David Serero – ‘All My Love Is For You’

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 morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we have a rather compelling performer to shine our gaze upon. David Serero, a veteran French vocalist and actor, has just released his latest studio endeavor, ‘All My Love Is For You.’ The extensive collection of tunes with a traditional pop flair was written, performed, arranged, and produced by Serero himself. That’s impressive right out of the gate. How did he do, though? Let’s find out.

Serero captured my interest as soon as I dug into his biographical information. He’s performed over 800 shows, has an extensive repertoire both live and recorded, and has found significant success playing some incredibly iconic roles on the stage. (In fact, he was met with acclaim for one my all-time favorite characters: Shylock.) I mention this, because I think it’s important to preface Serero’s music with an understanding of the scope of his career. He’s very cultured, and that lends itself nicely to his new album.

‘You Are For Me’ introduces Serero as an intriguing vocalist. Purely based on his surface persona, I was expecting a Michael Buble-esque vocal performance. In actuality, Serero is a baritone, which isn’t something I come across often, at least, not to credible success. It took me a few tracks to warm to Serero’s vocal style, but ultimately, I have. ‘You Are For Me’ sounds like a 1980s Leonard Cohen track. (That’s a high compliment.) I did mention the record has a traditional pop flair, but it does dabble extensively with rock and contemporary pop musings, too. ‘You Are For Me’ exhibits this with bombastic brass sections, a rocking electric guitar backing, and a cacophony of sounds.

Throughout the album, Serero does a fairly good job proving himself as a do-it-yourself independent artist. There aren’t any egregious errors in production or performance. That said, there are some creative decisions that may be worth contesting. Take the second track, the titular tune – it also harkens to the 80s, but in a way that doesn’t age near as well as ‘You Are For Me.’ The synthesizers and harsh percussion are reminiscent of less memorable pursuits from the era. (Instead of Leonard Cohen, think Bob Dylan’s ‘Empire Burlesque.’) This is a faux pas that comes and goes throughout the album, usually whenever synthesizers make the sound feel too overproduced.

‘Someone Makes You Come’ is a return toward ‘You Are For Me,’ which is refreshing. The instrumental backing of Serero is, for the most part, pretty sharp. His brass sections are particularly noteworthy, especially on tracks like ‘Someone Makes You Come.’ My only critique: they overpower Serero. When you have such a deep voice, you don’t soar over the instrumentation like a higher pitched vocalist. At times, Serero has buried himself in his own mix accidentally.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that the finest endeavors on ‘All My Love Is For You’ are the minimalistic ones, such as ‘The Greatest Of Your World.’ Again, though, Serero is undermixed and I had some trouble understanding him. Thus, I could argue that the entirety of the collection would benefit from a mild remaster that centers Serero’s vocals toward the forefront.

‘I Want Your Love With My Love’ isn’t the best track; Serero’s voice is undermixed in the main delivery, but is held up by his own harmonizing sections. I dig ‘Make Me Believe In Love,’ and the instrumentation of ‘I Think I’m Gonna Love You My Dear.’ The lyrics are a bit more questionable, as Serero uses the word ‘caress’ one too many times. It’s more than a bit kitschy.

That said, I think this kind of music is designed to be a tad kitschy, a tad cliche. That is what gives it its personality. Serero had to have known that going into it. Out of the final tracks, I’d argue the finest is ‘In My Life Without You,’ an excursion through some production that while intense, seems abundantly fitting to Serero’s personality.

For an entirely self-made effort, this is a pretty decent record. It has its pitfalls, Serero isn’t mixed the best into it, and it is overproduced several times throughout. It has its gems, too, and I think he’s quite a talent that could be tapped better with more production practice and less drum machine and synthesizer banter. It would seem that he’s going to have no shortage of creativity, so I imagine a follow-up with manifest itself in due time. In the meantime, if you dig baritone, pop love ditties, this may be right up your alley.



