MUSIC RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE WEEK:
Today, for the first time, Iím featuring someone that Iíve featured before in the "Music Recommendations of the Week" series. And I think they definitely merit being the first act to be featured a second time.
DECEMBER 21-27, 2014
I've also got one little diversion at the end for something pertinent to the holiday season.
But let's dive into the recommendation that will make up the heart of this piece.
It's hard work that requires a lot of concentration and focus. So, in between bouts of writing, I have to take some breaks to refresh. I spent a lot of the time during those breaks this week listening to music. But not just any music.
Way back in September of 2010, I reviewed the cover version of Radioheadís "Exit Music (For A Film)" by a New York duo consisting of Lindsey Morano and John Valesio performing under the name Vektor.
A week ago, I posted my latest "Music Recommendations of the Week" update featuring Phoebe Bridgers and Charlie Hickey. It was my first post in the series in a while so, when I was finished with it, I got curious to revisit some of my previous posts. Along the way, I ended up reading my old review of Vektorís cover of "Exit Music" and listened to it again for the first time in a long time. I was instantly reminded why I loved it Ė and Vektor Ė so much in the first place that I included the review in that old post and said some of the things I said about them in it.
After I wrote that initial review Ė and Lindsey was kind enough to publicize the review - I never really forgot about Vektor. But I hadnít really kept up with them very closely over the years. Re-listening to their version of "Exit Music" got me curious about what theyíve been up to over these last several years. So I went to check them out again.
Well, theyíve been up to a lot. And much of it is very good stuff.
But, before I go on to tell you about that good stuff, I should clear up something about the stage name of this duo.
Clarifying the Name
The actual name of the duo consisting of John and Lindsey is Skeye. Vektor is just a name that they decided to use when doing cover versions of other peopleís songs since they didnít feel comfortable putting their own group name on material that wasnít really theirs. When they do their own material, which weíll talk about in a bit, they go by Skeye. The part that can get especially confusing is that, when they set up their main current YouTube channel, it was originally set up to do cover songs, so they called it VektorMusic. But it has remained under that name even though they are now doing more of their own material - and posting it to that same channel - under the name Skeye.
So, to recap.
- The groupís name is Vektor when they do cover songs.
- The groupís name is Skeye when they do their own material.
- The main current YouTube channel, even though it has both cover material done as Vektor and original material done as Skeye, is VektorMusic.
Now, what did I discover when I went to check out what Skeye has been up to?
First, I discovered some more awesome cover songs that theyíd done as Vektor that I hadnít seen or heard before.
"All My Loving"
One of the first ones that I hadnít yet seen that I came across was this one of "All My Loving" by the Beatles.
I think itís fantastic. Like many Beatles songs, this song is great, despite Ė or perhaps because of Ė how simple it is. And their cover is the same. In typical Vektor/Skeye fashion Ė and like many artists that are "the real deal" - they need no bells and whistles to make something impressive or to cover up for anything fundamentally missing. This cover highlights how pure Lindseyís voice is when just singing naturally and simply. And Johnís guitar arrangement is the perfect complement Ė just as simple, yet reflecting his own style and touch.
"Between the Bars"
Another cover that I found posted on their older YouTube channel that I hadnít heard before is one of a heartbreaking song that Iíve always absolutely loved Ė "Between the Bars" by Elliott Smith. (Itís even more heartbreaking in light of Elliottís early death, which Iíll never forget as I was on a rare trip out west and read about it in the newspaper shortly after arriving in Seattle.)
- I love the original version of "Between the Bars."
- I love this live version that Elliott performed for the short film about him called Lucky Three.
- I loved Kiersten Holineís cover version. - Itís no surprise that people with such great musical taste and somewhat similar sensibilities like Skeye and Kiersten gravitate to similar songs. In fact, there are a few songs that Kiersten covered that Skeye has also covered. But, sadly, I canít find Kierstenís cover of "Between the Bars" anymore. Perhaps she removed it for some reason.
I also like this version of "Between the Bars" that they performed live on a radio show.
Another gorgeous song - originally by Leonard Cohen and covered, in the version done here, by Jeff Buckley - and one that has very deep personal history and meaning for me. I donít even need to say any more on this one. Just listen and see if you donít get chills.
One of my favorite Michael Jackson songs.
Toward the end of the "Ben" video, at around 2:49, look on the top right and click on the link that says "Watch Da Funkified Version!" to hear Vektorís other take on "Ben." It is apparently meant as sort of a joke. And yet it ends up showing off the vocal gymnastics Lindsey is capable of more than perhaps anything else I saw.
Now, Iíd long known that these two were great at doing covers. The question I had was whether they could do really good original work, as well. At one point, quite a while ago, I vaguely remember listening to one of their original songs and not liking it that much. So I had never gone back to listen to more.
However, after viewing some of their covers this time around, I saw featured on their channel a new original song called "Ellie." So I watched that.
I really like it. The song is very catchy, sweet and somewhat Beatlesque in a way. The video is cute and shows a little bit of their more playful side.
