Break Around You
Break Around You is available at:
Alternative; Pop; Opera
New York, U.S.A.
The E.P., Out of the Deep Blue, is available at:
EVERY time I arrive at the feet of an…
PHOTO CREDIT: Josh Michaels
American artist; I find myself looking at where they come from - in terms of state and county. Before I look at Josh Michaels; I want to address a few subjects. To start, Opera and Classical music; writing from the heart and connecting with people; getting your music played across the world (and various media sources); artists who experiment with sound and want to connect with listeners through music; the idea of ‘making it’ and where one goes to do that – a bit about New York and the music coming from there. In the course of my reviews, I get to address all manner of artists. In terms of genres, I think – over the last five-and-a-bit-years – I must have covered every style and sound going – including sub-sub-genres and newly-invented portmanteaus. It is always interesting discovering something genuinely ‘new’ and exciting. Over the past few weeks, I have had the chance to check out some terrific Pop, Indie and Electronic music. It has taken me all around the world and introduced me to some fantastic future stars. In the case of Josh Michaels; his operatic tones and fusion of ideas – a melting of Opera/Classic/Pop and Alternative – is intriguing, to say the least. If I were to say the words ‘Opera’ and ‘Classical’ to you: one might assume there is going to be something quite stuffy and grand. Sure, Michaels has a big voice and atmospheric songbook – he is not someone who creates purist Opera that is reserved for those who stubbornly refute modern elements and any invention in the genre. It would be redundant, if one wants to be popular and widespread, to perform in a more ‘traditional’ sense - a pure operatic delivery that is found in theatres rather than national radio. Michaels’ background is in Italian Opera. That is what he trained in and employs a lot of its merits and disciplines in his music. The great thing about modern Opera is its adaptability and evolution. It is not a stuffy and elitist genre that alienates other listeners. At its core is a triumphant and emotional delivery: a vocal-cum-instrumental presentation that gets the heart beating spiritedly and the blood pumping hot. The lyrics are modern and universal. One will find few tales of doomed ancient lovers and interfamilial strife – one might, but it would be a contemporary equivalent.
There was a time, not too long ago, when music suffered a bit of limit and restriction – not as cross-pollinating and varied as one would imagine. The inspiration chest has been replenished and, in 2017, artists are as explosive, original and ambitious as any time in recent memory. There is still a commercial aspect to music (I shall nod to that later) but new artists are taking the effort to produce music that stretches the imagination and engages the mind. That is true of Josh Michaels who, lacing Italian Opera with flavours of Pop and Alternative, creates something heady, arresting and mature. If one is wary of embracing a genre like Opera: listening to artists who bring aspects of it into their music is an accessible way in. Michaels has that knowledge and knowing; he is a commanding vocalist and someone who appreciates the principles and dignity of Opera. He does not tamper and make light of its personality and power. Rather, he harnesses the romance and emotional power of Opera and introduces it to the open and for-the-people qualities of Pop, Alternative (and other genres). It is a great blend and one that provides people like me – not that au fait with Opera and its D.N.A. – a portal into a phenomenal style of music. The issue one can have with artists who are sonically ambitious is a lack of identity. In fact, I am reading reviews of alt-J’s latest album, Relaxer, and some of the most disparaging feedback – some say the songs are scattershot and the band lack any cohesion and personality. If an artist has that no-barriers approach to their sound; there is always the risk of lacking focus and cohesiveness. That is not the case with Michaels who keeps his music rooted, tangible and infused with infectious personality and real depth. It is an emotional and physical experience – discovering his music – and once one hears a song like Break Around You; you are compelled to dig further and witness the full spectrum of his talent.
