RANDOM, COOL, CRAZY MUSIC VIDEO: Empire of the Sun, "Standing on the Shore"

INDEPENDENT EP RELEASE: Mikkel Cloud, “Transistor_1”

By Lee Anderson

Mikkel Cloud is the music production and songwriting team of Whittney Mikkel and Jaren Cloud. They’re debuting with a 3-track EP release of Radiohead covers, which they’re calling Transistor_1. Mikkel sings and Cloud plays keyboards. 

To release an EP of covers is daring enough on its own, but to do so covering only one band and that band being the music snob, hipster-worshipping Radiohead is an even larger task. Personally, I was a Radiohead fan since the early guitar-heavier days of Pablo Honey. The manner in which OK Computer wiped out the boundaries between rock and electronica made that album a revolutionary masterpiece. However, by the time In Rainbows was released, they lost me. Or I lost them. To me, it seemed the experimentation in Radiohead’s music became too arty and showy. What happened to simply writing a good song? In other words, for me, Radiohead became pretentious. 

Fortunately, the 3 tracks chosen here by Mikkel Cloud are from before things got overblown.

Their first interpretation is of “How to Disappear Completely” from Kid A. The original is a slow, dreamy acoustic tune punctuated by a sorrowful string section. (According to Songfacts, many of the lyrics came from a conversation Yorke had with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe in which Stipe advised Yorke to cope with all of his pressure by pulling his shutters down and telling himself, "I'm not here, this is not happening.") From Mikkel’s delicate opening vocals and Cloud’s even softer piano work, it’s apparent that they have no interest in offering photocopies. The only recognizable similarity between this song and its original is the lyrics. Mikkel lends a feminine aesthetic to the song that it never knew it had. It’s truly gorgeous, especially in the way the duo builds the song from quiet anguish to powerful testimony. 

“Pyramid Song” is a track from Amnesiac, released only a few weeks after Kid A (Radiohead having perfected the art of the “surprise release”), a song in which York’s voice and piano playing eventually become immersed in strings and electronic noise. Mikkel Cloud’s version is murkier, more subtle, even including a synth piano adjusted to sound broken while Mikkel's voice gets downsampled though a bitcrusher. This is in the song's intro along with York’s vocalizing (which is, in itself, an instrument) as backdrop. Again, Mikkel’s voice lends an emotive gentleness, which counterpoints York’s trembling vibrato.  

The last track, “True Love Waits,” is Radiohead number played on tour as far back as The Bends, but whose arrangement was never satisfactory enough to find an album. It remained their most well-known unreleased song until it finally found itself as the last track on A Moon Shaped Pool. It is also the last track here. The song is four-note piano figure with polyrhythmic loops. Cloud keeps the four notes but adds a thunder roll beneath the chorus. This added with Mikkel tenderly singing the lines “Just don’t leave / Don’t leave…,” and you have an interpretation which makes the hairs on your neck and arms stand straight up. I’ve listened to it five times in a row.

Of all people, Gene Simmons said in NME: “It's difficult for other bands to do Radiohead songs, because of the strength of their identity. Their identity is key to the song, specifically Thom Yorke's voice.” Previously I would’ve agreed, but now I completely beg to differ.

To hear an extended sampler of this release, please click HERE.

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INDEPENDENT SONG RELEASE: Ben Grizz, “Steak and Rice”

By Lee Anderson

Ben Grizz is a Massachusetts rapper inspired by his uncle and grandfather, both hip-hop aficionados themselves. The name “Grizz” came from the phrase “Get it, Grizz!” spoken often by his brother’s friends. It stuck because of Ben’s aggressive determination, even in childhood. They could see he was going places. Grizz was different.

"Steak and Rice" is the first single from is new album Expensive Taste. The single opens with a piano starting and stalling, as if its player were searching the right key. A soft, electronic stutter-beat begins and the piano finds itself. Throughout the song, the piano and beat skip and halt around each other while remaining synchronized somehow, like outcast dance partners. 

“I’m gonna take ‘em on a heist,” Grizz raps. His voice is a commanding presence, echoing in rhythm with itself. “If you a boss, then what’s the price? / Don’t try your luck like rolling dice.” Meanwhile, he’s eating steak and rice. A victor’s meal. “Treating every week / Just like it’s the weekend…”

With so much going for him, it’s a little heartbreaking that he occasionally falls into hip-hop tropes, such as calling women “hoes,” making note of his own wealth, plus a plethora of N-words. “I can’t fuck with these hoes unless they freakin.’/ Pull myself together like I’m geekin.’” It’s a good rhyme, but the sentiment feels sadder than it should. 

“Steak and Rice” improves when Grizz shows more vulnerability: “Smoking so much weed / I think I need some treatment / I’m looking like I’m chillin,’ / but I’m really creepin.’” Yes, I do believe I can identify with that. 

Grizz claims the Notorious B.I.G., 50 Cent, and Lil Wayne as influences. This makes perfect sense since Grizz does possess the swagger of B.I.G., the edge-hard spirit of 50 Cent, and the backstreet mixtape lyricism of Lil Wayne. Grizz is all of these rappers but different. Hopefully, as his career progresses, he’ll be just different enough.

Not that he likely gives a shit what you or me think anyway. Get it, Grizz…

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To hear the single "STEAK AND RICE" by BEN GRIZZ, please click on the image below:

INDEPENDENT SONG RELEASE:The Urban Renewal Project, "Shake Those Hips"

By Lee Anderson 

The history of rap music fused with a big band sound goes all the way back to the late Eighties/early Nineties with such artists as A Tribe Called Quest and Del La Soul. Miles Davis’ last album even included a few hip-hop beats. The trend seemed to fade, only showing up during college football halftime shows where rhythm brass and breakbeat drums thundered behind shako-hatted band members dancing along with lots of pelvis thrusts. Though the instruments were live, there was still a hip-hop beauty to it.   

