I’ve had several times in my life when I’ve felt lost and looked for any reason to get away from the fast-paced world. One of these times came as I was starting college and realizing I was entering what was going to be the time of my life, but I didn’t want to lose sight of reality around the rest of the world. I wasn’t sure what kind of impact I could have, but I owed it to myself and to the world not to be ignorant. So I dedicated my college years to studying Human Rights and did my study abroad in Kenya. It was an experience that opened my eyes to bigger things in life than some of my other passions like technology and sports. I learned that when resources are scarce (which they always were, particularly in the rural areas I was living and studying in), the focus doesn’t need to be on what we don’t have, but making the most of what we do have. Things like human relationships, trust and care took on a whole new meaning for me. Today, six years later, I find myself working in technology sales, but I never lose sight of what I learned, and truth be told, I often find myself feeling lost and itching to get away again.
Seattle hip-hop artist Sol had a similar revelation a bit over a year ago when he put music on hold for a chance to travel around the world and learn more about himself and life. While it was likely upsetting to his fans to see him drop music like it was nothing, I got it. And though part of me wondered if he’d be able to pick up rapping again after seeing reality in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, Haiti and India, I believed deep down that he would use the experience to tell a better story in his music. And that’s exactly what happened.
Sol didn’t always impress me with his storytelling skills in the past, but today’s release of Sol’s Open Eyes EP is a whole new story. Songs like “Old Him” are a genuine representation of what Sol learned and provide a refreshing perspective on the rest of the world, not just the extravagant one we tend to hear about through hip-hop today. Sol raps: “My belly’s empty, and not because it’s Ramadan/ I simply lost my appetite seeing children starve/ And that’s what’s really hard/ Not your silly bars/ Not your grill, not your cars, not the pills you pop.” Suddenly Sol has a story to tell that’s so real, and it may not quite resonate with everybody right off the bat, but to me it’s an opportunity for Sol to enlighten his listeners on bigger things in life. This EP is Sol’s first step, and he’s got an open lane ahead of him that not enough artists are riding in right now.
There are still songs on the EP like “Jump In,” which still show a bit of the old Sol; it’s poppy, it doesn’t carry too deep a message with it, but it’s still fun to listen to. It’s one of those tracks I turn on every time I want to bounce around a little, and frankly, I appreciate that Sol included a track like that (and bonus track “Dope”) on the collection, because it helps him appear more human than if had he only included serious tracks with preachy messages that might be distant for some of his fanbase or potential fans.
Altogether, I think Sol has taken a leap forward in his career. It goes to show that taking time off, slowing down, and getting one’s bearings doesn’t have to be seen as a pause or a step backward…if done well, it can be a huge step forward. It has helped me tremendously in life, and I think this EP is proof that it has absolutely helped Sol. It helped him craft a new sound, deliver a new message, and gain perspective on life. Sol describes it best in a letter that went out to his fans and promoters today. Hit the jump for the full EP stream and to read the letter from Sol.
After hearing the single “Pressure,” I knew Until The Ribbon Breaks was onto something special. Until The Ribbon Breaks is the moniker for the UK-based R&B-meets-electronic singer and producer Pete Lawrie Winfield. It’s hard to find artists to compare him to, but if I was forced to, I would pick names like James Blake, Jamie Woon, or Fryars. While originally sucked in by the breathy, stark, often-layered vocals of Winfield, I’ve since fallen hard for the complete spectrum of Winfield’s talents, which includes a strong mastery of production.
Today marks the release of the debut EP for Winfield as Until The Ribbon Breaks; A Taste of Silver is a 5-track EP containing tracks called “2025,” “Perspective (ft. Homeboy Sandman),” “Romeo,” “Pressure,” and “Back To The Stars.” After a handful of full listens, “Pressure” remains the highlight for me of the artist’s debut EP, but the compilation as a whole is breathtaking. Another standout track for me was third track “Romeo.” A quiet song that starts with some highly-produced clips of vocals and instrumentals and then funnels into Until The Ribbon Breaks’s whispery and dual-toned vocals, the song maintains an element of intrigue throughout. UTRB mastered the mysterious storytelling vibe and alluring vocal patterns in a way I hear few others doing today. Somehow if my mind wandered in an attempt to relate Winfield’s stories to my own world, the focal point remains Winfield’s music when he sings “You see I would have killed Romeo/ And saved Juliet/ But I don’t write stories/ That time wont forget/ So wont you pass me the kerosene/ Let’s burn to the ground/ You’ve been looking for meaning/ Did you like what you found?” I’m hooked on those words.
A major drawing point for me is that Until The Ribbon Breaks has a way of taking a song from one sound and turning it into something completely different unexpectedly. It’s a beautiful act that you can hear best in the first minute of “Pressure.” In the same song, UTRB takes a heavy bass and drum machine patterns to the track, and also slides into a sweet sound of semi-muted piano paired with his hushed vocals singing “maybe in another life/ maybe in another life/ if we get another life/ maybe in that life/ I could learn to love you.” The change-ups are both shocking and comforting, particularly when you come full circle to the softer sections.