Most artists, one would imagine, try and write from the heart. It is a way of making their musical personal and direct. Even if the song you’re writing about is not about yourself or a relationship; it does not mean you cannot project a sense of the heartfelt and tender. Josh Michaels is a storyteller who, despite his youth, has experienced a lot and is keen to open his soul through music. I guess there is a certain vulnerability being too transparent and revealing. A lot of artists are either too hesitant when it comes to talking about their experiences/relations or doing it in a rather predictable manner. It is one of the hardest things to nail: writing about love/yourself and making it accessible to the masses. Michaels is not someone too concerned with the mainstream and commercial avenues – he does want his music to connect with as many people as possible. That is why he has been so hard promoting the Out of the Deep Blue E.P. – to make sure people are aware any experience everything from it. Traversing the E.P. and one is struck by the conviction and emotion that comes out. I use words like ‘emotion’ a lot and that can be an ambiguous term. Michaels, in the E.P., talks about his life but there are some hard revelations and sensitive moments. It can be all-too-easy shrouding those in obliqueness but he does not favour that approach. Instead, we have a young man who feels the best way to resonate and make an impact is to keep his language simple and intelligible. Maybe that stems from his Opera background – although, there are productions and composers who favour florid language – it is more to do with Michaels’ nature. Every utterance and line stem from someone who wants the listener to immerse themselves in his mind – become engrossed and involved with the song completely. The performances explode from the heart and have such a lasting effect. I am finding a lot of musicians complicating language and shielding themselves behind metaphors similes and clever wordplay. It is impressive to hear poetic and fascinating lyrics come from an artist but one yearns to hear something bare-naked and uncomplicated. The downside of this approach is appearing too-simplistic or generic but, when it is done right, the results are clear. That is what one gets from Josh Michaels: no pretension or graces; someone who takes his tales and observations and ensures they get straight to the listeners’ hearts.
I shall move on to something that has appeared on a few of my reviews lately: artists who get their music played on various stations and across the world. For Michaels, he has had his songs played on radio in Europe and America. It would appear there is a lot of attention coming his way which is pleasing to hear. His E.P. was released late last year but, since its unveiling, has been met with acclaim and interest. Based in the U.S.; there is a huge market over here – the biggest music economy in the world. It must be daunting for artists to make a career and separate themselves from the crowd. How does one, realistically, get their music played on stations all over the world? It seems easy, in an Internet-age, to make that happen – it is not as easy as one might perceive. It is not a case of popping a song online and hoping D.J.s bite like fish. One has to put leg-work in and actually do their research. Of course, you need the talent and originality to resonate with stations and their demographic. Some artists, those who play mainstream sounds, have an easier time targeting stations and sites. For those, like Michaels, who play something different – where do they go and how easy is it to get the music heard?! In the U.S., there are few artists who do things the same way as he does. Promotion is an important asset and something new musicians should not overlook. Michaels has ensured he’s being interviewed and focused on by some big sites. He has been chatting about his music and, when the interview is online, sharing the post to ensure people see it. That will get into the mind of his contacts – many of whom will be radio stations and D.J.s – and make an impact on them. Right now, Michaels is promoting Break Around You – the first new track since his E.P. - and will be eager for it to be played in as many countries as possible.
It is an assured song that shows he is among the most interesting and inventive artists in the U.S. I am not sure what his promotional campaign involves but, having come to people like me, he wants it exposed and reviewed. Were the song weak – which it isn’t – then it would be hard getting it celebrated and shared. As it is; it is a powerful track that can easily shaft itself about the airwaves. For Michaels, it will be a case of getting the song out to blogs (national and international) and hitting as many as possible. He knows all this – for the benefit of those who do not – but there are niche and general blogs who would be interested in the track. Doing the leg-work and putting the graft in is an essential part of being a musician. In terms of the digital/written world: social media is an important tool. Directly contacting sites and asking them for interviews and features. It can be harder to get into the sights of the stations as they have set playlists. If one wants to get their songs on radio stations; it is best to start locally. That does not mean the lesser stations and those who you do not respect. There will be at least one that plays the sort of music you like. Making that contact and putting an email to the director/producer of the show/station will never hurt. Being a big fan of stations like BBC Radio 6 Music; a lot of their songs are from new artists and those underground. Many of those tracks are discovered online; artists get in contact with them. It is important doing your research and not throwing your music to everyone and hoping something sticks. Michaels, as a New York-based artist, is around a mass of stations. He knows the kind of station who plays his music and needs to persist. Keeping them updated about his latest releases means he is in the consciousness and has that passion for being heard. Naturally, one needs to have that talent and skill so their music gets played on the radio. Michaels develops his music and, with every release, brings something new in. This skill and evolution – together with a determination to get the music across the airwaves – will pay dividends and see Michaels heard around the country. I am confident, because he has already been heard in Europe, the music will be more known over here soon. It is hard fitting in and seeing which British stations will play his music – there are a few, for sure, that will host his music. I will keep my ears out by the American artist is working hard and showing how it should be done.
