bright eyes – one and done [single review]

Bright Eyes continue the exploration of mortality through the conduit of spaced-out balladry on latest single One and Done. The instrumentation on this track ranks alongside Bright Eyes’ very best. String and horn sections arranged by Nate Walcott add a cinematic element which sits as an ideal backdrop to Conor Oberst’s cryptic lyrical vignettes.

The track opens with a disembodied voice announcing that he was just “dreaming of you”.  The dystopian images of famine, societal breakdown and old friends in low places suggest that Oberst may have eaten too much cheese before bedtime, however. The feeling of a dream is cemented by the influences drawn from Bright Eyes back catalogue. One and Done could’ve slotted in nicely on 2004’s Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. The orchestral arrangement is reminiscent of Cassadega era Bright Eyes. The echoed drums subtly nod to Approximate Sunlight from their last outing, The Peoples’ Key.

Once again, Flea is on bass duties, provided a subtle, yet funky foundation which keeps the track bouncing along throughout the chorus and instrumental breaks. The verses exist as a dirge, with Oberst listing terrifying news almost as casually as society has come to accept it. This building tension is released with an upbeat chorus, with backing vocals by Miwi La Lupa adding texture to the brighter sound. A stirring orchestral break gradually leads to a crescendo of strings and drum rolls which sounds truly epic. Without disregarding the quality of the previous two singles, One and Done seems like an obvious choice for a lead single.

Just like those preceding singles, Persona Non Grata and Forced Convalescence, One and Done zeroes in on mortality and loss. The lyrics here deal with acceptance of the fact:

“This room seems even smaller now than I remember it
Hung mirrors on the walls and the ceiling
There’s no disguising it
There’s no denying it
This little box fits everything there is”

Obersts scoffs at the “masochists all celebrating love”at a wedding, ponders the paradoxical infinity of “fleeting moments” and seems to question if he’s too fixated on how it’s all going to end —

“I’ve seen the sparkle of the diamonds on the watch of the emcee
It’s not keeping time, just shining”

For now, Oberst, Walcott and Mogis’ comeback continues to shine.


earl sweatshirt – WHOLE WORLD feat maxo (prod Alchemist) track review

Following a double whammy of divisive releases in the form of 2018’s Some Rap Songs and 2019’s increasingly experimental Feet Of Clay, Thebe Neruda Kgositsile AKA Earl Sweatshirt is back.

The Alchemist is on production duties on WHOLE WORLD. This isn’t the first time he’s worked with Earl. E. Coli and Wind In My Sails are familiar to Earl fans as treasured deep cuts, as well as his more recent work on 2019’s MTOMB. The surprise appearance here is Maxo’s understated verse, which suits the tone of The Alchemist’s drugged-out bass-heavy beat. The track slithers along like a snake trying to eat its own tail, only to be resolved by the next bar. Earl is defying expectations here by minimising his sound, perhaps to the delight of critics of Feet of Clay. As he rapped on Azucar, Sweatshirt “shook tradition, did it (my) way”, and it’s worked out – WHOLE WORLD is a home run.

How much shrapnel can your soul take?” Earl ponders, as he floats with effortless mastery over the beat. The two rapper’s verses are punctuated by Maxo’s prophetic refrain:

“Got the, whole world round me
Whole world round me crumblin’”


frank ocean – dear april [acoustic] review

Frank Ocean returns to his roots as a storytelling balladeer on synth-driven track Dear April.

With a croon reminiscent of his Moon River cover, Ocean crafts a romantic tale of two“strangers and their two strange lives”. As Moon River arrived on Valentine’s Day 2018 as a pleasant surprise for lovers and broken-hearted alike, Dear April speaks, unintentionally, to the circumstances surrounding the timing of its release.

An ethereal guitar progression meanders through Oceans unedited vocals, almost disassociative in nature.  Inter-dimensionally pitched-up vocals cut through the tranquil mix to add dynamic variety and colour to the sound palette in the latter part of the track. Patters of keys place the listener in a dream-like state.

