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Midnight Blue (Single)

The Crowleys

Bandcamp

Canadian indie psychedelic outfit The Crowleys return to the fold with a new single, and follow up to the sublime ‘L.A. Sunset’ released a only few months ago. The latest recording sees The Crowleys take their sound and vision into the night air largely due to a severe bout of insomnia as ‘Midnight Blue’ is referred to by the band as “where your mind takes you on a sleepless night” and therefore where they currently find themselves. There is no suggestion of lethargy here, despite the lack of rest as the tone of the new single is rather upbeat where a surf guitar sound maintains freshness throughout and one that shines brightly with the other thousands of stars held by the night sky. The specialist skills of a cryptographer are required however, when attempting to decode the song’s lyrics (It’s always a good idea to make the listener work for their listening pleasure) as The Crowleys make use of a vocoder to give voice to the robotic figure central to the band’s music video that accompanies the single ‘Midnight Blue’, which imaginatively captures the notion that there is lot more going on behind the exterior of anyone’s facial expression. If anxiety and loneliness are the key emotions being subtly suggested here, then The Crowleys apply the same approach to their latest release by expertly handling such feelings behind an engaging and upbeat tempo that is ‘Midnight Blue’.


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Hiding Places (Single)

Rain On Monday

ROM Music

Following on from the debut single ‘Kill My Love’, Swedish artist Rain On Monday (Raimond Nurmilampi) replies with a second single under the heading ‘Hiding Places’. By combining an extremely thin layer of 80’s pop sheen with darker shades more associated with the bleak winters of his hometown of Kiruna, a small mining town situated in Sweden and one that lies above the Arctic Circle, Rain On Monday manages to balance the different shades of emotions expertly via combined instrumentation of acoustic guitar and synthesizers. With latest single ‘Hiding Places’ produced by Thomas Harsem (Still Parade, Intergalactic Lovers, Neele Ternes et al), the pop rhythm that propels this song is definitely the chipper side of this latest single, with Rain On Monday’s gruff tones bemoaning what sounds like the demise of a relationship with suggestion of unrequited love from one side of the equation responsible for its downward slide. In spite of the sadness of the words expressed, there is suggestion of an imminent rainbow on the horizon where the current misfortune will be transformed into something positive because ‘Hiding Places’ may be the sound of rainfall yet the sun is also shining.


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For Those About To Love

Benjamin Finger

Flaming Pines

Hats off to (probably) the hardest working artist, DJ and producer on the planet, Benjamin Finger, who pops his creative head above the parapet with his umpteenth album that must be close to rivalling the high output set, and still ongoing, by American experimentalists, The Residents. The latest addition to the Norwegian’s catalogue of ambient mood pieces is ‘For Those About To Love’, which focuses on that very subject of its title but, more noticeably, the emotions leading to the very potential of this subject. With hints given in the song titles from ‘Lipstick Shades 1’ to ‘Eyeball Humidity’ where preparation can be everything but also not quite the outcome one hopes for when expectations falter considerably, the approach Benjamin Finger assumes in relation to his latest album is certainly all about preparation. With a real piano, as opposed to the electronic kind, wheeled out once more after working so well during previous album ‘Ghost Figures’, ‘For Those About To Love’ begins its journey from a near empty barroom waking up from the night before, and then proceeds to take its next steps out in the open and blinking in the sunlight, until becoming lost in a fog of scratched electronica and wispy vocals, such is the uncertainty expressed via  ‘Lipstick Shades 1’. The mood reverts to a darker tone (similar to previous long player ‘Motion Reverse’) during ‘Midnight Wolves’ with its futuristic sounding beats giving the impression of scanning for any sign of life or potential threat depending on your own interpretation. Taking a different turn, however, is the brighter sounding ‘Ultraviolet Light’ with its stronger use of vocal sounds, which is repeated during the excellent ‘Transparent Mind’ that exposes a whole array of thoughts continuously spinning on a carousel of sounds.  Always a difficult prospect to define in its entirety, due to the shifting shades of colour when it comes to emotions expressed by the electronic instrumentation used throughout here, not to mention the new surprises and experiences found with each and every listen, but it is the manner in which Benjamin Finger balances these various shades of colour by instrumentation (in particular the gorgeous ‘Melanphony Waltz’ complete with acoustic guitar) that sets up ‘For Those About To Love’ as one of his most complete works to date.


