By Allyson Bills
Twenty-one-year-old Toronto based producer Sam Willows, who performs under the moniker Avenue, has accomplished more than most people his age. Before releasing his first solo single earlier this year, “Our Love” featuring Tokyo Police Club, he has been busy producing remixes of bands that are well-known in the dance scene, such as Miami Horror and Citizens, as well asremixing Tears For Fears’ hit “Shout” in 2014. In 2015, the classically-trained Willows has decided to spread his wings and release his very first solo EP, Keep Counting as Avenue through Dine Alone Records.
Avenue’s classical training is evident from the first track off Keep Counting, “Last One Out.” He blends pianos with synthesizers, along with his haunting falsetto voice in order to create a unique sound that you don’t often hear with electronic-sounding music these days. The sound on “Last One Out” has very distinct Depeche Mode flavor meshed together with a faster-paced Phoenix. The reservation that I have with “Last One Out” is that Avenue, at times, lets the song and chorus play out longer than necessary. I found myself losing interest after the 2:30 mark for the reasons above. The song would have been perfect if it was honed down to at least a minute less than its original 3:46 length.
The overuse of chorus continues into the EP’s title track. Again, the sound that Avenue is accomplishing with enhancing his piano capabilities with synthesizers works well with his vocal style. However, the song needs to develop in a more lyrical fashion in order to nail it completely. Again, I found the extreme overuse of Avenue’s chorus of “Tell me what you’re thinking // Tell me what you want to do // Tell me how I’m feeling // Ask me if I feel it, too” to be tiring at times. The mid-tempo “Keep Counting” has crossover appeal to the indie crowd, but adding more substance to the lyrical content would be beneficial. As with “Last One Out,” the 4:26 minute “Keep Counting” is left overdeveloped.
However, Avenue finds his footing, both lyrically and musically, in the last two songs off the EP. “Hot Slow Wind” is a catchy, dark tune with vocals that echo throughout the song. It’s hauntingly slick tune that will leave you singing the chorus of “Hot slow wind // I feel it fading fast” long after the conclusion of the song. Despite the redundancy of the lyrics at time, “Hot Slow Wind” has enough variety of tempo-changes with heavy bass and quiet moments with the synthesizers throughout the song that it keeps it interesting for the listener. “Hot Slow Wind” is easily one of Avenue’s strongest songs off Keep Counting, and definitely one a song that a DJ can play at an “indie dance night.”
Avenue saved the best for last in the EP’s final track, “In Your Eyes,” which I consider the ballad of the EP. This is the track where Willows’ classical training chops really shine, with the pianos being heavily enhanced throughout the track. It’s very reminiscent of how Tori Amos lets the piano create the story of the song. Avenue channels this idea with “In Your Eyes”; the song has a feeling that you are hangout out at night on a hill above the city lights with all of its various key changes. “In Your Eyes” is also lyrically sound with its powerful line, “Your heart still moves and you feel it.” I could definitely feel my heart beating with the pulsating sounds of Avenue’s piano.
If you are familiar with Willows’ remixes under his moniker Avenue, you will notice that Keep Counting surprisingly sounds less electronic than his remixes for other artists. It’s obvious that Avenue wants to create a broader appeal to listeners who are unfamiliar with his remixes. Overall, I think Willows is doing this (more musically than lyrically) with Avenue’s EP debut, despite the EP being rough around the edges at times.