Vixen Noir – ‘Tightrope’

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 Vixen Noir, an independent singer and songwriter who is preparing to release her latest studio endeavor, a single called ‘Tightrope.’ Due out Tuesday, July 19, ‘Tightrope’ is a ballad of independence. Noir sings about how in order to court her in a relationship, one needs to be confident and capable as an individual first. Thus, it’s a track we could all learn a thing or two from. Let’s dig right into it.

Noir has gained prominence in the independent scene for her eclectic artistry that expands far beyond her music. She’s a poet, a burlesque artist, a dancer, a mentor, and so much more. She’s also traveled broadly, and she’s taught workshops in countries like Australia to empower women. ‘Tightrope,’ I’d argue, is a musical representation of the kind of individuality and empowerment that Noir’s entire career is built upon.

Sonically, the track aligns with contemporary pop music. That sound, however, is also steeped in electronic and dance experimentation. The beats surrounding Noir are dynamic, heavy hitting, and perfect for the dance floor or a loud stereo set-up. I’m always hesitant of pop music, though, because even in the indie scene, artists can often conform into monotony and lose creative spirit in their work. Fortunately, I think Noir owns her soundscape in a masterful, attention-demanding fashion. It’s quality pop music.

The explosion of intricacy behind Noir as she croons the choruses is absolutely fantastic, erupting in a cacophony of atmospheric synthesizers, beats, and other instrumentation. Once the track reaches its climax around 3:20, it’s borderline anthemic. It’s very well produced, and Noir’s vocals sit perfectly inside a bombastic mix that feels organic and organized. Often indie pop artists get lost in the intensity of their own mixes.

Lyrically, the song is actually quite well written. It’s nothing terribly deep, nor does it masquerade as something that is. Noir is singing about a relationship that is certainly possible, but in order for it to be, her significant other has to be comfortable in their own skin and have the ability to live their life on their own. It’s good advice: if you can’t be happy with yourself while alone, you’ll never find fulfillment with someone else.

Vixen Noir is making exceptionally good pop music with songs like ‘Tightrope.’ It’s very much worth keeping an eye out for when it drops in July. She’s a promising artist that’s daring to jump enough outside of the box to keep her music consistently compelling. Connect with Vixen online below.

Ben Laver – ‘Rise’

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 Ben Laver, an independent composer based out of London that has a brand new record available entitled ‘Rise.’ His new endeavor is a compellingly unique one – a journey that challenges the structure of genres and composition. Is ‘Rise’ an album worth having on your radar of up and coming independent music? Well, let’s dig into it extensively and discern whether or not it is.

Laver is the co-owner and founder of ‘Box Of Toys Audio,’ a company that specializes in sound design for major companies like the BBC, Nike, Porsche, and more. ‘Rise’ is indicative of the reason large entities like those hire his company. It’s fluid, superbly organized, and emotionally evocative throughout its run. The opening track, ‘Movements In Colour,’ is a stunning portrayal of droning, atmospheric piano and synthesizers. It’s sparse, but absolutely lovely.

The titular song, ‘Rise,’ offers up a rather different landscape, one full with more beats and intensity. The sprinklings of elusive aural musings are especially fantastic, and you’ll find yourself listening to ‘Rise’ and continually discovering new nooks and crannies of its experience. The analog synthesizers and explorative piano experimentations of songs like ‘Love and Imagination’ are stunning as well.

I listened to ‘Rise’ through thrice – as I do any Independent Spotlight feature. All three times, tracks like ‘Rise’ and ‘Kingdom Of Heaven’ sent my mind into a bizarre, existential place. These contemplative musical inclinations are profoundly beautiful, flowing together seamlessly to create the illusion of one ‘whole’ piece of art rather than segmented entities.

Nothing on this record is overbearing. At the same time, however, nothing devolves into monotony, either. Laver walks a masterful balance in that regard, whereas many instrumental composers often fall victim to ostentation or boredom inducing soundscapes. Even songs like ‘Breathe,’ which feel very bare and minimalist, still provide pleasing, mellow atmospheres.

