Kick 5000 – Birthday (Ice Mix)

Kick 5000 has just released a new single, Birthday. This hard-hitting, rapid fire flow will immediate turn heads. With hints of Migos and The Game acting as a backdrop upon which Kick 5000 can further add his own flair, this single could easily slot onto rap rotation just as it will bounce around hip-hop aficionados’ playlist. As Birthday moves towards its chorus, the bit of echo that is included into the mix provides further variation in an already-dense effort. Fans will continue to find new twists and turns even five or ten plays into Birthday. The cadence that Kick 5000 reaches in the last minute is some of the most infectious we’ve heard from his neck of the woods.

We previously covered Kick 5000’s For 6 back in January.

Kick 5000 – Birthday (Ice Mix) / Soundcloud /

stAlkid – Dreams in the Witch House

Dreams in the Witch House is a haunting piece of lo-fi indie rock, given a bold new turn with sequenced percussion and a haunting demeanor. stAlkid’s vocals come from a distinct place than the backing instrumentation, ensuring that the whole composition has a stark sound. This means that fans will be eagerly devouring what follows; subsequent movements in the track blend a dark and brooding synth with sizzling guitar work. Dreams in the Witch House ends emphatically with repeated vocal harmonies. This step keeps things fresh as fans continue to delve ever further into stAlkid’s new release, Spooky Tunes, for Lovers and the Dead.

stAlkid – Dreams in the Witch House / Facebook /

Aradia – ‘No One Can Stop You’

No One Can Stop You calls back to the synth-pop of performers like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. There’s an insistent synth / percussion backdrop upon which the hopeful vocals of Aradia lay. The single could easily be the theme for any 1980s teen flick. By hitting all the highs of a Scandal or Suzi Quatro, Aradia is able to put a bit of current sheen on a timeless style. No One Can Stop You hits on all cylinders with on-point drums, confident guitars, and vocals that will stick with fans long after the song ceases to play. Hope to hear more from Aradia in 2020.

Aradia – ‘No One Can Stop You’ / Domain / Facebook /

Renay – “Pure Love”

Wanna Share is the opening effort on Renay’s new album, Pure Love. The effort will immediately draw fans in with the unique melange of pop, dance, and ambient / atmospheric styles. While the song is draped in the mid-to-late 1990s style of performers like Christina Aguilera and Madonna, there’s a vibrancy that permeates this single that will have it hang nicely with other songs climbing the charts. Inspire Me is a sea change from Wanna Share, coming forth with an insistent EDM effort that spans a range from dubstep to Spinnin’ Records acts. The charisma of Renay’s vox here allow her to move into some intense vocal sections without impacting the crossover potential of the composition.

Pure Love slows things up well, linking Renay’s narrative ability with a bit of a tribal dance sound. Fans will have their psyche and heart imprinted by Renay’s voice here, as she is able to effortlessly pull double duty in contributing to the song’s melody while telling participants a story that anyone can appreciate.

This Ride shatters the conception that late-album tracks are necessarily weaker than what is slotted first. This cut has the instrumental and vocal sides gradually cede the spotlight to one another. What results here is an earnest and honest single that touches upon Corinne Bailey Rae or India.Arie, if not back to the late-90s work of Mariah Carey. Butterfly is the final composition on Pure Love, beginning slowly before moving into a fairly robust pop/dance track. It is this holistic approach that acts as a bow, wrapping up the album like a present. We’re excited to hear more from Renay in the months and years to come; give her Facebook a spin if you’d like to experience more of her music.

Top Tracks: Wanna Share, Inspire Me

Rating: 8.6/10

Renay – “Pure Love” / 2020 Asteria Records / 9 Tracks / Facebook / Domain /

John Moreland – LP5 (Old Omens/Thirty Tigers)

On his aptly titled fifth album, LP5, Oklahoma’s John Moreland still hues closely to his trademark, introspective songs laced over a satisfying blend of modern Americana and folk that flirts with punk rock candor. But he also manages to deviate a bit from the tried and true with a little musical experimentation for one of his strongest records to date.

This also happens to be the first album Moreland has worked with an outside producer, bringing in Matt Pence whose divergent resume includes work with everyone from Jason Isbell to the Breeders. That confidence to stretch out musically can be heard throughout, like on the wah wah guitar lines of “A Thought Is Just A Passing Train” or the organ that opens “East October.”

