Coronavirus: Musicians Speak Out (Episode 1)

Coronavirus is everywhere. It’s impossible to go on social media without running into death tolls, photographs of overflowing hospitals, or at the very least, a meme. We all know that things aren’t ideal for anyone right now, but some industries are faring worse than others, the music industry being one of the most challenged so far.

Without performances, merchandise sales, and an active fan base, musicians have nothing. Thanks to the impacts of crucial social distancing measures, the music industry is plummeting into a hole it may not be able to scrabble back out of for a long time. But what about local musicians? What happens when they can’t perform or pay their bills?

I’ve gathered some of my site’s favorite artists to talk about the impact of current events on their careers and creativity over my next few posts. Want to know how your favorites are faring, or what you can do to help? Read on!

Responses have been edited for grammar, length, and clarity.

Bishop LaVey

“What we need is for musicians to come together and help each other, because Spotify, Apple and Amazon Music certainly won’t.”

A Doom Folk pioneer out of Vermont, Kane Sweeney is the mastermind behind “Bishop LaVey,” a project originally meant to be just one concept album, but that blossomed into a persona all its own. I previously reviewed Kane’s 2019 release, I am the Atom

Kane played out close to thirty five times in 2019, but Coronavirus put a hold on his plans for 2020. “I was planning on playing one to two shows a month, almost primarily in Burlington and the northeast this year. But alas, COVID19 dawned. Years ago, if I wasn’t getting enough hours at wherever I was working (My real-person job is Sous Chef at a restaurant in Stowe, VT), I would play as many shows as possible to make up for the lost wages. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for this to happen when you make your primary income off of music, especially in the age of Spotify with virtually no payment for listens online.

Luckily, there are those of us who want to keep the gears turning in some way or another. Jim Lockridge at Big Heavy World is really pushing. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I announced that I was going to be live streaming a show, he broadcast it on 105.9. Now, along with some other musicians, we’re hosting one hour slots on the radio station playing our music every week. Another Vermont musician, Thomas Gunn, also hosted a live stream festival to raise money for the food bank that featured a ton of local artists and raised like $4,000! I found myself lucky to be a part of it.

I’ve seen artists all over my social media feed hosting live streams. I think everyone thought at the beginning that live streams would replace shows, but I don’t think I’ve heard anyone have that experience thus far. I think one of the major problems, at least here in Vermont, is that almost 40% of us were laid off. The people who would be going to shows and spending money on merch or donations have to look out for themselves.

The state of affairs for musicians everywhere right now is dire. What we need is for musicians to come together and help each other, because Spotify, Apple, and Amazon Music certainly won’t.”

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Sodada

“It’s important to slow down and feel what you need to feel.”

Sodada is an Art Rock/Future Soul project created by Andy Casella and Hannah Rose. Based in Western, Massachusetts, Sodada released their self-produced and recorded debut LP, “Phase,” in 2019, and I had the pleasure of reviewing it!

As for 2020, Sodada admits that “It’s been tough to see how many of our friends and fellow musicians/artists/freelancers have suddenly found themselves without income. While we don’t rely entirely on gigs for work, we do work in the music and service industries, which have also been heavily affected. While we search for the silver lining, being forced to be home has given us a lot of time and space to write and create constantly! It’s also been a good lesson in how it’s okay to not be productive all the time—it’s important to slow down and feel what you need to feel. Sending love out to everyone, and hope y’all stay healthy.”

You can help Sodada by purchasing merch (Isn’t that Cycles pattern sick?!) and listening to their music.

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The Cold Year

“Music is the thing that is helping me fight off the quarantine blues.”

Hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah, The Cold Year is a self-proclaimed bastard jazz trio “with [a] heavy garage rock foundation [that] is made unique with the addition of gypsy jazz inspired instrumentation” and a DIY attitude. Matt Skaggs (Guitar and Vocals), Mitch Shepherd (bass), and Josh Cannon (drums) released their latest record, Prey for Me, in October 2019.

The Cold Year says that “this period of time has been especially tough for us since we’re a band that thrives off of live performances and the theatricality that comes with them. Putting more than 40 hours a week into sending emails, booking tours, sending our EPK out for press, organizing social media posts, and more all came crashing down in a matter of a few days. Now, more than twelve gigs that we had spent hours working on are all cancelled/postponed with no end in sight.”