Ocean leaves us with an inspiring message of determination fitting for April in 2020, the year of hindsight:

“What we had can’t be the same now /You will make something/That will take you through/And wake you up again/Just like you made me new.”

bright eyes – persona non grata review

It’s hard to know what to expect from a band which hasn’t released music in almost a decade, but Persona Non Grata ticks all the boxes, paying homage to the classic Bright Eyes sound, infused with elements of Oberst’s more sleekly produced solo projects.

“I’m the last of the best”, Oberst boldly declares, and given the strength of his vocal delivery, he sounds sure of it. The next line “I’m your thoughts in the swamp” couldn’t feel more appropriate in these panic-stricken times. Oberst’s lyrics form a collage of personal experience, religious imagery and social commentary. The band follow ramping melodic tension with the welcome release of a stripped-back, Cohensque chorus – a moody unease resolves to blissfulness and serves as a welcome reminder of the escapism found in music and storytelling.

Punctuated by blasts of bagpipes  between verses, the track feels like an anthem rather than a bad cover version of past glory. The beginning has Oberst getting dressed for a date accompanied by Ruminations piano, he “(wears) a kilt like a Celt” and hides his feelings, but the entry of arpeggiated acoustic guitar and drums reintroduce us to Fever and Mirrors-era Bright Eyes with a more mature, confident vocalist. One who you believe when he insists “going to scream when I sing/going to die in the ring”.

When Oberst states “You want to be true to me, once again/and you want me to be true to you, once again” and asks “Oh how can we reconcile?”, his voice shakes with exasperation. The cult following Bright Eyes have garnered could surely suggest a happy compromise at a time when the emotional resonance Bright Eyes provide is more crucial than ever.


frank ocean – cayendo acoustic review

A few days ago the infamously reclusive Frank Ocean provided fans two new 7″ inch singles, Cayendo and Dear April, with accompanying remixes from Sango and Justice respectively.

On the acoustic track Cayendo, an intimate recording inescapably places you in the room with Ocean. The track is so raw that you can catch snippets of metronome. We can even hear what sounds like Frank tapping his leg in preparation for hitting the higher notes, a trait he’s been noted for during his rare live performances.

On Cayendo, the high notes are carefully placed dynamically to touch the soul of the listener in a way that very few vocalists today are capable of. The choice of arrangement consisting of sparse rhythmic guitar leaves the listener unprepared for Ocean’s shift into the higher register for the songs final verse. Ocean’s voice glides before soaring to it’s peak of emotive tenderness. This is realised by the presence of slight cracks in the vocal line, as well as doubled up vocals.

Cayendo reads as a matter of fact rendering of the conflicts we experience in the search for love. In Andalusian-accented Spanish, rumoured to be inspired by his friendship with Rosalia, Ocean tells a brief tale of a lover who has given him the cold shoulder. He concludes that this situation is not something that will break his spirit, but ends the verse with doubt: asking if he truly possesses the strength required, why does he feel as if he is falling? “Si puedo soportar lo que siento, ¿por qué me ‘toy cayendo?”

The battle with his dual emotional state is laid bare in the chorus, where Frank switches to English. “You know too much, I can’t be proud/I still really love you, yes I do” he croons in a manner befitting a whispered conversation.

This  could effort could have slid comfortably into Ocean’s 2016 album Endless, which featured other ballads such as Higgs and Wither. Cayendo, however, is arguably Oceans most revealing track yet. The sense of peace emanating from the dulcet vocals and guitar in conflict with lyrics filled with a combination of self-awareness and self doubt feels like a message in itself. Life is complicated. Love is complicated. We can still choose to dance in the rain, love passionately and appreciate the beauty in individual people, in spite of their shortcomings, and our own.