Also for some reason (I donít know why haha), whenever I listen to "Ellie," I find myself thinking about "Donít Know Why" by Norah Jones. Specifically, whenever I hear the part of "Ellie" where Lindsey sings the word "forever," I immediately hear in my head the part of "Donít Know Why" where Norah Jones sings the word "forever." Norah is a singer that sometimes has a similar feel to me as Lindsey Ė very soothing, delicate and soulful Ė and her talent grabbed me instantly just as happened with Skeye. I wonder if Lindsey has ever considered singing a Norah Jones song. Iíd kind of like to hear her try something like "Come Away With Me." Itís a sparse song that fits their style well, but is jazzy too so I think they could do something interesting with it.
In addition, I can only guess because of its cute, quirky romantic tone and the fact that its name is basically two-thirds of the syllables of the film's name, this song constantly brings to my mind the movie Amelie.
Anyway, since I really liked "Ellie," I decided to check out more of Skeyeís original work and give it another chance, especially since I hadnít really given it much of a chance before.
I watched this album trailer for and interview about their first album Bleuphoria.
In the interview, at 8:01, John is asked "What tracks stand out to you most?" He instantly replies "'Brighter in the Dark.' Itís the most unique song on the album." and then goes on to explain the technical reasons behind his answer.
I really respect Johnís musical abilities and taste a lot, so I was very curious to hear this song that he found particularly outstanding on their debut album. So I went and listened to it.
I really love this song. The more I listen to it, the more I love it. Itís been stuck in my head all week. It is probably my favorite song out of all of Skeyeís original work that Iíve heard so far.
You can also hear an acoustic version of "Brighter in the Dark" performed during a live streamed album release online concert. Just play the video below, wait 30 seconds or so for the show to begin if any ads pop up and then skip to 32:50.
Since I liked that song so much, I went to listen to a number of their other original songs.
It turns out that since I posted that original review of "Exit Music" over four years ago, Skeye has released two albums.
Their first album, which was released in 2011, is called, as I mentioned above, Bleuphoria.
You can hear the whole Bleuphoria album here.
And you can buy it on iTunes or buy it on Amazon.
Besides "Brighter in the Dark," here are some of the songs I like the most from Bleuphoria.
- "Blue Skies Fall" Ė Here, Lindsey sounds like a really good R&B singer (Alicia Keys comes to mind). Itís just another example of the many different sides of her voice that she can showcase on different material.
You can also check out a live version of "Blue Skies Fall."
- "Tree" - This is the song from Bleuphoria that Lindsey says was closest to her heart in the trailer/interview video. I can tell why. Itís a song where she really bares her soul about some extremely vulnerable feelings.
Itís kind of tragic to think that someone with so much talent and beauty and so much to offer the world can feel so worthless and empty and wonder if she should even bother to exist. But many of us have moments when we feel like that. Sometimes the hardest thing is to see the beauty and worth in ourselves even when itís abundantly clear to others around us. Iíve known plenty of people that have struggled with this, including some that chose not to stick around. I always find it tragic. This song lets those of us that have felt this way know weíre not alone.
You can also check out a performance version of "Tree".
- "Strange Loop" - This is a song with a kind of R&B feel to it and is another one in which Lindseyís voice brings to mind other really good R&B singers. Itís a very interesting song on more than one level.
You can also check out a live version of "Strange Loop".
- "How Long Do We Have?" Ė In the trailer/interview video about Bleuphoria, John says this song, to him, is a "perfect example of love." I think I know what he means. The song really expresses the willingness to stand by someone every step of the way through life. But, it also acknowledges - by throwing in that question "How Long Do We Have?" - that love is always a double-edged sword because the more you love someone, the more you realize how painful the impermanence of life and love can be. This combination gives the song a bittersweet edge.
Although the songs have very little in common musically, the overall sentiment of "How Long Do We Have?" reminds me of a song that hit me harder than perhaps any other song in recent times, "Sirens" by Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder wrote the lyrics to that song after hearing ambulance sirens outside his room. They drove him to muse on the dynamic where his gratitude for the love presently in his life balances with his fear of how mortality ensures that that love will one day be lost Ė and how the pain of "knowing that nothing lasts forever" makes the present gratitude even more powerful and poignant.
Anyway, again, the two songs are not similar musically (although I've heard Skeye talk about how Pink Floyd has influenced them and Mike McCready wrote the music of "Sirens" when, after seeing Roger Waters live, he was inspired to "write something that would have a Pink Floyd type feel."). But "How Long Do We Have?" just reminds me philosophically of "Sirens." And, frankly, "Sirens" is one of the best new songs Iíve heard in years and I was too busy to write a review about it back when it really was my music recommendation of the week last year. So Iím glad to find an excuse to sneak it in here.
You can also check out a live version of "How Long Do We Have?".
Skeyeís second album was released on May 1, 2014 and is called Sea & the Stars.
You can hear the whole album using the player below (though for some reason it insists on starting on track 10 instead of on track 1).
And you can buy it on iTunes or buy it on Amazon.