Coco Tea – ‘Ladies Ball’

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.

For those of you that don’t know me, one the quickest ways to my heart is with a good reggae song. Thus, I was incredibly excited to delve into the single we’ll be touching on this morning in the Independent Spotlight. ‘Ladies Ball’ is a recent release from the reggae crooner, Coco Tea. Born Calvin George Scott, Coco Tea has made a name for himself over the last several decades with an impressively diverse catalog. While simplistic, ‘Ladies Ball’ exemplifies the charming persona that has concreted Coco Tea’s relevance for all that time.

I must be honest: I was a bit worried when I first began delving into the content of ‘Ladies Ball.’ I was afraid that Coco Tea may enter some misogynist territory. It’s so easy to start out with the intention to glorify women with your song, but end up ultimately objectify them in the process. That wouldn’t necessarily be foreign territory to popified music. At its core, ‘Ladies Ball’ is reggae with a very heavy pop flair. Fortunately, it’s actually quite suave and respectful.

“Every king knows that the queen comes first,” Coco Tea declares over his easy-riding, relaxing, reggae sonic landscape. The track isn’t sexualized, either. He’s at his ‘Ladies Ball’ to celebrate all women – even and especially mothers. It’s such a sweet tune in this sense. Coco Tea is inviting all of the important women in his life to a night of class and elegance. I can’t even begin to explain how refreshing this is – I’ll get half a dozen incredibly opposite tunes sent to me in as many days. This kind of respect and class is so missing in so much music right now.

The instrumentation is very simplistic throughout ‘Ladies Ball,’ but it suits it perfectly well. It’s infectiously catchy and Coco Tea’s delivery and performance is absolutely fantastic. He’s so perfectly mixed into the sound; he occupies his space so superbly. There isn’t anything overly profound about the track, but Coco Tea’s slick delivery makes you feel at home. It’s the kind of track that you can, and will, spin many times through without it losing its flair.

I absolutely adore Coco Tea. Good on you, my friend. Keep class alive; keep respect alive, and keep reggae alive. Coco Tea is doing it right. Spin the tune below.



@cocoatea13 on Twitter

cocoa_tea13 on Instagram

Ayre – ‘Director’s Cut’

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 morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to shine our gaze on over toward a promising independent hip hop artist, Ayre. Currently a theater major in college, the young performer has put out one of the more passionate, intriguing hip hop efforts of the last several months. ‘Director’s Cut’ is his first full excursion in the studio, marking his debut with six sharply produced tunes. Let’s dig into them.

I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating every time it’s relevant: independent hip hop is the most saturated genre in the scene. For every ‘good’ indie hip hop review I issue here on the site, I write a dozen much more critical ones. I get about fifteen hip hop records a week. I say this, as I have before, because it weighs the importance of a genuinely excellent indie hip hop effort. I’d argue that’s what you have with ‘Director’s Cut;’ the tracks, produced by Novascotia, shine a light on a young talent with immeasurable potential.

‘When You’re Not Sleeping, Keep Yourself From Dreaming’ is the dynamic, explosive introduction to Ayre. Those string sections, bombastic percussion pieces, and harmonizing vocals are incredible. “I wasn’t born into money, but tough luck,” he exclaims over an absolutely elegant soundscape. I love those brass sections as they rise and fall around Ayre – stunning. His lyricism is fresh and inviting, even if he painfully realistic. All too often, I get indie rappers that land on my desk and think they’re the second coming. At least Ayre is humble. (And in honesty, he’s a hell of a lot more talented than those guys, too.)

‘Wish Upon a Scar’ is a poignant lyrical endeavor as well, touching on array of social issues that have culminated into a modern social conscious in the last year. Poor schools, lack of opportunity, domestic issues, etc. As someone who lives and works in Chicago, these are issues that are particularly relevant to me right now, and thus, tracks like ‘Wish Upon A Star’ resonate with me.

