Author Archives: Mike Olinger

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song’s robotic croon, its images feel strangely detached—glimpses of a Bladerunner-esque future in which true love has been replaced by shadowy addictions to sex and narcotics.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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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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