Lead singer and guitarist, Matt Skaggs says that he lost hope at first. “I had nothing new to work towards, and playing guitar and writing lyrics didn’t sound like fun anymore. As a natural extrovert, this period is immensely hard. It was very easy to sink into the daily grind of wake up, work from home, smoke weed, eat like garbage. I was waking up every morning asking myself why I felt so awful.

But in that darkest period, I decided to force myself to try something new. So, to keep the spark alive, I downloaded a DAW and started trying to produce music that isn’t our usual genre in an effort to better myself and hopefully learn some new things. It’s helped me pull myself from the depths of depression. It has actually been very rewarding and often hilarious. Music is the thing that is helping me fight off the quarantine blues.”

The Cold Year has a simple request for fans and fellow musicians. “All we ask is for our friends to stream/share our tunes on Spotify, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Youtube, and Soundcloud, all of which can be found on our website.

We also ask that you support your local artist community (not just musicians) by buying a print, commission, song, album, t-shirt, or just tossing an artist you admire a share, shout-out, or some kind words. It may sound like such an insignificant thing to do, but words of encouragement always brighten our day. I’m sure every other artist feels the same way.”

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All Fame on Fire’s Cover Videos, Ranked

Covers can be a great way for artists to get their name out into the world, and many bands are taking advantage of this exposure on YouTube. After ranking all of Our Last Night’s cover videos, I decided to make the post into a series to highlight a bunch of bands doing their best in the cover world! This post’s featured band is Fame on Fire, a band that formed in 2013. What started out as a solo drum project soon blew up as more members were added and the group’s cover of “Hello” by Adele hit one million views in less than a month. A band that essentially found their footing because of cover songs, Fame on Fire is a living example of their power.

My rankings were based on overall sound, how a cover improves upon the original track,  song selection, style, and just general gut feelings. I used my discretion about which covers to include, and in this case, mashups or videos that aren’t on the official Fame on Fire YouTube profile do not count. Without further ado, in order from worst to best, here’s my definitive ranking of Fame on Fire’s cover videos….

33. “I Love It” by Kanye West & Lil Pump

32. “Want to Want Me” by Jason Derulo

31. “Sugar” by Maroon 5

30. “Yummy” by Justin Bieber

29. “Gucci Gang” by Lil Pump

28. “Ransom” by Lil Tecca

27. “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” by Panic! at the Disco

26. “Congratulations” by Post Malone

25. “Unconditionally” (Acoustic) by Katy Perry

24. “XO TOUR Llif3” by Lil Uzi Vert

23. “The Hills” by The Weeknd

22. “God’s Plan” by Drake

21. “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd

20. “Lucid Dreams” by Juice WRLD

19. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake

18. “In My Feelings” by Drake

17. “SAD!” by XXXTentacion

16. “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars

15. “Nightmare” by Miley Cyrus

14. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

13. “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran

12. “Hello Friday” by Flo Rida

11. “Without Me” by Halsey

10. “All the Small Things” by Blink-182

9. “Heavy” by Linkin Park

8. “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X

7. “Side to Side” by Ariana Grande

6. “Hello” by Adele

5. “Numb” by Linkin Park

4.”Rise” by Katy Perry

3. “Ready for It?” by Taylor Swift

2. “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Chainsmokers

1.”Happier” by Marshmello

 

Want more rankings? Check out the other videos in my cover rankings series below!

All Our Last Night’s Cover Videos, Ranked
All Twenty One Two’s Cover Videos, Ranked

Really into covers? Not sure about them? I’ve put three cover songs up against their originals for comparison below!

Can Covers Compare? An Analysis of Three Cover Songs

All Twenty One Two’s Cover Videos, Ranked

Covers can be a great way for artists to get their name out into the world, and many bands are taking advantage of this exposure on YouTube. After ranking all of Our Last Night’s cover videos, I decided to make the post into a series to highlight a bunch of bands doing their best in the cover world! This post’s featured band is Twenty One Two, a band made up of “One drummer and one singer” with a lot of talent.

My rankings were based on overall sound, how a cover improves upon the original track,  song selection, style, and just general gut feelings. I used my discretion about which covers to include, and in this case, mashups do not count. Without further ado, in order from best to worst, here’s my definitive ranking of Twenty One Two’s cover videos….