Josh Michaels has international ambitions and wants to get his music to the people of the world. I have followed his music for a little while and can see new things coming in. At the beginning, the genres employed with Opera and Pop. Now, I am discovering something heavier and more experimental. There are Electronic elements and sounds that would be familiar to the coolest radio stations around. Whether this slight shift is a reaction to the market demands – Michaels wanting to get his sounds to new people – or an unconscious decision, I am not sure. It is interesting looking at the developments in Michaels’ sounds and how he is growing in confidence. That Opera background fuses with of-the-moment chart sounds but does not compromise its purity and intelligence. At its heart; the music is designed to get into the heart and connect, on several fronts, with the listener. It is not shallow and overproduced music designed to make an instant impact and not linger in the mind. Michaels is a purveyor of nuanced and multi-dimensional music. It is not reserved for those who know Opera or have particular tastes. It is becoming broader but, as I say, not compromising anything or losing identity and credibility. An interesting time for the New York artist. I am excited to see how his career develops and how the rest of 2017 plays out. Break Around You is a song that suggests there is plenty more left in Josh Michaels. I am keen to see what his next move is and whether there will be another E.P. Out of the Deep Blue has already been met with respect and acclaim: there is a desire for Michaels’ music; it is crossing boundaries and making its voice known in a number of countries. Before I come to long at the song in question; I want to look at New York and whether it is the best city for Josh Michaels to make his name.
I have never been to New York but I can understand its allure and appeal. It is a wonderful city that attracts millions and has that incredible reputation. For Michaels; there is so much music and life available to him. The opportunities and possibilities are enough for anyone to move over there permanently. Many have told Michaels, in order to ‘make it’ in music, he needs to get himself to Los Angeles. L.A. is seen as the place to go for any musician who really wants to succeed in music. I am not sure where this perception comes from. Maybe, the clement climate and luscious scenery, connects to that classic ideal of Paradise and the perfect. The Los Angeles bodies glisten; the sun shines and it is an ideal landscape for everyone. That is the cliché ideal - but not one that is realistic and necessarily true. There are downsides to Los Angeles and definite drawbacks. There is a different music scene in L.A. so one cannot assume any musician would succeed and flourish there. It is harder transitioning from a city like New York and going to L.A. The people are different and way of life differs between the two. That East Coast mentality is at-odds with the West Coast ethos. Sure, there is more money is Los Angeles but the musicians there, in my view, no stronger than New York. Both places have validity and positives but there must be that immense pressure (for Michaels) to relocate. He has spent his life in New York so knows the people and vibe of the street. So far, he has garnered respect and positivity from stations and sources in New York and is building that local reputation. It is a challenge – in both cities – getting ahead of the pack but that is true anywhere. Michaels has already done the hard thing: created music that does not easily fit into the mainstream. I am not sure whether New York is as chart-driven as London but there is going to be that desire for something commercial and accessible.
