebadoh on the high end and Beat Happening on the low. But vocals that are less slick and commercial are an indie music hallmark and Schafer’s voice serves his songs quite well. The mix is serviceable in a lo fi sense, but many of the instruments are combined in the center and would benefit from more spread in the stereo image.
“Strung” starts the collection with a murky, reverb-heavy picked electric guitar riff, vaguely reminiscent of The Police. Surrounding (and almost obliterating) the guitars is a slow cyclone of white noise, which eventually reveals itself as a somewhat sinister recitation. When the song proper kicks in, the guitars are deliciously crunchy. Schafer’s vocals are hard panned left and right, and at times suggest Steve Miller at the bottom of a whisky glass. Thematically the song deals with being “strung out” over a lost love instead of drugs. The guitar riffs are deceptively simple (basically two chords) but have a bite I can’t get enough of. Instead of an electric lead break, Schafer takes a sax solo that’s just on the edge of total anarchy. When the song ends, it simply stops in its tracks.
“Daybreak” moves into a major key with some fine, classic rock soloing right up top. In this scenario it seems a love relationship is ongoing but feels like a “debauchery joyride” (love that phrase!). Overall this track follows the “Strung” template pretty closely until the middle break, which introduces the pedal steel for the first time. I was thinking “Okay, this is a decent rock track” but when those first sliding strings appear, it’s like the air in the room literally changed. Listen on headphones and see if you agree! Pedal steel is a magic instrument in the right hands and it’s immediately clear why it’s Schafer’s main axe. Likewise his guitar solo uses string benders, giving it a lap steel quality. Another dead stop, and we’re on to “Cycle.” After the relative simplicity of “Daybreak” we’re back to Schafer’s more inventive chord schemes. Though not a funk tune, the vibe of the chorus breaks remind me of the Ohio Players classic single “The Funky Worm” thanks to the retro synth solo.
“Burn” is an upbeat rocker with a staccato, step-up riff for the verses. Schafer again takes a few bendy solo moments. There’s a lot of lyrics here that feel like a list of things you might do every day: “Get up, wake up / Refill, full cup / Drink coffee, you’ll feel fine / Get high, drink beer / Feel no pain as night unfolds.” Enough of the lyrics repeat so that it really does feel like an endless cycle that will eventually burn you out.
“Dimension” ends on an uncertain thematic note. Our narrator is moving on from a bad situation, town or affair, but into an uncertain future. Schafer does not disappoint with more off-kilter riffing, a generous amount of chord slurring and one final tasty, biting guitar solo. The set ends as it began, with swirling voices speaking lyrics from the ether.
Schafer has some great ideas and a unique sensibility that is totally worth checking out!
Become A Fan
It wasn’t too long ago we did a review of This Far Out by the band Quaint Delusions composed of Michael Starks, Roger Hughes and Steve Dicks. Their debut release was Basking In Irrelevance which was released in 2021. I found Basking In Irrelevance to be on par with their most recent release. There’s a nice array of styles on this release but their music is very much based in rock.
They open with a banger entitled “Make It Alright.” The song revolves around crunchy guitar progressions and a steady rhythm section. I thought the vibe here was pretty joyous and borderline motivational. The song gives you some energy and the shifts in structure ascend and bring you to higher ground. “You Haven't Touched Your Supper” is a highlight. I was reminded of The Beatles with an almost ’90s indie rock style production. It works out quite well. The guitars, organ, bass and drums sound great but the vocals are truly exceptional on this song. Stark sings “And I don’t have a clue of what I gotta do / To stop the clock and make it go away / You haven’t washed your windows yet my dear.”
The next song “Swathcutter” rocks out hard. This song has some attitude and a sense of danger. I thought the production hit the bullseye. It’s got a raw aesthetic but very well mixed. There are some dynamic shifts in the song and the guitars sound wicked.
They get back into the spirit of The Beatles with “Just A Little Stranger” but again with a more contemporary approach to production. The song moves and I thought the energy here grabs you. There are shifts with the song feeling fluid. On top of that I thought there was one of the coolest guitar solos I heard in recent memory which happens a little after the two-minute mark. This is the arguable single to my ears.