  1. “Talking Body” by Tove Lo

  2. “The Hills” by The Weeknd

  3. “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers

  4. “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish

  5. “Wonderland” by Taylor Swift

  6. “Svart Bil” by Miriam Bryant

  7. “Royals” by Lorde

  8. “Wonderwall” by Oasis

  9. “Geronimo” by Sheppard

  10. “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon

  11. “FourFiveSeconds” by Rihanna, Kanye West, & Paul McCartney

  12. “7 Years” by Lukas Graham

  13. “The Days” by Avicii

  14. “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry

  15. “I Don’t Care” by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber

  16. “Without You” by Avicii

  17. “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi

  18. “Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift

  19. “Pillowtalk” by Zayn Malik

  20. “Rather Be” by Clean Bandit

  21. “IDGAF” by Dua Lipa

  22. “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran

  23. “Malibu” by Miley Cyrus

  24. “Cool Kids” by Echosmith

  25. “Heart Out” by The 1975

  26. “Wolves” by Selena Gomez and Marshmello

  27. “Scared to Be Lonely” by Martin Garrix and Dua Lipa

  28. “Perfect Strangers” by Jonas Blue

  29. “Golden” by Harry Styles

  30. “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles

  31. “Lose You to Love Me” by Selena Gomez

  32. “Drag Me Down” by One Direction

  33. “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors

  34. “Tear in My Heart” by Twenty One Pilots

  35. “Stay the Night” by Zedd

  36. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper

  37. “Me!” by Taylor Swift

  38. “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift

  39. “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran

  40. “Sorry” by Justin Bieber

  41. “Adore You” by Harry Styles

  42. “Paris” by The Chainsmokers

  43. “My My My!” by Troye Sivan

  44. “Sing” by Ed Sheeran

  45. “Young, Dumb, & Broke” by Khalid

  46. “Find You” by Zedd

  47. “Chandelier” by Sia

  48. “Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson

  49. “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding

  50. “Never Really Over” by Katy Perry

  51. “In My Feelings” by Drake

  52. “I’m Not Angry Anymore” by Paramore

  53. “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith

  54. “Tennis Court” by Lorde

  55. “Perfect” by One Direction

  56. “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift

  57. “Falling” by Harry Styles

  58. “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus

  59. “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber

  60. “Rude” by MAGIC!

  61. “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift

  62. “Problem” by Ariana Grande

  63. “Comeback” by Ella Eyre

  64. “Last Christmas” by Wham!

  65. “Pompeii” by Bastille

  66. “Stay” by Rihanna

  67. “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic

  68. “Roar” by Katy Perry

 

Want more rankings? Check out the other videos in my cover rankings series below!

All Our Last Night’s Cover Videos, Ranked

Really into covers? Not sure about them? I’ve put three cover songs up against their originals for comparison below!

Can Covers Compare? An Analysis of Three Cover Songs

Moana A’s “Wild Card” is Your New Women’s History Month Anthem

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[Moana A’s artwork for “Wild Card.” Photograph by Sarah Lleon]
For those of you who follow along with my Wednesday features on Instagram, Moana A will be a familiar face from March 4th, 2020!

Moana A grew up on a sailboat in the Caribbean, but is now a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter who also stars in the hit YouTube show, Badanamu, among her other impressive projects. Her first album, “Dotted,” was produced thanks to an IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign in 2013, and was followed by an endorsement by Daisy Rock Guitars. Since then, Moana has regularly toured the world, making stops in Abu Dhabi, Indonesia, India, the Mediterranean region, the Caribbean, and all over the United States.

You might know Moana from her cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” which I featured on Instagram, but she also has an array of other impressive originals that shouldn’t be overlooked, many with similar feminist messages.

One of her other recent releases, titled “Wild Card,” is meant to assert Moana’s position as an artist who doesn’t feel the need to fit the mold, but also show other women that they don’t need permission to be who they are. The track sees Moana A joining forces with LAIN, a Los Angeles-based writer and producer originally from Mexico City who has worked with Mayssa Karaa (Grammy-nominated singer / Sony Classical), Fato (Pepe Aguilar, Alejandro Fernández), Carlos Castro (Selena Gomez), Roxanne Seeman (Earth, Wind & Fire, Barbra Streisand), Dalton Diehl (Aaron Cole), and RIVVRS (Primary Wave) in the past.

Thanks to their combined talents, Moana A and LAIN have created a modern western female empowerment song for the ages.

