Single Review: “Never”

After a short break of 3 weeks, we’re (ok…ok, I’m) back in business, with (debatably) renewed energy and (hopefully) sharpened ears.

“Never” is the latest single of Khrystal, a singer-songwriter from Kansas City, KS, released on the last day of 2020, on Manor Records.

“Never” – Khrystal

The track begins with a haiku over an atonal bossa-nova guitar, letting us know that we’re about to enter unfamiliar territory:

Solar alignment

To end and begin are brave

Universal flow

A minimalist rhythm pattern sets in, and Khrystal, in a unique delivery halfway between humming and hushed rapping, shares with us, who are willing to listen, a short story of self-determination, gratitude and humbleness, and faith set to poetry, with lines that appear at each end of the song:

I’m writing this letter to you

Tell you I won’t be back soon

Tell you it will be never

The song ends after the second instance of this verse, ending the song in an abrupt fashion.

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The song stands out for two reasons: the first one is its brevity, at 1:16, it’s impressive the way that Khrystal has managed to cram a notable amount of substance into such short duration, the second is its ambience, she succeeded in creating an unusual vibe, almost dream-like, without resorting to sound effects trickery, using just her poetry, subtle guitar strumming and her breezy, almost whispering voice.

An original and positive note to wave goodbye to a (to say the least) difficult year.

Album Review: “Waiting Rooms”

“Waiting Rooms” is the debut album of Maeve Aikin, a singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, MN, released November 13th, on Corkscrew Records

The album is a very personal journey into the melancholic moods and feelings of its creator, a 17 year old singer-songwriter with a chronic condition known as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, I was hesitant at first to add this information, but to better understand the music, one must put himself into her shoes for a better context and POV.

The music is unabashedly DIY and lo-fi, what you’re getting is Maeve and her guitar, with small touches of keyboards in a handful of tracks, and nothing more.

The opening track, “Furniture” opens with Maeve taking a deep breath, as if to signal us about the emotional effort she’s going to put in revealing her thoughts to anyone who’s willing to listen, as her delicate voice enters the frame and shares with us a moment riddled with a deep sense of insecurity ending with the lines:

I could never make your pupils sore

I’m a sorry-eyed sight

I’m a sorry-eyed sight

I’m a sorry-eyed, sorry eyed sight

The repetition of lines is a recurring theme throughout the album, providing a sense of inner conflict, of a lack of self-assurance, while her delicate voice, which borders at fragility at times, gives us an occasional alternate glimpse at her pain, be it physical or emotional.

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The 3rd track, “Bug”, gives us a very intimate look into her physical struggle:

the doctor didn’t believe me

until he saw me through the machine

the pulsing of my bloodstream

red ocean in my knees, heart on my sleeve

Maeve spares no punches with herself nor the listener, if the last song dealt with her physical side of her pain, the 5th track, “Park”, tells us a story of an unrequited love:

we left our shoes in the shed outside

you tell me all about the girl you like

I want to move to another universe

where you didn’t say that

The Highlight of the album, if I could pick one, is the 4th track, “Harriet”, a song part self-reflection, part unwritten letter to a friend, with a small glimmer of hope at the end.

Maeve did an amazing job of putting her inner turmoil to words and music, my listening experience of her debut left me with a sense of sadness and anger, both at the sheer unfairness that a person her age, on the verge of womanhood, has to deal with so much pain and suffering, my only hope is that her next offering will deal with happier, let alone positive, circumstances.

Single Review: “Escapism”

“Escapism” is a single released by Senseless Optimism, a project of a musician named Brit from Lowell, MA, last September 4th.

Its 2 tracks are dreamy bedroom pop tunes with a pronounced jazzy edge, with lyrics about escaping, as the title implies, escaping from one’s fears, escaping from a dreary reality.

As the creator stated:

Escapism is two songs about wanting to escape my current mindset of hopelessness, depression, and defeat. It’s a single about finding the light at the end of the tunnel.

The first track, “My Mind” opens with a jazzy guitar strumming and Brit’s soulful voice, giving the feeling of a warm, welcoming embrace, the violin sounds just enhanced the experience, the song talks about being trapped by fear but with a strong yearning of transcending above them.

The closing track, “Run Away”, is a more romantic offering, pleading with another person, perhaps a significant other, to just leave it all behind and run away, it’s a more optimistic song, where the feelings of hope for a better tomorrow are more explicit.

The final result is a gorgeous piece of music, a sonic equivalent of cotton candy with a lemony twist, this music cannot escape your ears, and your affection.

“Blue Moon” BY Permanent Vacation (Italy)

Stream or buy the EP on Bandcamp.

Permanent Vacation, the British / American duo based in Rome are back with a self-released EP named “Blue Moon”

The EP is a lo-fi ode to minimalism, minimalist indie-pop songs with minimal instrumentation and production, soft vocals, almost hushed, with their style of incorporating surrounding sounds blending slowly with the music.

