Nalani and Sarina have a new album, “The Circle,” and their own new label, Telepathy Records, which will be distributed by Kobalt. All will be celebrated May 10 at The Bitter End in New York City and May 11 at The Queen in Wilmington, Del.
I usually can tell within the first 30 seconds of a song whether I want to write about a new band or one I’ve never heard before. I’ll forward through about four songs until something strikes me, and if it doesn’t by then, I move on.
Never in 30 years of writing this column on and off have I ever forwarded to the next song because the one I was listening to was so good I was excited to hear what came next. But that’s what happened with “Pretty Lies,” the opening track of “The Circle,” the new LP of the twin sister duo Nalani & Sarina Bolton. And what comes next, the Millennial anthem, “Young & Inexperienced,” is even better, having blown up as a single on Billboard, BBC Radio, Spotify playlists, as a Makin Waves Song of the Week and much more.
Both songs are part of about half of “The Circle” that could stand alone as a concept EP concerning young people coming of age. With a mix of funky sass and folky storytelling, the duo chronicle their peers drinking too much in college, having difficulty paying back loans for their education, avoiding the monotony of 9-to-5 life, finding a way to make a difference in the world, and caring for an ailing parent. There are also tales of taking a chance on a relationship rather than continuing to play games, and suddenly getting older than Olympic athletes or the latest pop star, while struggling to find the time to enjoy old memories of -- and make new memories with -- childhood friends and family.
The mini musical of Millennial life kicks off with the opening “Pretty Lies,” which examines the waste of money, time and brain cells that college students often invest in drinking alcohol, especially those who are under age. Whereas “Young & Inexperienced” sympathizes with the high cost of tuition, extreme burden of college loans, and lack of decent employment for new entrants, Nalani & Sarina, who skipped college to pursue a music career, skewer peers for creating more hardships by drinking to excess.
Based solely on the strength of those two tracks, I believe that Nalani & Sarina are a voice for their generation. The rest of the 11-song album confirms it. That voice will grow stronger the more successful the twinergetic duo’s own new label, Telepathy Records, and its respected Kobalt distributor are with “The Circle.” One thing is certain to me, “Young & Inexperienced” is Nalani & Sarina’s best-ever song and the best tune released so far this year by a Jersey act. While it’s gotten a lot of play as a Millennial anthem, such lines as “working hard ain’t hard enough,” are relatable to anyone within Trump’s America who works for the corporate elite.
On that note, “Welcome to the Rest of Your Life” continues the coming-of-age storyline with a tune about a new entrant who must live up to the title of the song without having to settle for bland monotony. Next comes the mobilizing Michael Jackson-inspired title track, complete with Quincy Jones-like arrangements by multi-horn player Bill Holloman.
“Never Let Go of Your Hand” is a soulful torch song from the perspective of a loving child who cares for an ailing parent. I’m not sure if it’s Nalani, Sarina or keyboardist Tommy Mandel, but the piano on “Never Let Go” is strikingly beautiful. I also love the way an acoustic guitar simulates a heartbeat.
I always say that it’s the nuances that make a record great, and that is the case with the muted forlorn-sounding horn on this track that subtly helps to paint the pain depicted. Kudos to the skills of Nalani, Sarina and their co-producers Julian Herzfeld and Greg Drew, who also is their manager.
The same could be said about the little chiming keyboard bits between the verses halfway through “Deep End,” a standout reggae-tinged, Bruno Mars-like pop nugget about a young woman who plays hard to get until she realizes it isn’t getting her anywhere. I love the opening lines – “She caught his eye from a distance/Pulled him in like the ocean tide on a windy day/He made his way in her direction/She turned her shoulder and quickly looked the other way” – as well as the sweet, soft dual scat near the end and the ringing guitar solo that follows it.
In addition to writing strong story songs and being incredibly adorable and charming, Nalani & Sarina are really good at using their voices as additional instruments. Besides the scat on “Deep End,” there is a vocal delivery on the funky live favorite “Wake Up” that almost sounds like a human beat box as they enunciate the title. Nice slide work by longtime guitarist Oscar Rodriguez, also of Great Big World, is layered throughout on top of a beat that could make a dead man dance.
On the closing “Tomorrow and Yesterday,” the twins use a non-lyrical harmony to gorgeous effect within a vocal bridge to the last verse about a young neighbor whose maturation in the midst of his parents’ divorce serves as a realization that life is fleeting and hard. Yet making fond memories can make it all worthwhile, the song concludes.
“Tomorrow and Yesterday” may be the best example of how Nalani & Sarina are now women and no longer girls as they sing about the complexities of relationships between childhood friends, as well as family, and the bittersweet memories of both. The duo express how those memories can create a longing for the past and inspiration for the future.