But putting aside the strides he makes with experimental instrumentation on this outing, his lyrics are still the lynchpin to his allure and what sets him apart from most others. Whether singing about love (“When My Fever Breaks”) or losing a friend (“In Between Times”), Moreland’s knack for just the right turn of phrase has made him one of the strongest songwriters to come out of the Southwest in years.

Building on an already solid foundation, more than a decade in the making, LP5 finds Moreland improving on a formula that was already impressive to begin with.     

John Moreland – LP5/11 tracks/Old Omens & Thirty Tigers/2020

The Wood Brothers (2/1, Philadelphia)

Propelled by little more than strong word of mouth and a decade-and-a-half worth of stunningly impressive albums, The Wood Brothers were able to pack Philly’s 2,500 capacity Filmore on a recent Saturday night for an enthusiastic show that was as close as many will come to a religious experience.

The Filmore is more than twice the size of the Union Transfer where the band played less than two years ago. The age-agnostic crowd features everyone from aging punk rockers to jam band fans, all there to hear an hour-and-a-half of perfectly-crafted Americana, mixed with folk and blues. The set kicked off with “Alabaster,” the first track of the band’s latest effort, Kingdom In My Mind.

There were a handful of other new songs trotted out that night, like ‘Little Bit Sweet” – already an audience favorite, despite coming out just weeks before. But for the most part, the band churned through an almost greatest hits of fan favorites, like “Postcards From Hell” and “I Got Loaded,” both met with near rapturous response. The also tossed in a remarkable cover of the traditional “Little Liza Jane”.

The trio, comprised of brothers Chris and Oliver Wood, along with drummer/multi-instrumentalist Jano Rox, played a blistering set that didn’t let up until the last chord rang out as the band left the stage. It seems odd that a group that gets seemingly little airplay and is name checked only by other music fans has managed to generate such a massive national following. But after a show like this one, it’s easy to see why.

The Wood Brothers

The Filmore, Philadelphia, PA

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Black Bottom: The Measure of Man by Theo Czuk

Theo Czuk is, arguably, a singer/songwriter and musician first. He has seven music releases and counting, including a complimentary musical take on this novel; some are out of print, but sheer numbers alone make it apparent music is his primary vehicle for self-expression. He has two poetry collections in his résumé, Channeling Venice: Apparitions of Light and Pariscapes: Conversations with Paris, and a debut novel entitled Heart-Scarred. His latest novel The Black Bottom: The Measure of Man is full of music – the main character Kaleb Kierka is a jazz pianist and many of the novel’s secondary characters revel in the music world as well. His obvious love for music comes through during the course of the book and makes it stand out even more than it already does.

I think Czuk writes about the price of addiction with the keen insights of someone who has experienced those close to him felled by its indiscriminate hand. The uninformed may believe the scourge of drug abuse to be a modern plague, but profiteers reap rewards from human misery since time immemorial. It is no different in the Detroit of 1927.. Czuk populates his landscape with heroin junkies, alcoholics, prostitutes, and scores of walking wounded willing to inflict their own particular brand of unhappiness on others. 

He depicts the disorientation of amnesia in a believable way. Kierja is on the receiving end of a near fatal beating from unidentified assailants and his efforts to restore his memories consume many of the book’s early pages. Czuk portrays his faltering efforts and uncertainty in a way sure to garner sympathy from readers. It is in these early pages when Czuk does his best work establishing Kierka’s character for readers. 

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/BLACK-BOTTOM-Measure-Man/dp/099128724X

He gradually recovers his sense of identity, however, and the novel’s development proceeds apace. The Black Bottom is a fast moving narrative that only accelerates as it nears its inevitable conclusion. Despite the relatively brevity of the novel, Kierka’s recovery of memory and sense of self is convincing rather than forced and his decisiveness as his personality reemerges is one of the more satisfying elements of the novel’s narrative. 

The secondary characters are important, as well, for imbuing Kierka with even more life. Everything revolves around him and, despite the third person narration dominating the novel, nothing happens in this book without Kierka being the central spark. The omniscient third person narration avoids the distance common to this narrative style as it exudes personality and a distinctive voice that helps elevate the text. There is a cinematic flavor to the way The Black Bottom unfolds, particularly near the end, but there is an abiding literary quality that Czuk never deserts. 

