Ivory Black – A Look Into Their New Music

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 the Independent Spotlight, we delve into Ivory Black, a rising independent musician who has made a name for themself in the underground music scene with alternative pop rock musings and singer songwriter acoustic flair. Black’s music is highly personal, drawing upon their passionate life story to pens songs listeners can relate to. Let’s dig into Black’s new tunes.

Now, I’m not being grammatically incorrect utilizing the pronouns I’m using for Black. Black identifies as non-binary, which is essentially a sexuality that can’t be quite pinned down by ‘male’ or ‘female’ labels. Before listening to their music, I’d really highly recommend watching Black’s exceptional press kit video. (You can find it below.) It digs into their story and how they’ve become the person behind Ivory Black. It’ll give you a serious appreciation of Black’s life story and what fuels their work.

‘Ready Get Set’ is Black’s defiant single of sorts. The superbly produced rocker incorporates some bluesy and alternative pop rock influences. Black is a remarkably compelling frontperson, and their backing band is nothing short of excellent. ‘Ready Get Set’ sounds a bit like the Black Keys elegantly mixed in with the Hives. Sparse synthesizers dance back and forth with a searing lead guitar making for an infectiously fun and likable experience.

‘Third Degree’ moves away from the rock and roll pastures of ‘Ready Get Set’ in favor of a pop, acoustic-tinged sound. The sound is equally accessible and successful, marking Black as a rather versatile performer within their spectrum. ‘A Good Answer,’ one of Black’s best tunes, continues this exhibition of range. That track returns to some blues influence, utilizing reverb-soaked sounds with dark, atmospheric vibes.

As aforementioned, Black is a stellar frontperson. Black is exciting, attention-demanding, and their voice is fantastic. Another terrific tune of Black’s, ‘Midas Touch,’ embraces a Wombats-style inspirational, pop-anthemic nature. ‘Drive’ extends Black’s compositional hand, truly exhibiting a unique soundscape littered with intriguing lyricism and influence. Thus, everything Black currently has available online is worth checking out.

Black is an inspirational figure in more ways than one. Their music is creative, unique, and has a very distinctive flair unlike much of the rest of the independent music scene. There’s a huge space for music like this, and I could most certainly see Black getting a whole lot bigger than they anticipated. They are truly worth keeping tabs on. Check out the music below.




Misha Kolesoski – ‘The Catacomb Suburbs’

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 the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be delving into a rather unique artist. Michael Wheeler, who operates of the moniker of Misha Kolesoski, has released his latest studio effort: ‘The Catacomb Suburbs.’ The eclectic and peculiar record is a musical retelling of ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ an eighteenth century novel widely regarded as one of the first pieces of gothic literature. That’s certainly quite a landscape for a concept record. Let’s dig into it.

There’s something inherently dark about ‘The Catacomb Suburbs,’ so much to the point that you’ll get a chill down your spine when you lock eyes with the eerie album art. Now, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from an artist retelling a classic gothic novel. I sure wasn’t expecting electronic music tinged with EDM influence. ‘Dramatic Studies in Forensics’ is a brooding, eclectic number that rises and falls with a dark feeling of urgency – perhaps even with some dubstep influence dabbled throughout.

‘Dramatic Studies in Forensics’ doesn’t necessarily set the tone for the record, though. A guest vocalist, violinist, and cellist join Kolososki on ‘Eden in Foreclosure.’ There’s an equally eerie atmosphere to the tune, but it has a much softer, gentle feel than its predecessor. Vocalist Chloe J. infuses a soft pop influence into Kolososki’s music. She’s accentuated in a haunting fashion by the two string instrumentalists and ghostly wind howls matched elegantly with sparse piano instrumentation. The dynamic here is incredibly intriguing to me, if not just due to the drastic tonal change from the opening song. It’s particularly compelling that Kolososki is using paraphrased bible verses for the lyrics, too.

Very much in the trend of mixing it up with each new song, ‘Ghosts’ features the talented Karina De Santiago singing in a foreign tongue. She’s matched by jarred, somewhat disconjointed electronic instrumentation. Oddly enough, the contemporary electronica influence dances well with the snappy foreign delivery and minimalistic string sections. As you dig deeper into ‘The Catacomb Suburbs,’ it’s just increasingly impressive and odd that it’s all coming from a guy who lives in Oregon.

‘Bianca’ may be the most dynamic and provoking track of the first half of the record. It contrasts Kolososki’s established electronic style with a flutist, trumpeter, and a different cellist than before. Kolososki’s tight backing beat, something that would be equally at home in a hip hop production, accents his guest performers wonderfully. The flute is the standout, with the trumpet faltering into the mix a bit more than you’d like. Thus, it really feels like a flute concerto of sorts. The piece is a vehicle for Daryl Jones to really excel in his craft. (The flutist.)

On ‘Isabella,’ Chloe J. returns alongside with cellist Dahoe Cheong for another pop-infused tune. Even though the vocal pieces and instrumentation are rather soothing, I still found myself somewhat unsettled by the reverberating choral voices, like ghosts dancing between my speakers. I’m absolutely positive that is Kolososki’s intent – this is based on a gothic novel, after all. I dig this – it makes it different with a more unique flair than your typical electronic-infused pop ballad.