Occasionally, the album does take a hard left or right into slightly more obscure territory, but always for the better. ‘Lifeforms,’ one of the album’s best tracks, is an excellent example of this. The stringed instrumentation is far from traditional, evoking world themes alongside some experimental ideas. ‘She Remembers’ follows, and harnesses tinges of drone influence as synthesizers cascade over another another without end.

‘Notes for Another Life’ is a short track, not even clocking in near a minute and a half. As such, it feels like an interlude, a separation between ‘She Remembers’ and ‘Acoustic Reflections.’ The tracks pair together nicely with ‘Another Life’ in the middle, so much so that they compile like a long track if you listen to them one after the next. ‘Acoustic Reflections’ explores piano motifs with to wonderful effect.

‘Home’ has a deeply melancholy feel to it, as if to orchestrate bittersweet emotions. That actually brings me to two vital parts of this record: it’s interpretable and it’s emotional. Each of these tracks may feel different for each listener. Some listeners may not find ‘Home’ melancholy or bittersweet. That, combined with the undeniable emotion of each track, culminates into a terrific collection of tracks.

‘In My Head’ incorporates some further electronic beats, perhaps more so than any song before it. The result is eclectic, solidifying Laver’s ability to jump between atmospheric, classical, and electronic music pretty effortlessly. ‘How It Ends,’ the fittingly titled finale, sounds eerily similar to some of the material Max Richter has penned for the HBO series, ‘The Leftovers.’ I’d go as far to argue that the soundtrack from the show is a must-listen if you enjoy ‘Rise’ as an album, and in particular, ‘How It Ends.’

There is something very special about an independent artist harnessing instrumental composition in a new, refreshing way. Too often instrumental music in this scene is inundated by pretentiousness and experimentation that doesn’t pan out well. That’s really not the case with ‘Rise.’ ‘Rise’ does take small risks, in tracks like ‘Lifeforms,’ for example.  It does so elegantly, however, and never missteps because of its close attention to detail.

There isn’t one bad track on ‘Rise.’ There isn’t one boring one, either. It’s an intriguing set of songs that feels perfect as a whole collection. At thirty-seven minutes, every person who embarks on this journey owes it to themselves to do so in its entirety. ‘Rise’ is one of the best albums from the independent scene in quite awhile.

Connect with Ben Laver on his website:

Chris Nole – ‘It Be What It Be’

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 Chris Nole, an acclaimed pianist who is preparing to release his newest studio endeavor, ‘It Be What It Be.’ At twelve tracks, the excursion is one through Nole’s remarkably colored palette of sonic influence and style that’s unforgettable intriguing. Last year, I discussed Nole’s career with the legendary John Denver on the Jukebox Podcast. This, however, is his own original music. Let’s explore it and see if it’s worth keeping tabs on.

‘It Be What It Be’ incorporates heavy jazz, blues, and rock influence throughout its run. He cites inspirations like Professor Longhair, Randy Newman, and Ray Charles. They’re all definitely present, but Nole puts his own twist on his sound. I’ve never heard a record of Nole’s where he sings, first and foremost. As the titular track exemplifies, he actually has quite a bit of swagger to his style. The man can sing.

Nole’s foot-stomping vibes on the piano are accented further by an immensely good studio band. The saxophonist on ‘It Be What It Be,’ the song, is outstanding. The New Orleans-esque style of ‘Overdue For You’ is refreshing, too, and the love story that Nole muses through on the track is lovely. ‘Good For My Soul’ harnesses the Randy Newman influence, deriving some creative direction from approaching the song as a ‘singer songwriter.’ The track also helps concrete Nole’s presence as a vocalist – he commands the atmosphere very well.