‘You’re My Melody’ is an interesting love track, one that remains rooted in reality instead of fairy tales. It remains lovely, though, and proves there is more than one way to pen a track like that. ‘Sugar High’ is the best track of the bunch, masterfully connecting instrumental and production prowess with some of the most passionate delivery I’ve heard in months. It feels incredibly retro, reminiscent of a Grandmaster Funk track or the like.

‘For the Fame’ and ‘Soulless Succubus’ concrete my opinion that Ayre is one of the more talented indie hip hop songwriters I’ve reviewed this year – and not a day too late. (Quite literally.) Spin him on Spotify below; he’s great and deserves your attention.


The Other Day – ‘Night Flowers’

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 morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be delving into the music of The Other Day, an eclectic outfit founded by Bobby Shiflett, a guitarist who previously founded the band Alamantra. The Other Day includes several members from his previous endeavor, but focuses on a new idea: reminding listeners that music is indeed poetry. The group’s debut effort exemplifies this mantra. Let’s talk about an early preview of ‘Night Flowers.’

Perhaps the most compelling piece of ‘Night Flowers’ is that it’s an album rooted in instrumental prowess. The charismatic lead vocalist, Jennifer Skates, also performs flute and trumpet. The core lineup includes a bassist, percussionist, and keyboardist as well, all elegantly showcased through the collaborative nature of The Other Day’s songwriting. The songs on ‘Night Flowers’ are written by Shiflett, his wife Catt, and Skates. The result is a collection of songs that defy genre, slyly maneuvering through jazz, Latin, and lounge styles with tactful grace. ‘Sway’ does a fine job exhibiting that.

‘Sway’ is lounge jazz at its finest; Skates is so wonderfully accented by classical guitar and jazzy percussion. Whenever I review an album for the Spotlight, I head to the studio and queue it up on the monitors. For the most part, The Other Day’s music is well-suited to a quality set-up. At times on ‘Sway,’ I did find the timbre of the classical guitar to be a bit harsh, somewhat drowning out Skates’ vocals. I’d argue that ‘The Cosmos (Wasn’t Made in a Day)’ has a much sharper production that properly aligns the vocals with the instrumentation. I adore Skates’ flute as well on that tune.

‘Mi Flor de la Noche’ is a bit of a mixed bag. I really dig the Latin flair and the introduction of some very enjoyable key sections. In the verses, Skates’ vocals seem to be strained, as if she’s attempting to envelope a specific sound or persona that doesn’t fit her pipes as kindly as ‘Sway’ or ‘The Cosmos.’ ‘We’re in the Mood (for Love),’ the following track, harnesses that intense, passionate delivery much better. It feels fitting on ‘We’re in the Mood,’ and the songwriting is a beautiful vehicle for Skates’ most poignant performance on the record.

A massive potential pitfall of this type of jazz is having your record spin into obscurity as it unfolds. Like any other genre, this type of smooth jazz has to be altered noticeably from track to track to remain consistently interesting. Otherwise, your album runs the risk of sounding like an hour long elevator ride or stroll through Nordstroms during the holidays. I’m compelled to argue that The Other Day traverses this impeccably, and tunes like ‘Body Surfer-Another Cha Cha Cha’ exhibit that. The instrumentation and suave lyricism is unmatched on this tune, proving the outfit’s ability to change the formula up just enough from track to track to maintain interest.

Goodness, that electric guitar and organ banter on ‘Unencumbered’ is fantastic. It’s like a Doors rehearsal got lost in a late night jazz club. It rounds out the preview I obtained of ‘Night Flowers’ with terrific energy. (I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t typically describe smooth jazz as energetic or consistently interesting, either.) The vast majority of the production harnesses the chemistry of The Other Day in a very positive way, even ever-so-lightly toying with psychedelic effects. That’s why I’d highly recommend The Other Day and ‘Night Flowers.’ This is contemporary jazz done right by musicians who clearly have a deep knowledge and love for the genre. Check them out below, and keep tabs on ‘Night Flowers,’ slated for January 15.

