Author Archives: Mike Olinger

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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Needle Drop: Alessandro Ciminata, “Wasted On Each Other”

Everything changed, became easier, more accessible, more immediate with the advent of the internet. Millennials wield a new kind of power that no one in the past ever foresaw. But having access to such power doesn’t necessary enrich our lives. Alessandro Ciminata’s “Wasted On Each Other” seeks to deliver new generations from the hypnotic buzz of a social media presence, probing the “disposable” nature of our attention seeking culture.

Produced by Jack Gourlay (Rhodes) in his North-East London studio, “Wasted On Each Other” is flush with atmospheric synths, pulsing beats, and Ciminata’s unique deep vocal tone. His thoughtful indie-pop has been making waves over the past years, with a string of singles that have been championed by the likes of John Kennedy (Radio X), BBC Introducing London, and Complex UK.

“Wasted On Each Other” is another stellar entry into his burgeoning catalog, reminding us that after all is said and done, we still might be a generation worth listening to.

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Needle Drop: Sarah J’Vine, Embracing Eternity Within

Brisbane Australia-based Sarah J’Vine’s life changed drastically after a near death experience, activating psychic gifts which led her to become a medium. But Sarah could not only witness higher realms and glean spiritual insights, she could hear songs—personalized melodies and messages that she translated for her clients.

Having now used music as a healing modality for years, J’Vine decided to develop these light language readings into broader sonic compositions and has now released a gorgeous collection of soaring meditations entitled Embracing Eternity Within. “My intent is to be a conduit for that authentic connection to spirit, so one can fall madly in love with their inner and outer worlds, seen and unseen,” Sarah reflects. “This is a journey that will bring the listener to the higher vibrations, cultivating a true spiritual connection within themselves.”

The album is awash with delicate ambience and powerful vocals, not unlike the early work of Enya or the modern lullabies of Lisa Gerrard. Indeed, it does create a warm, lulling state which allows entrance into the deeper inner realms of the subconscious, encouraging one to surrender to the sounds of light.

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Needle Drop: Albon,
“Call Me Up”

LA-based singer-songwriter Albon creates tender jangle pop, modern in its approach, yet steeped in nostalgia.

With motifs dealing with loss, exploration, and a general sense of wanderlust, his compositions are smart and familiar yet slightly left-of-center, landing somewhere between the Fleet Foxes and golden-era Beach Boys.

His debut single “Call Me Up” is flush with promise, revealing a talented and tender artist who is more than willing to expose his hopes and fears on record. Hold tight for the bright, expansive chorus which owes as much to Brooklyn psych pop as it does to vintage Disney show tunes.

“Call Me Up” is an excellent entry into Albon’s insular world, lifted from the wily 6-song EP, “Dream Weaver//Bee Keeper,” which arrives in stores January 31st.

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TVD Premiere:
Used Cassettes,
“It’s My Night”

South Korea-based, beach jangle quartet Used Cassettes have remained consistent in their output of beautiful and bittersweet rock ‘n’ roll. But after nearly ten years and five albums and grinding in Seoul, the winds of life sent the members in separate directions and the band went on hiatus.

The bassist set off and built a beach hut in Sri Lanka, the lead guitarist got married and moved back to Vancouver, and the other two, well, no one’s quite sure what happened to them. But before they embarked on a “hiatus,” they laid down their final and most poignant record to date, the self-titled Used Cassettes.

We’re happy to premiere the album’s single, “It’s My Night,” which may very well be the last offering from this wonderful group. Sounding a bit like a groovy hybrid of Beachwood Sparks and Nirvana, the song manages to be both languid and soothing—while rocking hard. It’s also deliberately self-aware, shedding light on the often egotistical tendencies of young men who live wily lives, unhinged from the responsibilities of adulthood.

The band shares, “We often see our own actions as more just, more important than those around us. ‘It’s My Night’ takes this premise and softens its edges with catchy melodies and tight time changes, reflecting some of the wry humor in our often myopic lives.”

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TVD Premiere:
Gibson Wilbanks,
Gibson Wilbanks

Georgia-based back porch folk duo Gibson Wilbanks are keen to bring back good old-fashioned music, conceived in country, simmered in soul, and sung from heart.

It’s fitting that the band is dropping their debut record on vinyl, as this is really the ideal format to digest their high fidelity 8-song debut. Both singers possess a rich vocal tone, which when combined, makes for a classic sounding blend that elevates the sum of its parts. The tracks are adorned with smooth production nuance, yet the embellishments are minimal, allowing the two singers enough room to explore their potent harmonies.

Standout tracks like the plaintive “Oh Sweet Baby” and the cinematic “Green Grass High Tides” make one ponder how “Bro-country” ever came to dominate the genre. “We feel that the Country Music lovers are starved for real bands with thoughtful lyrics,” the duo assert. “Like Zappa says, ‘Music is the only religion that delivers the goods.’ And when it doesn’t, it doesn’t last or stand the test of time.”

Gibson Wilbanks’ limited edition vinyl release is available to purchase via Bandcamp.

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Needle Drop: Death
Party Playground,
“Still Memories”

Waterloo, Ontario-based Death Party Playground create wily power pop anthems, soaked in the tradition of Springsteen and Tom Waits.

Their latest single, “Still Memories,” boasts some thick, nostalgic vibes, sparkling with hope and reflection. “It’s a bit of a rock lullaby about resolving the pain of the past into something positive,” lead singer Kyle Taylor says. “A holistic reminder to appreciate the entire experience, both good and bad.”