Now, I’d argue that ‘It Be What It Be’ is not an extensively deep record – nor does it try to be, and nor should it be. It’s a feel-good album, and Nole is here to create blues and old time rock and roll that can get people moving, grooving, and singing along. Tracks like ‘Somethin’ In The Water’ do that exactly – it’s a track designed to make the listener feel genuinely good. That’s an admirable effort, one I simply adore. Nole’s music brings light into the room.

‘Lay Across My Piano’ is one of the highlights of the album as Nole navigates a masterful serenade. It’s quite well written, harkening back to Sinatra-like performances of an era gone by. ‘Gumbolaya’ follows it nicely, offering one Nole’s best instrumental performances on the album. As a lover of New Orleans music, it’s one of the most satisfying songs on the album for me. Anyone with appreciation of the area’s musical stylings will find something to love with ‘Gumbolaya.’

There’s a very vintage feel to ‘If You’re Ready To Rock,’ as if it was taken straight from an Eddie Cochran record where the flip side of the vinyl was ‘Twenty Flight Rock.’ It’s a style that works for Nole and his studio outfit wonderfully. ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ however, the traditional tune, follows with a very different approach to the iconic track. It’s bluesy – jazzy, even, and with no vocals. It’s a surprisingly fresh take on a song we’ve all heard endlessly over the years.

I loved that Nole didn’t use vocals for ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ but I was concerned he’d do the same for ‘Roll Over Beethoven.’ Fortunately, though, he sings the legendary Chuck Berry track and injects it with an incredible amount of personality and gusto. It’s such an infectious performance. It’s simply one of the album’s very best.

Following the traditional arrangement and the cover, Nole shifts back to originals for the remainder of the album. ‘My Last Clean Shirt’ is the first of the three, and it takes Nole and his band into some soft, meandering territory with some excellent instrumental performances. I love Nole’s percussionist and guitarist. They banter back and forth around his piano and vocals effortlessly.

‘I’m Ready Beddy’ is old-style honky tonk boogie, proving Nole’s ability to continue to jump about genres throughout the entirety of his album. The song, which is a tune about a house piano player, creates a landscape for the fast paced blues to occupy beautifully. It’s very much worth noting that all of these songs are snappy – Nole doesn’t ostentatiously devolve into soloing. Every note resonates with purpose and is executed with laser-sharp precision.

The recordings sound spectacular, too. From the title track to the contemplative finale, ‘Blues For Miles,’ Nole and company sound absolutely fantastic. Each mix is perfectly organized and each master is a pleasant experience on any set of speakers. Nole sets the gold standard for independent artists. The nod toward Miles Davis in the final moments is nicely presented, and winds down the album after an experience chock-full of intensity.

This is exactly the album it needs to be – it’s fun, it’s danceable, it’s very well written and performed, and Nole has elegantly harnessed his influences in a way I rarely see any artist in the industry do. The album drops Aug. 2, and it’s very worth your time.

Calle Ameln – ‘Revolution On The Rocks’

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.

Several months ago in March, I reviewed ‘Salty Dog,’ an EP that Swedish singer songwriter Calle Ameln released. I was enthusiastic about his potential; the album had some very solid tracks. It also had some mixing issues, though, which I addressed in that review. ‘Salty Dog’ was, in essence, the preface to ‘Revolution On The Rocks,’ since many of the tracks are the same. They’re revisited here, however, so let’s check out the entirety of the album and see how Ameln holds up against his previous work.

‘Revolution,’ the opening of the album, is a hard hitting rocker about late nights, booze, and independence. So, yes – it is derivative. There’s no doubt about that. Ameln approaches the record with such gusto and intensity, however, that he sells his performance to you. ‘Revolution’ feels like a track you could most certainly sing along to, pumping your first into the hot summer air at a concert.

Even though ‘Revolution’ is a fun track, ‘Coming Home’ marks the first moment on the album that a level of substance is presented. (Well, that kind of substance, anyway.) ‘Coming Home’ feels a tad melancholy; it’s a track about coming back to a home and wife that are potentially strained or broken.