Site: http://theotherdayband.com
Soundcloud LP: https://soundcloud.com/theotherdayband/sets/night-flowers-preview
Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/theotherdayband

SeanKev – Press Release – December 30, 2015



SeanKev, a rising independent DJ commonly referred to as the ‘Doctor of the Mix,’ is preparing to release his fifth studio record in three years. Born and raised in New York City in Queens, SeanKev has fostered an eclectic palette of musical interest throughout the years, culminating into his particularly exceptional DJ’ing. Known for his funk, soul, and disco prowess, he has been touring the underground scene and gaining notoriety for his slick, elegant presentation and unique style.

In the next few weeks, SeanKev will be releasing ‘Funk God,’ slated for the middle of January. The dynamic, remarkably funky endeavor is a sharp excursion through house music. In today’s mainstream, house music has become a genre inundated with mediocrity, predictability, and lackluster creativity. As a result, clubs and underground venues flock to artists like SeanKev who can bring a compelling layer of creativity to an otherwise saturated medium. When delving into ‘Funk God,’ fans will discover an intensely intricate soundscape chock-full of lovely brass sections, tight beats, and superb samples.

The modern DJ doesn’t have to haul the kind of equipment they did twenty years ago. A Macbook, iPhone, and an array of software can provide DJ’s with a variety of synthesized and digital sounds. As with any technology created to enhance convenience, however, a special ‘it’ factor is lost in translation. That factor, something that SeanKev exemplifies in his performances, is analog media. SeanKev isn’t just one of the finest indie funk and soul house DJ’s, he’s one of the only talents in the industry to continue to DJ with vinyl records. The result? An absolutely infectious quality that doesn’t go unnoticed by SeanKev’s concert patrons and collaborators. (He’s gained experience DJ’ing with his good friend DJ Precision as well.)

Growing up in Queens in the 1980s, SeanKev discovered a love of soul music, a passion that continues to drive him to this day. (Hence why he’s also a professional record collector.) Instead of buying lunch, he’d head down to the local record shop and snap up boogie and funk records. As his collection grew, his desire to create grew with it. Befriending the legendary producer Boyd Jarvis, SeanKev learned of the ‘Paradise Garage,’ the underground dance club that defined dance and pop music. This was a catalyst for his desire and creativity, especially since his father was a member of the exclusive venue during its heyday.

Thus, in 2007, SeanKev launched a YouTube channel to exhibit his talent toward the ever-expanding community of the internet. That channel continues to thrive today as a platform for SeanKev to showcase his music, his live performances, and his technology. (Or rather lack thereof, being a predominantly analog DJ who prides himself in utilizing 12’’ and 7’’ records instead of a digital setlist.)

In the three short years since his debut 2013 studio effort, ‘1982 Funk & Soul,’ SeanKev has explored an incredible array of sonic landscapes. ‘1982’ was followed by ‘HouseFunkysco,’ a pursuit of deep, funky house music akin to the era of the B-boy. In 2015, the DJ dropped two albums: ‘New York Express To Europe’ and ‘SeanKev Analog Soul Pt. 1.’ It would be apt to call his catalog quite prolific, especially with a new album on the horizon only three months after ‘Analog Soul.’

Fans can connect with SeanKev via his website and YouTube profile, both of which can be found below. Through his website, listeners will find an extensive discography, a shop, and much more. ‘Funk God’ is expected in the middle of January, so keep tabs on those online outfits for any official information entailing the release.






ANN3X & GasMask – ‘Electric Elephants Remix’

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.

Earlier this year, I was highly complimentary of a rising producer and electronic artist, ANN3X. He had unveiled a superb remix for a Spinnin’ Records competition, one that I thought was one of the more sharply produced remix efforts of the year. Now to close out the year, ANN3X is back with an even more eclectic and compelling remix. The new release is a reworking of Jay Hardway’s ‘Electric Elephants,’ with which ANN3X collaborated with GasMask, another producer. Let’s dig right into the new tune.