‘Theodore,’ now featuring vocals by Bobby Yaps and lyrics by Jeannie Nadja, continues Kolososki’s trend even further. One could most certainly argue that the tune is a soft indie rock number lathered poignantly in synthesizers and sonic intricacies. Yaps does a particularly superb job here on lead vocals, especially in the department backing himself up. It’s very well mixed, too.

‘Recordar el Pasado’ takes a direction back towards ‘Isabella,’ really embracing that EDM and pop influence. Karina De Santiago returns on lead vocals. It’s a bit of an interesting dichotemy between Santiago’s foreign performance and the English sample of ‘Fantasy Girl’ a song featuring Angela Fleming produced by Kronstudios. For a rather good record, I think ‘Recordar el Pasado’ is a noticeable lowpoint. It feels a tad like a hodgepodge of previous songs constrained by a tethered EDM beat that never really comes into its own. That said, it’s still a very well executed song. For a lowpoint, it’s an admirably high one.

‘Manfred’ only features Kolososki, backing himself with a searing electric guitar and rock arrangement. The vocal sample is compelling, too, really contrasting the sonic quality of Kolososki’s performance remarkably well. Now, around the end of ‘The Catacomb Suburbs,’ after multiple listens and a few hours with the content, I was able to start predicting some of the tonal shifts. Pretty much anything featuring Chloe J. has a similar aura to her previous featurings earlier on the record. ‘The Cinema Landscape’ is a nice exhibition of Kolososki’s lyricism, but it doesn’t bring much to the table that’s new. It sounds a bit too much like the rest of Chloe J.’s outings. I think she’s a bit overused on the record, especially in light of the next song…

‘Matilda’ offers the strongest female vocal pursuit on the record. Anna Belle is absolutely stunning, beautifully cascading from note to note with immense tact. ‘Matilda’ is one of the best songs of the whole record due to her performance. The song is also accessible, so if the eerie gothic vibes of the early tunes discomforts you, this’ll be a good entry point. It actually feels joyful and positive – I don’t know the story of ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ but the music does recognize a massive tonal shift. So does the final piece, ‘Sonnet.’ Alicia Perrone’s voiceover is exceptional.

Right, I’ve yammered on enough. What’s the verdict on ‘The Catacomb Suburbs’? Well, if you aren’t too creeped out staring into the eyes of the deathly white girl on the front cover for awhile, you’re going to discover the album is one of the most masterful, creative, and compelling indie experiences this year. Kolososki brings a whole bunch to the table and leaves his heart out on it, too. Check the record out on the YouTube playlist below and connect with him on Facebook.



Mike Wojniak – ‘Sail Away’

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 afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Mike Wojniak, a rising singer songwriter with a unique flair. He’s made quite a name for himself in the independent scene in recent years with touring across the United States and a series of releases. Right now, you can catch him all over California through November. His new tune is ‘Sail Away.’ Let’s get right into it.

‘Sail Away’ features vocals, guitars, and synthesizers by Wojniak. He’s joined by a cellist, drummer, flutist, and bassist, too. Thus, it’s a bit of a complex romp through a reverb-laced soundscape. It does, however, embrace a unique sense of brevity. Despite the large band and set of featured musicians, everything just… clicks. Nothing feels out of place. From the graceful flute to the haunting backup vocals and sweeping cello notes, everything on ‘Sail Away’ is elegant and well-executed. The song’s sonic intricacies actually evoke a sense of ‘sailing away,’ if you will, washing over you like waves across the shore.

There are a few other things worth touching on as well. First and foremost, I appreciate Wojniak’s usage of the synthesizer. Very sparse, very tactful. More so, his composition is masterful. The entire sound builds over the course of the tune, certainly concreting comparisons fans have made between Wojniak and landmark acts like Coldplay. They’re particularly good at this type of instrument-laden, atmosphere-heavy, soft pop rock crooning. So is Wojniak. His presence in the tune feels organic and natural – he doesn’t overpower the superb instrumentalists backing him. They blend in a blur of harmony.

To be blunt, there isn’t anything to critique on ‘Sail Away.’ I’m a harsh critic, and certainly don’t have issue with brandishing that sword, but I need not in this case. I could understand one arguing the lyrical depth of the piece is a tad shallow – not a whole lot going on. But in counter, one could argue that the song occupies its space intelligently – it doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. Hell, I’d argue it’s an exhibition of instrumental prowess set to minimalistic lyrics. Even the voices are used more like accentuating instruments rather than storytelling devices. Check the song out on Sound Cloud below and give Wojniak’s site a look-see to check out all his other work. He’s fairly prolific for a guy who’s just recently got himself out of Ohio and into the big wide world of music. He’s a-okay in my book, and I wouldn’t mind it if he stopped by Chicago in the future. I bet his live act is excellent.



Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mikewojniakmusic
Twitter: @mikewojniak

Starvon – ‘Is Anyone Listening’

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 evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we focus our gaze on Starvon, a rising songwriter and producer based in Los Angeles. Her new tune is ‘Is Anyone Listening,’ a poignant piece featuring vocalist Kelsey Jane that touches on the social stigma of addiction. Immediately, I was taken with Starvon’s desire to enter a realm of unpredictable content and brutal honesty. Let’s dig right into the song.