Taylor’s poignant songwriting is accompanied by bright, folky guitars, all the way until the final lift, towards the end of the song, where the listener is invited to sing along, dance, and just have fun despite it all.

“These songs squeeze a little joy out of a darker time,” Taylor reflects. “It’s trying to have fun in spite of it. It’s purposefully not letting something break you.”

“Still Memories” is lifted from the band’s debut album Little Joy, due in stores January 17th.

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TVD Premiere:
Prismatic Mantis, “Return to Sender”

Riding on a magic carpet composed of crisp beats and dusty samples, Prismatic Mantis has arrived with a brand new single that is sure to provide a sonic fix for all those beat junkies out there.

“Return to Sender” is the latest sonic vision from the multi-instrumentalist / producer Mark Reynolds whose progressive moniker, Prismatic Mantis, has managed a steady output of flickering downtempo electronica since 2008.

Coming off as a slightly left-of-center fusion rock version of Flying Lotus, Mantis’ work doesn’t endeavor to break new ground as much as it nods back to the experimental, crate digging production of the early ’90s, infusing those delicate beats with deep spiritual undertones.

The single will arrive in stores this Friday, and will be available through all the major platforms.

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Needle Drop: Madelin, “Girl I Never Was”

Brooklyn, NY-based singer-songwriter Madelin has consistently produced rebellious, oddball pop that feels eerily in step with the times.

Her newest single and accompanying video, “Girl I Never Was,” continues this tradition, boasting an unyielding narrative on total self-acceptance in the face of an inherently chauvinistic society.

The song was conceived directly after Madelin discovered her bi-sexuality and illustrates this awakening without coming off as heavy-handed. In fact, for such a deeply personal song, “Girl I Never Was” bubbles with a whimsical effervescence.

“I think people will gravitate to this video because it portrays the female experience in a deadpan, comedic way,” Madelin says. “I’m not a super serious person. I touch on real emotions and big concepts, but I do it with a wink.”

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Needle Drop: The Soft Underground, Anemoia

NYC-based duo The Soft Underground have a knack for undeniably groovy alt jams that color outside the traditional rock song structures.

Anemoia is the band’s third full length album, and is a clear indication that their unconventional format is working. The two band spearheads, Andrew McCarty and Charlie Hickey, are primarily a studio duo who build their instrumentals first and then cast individual vocalists to embody each track.

This results in a surprisingly cohesive aesthetic, with an overall vibe that conjures up Seattle’s ’90s scene with a dash of deep cut ’70s psych rock. It’s a trippy, modern take on the sounds of yesteryear, falling somewhere between My Bloody Valentine and The Velvet Underground.

“Thematically, it’s a happy album,” McCarty reflects, knowing that their material often boasts an impenetrably moody veneer. “We tried to capture that state of euphoria where you can appreciate all facets of life, including the lows.”

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Needle Drop: Jarod Lawley, “Everything That I Need You To Be”

London-based Jarod Lawley has been described as the lovechild of Lana Del Rey and Alex Turner and that comparison certainly holds up on his latest offering, “Everything That I Need You To Be.”

It’s only his third official single, but the moody, introspective and vigorous track feels like the kind of assured work we might expect from a seasoned artist. The neo noir visuals help drive home the nostalgic yearning that emanates from Lawley’s brooding, surf rock-soaked songwriting. The hard lighting and projected images melt into the song’s twangy ambiance as Jarod layers his baritone vocal over the trap-inspired drums.

“Everything That I Need You To Be’ represents my longing for a time that I didn’t even live through,” Lawley asserts. “An anthem for people who feel they have old souls and wish things could be how they used to be. An homage to the dark side of the vintage era.”

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TVD Premiere: Underorder, “Never Quite There”

Underorder deliver distorted euphoria on new single “Never Quite There.”

The track is lifted from Other Ways To Be Apart, a larger work, broken into three EPs which are intended to mirror the changing seasons. Written primarily in 2015 and 2016 by songwriter Gabriel Zucker, at the end of one long-distance relationship and the beginning of another, the intensely personal songs often explode more inwardly than out.

The lush, ambient vibe of the music ultimately gives the impression of a single shape pushing outwards over time, echoing meditations on love and distance. “I’ve grown increasingly fond of this triptych for the way it showcases the band’s impulsive creativity,” Zucker asserts. “These songs are rather simple and under-composed, and much of the arrangement was improvised in the studio. I layered in synths and samples afterwords to heighten the choices the band had made, but the choices themselves happened organically at the time, and I think that vitality is audible.”

The 3 act structure will be released in installments throughout the coming months.

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TVD Premiere: Populuxe, “It’s Happening Again”

PHOTO: RUBY & KEATON SHAPIRO | LA-based trio Populuxe craft soulful glam nuggets, imbued with brutal truths.

The band’s latest single, “It’s Happening Again,” is a potent and bittersweet take on old adage “history repeats itself.” It’s prophetic, writing-on-the-wall message is one that has been put to song by many of the great artists but never quite as succinct as its done here in under two minutes.

Lead singer Rob Shapiro delivers a lilting falsetto over a circular guitar part, waxing poetic about the deep wounds which we, as a society, continue to bandage without weeding out the root cause. In many ways our current socio-political turmoil reflects the 1960s, and this song could have just as easily been released back in that decade in reference to previous national fallout. The parallels are clear but the track is not preachy. It’s bittersweet and honest, like a soothing balm for those who prefer to address something of this magnitude head on.

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