“Gone” is another single-worthy song. In fact this song is infectious from beginning to end. I was bobbing my head along with the beat and melody. “Interesting Times” is a slow burn in comparison but I found myself happy in this headspace. Swirling panned instruments come out creating a canvas for the vocals to breathe. The band continues to crush it with “Chief Barrel Belly” and the more intimate and pensive “Earthly Commotion.” They save one of the best for last entitled “Relevance Aside” which is an off kilter piano ballad of sorts. It’s playful yet emotional and felt like an excellent way to end.
This album is on point. In my opinion the band's debut and their followup were great albums. I’m glad I discover them and think you will to.
Dress to Kill is a band with a history. I found their comeback story interesting. Andi Cooper and Jim Doran formed Dress To Kill in Liverpool in 1984. They were brought up on post-punk and new wave which back then was novel and quite popular in some scenes. Listeners often compared the Dress To Kill sound to such notable bands as Ultravox, New Order and The Human League. A long story short they recorded a number of songs and thirty-seven years later they polished them off and released them.
The first song I listened to was “Obsession” and this is no facsimile. It somehow sounds more ’80s than ’80s music. The “midi” sound that started to emerge in that era is all over this song. I might have missed something but everything sounded like it was either a drum machine or a synth. The vocal melodies lead the charge here. I found the melodies to be accessible and familiar.
The mix of the songs was very good. Although this is undeniably an '80s aesthetic I felt the mix itself was a little more contemporary. For instance the low end felt more robust and buoyant. I think there were some similarities to the band Cut Copy. The band sings “Let me make it clear / This ain't no first impression / I've had it up to here with your obsession / Have it your own way / I’ll add one to the collection / I’ve been through this before / I should have learned my lesson.”
“Way Above My Head” is a lot darker. This song reminded me more of post-punk in the spirit Joy Division. In fact the vocalist sounds a little like Ian Curtis. That being said, the elements themselves are electronic. There are some elements which almost sound out of place like lighter synth horn sound against the darker submerges. It does work in some kind of absurd way. It’s like it’s trying for this joyful moment but the weight of everything else distorts. The vocals are dynamic. On the hook the vocalist loosens up. There’s also a sample which sounds like it’s from an old movie.
So far these were two different songs where one leans into new wave and the other more into post-punk. I think my favorite was “You” which stars with noire like horns and an almost R&B ’80s groove. This song makes you feel like you should be listening at night. The twinkling synths, the subdued energy and hushed vocals make this an intimate sounding song.
If you like authentic new wave and post punk it doesn't get much more accurate than this. The band was and probably is still very talented. I loved the fact they dusted off these recordings and made them available to the public. I for one am a
Dead Jetsetter is a band from New York City that has been playing around New York in various configurations since 2010. The current line up includes Johnny Andrew (guitar/vocals), Paul Pesce (bass/vocals), Santiago Quijano (drums) and Phillipe Madjalani (guitar). They recently released You Gonna Pay which is a three-song EP.
The entire EP is around eight minutes long but given the punk aesthetic it works. Their style reminds me of the Minutemen or a similar band that plays fast, gets in and out and delivers all of what you need in a short amount of time.
The opening song “You Gonna Pay (Edith Bunker version)” starts with a fast drum beat and quickly bass and guitar soon enter the mix. The band is loose and the song is all about the spirit in which it’s delivered. I liked the vocal delivery which has a sense of urgency to it. There are some top notch lyrics as well and I really appreciated the line about Jack Kerouac. The band also doubles the BPM on a dime which I found impressive.
The next song “Days So Far Away” is a good one and reminded me more of bands like Sex Pistols. It starts with a fuzzy bass, followed by drums and guitar. I loved the verse which goes by fast and gets to the hook. The band thrashes and destroys during the entirety of the song. I thought the hook was catchy and is the type of melody that you will sing or scream along with.
The next song is called “Heartache Dissipate” and it is the longest song in the batch and the arguable highlight. It’s another song full of kinetic energy that gets your adrenaline pumping. This song also contains a killer guitar solo. The vocals are in full effect here as well. Similar to the previous songs the vocals are delivered with a sense of urgency.
These are the types of songs that are best delivered live in a small club. The next best thing in my opinion is turning these songs up loud and experiencing the power of Dead Jetsetter. Take a listen.
