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Jorge Velez - Roman Birds Music Album Reviews

Inspired by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, this five-track ambient wonder finds the New York producer letting pulses and motifs overlap until the tracks resemble the inside of a lava lamp.
Jorge Velez has long been prolific, but that’s been especially true in the past few years. Like many underground electronic musicians, the New York producer has taken advantage of the internet’s self-publishing opportunities—in particular, the direct-to-fans platform Bandcamp—to sidestep label gatekeepers, streaming services, and crowded retailers. (Velez’s Bandcamp page currently numbers 26 releases.) Velez first gained recognition a dozen years ago with blippy disco derivatives for labels like Italians Do It Better, but his output has gradually become more esoteric and inward-looking. He’s still capable of ebullient club tracks, as last year’s excellent Forza attests, but many of his long, undulating machine jams sound like late-night missives to himself.

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Sam Evian - You, Forever Music Album Reviews

Sam Evian - You, Forever Music Album Reviews
Celestial Shore singer-guitarist Sam Owens puts his own actions and desires under a microscope on a gentle, sunny, yet boldly honest solo album.

The term “soft-rock” has pejorative connotations. It brings to mind purgatorial waiting rooms and melodies that are almost offensive in their calculated inoffensiveness. On You, Forever, his second record as Sam Evian, Celestial Shore singer and guitarist Sam Owens offers rock songs about vulnerability and desire that are gentle and sweet but avoid the most saccharine tendencies of soft rock. It’s a delicate balancing act, and one he pulls off with aplomb.

A balmy spirit unites the 11 songs on the album. The silky, electric-guitar-driven instrumentation is consistently sunny, beginning with opener “IDGAF,” which burbles along on a bed of punchy bass and scritchy shaker. Its refrain, “I don’t care, I don’t have to care anymore,” isn’t a kiss-off so much as a celebration of being relieved of a burden.

Owens keeps his simple songs interesting by adding occasional adornments. He wears his 1960s influences unabashedly, stirring in flecks of light psychedelia. A squealing saxophone and chugging guitars at the end of “Health Machine” imbue the song with energy. Similar fanfares mark the closing passages of “Now I Feel It” and the record’s groovy title track.

But the real appeal of You, Forever lies in Owens’ pensive lyrics and gentle vocals. He spends much of the record investigating his own worries and insecurities. “Who will look out for me? Who knows my name? Is there anyone out there who knows my kind of pain in this country?” he wonders on “Anybody.” “Next to You” finds him reckoning with a codependent urge to stick close to a person who makes him feel safe: “I don’t feel so fucked up as long as I’m next to you,” he confesses. Owen chases that track with “Summer Day,” an appreciation of small moments (“Sometimes I forget the beautiful things/You show me figures strange and sweet”) that also finds him taking stock of his personal growth.

Only “Country” interrupts the record’s charming languor. Its backbone is a goofy, giddy-up bassline and a percussive guitar effect that recalls the patter of horse hooves. Those quirky touches are more cloying than cute, derailing an otherwise lovely song about figuring out where you fit in the world and finding your way home.

Despite the vulnerability Owens displays in his lyrics, he rarely sounds as though he’s reaching for outside validation of his feelings or seeking catharsis for its own sake. Instead, his songs come across as earnest attempts to connect with listeners. They’re invitations to introspection, not sounding boards for issues better dissected in the privacy of a therapist’s office.

A guiding principle behind the album was Owens’ determination to accept responsibility for his actions and understand how they affect his own life and the people around him. In doing so, he creates intimacy within what could have been a bloodless manifesto, bathing his blunt self-appraisal in the warm glow of human connection. There’s bravery in that willingness to make yourself vulnerable. You, Forever isn’t a soft-rock record, but it is a record that reframes a certain kind of softness as strength.

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