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[Moana A posing in a beautiful blue dress. Photograph by Vince Trupsin.]
“Wild Card” is a confident, catchy track that will be fresh yet familiar for fans of musicians like Kelly Clarkson, Marley Wildthing, and Chenoa Summers. Its anthemic, easy-to-sing-along-to choruses and dramatic instrumentals follow the twists and curves of the track, forming an overall dynamic, well thought out song. The lyrics are more than just pretty words, emphasizing Moana A’s goal of showing women they should be apologetically themselves from the first measure: “I won’t close my mouth, my eyes, my heart / I’m a lady but that’s not all / Not on display, I’m a doll / I am loud, boy / I’m a scandal.” “Wild Card’s” underlying western aesthetic makes it easy to picture a strong, independent cowgirl striding confidently through the swinging doors of a modern-day saloon, metaphorical gun drawn and ready to face the world.

Moana A’s “Wild Card” is the perfect song to listen to throughout Women’s History Month, or whenever you need a reminder that nobody else dictates your life.

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[Moana A singing live. Photograph by Claudine Avventi]
Connect with Moana A:

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Website

***Like the majority of my reviews, a submission fee was charged for this post.***

You’ll Need a Parent or Guardian Present to Listen to Pastel Dynasty’s Latest Album…

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[Pastel Dynasty is back with a new album in 2020!]
Remember the band with the paper mache doll mascot? Well, Pastel Dynasty is back with a new album, Parental Advisory, that isn’t quite child’s play.

According to Pastel Dynasty, they were “in a rapid progressive state of experimentalism balanced with key uses of dynamic inference when writing this album,” resulting in a listening experience that pushes the boundaries for fans, opening a forum for discussion. Besides experimenting with samples and sound, Pastel Dynasty also aimed to make songs with meanings that are up for interpretation.

“-Glass Breaks-” is the first track of the album, and its lyrics set a very poetic tone for the songs to come. Backed by experimental, aggressive instrumentals and delivered with complementary phrasing, the lyrics emote freely: “I sent you off with a whisper / Into depths unknown / Ramblings of a blind man / Lost and all alone / No one, no one can see / The wicked things you have done / Come and show me a mirror / And the things I see / And what they mean / Will chill me to the bone.” The flowing rhythms created by the track’s diction and syntax work well with the instrumentals’ aesthetics and intensity, creating a strong start for Parental Advisory. 

The instrumental intro to “Now You’re Feelin’ on Me” has a frantic, ragged edge. Echoed by its chaotic, half-rhyming vocal cadence (“Fuses / Bursting / Dying / Waking / Walking / Flying / Burning / Frying /  There’s no dreaming / Where you’re falling / Here for Cleaning  / Cause’ it’s my calling”), the track’s instrumentals definitely generate a feeling of feverish energy that drive the track through its 3:55 running time at the speed of sound, never quite letting up. Still, there are shifts within its energy, ensuring there’s always depth and movement within every measure.

“Falling Outta Place in2 Outta Space” has a very outer-space aesthetic that suits its title. Very experimental in its beats and almost spoken-word in its lyrical delivery, the track definitely isn’t my favorite. For me, its aggressiveness is a bit too much, but for fans of Pastel Dynasty’s more exploratory-styled songs, it will be a favorite. Although a lot of it doesn’t suit my personal taste, the bassline that is highlighted intermittently throughout the track does shine a light on the facets of Pastel Dynasty’s music that I tend to gravitate to more.

“I Did It” continues the experimental influences that are smattered through Pastel Dynasty’s latest album. Heavy-hitting spoken vocals emphasize the track’s chugging rhythm and empty spaces, while varied electronic rhythms flow around each vocal note. One of the longest tracks with a 5:09 running time, “I Did It” ensures that  it keeps listeners’ interest with its diversified attitudes and aesthetics.

“Samael” brings more of Pastel Dynasty’s instrumental-based, rock influences to the forefront, which I am always a fan of. Mottled guitar tones and spacey, light vocals introduce the track, mirroring the dreamy-yet-dark aesthetic of the lyrics: “Pirouette inside a silhouette / I will find you, yet I feel so far away / Coldly I wander every hall you’ve ever walked in me / In this poison / Dripping from an angel’s wings; this poison / Samael is waiting for you here again / With open arms and eyes to take your innocence from you.” Out of all the tracks on Parental Advisory, “Samael” is the one that I could see myself listening to the most on my own time.

“Fake Apes” will definitely be controversial thanks to some of the expletives used in its lyrics. While I am generally accepting of a well-placed curse here or there in a track, I was not a fan of the words used in “Fake Apes” at all. Unfortunately, the use of these words took away my enjoyment of the rest of the track, as extraneous expletives, especially those of this type, tend to do for me when I listen to music.