‘Is Anyone Listening’ is heartbreaking, honestly. ‘Please help me – is anyone listening?’ Kelsey croons while an electronic-tinged soundscape builds around her with increasing atmosphere. The song does an elegant job of capturing the helplessness of addiction. That’s entirely attributed to Starvon’s lyricism and Kelsey’s delivery. The former is tactful and the latter is passionate – a killer combo.

The song walks a peculiar line because it’s also catchy and likable – Starvon’s soundscape is one of intriguing content and masking instrumentation. (The music doesn’t necessarily match the lyrical content.)  I actually really dig this. It reminds me of acts like Joy Division that would tackle tough issues and taboo subjects with danceable, enjoyable music. Historically, that was actually a response to the mindlessness of disco. Artists wanted to pen songs that were still fun at the club, but had some real depth to them. That’s a bit what Starvon has done in a way.

Starvon’s production is quite solid as well. Light string sections match electronic beats and a reverb-filled landscape. There isn’t anything left field or dramatic – the composition just accentuates Kelsey’s delivery. That delivery is consistently excellent throughout. She’s a real talent, as is Starvon.

Thus, ‘Is Anyone Listening’ earns the Independent Spotlight’s stamp of excellence. It’s a great track that balances the weight between meaningful, intellectual writing and pop-oriented instrumentation. Check it out on SoundCloud below and follow Starvon on her site and on Twitter.






Exclusive Interview – Magic Okaino

The following is an Independent Spotlight exclusive interview with the compelling new rising artist, Magic Okaino.

I’d like to get right to the meat of this interview first. Your new project is ‘S.M.D,’ which stands for ‘Suk Mii Dik.’ Now, you’ve mentioned that the project could be easily misinterpreted, or the listener could easily miss the point of your work. I’d love for you to explain the project and the message that you’re bringing to the table with it.

First and foremost, it’s a display of artistic freedom to create art defying opinion, and for me, the pleasure I get out of making music the way I want to make it – and feel like making it whenever I make it.

You’re a fairly prolific artist. With close to eighteen projects in three years, you’re certainly more active than the rest of the independent community. How do you continue to make things fresh and interesting when you’re putting out so much?  

Well, what I’ve actually put out probably only makes up for a quarter of what I’ve done recording wise. I stay motivated by trying new approaches towards different styles of music. No project I’ve done yet is really similar – I mean they are of their own.

How is ‘Suk Mii Dik’ different than your previous work?

It’s definitely more blunt and to the point… more raw and uncut than usual – [That] is the only real difference.

You describe the contemporary recording process as ‘kind of lame.’ You don’t have an interest in conforming to whatever will be the ‘next hottest record.’ What kind of music right now doesn’t fall victim to that?

Any music where a artist is actively working and developing their sound. Making what works for them work.

What do you draw inspiration from? 

The simple answer is pretty much anything, but I’ll answer it like this:

With taking on a bigger workload than I’ve ever been used to, creative inspiration is kind of like gas to a motor, and from a creative aspect I’m always trying to keep the engine running as much and as long as possible.

Inspiration can strike whenever, but to be inspired is purely a choice – sometimes it can persuasively be put on you, but you still have to choose.

So, I’ve learned and really just had to be very aware and open to pretty much anything that presents itself. I get a kick out of unique angles and challenging ideas, and any ideas I find that give me a edge. 

Everything in life that we experience or come in contact with at any extent can be used as inspiration; it’s more of how you look at a take on an idea. For me, off songs alone I could probably sit and write a book off all the contributing factors of what I was inspired by to do it.

I’ll give an example of inspiration that plays a role in the way I see I make music. I had a phase where I was into honey… raw honey at that. I’d put it on anything that seemed reasonable and sometimes unreasonable to see if the sweetness of honey could make it better. So one day I looked up the process of how honey was collected. I mean, it’s very basic information, even the history of how it goes back to the Egyptians, etc. 

There is not really anything special or brand new about it to me. Definitely interesting though, and there was a piece of the information that caught me. It was that beekeepers who farm for honey generally use one specific type of bee, which is the European Honey Bee, and the reason is that for most bees to take their honey, would basically kill them off because you would in essence be stealing their food. But with the European Honey Bee, they over produce honey, so taking their honey doesn’t affect them. As crazy as it sounds, it didn’t begin how I created so much material, but it did solidify the process for me and was inspiring on a more conceptual level of my process cause’ I do definitely push myself to make way more than I need for any particular project.

You’ve discovered your niche in recent years: conceptual projects. Now, a concept album isn’t anything new: the Beatles were doing it fifty years ago. The beauty of the idea, however, is that you can pen something from a different perspective. Are there any concept records that caught your attention and caused you to want to create your own? 

Very possibly subconsciously – but no record comes to mind that I can think made me say, ‘I wanna do that.’ I had made a few projects before I even locked into the idea that was making concept projects. It’s more based off the way I write/record and was able to identify and group tracks to be able to form projects to make out of the songs. 

