Author Archives: Mike Olinger

Needle Drop: Babbling April, Days of Retreat

PHOTO: MIKE KIM | It’s unclear whether Washington, DC-based Babbling April intended for their newest album, Days of Retreat, to be a perfect companion piece for ongoing quarantine, but their new tunes fall perfectly in step with the conscious consensus of millennials across the nation.

“We are finding that what we value may not be the same as generations past,” band member Vivienne Machi asserts. “This album is particularly relevant to those who have grown up through one national tragedy after another, graduated into a global recession, and now face a global pandemic.”

Tracks like “City to Spit In” offer up a hilarious spin on gentrification, boasting an unhinged, Violent Femmes vibe that feels like a breath of fresh air in an era of streamlined pop. The gorgeously adorned “Worst Kind of Parties” is another winner, exposing the kind of empty social norms that got tipped on their head after the pandemic and ensuing protests.

It’s a joy to see the band switch it up and indulge their punk ethos, swimming against the tide in a town full of workaholics focused on lofty career ambitions. When things finally mellow out on the acoustic closer “Fumbling for the Mute Button,” one can’t help but think of Babbling April as a contemporary Yo La Tengo, voicing their generation’s misgivings while exploring their internal creative potential.

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Needle Drop: Ora Violet, “Feel The Same”

London-based rockers Ora Violet fuse the early ’70s proto punk of The Stooges and The Modern Lovers with the contemporary versatility of The Strokes and Queens Of The Stone Age.

Their wily new single, “Feel The Same,” solidifies these mysterious rock newcomers as a force to be reckoned with. Their previous single, “Honey, You Did it,” received extensive play from award winning indie station Soho Radio, but many saw it as a one-off collaboration between multi-instrumentalist production duo Black Tiles and guitarist Nick Ferman.

Clearly, they have more to say… The band explains, ”Feel The Same’ is a story of mental struggle, of feeling unsatisfied despite having the perfect life on paper.”

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TVD Video Premiere: Silver Liz, “Microwave S’mores”

PHOTO: MATT SCHWERIN | Chicago-based Silver Liz is the recording moniker of Carrie and Matt Wagner who have been creating shoegaze-y indie jams since they bonded over a mutual love of The Strokes in college. But the band’s current vibe feels more akin to Sonic Youth, as Silver Liz has the uncanny ability to produce lush, fuzzed out indie pop that is both gritty and sensitive. Their latest single is also timely, diving into the pros and cons of being an introvert in modern society.

Matt shares, “‘Microwave S’mores’ is about embracing the tendency to be a homebody. When I showed one of my friends the song, he asked ‘you okay, bud?’ The lyrics are not meant to be depressing and it wasn’t out of irony that we chose to put them with music that is light and in a major-key; the music suggests that the lyrics are a celebration of accepting your introversion.”

Carrie adds; “The song, which we actually wrote last year, is about wanting to stay indoors. Of course, many of us are desperately wanting to go outside these days, but this song might help some remember all the times they wished they’d had an excuse to stay in and not go out.”

All proceeds from the track, set for release on May 23rd, will be donated to the MusicCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund.

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Needle Drop: Jordan Rome, “Charon”

Rough-hewn, Kansas-based singer-songwriter Jordan Rome peppers his bluesy tunes with folk, punk, and hardcore flavors, falling somewhere between Lead Belly and Eddie Vedder. It’s dark and deeply metaphorical material that tends to rattle around in one’s brain before crystallizing into thoroughly conceived folk song meta.

His newest single, “Charon,” is a world-weary lament about the Greek mythological figure Charon who ferries damned souls across the River Styx and into the underworld.

It’s told in the first person, which locks the listener into a subjective journey into the inky darkness without any kind of tether back to reality. This could certainly be the last song you hear, on the last stop, to the last bar, at the end of the tracks.

Rome will be dropping the B-Side to “Charon” at the end of May.

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Needle Drop: Erinn Alissa, “Over You”

LA-based singer-songwriter Erinn Alissa crafts the kind of impeccable country pop that hits all the sweet spots without falling victim to formula.

Her debut single, “Over You” is soulful and smooth, falling somewhere between the classic twang of Shania Twain and the hook-driven Cali vibes of Colbie Caillat. It’s got a good rhythm, a catchy melody, and is dangerously easy to remember and sing along with. These are often sure-fire signs that the production team behind the track have toiled away, systematically designing the earworms to enter and embed without consent from the listener.

