This second installment of Singles Grab Bag reaches back a couple of months to gather five great tunes from an eclectic mix of known and not-so-known local artists. Some of these are one-off singles that won’t appear on albums.
"Life's What You Make It" by Graham Colton
Positive, motivational lyrics ride atop a brimming current of sunny clap-and-whistle instrumentation. The central chorus of “Life’s what you make it / It’s yours for the taking” says it all. The bustling, feel-good sound is a fairly popular one at the moment, a factor that could render the song generic were it not for its top notch execution. As it stands, it seems practically destined for a television commercial featuring a montage of adventurous travel or fitness activities. It’s that kind of song.
As songs go, it’s a fairly simple one, and the carpe diem theme isn’t exactly new. What makes the recording work, though, is that it isn’t overcomplicated or desperate for attention. Colton seems to have bottled a moment of inspiration and taken it to the studio, making sure not to flatten its fizz with too much tampering. Come to think of it, a Diet Coke commercial couldn’t be far off, either.
"Randy the Ram" by KNOble Savage
Drawing inspiration from the tragic character of the 2008 film The Wrestler, “Randy the Ram” is a downbeat quandary of music and the choices one faces in pursuit of it. KNOble Savage’s last album was one of the great unheralded hip-hop releases of 2014, championing brutal, cathartic honesty over cliche showmanship without losing his razor sharp wit. This dedication to hip-hop ideals with little payoff, combined with the inherent drama of a burgeoning local rap scene, make for a deal of internal conflict.
Sound-wise, “Randy the Ram” tries on traditional, acoustic instrumentation produced by Admirals keyboardist Andrew Bair. Some vinyl crackles or cassette tape hiss would have been a nice bit of atmosphere, as it would have given a sense of deterioration while also being a remnant from Randy’s glory days. That’s just a mild suggestion, though. As is, the stripped piano and drum kit pairs well with KNOble Savage’s deflated delivery of lines like “I’ve been thinkin’ that I need to pick myself a new profession / ‘Cause lately all I’ve been wrestlin’ is my depression.” There are still some clever bits of wordplay and smart rhymes throughout the track, to be sure, but he rattles them off like it’s no big deal.
“Randy the Ram” is now streaming on Soundcloud.
"Darker Days" by Sweeper
This new single from Sweeper’s recent debut EP is a change of pace from the band’s excellent lead single “Optic Glass.” Where that cut was bolstered on a huge, party-starting guitar riff, “Darker Days” is a more theatrical approach to the band’s big sound. The quiet, somber, and brief opening sets the tone for an apocalyptic tale. Guitar and drums soon jar the track into hard rock territory as the lead vocalist dramatically conveys themes of natural disasters, mortality, and perhaps even the supernatural.
If there’s a quibble to be had with “Darker Days,” it’s with the choice of narrative. The subject matter promises a towering level of epicness by nature, which could come from either harrowing lyrical detail or a monstrously dark musical tone. Though it comes close, this doesn’t quite reach either, and the minimal arrangement/mixing is probably part of the reason. It most likely kills in a live setting.
Narrative aside, though, it’s a great bit of rock music that makes use of some really nice guitar tones and an undeniable vocalist that takes charge of every moment he encounters. It also works well in the context of the album as an opener that leads directly into “Optic Glass.”
To hear both, visit Sweeper’s Soundcloud page, where the full EP will only be streaming for the next week or so.
"Nighthawks & Mona Lisa" by The Lunar Laugh
The Lunar Laugh are reverent of the classics, and that’s especially apparent on the sweet, delightful innocence of this new love song. A lightly plodding rhythm section accompanies acoustic guitar as the pop duo recount a feeling of elusive, expansive wonderment that can only be felt by the Pacific Ocean. That is, at least, “Until your eyes met mine.” That’s where the sing-song chorus kicks in along with bright banjo, snare drum, and beachy vocal harmonies.
The title itself is derived from two highly influential paintings that are standards of their medium. Their inclusion in the song isn’t just there to “Say you’re a work of art” to the singer’s love interest; they represent a spectrum of artistic ideals from two different eras, in a sense conveying the retro/modern dynamic in which The Lunar Laugh thrives.
Although the band came out with a full length just last year, it is already making headway into studio work on new material. This is a precursor that will likely end up on that album.
"Horse Race (ft. Kali Ra)" by Less Love
Driven by a thick mix of low-register piano and buzzy guitars, Less Love’s grittier yet somehow slicker take on Colourmusic’s “Horse Race” brings out elements of the song that were more elusive in the original. In particular, this rendition gives the vocals more gravity and clarity, despite being thicker in harmony than its source. Musically, it’s hard to unhear Colourmusic’s central guitar riff, but by removing it, Less Love has allowed itself more freedom in reinterpreting the musical direction of its cover.
The band also makes the genius decision to welcome Kali Ra’s gothic tones into the blend. Unlike most features in music, he doesn’t merely contribute a spotlight verse or chorus. He’s along for the whole ride, factoring in as a major ingredient to the main dish instead of serving as a standalone side.
This single was released way back in January through Bandcamp, but it didn’t get the music video treatment until a couple of months ago. Check out the band’s highly nocturnal, NSFW “movie trailer” below.
This article was originally written for Cellar Door Music Group (cellardoormusicgroup.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.
Archivist notes: The feature image was created to replace one lost to the ages. – Elecktra Stanislava