Earlier this year, I called ‘I Don’t Feel Down’ a “superior jaunt through both Ameln’s songwriting and production work.” The track still stands tall amidst its counterparts on this larger effort. I love Ameln’s sound when its broken down into acoustic, barebones elements. He’s in fine form on ‘I Don’t Feel Down.’

‘It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere’ speaks for itself – it’s a cover of the Alan Jackson / Jimmy Buffett collaborative track that continues to take radios by storm every summer. So, let’s face it: this track is the epitome of its own trope. The original track is over-produced, commercialized, and generally designed to be played on Top 40 country radio. (Hell, the music video of this song is even the two performers riding around on a yacht in cowboy attire with gorgeous women.)

Here’s the thing – Ameln’s rendition doesn’t take any creative license. It’s more or less the same track. Ameln’s voice, however, is far more likable than that of Jackson. It doesn’t feel as contrived or ridiculous in this album. For that, I must give Ameln props. He handles a difficult song to cover and does admirably well.

‘Is There A Chance’ is another song I lauded in March, and it’s still excellent. It’s one of Ameln’s best jaunts through songwriting. It’s infectiously poppy, sentimentally soft, and well performed. ‘A Little Bit Of Us’ doesn’t feel as precise, though. The songs before it are pretty laser-cut – they know exactly where they’re going. ‘A Little Bit Of Us’ feels a bit aimless, and its musings through love song tropes aren’t particularly new or interesting.

‘I Built A Bar’ remains an interesting track. From the soft synthesizers to the steel guitars to the inherent stereotypical nature of its subject matter, ‘I Built A Bar’ is actually quite a nice little track. I’d go as far to argue that the building of ‘the bar’ could be entirely metaphorical for a relationship or any other endeavor. The next track, ‘Pardon My French,’ was something I called a “bit of a messed up hodpodge” in March. Good news! It’s fixed here, for the most part.

‘Pardon My French’ is no longer a mess. The new mix fixes all of the mayhem of its original presentation and makes it infinitely more palatable. And goodness, the solo section is fantastic, and the key change is handled much more smoothly. In my previous critique, I also said ‘Salty Dog’ is a track that lacks depth, but it’s pleasant enough. That still stands.

‘Remember When’ is similarly more interesting than its Alan Jackson counterpart. I do think it’s notably odd to have two covers from the same artist on one album, though. One cover amidst a bunch of originals is normal. Two tracks from Alan Jackson on the same record is a bit much, though, and ‘Revolution On The Rocks’ would even be suited by having ‘Salty Dog’ or ‘Pardon My French’ as a closer.

‘Revolution On The Rocks’ echoes the same sound you may be familiar with if you listened to ‘Salty Dog’ in March. This is a more tight effort, though, and it suits Ameln well. His reworkings of tracks are much, much better, and for the most part, he’s still a performer worth having on your radar if country pop rock is something that appeals to you.

Loser’s Way Home – ‘Love Songs for the Rest of Us’

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 Loser’s Way Home, a folk outfit from Phoenix, Arizona. The band was formed nearly a decade ago in 2008, and since then, has released a pretty extensive body of work with some impressive collaborators. Their new EP is ‘Love Songs for the Rest of Us,’ a poppy snapshot of the band’s personality and sound. Let’s dig right into it.

‘In the Shadows,’ the opening of the album, showcases Loser’s Way Home in full force with their acoustic presentation. The addition of the fiddle in the band’s make-up is exceptional, and ‘In the Shadows’ is indicative of an album that’s sharply executed with a creative vision in mind. These tracks were clearly recorded in a studio, and that effort exudes quality.