The Black Bottom: The Measure of Man has much to offer a wide variety of readers. Czuk has a commanding presence as an author, there is no tentativeness present in the text, and the wealth of detail incorporated into the novel makes it a richer reading experience. Theo Czuk has rendered the urban world of Detroit in the 1920’s in a way few other writers have dared and it is no chore to follow him step by step.  

Kim Muncie

Flutist Patricia Lazzara’s releases Radiance LP

Patricia Lazzara’s flute duels with Kristin Johnson Dabaghian’s piano in “Woodland Sonatine.” It harmonizes with the alto melodies distributed by Steve Markoff in “Reflections of Radiance.” Lazzara finds the perfect vocal partner for “Ave Maria” and “Oblivion” in soprano Jessica Davila, while in “Serenata,” not even the most vibrant of instrumental backdrops could distract us from her exquisite play in the center of the mix. Contrasting in tone and yet smoothly tied together by some top tier arranging skills, the album Radiance by Patricia Lazzara is, simply put, an engaging listen meant for classical aficionados more than it is anyone else, and although it was released some two years ago, it’s getting a second wind of attention on thanks to the strength of its mightily melodic content.

PRIMARY URL: https://www.patricialazzaraflutist.com/

There are no less than seventeen songs in Radiance’s tracklist, and while some of them – like “A Muse,” “Velvet Waltz,” “Portrait of Miss L” and “Adagio E Allegro,” for example – are more conventional in spirit than others – such as the aforementioned juggernaut “Oblivion,” “Sicilenne,” “Never Love Thee More” and the closing number “Salmon Lake” – there’s a lovely progression from one composition to the next that never allows for interruptions in the overall flow of the album. It’s often hard for classical artists to construct such fluidity in a record as large and in charge in style as this one is, but through Lazzara’s evenhanded aesthetical approach (and excellent collaborative efforts with the guest players here), she makes it look and sound all too easy.

Cellist Gerall Heiser, guitarist Darren O’Neill and harpist Kristy Chmura introduce a phenomenal string section in some of the more elaborately harmonious tracks on Radiance, and personally, I felt like their emotional investment is particularly evident in “Divagando” and “Sicilenne.” I would love to see a more liberal use of their talents in another collaborative record with Lazzara in the future, but if this ends up being one of the few occasions on which they make beautiful music together, I think it could end up being considered some of the best work that any of them have put down on record together. Chemistry is everything in music, and especially among classical outings, and it’s obvious to me that none of what we hear in Radiance is unnatural nor forced.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Radiance-Patricia-Lazzara/dp/B07DVGP9BQ

I’m just getting to know the extended catalogue of Patricia Lazzara’s music, but after getting hooked on this ninth studio album from her moniker, I can’t say that I’m not eager to hear a lot more out of her in the next couple of years. She manages the works of Carlos Franzetti, Maurizio Balzola, Daniel Dorff, Gary Schocker and Astor Piazzolla incredibly well in Radiance, and if this is just a taste of what’s to come in the 2020s, it’s hard to deny the fact that she should be regarded as among the more noteworthy classical artists to watch in the new decade. She’ll definitely be on my radar, and after you give Radiance a spin, I think she’ll be on yours as well.

Kim Muncie

Cliffs release 13 track LP “Panic Attack”

What is it about three-piece bands hold our attention? How do they slam all that sound into their music? In the grand tradition of Cream, Green Day, Motorhead, Nirvana, The Police and ZZ Top – to name a few – Dallas, Texas, has unleashed another wall-of-sound trio in the band, Clifffs. Out now via State Fair Records is the brutally tight Panic Attack.

Panic Attack has 13 tracks, starting with the first five, “Undone”, “Manatee”, “Into The Salt”, “You Are Freaking Out” and “It’s All Gone Wrong”. Not to be smug, but let’s just say if you’re looking for a go-get ’em cowboy song, these aren’t them. These songs are fury, these songs are punk. Much of the lyrics are repeated, as in the first track: “you know this can’t be undone, you know this can’t be undone” and you get the impression these songs are constant insecurities. It’s just an immediate reaction and the way that front man (and presumably songwriter) John Dufilho delivers the news, he’s pouring his ever-loving soul out to his listeners. He’s joined on bass by Andy Lester, with Bill Spellman at the drum kit. The rhythm section also takes the mics with backing vocals. These songs, while they touch on darker, cynical moods, make the listener feel alive.