I havenít yet listened to much of this newer album. But I will. I really like this live version of the title track, which is the first song on the album.
This is a really pretty song. And this one, again, brings out the Alicia Keys side of Lindseyís voice.
There was no way I was going to let this week go by without recognizing Skeye since they were most definitely the soundtrack to the week.
Now that I've done that, I want to wrap up by just sharing my thoughts about Skeye in general.
I love just about everything about Lindsey. I wonít go so far as to say sheís one of the best singers Iíve ever heard, simply because she canít quite compete (who can?) on the power aspect with people like Adele and Kelly Clarkson that can pretty much do anything with their voices. But the tone and quality make Lindseyís voice one of my favorites that Iíve ever heard. In my previous review, I wrote "I could listen to this girl sing all day." I guess I can listen to her sing for a lot longer than that because itís four years later and Iím still listening and plan to continue doing so. When she sings material that fits her voice well, itís like a definition of pure beauty.
And then thereís John. You could probably pull any decent guitarist off a street corner and have them accompany Lindsey and it would sound pretty good given how great her voice is. But whatís special about John is that he adds so much more than that. He is truly a very talented musician, not only in how he plays and incorporates multiple instruments, but in how he arranges songs, his ear for production and so on.
What makes most great musical groups great, though, is that they have a chemistry that allows them to go beyond the membersí individual talents to become even better than the sum of their parts. In other words, there is an emergent property involved. (I talk in depth about emergence and emergent properties in one of the early emails that I send to subscribers to my newsletter.)
Skeye has this kind of an emergent aspect. In addition to how genuine and raw and from the heart their music is, you can tell that John and Lindsey make each other better. Neither of them could do what theyíre doing as Skeye without the other. And they both very clearly appreciate that complementarity. This is what puts them over the top.
Since I feel so strongly about this duo, I put them in the category beyond where I just enjoy them into one where I encourage people to support them.
I wonít go as far as Kit McGuire, host of Kitís Corner on Indie 104, who said during an interview with Skeye:
"The more we spread the name Skeye out there, the better off we all areÖItís like the Bible. When everybody in the world has seen the Bible, everything will have fallen into place. And with Skeye, when I know everybody in the world has heard Skeye, Iíll know my job is done."Well, setting aside the fact that Iím not as big a fan of the Bible as Kit, the statement is, regardless, a little over the top. However, I do share Kitís hope that more people will become aware of and support Skeyeís work.
As of this writing:
- Some of their videos have hundreds of thousands of views. (Their cover of "Hallelujah" currently has over 840,000.)
- They have over 20,000 YouTube subscribers and almost 6 million total views on VektorMusic.
Plus, if you take the time to read the comments on many of their videos, they are full of passionate, yet very sincere, expressions of appreciation for Skeye's music from all over the world.
So Iím glad to see that awareness and support does seem to be growing.
I hope youíll check out more of Skeye, buy their albums and help them continue to make awesome music. Even having already done all of this great work, theyíre still very young and have decades of development ahead of them. Iím very interested to see how they grow in the years to come.
Hopefully, if more of us do support them, they can also go beyond doing a few sporadic shows in their native New York and the nearby area and take the show further on the road so more of us can experience them live.
Here are the various places on the web where you can learn more about, listen to and follow Skeye.
- VektorMusic on YouTube - Their main YouTube Channel
- TheGreatGig735 on YouTube - Their old YouTube Channel
- Skeye's Official Website
- Skeye on Facebook
- Skeye on Twitter
- Skeye on Tumblr
- Skeye on Bandcamp
- Skeye on iTunes
- Skeye on Amazon
Of course, this week was the week of Christmas. Recently, I had talked to someone about how I donít like many Christmas songs. I find most of them too fake and contrived, lacking real heart.
But there are two Christmas songs I mentioned I do like.
First, I love the John Lennon song "Happy Xmas (War is Over)". (I also love U2's cover of it.)
And, I must admit, I do like Mariah Careyís "All I Want for Christmas is You." (Hey, there is a reason she is one of the top five or six best-selling solo artists of all time.)
But there was one other Christmas song I had forgotten to mention I liked until an email reminded me of it this week.
I got an email from Coldplayís email list which led me to revisit this little gem.
I know many people donít like Coldplay. And those that donít often accuse them of just what I said about most Christmas songs Ė that their emotion is too fake and contrived. So those critics may find it ironic for me to say I like Coldplayís Christmas song despite disliking others for that very reason.
But Iíve never really agreed with those people about Coldplay. I do see why they feel as they do. But, Iíve always liked Coldplay. And "Christmas Lights" is, to me, a more genuine, emotional song and better captures the particular mix of emotions that most people have during the holiday season than most Christmas songs.
Iíd say itís my second favorite Christmas song after Lennonís.
I couldnít really care less about the actual holiday of Christmas. But I did enjoy getting back to listening to this Coldplay song. I think it ranks up there with many of their other good songs from their albums and thatís saying something for a sort of novelty song written for the holidays.
I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday season. Hereís looking forward to the new year.
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