Acoustic instrumentation, as I’ve said before here in the Spotlight, can be a nightmare to record and produce. It can be very finicky, and as such, well organized bouts of it are always refreshing. Throughout ‘Love Songs for the Rest of Us,’ Loser’s Way Home handles this perfectly. ‘Love, You Found Me’ is a beautiful ballad with soft finger-picking, reverberated percussion, and stunning synthesizers. It’s wonderful that those synths don’t overpower the band – they accentuate, they don’t demand.

As I alluded to in my preface above, there is a poppy, snappy nature to this EP. Tracks are short, often catchy, and are structured similarly to a good pop track. ‘Two-Step,’ for example, is a nice excursion of country bluegrass connecting with singer songwriter pop. This isn’t new, but Loser’s Way Home does own it particularly well.

The highlight of the album is most surely ‘Rachel,’ a remarkable love track that transcends songs like ‘Love, You Found Me.’ It feels far more personal, and less cookie-cutter. Thus, the song provides some fantastic instrumentation to pair itself with that songwriting. As the track explodes around the 3:50 mark, the listener is met with a cacophony of great performance.

The dichotomy of the keys, strings, and percussion on ‘Place of No Return’ is splendid. The solo-esque section at 2:45 is one of the most haunting sections of the album, making the finale a fittingly unforgettable one. So, is this album worth taking a look at it when it drops?

Absolutely. ‘Love Songs for the Rest of Us’ is a finely-tuned folk machine organized properly for a contemporary audience. It’s recorded beautifully, too, which only echoes its powerful performances.

Highland Kites – ‘Let Me Run’

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 Highland Kites, a folk rock duo that consists of Marissa Lamar and Neil Briggs from Los Angeles. Their newest EP is ‘Let Me Run,’ an endeavor produced by Raymond Richards – the man behind work from bands like honeyhoney. Throughout its five tracks, Richards works with the two to great effect, and it’s a lovely web of songwriting. Let’s explore it.

‘Plastic Towns’ is an interesting introduction. It’s atmospheric; the cacophony of percussion and electric guitar banter intensifies as the song builds, and Lamar concretes herself as soft-spoken, but attention-demanding nonetheless. There’s a hint of honeyhoney in this equation, though honeyhoney is more country influenced. (I think honeyhoney is one of the best bands in the music scene right now, so high marks to Highland Kites for collaborating with Richards.)

‘Freckles’ is a beautiful love song, a ballad of sorts that softly incorporates Briggs on backing vocals. The chemistry here is stunning. Duos live or die by that ‘x’ factor, and Highland Kites are a pleasant listening experience that ‘clicks.’ Nothing feels forced or uncomfortable – it’s natural, organic, and wholly authentic.

‘This War Inside’ transitions in the middle of the EP, shifting farther on the side of the band’s spectrum that ‘Plastic Towns’ briefly explored in the opening of the album. There’s a bevy of sonic intricacy on ‘This War Inside.’ The synthesized walls of sound are spectacular, and Briggs’ performance on drums is incredible. The song evokes an Arcade Fire like style, and Lamar even sounds a bit like Regine Chassagne on it.

‘Humiliated’ is a dark track that recounts the aftermath of a rocky relationship that ended in humiliation. The production of the track is notably excellent, from the searing guitar riffing to the thunderous percussion. A tidal wave of atmosphere expands and engulfs Lamar toward the end of the track – it’s brilliant.

‘Let Me Run’ closes the album with an anthem of sorts, which again, is contrasted remarkably by the tenderness of Lamar’s performance and the intensity and epicness of the instrumentation backing her. “Believe me when I say it’s okay… Let me run,” Lamar croons in a resolute stance of independence after the shattered nature of ‘Humiliated.’

‘Let Me Run’ is a rather great EP. At five tracks, it’s the perfect dose of excellence from a duo that had their heads on straight and knew exactly how to execute their creative vision. When it drops next month, it’s very much worth having on your radar if you’re a folk pop rock fan.

