Category Archives: Pop

Zola Jesus

zolajesustaiga1500_6Taiga by Zola Jesus (Mute Records)

Nika Roza Danilova’s Zola Jesus releases are works of a singular talent, made by someone willing to experiment with styles, textures, traditional instruments and a voice that shines through strong and has an emotional weight not heard often enough in modern music. Listening through Danilova’s back catalog of EPs and full length albums brightness shines through the dark, upbeat tempos burst out of seemingly gloomy mood music, pop songs are buried in goth/industrial trappings yet always with Danilova’s voice the prominent instrument, the ship you ride through the storm.

To ground  the music of Taiga, Danilova and her husband spent time on Vashon Island, a forest island in the Puget Sound near Seattle, only reachable by ferry.  She wrote the songs there in the peaceful, natural surroundings.  Taiga is a word that refers to Coniferous forests, the likes that cover over 1/5 of the northern hemisphere, specifically in Russia and Siberia.  Places removed from people and technology where the chatter of the modern world is replaced by the sounds of wind through the trees, the bending of branches, the chatter of birds, the melting of ice.  Danilova then took her songs and with the aid of co-producer Dean Hurley, who has worked as a sound editor and music arranger for the likes of David Lynch, crafted a collection of beautiful, mysterious and heartfelt songs.

(Photo by Jeff Elstone)

(Photo by Jeff Elstone)

Danilova also wisely couched some of the incredible songs on Taiga in the framework of modern music, mainly that of the dancefloor-ready pop songs of today.

The opening title track is our introduction: her heavenly layered voice repeating the word “taiga”, a blast of drum’n’bass, a shadowing of ominous horns.  Dangerous Days, is catchy and often light, yet has a delicious and dark undercurrent of churning and scraping synths that brings solidity to the song. Danilova sings sultry and soaring, drawing you into her world.  Dust is a torch song with horns that pepper the song, itchy electronics and a pretty breakdown at the end.  Hunger grabs you immediately with brash horns and pounding drums, Danilova growling “I got the hunger, I got the hunger in my veins/ I won’t surrender, still it takes me away” like a mantra.  Go* blends primal and earthly with heavenly and electronic elements, another cathartic chanted vocal delivery “And I say no, I say no one can stop me now/And I say no, I say no one can stop me now” that will have you wanting to follow her wherever she takes you.  While Ego does have sounds in it other than vocals, it’s Danilova’s voice that is front and center, clear and powerful, a Venus rising from the ocean.  Lawless starts up with clattering percussion and a creepy cool undertow backing soulful and searching vocals, then majestic strings join in and the song morphs into a brightly-colored butterfly.

Taiga closes with It’s Not Over, a song that combines Danilova’s love for both dark and brooding and big and bold, as she sings enigmatically about only she knows what, chanting “It’s not over tonight” at the end of the song making you believe that whatever she’s working through will have a positive outcome and she’ll be stronger for it.

The artist known as Zola Jesus is only 25 and Taiga took four years to make. Her new album reveals an intelligent and bold woman willing to bare her soul in her vocals even while her moving lyrics are pictures to be interpreted by the listener however they like.  And the music contains traditional and modern instrumentation with an ear towards the dancefloor while retaining a serious significance that will keep music fans interested and engaged for years to come.

Go was originally released in 2010 on the Valusia EP as Sea Talk.

(Review by Bret Miller)

Official Website
Video for Orbital’s New France (with Zola Jesus)


The Ocean Blue at The Troubadour

theoceanbluejl1The Ocean Blue, The Troubadour, September 9, 2014

The famous West Hollywood venue was filling in for second support band Western Lows as the trio started out quiet and midtempo, their gazy style soon picked up tempo and distortion ending their short set to guitar squalls and glorious applause.