The Urban Renewal Project, while sounding like the latest eco-positive, city redevelopment deal, is also a sixteen-member musical collaboration. It involves core-member Elmer Demond writing with newcomer Slim da Reazon. The band’s bassist, Dustin Morgan (a.k.a. Yung Jinja), raps in there as well. Helping out, Alex Nester balances it together with a liquid voice born for R&B. Or any other genre he pleases. The gentlemen throw quick rhymes and smooth grooves over the bombastic compositions of bandleader R.W. Enoch, backed up loud yet organically by thirteen big band musicians. 

The Project’s first single, “Shake Those Hips,” is first from their upcoming EP with the militaristic title of Love Glory Duty Death. The song starts off with rapid handclaps and jazzy horns. “Shake those hips! / Slow down, work it left to right / Come on, get loose tonight…” It’s a friendly and fun proposition, of course, the most fun I’ve heard since “Get Down Tonight” by KC & The Sunshine Band, or “Hey Ya” by Outkast, or even “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. It’s a dance song with a high spirit that’s in good company.

The rappers trade verses between choruses, their rhymes cushioned between effervescent brass notes. And what’s hip-hop without a little sauciness?  “I can be your addiction and your intervention at the same time…In the bedroom, the beast I am / the beast you are / Come get the pleasures of a superstar…”

Well, there you go. There’s pleasures to be had all over. The song’s bridge contains the reverbed refrain, “I said, ‘Stop!’ / Make your body rock / Let me feel it like an aftershock…” 

By the end of the song, we’re all feeling it. 

Love Glory Duty Death is expected to be released in its entirety later this year. 

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Please click the IMAGE BELOW to hear the new single “Shake Those Hips” by The Urban Renewal Project


By Lee Anderson

By age 17, Versal (aka Javier Velez) could already play the piano, organ, trumpet, trombone, and guitar (both electric and classical.) By 18, he was arranging a famous hand bell choir in his native San Juan, followed by numerous TV and live show appearances. Versal now works as a composer, CGI artist, and programmer, except now he’s added even more instruments to his talents. The guy is a one-man orchestra. 

He’s almost a one-man film crew, too. Versal has been editor, colorist, visual FX artist, director of photography, composer, and director on several films and documentaries. Still, the dream has been this EP, which he has released this month. This collection of instrumentals contains ideas from as long ago as childhood. The need to make a living and a thirst for global travel were previously in the way but no longer.

 The album is “self-titled” and starts with the track “Eternal,” a soft piano piece ushered in by an angelic chorus. Swelling strings swoop in, creating an atmosphere of tranquility but never boredom. “Flamenco en Culebra” is a mellow, flamenco guitar arrangement with drums and strings added, apparently as a musical homage to the Puerto Rican island city of Culebra. I imagine their style of flamenco is a bit different than Argentina’s. Grittier.

“Dawn” is the most New Age track of the group. It’s carries a deep, steady note and morning bird flute, which transitions from brass to wood halfway through. The last movement is particularly strong as one instrument after another is gracefully piled on in a manner that’s very soundtrack-friendly. You can picture this music being played over rolling credits at the conclusion of a film where the good guy didn’t necessarily win. “Carousel” (Included below) is the stand out piece. It remains ambient like the rest but attempts an upbeat catchiness. The child show synthesizers and other electronica noises make the track spacey and playful, but not in a weird way. Just odd enough to be interesting.

The last two tracks—“All Together” and “El Camino a Montserrat”—are full-on classical orchestra affairs with string sections and the works. Both are enjoyable as demonstrations of their composer’s mastery but are more fitted for fighting to lift sails against towering storm waves than any slow stroll through a hazy meadow. 

Overall, this album is a fine lineup of powerful contemporary instrumentals. It’s quite cinematic in places, though it’s easy to understand why with Versal’s background.

Soon, he plans to release two more songs as bonus tracks. The dream continues...

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Please, listen to the EP on Spotify HERE


By Lee Anderson

LA’s Lauren Lakis is a garage rock songstress who believes in experiencing everything: writing poetry with homeless drug addicts, teaching English in Prague and Tokyo, working as a stripper and yoga teacher in Baltimore, mentoring autistic kids…whatever, just try it. Drink it in. It’s all fuel for inspiration.

‘Right Now’ is a single from her newest album release entitled Sad Girl Breakfast. The song concerns the heaviness of existence. While it might be great to dare new things, it’s not always easy feeling them so deeply. Lakis elaborates: “Malaise is the word that probably best describes that feeling. But it’s also suggesting that it isn’t a solitary experience, and that we can find comfort in each other.”

The song churns forward with an industrial resonance and goth-rock spirit. “Space and time / I don’t want it,” Lakis sings, dreamy and nearly breathless. A fuzzed-out electric guitar gains volume over a slow, muffled electra-beat. “The future and the past are always near…Bang your head on my chest, my dear…right now, now / Right now…” Her voice burns with urgency, even when fluttering into a higher register. 

The intensity of the music builds, transgressive and provocative, reaching its climax as Lakis begins humming. Just when it seems the song might overwhelm itself, it ends with a soft roar, like that of a large piston engine cooling itself after being run too hot. The song is sexy as hell is what I’m saying. Unsurprisingly, Lakis wrote the tune during a seance in a creepy, abandoned dungeon while touring Washington state because of course she did.  

Sad Girl Breakfast is set to be released by Cavity Search Records this spring.   

Please, check out the song “Right Now” by clicking on the picture below: