Mirra Jensen – Her Four New Mathematical Holiday Tunes

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

Ever since I opened the floodgates over two months ago to new and upcoming musical artists and bands, I’ve received an immense amount of content – some good, some compellingly brilliant, and some painstakingly awful. (Fortunately for them, I decline to take a good look into those ones…) My next ‘Independent Spotlight’ artist is Mirra Jensen, and she blows the rest of them out of the water when it comes to the intriguing nature of how she is recording her music.

The four mixes, ‘Coventry Carol,’ ‘O Holy Night,’ ‘Midnight Clear,’ and ‘Angels From The Realms of Glory’ are as you know them in their original capacity, though they have a modernized, electronic flare to them. They’re shimmery, well produced, and punchy. Sometimes the production makes it sound a bit like a Japanese toy commercial, pushing the electronic mix to the forefront and blindsiding Jensen’s voice. This is a shame, because her voice is stunning. She’s hitting every major note that you know and love, and she’s doing so with exceptional accuracy and attention to detail. Jensen’s haunting voice forgives any slightly-cheesy overproduction. 

‘Midnight Clear’ in particular is quite beautiful. Jensen sings her own harmonies in different keys and they blend together in holiday bliss. A twangy electric guitar accompanies her and is a solid reprieve from the electronic produced nature of ‘O Holy Night.’ ‘Coventry Carol’ returns to the production style of ‘O Holy Night,’ but the mix on this track pushes Jensen outward, whereas ‘O Holy Night’ drowns her. Finally, ‘Angels From The Realm of Glory’ has a very pretty orchestral accompaniment, drawing Disney-esque imagery around Jensen’s voice. In actuality, the Disney comparison isn’t far off the mark – Mirra Jensen has the sound of a Disney vocalist.

Now, though, we must enter the realm of why I said Jensen is incredibly different from previous artists I have spotlighted. Each song has been tuned utilizing the ancient ‘Pythagorean Tuning,’ which is the application of pure ratios in the scale, rather than equally spaced intervals. In complete honesty, the word ‘pythagorean’ doesn’t do much besides breathe new life into memories of my high school terror days in geometry class. Fortunately, Jensen’s work on these songs is all part of research she is conducting on the subject for a PhD. 

She’s produced a very interesting video on the subject, and can explain it far better than I ever could. I’ll add the video below. Musically, however, I can speak to the brilliance of these recordings. They are beautiful songs, and Jensen’s own twist on them makes them even more memorable. Add them to your playlist this holiday season.

Selma Mariudottir – ‘Unconditionally’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of Independent Spotlight, I take a look at a songwriter from Iceland and their upcoming track, ‘Unconditionally.’ Selma Mariudottir is an electronics technician by day, but has dabbled extensively in songwriting over the past few decades. Now, over twenty years later, she is bringing her songs back to the forefront by rearranging, rewriting, and producing new tracks. The first of which is ‘Unconditionally,’ a fierce song performed and recorded by Joshua Matos. The result of Matos’ labor in the studio is an overwhelmingly positive one, with Mariudottir’s songwriting making a powerful first impression.

‘Unconditionally’ is one of the better one-track reviews I’ve had to conduct for my Independent Spotlight. This can be largely attributed to Matos’ performance. The track is exceptionally well executed, both instrumentally and vocally. The performance is top notch; it’s solid on all fronts, especially with the tight drums and screaming electric guitar riffs. The vocals find harmony in a mixture of slight raspiness and emotion, too.

Mariudottir’s lyrics are quite good as well. They’re simplistic, essentially theming the song around the idea that the performer’s love is unconditional and unwavering. It’s tragic in that regard, because the singer’s heart has been repeatedly tested by relationships of varying commitment in comparison to their deep devotion. The chorus is intriguing; it’s complex yet simple in its catchiness.

The song masterfully exhibits that Mariudottir has what it takes to be a successful lyricist. ‘Unconditionally’ is short and sweet and that’s a very good thing. There’s an excellent place for lyricists who have the ability to make a powerful impression with three chords or less and in under just as many minutes. It’s the sort of tight, ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ song that made early Beatles songwriting so appealing.