But Alissa’s music doesn’t feel prefabricated. It’s brimming with authenticity and heartfelt delivery—the way good ol’ fashion country used to be. The subtle pop dynamics just make it all the more impactful.

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Needle Drop: oh?no!ok., “Wheel of Fortune”

PHOTO: MEIRA BASHIR | Salt Lake City buzz band oh!no?ok. are not trying to reinvent the wheel, but certainly know how to spin it with joyful abandon.

Their latest single, “Wheel of Fortune,” is one part ’80s pop rock, one part ’90s alternative slacker psychedelia, 100% riff-roaring good time. The band’s freewheeling vibe embodies punk rock’s counter-impulse toward joy, color, and self-deprecation, and certainly gets one excited for their debut record, randy warhole (or something), which is set to arrive in stores later this year.

With songs that probe entitlement, video game addiction and idolization, it’s clear we are dealing with a wildly fresh take on slacker rock.

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Needle Drop:
The Roseline,
“Counting Sheep”

PHOTO: LINDSEY KELLENBARGER | Kansas alt-country sextet The Roseline have always thrown caution to the wind, crafting deeply personal socio-political songs that are as impactful as they are soulful, conjuring up the sophisticated musings of Gram Parsons, Neko Case, and Conor Oberst.

Their newest track, “Counting Sheep,” takes aim at the pan-nationalist headlines becoming more and more prevalent in the media.

Band spearhead Colin Halliburton has been quoted as saying the track was written in a bit of a rage-induced state, which isn’t quite apparent upon first listen—the sterling melody is baked in a warm twang and falls across the jangly guitar chords like a charm bracelet, eliciting a modern Dylan-esque vibe.

The Roseline’s new LP, GOOD/GRIEF, arrives in stores on April 3rd.

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Needle Drop: Mark Vickness, “Grey Skye”

Modern fingerstyle guitarist Mark Vickness is back with more moody atmospherics to soothe your work week.

Known for his virtuosic solo output as well as being the instrumental half of acclaimed acoustic fusion duo Glass House, Mark has become a respected fixture in the Bay Area fusion scene with a clearly defined artistic pedigree.

In anticipation of his new solo album, Interconnected, Vickness has released a paired down, black and white video for the song “Grey Skye.” The video captures the musician emitting a zen-like calm, plucking crystalline melodies from his custom baritone guitar. It’s a gorgeous composition that blurs the line between acoustic and orchestral by delicately oscillating between ambient and world influences.

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TVD Premiere: AM Clouds, Rainmaker

Oregon-based indie quartet, Americana rockers AM Clouds blend classic and psych rock flavors, adding an alternative twist that lands somewhere between Soundgarden and Uncle Tupelo.

The band’s new sophomore 10-song release, Rainmaker, is a tasty collection of retro garage nuggets that navigate the inner and outer terrains of lead-singer Bruce Troy Moon’s rustic consciousness. The angular “Paradise” showcases the band’s knack for sharp-edged, pop rock hooks while standouts like the jangly “The Velvet Rope” display a deeply personal expression of Moon’s relationship with religion. The groovy “Headlong” is another stellar throwback jam with the kind of punchy hook that demands repeat listens.

The real power of the music comes from the cohesiveness of the band, who support Moon’s shamanistic visions with solid bass lines, tight drum rolls, and perfectly fuzzed-out guitar tones. But the real cherry on top is when the band combines their voices in superb harmony, forming a Crosby, Stills and Nash-like miscellany that transcends the genres that have so clearly influenced them.

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Needle Drop: 12xPretty, “Caliphornia”

Victoria BC-based electro-pop-rock blenders 12xPretty are back with a new sedated party anthem from the future.

“Caliphornia” is a meditation on emptiness, navigating the chasm of shame from a culture obsessed with surface level fulfillment. Like the song’s robotic croon, its images feel strangely detached—glimpses of a Bladerunner-esque future in which true love has been replaced by shadowy addictions to sex and narcotics.

It’s a bleak depiction of our collective fate, but it’s just as compelling, twisting Tinseltown illusions into a nightmarish potpourri of haunting images.

12xPretty’s debut self-titled album arrives in stores February 21.

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TVD Video Premiere: ØZWALD, “Too Clever”

Nashville duo ØZWALD specialize in golden, honey-dipped vibes filtered through modern sensibilities. It’s an ineffable brand of warm, glowing desert folk rock that eschews the mainstream grunge pop of the two conspirators’ previous work—Jason Wade fronts the band Lifehouse and Steve Stout is formerly of Lost Beach.

