March is here, and with it, the knowledge that the long-awaited desire for the next season is just around the corner. But, while it is still a little too early here in the northern part of the continent for some new blooms to break through the ground and spring up, we can offer you our own bouquet of cracking new tunes to help fend off these last few remaining days of winter. But wait, there’s more. For this month, and this month only, we’re not only bringing you this feature one day ahead of schedule (we have an exciting video premiere lined up for tomorrow), but are doubling your enjoyment – eight tunes for the price of four. You’ll need a longer coffee break today to sample these gems. Game on.
Common Deer, “90 Days”
Back in late 2016 we had the good fortune of catching a live performance by emerging Guelph-based indie-folk band Common Deer at the historic Horseshoe Tavern, and featured their first EP release here on our pages in early 2017. And just like that, it seems that Common Deer dropped off our radar – at least until now. With the prior departure of co-vocalist/violinist Graham McLaughlin, the band not only return as a four-piece ensemble, but also announce the pending arrival of their long-awaited debut full-length album, which itself sees a transformation from their indie-roots heritage to a synth-driven, 80s alt-pop persona. Released as their first teaser of new music, the single “90 Days” was penned by vocalist/keyboardist Sheila Hart. “90 Days is about my experience with borderline personality disorder and emotional dysregulation,” she offers. “While I’ve come a long way managing my mental illness, this song is a reminder that there is no quick fix, and I have to actively work on this forever if I don’t want it to destroy my life.” The upcoming album, “MAXIMALIST,” promises to tackle themes surrounding not only mental health, but also addiction, sexism and obsession, with an undeniably raw vulnerability.
Nelson Sobral, “Dancing Fool”
One of the joys in following the folk-roots and Americana genres is learning just how much diversity of music styles exists within these loosely defined labels – from rock n roll and country, to blues, jazz, and soul. Yet sometimes we just want to simplify, to find a straight-forward, down-to-earth, guitar-led, bluesy rock number, and if you too happen to crave something like that right now, Toronto’s Nelson Sobral has more than got you covered. With this latest single, “Dancing Fool,” taken from his recently released “Second Arrow” album, Nelson’s sound is both as raw and as fun as the genre gets, injecting an Americana core with a hard-edged, urban blast of gritty Midwest blues, rock n roll, and northern soul. As the high-energy opening track from the album, “Dancing Fool” is about letting go of what no longer serves you, and leads the charge with its bombastic chorus, raw swagger, and virtuosic guitar playing. But above all else, this single demonstrates how Sobral’s music can be configured easily into yet another unique brand of Americana – one in which he creates an entirely new identity within the genre; one of overpasses, subway trains, and the grittiness of his Toronto city streets. Highly recommended.
Close Kicks, “Coming Up”
In recent years, I have enjoyed seeing the emergence of members from popular bands stepping up to the spotlight with their own solo projects. Just recently, guitarist Ken Presse (The Franklin Electric) shared a pair of amazing indie-country tunes, and before that, drummer Jeremy Drury (The Strumbellas) released an album of original indie-folk material. So, no surprises here, as bassist Darryl James – also from The Strumbellas – teams up with friends Cary Brothers and Cazz Brindis to give this side venture a shot, and ultimately delights with this catchy and powerful new single. “Coming Up is a song about perseverance. It’s a song about picking yourself up even when everything around you feels like it is collapsing,” he shares. “Over the course of the last few years, we all produced and performed the song remotely. With such a HUGE chorus, I recruited a group of talented singers from my hometown to support it.” While Darryl handled the group vocals, Cazz and Cary added their instrumentation and vocals, with Cary’s wife Jessica Weiss adding string arrangements. “Cazz took on mixing the song and gave it that warm and fuzzy, yet powerful feeling,” adds Darryl. “[This] was a song built through our common struggles, and was completed by all of us coming together to do something great!”
Femme Fragile, “Bitter”
We’re seeing a lot of synth-pop releases this early into the year, and while most flies under our radar, this cracking tune from Regina, SK artist Femme Fragile was very hard to ignore. Combining modern pop sensibilities with alt-punk instrumentation, “Bitter” proves to be a dark pop anthem for young alt mothers who are struggling to reconcile their multiple roles and social identities, a theme so perfectly captured in the accompanying music video by director Taryn Snell (PictureSK), and featuring model and tattoo artist Beki Stilborn. Co-written by vocalist Shelynn Fretz (Grim) and composer/producer David Roman (Hearts & Knives), Femme Fragile promise to move you, make you uncomfortable, and ultimately connect with you – drawing sounds and influences from grunge, pop-punk, electronica, synth-pop, and anything else melodic, bleak and aggressive. “Can you pinch me so I feel something / Something different from more failure / I want to scream for help, I lost my voice / Running in circles can you help her? / Trying harder there’s no end game / I can’t sleep looking for the answers / These little voices driving me insane / Can’t do nothing, why’s it matter?”