Perhaps as a joke to the Hershey, Pennsylvania band, Nirvana blared over the speakers as the members set up their equipment.  The Ocean Blue was an antidote to all the distorted guitar angst of the “grunge” bands.  They started out their set with Mercury, one of their peppier numbers from second album Cerulean, singer/guitarist David Schelzel and bassist Bobby Mittan still boyish after all these years. Their first two albums were written and released while the members were still teens and it is on the edge of the loss of innocence that some of their best music rests.  The band followed up with the more muscular Sad Night, Where Is The Morning? from their 2013 comeback album Ultramarine and it was evident that the band still has the fire and melodic sense to write thrilling and catchy tunes.  Shelzel prepared the audience to hear some new tunes, that it wasn’t going to be a nostalgia tour, yet their music is so timeless, decades of music blended into an exciting flashback and forward to good times throughout our lives, The Ocean Blue our soundtrack.

theoceanbluejl2The title track to their second album Cerulean came next, Shelzel’s ethereal vocals were well grounded by Mittan’s muscular bass playing. From the new Waterworks re-release the band broke out previously unreleased Can’t Let Go, a song that echoes 80′s British bands pre-Brit-Pop with well-paced vocals that channeled JAMC’s Jim Reid and Ian Curtis for thrilling effect.  Released on the original Waterworks, the lush Pedestrian had a shuffling beat and dramatic and jangly guitar work from Oed Ronne.

Sublime on album is one thing, but live, Mittan and Anderson’s rhythm section really boost the energy of the song, Shelzel’s lilting vocals took us on flights of fancy, the audience singing along “sub-bu-bu-buliiime”.  On Vanity Fair, from their S/T debut the boys took the song from twee to raveup with the tempo winding up, Mittan and Anderson looking at each other to see how fast they could get. On Give it A Try the band once again displays power and focus and Mittan’s slinky bass rhythm smoldered while Ronne’s guitars sizzled and sparked.

theoceanbluejl3After the double whammy of Ballerina Out of Control and Between Something and Nothing, The Ocean Blue presented us with a previously unreleased song that Shelzel wrote in high school.  The band originally recorded it for the movie Naked In New York but the song was cut.  Now fans can find it on the Waterworks reissue.  City Traffic sounds like the singer was listening to a whole lot of Peter Weller as a teen.  The breezy and fun song  kept the audience moving even as some were leaving the venue.  The Ocean Blue finished the night with a rough version of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven, Shelzel inviting the audience to sing along. We didn’t dissapoint, raising the song to a celebration of the power of music.

The Ocean Blue in 2014 look and sound like they’re doing it for all the right reasons, without outside stress, releasing their music on their own.  The sold out Troubadour proved that the boys still have much to offer from their past accomplishments as well as their future endeavors. I’ll be at their next L.A. show!

(Review by Bret Miller –  Photos by Jack Lue)

The Ocean Blue 
Korda Records
Shelflife Records
City Traffic Video
Can’t Let Go Video




Video still taken from her new video, directed by Tim Saccenti



Nika Danilova’s voice is an elemental, powerful thing.” (Best New Music) – Pitchfork

Zola Jesus’ most profound, accessible release to date.” – BILLBOARD Magazine

A beautiful electro-pop gem, and the only thing dangerous about it is how freaking addictive it is.” – NYLON

Elegant synth-pop banger” – SPIN Magazine

Danilova has a full-on anthem on her hands with this one.” – Flavorwire

10/8 – San Francisco, CA – Bimbo’s
10/9 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey
10/16 – Chicago, IL – Thalia Hall
10/17 – Washington, DC – Hirshhorn Museum
10/19 – New York, NY – Webster Hall
Tickets available at

Zola Jesus today unleashed her new video for “Dangerous Days” directed by contemporary visionary artist Tim Saccenti who has created an awe-inspiring backdrop for this anthemic song. Saccenti explains, “The song is a pure emotional plea, a future primitive call to arms. To create a moment of light in these dark times was our hope. Eschewing a heavy narrative we let the images of the Earth, filmed in wide screen and mixed with a tense unnatural presence, wash over the viewer while Nika communicates her powerful message.” Nika describes the video making process, “Working with Tim was effortless. His creative ambition to turn the abstract into a tangible feel is a rare treasure.” The video premiered today at Watch and share the video for “Dangerous Days” here.