The main elements of the songs are acoustic guitar and vocals, recorded with noises and imperfections, warts and all, but these imperfections are what makes their music stand from the crowd, they give an intimate and spontaneous ambience to the whole affair.

The EP seems, lyrically at least, like a low-key concept piece centered around the theme of dreams, the opening track’s title, “Fever Dream” gives little doubt of that, and the following track, “Olive Tree” contains the lines:

…I put down my bags and unlaced my boots by the olive tree

You said close your eyes and I’ll be there when you dream…

The 3rd track (and my Highlight of the EP), “Volcano Song” looks at first glance like a kind of love song to a volcano, which are relatively common in their adopted home of Italy, but piecing it with the preceding songs it can also describe a dream, like the one mentioned in the previous song, in any case, this is the most uplifting song in the record.

The eponymous last track “Blue Moon”, has a vibe of slowly drifting in and out of hypnagogia, with its vocals that sound low on purpose in order to become a part of the textures, the atmospheric synths, and the sounds of the environment at the end, waking up slowly from the experience.

Permanent Vacation provided us with a unique record, defiantly showing us their own special way of creating music, my personal gain is the different perspective I received from their process.

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: “The Halloween Special” BY Ghost Orange & drmgrl (UK)

Stream or buy the album on Bandcamp.

First, I have to come clean, Halloween is not celebrated around these parts (Israel) so I was a little worried when I was tasked with writing a review for this split EP, but I pressed forward anyway, and was I surprised.

The EP is a common effort between two British musical projects, Ghost Orange, and drmgrl, the basic arrangement is as follows: the former with the tracks 1,2,4,6, and 8, and the latter with tracks 3,5,7,and 9, it’s released today on drmgrl’s own perfect world recordings label.

Usually, when I think of Halloween, I think of tv specials, little kids going door to door, and the like, but this EP is having none of that, the music can be described as a mix between Goth and Folk, all nicely wrapped in a Lo-Fi package.

The whole atmosphere brings forward the darker sides of Halloween, the lyrics range from bleak, through vindictive, to downright existential, with a backing of sparse acoustic guitars playing mostly minor chords, with small parts of piano and keyboards.

The EP starts with an instrumental piece which gives the EP its title, it sets the tone with a lightly distorted synth sound and a ghostly whistle sound, this track and the other instrumental track, “Ghosts Gather Round” are the only ones where the keyboards take center stage.

If the opening track set the tone sonically, the following track “Catacombs” does it lyrically:

I forget I’m not like the sun

I’m more like the bones in the catacombs

This makes it perfectly clear that this is not a holiday record.

In the 3rd track, “I Love you Octobers”, drmgrl make their entrance in a similar fashion:

Why do birds

Sing their love songs to the sky

That we both know

Will turn cold

And let summer flowers die

While listening the EP, I’ve noticed that although the tracks are split, the musical style is quite similar, the most notable difference I could find is in drmgrl’s more whisper-like vocals.

The light point of the EP, if there ever was one, is the 5th track “Charlie”, which serves as a twisted homage of sorts to “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, it even ends with a sample of Sally’s rant to Linus.

My highlight of the EP is the 8th track, “Pigeon”, a gentle tune with nice harmonies and soft piano flourishes, masking the resentful message at the end:

But of course you don’t know

What you don’t know

You only have pigeon thoughts

Thinking pigeon things

The final result is a fine effort, and the fact that it goes against the festive and commercialized spirit of the holiday makes for a very refreshing approach, which appeals to me even more.

So, er…Happy Halloween everyone?

PRE-RELEASE EXCLUSIVE: “Memento Mori” BY Postrich Bear (USA)

Preorder the album on Bandcamp.

“Memento Mori” is the upcoming album of Postrich Bear, the musical project of Andy Alvarez from Salem, OR, and it’ll be released this October 30th, we (ok, me) at Qneydl had an exclusive access to the upcoming album.

The album is a very personal affair, Alvarez, a singer-songwriter, wrote, composed, sang (with Megan Blankenship featuring in a couple of tunes), played all instruments on it (except the Trumpet in another couple, courtesy of Matthew Mischke), and self-released it.

The personal effort reflects on the music, a collection of Indie-Rock songs contemplating feelings of love, loneliness, longing for a simpler time, and mourning (2 of the songs are dedicated to his grandmothers) giving the album a melancholic and autobiographical feel.

The 4th track “Dejame” tells a story of a separation, and keeping us in the dark about the person and the circumstances of it, leaving only what appears to be a open-ended clue in the lyrics:

Do you remember how we felt back in that summer?

Anoche soñé contigo y esta mañana no me quiero despertar

(Last night I dreamt about you and this morning I don’t want to wake up)

The lyrics in Spanish and the trumpet solo give the track a subtle Mexican vibe, without falling into clichés.