Also, is ‘Suk Mii Dik’ a conceptual piece?

Yes! entirely.

What does ‘Suk Mii Dik’ mean? It’s certainly a compelling album title – but also quite an obscure one. (Edit – How the hell did I not immediately not pick this up? Awkward…)

Indeed, it means Suck My Dick. This book is the cover.

You song write and produce your work. Is anyone else involved in the process? 

In song creation, all the stuff that happens before a song and while recording a song and finishing a song… unfortunately, no. Every blue moon one of my real good friends, Brian, also known as 3rain on the internet, will throw song ideas my way, but we have both been busy, so very little of that. It’s primarily a solo space mission with alien interaction every now and then. On the back end once my projects are complete, there are DJ’s I work with for remixes and chopped and screwed versions of the songs and projects.

How has your experience been operating as jack of all trades? Many artists become overwhelmed with every responsibility of production on their shoulders.

The experience has been crazy! But highly rewarding to myself, but at this point it’s purely necessity… I’ve had more than enough previous songwriting, production, and engineering experience separately, just never at the level to efficiently finish songs to the point where I’m always looking to finish and complete projects. I’ve been allowed to make mistakes and learn. I’ve been able to learn and appreciate the process of making records and practice making records with purpose. I’ve been forced to deal with pretty much everything I was uncomfortable with in the recording process from beginning to end.

What’s your endgame? I want to go further in sound design in general. I’m more than fit for the challenge. I also want to also be able to help recording artist put out projects to be able to sustain while helping them grow and work their craft.

Do you have any specific goals for your music? 

I do! I want to defy genre. Mix genres by blending new sounds. Being different in a fresh way, and I want to compete with music on a higher level.

Are you a hobbyist or is this something you want to make a career?


What was difficult or particularly rewarding about the process of creating ‘Suk Mii Dik’? You seem to take great care in that process.

The most difficult thing about the S.M.D. project happened before I even knew I was going to make it. I made this song called “Monika Lewenski” – I’ve had that song at least since 2011. I’ve made it so many different ways I put more money and effort into that song than any song ever, and maybe ever. For whatever reason I believed and still believe the song will work. It was a different type of record to make that I wanted to do my best.

From 2011 – 2014, I spent working on that song – not everyday or anything, but I made many versions of it and had to force myself to make a final version of it, and I never had a real place for it on a project.

The rewarding part of the S.M.D. project was that it was done long before I finished it – as in putting it together track for track. It was so done that I put together the S.M.D. EP last year by Dec. 2014 because I wasn’t ready to put the the regular S.M.D. out yet. Majority of the songs were freestyles I would do usually in the morning and it just got to a point where I had a few of them and they were so bad that I was “inspired” to make more.

Do you perform live? If so, how often and where? If not, do you have plans to?

I do not perform right now but I’m not opposed to it. I’m simply recording right now.

How would your music translate to a live performance?

I’m not sure. definitely would make it work though.

Finally, I always ask the same question to finish out every interview with an indie artists. When we talk with artists like yourself, we become consumed in your work as a creator. The best artists are avid consumer of music as well, though. Learning what kind of music you listen to is certainly an insight into you. If we were to shuffle your iPod or Spotify, what five songs may appear?

Right now you would probably find…

Republica – Ready To Go

Uncle Luscious – Something They Ain’t

 Saosin- they perched on they stilts pointing daring me to break

Jodeci – My heart Belongs

Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up


Luna Rise – ‘Dark Days & Bright Nights’

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 evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we focus our gaze on Luna Rise, an up and coming indie group hailing from Austria. Their new record is a lengthy release entitled ‘Dark Days & Bright Nights,’ a long-awaited effort that is being put out by NRT-Records. In recent years, the band has made a name for themselves with some successful EP efforts and music videos. This album is their definitive full record debut, though.

Here on the Spotlight, we often get the opportunity to delve into projects before or right as they are released. As is the case with ‘Dark Days & Bright Nights,’ since it just recently came out and you can grab the full record across all platforms. The band occupies a peculiar sonic space, describing themselves as an otherworldly cross between Bon Jovi, Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne, and many others. That’s pretty broad, which may be a good thing, since it indicates a desire to experiment with a whole bunch of sounds. The same can be said for their genre classifications: melodic rock with gothic, death, hard, progressive, and metal themes.

Right, so let’s get right into the album. As aforementioned, it’s a bulky effort, clocking in at a meaty twelve tracks. You’ll be introduced to Luna Rise with ‘Demons Inside,’ a harmonic rocker tinged with sparse synthesizers and dramatic instrumentation. I immediately saw the connection to acts like Ozzy and Bon Jovi; ‘Demons Inside’ certainly draws inspiration from arena-pleasing rockers. Lead vocalist Chris Divine has a bit of a Bon Jovi vibe. That said, he’s a sharp voice that accentuates the composition incredibly well. There’s also some excellent guitar play toward the latter half of the tune.

‘RZPKT’ is a noticeable departure from the opening track. It incorporates a bit more metal and hard rock influence. It’s a heavy hitting jammer chock-full of searing electric guitar and bombastic power chords. I found it admirable that Luna Rise makes an effort so early on to showcase an array of sounds, and that most certainly extends to the superb ‘Valentine,’ which also happens to be a single for the album. That track is particularly engaging – it’s catchy, fun, and well performed. (Check out the link at the end of this article to see the ‘Valentine’ music video.)

‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ is a bit lackluster, though it does have it moments. For the most part, though, it embraces too many early 2000s alternative rock cliches to be taken too seriously. It feels like a rejected All American Rejects song. Fortunately, the awkward blunder is mostly remedied by ‘For A Reason,’ a much more concrete and original effort. The clash between 80s rock tropes and contemporary pop musings provides an interesting atmosphere on ‘For A Reason.’

Now, ‘The Secret In You’ marks the halfway point of ‘Dark Days’ with quite a spectacle. It is, by a significantly huge margin, the best song of the first six. This haunting track perfectly matches beautiful vocals with stunning instrumentation. Atmospheric echoes, a brief piano, and a string section build around Divine with impressive force. At first, I was somewhat apprehensive because I thought Divine’s delivery was a bit too overdelivered. After listening to the track several times, however, I realized that his overemphasis of notes adds to the dramatic overtone of the tune. I’d align him with Robert Smith or the like – Smith is one of the most recognizable frontmen of all time for a very similar vocal style.

‘Silent Screams’ effortlessly picks up where ‘The Secret In You’ leaves off for a powerhouse pop-rock performance. I’d argue ‘Silent Screams’ is one of, if not the, most accessible track on the collection – even more so than ‘Valentine.’ Thus, the song is perfect for what it is: it’ll get a crowd pumped up. I also dig the continuation of the band’s experimentation with synthesizers.

‘Worshippin’ Shadows’ is a brooding, slightly darker tune, but I don’t think it is a particularly strong one. It’s more of an interlude between the infectious ‘Silent Screams’ and the killer ‘Until The Stars Have Come.’ The latter is a fantastic tune, one that incorporates a female guest vocalist that beautifully accents Divine. In fact, it’s one of the best performances of the twelve – the guest vocalist brings a remarkable element of beauty to the song.

Right, I’ve yammered on quite a bit in this review, but that’s just because there’s a lot to discuss. Luna Rise has a lot going for them. Let’s touch on the ending three tracks. ‘In Your Arms’ boasts some rather good compositional elements, especially with the guitar riffs. ‘The Storm’ is similarly riff-endowed, but is heavily littered with 80s synthesizer-heavy influence and sound effects. It’s incredibly enjoyable. Finally, ‘The Anthem of the Night’ offers a remarkable sense of finality with a cinematic, harmonious outro. It’s a fitting ending.

Aside from a few hiccups, ‘Dark Days & Bright Nights’ is a complete success. Luna Rise has mastered their sound and infused it with a hell of a lot of personality. All of their self-descriptions are pretty apt, but I’ll throw yet another into the mix: at times, the band feels like a odd evolution of the Cure. That’s a good thing, though. Who doesn’t love the Cure? There’s plenty at play on the record, and standouts like ‘The Anthem of the Night,’ ‘Silent Screams,’ and ‘The Secret In You’ exhibit a great range of styles. Check the band and record out below.

‘Valentine’ Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Umh-3qxSmk

Luna Rise – Official Website : http://www.lunarisemusic.com
Listen To Luna Rise on special Free App (Flash Required): http://luna-rise.zimbalam.de/?lang=en
Listen To Luna Rise @ Spotify : https://play.spotify.com/artist/2gOyUqu0HAnxk3neoxqXud
Listen To Luna Rise @ Deezer : http://www.deezer.com/artist/4649884
Luna Rise @ Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/lunarise
Luna Rise @ Bandcamp : http://luna-rise.bandcamp.com
Luna Rise @ ITunes : https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/luna-rise/id482267037
Luna Rise @ Google Play : https://play.google.com/store/music/artist/Luna_Rise?id=Autah5gh7tbygcweyu7xfawim4u
Luna Rise @ NRT-Records : http://www.nrt-records.com/luna_rise_eng.html

Red Martian – ‘Ghost in the Fog’

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 evening’s Independent Spotlight, we’re focusing our gaze on a rather compelling outfit: Red Martian. The band released their latest studio endeavor this summer, ‘Ghost into the Fog.’ The album is an intriguing sonic landscape chock-full of innovative sounds and excellent performances. Before delving into eight tunes, though, let’s touch on some info about the band to provide some context to the piece.

Red Martian has been around awhile – about sixteen years. During that time, they’ve put out CD’s, vinyl records, EP’s – all on their own label. More so, they’ve toured all over the place internationally. They describe themselves as a group doesn’t care about ‘radio station politics, the press, musical genres, or a particular scene.’ That’s a pretty apt description. ‘Ghost into the Fog’ defies immediate classification, but rather, melds a bunch of genres into a hodgepodge of noise. That hodgepodge is, however, excellent. Plus, it’s all produced by Gordon Raphael, the man behind some pinnacle records from the likes of the Strokes and Regina Spektor.

In preparation for Independent Spotlight pieces, I always listen to an album a few times through. With ‘Ghost into the Fog,’ I found myself listening to it three or four times before even penning a word. Why? Well, it’s a record with an impressive amount of depth, both musically and lyrically. The opening tune, which is the title track, blends together some superb rock instrumentation, seemingly experimental noise, and peculiar vocals. It’s a very rewarding introduction.

