High Notes

Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Stranger Days by Skegss

By Ron Powers Mother’s Day is just around the corner, spring has sprung, flowers have bloomed, and great music is being created. This time of year brings so much new life with it and I recently found some of that life in a happy ballad called “Stranger Days” by Australian Indie rockers Skegss. This song offers the perfect amount of emotion and inspiration without sounding cheesy. Skegss delivers a clean yet tough sound with garage-rock imperfection that allows the soul of the song to shine through. No time is wasted in getting straight to the verse of “Stranger Days”. The first thing we hear is a shuffle rhythm and chord progression performed with a clean electric guitar and acoustic guitar. These two elements combine to create a smooth yet bracing texture for the melancholy yet sunny feeling topline. Singer Ben Reed delivers the relatable lines, “Stranger days will keep on comin’ / My brain’s changed but it’s still runnin’ / I get fazed and in the end it’s nothin’”. Next Skegss shifts from the airy open textures of the verse to a tight and thumping pre-chorus. Here we have a simple arrangement of palm-muted guitar chords with bass guitar following the chord roots with an eighth note rhythm. Drummer Jonny Lani completes the musical arrangement with a simple beat that mixes with the bass to create a head-bobbing groove with just the right amount of tension. Despite the high contrast between the verse and pre-chorus musical arrangements, the vocal melody maintains the emotional flow and shifts seamlessly between sections allowing for a dynamic experience without jolting the listener. As the pre-chorus draws to a close singer Ben Reed delivers the line “and may your dreams never die”. The last syllable of this line is sustained and carried on into the…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Piano Jam 5 (Ode to Kygo) by GH Hat

By Ron Powers The word enigma is defined as “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand”. It’s also an accurate description of an artist I’ve been fascinated with since he first hit the music scene back in 2016. G.H. Hat is a multi-genre producer, remixer, composer, and performer. Over the years, he has strung together one of the most interesting and unpredictable bodies of work I’ve ever seen. He’s charted on Billboard multiple times for his pop/dance club/EDM music. He’s remixed and released a Gobsmacking 290 classical compositions. Additionally, his EDM instrumentals have had a huge impact, and he’s essentially forged a new musical genre with his enthralling series of piano jams. As other reviewers have noted “G.H. Hat’s creative process has evolved into one of the most highly regarded sounds on the market” and “The way he utilizes the benefits of modern production software puts his skill on par with that of a classical composer”. I recently was granted access to an advanced copy of GH Hat’s latest installment in his piano-jams series. The song is called “Piano Jam 5 (Ode to Kygo)” and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you about it here. “Piano Jam 5” is an instrumental that begins with a single kick drum and crash cymbal accompanied by a reversed piano chord that swells into a solitary bass line. The bass line delivers a tough and steady feeling while dashes of lead guitar and pick slides are sprinkled in. As one writer accurately put it while referring to G.H. Hat’s music, “It’s almost impossible to listen … and not feel energized after”. Additionally, we hear a descending piano melody that shimmers and mingles with the bass and guitar. G.H. then picks up the pace by adding percussive synth notes…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Won’t Stand Down by Muse

By Ron Powers UK rock band Muse is back with a heavyweight gem called “Won’t Stand Down”. The song delivers the band’s Radiohead-meets-Metallica signature sound and explodes with defiant punk rock lyrics delivered with operatic and inspiring melodies. It’s the sort of song you listen to while lifting weights or when you need to get pumped up for a ray gun fight in space. Muse mixes elements of metal, classical, and theatrical rock to create a sound that is unlike any band before them. In a music scene that is producing an extraordinary meager amount of good rock-n-roll, Muse stands as a stronghold for the rock gods to be channeled through. Let’s hope it inspires some young hearts to carry the torch into the future. “Won’t’ Stand Down” sets the stage with a brief ambient pad sound along with a plucked string melody that has a touch of spookiness to it. This is quickly followed by a sonic hammer composed of blown-out guitar, bass, and kick drum that makes you feel like electricity is pulsing in your head. Between these heavy blasts of sound, we hear a slow and steady beat decorated with clean and icy guitar chords. For the first verse singer, Matt Bellamy delivers the empowering lines… “I never believed that I would concede / And let someone trample on me / You strung me along, / I thought I was strong / But you were just gaslighting me / I’ve opened my eyes and counted the lies / And now it is clearer to me / You are just a user and an abuser / Living vicariously”. After the first verse, most of the music drops out leaving a biting guitar riff with a touch of flanger effect witch swoops into a head-bobbing breakdown. It’s easy to…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Never in My Wildest Dreams by Dan Auerbach