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[Pastel Dynasty’s latest album is all about letting their audience have a forum for discussion.]
“Happy Happyism” is much more my speed. Although still incorporating the cool techno influences Pastel Dynasty does well, the track is also more relaxed at the start, with sweeping instrumentals and warbling melodies instead of vocals. Well-mixed and well-placed in the album’s order, “Happy Happysim” serves as a refresher for the ear before transitioning almost seamlessly into the next track.

The empty spaces between the notes of “D!rt” say just as much as those that are filled. The instrumentals are dynamic and interesting, making them impossible to ignore, even if trying to focus on the lyrics. In other words: This track is seamless as one whole piece despite all the components working independently within it. This allows its intensity to really escalate, especially as the lyrics become more and more passionate and repetitive: “Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do, die / Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do, lie / Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do, cry….” The de-escalation at the end of the track puts a firm hold on the tracks intensity, bringing our hurtling to a slow chug and finally, a stop, before the next song can begin.

“N-E-W-S” also utilizes the spaces between notes well, albeit in a more subdued manner. Smooth vocals crash over the instrumentals in waves, leaving listeners with a stunted, musically interesting experience. Obviously well thought-out in its construction, “N-E-W-S” is dynamic and ever-changing, both instrumentally and lyrically. The delivery of each line comes as a surprise, creating the right amount of rub to keep things interesting through the entirety of the song’s 3:16 running time.

“There, There” begins with electronic instrumentals galore. Chaotic and full of energy, they lead us into dark, silky vocals that soon also erupt into mayhem. While certainly not something I can handle listening to more than a few times for its utter intensity, “There, There” suits Pastel Dynasty’s style and the elements of their latest album well, especially when put at this point in the album’s order.

“Hyperage” is haunting and gritty in instrumentals and lyrics. Although the rap-style segments within its verses aren’t my favorite, I do appreciate the stretching and building of tensions throughout the track as well as the obviously skilled lyricism in the introductory verses: “On your feet / Run through the catacombs / Feel around the unknown / Flirt with fear / And never grow / That youthful shine / This is it / Hyperage / Acquit / Grow old / Dust on the ground / Crumble / Gone without a sound / Or a mumble / As we fall through time.” Creating an intriguing mental picture through imagery, these lines truly stood out to me, even after listening to the track multiple times.

“Meanwhile” is another instrumental track, but that’s where its similarities with “Happy Happyism” end. Dark and jazzy, “Meanwhile” is an adventure all in itself with plenty of dips, turns, and dynamics that make the absence of lyrics inconsequential—or in my opinion, welcome. There are some tracks that just speak for themselves, and artists too often feel the need to muffle their impact with lyrics. Pastel Dynasty did right in making this an instrumental, and it is easily my favorite track of Parental Advisory overall thanks to its gritty, yet effortlessly full aesthetic.

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[You can catch Pastel Dynasty at their upcoming shows on March 14, May 24, and in October on their West Coast Tour.]
“I Don’t Like Music” is another of Pastel Dynasty’s edgier tracks. With more language that I don’t feel is necessary—and that I definitely can’t approve of—it definitely is another song from Parental Advisory that wasn’t meant for an audience like me. That being said, the rhythms and beats of the track are interesting, as are the pictures created by the lyrics’ imagery.

“Home” is quintessentially Pastel Dynasty: Waves of smooth vocals backed by well-mixed electronic and instrumental tracks create an undeniable tension throughout the track, putting listeners on the edge of their seats for the entirety of the song’s running time. Aggressive in a more subdued way than other tracks of Parental Advisory, “Home” has the perfect level of subtlety and symbolism that allows it to be a tasteful track without compromising artistic voice.

“So Raw” is the final track of Parental Advisory, and unfortunately another that uses language that I cannot endorse. Chaotic and aggressive in nature, the track follows the aesthetic of many of its predecessors, tying up the album in a similar style.

Interested in seeing Pastel Dynasty play Parental Advisory and their other records live? You can catch them playing Yeast by sweet beast fest in Austin on March 14th,  American Babylon 4 in North Carolina on May 24th, and on their upcoming west coast tour in October.

Read more about Pastel Dynasty:

Meet the Band With a Paper Mache Mannequin Mascot: Pastel Dynasty!

Connect with Pastel Dynasty:

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***Like the majority of my reviews, a submission fee was charged for this post. Please note that views expressed by the artist or music do not necessarily reflect my own, but my own clearly-expressed opinions do .***