Zola Jesus’s TAIGA is due for release October 7th, 2014 on Mute (pre-order here:

Nika is the 25-year-old behind Zola Jesus’ creative incarnations as sole singer and songwriter. Influenced by her time in Iceland, Vermont, and British Columbia, TAIGA was written on Vashon Island, WA and conjures all these places while creating a sonic space of its own that each listener can travel to, explore, hide in, and celebrate. Nika tracked and mixed the album in Los Angeles with co-producer Dean Hurley (David Lynch, Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse).At once challenging and accessible, TAIGA is a transition for Zola Jesus. Undeniably branded with what Nika terms a “piercing ambition,” the album is best described by the artist herself: “The music on the record is massive, with big brass and beats, crystal clear vocals…It’s the most accessible music I’ve ever made, but also the most earnest and passionate. I gave everything for this record, more than ever before.”

Dangerous Days
Go (Blank Sea)
Long Way Down
It’s Not Over

10/29 – Bristol, England – Colston Hall
10/30 – Leeds, England – Belgrave Music Hall
10/31 – Glasgow, Scotland – Stereo
11/1 – Manchester, England – Manchester Cathedral – Columns
11/4 – Paris, France – Badaboum
11/5 – Strasbourg, France – La Laiterie
11/6 St Gallen, Switzerland – Palace
11/7 Geneva, Switzerland – l’Usine
11/8 – Reims, France – La Cartonnerie
11/10 – Köln, Germany – Gebäude 9
11/11 – Berlin, Germany – Berghain
11/12 – Hamburg, Germany – Uebel and Gefährlich
11/13 – Frankfurt, Germany – Zoom
11/14 – Brussels, Belgium – La Nuit Botanique
11/15 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Melkweg
11/18 – London, England – KOKO
Tickets available at

Midge Ure

midgeurefragile1Fragile by Midge Ure (Hypertension Music)

The vast and glorious career of Midge Ure features time spent in such notable bands as Visage, Ultravox and Thin Lizzy. The artist is also known for being the co-writer / producer of the Do They Know It’s Christmas? single for the Band Aid charity project with Bob Geldof in 1984.  Midge Ure also has a distinguished solo career, with Move Me being his last effort of original material released in 2001. Clearly demonstrating that all wonderful things are worth waiting for, Fragile by Midge Ure is an opulent masterwork whose sheer artistry should endear even the most hardened of music critic.

midgeure2Fragile commences with the exhilarating sounds of I Survived, a song of hope and perseverance that is wondrous to behold. Are We Connected then reverberates throughout your speakers like an exquisite dream. Let It Rise takes off into the stratosphere with its hypnotic passages – co-written by Christopher von Deylen from the electronica outfit Schiller.

The pulsating beats and vibrant vocals envelope the inspiring Become, a track that could be played all over the more adventurous radio airwaves. Star Crossed is a stunning composition, featuring breathtaking vocals rendering this poignant selection an absolute standout. Wire and Wood is a pensive instrumental showing Midge Ure at the very height of his creativity.

The onset of the haunting Dark, Dark Night then emerges, featuring the keyboards and programming of none other than special guest Moby. For All We Know conveys an explosive amount of emotions all within the realm of an ominous soundscape. Bridges is a second instrumental cut weaving an intriguing spell throughout. And then closing out the album is the tremendous title track Fragile, featuring Midge Ure’s heartfelt vocalist sweeping the listener towards a dazzling grand finale.

Fragile is a fragrant bouquet of goodness that should enrapture both ardent fans and those discovering the magic that is Midge Ure for the very first time.  Ten gorgeous tracks await all whom wish to endeavor upon the auditory journey, and it’s surely one that listeners will want to revisit time and again.