Sometimes the hierarchy of songwriting is skewed by songwriters like Bob Dylan who were prolific enough to tackle deeply rooted issues in incredibly complex ways. As a result, it’s important to remember that many of our best songwriters wrote in the simplistic style Mariudottir has developed. She is in good company to that effect.

‘Unconditionally’ is a promising rebirth of Selma Mariudottir’s songwriting. If she continues to lend her words to talented musicians like Matos, there could be something special in the making here. It’s difficult to make your way as a musician; it’s even more difficult as a songwriter. ‘Unconditionally’ speaks volumes in regard to Mariudottir’s potential.

July Morning – ‘For Once In Your Life’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of Independent Spotlight, we delve into ‘For Once in Your Life,’ the new single from the Australian folk-rock duo July Morning. The band consists of Owain Roberts and Jesse Delauney. They cite a great deal of inspiration from the 1960’s, citing bands like the Beatles and Pink Floyd as direct influences. They also touch on Neil Young, and perhaps more obscurely, Radiohead. So, how does ‘For Once in Your Life’ place on the totem pole of inspiration? Let’s check it out:

The first thing the listener will notice from the track is the clean production. A lot of time, effort, and love have clearly gone into producing this track, and it shows. The instrumentation is beautiful and very solid. The fingerpicked acoustic guitar is sweet and vibrant, full of timbre. The guitar is accompanied by a growing arrangement as the song expands, changing keys multiple times and inputting new instruments along the way. A soft string section, bass, electric guitar, female vocalist, and thudding drum all emerge from the soundscape. The song continues to morph with the introduction of a mandolin and additional guitars. The amount of instrumental prowess here is incredibly impressive, to say the least.

As we’ve established, the production is really quite good on ‘For Once in Your Life,’ as is the musical performance. What isn’t so hot, though? To be honest, there isn’t a lot wrong with the track, rather, things that could be improved. Namely, the lead vocals seem a tad contrived, lacking some emotion and sometimes struggling to find a firm grasp of the pitch. When you draw influence from someone like Neil Young, you immediately have to have an appreciation for emotionally driven vocal performances. No one has ever accused Young of being a traditionally talented vocalist, just in the same way as Bob Dylan. With that said, both rank among the best singers of the twentieth century as a result of the abundant conviction in their voice. That kind of conviction isn’t as apparent here.

Even though the song draws inspiration from acts like the Beatles and Neil Young, it sounds more like a much later British Invasion style of songwriting: both lyrically and musically I’d probably align July Morning closer to Oasis than I would the Beatles. It doesn’t reach the pedestal of folk, rather it reaches the pedestal of fun, summer-esque, modernized pop-folk. Is that a bad thing? Of course not! That’s just where the band falls in the musical progression. However, the song does feel at times like a contemporary-church song. I’m not sure if that’s good or not.

Overall, it’s a solid song by a very talented band. Yes, it feels processed at times: the emotional side is a bit lacking, and it does feel like Chris Tomlin and Oasis merged together to create one pseudo-inspirational single. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but if July Morning wants to align more closely with their inspirations, they may want to reassess their direction. It’s a great song, though, one that is suitable to radio stations and summer playlists alike.

Check out the song and July Morning at their various links below:

https://www.reverbnation.com/julymorningmusic

https://julymorningmusic.bandcamp.com/

https://www.triplejunearthed.com/artist/july-morning

https://www.facebook.com/julymorningmusic

https://twitter.com/JulyMorningBand

KAVA – ‘Transmissions’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of Independent Spotlight, we take a preview-look at KAVA’s new record, ‘Transmissions.’ The record was recorded digitally by members of AfroZep, a Chicago-based band that performs Zeppelin covers with an African vibe. KAVA classifies themselves as a psychedelic rock act, with ‘Transmissions’ being their new outing. Today, we’re going to delve into the first six tracks of the new album:

Elevation Repair: ‘Elevation Repair’ introduces the record with a droning synth loop that develops into a wah-wah-esque riff that trips around like a keytarist on LSD. The main beat is heavy and demanding, and the psychedelic instrumentals dance around it in a cinematic fashion. The song even hints at a bit of African influence left behind by AfroZep.

OverRoad: More droning synths introduce ‘OverRoad.’ It’s incredibly ‘Kid-A’ reminiscent, as if KAVA mined Thom Yorke’s mind for song ideas. The cascading piano and distorted guitar play off of eachother, devolving into sonic madness halfway through the track as sweeping, atmospheric synths drive the song into a tempo change. The electronic sounds being utilized are unique, sounding a bit like machinery mixed in with a broken telephone’s dialtone.

Happenstance: ‘OverRoad’ directly introduces ‘Happenstance,’ as the two songs converge to end one and begin the next. This track is quicker, with sounds echoing around like a spaceship. The sound is consistently interesting, which is difficult to achieve when your entire record is atmospheric, Thom Yorke-like electronica. In fact, KAVA navigates this terrain very well, especially in regard to the authenticity of the sound. Electronic, computer-synthesized music is difficult: the audience knows it was created like that, but it’s up to the artist to ensure that they immediately forget that and are never reminded by contrived soundscapes. Bad electronic-based music reminds listeners of its nature through poor design. KAVA has managed to back away from this dilemma through their excellent sound design and production, along with their intriguing mix of electric guitar and piano.

Razorwire To Nowhere: This track is very atmospheric, conjuring to mind broken landscapes from the ‘Walking Dead.’ That’s the point, though. I would actually call it quite beautiful, perhaps even introspective.

Horizontal Rocketspace: ‘Horizontal Rocketspace’ dips in and out of oblivion with odd-sounding technological samples occupying the space between the dips. In honesty, the bassline gets annoying quickly; it sounds like a repetitive heartbeat that you just wish would do something different. The track suffers a bit from this, because the thudding of it is unnoticable. With that said, it’s still a compelling track, especially at the end when the thudding dies out and the electronic sound effects build into the next song.

Book of Faces: The last track in my preview, ‘Book of Faces’ has a snare beat, something certainly unique in comparison to the previous five songs. The eclectic guitar is back as well with a great riff that repeats itself through the electronic noise. It goes haywire three-fourths of the way accompanied by fascinating harmonics.

The first six tracks of KAVA’s ‘Transmissions’ make a compelling argument for the rest of the record. It’s strongly produced, very intriguing, and great music. With that said, it feels eerily similar to a lot of Thom Yorke produced content, and in reality, it seems to occupy the realm of atmospheric electronica more than it does psychedelic rock. Yes, it’s trippy, but that isn’t always a preface to psychedelic work. Regardless of what you want to call it, it doesn’t demand your attention, rather acting as a no-nonsense filler jam to whatever you’re doing. Check out the full album and KAVA’s website below:

http://www.kavatheband.com/

https://soundcloud.com/kavamusic/sets/transmissions

Sono Vero – ‘Roses for the Reckless’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of Independent Spotlight, we take a look at a young band just getting their feet off of the ground in Southern California. The band classifies themselves as ‘alternative reggae,’ and their new EP has landed, titled ‘Roses for the the Reckless.’ Let’s take a good look into the five song collection:

Give You the World: The first track of Sono Vero’s EP is upbeat, well-produced, and catchy. It’s lyrically stereotypical as the singer tells his girl that he wants to give her the world… over and over. That’s alright, though, because this style of songwriting isn’t designed to be introspective or emotionally moving: it’s a catchy radio hit. In that regard, Sono Vero succeeds, and ‘Give You the World’ sounds like a perfect summer radio jam, entirely at home wafting in and out of boardshops and ice cream parlors.

Leave with You: The song begins as a hip-hop, rap-influenced number, but quickly evolves into that carefree So-Cal sound that introduced the record. The lead singer of Sono Vero is a very slick vocalist, something that is very important in this genre. The rap performance is equally as important, however, since it gives the listener a reprieve from the sing-along content to delve a bit deeper into the emotions of the depicted night. It gives the sound a more real, even grittier appeal since the production is a bit fluffy at times.

Back And Forth: This track features two guests: Rico of Ease Up and Moi of Tomorrows Bad Seeds. In honesty, you can’t really discern the difference between the vocalists; they all sound pretty similar to the main vocalist. This song echoes early California rock with synchronized harmonies. Those harmonies can’t help but draw an inspirational line straight to Brian Wilson.

End of Forever: This song has the most intriguing instrumentation, introducing itself with a nice little acoustic riff. This song is a bit deeper, focusing on eternal love, and it’s actually endearing, not cheesy. It may be the highlight of the record with it’s minimalistic production and beautiful acoustic guitar. This is the kind of track that has the girls falling over the band in the crowd and will evitably be performed poorly by college guys at parties. Move over, ‘Wonderwall.’

Never Say Goodbye: This particular track has received quite a bit of play on the radio, and the band considers it their first hit. It’s a nice little song, but feels a bit too much like ‘Give You the World’ and ‘Leave with You.’ Again, the harmonies are top notch, and drive home the Californian good vibrations.

So… the band is talented. The production is clean and polished, the performances are strong and the vocalist doesn’t miss a beat. With that said, it feels contrived at points. It feels like Sublime. It really, really feels like Sublime. It feels even more like Sublime when Rome entered the group in recent years. When you enter a small, almost niche genre like the California pop/hip-hop/reggae scene, you have to be careful. It’s too easy to sound like other acts, especially prominent ones like Sublime. The act needs to breathe fresh air into to the sound, creating a new space for itself. Sono Vero is struggling to do that. Regardless, their sound is quite good, and worth checking out if you’re into that kind of music. It may not be something you haven’t heard before, though. 

Connect With Sono Vero:

http://www.sonoveromusic.com/

https://soundcloud.com/sono-vero/sets/give-you-the-world

Imani Chyle – ‘Imani Chyle’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of Independent Spotlight, we take a look at the solo singer-songwriter, Imani Chyle. Chyle is an impressively acclaimed artist for one that has remained mostly independent, having been nominated for a number of awards throughout her career, one that has spanned over twenty years. We’re going to delve into her four available singles in this Independent Spotlight. The most apt way to do so would be to tackle them individually, so that’s how we’ll handle it:

Lose Myself: When the listener enters ‘Lose Myself,’ they immediately… well, lose themselves in the production. The production is top notch with a rhythmic piano driving the song as Chyle’s vocals build. Her vocals explode in the choruses, resonating with self confidence as she sings about her determination, letting her ‘pain motivate her gain,’ and never losing herself while still moving on. Chyle’s early rap roots reveal themselves in the track as it dances between an inspirational pop ballad, an R&B number, and a hip-hop, rap-esque sound.

Soul & Rock N Roll: The lyrics of ‘Soul & Rock N Roll’ explore Chyle’s ability to sing rock and roll, but only if she can add her soul to it. She’s going to ‘add a little soul to her rock and roll.’ The electric guitar on the track demands attention, beginning with a simple riff and evolving into a distorted, fuzzy arena rock sound. In fact, this is the kind of song that would be exceptionally well-placed in a packed arena.

Doin’ it My Way: The song begins with a scratchy turntable sound and atmospheric, synthesized, droning piano driven by a hip-hop beat. The song highlights Chyle’s vocals, which are quite solid. She has an impressive vocal range that can handle the low and high end of her music with equal eloquence. This track is the most R&B song of the four, a stark contrast to ‘Lose Myself’ and ‘Soul & Rock N Roll’ which boast a much more complex production.

Warrioress: ‘Warrioress’ immediately slams the listener with a machine-like electric guitar and cascading auto-tuned soundscapes. The reprieve of hard hitting, inspiration-based jamming was short lived, returning in full for this track. It’s quite a good song, and Chyle’s voice remains consistently interesting as multiple layers of itself build around each other.

At the heart of Chyle’s sound, she echoes the great soul and R&B singers of the twentieth century. Her songwriting sometimes causes you to lose interest, because the same themes develop themselves over and over throughout the music. She’s a strong female figure, and that is a good thing – something that should be made clear to her audience. With that said, she could lay off of the empowering, inspirational pedal at times to delve into some more introspective songwriting. Regardless, she’s got quick the voice and studio presence. Her production is strong as well. She’s got quite a way to go, but she’s got a good start and the talent to keep going.

Imani Chyle’s Website:

http://www.imanichyle.com