Michaels has sounds that can be extrapolated and appreciated by the masses but, for the most part, his music has a unique edge and definite original skin. New York promotes and fosters artists who do things differently so I would not be in a rush to go to the other side of the country. I can see the appeal of L.A. in the sense there is a big market for music and some of the biggest labels and artists reside there. There is, away from downtown Los Angeles, a chance to unwind and be inspired. Would Michaels be a different person if he moved to Pasadena or Malibu? Would he be a different musician, for that matter?! I am not sure but do know he would have to change, to an extent, and start over again. How tempting is it to start from scratch and be someone he is not? I am not sure whether he will spend time over there and relocate in the future. New York’s music scene is legendary and undeniably world-class. Consider all the great bands who have come from there and the terrific artists there are right now. Go from borough-to-borough and one gets a different climate and flavour. The music of Brooklyn and Manhattan is distinct compared to Long Island and The Bronx. There is so much available for the curious musician. For me, I feel the only real way to make it as a journalist is to move to London. That is understandable as it is the capital and has the most lucrative music market in the U.K. Like L.A., it is not the only part of the country that is set up for ambitious creatives. Manchester is a wonderful part of Britain that has an active and thriving music scene. I would be happy in each but, the reason I want to come to London, is because it is busier and closer. For Michaels, he has spent his life in New York and not ready to abandon the city he loves. Why should he as he has the chance to do something wonderful.
It is evident, from the opening seconds; one gets the whole package from Josh Michaels. The introduction is brief but offers bubbling and atmospheric electronics. You get some determined percussion but the mood is kept light and intriguing. When the hero comes to the microphone – those who do not know his voice might expect a different sound – it takes the song in a new direction. I was expecting, from the sound of the introduction, something quite light and Pop-driven. Instead, the voice has that seriousness and passion. It is a nice contrast and one that adds gravitas and layers to the song. One hears about the darkness – maybe he is speaking about a heroine or friend – and the fact the light will come soon enough. Maybe it is intended towards a sweetheart or a song that looks inward. Whatever has brought the uncertainty and darkness; the dawn will come and the shadows will be refracted and dissipated. It is the voice that keeps the listener engrossed and fascinated. It is hard comparing it to anything else but there is a definite nod to legends of music – Michaels is original but has that command and conviction reserved for a certain few. It is a wonderful sound and one that gets into the mind with ease. I hear crackle and vintage echoes; there is an undertone of electric swirl and the distant sound of the city. It seems, when hearing that crackle, you are listening to an older record. The production values mean the sounds are clear and crisp. There is a moodiness and atmospheric haunt; romantic and alluring delivery and cautionary words. Michaels, it appears, it talking about a companion. She – I think it is about a girl, at this juncture – seems afraid to be alone and must be wrestling with a few things. Maybe Michaels is being used as a sounding-board and shoulder. She is putting out her concerns and Michaels is reacting.
Michaels’ voice, David Bowie-like in places, wobbles and strikes. It is a wonderful delivery and one that ensures every word get into the heart. The heroine should not “go chasing shadows” and, it seems, she is holding on to old memories. Maybe there is a sense the girl is looking in the wrong places for love and guidance. Looking deeper into the song and one wonders whether Michaels is a lost love or current flame. There is that affection and support for the girl: maybe a need to save her and keep her close by. In terms of the vocal, he is keeping dignified and cautious. Offering support and maturity; one feels he would rather be candid and let his true emotions come through. Break Around You, in terms of the title, is about the darkness and shadows eroding; the need to cast off the shackles and live a better life. Getting impressions of Boy George and Anohni – hope he does not mind those comparisons – the vocal gets hotter and more involved. The composition comes into the foreground and those beats and electronics do their work. The heroine is letting others control her and living a way of life that is not working. Michaels offers a force of light and sensibility. He is there to show she needs to embrace the goodness and potential inside her. “Stay above the hate” is a mantra accompanied by intense electronic hums and an eerie mood. The hero is determined to make a change in the girl’s life – at the very least, show her why she cannot continue the way she is. It is interesting interpreting the lyrics because they would be different in Michaels’ mind. I get the sense they pertain to a friend: someone who has had a tough ride but is starting to turn a corner. It is easy submitting to the hate but that will not be wise. If I were to dig deeper; I feel there is a romantic component to the song. It seems Michaels has some fondness for the other party. I am not suggesting this is a call-out and seduction but, with the friendship and wisdom, one hears his heart beat faster and more passionately than normal.