(Review by Ken Morton)

Midge Ure Official Homepage
Midge Ure on Facebook


My Cardboard Rocket

ThePositiveThe Positive & Negative by My Cardboard Rocket (Self-released EP)

Many actually were introduced to A.J. Garces last year, as he traveled across the country on the Summerfest Tour as a support guitarist for Keep It Cute . Also on the bill were such notable bands as  We The Kings, Breathe Carolina, and The Ready Set.  Now a solo project has been launched with the moniker of My Cardboard Rocket – and judging by what’s ignited on the debut EP entitled The Positive & Negative, expect Garces and his pop rocking project to shoot straight up into the stratosphere. Containing five wildly infectious tunes that will remain embedded in your head long after the music spins to its grand finale, The Positive & Negative by My Cardboard Rocket is surely on the most electrifying new releases of 2014!

ajgarces1The countdown commences with the sweet sonic perfection of The Best Team, featuring the participation of Phillip Wolf in a hip hopping cameo. The fireworks continue with the blissful refrains of Dangerous, where opposites attract with wondrously addictive results. First Shot then envelops your speakers with its vibrant chorus and exhilarating vocal performance rendering this one an absolute standout.

Gold Watch is a reflective track about attaining your dreams no matter what adversity surrounds you, featuring another hip hopping guest solo, this time none other than YouTube sensation Nathan Ryan.   And then closing out the EP way to soon is the powerhouse inflections of Last Dance, where “Oh no, we’re dying at the disco, run, run, they’re never gonna catch us” is urgently conveyed to a ultra-pulsating beat.  An extraordinary, heart pumping conclusion showing A.J. Garces at the very height of his solo artistry.

Fans of acts such as The Ready Set and Goldhouse will surely unearth an all-out favorite when jumping aboard the soundscapes of My Cardboard Rocket. Even with these comparisons, A.J. Garces clearly demonstrates his own style and flair that will surely captivate all looking to discover some exciting new songs to enjoy. Be sure to check out what the talented A.J. Garces has to offer to world at large, because My Cardboard Rocket is destined for the brightest stars and beyond.

(Review by Ken Morton)

My Cardboard Rocket on Facebook


The Downtown Fiction

losersandkings2Losers & Kings by The Downtown Fiction (Fearless Records)

This certainly seems to be the year The Downtown Fiction are slated to hit the big leagues, especially if their winning sophomore release Losers & Kings is any indication of what’s in store for this band. The best pop punk summer album since Yellowcard surfed effortlessly through the streets of Ocean Avenue, Losers & Kings by The Downtown Fiction present 12 solid tracks of wildly infectious tunes. After three EP’s and a previous full length entitled Let’s Be Animals, expect this new puppy to roar into the hearts and minds of many a music fan.

downtownfiction2014The kick-off track Some Place On Earth is pure pop perfection, a wistful track of epic proportions with a driving chorus ready to hook the listener in for even more glorious anthems ahead. Hope I Die On A Saturday Night is certainly a grim title for a track, but the melodies are so spiraling and joyous, you’ll be singing along to this one for the many days to come. Don’t Count Me Out is a song of perseverance that could be an anthem for anyone searching for that elusive dream.

Kiss My Friends recalls the power pop movement from the 80’s, brought back with an ultramodern twist – it’s the albums second single and it’s sure to ignite a frenzy when performed live. The pace is then slowed down a bit with a visit to Santa Cruz, where the gorgeous refrains of “I’ve got my skateboard, I’m never coming home” jubilantly ring through. “This one’s for the broken hearted,” the lyrics proclaim on the radiant No Generation, with its chorus jangling through your head like a wondrously rebellious dream.

Cool Kids has a Beatlesque sound that will rock and roll your world while So Called Life is filled with attitude and style set to grooving melody. Big Mistakes especially shows off Cameron Leahy’s emotional vocals combining well with the soaring melodies. Right Where We Left Off is a definitive highlight, a heartfelt acoustic ballad demonstrating another side to The Downtown Fiction sound. And then closing out Losers & Kings on an all-out rocking note is Sometimes, leaving an indelible impression with its breathtaking vibrancy.