Nalani & Sarina always have been excellent singers and musicians, having studied and played music nearly all of their young lives. But what’s really impressive about “The Circle” is the quality of the songwriting. Intelligent stories with an abundance of hooks are weaved into a theme that makes a statement about the successes and failures of their generation. This is not your standard rhythmic pop. It’s a level of songwriting that wasn’t realized on the duo’s previous releases and, along with Deal Casino’s live show, demonstrates the greatest depth of musical growth and maturity by a Jersey act since Makin Waves returned from a 10-year hiatus in January 2016 with a Nalani & Sarina interview.
You can hear and see what I mean live when the duo celebrate the release on May 10 at The Bitter End, New York City, and May 11 at The Queen, Wilmington, Del. They’ll also play May 21 at 49 West, Annapolis, Md.; May 22, Arts Club of Washington, in D.C.; June 9, The RCA Vault, Berlin, N.J.; Aug. 8, Musikfest, Bethlehem, Pa., and Sept. 8 at Hub City Sounds: ROCK New Brunswick in Boyd Park. At that point, Nalani & Sarina will embark upon a national tour in support of “The Circle.”
State Theatre Presents Diana Krall: Turn Up the Quiet Tour (NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- State Theatre New Jersey presents Diana Krall live in concert as part of her Turn Up The Quiet World Tour on Friday, October 12 at 8:00pm. Tickets range from $43-$153.50. This concert will feature songs from Diana Krall’s stunning new album, Turn Up The Quiet, out now on Verve Records as well as a mix of some fan favorites. Kean Stage Presents The Manhattan Transfer (UNION, NJ) -- Going strong after more than 45 years, Grammy Award winner The Manhattan Transfer, with tenor vocals from Kean University alumnus Alan Paul '71, will captivate Kean Stage audiences with their distinctive four-part harmonies at Enlow Recital Hall on Sunday, September 30 at 3:00pm.3rd Annual North Jersey Indie Rock Festival (JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- The North Jersey Indie Rock Festival returns to Jersey City on October 6. Presented by Mint 400 Records and Sniffling Indie Kids, the festival includes acts from those labels and Little Dickman Records, Rhyme and Reason Records, and State Champion Records. The festival takes place at White Eagle Hall. Doors are at 4:00pm and the music starts at 4:30pm. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.Bobby McFerrin To Kick Off the 125th Season Of Princeton University Concerts (PRINCETON, NJ) -- On Friday, September 21, 2018 at 7:30pm, 10-time GRAMMY award-winning artist Bobby McFerrin launches Princeton University Concerts’ (“PUC”) 125th Anniversary Season in a special event performance at Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall. The concert will feature McFerrin alongside members of his a cappella group Gimme5 in a program titled “ Circlesongs ” -- an evening of spontaneous music-making through shared improvised sound, in a language growing out of tribal chant and sacred music. The Dryden Ensemble Presents Bach Cantata Fest (PRINCETON, NJ) -- The Dryden Ensemble will present a Bach Cantata Fest on Saturday, October 20 at 7:30pm at Trinity Episcopal Church, 6587 Upper York Road, Solebury, Pennsylvania, and on Sunday, October 21 at 3:00pm at Miller Chapel, located on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer Street, Princeton, New Jersey. Tickets are $25 for general admission and free to students with an ID. They may be purchased at the door or online at www.drydenensemble.org.
“Here’s Lucie!” Lucie Arnaz LIVE! at the PNC Bank Arts Center Even though the weather outside Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center is cloudy with some light intermittent drizzle this Wednesday, September 12, 2018 afternoon, the venue’s stage is still shining brightly with talent thanks to a live performance by television, film, and stage actress/singer Lucie Arnaz!Mike Aiken Talks About Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch At RVCC (BRANCHBURG, NJ) -- Raritan Valley Community College presents Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch on Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22. The three-day event will feature a number of different musical shows by Mike Aiken, as well as other solo artists and groups. Virtuoso Jazz Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty LIVE! at the Newton Theatre It’s a warm but lovely Aug. 23, 2018 evening here in Newton, NJ. After enjoying some hand-dipped Cliff’s ice cream from the window at Hayek Market, we march up Spring Street looking forward to hearing some world-class jazz at one of the Garden State’s favorite concert venues, The Newton Theatre.An Interview with Bernie Williams Four-time World Series Champion and Latin Grammy-Nominated guitarist and composer Bernie Williams will perform with his All-Star Band at the Jersey Shore this Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at The Grunin Center of the Arts in Toms River, NJ!“Unleash the Love” The Beach Boys LIVE! at The Great Auditorium So what were you doing at 8:18 pm on 8/18/18?
Well, we’re not sure what you were up to, but we know that on that hot August night, we were listening to “America’s Band” — The Beach Boys — and watching them “Unleash the Love” while performing their incredible catalog of hits at Ocean Grove NJ’s Great Auditorium!