When critically analyzing a remix, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the original work. Thus, I spent some time with Hardway’s original tune prior to delving into ANN3X’s. To be entirely blunt, I’m not particularly impressed with ‘Electric Elephants’ in its original state – it wreaks of stereotypical electronic dance and dub sounds. Nothing about it is terribly original, and thus, I have no reservations with arguing that ANN3X’s remix is superior to its namesake.

‘Electric Elephants,’ the remix, is a staggeringly good effort. Dynamic waterfalls of synthesizers cascade around a light vocal sample and heavy percussion piece. The banter between the synthesizers creates a sonic space of intrigue and possibility, something the original tune completely lacks. In fact, the best moment of the remix is around 1:50 when the drop leads into this harsh, industrial-like solo section. About twenty seconds later, the vocal pieces ghostly fly in and out of that solo – absolutely fantastic.

ANN3X and GasMask describe their creation as ‘progressive future house.’ That’s probably a fairly apt analysis – there is a lot going on in the track… a whole lot more than the original. The remix is a cacophony of epic, well-executed sound. That is why ANN3X and GasMask leave Jay Hardway in the dust. Head to the link below to vote for the track in a new Spinnin’ Records competition. Go cast a vote; it’s not often a remix lays new, exciting claim to a particularly dull, trope-driven track.



Los Ciegos Del Barrio

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 shine our gaze on Los Ciegos Del Barrio, an experimental, bilingual Latin rock group. The outfit is a remarkably unique one, consisting of five blind Americans of Latin descent, hence why the band name translates to ‘The Blind Boys from the Neighborhood.’ (It is worth mentioning that they all suffer from varying degrees of legal blindness. They’re not entirely without sight.) Let’s dig into their new tune, ‘Mama Used To Say.’

It goes without saying that the band’s instrumental prowess is only more impressive as a result of their disabilities. Goodness, ‘Mama Used To Say’ is an elegant excursion through Latin-tinged, salsa-like rock. Los Ciegos Del Barrio do remind me a bit of The Blind Boys of Alabama. Aside from the fact that they’re five blind guys creating killer music, the comparison does run deeper. The Blind Boys of Alabama have championed a very American sound over the course of the last seventy years. From gospel, to soul, to working with Lou Reed, they’ve embodied American performance through countless avenues for decades. That authenticity, that raw embracement of culture is abundant in Los Ciegos Del Barrio’s music. They sharply call upon their heritage to craft contemporary, yet intensely traditional sounds. That’s very admirable.

‘Mama Used To Say’ is nothing short of infectious. From the opening flutes to the bombastic percussion and brass sections, the single is everything that’s so wonderful about Latin music. The vocal performances are superb, as is the lyricism. It’s a very friendly tune, too. I imagine Los Ciegos Del Barrio are wonderfully fun to see live, and they’re also creating tunes that can be enjoyed in a family setting. ‘Mama Used To Say’ reminds me of ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come,’ actually. (A timeless Three Dog Night track.) It’s one of those tunes that utilizes the imparting of motherly wisdom to progress forward in a relatable manner.

As I mentioned, the outfit is bilingual. Thus, there is some Spanish thrown in throughout the track. This only intensifies the genuine feel of the music, and tops off a wholly authentic atmosphere with enthusiastic grace. I don’t receive Latin music often to review on the Independent Spotlight, either. Thus, ‘Mama Used To Say’ is one of the more refreshing tracks I’ve visited in quite a long time. Spin it below and connect with the band via social networking.





Phoenix The Misfit – ‘Indigo: A New Generation’

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 are going to be delving into Phoenix The Misfit and his latest mixtape, ‘Indigo: A New Generation.’ His eclectic endeavor touches on ‘various topics ranging from identity of self, truth, police brutality, love, and death.’ Thus, the hip hop artist covers a whole lot of ground in just ten tracks. The finished product is, for the most part, a remarkably sound effort chock-full of interesting contemplations. Let’s dig right into it.