The musicianship found within The Downtown Fiction is inspired and resourceful, featuring the talents of the aforementioned Cameron Leahy on vocals and guitar, David Pavluk on bass and vocals, Wes Dimond on guitar and vocals, and Kyle Rodgers on drums. The band has grown tremendously since their inception in 2008, and with Losers & Kings, The Downtown Fiction appear ready to transport a brilliant career in music into an uptown reality!

(Review by Ken Morton)

The Downtown Fiction on Facebook


Aaron Shanley

bedroomtapes1Bedroom Tapes: Swiss Cottage Teal Roses by Aaron Shanley (Self-released)

Although memories of acts such as The Lilac Time, Elliott Smith and even Bob Dylan come to mind, Aaron Shanley possesses his own unique visions when it comes to deeply heartfelt music. Originally based out of Ireland, Shanley has traveled to the UK and the States, gaining a good amount of fans and supporters along the way. Bedroom Tapes: Swiss Cottage Teal Roses is the latest full length from this prolific talent, a collection of demos that will surely leave a lasting impressing on all whom encounter their sweetly melancholic melodies. With a beautifully expressive voice, and the material to back it up, it won’t be long before Shanley find himself breaking through on the DIY or with the assistance of a record label.

The Bedroom Tapes start rolling with the gorgeous refrains of So Easy To Hold, a heartbreaking song whose sweeping atmospherics and wistful vocals leave a lingering impression. One of the finest songs Shanley has ever recorded, So Easy To Hold prepares the listener for the pensive tunes to follow.

aaronshanley2013Honey I made up my mind, I’m gonna get a way for a while, hit the road see what I find, and try to lose what’s left of my mind” Shanley muses on the freewheeling Trouble, featuring a banjo underscore rendering this one a standout. I Hope So, Laura then commences with its dark and cathartic strains, followed by the folksy and wondrously artistic Skyline Of Matchsticks.

Cherry Vale recalls wistful memories of a love from the past in a remote yet cozy pub. Just the titles of the next two songs Be Honest For Once and Until The Truth Falls Out let you know what you’re in for during this section of the recording – Honest with its spirited refrains and then Truth with its stark emotional delivery of just acoustic guitar and haunting vocals.

Dear No One is remote and grim, dealing with the reality of loneliness and hurt when it comes to matters of the heart. And then closing out Bedroom Tapes is a somber journey down 5th Avenue, where a resourceful musician a long way from home encounters the high life of the big city and winds up “fucked up, and thinking of you.”

For a collection of demos, Bedroom Tapes: Swiss Cottage Teal Roses by Aaron Shanley is a remarkably solid effort, showing an artist at the very height of his creative prowess. Explore the vibrant world of Aaron Shanley, and prepare to be richly rewarded by these nine exquisite tapestries. And for now, they may all be downloaded for free on Aaron Shanley’s Bandcamp Page.  Expect 2014 to be a glorious year for this massively talented singer / songwriter on the rise.

(Review by Ken Morton)

Aaron Shanley on Facebook


Call Me Anything

TheBestDamnTimeThe Best Damn Time by Call Me Anything (Self-released)

Based out of the thriving Boston music scene, Call Me Anything is destined to find their way into the big leagues, especially if the songs on their latest EP The Best Damn Time are indicative of greater glories ahead. Presenting their own brand of wildly infectious pop rock, Call Me Anything possesses the skillful knack of unleashing a tune that will remain locked in your head for ages. A band that can appeal to both pop enthusiasts as well as the Radio Disney crowd, there will be a party in your ears as you blast these five wildly appealing songs. If you miss Allstar Weekend and enjoy the melodic inflections of The Ready Set, then it’s time to give a shout out to Call Me Anything – your next favorite band on the rise.

The Best Damn Time kicks off with the breezy inflections of Down Below, instantly hooking the listener with its dazzling hooks and freewheeling lyrics. Let’s Try This Again then bounds at you with its cautious optimism and lighthearted dance beats.