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The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers

The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers

Safe & Sound Recordings

Receiving its first live outing via a release concert in Oslo (Norway), and issued to the general public late last week, was the eponymously titled debut album from The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers. With references to bands such as Mazzy Star and Cowboy Junkies being mentioned by this very music paper in relation to the band’s ‘My War’ single, the album, ‘The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers’ continues to follow in similar footsteps. Early indications suggest the complexity and beauty of the latter referenced Cowboy Junkies during opening song ‘Brand New’ that gives off an air of simplicity one instance, only to sound packed full of details the next where lead vocalist Kristine Marie Aasvang works miracles with the words by squeezing them through the narrowest of margins during its chorus, for example, and ably matched by the neighbouring guitar (Thomas Bergsten) and steady pattern of the drums (Alexander Lindbäck). There is a feeling of truths stripped bare, albeit in mind, during the tender and acoustic driven ‘Beautiful Blue’, where lyrics offer glimpses of a relationship that is on the verge of being gripped by anxiety and fear, from one person’s perspective that is, which is deeply touching and very beautiful in equal measures. If you’re expecting songs of an uplifting nature, then you’ve definitely got off at the wrong bus stop as these songs are often tales of broken relationships and lost souls. Such moments can be heard via ‘Whiskey Song’ that follows a certain country standard yet halfway through takes an unexpected U-turn and ends up a darkly twisted tale of revenge. It is this very act that sets The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers on their own path, and where former comparisons begin to fade due to the band heavily stamping their own personality over songs such as the compelling and gospel-tinged ‘Breaking Bad’, to the definite folk influence and marginal country rock of ‘How To Sing Goodnight’, before taking a similar trip with ‘My Only Friend Tonight’, and then ending on a raucous note via ‘Secret/Sacred’. A truly fine diversion of creativity where one can hear The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers really coming into their own (It was in the name all along!), in addition to delivering a debut album that is extremely compelling, and deeply moving, and one that is far from keeping any secrets.


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Games (Single)

Gundelach (feat. Ary)

U OK?

Steadying himself for his upcoming full debut album release, Norwegian artist Gundelach (first name Kai) sets free latest single ‘Games’. By working with fellow artist, songwriter and producer Ary, Gundelach managed to find the rhythm he was looking for after the pair listened to a batch of techno records, in addition to a Juno 60 synth being introduced that led to the bass sound filling the verses of new single ‘Games’. A few hours later and the song was finished in terms of structure and lyrical content. The final decision was made by Gundelach himself, and that was to complete the job at home in his own studio with ‘Games’ ending up a self-produced record, and a first for this Norwegian artist. The final result is an atmospheric and at times minimalist piece of work that incorporates elements of pop music and techno and one that sits rather comfortably under a neon lit LA landscape. In other words, ‘Games’ would’ve been a definite candidate for the soundtrack of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive had it landed a tad sooner. That said, it’s not difficult to comprehend the kind of quality and company Gundelach (featuring Ary) and new single ‘Games’ is residing in.


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Fine Line (Single)

Jimmy Smash

JimmySmash DA

Jimmy Smash comprising of mid-twenties pairing Håvard Lyngstad and Mikkel Graham Guttormsen from Fredrikstad, Norway, cite some rather interesting and eclectic influences when it comes to producing the sounds rattling around inside their collective creative tank. With references to America’s urban districts mingling with aspects of their own upbringings, not to mention taking inspiration from the likes of Quincy Jones and Bon Iver to name but two of their musical heroes, the Norwegian duo certainly like to add much detail in terms of their own compositions. Take latest single ‘Fine Line’ that is wrapped in a lyrical content that is of the personal and confessional variety yet remains at a distance due to reservations of being misled when hearing the slightly camouflaged messages coming from this song. The musical backdrop of ‘Fine Line’ radiates a shimmering light of pop music mixed with R&B that is every bit as tender as the words spoken. With ‘Fine Line’ being written and produced by Jimmy Smash, and therefore applying a full hands-on approach to this, their second single, based on this evidence it would seem that these Norwegians certainly have a bright future ahead of them.


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Greetings From Austin

The Don Diego Trio

El Toro

Judging from the stories behind latest album ‘Greetings From Austin’, The Don Diego Trio, along with invited guests to add their creative contributions, had a memorable experience when laying down the tracks for this new recording. The idea to invite other artists to contribute on ‘Greetings From Austin’  was borne out of a week in Austin, Texas, after The Don Diego Trio had received a nomination (the band’s second) for the Ameripolitan Awards. Therefore, with time on their side and rather than spend the week window-shopping, The Don Diego Trio decided to record a brand new record that would serve as a postcard of their time in Austin, Texas. With Mario Monterosso agreeing to produce the album, in addition to lending his vocals and guitar playing for the sessions, and therefore becoming an integral part of the band for that one week in Austin, The Don Diego Trio (or quartet if you like) really let go of the reins in order for the creativity to flow. The end result is thirteen tracks of honky tonk and rockabilly written and recorded in record time and one would never know it considering the quality on display here. Naturally a whole host of guest musicians helps, but full marks to all concerned in making the entire contents of this album because it certainly reigns supreme once the freight train boogie of ‘Daddy’s On A Freight Train’ comes rolling down the track with improvised clickety-clacks from vocalist Don Diego Geraci that signal the end of the song. The mood is buoyant during ‘Truck Drivin’ Daddy’, which possesses a definite whiff of Dale Watson’s earlier truckin’ tunes; ditto the band’s song ‘Monday’ that is even closer to the aforementioned Watson and therefore inspired decisions as both numbers are genuine rockin’ delights. There are several clues during ‘Greetings From Austin’ to suggest that the band certainly enjoyed themselves in the making of this record, where humour can be found in some of the song titles (‘Django From Twango’), not to mention rewording on various classics (‘I Didn’t Walk The Line’). The Don Diego Trio has created a snapshot of a memorable week in Austin, Texas, by way of album ‘Greetings From Austin’ that serves as both a tribute to the City, but also its musical heritage.


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A Time To Dance And Sing (Single)

Ann-Kristin Dordal & Ottar "Big Hand" Johansen

Tyrirot Musikk

Ottar “Big Hand” Johansen is a familiar name at Famous Last Words (FLW) after recent solo album (‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’) and double effort with fellow Norwegian country artist Arne Benoni  (‘Benoni & Big Hand’). This time out, Ottar Johansen enters the fray with a new (to our ears anyway) singing partner by the name of Ann-Kristin Dordal who has made something of an impact musically in her home town as well as overseas in countries such as Spain and Sweden. With the chosen single being a composition written by Jakup Zachariassen and Martin Joensen (The Faroe Islands) in collaboration with Bjørn “Southern” Nilsen (N), the pairing of Ann-Kristin Dordal with Ottar Johansen proves a winning combination. The reasons for this is down to the lovely lilting intro of piano, steel string and Dordal’s vocal that thankfully doesn’t exaggerate the “Americanisms” when it comes to her accent and therefore resulting in a sincere performance where her voice gives off a folk – country styling. With lyrics seemingly purporting to the hardships that life can bring and how easy it is to forget the pleasurable sides of life (‘A time to dance and sing again”), the pairing of Johansen and Dordal manage to smooth such woes, especially when their vocals combine with the country music support that is up there with the best this side of Nashville. ‘A Time To Dance And Sing’ makes for a fine combination between two Norwegian artists who should perhaps consider an extended project of the LP kind.


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It’s Too Late Now

Chris Ruest & Gene Taylor

El Toro

We’re in blues territory with the latest album from Chris Ruest and Gene Taylor. With this album being mainly a combined effort with additional support coming from Brain Fahey on drums, the main pairing of Ruest and Taylor complement each other with twelve tracks incorporating a classic blues sound along with moments of boogie-woogie and American roots music. Such examples can be heard clearly via the piano fingers of acclaimed musician Gene Taylor during the appropriately named instrumental ‘Torpedo Boogie’ that really fires along at pace. Where this album benefits greatly is the variety in tempo where, for example, the more energetic zip of boogie-woogie is replaced elsewhere with a laidback blues approach and excellent narratives of ‘Keep Talking’, ‘Sad And Lonely Child’ and ‘Life’s Like Lightning’ with Texas blues’ guitarist Chris Taylor greatly impressing throughout. If you enjoy your blues steeped in tradition yet combined with other components of rock ‘n’ roll that occasionally suggest Ruest and Taylor are more than comfortable in the present (look to the roots rock of ‘I’m Down’ and bluesy rock of ‘I Tried’), then ‘It’s Too Late Now’ is definitely a ticket worth purchasing.