It appears the world needs to break around her. Things are getting complicated and intense: allowing the rocks to crumble and splits to appear might declutter things and offer some form of clarity. One can feel the strain and emotiveness in the vocal. There is a personal element to the song that takes it beyond the intangible and really starts to connect. We have all been in a situation where we have experienced these emotions – or seen someone going through some tough times. Michaels articulates a universal message but projected from a personal place. That is what he tries to do with all his music. Rather than separate himself from the listener: one gets a young man who involves them in the music and writes songs they will understand. The composition gets more intense as it bounces, percolates and strides. It has the potential to be a big club hit. One gets involved and finds their bodies moving and compelled. Such a full and physical song that urges (the heroine) to turn her “black world blue”. Things are bad now but there is a way out. What I love about the song is how unexpected it is. Even if you are familiar with Michaels’ E.P., Out of the Deep Blue, you might not expect something like Break Around You. The sheer conviction and passion in the song tops anything he has attempted before. The final moments reiterate the chorus and implore strength and bravery. You find yourself singing along to the chorus and supporting the girl. Maybe I am reading too much into the romantic: the song could be about a friendship or a way of Michaels singing about his own life but detaching himself slightly. Surely, as a young man in a big city, he would have felt black days and scared at times. Whatever your viewpoint and interpretation; Break Around You is a fantastic song from one of New York’s finest young musicians.
I shall come back to some of the points I raised earlier but, right now, a look ahead for Michaels. He will be looking to tour and perform his latest music very soon. I know he has gigs in the U.S. but he must be thinking ahead to new music. Out of the Deep Blue is an E.P. that has done very well but there must be that temptation to build on that – Break Around You is not on the E.P. and shows where Michaels is heading right now. I am not sure whether he does have new material ready but the confidence he has right now surely drives that creative impetus. I would like to see Michaels come to the U.K. as there is a definite audience over here. Knowing Opera-based artists like Gemma Louise Doyle; it seems, between them, they could organise something. There is a great Opera scene in London and a lot of modern artists who would be able to support Michaels. I know, from various interviews, the style and complexity of British Opera. You have the pure and unadorned form that keeps things to history and tradition. More and more, I am seeing artists inject Pop lightness and fun into Opera; Rock elements and Soul. Genres do not have to be rigid and static: artists can add new elements without making the original source watered-down and foreign. Josh Michaels has the energy and talent to take his music wherever he wants so let’s hope Britain is part of his plans. There are countries in Europe that would love his music so that is something to consider. He will need to do a bit of research but his appeal is not confined to the U.S. On the subject of new music; whether Michaels continues the sound of and themes of Out of the Deep Blue or not remains to be seen. Break Around You is a song that comes from the heart and one of the most direct and affecting tracks that he has ever created. I approve of artists who create emotional and open music without making their lyrics sound stereotyped and predictable. There are too many acts who employ clichés and do not stray beyond convention.