KnowMads – ‘Knew School’

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 onto KnowMads, a hip hop duo from Seattle that’s about to release their highly anticipated studio effort, ‘Knew School.’ Pepe and Wilson, the two KnowMads, have been long-time collaborators for nearly a decade. Their hip hop  is ‘brutally honest’ and ‘exposes your innermost thoughts.’ The new album is a lengthy one, clocking in at thirteen tracks. Thus, let’s explore its highlights and determine whether or not it’s something to have on your radar.

As with any musical duo, chemistry is vital. Fortunately, Pepe and Wilson have it in spades. The opening tracks, ‘Elementary’ and ‘Schoolyard,’ are perfect introductory excursions to their talent. They bounce off one another with complete tact. It’s seamless. The album is a trip through nostalgia, which these early tracks also make clear. The two muse about their high school years throughout to surprisingly original effect.

Tunes like ‘Smoker’s Corner’ have productional hints of Kanye West influence, which is, of course, echoed by the conceptual nature of a record about school. (West’s original trilogy of records had a similar theme.) The true highlights of the album, however, come later in its experience. ‘Homecoming,’ for example, is a stellar track. From its violin introduction and sampling to its sheer lyrical intensity, it’s a fantastic song – a hidden gem amidst the middle of a dauntingly large album.

One of the best parts of ‘Knew School’ is the duo’s wit. Tracks like ‘Freshman Year’ are absolutely infectious as the lyrics toy with candid musings – like being too young to drive, but also being unavoidably talented beyond their years. Each of these tracks embraces a level of instrumental brevity in their compositions. ‘Freshman Year’ is centered around a simplistic piano riff. It works excellent, and puts the two at the forefront of their sound unadulterated by any pretentious production.

The anthemic ‘Pass’ is a turning point for the record as KnowMads wind down their high school musings. I love the soulful nature of the tune. The guest vocalist who sings the interludes defines the track. ‘Memories,’ however, may be the pinnacle effort of the collection. It’s the ballad of the starving artist who’ll go to the ends of the world for their craft, even if they’re dirt poor in the process.

‘Reunion’ finalizes the journey in a fitting fashion, even shooting out nods to inspirational figures that aided KnowMads along the way. (Like when the two reminisce about the first time they heard Kendrick Lamar. I remember the first time I did. It blew my mind, too.) The track gets deep, contemplating the ‘fatal flaws’ of humanity and society. It’s an elegant finale.

‘Knew School’ is an incredibly good album – plain and simple. Fans of Pepe and Wilson will not be disappointed when this drops in July. Their chemistry is undeniable and the collection of songs is superbly executed.

Lily Lambert – ‘Moving On’

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 shine our gaze on Lily Lambert, an English songstress with a new record out entitled ‘Moving On.’ The album is her junior release, a self-described bookend to a collection of three albums. That trilogy began in 2014 with ‘Life of Lily,’ and was continued with ‘So Far.’ The album boasts a sonic palette heavily steeped in what Lambert calls ‘folk pop.’ Let’s dig into it and see whether the new album is worth checking out.

‘Folk pop’ is essentially ‘singer songwriter’ – acoustic-led music with pop sensibilities and introspective lyricism. Lily Lambert’s musical soul is one pulled straight out of 1972, the era where this kind of music thrived. There’s most certainly a resurgence in it, however, and she’s found her place in it. ‘I Forgive You’ opens the album with a melancholy track that seems to put the final entry in a long relationship. It’s a pretty tune, and exhibits some of Lambert’s personable charm.

‘Thank You,’ the album’s second track, is where Lambert begins to blossom out a bit. Her music is very bubblegum. It is personal, but tracks like ‘Thank You’ don’t offer much depth. They’re cute sing-alongs. Her accent tinges each track nicely, though Lambert does often fall vocally flat in tracks like ‘(Wanna Say) I’m Sorry.’ Her vocal mix is very dry, though, and she may have been better served by production that gave her voice a bit more depth within its soundscape.