‘(Intro) In Peace’ is a really compelling effort through samples. Essentially, Phoenix utilizes a massive introduction that recounts countless African American figures who died tragically. Martin Luther King Jr., Tupac, Jimi Hendrix… they’re are all present, reminisced through the news reports of their deaths. The tune touches on our modern struggles with police brutality and the black community as well: Ferguson, Chicago, and the like. As a man who is currently living in the middle of Chicago, this tune really resonated with me. Especially the last several seconds, which I believe are from a Chicago protest that many of my dear friends were in attendance for. (“We’re gonna’ be all right!”) Phoenix nails the atmosphere of these protests in the track, and his production is on mark throughout.

‘Nodus Tollens’ introduces Phoenix as a masterful performer. He tactfully moves from verse to verse quickly and effortlessly, backed by a magnificently unique production. His musings about the black struggle with police in the United States right now are quite profound, actually. The system itself is broken, and Phoenix exploits this elegantly through some excellent lyricism.

‘Child (All U Ever Wanted)’ is an equally deep tune, touching on the nuances of love. “I’ll be the adjective to your verb,” he croons over a soundscape that’s just as unique as its two predecessors. I’d like to touch on why that is so important – The independent hip hop scene is completely inundated with bad, predictable, trope-driven music. It’s by far the most saturated independent outlet. That’s why artists like Phoenix are so special: they’re breaking through the noise with authentic, passionate content.

‘Let Me Free’ is one of the most poignant productions on the entirety of ‘Indigo.’ Goodness, that soulful, intense vocal sample matched by equally fierce instrumentation is unbelievable. Phoenix continues his jaunt through socially conscious hip hop, which again, is refreshing amidst a scene of mundane, uninspired content. ‘Welcome 2 AmeriKKKa’ is an interlude of sorts that follows shortly after ‘Let Me Free,’ one that makes some bold statements. (Hell, look at that song title.) It’s a skit, reminiscent of an early Kendrick Lamar or Kanye West sketch. The skit plays out a scenario akin to what is sending my neighborhood up in arms the last few weeks, and Ferguson and Baltimore before it.

‘S.A.M.’ is a much more simplistic track, at least, instrumentally. The track deals with a ‘hurricane of anger and pain’ after a woman cheats on Phoenix. “Be careful when you invest, communication is key” he declares over a track that seems to be a warning statement toward any man who’s in a less than healthy relationship. The production toys with some brief jazz elements as well, something that plays into Phoenix’s hand perfectly. There’s a comparison to be made here, but I’ll close with that below.

‘Psalm 119:130’ opens with a lengthy, but insightful sample. Again, Phoenix is delving into some social topics, though I’d argue the emotionally driven ‘Wabi-Sabi’ is one of the highest moments toward the end of the record. I really dig how Phoenix effortlessly hops from themes of love and self-discovery to police brutality and social injustice. ‘VGV,’ a remix featuring Cory Gunz and Lij Soleo, does feel somewhat out of place. The two guest artists add a different flair to the music, and I’m not so sure how well it jives alongside tunes like ‘Let Me Free’ and ‘Nodus Tollens.’

‘Same Stories (Hold On, Be Strong)’ does close the album with a bang, however, culminating everything that’s great about ‘Indigo’ into one succinct effort. Thus, I think ‘Indigo: A New Generation’ is one of the finest independent hip hop efforts of the year. It feels immensely relevant through all of its revelations. I’d go as far to argue that it is the rap album the independent scene needed in 2015, and not a moment too soon to close the year out. If I was to compare it to a popular contemporary work, I’d say its insights fall directly in line with the best effort of this year: ‘To Pimp A Butterfly.’