By Ron Powers Valentine’s Day is coming up so I thought it would be nice to dig up a love song to write about. In 2017 the lead singer of The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach) released his second solo album which includes a heartfelt and sweet love song called “Never in My Wildest Dreams”. The song has a quiet and shy feel to it and reflects a gentle side of an artist that is typically delivering tough blues-rock. Blown-out love songs full of fiery passion are all well and good but on “Never in My Wildest Dreams” Auerbach expresses a more endearing side of love that I appreciate. Listening to this song is a pleasant experience from start to finish and might be the perfect tune to share with your Valentine this year. The song begins with a lovely acoustic guitar arrangement that has an up-close and intimate sound. We hear the rhythm acoustic deliver a simple country strum pattern that alternates between bass notes and chord strums while the lead acoustic plucks out a sentimental melody line. I love the production quality of these guitars. Dan Auerbach captures the raw essence of the instruments in a way that is so sweet to the ears. You can even hear the creek of the strings as callused fingertips press the notes down on the fretboard. For the first verse, we hear Auerbach deliver a pleasant yet catching little melody that sounds like it comes straight from the softest part of his heart. I like the second half of the first verse’s lyrics in particular when he delivers the lines “You’re just too good to touch / I can’t discuss it much / I get too choked up / Don’t what to make a seen / Never in my wildest dreams”. The…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

The Hardest Cut by Spoon

By Ron Powers The Hardest Cut by Spoon I hope you had a nice holiday season and are ready to make 2022 a great year. This month I’m going to focus on a fantastic number called “The Hardest Cut” by Austin, Texas rock-n-rollers Spoon. “The Hardest Cut” is the first single off their upcoming album, Lucifer On The Sofa, due out in February. This song makes you want to put on a pair of sunglasses and swivel your hips from beat one. It’s stone-cold cool and fun at the same time and if you like rock-n-roll music you’ll love “The Hardest Cut”. The song begins with room microphones picking up the sound of handclaps and snare drum rimshots. In the midst of this, one of the band members counts off the song before one of the best guitar riffs I’ve heard in a long time is introduced. Under the crispy and grooving riff, the band layer thick 70s style drums and bass which combined to produce a tone and weight most rock bands only dream about producing. “The Hardest Cut” is the sort of song that feels so fresh and appealing from the start that you almost don’t need to listen to the song to know you love it. Singer Britt Daniel deepens the cool vibe of this song with plucky and headstrong lyrics. The first verse sets the stage with the lines, “You took off in the dead of night / But before you did, got your hair combed right, yeah / The neighborhood watch knows the score / And they’re knockin’ at your door, let them knock some more”. Under the vocal the main riff along with drums and bass keep things grooving as the song twists its way to the pre-chorus. For the pre-chorus, the top line…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Drive By Baby by Alabama Shakes

By Ron Powers Drive By Baby by Alabama Shakes I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season and all the festivities that go along with it. This month I’ll be focusing on a new track by Alabama Shakes. The Athens, Alabama hailing band recently released a deluxe edition of their 2015 multi-Grammy-winning album “Sound & Color” which includes three new tracks. “Drive By Baby” is one of the three new songs and I’ll be discussing it here. This song offers all the rich and textured sound we’ve come to expect from Alabama Shakes along with up-tempo almost punk rock energy. “Drive By Baby” begins with a fast drum roll played on a piccolo snare, a fresh and clean guitar rhythm, and a rambling bass line. An image of the Road Runner from Loonytoons cartoons comes to mind for some reason. The feeling is so light and zippy, it lifted my mood right away. As the first verse is introduced, low-end frequencies and light distortion are added to the mix, giving the song’s sound plenty of extra weight. We then hear singer Brittany Howard deliver the lines: “I see you screaming, and I’ve never seen you here before / Well come on baby you got my attention come on and get you some more / You give me feelings feeling that I couldn’t digest / I’m in your future You just don’t even know.” After the verse, the band switches gears and delivers an unconventional and understated chorus. We hear the instrumentation stripped back to bass guitar and drums during this section, with guitar lightly following the bass line. Atop the music multiple layers of vocals are added which repeat the lines “Drive by baby won’t you let me ride / Then we’ll ride all right all right all right”. These lines…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Forget It I’m In Love by Les Shirley

By Ron Powers Forget It I’m In Love by Les Shirley Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I couldn’t be more thankful for the upbeat banger of a song I have to share with you this month. “Forget It I’m In Love” is by Montreal-based power trio Les Shirley and is the 10th track off the band’s first full-length album “Forever Is Now”. This song delivers everything you might want in a catchy rock tune. From fun riffs, and cool melodies, to a zipping guitar solo that hits like a bolt of lightning. I’d be lying if I said “Forget It I’m In Love” didn’t have it all. Singer/guitarist Raphaëlle Chouinard begins the song with a spunky riff reminiscent of “A-punk” by Vampire Weekend except with a ska rhythm. The intro riff is quickly followed by the sound of rumbling bass guitar and drums with plenty of compression and saturation. As the verse is introduced the guitar switches to meaty chords and we hear the first lines of the song… “I think we met at a bar on a Monday / We had a mutual friend and we kicked it right away / I’m so glad you came”. Between the first and second verses, that catchy riff that introduced the song is repeated. Then Raphaëlle continues telling her story of meeting and falling in love with a stranger at a bar. Transitioning out of the verse we hear the lines “I can take a fight / bring it” sung with a melody reminiscent of Johnny Rotton of The Sex Pistols. Tough-sounding guitar chords and bass notes performed with a stuttering staccato rhythm support the melody along with a pumping drum beat flowing underneath. Next, the band cuts loose with a melodic lead guitar line which repeats while the bass…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