‘Change’ flirts with Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan esque themes, calling for change within society. There are some light synthesizers and atmospheric percussion – which again, begs the question why her producer didn’t sync her into the atmosphere of the track with similar production. In any case, the track is vague – which is both good and bad. It’s good because it could be applicable to anyone or anything, but bad if Lambert had a direction she wanted to move with it. (In any case, her country did get change this week, for better or for worse.)

‘Say It Isn’t So’ is one of the better tracks in the collection, and Lambert’s voice feels perfect in the space of the song. When singing slightly softer, she reins in her voice remarkably well. ‘Rainbow Bridge’ is a pretty song, too, though I thought the Rainbow Bridge was iconic for being the entryway to pet heaven? One can’t help but think of their dead furry companions when listening to this track – probably not Lambert’s intention.

‘Lights Down Low’ and ‘Pour Another Drink’ close out the album fittingly, echoing the stylistic choices of the first six tracks. The former is a strong track, and probably could have been the closer, but the acoustic orchestration of ‘Pour Another Drink’ is pleasant as a finale. Thus, is this a record worth digging into it?

I’m a critic. I always have to be constructively honest. ‘Moving On’ is a fun little endeavor. Sometimes Lambert’s voice falls a bit flat, and her songwriting is nice, but not particularly insightful or compelling. Her personality sells the music, though, and if you can put those things aside, this is a quaint little popcorn effort perfect for tuning into if you’re a fan of indie singer songwriters and want something low-key and undemanding.

Track Seven – ‘The Try and the Fail’

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 onto Track Seven, an independent outfit from New York that’s just released their latest studio endeavor. Entitled ‘The Try and the Fail,’ the band’s new seven track EP is a dynamic excursion through some pretty genre-defying music. I’d go as far to argue that classifying the act into a specific box wouldn’t do them justice. Let’s dig into the music to learn why…

Track Seven is a band fronted by Cost, the lead singer and songwriter. He’s most certainly an ambitious guy. As he puts it, his attention is on the world – not just his local community. In order to connect with the world, however, he pulls from his local surroundings and experiences to craft his songwriting. “My genre is broadcasting,” he says. It’s an apt self-analysis – he broadcasts his world-view through a cascading waterfall of genre switches.

‘The Message,’ the opening track of ‘The Try and the Fail,’ introduces Cost and his bandmates as a sharply executed collective. Their musical prowess is immediately tangible, and the track is dipped in a myriad of stylings. Cost approaches his lyricism in rap form – he sounds eerily similar to Jay Z. (That’s a high compliment.) The instrumentation around him, however, is funky, soulful, and rocking. It’s a collision of half a dozen different genres.

In the latter moments of ‘The Message,’ the track evolves into an atmospheric instrumental jaunt through funk bass and eclectic synthesizers. ‘Today,’ the next track, then offers a massive sonic contrast. It’s an anthemic track that even flirts with pop sensibilities. ‘Today’ is essentially an inspirational track that utilizes hip hop, pop, and rock themes to create a thoroughly enjoyable soundscape.

Cost is a good songwriter – there’s no question about that. His rhymes are slick and polished, his delivery is ferocious, and these are tunes that could stand tall against industry counterparts. ‘Go Get It,’ like many of the tracks, toys with some Christian ideals and imagery – it’s a bit part of Track Seven’s comradery and belief system. I dig that about them – it serves one well to not forget where they came from.

‘Go Get It’ has a sentiment that reminds me a bit of Kanye West – a God-loving aura that merges with a highly confident one. Like with West, it’s a bit contradictory. Cost isn’t overly modest – he exudes self-determination, referring to himself as a champion at every corner. When he calls upon his faith, however, he maneuvers into a more humble space. It’s a fascinating chemistry, one I think Cost does share with West, for good or ill.