A supporter of the band describes them as the middle-ground between the Silversun Pickups and My Bloody Valentine. That’s a fairly decent classification, but I’d argue there’s even more to it than that. Each of the tracks is tinged with garagey rock and roll and atmospheres akin to Joy Division. The band actually cites the Velvet Underground as an influence – I’d argue Lou Reed would be right behind this kind of rock and roll. It’s messy and distorted, yet articulate. That’s something Reed championed to the extreme.

Going along with that Velvet Underground comparison, ‘None’ is certainly within that realm. It’s quite a romp, one that really drives on a superior sound system. It embraces some of those early Velvet Underground sonic intricacies. The production job Raphael has done on ‘Ghost in the Fog’ is consistently impressing. ‘みなぞう’ embraces a very droning nature. I dig that about it; it’s a dark and brooding escapade through feedback induced soloing and sparse vocal melodies.

‘Undertow’ is the highlight of the first half of the EP. It feels a bit like a Pixies tune – I love the vocal style that croons throughout it. It’s important to note the band is often classified as ‘nu gaze,’ which is essentially a combination of shoegaze influence and alternative rock. The band excels in nu gaze delivery and performance. Now, I’d argue shoegaze isn’t the most accessible genre. ‘Ghost in the Fog’ does, however, house plenty of opportunities to dip your toes into it. ‘Use’ is a very user-friendly, accessible song that may be a good entry point for someone less enthused or versed in Red Martian stylings.

Shortly after the halfway point of ‘Ghost,’ the only issue I had with the album emerged. While Red Martian masters and owns their sound in a wonderfully unique way, their sound does blend together after a time. ‘Wont’ felt like an extension of ‘Use,’ not particularly bringing anything new to the table. There are other microcosms of this as well throughout the album. With that said, the album is incredibly enjoyable, and for the most part, crafts a variety of experiences. There are instances, however, where ‘Martian’ falls into droning obscurity. (Though, that may be the idea.)

  Gordon Raphael brings an interesting element to the album's production.
Gordon Raphael brings an interesting element to the album’s production.

‘Ingenting’ rescued the latter half of the album for me when I felt that ‘Wont’ was a bit of a lull. This track is incredibly inventive and I adore the band’s usage of synthesizers and even a brief acoustic guitar that slowly succumbs to the mix. ‘Ingenting’ is arguably the highest point of the end of ‘Ghost into the Fog.’ Its successor, ‘Ago,’ does have its merit, though. It’s a joyful event through noise and eccentric guitar riffing – one that ends the album on a great note.

‘Ghost into the Fog’ does owe a debt to Raphael’s producing. He did a fine job capturing the essence of Red Martian in an exciting, consistently well produced fashion. That production can only go as far as the band does, however, and they’ve hit a home run. Though I think there is a bit of a mid-album lull, the collection is widely successful in nearly all its pursuits. For those at home with shoegaze and this type of crazy, even experimental music, there will be plenty to love. For those not acclimated to the genre, stand outs like ‘Use’ and ‘Ingenting’ will make the transition worthwhile and rewarding. Thus, consider ‘Ghost into the Fog’ marked with the Independent Spotlight’s stamp of excellence.

J.P. Edwards – ‘Hearticulate’

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 evening’s Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be focusing our gaze on a rising independent singer songwriter, J.P. Edwards. Hailing from Texas, he’s been described as smooth and soulful – an artist with an endeavor to create innovative music that spans a variety of engaging themes. His debut EP is ‘Hearticulate,’ an eight song journey through Edwards’ sonic palette. It drops on October 16, but here on the Spotlight, we have the opportunity to delve into six of its tunes before it releases. Let’s get right into it.

In preparation for this review, I listened to the six tunes quite a few times through. Beginning with ‘World Tour,’ I was brought into a soundscape that immediately compelled me. Edwards is indeed soulful, very much so, in fact. He elegantly infuses pop and soul influence into a remarkably unique product. More so, his lyricism is absolutely excellent. He wittily and humbly remarks on the idea of a ‘world tour.’ He’d rather just play for his muse. (A cute girl, no doubt.) It’s an infectious song, one that’s particularly compelling due to its modest, honest nature.

‘Drop Everything’ continues Edwards’ jaunt through songs that’ll make the women swoon. It may be the best song of the bunch for quite a few reasons. Most notably – who is that girl singing?! She has an absolutely stunning voice, one that accentuates Edwards magnificently. The banter between the two is superb and intensely memorable. As for the instrumentation, the simplistic acoustic backing adds to the magic.

‘Ties’ is an interesting number in the middle of the setlist. It isn’t instantly sing-song like the former tracks, but rather, it digs deeper into Edwards’ lyrical ability. He doesn’t just write a damn fine hook, he’s also pretty insightful. The lyricism of ‘Ties’ is a highlight of the EP. That said, there are two other notable highlights: the electric guitar solo and Edwards’ increasingly impressive vocal register.