Long Island native Stēvi M writes and sings songs that are empowering, uplifting and hopeful, seeking to inspire self-love and confidence, especially in people that have been made to feel “less than.” According to the artist her songs speak of body positivity, determination, grit, resilience and light-hearted joy. One of her upcoming songs is entitled “Watch Me Go.”
The song combines a Latin vibe with a contemporary pop sensibility. I loved the piano and blaring horns before the groove snaps in. Once the drums come in you are also introduced to the vocals. I can say she has a vibrant and confident voice. There’s a lot of emotions in there. It’s playful and fun with a little bit of danger. The song gets better as it progresses.
The hook is there when she repeats “Watch Me Go” with a robust and dance worthy groove. I also thought the additional clean funk guitar on the verse sounded great. It quickly subsides but other elements are added as well. The song at around the two-minute mark is in full effect.
The thing I wasn’t expecting was rapping that appeared from a guest called Ivy States. It’s a very unusual combination of sounds that somehow works. There’s a heavy electronic beat, wild opera singing and rapping. It’s very original any way you slice it. The transition back to the hook is somehow seamless which might be the most impressive part of the song. It should be noted that Ivy States put together the instrumental aspects of the song.
This is a single if I ever heard one. The fusion of styles here is done masterfully. It’s the type of song that feels accessible to almost any age group. It’s also the type of pop song that works because it’s immediate and the rhythm of the song simply catches you and doesn't let go till the end of the song.
Stēvi M has a number of other singles planned for the not too distant future. In the meantime I would suggest checking out some of her back catalog to get up to speed on this impressive artist.
Move Like Creatures is a pop rock four-piece from Southern California. Their lineup currently consists of Nancy Bombard (lead vocals), Ryan Reynolds (guitar), Brian Bello (bass) and Melissa Koziel (drums). It’s a fairly typical setup for a rock band, but don’t be fooled by the simplicity of it because Move Like Creatures make music that is phenomenally catchy! Space Case is the name of their, as the band put it, “exhilarating” brand new debut EP, and it is chock full of hooks influenced by everything from alternative rock to new wave to pop punk.
Produced and engineered by Ethan Kaufmann (Ryan Cabrera , Avril Lavigne), each of Space Case’s five songs shimmer with confidence and charisma, despite the lyrics being quite raw and vulnerable. Bombard finds herself “grappling openly with loss, insecurity, and mental health,” but asserts eager listeners that “no matter how dark and desperate things may seem, we’re never truly alone in this world.” Touching sentiments aside, this no-skip EP rocks all the way through from “Ghost Me” to the title track closer.
Just from hearing “Ghost Me” alone, my immediate comparison for these four was After Laughter-era Paramore. Luckily, I know exactly what the title means, considering my Generation Z status. The drums and bass are full of firepower, and Reynolds’ guitar has this reggae-ish vibe that continues onto the next song, the breakout hit, “Mind Reader.”
“Mind Reader,” to me, is as if “Ain’t It Fun” married “Hard Times” (both carefree-sounding Paramore songs). It results in some of the stickiest songwriting Move Like Creatures offers, which is why it makes so much sense to me that this was released as their very first single. By the band’s own account, the lyrics of “Mind Reader” were inspired by a failed therapy session. The descending hook of “You must be a mind reader” followed by a snide “At least you look the part” is straight-up Hayley Williams territory.
“All Hung Up” dials up the new wave influence with explosive synthesizers that enter after the euphoric chorus. Perhaps “Age of Consent” by New Order was used as a reference point for those synths? That sound layered on top of guitars and drums becomes pretty irresistible. “Pick Up What I Put Down” resumes the island funk sound of “Mind Reader,” and is just as good, especially as Bombard utilizes falsetto on the hook.
Last but not least, the title track “Space Case” is the dreamiest song on Move Like Creatures’ EP. The way Bombard sneers “I’m surrounded by you” is not unlike Courtney Love. Atmospheric guitars and synths are a nice touch to this very cool song. Out of the five tracks on the EP, I couldn’t possibly imagine a better closer than this one!
With the impressive Space Case, you can bet that Move Like Creatures will really rack up a large number of streams. Give this a listen. Strongly recommended.
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