Throughout this EP, Until The Ribbon Breaks manages to flex both his vocal and production muscles, but while I first paid most attention to the sexy vocals of Until The Ribbon Breaks until this point, it’s worth paying close attention to the genius behind Winfield’s music production. Listen closely on tracks like “Romeo” and “Pressure” — there is a stunning blend of electronic noises, raw drum builds, and simple piano melodies that marry the vocals perfectly. The one downfall for me, and where my attention wandered the most during my listens, was on the second track, “Perspective.” To me, this track didn’t fit in with the rest of the collection. I appreciated that Homeboy Sandman was featured on the track, particularly as it seems the two artists have strong opinions on the cultural state of the world and have expressed them through their music, but the sonic qualities of “Perspective” just didn’t fall in line with the beauty of the rest of the EP for me.
And what’s most, for me, is the path the short EP takes. It starts with “2025,” which is a dark track focusing on societal misfortunes, opening with the lyrics “I was born with my back to the stars,” but shedding light on human pretension, loneliness as the new normal, and even online dating. It winds through Winfield’s mind and stories, and ends with “Back To The Stars” which also starts with the lyrics “I was born with my back to the stars,” but this time around Winfield tells of another who has touched him so, by singing “and you, what have you done for me?/ you’ve opened up my eyes/ you’ve opened up my eyes.” Without knowing much of a backstory, it leads me to imagine that it’s an uplifting tale of a man at his lows who finds love in a dark place. In an age where it’s hard to listen to a compilation from front to back and feel any sort of completeness or satisfaction, Until The Ribbon Breaks has brought back a mysterious storytelling component to not just songwriting, but album-writing (or in this instance, EP-writing). Something tells me this is just the beginning of a long and healthy career for Winfield as Until The Ribbon Breaks. With an incredible release of A Taste of Silver and tour dates with rising star Lorde, the future is bright for this artist.
The story of Leonard Friend is quite poetic. Alex Feder, former The XYZ Affair frontman, had a grandfather named Leonard Friend who was never able to pursue a career in music. Alex always thought his grandfather carried a certain sadness with him as he was never able to fully realize his dream. When the real Leonard Friend died and The XYZ Affair broke-up, Alex moved from New York to Los Angeles and developed this solo project named after his grandfather, hoping that one day people would relate his grandfather’s name with good music. If I was a thirteen year old girl, I might call that “precious,” but I’m not a thirteen year old girl, so let’s move on.
For you I’ll be the last gentleman.
Lynyrd Frynd sounds good. It is clearly inspired by the likes of the recently deceased Michael Jackson and the recently disbanded LCD Soundsystem (Sorry for reminding you about both of those things. I don’t sleep well at night.). Throughout the EP, we get an eclectic arrangement of everything from funky bass lines to soft violins to the always handy hand claps (neat pun, Arjun!). Leonard’s vocals gets tastefully distorted at parts and a mysterious female chimes in occasionally with background vocals, most notably on “Adults” and “The Year I Die.” Alex also applies his remarkable, Justin Timberlake-esque falsetto on “Mrs. Friend” and “Adults” and shows off serious pipes on the EP’s first three songs.
I just want to make you Mrs. Friend.
Lynyrd Frynd also means well. Alex Feder uses this release to express frustrations with the music industry, society, and the tribulations of adulthood. “Serious Music” is Leonard Friend’s “You Wanted A Hit,” as it discusses the pressures of industry and even fan expectations. “Everything for the Sake of Everything” and “The Last Gentleman” show how people will do things just because they can and not because they want to and say things just because they think they should and not because they mean them. “Adults” is about Alex’s regrets as he looks into his past and realizes where he went wrong.
I thought I knew back then, what did I know?
Throughout Lynyrd Frynd, the listener is both sonically pleased and lyrically stimulated. Recently with pop music, we have gotten a lot of ear candy without any true substance. It’s refreshing and faith-restoring to hear Leonard Friend’s story and know that pop music is better for it. God bless America.
EP Rating: 8.5/10
Stream/download the EP below:
Earlier this week, LA trio The Glitch Mob dropped their newest EP “We Can Make The World Stop,” contributing yet another excellent edition into their short but groundbreaking musical career. Their 2010 debut album “Drink the Sea” was a landmark in electronic music, creating a glitchy, grimey, bass-heavy electronic style that their new EP refines and expands on in every way. While each of the three new tracks display an equally unique and gripping facet of their style, the title track truly stands out. Combining strings, piano and electronic effects into an ominous and epic symphony of sound, “We Can Make The World Stop” solidifies The Glitch Mob’s standing as an up-and-coming force in the electronic music scene.
Album Rating: 8/10