Good Ones by Charli XCX

By Ron Powers Good Ones by Charli XCX Fall is upon us. That means crisp cool air, leaves changing color, and my personal favorite… pumpkin-spice lattes. As I was searching for music to bring you this fall season, I came across a tune called “Good Ones” by Charlie XCX. This is a song that is sure to add plenty of upbeat fun to your autumn excursions. It’s also extremely easy to listen to. I think I went through it five times after finding it. As someone who enjoys his fair share of music, I have to say “Good Ones” stands out among the bulk of today’s pop music. With smart and minimal production, Charli XCX delivers a song that sounds modern, and at the same time, like a 1980s classic. The song begins with a punchy synth bass followed by an ultra-catchy verse melody. In addition to a great melody, the honest nature of the lyrics further deepens the connection between artist and audience by giving the listener a glimpse of the singer’s struggles with relationships. With relaxed yet lively energy, Charlie XCX delivers the lines, “I wish you gave me a reason / That you were better at leavin’ / That you got your kicks from seein’ me low / I always let the good ones go”. For the second half of the first verse, a saturated four-on-the-floor drum beat is added. Additionally, the central hook–“I always let the good ones go”–is further established with its repetition at the end of the first verse. As the chorus is introduced, the bass and drums drop out, and a simple four-chord pattern is delivered with a smooth synth pad. The vocal is prominently nested in the mix with multiple layers and extensive processing which includes heavy saturation, compression, stereo width, and…

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First Time by Lucy Dacus

By Ron Powers   First Time by Lucy Dacus It’s August and the dog days of summer are in full swing. This month I want to focus on an upbeat number by Lucy Dacus called “First Time”. This song is perfect for a nice drive. And since many of us are heading to beaches, campgrounds, and vacation spots this time of year I thought I’d bring this tune to your attention. “First Time” begins with a brief percussion section which is created by processing white noise with an auto-modulating EQ. Under the percussion, Dacus layers a faint synth arpeggio which has a somewhat random rhythmic pattern. These two elements combine to create a subtle tension just before an upbeat and gritty arrangement of drums, bass, and guitars is added. The sound of “First Time” has overtones of garage rock and undertones of synth pop and dream rock. Lucy Dacus delivers a relaxed and elegant vocal performance along with lyrics that possess the sort of poetic authority that is refreshingly abnormal in popular music. In addition, her voice is decorated with biting distortion effects, along with subtle slapback delay, and reverb. This combination of vocal delivery and vocal processing creates something that is both soothing and edgy. For the verses, Lucy describes the excitement of young love. Her lyrics express the thrill of being a kid and connecting to someone special. The depth of Dacus’ poetic voice is easily recognized while listening to the verses of “First Time”. With just a few lines, she communicates what might require several pages of prose. A simple arrangement of driving rhythm guitars, and skip-beat drums support and add color to the lyrics and melody of the verse. The fast pace of the music further supports and adds to the expression of what young love…

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Arts & Entertainment, High Notes

 FROSTY by Kunzite 

High Notes by Ron Powers  FROSTY by Kunzite  Kunzite refers to its self as “a multi-dimensional sound system broadcasting from inner Earth, while simultaneously emanating from the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy.” Judging by that description you may assume Kunzite is different than most bands… and you’d be right. They go on to describe themselves stating “It requires at least two human interfaces to disseminate the sounds, those being producers/multi-instrumentalists Mike Stroud (from the band RATATAT) and Agustin White (from the band WHITE FLIGHT).” This kind of creativity is felt in every corner of Kunzite’s music. They are a band playing by their own rules and their latest single “FROSTY” is a particularly enjoyable example. The artwork for the single was the first thing that caught my attention. It reminds me of a 1980s videogame mixed with occult and mystical imagery. Not only was the artwork enough to draw me in, but it also enhances the music. The textures, colors, and images used for the cover match perfectly with the song itself. If the music was an image it would be the artwork used for the single. I’m impressed when bands find a way to create this kind of cohesion between the various elements of a song’s presentation. It reflects a measure of care and love for the art that is hard to find. The authenticity, with which Kunzite creates, is easily recognized from the first notes of “FROSTY”. The intro begins with a massive chord that sounds like a combination of vintage organ, fuzz guitar, and synth. As the chord fades, a tight and head-bobbing beat mixes with a rolling bassline and a cheerful lead guitar part. In the background, we also hear the sounds of birds chirping along with other jungle sounds. Just before the intro transitions…

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