Good Thing begins with carefree whistling and a toe tapping rhythm that segues into the most wondrous of choruses. This track is destined toland deep within the collective hearts of pop aficionados all across the nation. Our City pulsates with its piano underscore and soulful vocals, rendering this one a standout. And then closing out the celebration was too song is a sweet sonic ride on the Dream Car, whose “take me away, don’t be afraid” and “follow all the things you love” refrains will leave a lasting impression.

If Call Me Anything were on a major label, they would be all over the radio and television airwaves, making all kinds of fans with their lively songs. The charismatic band may find themselves in DIY mode at present, but don’t expect that status to be one of permanence. The resourceful Call Me Anything line up consists of Will Tenney, Matt Mcnulty, and Dylan Ronan, a trio of talent merging together to create nothing short of pure pop perfection.

(Review by Ken Morton)

Call Me Anything on Facebook



Placebo-Loud-Like-LoveLoud Like Love by Placebo (Universal Music)

Loud Like Love doesn’t deviate much from Placebo’s sound. The sound that they have is known for its post-punk influences shifted and mixed hard through a late 90s alternative filtered guitar. This sound is still great from a band over a decade old and is at the same time being in the moment. The formula remains to still grow on you and envelope you effectively.

The formula remains the foundation of thrashing strums and thumping bass lines gently powering the songs, accented by various screams, piano jitters, and other intricate marks, all of which are in line with Molko’s distinctive voice.

With glistening melodies that be discovered throughout Loud Like Love, Molko’s vocals inject his own brand of self impression. These poetry look stimulating on paper, and yet they are isolated and thoughtful in regards to the universal topic of love. So beware that this CD deals specifically in the helms of emotional broad strokes of love, heartbreak, lust and also the darker feelings of desolation are found on here too.

But it is in Placebo’s lead vocalist/writer Molko’s, delivery that these universal ideals of high school heartache find success. Molko’s lyrics are a true self form of one’s own convenience for release. However listen close and you find yourself releasing at times are these emotions that you are dealing with as well are the same. They are well-crafted rock songs, and that makes all the difference.

The song Too Many Friends reflects its self and its a true example of their great lyrical abilities. This my favorite track on the CD. With the other cuts this CD makes one’s life spans fall more comfortably into the popular rock spectrum.

(Review by Jonathan D. Wright)

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Joel Tock

joeltockep1Train Of Thought EP by Joel Tock (Self-released)

Joel Tock is a multi-talented singer / songwriter / producer from Wisconsin who has been pretty active over the last couple of years. He spent time on the road as the drummer for Stephen Jerzak, which included a long hot summer traveling across the country on the Vans Warped Tour in 2011. Tock’s other band credits past and present include We Follow One and Lights Out Dancing as well as an interesting techno project called Reboot The Robot. Back on 2009, a debut solo effort entitled Relax! It’s A New Day was issued. And now it’s full speed ahead, as Joel Tock has returned with an exhilarating self-released EP entitled Train Of Thought. The three songs contained within are bound to gain the musician a good deal of attention.

The EP commences with the super infectious title cut Train Of Thought, instantly demonstrating Tock’s wonderful versatility. Featuring a timeless rock melody that will jangle in your head for ages, this selection has hit single potential written all over it.

I’ve got to learn how to sit back and enjoy the ride,” Tock sings on the wistful Sooner Than Later, a reflective song that soars into the stratosphere. Filled with emotion and conviction, this track shows how effective Joel Tock is when it comes to a rock ballad.

Dive is an explosive track, featuring powerhouse vocals and catchy hooks rendering this one a standout. Although Train Of Thought only features three songs in all, the effort is tremendously solid, displaying a passion and vibrancy that should appeal to both indie music fans and finicky industry types. So be sure to hop on board the Train Of Thought, and ride full speed ahead with the rousing tunes of Joel Tock.   Recommended for fans of Mayday Parade and The Maine.  It will be exciting to see what the future has in store for the ubiquitous Mr. Tock.

(Review by Ken Morton)

Joel Tock on Facebook