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Smokin

Smokin A

El Toro

A different proposition from El Toro, and one that sways considerably from the norm of rockabilly, with Smokin A and his debut album ‘Smokin’. More notably, Smokin A is a mysterious figure with very little known about this artist apart from the contents of the long player ‘Smokin’ that was recently thrust under our noses. After countless repeat plays, any efforts to pin down the influences at the heart of this record has remained a difficult task, and one that has been matched with much enthusiasm on this side of the counter. If labels are required, however, then Smokin A offers ten tracks of sparsely influenced rhythm and blues blended with sparse references to soul and rock ‘n’ roll. Such references become blurred, however, once the likes of ‘Wishmaster’ makes its entrance with its 60s flavoured organ, but it’s a song that is far more current despite hefty links to the past as it’s a track that wouldn’t sound out of place in an Artic Monkey’s set list or side project The Last Shadow Puppets. The bare components of the song structures continues (‘Work Of Art’) and often shrouded in dark moods (‘Dirty’) and disconnected feelings (‘Smokin’). Such feelings are captured to perfection throughout ‘Normal’ where the central guitar plucks out the lines providing real expression, and one that greatly complements the deliberate lack of interest given by the vocals. With further mystery surrounding this artist due to the addition of two extra tracks that were not chalked up on the board for your reading pleasure, the album presented by Smokin A really provides a sharp prod to one’s senses because despite taking its references from the past, the album ‘Smokin’ does not sound of vintage age yet is more at home in the present. A refreshing outlook indeed from both recording artist and record label.


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Black Heart Music

Ben Rath

Eilean Records

With his living quarters based in Manchester (UK), Ben Rath constructs his ambient compositions by using original recordings of guitar, keyboards and piano, in addition to samples and field recordings. New album ‘Black Heart Music’ follows on from previous recordings Rath has made via a variety of record labels since 2014, as well as recording under the pseudonym Slow Heart Music in 2017 with the final result being an EP of improvised acoustic guitar tracks. With ‘Black Heart Music’, Rath has constructed an album full of ambient textures that can be coarse in sound one moment to more soothing and airy passages the next. The atmosphere can be quite bleak in places where a swarm of grainy synths exist in one instance, only to pass and give way to the picking of acoustic guitar strings and lighter passages of sounds the next. However, the fog of samples utilised is never far away yet less harsh in its execution where the overcast mood from before is represented in gentler tones as mentioned earlier. ‘Black Heart Music’ is straight out of Manchester where its climate and (urban) landscape have played their roles in shaping the influences heard between the layers of this long player, which certainly makes for compelling listening.


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Pyro (Single)

Stale Lane

Concorde Music Company

The duo of Tomi Salmi (vocals/guitars) and Sami Vuollekoski (guitars/vocals), otherwise known as Stale Lane, start their journey with their debut single ‘Pyro’. The opening track from Stale Lane arrives ten years after Tomi Salmi and Sami Vuollekoski’s previous band, MALfUNCTION, decided to call time on that particular musical chapter. Therefore, with time on their side to ponder their next move, it wasn’t long before a decision was reached, with the new project up and running and where Salmi and Vuollekoski currently find themselves under the heading of Stale Lane. Such a decision to start afresh immediately pays dividends for the longstanding bandmates as Stale Lane’s ‘Pyro’ proves to be an engaging alternative-rock track that warms its hands immediately via a buzzing guitar intro that opens out into an impressive lead that weaves a pattern between the moody vocals and main rhythm section. Think Chris Cornell, Pearl Jam and with one or two parts borrowed from Nirvana and you’re somewhere close to the sound and vision that ‘Pyro’ aims for, which really is a good place to start, and one that Stale Lane achieves admirably for this first outing.



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