As I begin to wrap things up, a few other standouts are worth noting. ‘Destinations’ really appealed to my deep love of acoustic and folk inspired music. It’s less of the latter, but it’s undoubtedly a simplistic soundscape accented by a soft finger plucked acoustic guitar. You just can’t beat that. ‘Grave’ offers one of the most fascinating instrumentations in ‘Hearticulate.’ It’s jazzy, very well performed, and offers a stark contrast from the rest of the album.

Finally, let’s briefly touch on ‘Stargazing.’ This atmospheric ballad is beautifully produced. The composition is quite remarkably; perhaps even the strongest of the outing. Actually, that’s probably an apt note to end the review on: this EP is produced insanely well. A well-produced album is only as good as its artist, though. Fortunately, J.P. Edwards is one of the most promising artists we’ve ever covered here on the Spotlight. October 16. Mark it on your calendar.

Flyer – ‘Till The Grave’

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 today’s Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be shining our light onto Flyer, a rising hip hop artist living in Orlando. Now, when delving into an artist, I typically have a good deal of information about them. Flyer’s camp, however, didn’t provide me with much. His bio? “A man and his muse.” Now, this was actually a good thing: it allowed me to approach his new EP, ‘Till The Grave’ unadulterated by any other information. How does the five track collection stack up against its myriad of other indie hip hop counterparts?

‘Scott Jordan,’ the opener of ‘Till The Grave,’ defines Flyer as a rather unique sounding wordsmith. His atmospheric, reverb-heavy production is simplistic: a few tight beats, light synthesizers, and accenting back-up vocal pieces all make up ‘Scott Jordan.’ Let’s break it down to brass tax. The production is excellent, as is Flyer’s delivery. His lyrics are sharply written and executed throughout a solid effort. A+ for the beginning of ‘Till The Grave.’

‘Dancing Alone’ has a particularly good instrumental production. I dig the bass beat, synthesizer banter, and snapping percussion. Lyrically, the song is somewhat shallow: sex and partying. That’s not a bad thing, however, and it isn’t a half bad party tune. I do think that Flyer’s potential is somewhat wasted on crass veiled blowjob references, though.

Fortunately, the song following, ‘Fly,’ is perhaps the most well-organized piece of the collection. Flyer’s delivery is right on mark, providing one of the most memorable tracks of the EP. Plus, the its lyricism is some of the best as well. That excellence extends to ‘Presidential Suite,’ too. That track has some of the strongest instrumentation on ‘Till The Grave.’  Finally, ‘4th Wall’ ends ‘Till The Grave’ on a resounding high note. “You’re going to have to break the walls down,” Flyer croons over a heavy beat.

Right, so what’s the verdict? ‘Till The Grave’ is an intensely satisfying experience that marks Flyer as a huge potential talent. That talent still isn’t fully realized, but it is getting there. I’ll be intrigued to see his next effort and how he grows as an artist. He has a lot of room to grow, which is a good thing. Check out ‘Till The Grave’ below.




Exclusive Independent Spotlight Interview – Al-x

The following is an exclusive Independent Spotlight interview with a compelling new rising performer, Al-x. She’s released a brand new music video today – see the link at the bottom of the interview to check it out!

Al-x – Your music is intriguing because you wear many hats throughout its inception and production. You’re playing guitar, singing, dancing, songwriting, producing, and so on. How do you manage to combine all of that into one coherent piece of art? You’re operating on more levels than the typical independent musician.

Well, first let me thank you for this interview and the opportunity to be on your blog! Secondly, thanks for the compliment – at least I took it as a compliment to be operating on many different levels. I have worked with other musicians and producers, but a lot of my work has been on my own. I like conceptualizing something from the beginning, trying different things with it, building upon it and coming out with a gem that started from just a spark.

I know some artists can’t or don’t like to do that whole process on their own, but for me, I find it gratifying to use many different parts of myself to come out with the end product. It feels like a full-body experience.

It would be an understatement to say you’re a prolific songwriter. You have over three hundred tunes under your belt. What gets your creative gears spinning in the songwriting process? Are there any particular themes or ideas that your songs gravitate toward?

My favorite type of songwriting is when it comes out like I’m throwing up (laughs). When the idea seems to come from above, use my body as a medium and spit out a fully-formed song. Now unfortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time. There are times in my life when a bunch of ideas will be scurrying around in my head and I have to keep harnessing them and molding them into songs or I go crazy. Then there are slower times. And the phases aren’t necessarily predictable.

I draw from my own life, from my dreams, from TV shows, movies or books. Certain characters’ storylines can just move me so fervently that I want to write a song about them.

You classify yourself as a ‘teaspoon of electro-pop’ with ‘a dash of Madonna and Taylor Swift.’ Now, the acoustic singer songwriter space in our modern independent musical climate is heavily occupied. In fact, I’d argue it’s oversaturated with acts that all sound similar. How do you break through that noise? How do you create music and a persona that’s different than the myriad of counterparts you have in the genre?

By playing guitar & dancing at the same time, for one! I’m trying to emphasize that more now because I just haven’t seen people do it, and those are two things that I love!