Michaels is a musician who takes from his own life and reacts to his experiences. I have done my best to get to the nub of Break Around You – and hope I have done it justice. In the past, he has had his music played on MTV and short films; been heard around America and built up an impressive fanbase. The social media numbers are climbing and bringing in fans from various nations. Maybe it is the personal approach Michaels takes to music that has seen him gain such acclaim and interest. I know many musicians do create similar music but it is the way Michaels does it that really interests me. He is vulnerable with the listeners but does not look for sympathy or cast blame. There is a young man who responds to his stories and heartaches and tries to make sense of it all. He has felt love and disappointment; the sting of betrayal and the elation of the music world. Making sense of that all and forming interesting music is harder than one might imagine. There is that temptation to copy your peers and make something that has radio-friendly sounds. One does get commercial appeal and potential (with Michaels) but there is a distinct soul who has the desire to make his music internationally known. That will come very soon because, with each new release, he is growing stronger. The reason behind his development and popularity is the way Michaels puts new sounds and elements into his music. That is not to say Michaels is becoming less focused. I started by looking at a band like alt-j who, on their latest album, have been accused of lacking identity and personality. They, on Relaxer, experiment with sounds and cover so many genres. Is that a danger for artists? In their zeal to distinguish themselves; perhaps they have done TOO much and need to reign their music in. That is a danger for new artists, too. Many can get carried away with their sound but that is not the case with Josh Michaels. He is level-headed but knows musicians need to adapt and try new things.
Right now, Michaels does not have a Twitter account but I hope that changes in the coming months. There is a world out there that is unfamiliar with his music – and would love to hear it – and is waiting. Right now, there is the sense he can go as far as possible and make some real headway. New York is a bustling and never-sleeping hub that buzzes and explodes with people, sound and energy. I can see the attraction of remaining there. One can never get bored in the city and, for a musician, it is one of the best places to be. I do not know whether Michaels will surrender to the lure of L.A. but, when it comes to making a success of things, L.A. does not own the rights. New York has huge stations, labels and P.R. companies. Los Angeles has a different way of life but that does not mean it is better or more opportunity-filled. Michaels’ official website is impressive but, from a P.R. perspective, there is a great chance for him. He is a photogenic chap – much more so than me – and has a face that many would like to see. There are some great shots of him on the website but, in my mind, a couple of official shoots would be great. Whether he shoots solo – or has a model/people in the photos – is his choice but taking to the New York streets. I am not sure how close he is to the Metropolitan Opera (30 Lincoln Center Plaza, N); Neil Simon Theatre (250 W 52nd St) or Bryant Park but there are some great locales and spots. It would be good to see a collection of high-quality photos of the young artist adjacent to some landmarks and hotspots in New York. Maybe he does not need to confine himself to his home city but there are ample photographers who would spare the time. The same goes for social media. Getting that Twitter account set up; putting more music on YouTube and getting a music video made would not only see the music get to more people but make it easier to market, share and gain feedback.
In his twenties; there is time to do that but I wonder whether that will coincide with his next release. I digress but see a lot of potential in Josh Michaels. With that strong voice and incredible songwriting ability; he has the talent to be a star in years to come. Break Around You is ample evidence and a fantastic cut from the New York resident. I shall leave this by talking about Opera. It is a genre Michaels grew up listening to. His teaching is in Italian Opera so it is not surprising it should for the core of his music. To me, it is the vocals and expressions that owe a debt to Opera. In terms of sounds, there is Pop and Electronic aspects. That is a great way of introducing Opera to people but ensuring it crosses age and taste barriers. Many still have that stuffy and ignorant view of Opera. They assume it will be a drag and something that will not appeal to them. It has updated a lot over the years and, as I said, a lot of modern artists splice Opera with modern themes, sounds and ideas. You get a sensation that pleases the purists but brings in new audiences. That is true of Josh Michaels who is modern and classical all at the same time. Make sure you follow his music and see where he is heading. He is loving New York and taking so much inspiration from it. At his feet, he has access to Opera houses and theatres; some of the finest art in the country. I am not surprised he wants to remain there as it sounds like a city that accommodates his passions and personality. One can hear this happiness, passion and comfort in his music. That incredible and determined voice sits with personal and memorable lyrics. One gets a window into a superb musician who is taking the first steps of his careers. I, for one, cannot wait to see where Michaels goes from here. Wherever that is, let us hope, the course of his travels, he makes the time and…
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