Their latest single sets their retro, lo-fi tunings to early ’60s space age visuals, making their quietly eccentric lyrics come to life in between the blips and bleeps of NASA stock footage. The effortless vocals glide over the snappy, nuanced production, connecting the paranoia of the Atomic Age to our current socio-political climate.

Their gorgeous new album, Born in a State, is chock-full of similarly dialed-in hushed folk pop which manages to trigger deep feelings of nostalgia while pointing a finger toward the future of Nashville’s singer-songwriter scene.

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Needle Drop: Barb Carbon, “Patience”

Atlanta, GA singer-songwriter Barb Carbon possesses a keen grasp of pop dynamics, imbuing her rootsy rock songs with the kind of danceable hooks that transcend the borders of alt country.

The brass-laden single “Patience” from her latest album, The Fighter, lands smack between The Avett Brothers and Lucinda Williams, and manages to be a triple threat of intellectual engagement, emotional weight, and refreshing accessibility.

Carbon has made a name for herself as half of the popular female-fronted band The Ain’t Sisters, who deal in a similar brand of warm, eclectic folk. Their regional popularity has caused inevitable comparisons to another similar breakout group from Atlanta, The Indigo Girls, who are also spearheaded by two strong female leads.

As one might expect, The Fighter is a slightly more introspective affair, but spares no expense in the booty shaking department. It’s a personal collection of songs that allows Carbon a wide-open canvas to lay bare her struggles and hopes without bogging them down in somber singer-songwriter clichés.

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Needle Drop: Chasson Gracie, The Music Sounds Better with Whom?

Documentary filmmaker Chasson Gracie’s music docs have always investigated the bleeding edge of music alliances.

His 2015 debut, Gonna Sip That Sip, Hit That Dip: The Emerging Queer Hip-Hop Movement, shined a light on a genre of music that is clearly ahead of its time. With his new project, The Music Sounds Better with Whom?, Gracie endeavors to understand our artistic relationship with technology—is this a partner, a crutch, or a silent killer?

Each participant in the documentary brings a singular viewpoint to the discussion. Some embrace AI and some fear that the integrity of music is jeopardized now that we are so dependent on technology for both the recording and live aspects of delivering music to listeners. Overall there are many questions being asked, and although we don’t receive a resounding answer, by the end of the doc we are more informed about our consumption and collaboration with Artificial Intelligence.

The documentary is currently wrapping up a 12 point film tour and most notably was awarded Best Documentary at the Toronto Shorts International Film Fest. The Music Sounds Better with Whom? is now available to stream on Amazon in the UK and US.

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TVD Premiere:
Tex Moonlight,
“Roll You Up”

South Bay-based guitar-slinger Tex Moonlight delivers a hardy mix of rootsy barroom folk and Beatle-esque electronic experimentation. Pedal steel leads stream over crackling breakbeats, merging into a wider sonic band which the songwriter has affectionately coined, “Americonica.”

A mellow, Lebowski-esque mystique emanates from Tex’s well-worn songs, pregnant with poignant moments that hit home on a universal level. “Roll You Up” could be interpreted as a surface level analogy for being intoxicated by a potential lover, but it reveals itself to be more about internalizing someone’s essence after they’ve left this earthly plane of existence. Indeed, a bittersweet sense of loss seems to permeate the man’s entire debut album, which never once drags his uplifting melodies down.

By examining his own mortality through a kaleidoscope of memories of loved ones departed, Tex Moonlight manages to color outside the lines of genre, establishing a character who is rugged and sweet, emotional yet grounded. In fact, “Roll You Up” might just be the greatest Willie Nelson song he never wrote.

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Needle Drop: Francesca Brown, “Hashslingin’ Blues”

PHOTO: ERIK AUSTIN SAVOY | California wildflower Francesca Brown specializes in the kind of weepy folk vibes made popular by Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Rosanne Cash.

Brown served in Hollywood, slingin’ food and drink for many years, imbuing her countrified tracks with a thick-skinned charm that conjures up that classic working girl twang. She is decidedly all for throwing in the apron, literally and metaphorically, scattering her paycheck to the wind in favor getting stoned, which makes for a damn good modern country song.

It’s also a bit of a proclamation—she has now arrived as an artist who is fiercely connected to this outstanding lineage, ready to claim the success that is deservedly hers. It seems to be working, with champions like American Songwriter and Nic Harcourt lauding the uncompromising new single as a sign of great things to come.

“Hashslingin’ Blues” is available in stores and on all streaming platforms now.

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