The 9th track “40 Miles with Wade” explores the feelings of sadness even further, a slow and sorrowful ballad, where the acoustic guitar serves as the main rhythmic component, the opening proclamation “Take 1” at the beginning is a perfect indication of its lo-fi spontaneity.

The closing track “Veritas Vincit” serves at a 2 part suite, the first part is a purging of personal demons and feelings of self-hate in what is likely the darkest point of the album, while the 2nd part is a calmer, gentler half, where the writer doesn’t give up on the possibility of hope for a better tomorrow.

My highlight of the album is the 2nd track “Cute” a charming love song with a self-deprecating twist, the jazzy trumpet flourishes throughout the song gives it an air of timelessness, of a tune that can feel comfortable in different decades, including this one.

The album ends with the spoken phrase “That’s really good, not bad”, in my opinion, the feeling is justified, as well as mutual.

“Know Now” BY magictoy* (USA)

Listen to the song on Spotify

“Know Now” is the latest single by magictoy*, a producer / musician based in New York.

The song is a gentle Indietronica piece with elements of Dream Pop and brief outbursts of Glitch in a few moments.

The key principle of the piece is Minimalism, the beat is minimal and steady save for a short interlude in the bridge, followed by distorted sounds and a short distorted second bassline, which felt a bit out of place, and the main instrument is a synth pad providing the chords.

The atmospheric synth pad, the Casio-like lead that appears at times, the soft vocals and the wordless vocal parts at the edges of the song give a dreamy and childlike vibe, while masking the pain in the lyrics, which is an heartfelt plea to a significant other to stay, warning about the unavoidable loneliness that will surely follow.

My main issue with the tune is, as usual, the muffling of the vocals under the mix, the synth pad might give the right atmosphere, but they also impose themselves in the verses and choruses, and googling for the lyrics was futile.

All in all, it’s a very pleasant and sweet tune.

“Gusty” BY Birdspotter (USA)

Stream or buy the album on Bandcamp

Philadelphia, PA band Birdspotter released this month their 3rd album “Gusty” on the Z Tapes label.

The album is a collection of short stories in form of poetry, of snapshots of life skilfully put to music and words, capturing unassuming moments before they fade away never to return, and finding the beauty of it while looking back.

The lyrics provide a look into the minds of people caught in the snapshots, expressing thoughts about love or loss, of stories in that particular moment captured in time, of places that are close and yet, can be distant at the same time, and sometimes of surreal musings, like in the 2nd track “Water”:

…But no God would let the railway workers’ union collapse

And I am still fitting both pieces together

Then in the water

I see Cherry,

I see reflected airplanes scatter in her wake and form again…

If the lyrics are reminiscent of snapshots, the 4 instrumental pieces take form of landscapes, like the 5th track “Dispatch From the Last Year With Seasons”:

The music itself feels very adequate and well balanced, no sudden changes and no sound or instrument moves abruptly to the forefront, giving the whole thing an overall pleasant vibe, for the most part.

My Highlight of the album, “Rumi” is an exception, an elegy to a friend, with slow verses, faster passages with loud guitars, mourning mingled with hopes for reunion in a faraway time and place.

This album is a great soundtrack for the autumn, it makes me think of going out and find a nice secluded spot where I can watch the clouds and just think about life.

“Aliki” BY Permanent Vacation (Italy)

Permanent Vacation, a British/American project based in Rome, released this week a single which is, essentially, a parting gift for a close friend of the duo, and it sounds accordingly.

The acoustic guitar riff that plays throughout the song gives a bluesy-folk feel, and together with the singer’s wistful vocals, an air of melancholy quickly descends upon the tune.

The track is as Bedroom Pop as you can get, with little background noises before and during the track and a friendly chat at the end, but you cannot help but feel the intimacy of it all, you can almost close your eyes and see the duo singing it to their friend in their final goodbye in a dimly lit room.

The lo-fi recording and the percussion that slightly goes astray in the middle of the song, if anything, only add spontaneity to the overall result.

I’m sure they will miss their friend dearly, and although I’ll never meet the subject of the song, after listening to the song, I’ll miss her too.

“Save me from myself” BY Tanner Knapp (USA)

Stream or buy the sngle on Distrokid.

Singer-songwriter Tanner Knapp from Pittsburgh, PA brings us the first single from his soon-to-be-released debut EP.

The single is an acoustic track with delicate touches of bass and synth pads lingering in the background, in his most minimalist single to date, with lyrics about regret and self-loathing, as evident in the title and the line:

Things that were said and done

Came back to fuck me up


The slow tempo, the gentle strumming and Tanner’s subdued voice deliver an air of resignation to an undesired outcome, of things lost and of looking back in pain, but it is evident in the little hints thrown during the song that a gleam of hope is hiding somewhere, just waiting to be found.

The song looks like a promising snippet of a very interesting EP, and I’ll definitely wait for its release.