Phoenix Lights – Their New EP

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 review, I’m going to be delving into Phoenix Lights, an eclectically bizarre and wonderfully unique duo hailing from outer space. (Or the Netherlands, but they seem to prefer the former.) Their newest record, which dropped Dec. 12, is a self-titled six track endeavor. The EP is their first full length EP. Let’s dig right into it.

Phoenix Lights is best classified as an art rock duo, one that toys with classical, progressive, and alternative influences. ‘The Journey,’ the opening of their new EP, may prove one of the most resilient, poignant moments for many listeners. This instrumental is so well executed, so well performed, and so abundantly creative. I love the layered soundscapes of synthesizers and noises; they’re magnificent in their own special way. In truth, ‘The Journey’ is one of the more original independent instrumental songs I’ve heard in months.

‘Lies’ continues the duo’s clear classical influence, tying itself to a dynamic guitar/piano waltz. The two instruments bounce off of one another with lovely prowess before Sandra Spaceflower Zovko comes in with her hauntingly beautiful vocals. I adore how she harmonizes with herself. The instrumentation creates this spine-tingling sense of urgency around the listener, something that subsides into soft, surreal bliss on ‘Hesitation.’

‘Murder In The Park’ is the next true highlight of the album, exhibiting Spaceflower to a much greater extent. Laurens Voois, her counterpart, makes his vocal debut as well, harmonizing with her nicely. The chemistry between these two is undeniably infectious. ‘End Of Summer’ continues their instrumental harmony elegantly, returning to the masterful pastures of the electric guitar and piano collaboration. These two instrumentalists bounce off each other so intensely. ‘Games’ closes the endeavor with an epic sense of finality.

Phoenix Lights is a superb effort very much worth your time. I’d argue they are one of the finest, most unique independent duos in the scene right now. Their production quality is outstanding, and their compositions are equally noteworthy. They’re something to write home about.


NuHolli (Prod. by Party Michael) – ‘Hoppin’

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 shine our gaze on NuHolli, a rising independent artist who has just released a new single produced by Party Michael. The song, ‘Hoppin,’ is a rather good effort and excursion through subject matter I’m usually not particularly fond of reviewing. (More on that below.) NuHolli’s online presence is very lacking, and thus, we’ll focus entirely on her music here without delving into her persona much. Let’s jump right in.

As aforementioned, I’m not a fan of party tracks. You’re drunk, still drinking, and want to sound like the next Ke$ha. I get it, and in complete honesty, I get a dozen of these tracks in my inbox every week. Party hip hop and party pop are subgenres that breed mediocrity and creatively void work. ‘Hoppin’ does embrace some of those tropes, yes, but it does so in a fairly creative way. Thus, I think it’s actually the best ‘party’ track we’ve touched on in the Spotlight.

Party Michael’s production is likely the reason this track goes down so smoothly. The production doesn’t feel overproduced, a near-constant and inevitable pitfall of these types of songs. Instead, it highlights NuHolli elegantly and I love some of the intricacy to Michael’s work. When you listen to the intro and outro of the tune, you’re met with some of the more creative synthesizer composition I’ve heard in months. I dig the beats, too. Nothing feels too generic or overused, and hence, Party Michael avoids pretty much every obstacle his counterparts blatantly (and drunkenly) run straight into.

NuHolli is a surprisingly tactful vocalist. Even though her subject matter is a tad bland, she really does sell it with a soulful performance. “Bottles in the air and I’m super unaware” is painfully stereotypical, but in the choruses, her crooning is inviting and very R&B-ish. I’d love to see this girl matched with good, meaningful lyricism. That may be my only significant critique: the lyricism is genuinely bad.

Despite the shoddy lyrics, ‘Hoppin’ is the best pop party track we’ve touched on in the Spotlight, and most certainly the kindest I’ve ever been to a track of its nature. That is entirely due to Party Michael’s excellent production and NuHolli’s good delivery. The next step? Getting some good words to jive with the good sounds they’re creating.