What are your favourite quotes?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the timelessness of the written word. I’m going to share a few of my favourite quotes here — I hope you enjoy! If you feel the urge, respond to this post with some of your favourites. 🙂


“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde


“I’d rather have a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy.” – Dorothy Parker (Famously repeated by Tom Waits)


“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt


“The thing men and women need to do is stick together, progressions can’t be made if we’re separate forever.” – Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest)


“Today a young man on acid realised that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves.” – Bill Hicks


“Why pamper life’s complexities when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?” – Morrissey (from The Smith’s ‘This Charming Man’)


“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.” – Alan Watts


“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognise: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

notes from the bench

what i pine to see
is more neo-soul
fewer neo-nazis
more humanists with
arms flung open wide
embracing those in need of shelter
like my ancestral brethren
i want to see them settled in…
“your own back yard”

what i yearn to see:
a future in which
family planning
is not
a moral issue
a future
where cities
are not
swallowed by the sea

is it too much to ask to salvage
what we still have left of this?
coffin-dodgers miss the point,
you won’t be here to witness it.

Instant Sound Therapy — Marconi Union’s ‘Weightless’

It appears to be a form of universal intuition that sound can deeply affect our physiological and emotional states. We see this in the meditative trance state induced by the chants of Buddhist monks. One could claim that far removed from spiritual practice, we can hear that one tune dropped in the club which instantly fills up the dance-floor and forces you to jack your body — although I would say the presence or lack of spirituality here is up for debate. The takeaway is that music is a universal language understood by all. Consider the tired mother singing her baby a lullaby or the high pitched whistle inserted by John Lennon to irritate dogs at the end of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ – this effect of sound even extends from young to old and even beyond humans as a species. In my own experience I’ve always found a particular piece of music to find solace in while navigating the choppier waters of this life.

One group decided to take this idea to it’s logical extreme – and so it is my pleasure to introduce Marconi Union – a three-piece electronic outfit from Manchester, England. They decided to create music that could confirm our intuition and vindicate the knowledge already attained by experts in the field of sound healing. This desire manifested itself in the group’s 2011 track ‘Weightless’, created in collaboration with the British Academy of Sound Therapy.


weightless o

Listen to Weightless here. 🙂

When you first listen to ‘Weightless’, you may become conscious of an instant change in your mental and physiological state. This is no coincidence but a premeditated scientifically studied sum of causes. ‘Weightless’ is the result of a set of carefully composed rhythmic structures, non-repeating melody and field recordings engineered to create a lush, sprawling 8-minute musical voyage.

This thoughtful composition has been shown to slow the listener’s heart rate, reduce blood pressure and even lower our levels of cortisol (commonly referred to as the ‘stress hormone’). Leading expert Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International, the institution which carried out the research, came to the conclusion that listening to ‘Weightless’ could reduce anxiety by up to 65%, in addition to a 35% reduction in the test subjects’ standard physiological resting rates.

When we hear chart hits, being able to predict the next note of a track is the rule rather than the exception. This creates engaging hooks that lodge in our brains and keep you up at night as ‘Baby Shark’ plays on repeat, having infiltrated your very psyche. A quick tip for those suffering from an endlessly looping track in their end is to listen to the song right through to the end… and voila, the glitch in your brain can be fixed: your life is no longer buffering.

You see: our brains are essentially lazy. Our mind is constantly looking for shortcuts and will eventually drift off when we can no longer predict what is coming next in a musical piece. Like the rain following the plough, our bodies react in accordance. Rhythms compel us to act: sometimes the physical urge will give way to the mental and vice-versa, but it stems from our mind’s interpretation of sound. Psychedelic pioneers Funkadelic hit the nail on the head all the way back in 1970 when they urged listeners to “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. So when study participants were listening to tracks such as Weightless, they were instructed to complete puzzles which would increase stress levels. The participants were connected to sensors to allow for measurement of stress indicators, and were played different compositions. ‘Weightless’ emerged as the clear winner — a testament to the power of sound and its mysterious ability to change our state of consciousness.

If you enjoyed this piece, I would recommend listening to Kelly Lee Owen’s eponymous debut LP. Kelly Lee Owen’s relaxed electronica draws from her own time spent working in a lung cancer ward — and her subsequent realisation of the healing power of music. If you do listen to ‘Weightless’, I would love to hear your thoughts! Read more about KLO here, and don’t forget support the artists! 😉