I guess there are a lot of singer-songwriters in the indie music space, but what I don’t see a lot of in the mainstream are girls with guitars. That seems to go in phases – and it’s time for it to come back around. So people who are mainly tuned into the mainstream aren’t seeing that many singer-songwriter girls with guitars, and in that way I can seem refreshing or “different.”

When listening to your music, I noticed a compelling balance between electronica influence and acoustic musings. I really dug ‘On The Dark Side,’ but equally enjoyed your new single, ‘Always.’ They’re entirely different genres, really. Is there a direction you’re leaning, or do you intend to keep adding new elements to the genre-hopping nature of your music?

I intend to keep genre-hopping! Like most people, there’s a part of me that’s more introspective and a part that’s more outwardly exploratory, so why not express both sides? Sometimes in my shows I’ll tell the audience that they’re in for a kind of bipolar set because I bounce around, but I think it keeps it interesting. Also I’d like to think my music could be the soundtrack throughout your day then, as we all go through different moods and energy levels throughout the day. Often you have to switch artists to keep up with your changing moods. With mine, you’d just skip to another track.

As aforementioned, you cite influence from the likes of Madonna and Taylor Swift. I like this, because it’s a hint at combining the old and the new. What elements of a vintage pop sound like Madonna’s do you utilize? On the other side of the spectrum, what elements of contemporary pop do you enjoy?

In that statement I mention them both for their music and also as artists. Honestly there’s a lot of contemporary pop that I don’t enjoy, but I do love Taylor. She’s an amazing writer – inventive, clever, extremely hook-y – and she has this sweet positive persona that I think sets a good example. A lot of what I’m inspired by with her is her writing style. With Madonna, well that’s a loooong story. She has been an inspiration for a long time and I’ve been influenced by things she’s done for years. I really love her ‘90s stuff, which actually encompasses a wide variety of styles. In that time she wasn’t afraid to try things and bring things up from the underground. She has this element of surprise that I think is wise for any artist to take note of.

In their own ways, they both have a strong sense of self, a message of empowerment and non-self-destructive tendencies. Those are all things that are important to me to encourage. And as artists, sometimes we are lucky enough to get the opportunity to have some influence – whether it’s to 100 people or 10 million.

What do you think your demographic is? As musicians, we always want our music to apply to a variety of audiences. With that said, we always find our niches. I imagine a younger audience is who you’re reaching out to?

I’d say my target market is people in their 20s-40s with pop-leanings. Within that, I think there’s a group that really enjoys diversity within their pop music. That group would be my main niche, but to break it down further, people who enjoy pop-leaning acoustic singer-songwriter and another who like pop-based electronic music. A lot of artists include different tempos and styles into their albums. My case may be more extreme, but that’s ok with me. I may be “indie” in the sense that I’m not a huge star, but what I write is pop music.

Let’s briefly touch on the future of your music career. What’s the end game? You’re starting to pick up some modest steam – positive press and reviews, a slew of performances at notable venues, and some well shot music videos. How do you keep that going and continue to evolve your sound?

The end game, in brief, is to connect with more & more people through my music. What I’m concentrating on more now is performing more outside LA and in many different kinds of venues. Also will release some more new music. I think I’m in a state where I’m changing and evolving a lot, so it’s not that much of a task to evolve my sound right now. I think persistence and accepting that things are not going to be how you imagined them in your head most of the time are two important factors to keep pushing forward and driving toward your dreams.

This Friday, September 18, you’re putting out another one of those videos. This time, for that new single, ‘Always.’ What can you tell us about the video? More so, what you can tell us about the remixed version of the single that’s also a part of the release of ‘Always’?

This video has more of a freestyle feel to it and it’s a lot lighter and more playful than “On the Dark Side”, plus it involves some of the dancing with the guitar that I mentioned earlier. It’s very different than my 1st video, as is my look. I don’t want to keep just doing the same thing. We shot it at some really beautiful locations in LA, some public, some private. Once again I had a great crew of people working on it.

Regarding the remix, I’m so excited to finally have one! I used to buy remixes all the time and sometimes liked them better than the originals. It was like you got to discover the song all over again. With someone remixing my own song, I was fascinated as to how they would interpret it. And sure enough, it came out in a way I never would have thought of. I’m giving it away for FREE with my “Always” single on Bandcamp!

You’ve built up a significant following worldwide, but seem centralized locally to Los Angeles as well. Do you have plans to take your show on the road or give fans an opportunity to catch you live elsewhere?

Yesss!! I’ve been wanting to do that for a while, and have started to more in the last year, but I really would love to go to places where I know I have larger groups of fans and finally get to play for them and meet them! I don’t know if they know this, but it can truly make my day when they post certain things or make little videos using my songs or pictures. To be able to have the back and forth with them that you get when performing would be amazing.

I always ask the same closing question with Independent Spotlight artist interviews. It’s always interesting to get insight into an artist not just as a creator of music, but a consumer as well. If we were to set your Spotify or iPod to shuffle, what five songs might appear?

Thanks for your really insightful and complex questions! It’s been fun! I hope people will check out my website alexmusicsite.com and join me on social media.

“Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, “Clearest Blue” by CHVRCHES, “Like a Prayer” by Madonna, “Foolish Games” by Jewel & “Style” by Taylor Swift.