Melted Wings, “Worthless Souls”
Our four bonus tracks kick off with more 80s style synth-pop, this time courtesy of Oakville, ON band Melted Wings, the second teaser of music from their upcoming “Cheer For The Deer” album. Opening with some sparse guitar work, and joined by the heavy synths, “Worthless Souls” very quickly draws comparisons to the pioneers of the new wave and electronica side of the genre, paying homage to bands such as Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode. “If the sky should fall onto my head / You think I’d cry, but I’d just laugh instead / Candy fell, it fell from on high / You tempted them, then you denied / I’ve seen the lies and endless denials / Churn all the while in the hearts of friends / Take back the silence, turn off the violence / Burning defiance in the worthless souls of men.” “Worthless Souls is an exhilarating track that calls out how sexism and power corrupt all levels of society,” shares vocalist Michael Wynn (Trains of Winter, Vicky Von Vicky). “We all need to recognize this going forward and make sure that it doesn’t go unchecked.” Michael also teases with the idea that “Cheer For The Deer” may also flirt with a little rock and some big-band style jazz, in addition to the synth-rock core, so be sure to pay attention when the album drops on April 6th.
Melina Coolen (ft. Sarah Frank), “I Believe In You And Me”
Just in case you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed with this explosion of synth-pop this early in the month, here’s your chance to seek refuge within some classic retro-pop courtesy of Halifax, NS singer-songwriter Melina Coolen. Known for her contributions to both television and movie scores, Coolen delights the senses here with her theatrical prowess, and her knack for combining bold and emotive piano keys against a slight jazz, slight doo wop structure. “I wrote I Believe In You And Me as a song to help me and others move forwards and persevere during the tough days of lockdown,” Melina offers. “You can hear the battle scars but you can also hear the strength to carry on in faith.” Taken from her recent “Windows” EP, Coolen invited her friend Sarah Frank (The Bombadils) to handle the vocal duties. “I want to go back home / I want to smell the sea air / Just like long ago / The sound of your laughter can’t / Be bought with a thousand words / So I will stay and wait for you.” And yes, if something else sounds familiar here, that would be Sarah’s husband (and fellow maritimer) Luke Fraser providing his signature guitar sounds. “Sunsets are a gorgeous reminder of how beautiful and precious life is,” adds Melina. “And that doesn’t go away.”
Lydia Persaud, “Good For Us”
We have taken delight in watching the career of Toronto-based folk-soul artist Lydia Persaud blossom over the last handful of years, so when word reached us of both a new single and upcoming album in the works, it was time to drop everything and take notice. Combining jazz, R&B and folk music with a natural ease, “Good For Us” is the first taste of Lydia’s latest creativity, a track conceived while on tour in Halifax, NS. “Funny thing about bad communication when you’re away from home is, you can decide to sit by the phone or be present and go outside,” she shares. “The song definitely captures the moment of deciding to go outside and recognizes that space was what we both needed at the time.” Accompanying the single is a fabulous music video, itself a simplistic drive around the city with friends in an old sedan. “My art director, Josh Rille and I wanted to keep things minimal and cute, filming everything on iPhones while give the Super 8 film feel,” Lydia adds. “The song is about taking care of ourselves and knowing when to choose freedom from spaces that no longer serve us. I was very thankful to capture laughter and joy amongst the people that make me feel very loved, as it puts a spotlight on the energy we should be giving and receiving.”
Matthew Ryan Jacobs, “Grace”
Released just last Friday, Kitchener-Waterloo, ON roots artist Matthew Ryan Jacobs delivers this absolutely stunning slow-burner of a tune, and whether you’re looking for some country, some blues, or some indie folk, everything you need is right here. A vivid scene is painted immediately from the bluesy guitar wails that open, followed by the remainder of the instrumentation and Matthew’s somewhat soft, but potent vocal delivery. “Grace was once again recorded with Ben Kempel, usually I send him a demo version and then we go through and add our parts,” Matthew shares. “I’ve typically played most of the guitars and Ben took care of the drums, bass, piano … but for this one the playing is all mostly done by Ben. We have a good relationship that way, whoever’s parts end up working better for the song is what is kept.” Progressing through verses and choruses, it is the brief tempo change prior to the final refrain that adds the icing to an already beautiful cake, and is reason alone to earn your full attention, and leave your finger hovering over the repeat button. “This was one of those songs that I wrote in what seemed like 10 minutes,” he adds. “Sent it to Ben, he put the music together, I came by and sang it, and done!”