Short Takes on 4 Songs

NickdelaHoydeNick de la Hoyde – “The Longest Way”

Nick de la Hoyde is a fresh self-starter from Sydney, Australia who’s breaking into the hip-pop world with the sleek, engaging song-rap “The Longest Way”.  Before him music career blasted off, Nick lived for four years in Barcelona, Spain training to become a soccer player.  As a way to vent his frustrations over the highs and lows of his training experiences, Nick immersed himself in listening to and creating hip-hop and pop music.  Over the past few years he’s built up a considerable fanbase of over 60K on YouTube by writing and recording his own lyrics on top of modern hits.  Nick caught the attention of hip-hop producer Lemoyne ‘LA’ Alexander who invited Nick to the U.S. to collaborate on 100% original music.

The singer-songwriter/rapper mixes his introspective lyrics with a brash hip-pop style and tops it off with sky-gliding Boy Band harmonies – an effective chart-topping cocktail if there ever was one.  “The Longest Way” was released this past fall, but has been actively climbing the U.S. pop charts.  Nick is currently realizing his musical dream and this song documents his journey.

Piano notes, an enveloping atmosphere, and Nick’s airy vocals briefly kick off the song until Nick’s first rap slowly materializes against a kinetic marching beat and cycling guitar motif.  His flow is smooth and full of rhythmic, rhyming phrases as he describes the “…emotion that I feel when I put a pen to paper / …words running through my head”.  The song achieves liftoff on the high-flying choruses, with Nick singing in a yearning, melodious tone.  He’s bolstered by piano notes, synths, and shimmering cymbals.  “The Longest Way” is a winning blend of propulsive, but non-aggressive rap and butter-smooth Boy Band croons.  And although Nick doesn’t emotionally show his exultation at where he’s at in his life, his words reveal it all: “Now I’m part of a plan that I can’t stop / that journey to the top without a pit stop / ‘cause I have it and I won’t lose…”

 

EchoSparksEcho Sparks – “End of the Line”

D.A. Valdez (vocals, guitar, drums; member of The Pontiac Brothers), C.C. Kinnick (vocals, guitar, banjo), and Cindy Ballreich (upright bass, mandolin) call Orange County, California home and the trio’s brand of revivalist Americana tunes would fit right into that area’s past musical landscape.  D.A., C.C., and Cindy craft traditional takes on the country & western (with an emphasis on western), folk, and rockabilly genres, conjuring a series of bygone eras in the process.  Their self-proclaimed “Sounds of the New Old West” is of high caliber, with D.A. and C.C. providing the bright twang of engaging male and female vocal harmonies through most of the tracks on the band’s debut album Ghost Town Girl.

Standouts include the brisk rockabilly swing of “Princess of Frenso” and “Rolling 60’s”, the low-down blues of “Torch Song”, and the piano, tambourine, and hand claps jaunt of “Shallow Water”.  The most lyrically interesting song is the storyteller “End of the Line”.  The tweeting birds, strummed guitars, a brushed beat, and C.C.’s sweet vocal delivery hide for a while the bleak nature of the story.  C.C., in the role of the protagonist, sings in a rich, vibrant tone about how she fell in love with a man, got married really young, and was “promised a love as big as the sky” from him.  But since this is a C&W ballad, it’s safe to presume that not all will end well… Turns out this man has a “silver tongue” and leaves her to start anew.  C.C. buoyantly sings about being “righteous and true” and dutifully follows after her man, only to find out that he’s with another woman.  It would be a shame to spell out the last few lines of the story/song, except to say that the stark lyrics contrasted with C.C.’s pristine vocal delivery leave quite an impression.

 

AradiaAradia – “So Long”

Seattle-based electronic/pop-rock artist Aradia is all about the DIY process.  She writes and records the music herself, designs her own costumes for performances, and creates the artwork associated with her productions.  Her album Citizen of Earth swims deep in the electro-pop/rock realm, with some songs taking on an industrial rock-like grit and others adopting slick electro-beats.  Aradia’s solo output is her latest incarnation in a career that began in New York City and continued in Los Angeles and Atlanta with collaborator Wirth Lawson as Twelfth Planet.  When that partnership came to an end, Aradia decided to break out as a solo artist.

Aradia possesses the arresting vocals and attitude of a dancefloor diva and she uses this to solid effect on Citizen of Earth.  The strongest songs are packed into the first half of the album, including the bubbling electro-blips and crisp clacking beat of “Trouble” and the club-ready track “On Fire” that revels in its thumping beat and Aradia’s commanding vocal wails.  The industrial rock of “Knock Knock” adds some heft with its distorted sonic grind, hit metal beat, and Aradia’s expressive vocals.  She even includes some piano notes in the mix.  She goes the acoustic route on “Today” with strummed guitar, a quick, clipped beat, and lighter vocals wistfully intoning “I’ve got to focus on today.”

The highlight of the album, however, appears at its end in the form of “So Long”, a seven-minute-plus song that recalls Bjork at her most delicate.  Aradia extends her words within a calm, expansive atmosphere, at times sounding exactly like Bjork due to her hesitation and suspension of phrasing in all the right places, murmuring vulnerably “Is there anyone on this frequency? / I’ve been transmitting for so long / I haven’t received any messages / could I really be alone?”  Then a clacking beat and squishy electro notes appear midway through the tune, signaling the segue into full-on songstress territory.  In a showcase of her powerful vocal range, Aradia begins to channel a low-key Mariah Carey/Taylor Dayne as she runs through layered crescendos in her longing vocal tone until there are three different tiered vocal lines supported by pulled strings swell, a dynamic beat, and little kicks of cymbals.

“So Long”

 

LizGrahamLiz Graham – “Charcoal on a Canvas”

New York-based singer-songwriter Liz Graham has over two decade’s worth of experience in the music field and she is readying her sophomore album for release this year.  Born and raised in New York state, she was attracted to poetry and music at a young age as a means to express herself and as an escape from the hardships of her life.  She was influenced by both folk and rock music, taking it upon herself to learn how to play guitar and eventually forming the band Tracking Buddha.  She decided to go solo and released her debut album in 1998.  Since that time, Liz has toured the U.S. numerous times, performing radio sessions, clubs, and music fests (including Lilith Fair). She has been featured on CMJ charts, created music for four short films, and co-wrote and provided vocals for “Daylight” from the Dreamworks film The Fifth Estate.

The first single off her upcoming album, the indie-pop/rock “Charcoal on a Canvas”, is a storytelling number that is buoyed by Liz’s vocals that evoke, at times, either Dolores O’Riordan or Natalie Merchant, especially on the verses where Liz pronounces her words with a rich, delighted, biting tone.  The song is pleasing at first, but then loses steam by the end, even though the instruments and vocals are cranked up in intensity.  Liz, in the role of protagonist, is sketching her subject with charcoal onto paper, a superficial act that leads her to want to find out more about her subject.  The question arises as to whether he wants to reveal anything about himself – or to find out anything about her…

On the low-key verse, Liz states that “We’re just a work in progress / charcoal on a canvas” against a lightly echoed, fluid guitar line, picked bass line, and upbeat tempo.  The chorus introduces the rock element, with Liz’s exclaimed vocals and short jags of electric guitar that punctuate her pronouncements.  The music is acceptable, but in service to Liz’s vocals, and doesn’t really stand out in any way.  The song pushes too hard by its end and, Liz, unfortunately, loses her delightful vocal tone that graced the earlier verses.   The chorus becomes vocally muddled as three lines are sung in a similar mid-range, unremarkable tone.  It would seem that this storytelling song would translate better in a stripped back format, with just Liz and her guitar at the mic and the focus and her voice and words.