Like ‘Today,’ ‘Go Get It’ is most certainly a pop-influenced inspirational track. The sparse auto-tune on the vocals is actually quite complementary as well. It isn’t a crutch; it’s a creative tool.  ‘I See You Boy’ toys with different elements of Cost’s songwriting following the two inspirational tracks. The result is one of the more concrete tracks on the record – ‘I See You Boy’ is the early highlight of the EP.

‘Die,’ I’d argue, is the high-point of ‘The Try and the Fail.’ Cost’s lyrics are intensely poignant as he tackles the societal struggle of urban populations in cities like New York and Chicago. Being an artist here in Chicago, ‘Die’ is a track I immediately connected with. The Windy City is overrun with gun violence and turmoil. The nightly news here is a bloodbath of innocent boys and girls with no way out of bad situations. Track Seven get it. ‘Die’ speaks the language of people like myself that live in these burdened cities.

The authenticity of ‘Die’ is carried onto ‘Doubt Me,’ which in turn concretes the track as another one of the EP’s best. The song’s piano riff bounces back and forth with insanely tight bass and percussion performances. Track Seven has musical chemistry that’s undeniable – something that is encapsulated in the finale, the titular track. ‘The Try and the Fail’ is a beautiful composition and an elegant closer.

‘The Try and the Fail’ is a real EP. It feels real, and it feels alive. It breathes authenticity and it’s a genuinely excellent effort. In the scope of the independent scene, I’d argue Track Seven is making a remarkable statement for their continued relevance with this release. It’s one of the finest efforts in the community thus far this year. I’d love to see the band delve even deeper into these musings on future endeavors. This is a great way to kick off a journey worth keeping tabs on.



Press Release – Vixen Noir – June 22, 2016




On Tuesday, July 19, the independent singer songwriter, Vixen Noir, will release her latest studio endeavor. Entitled ‘Tightrope,’ the alternative pop song adds to Noir’s catalog of provocative, daring music. The highly anticipated single follows Noir’s debut EP, ‘Dangerous,’ and journeys forward into compelling new sonic territory.

Vixen Noir is an artist who’s unabashedly authentic in her craft. As a songwriter, recording artist, and erotic performer, she pushes the boundaries of her creativity with intensity and infectious passion. Noir describes her sound as ‘alternative pop soul dance,’ and to create that kind of soundscape she harnesses influence from the likes of Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Madonna, and the Eurythmics. In doing this, she effortlessly melds the old and the new in a coherent, thrilling fashion.

‘Tightrope’ is a track about intimate relationships and ‘walking the tightrope’ to prove one’s worth and stability within them. “In order to love and be with me, you have to be bad enough and bold enough to walk that tightrope,” Noir muses when discussing her new single. “For me, the song represents being real, true, authentic, vulnerable, open, raw, ready, drama-free, accountable, respectful, and grounded in body, mind, spirit, and soul.”

For many performers, such a palette of emotion would be difficult to capture in one song. Noir, however, is an artist outside of her musical career as well. She’s an accomplished burlesque artist, dancer, poet, performance artist, and mentor – Noir serves as a director and producer of theatre and sexy cabaret. All of this and more aids Noir in her musical efforts, concreting her poignancy as a contemporary, multi-faceted artist.

Vixen Noir has traveled extensively from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, and throughout those travels, she’s been lauded by critics and fans alike. In the US and Australia, she has taught workshops for her ‘Unleash Your Fire’ project, a program designed to empower women to awaken, reclaim, and celebrate their ‘erotic power’ all while developing valuable performance skills.

She’s been described as bold. She’s been described as unapologetic. Perhaps most importantly, Noir’s fans have found her to be immensely inspirational. From her one-woman-shows to projects that address gender identity and the sex work industry, Vixen Noir has proved resolute in her vigor and desire to stride forward with new music and art.

On July 19, fans can find ‘Tightrope’ on all major digital platforms and streaming services, including iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, TIDAL, and more! Listeners can also visit Noir on her official website for more content and a free download of the ‘Dangerous’ EP.

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