Dance music isn’t often given enough credit for being thoughtful and capturing the feelings and sentiments of its audience. California-based indie dance artist Michael Medrano has that down pat with his releases which wander from strange and unique to more accessible fun dance/pop. “I Don’t Wanna Talk About Love” slides into the latter category, with Michael taking several Charlie Puth-esque cues in his runs in the chorus, which form the memorable centre of the song. And Michael even has a brief spoken monologue which is the answer to “why don’t you wanna talk about love?”. The self-proclaimed disco dad has a strong social media following which spreads the word about his releases, and Michael’s “I Don’t Wanna Talk About Love” is an easy one for dance/pop fans and even club DJ’s to embrace.
Haley Johnsen is a singer/songwriter from Portland, Oregon who has released a few EP’s and albums (including an acoustic one from 2020 that was recorded live at Abbey Road Studios in London) over the past five years, and plays bass with dance artist Big Wild. She returns with “Goner”, which has a downbeat, sombre melody that argues with lyrics about internal pressures before self-realization rears its head, meaning that neither the present nor the future should be feared. In fact, it reinforces being at peace with oneself and as realizing, as she says, ” that my childlike self is still very much alive in me”. Haley’s voice has been aptly compared to the late British singer Eva Cassidy, and fits nicely into the pocket with many other indie women singers that I’ve written about such as Molly Moore and Gillian. So don’t let the relaxed pace of “Goner” trick you – it’s a lovely, authentic pop song with an unexpectedly inspiring message.
A mainly-acoustic track is not always an easy introduction for a new artist, but Moonwood’s “Slow Down” is a song that will stick with you long after it’s over. Moonwood is an international rock quintet based out of Sydney, Australia, who acquire their influences from names like Bruce Springsteen and U2, and I can even hear a bit of 90’s INXS (reference “Beautiful Girl”) in “Slow Down”. While the lyrics sing of troubles in relationships that are relatively common in songs today, what gives Moonwood an edge are the sometimes weary, sometimes provocative vocal style of lead singer Jake (think Nick Drake meets Luke Hemmings of 5 Seconds of Summer), and the burst of electric guitars which set “Slow Down” ablaze amid the otherwise acoustic setting.
There’s no doubt that Karen Harding has had a great year. In addition to recently getting married and having a baby, Karen’s released some of the best music of her career with “Undo My Heart” (with Digital Farm Animals), “Let’s Get Together” (with Illyus & Barrientos), “Morning” (with Shift K3Y) and “Only One” (with Felix Cartal). Add “You & I (All I Need)” to that list, this time a completely solo Karen single, another beautifully touching house track with straight-forward lyrics that can only be written when your life is content. Such happiness is infectious and will certainly win fans on the dance club circuit. However I do think perhaps “You & I” is a particularly natural follow up to “Undo My Heart” for dance radio audiences.
Although they had some success last year with “Chase” (also featuring New Jersey-born Benton) and previously with “Blinded” (with James Delaney) and “Heart Speak” (with Dzeko and TOKA-J), the pandemic put Canadian dance duo Waves on hold for a spell. But in that time they signed to Ultra Records and the same management company as Juno Award winners Loud Luxury. Following that duo’s successful lead, Waves return with the highly catchy “Mr. Wilson”. Featuring a playful and enthusiastic vocal from Benton, you’ll envy this guy Mr. Wilson, who likes to hang out with celebs and party hardy to some great tunes. The song has a terrific hook just before the first minute that helps make the rest of the song go down just as easy. With Waves’ upward career trajectory back in motion, you can expect to hear “Mr. Wilson” on Canadian radio and in clubs for the rest of 2021.
I’m not normally a fan of lo-fi recordings, but every once in a while a song comes along that offers way more than the sum of its parts. Such is the case with “More” by singer/songwriter Nick Rannikko, who hails from just outside of Springfield, Massachusetts and attends the esteemed Berklee College of Music, and is also an engineer and producer. “More” is about trying to move on and to stop thinking about the other person after the breakup. Distorting vocals like on many same-sounding rap tracks can be a turnoff, but Nick cleverly uses the effect to his advantage, and his voice becomes more and more affecting as the song moves on. It also lends an unexpected soulful quality to his vocal. “More” keeps you listening with its atmospheric melody, and is a smart and memorable release for Nick Rannikko.
Pittsburgh-based Bishop Ivy is a singer/songwriter who grows more with each release, and there doesn’t seem to be a set pattern either to his style from song-to-song, which always leads to some pleasant unpredictability about what he will offer next. “Stand Up” is a chill song with a forthright message. It’s about using your own power within to challenge and perhaps take control away from others in your life. The melody is eerie at times and almost seems to belong in another song, and when there’s a bit of a pause after the two minute mark, instead of shutting the song off, you wait because his story isn’t entirely finished, and neither is the wistful melody. “Stand Up” gets props because it’s an ambitious song but fans of alternative and college radio will enjoy.
NATIXX, LYON BROTHERZ and ROBBIE ROSEN, “To The Top”
While its lyrics would usually call out for an anthemic melody that you could rock out to, “To The Top” by German producers Natixx and Lyon Brotherz and NYC singer/songwriter Robbie Rosen sets out to strike you in a different way altogether. Its melody is carried by a flute or similar synth sound that supports its enthusiastic lyrics very well. That sound also gives the song an uncharacteristically fun, medieval touch, which you don’t hear often in dance or electronic music outside of more progressive-sounding tracks. It’s a quick song at only 2:35 but “To The Top” doesn’t let up, becoming quite memorable and one that you will find yourself easily having on repeat.
If you need a break from deep house and future bass bangers, then look no further to the latest single from TheFatRat’s new album Parallax, “Let Love Win”, featuring singer and co-writer Anjulie. Parralax also contains TheFatRat’s previous recent singles “Hiding In The Blue” and “Violet Sky”, as well as one track featuring violinist Lindsey Stirling, who often works in the electronic dance music setting. “Let Love Win” is a song that’s easy to digest, and I appreciate all of the light and bright synth elements that TheFatRat incorporates into this production. Juno Award winning singer Anjulie – who you’ve also heard through song placements on many TV shows, as well as with her songwriting for people like Kelly Clarkson and Nicki Minaj – though is the highlight, her lovely vocal makes every word pointed and meaningful. “Let Love Win” is off to a great start; I’ve already seen it on several electronic dance playlists.
UK/Irish duo Menrva are back following up “Locked In Your Love” with another fun deep house track, “Play It Cool”, featuring British singer of Caribbean heritage Island Banks. The punchy drum sound and quirky rhythm recall something we might hear from Aussie sensation Fisher. Island Banks’ engaging vocal reminds me a lot of Craig David, and some harmonies continue to add even more flavourful twists to the song. Despite the comparisons, Menrva have a left-of-centre original winner with “Play It Cool”, which will have no trouble at all coaxing even the most reluctant dancers out onto the club floor.