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/clifffs/

The next five tracks, “I Might Try Physics”, “Gotta Fix This Now”, “Panic Attack”, “Dark Clouds” and “Drown The Thought” might better yet be too Sylvia Plath for some, but again, the brightness in the guitars just wash over the insecurities. It’s relatable. It’s real. In the title track, Dufilho has this echoey-way of singing “panic attack” and his “don’t know why” has this strange way of making him sound vulnerable, nearly childlike. The juxtaposition of the two are intriguing and the way he’s presented feels emblematic of the jumble in your head during a panic attack. That anxiety, man, it’s a bitch.

The final three tracks “Stipe”, “Tilt” and “Life” close out a very fine album. All of these songs on Panic Attack are just so tight with the constant barrage of bass, guitar and drums. These instruments play off each other like ping pong to a paddle. In the “Life” the band stakes its claim and sings over-and-over “we’re just getting started, we’re just getting started, just getting started.”

BANDCAMP: https://clifffs.bandcamp.com/

These songs capture the sound of ideas running around in your head. When you have a panic attack, this coming from first-hand experience, you do feel like sound is pelting you from every direction. All 13-tracks on Panic Attack have that insane power. Only, as a listener, you aren’t covering your ears and hoping they shut up. Crank this one loud, music lovers, Clifffs is a band worth jumping into. Fans of Green Day, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Hives, The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Vines and especially Nirvana,  looking to stir up their musical library will want to take a listen to these track with special consideration to the title track, “You Are Freaking Out”, “Stipe” and “Life”.

Kim Muncie

Mike Donello & the New Essentials release eponymous debut EP

Eclectic elements are practically everywhere you look and listen in modern pop music, and Mike Donello & the New Essentials are a perfect example. Donello and his band blend together influences from R&B, indie rock and classic pop in their eponymous debut EP, and though their first record only clocks in at about 19 minutes in total length, it doesn’t come off as limiting nor a scattered effort from a group trying to figure out a new formula. In “Fun and Games,” “A Better Day” and “Setting Things in Motion,” we meet a band that seems more than confident in who they are instrumentally, while in “Roll” and “Southside,” Donello gets us acclimated to a vocal style that is refreshing to hear from a current pop singer to say the least.

Let’s start with the powerful soul ballad “A Better Day.” In this track, Mike Donello’s vocal isn’t as commanding as the strutting guitar to his left is, but that doesn’t mean the two components don’t find an equilibrium in the harmony they create together. The bassline is a beast, and yet it never intrudes upon the presence of the drums – because of the layered master mix, everything is neatly presented to us as a single tour de force without minimizing the impact of any one specific part in the music. It’s calculated and concise producing if I’ve ever heard it, and while this isn’t the only reason Mike Donello & the New Essentials works, it’s a big check in the positive column without a doubt.

URL: https://mikedonello.com/about

“Southside” and “Setting Things in Motion” are more exotically constructed than “Fun and Games” and the poppy “Setting Things in Motion” are, but overall, the fluidity of the content on this disc is something the New Essentials’ peers could really stand to learn a lot from. The liberal aesthetic in the flow of the guitars in “Setting Things in Motion” and “A Better Day” would, on paper, conflict with the plodding bassline-drive of “Southside,” but thanks to the even-handed mixing of the material, there’s rarely a moment where it doesn’t feel as though one song is slipping into the next seamlessly, as they would in an unplanned concert medley. I can’t wait to hear a full-length from these guys; they’ve obviously got the skills, now it’s just a matter of getting them back into the studio.

Melody lovers of all stripes, shapes and sizes cannot afford to miss what Mike Donello & the New Essentials produced in their first studio record, and while it’s geared towards an audience that prefers amalgamative harmonies to minimalist pop simplicity, it has something for almost any listener who enjoys a slick beat and a soft but cunning lead vocal. Indie rock has taken a lot of different forms in the last thirty years, but as long as bands like this one continue to experiment with the limitations of genres, styles and musical creativity in general, we can rest assured that the 2020s will be even more interesting than the preceding decade was.

Kim Muncie