One of my favorite songs from the 1990s is “Constant Craving” by silky-voiced Canadian singer k.d. lang. A mezzo-soprano, her gorgeous and clear singing voice is as close to perfect as any female vocalist I can think of. Born Kathryn Dawn Lang in 1961 in Edmonton, Canada, she’s had a successful career as a solo artist, and has also collaborated with the likes of Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett, Elton John, The Killers, Anne Murray and Ann Wilson, among others. She started out as a country singer, but eventually transitioned to a more pop-oriented sound. She’s won Juno and Grammy Awards, and is a long-time animal rights, gay rights, and Tibetan human rights activist. Lang has been openly lesbian since 1992.
“Constant Craving” was co-written by lang and Ben Mink, and is included on her beautiful second album Ingénue. The song was released in 1992 and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1993, as well as an MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video. The song peaked at #8 on the Canadian singles chart, but only #38 on the Billboard Hot 100, which is a travesty. I think it should have been a #1 hit, and is my favorite song of 1992, a year that pop music went over a cliff as far as I’m concerned. (Some of the biggest hits that year were “I’m Too Sexy”, “Baby Got Back”, “Jump” [by Kriss Kross] and the insipid Boyz II Men snooze fest “End of the Road”; those four songs alone dominated the top of the Billboard charts for 29 weeks, more than half the year! Enuf said…)
The stunning song features lang’s beautiful vocal harmonies layered over strummed and twangy acoustic guitars, accompanied by a gentle accordion riff and delicate xylophones that give the song both a slight country and charming French vibe. In fact, the unusual award-winning black and white video produced for the song, and directed by Mark Romanek, presents an artistic recreation of the premiere of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot in Paris, 1953.
As for her inspiration for writing the song, lang later told the producers of Balletlujah (a 2014 documentary about lang and the portrait ballet based on her life and music): “I was sitting at my house at my typewriter, and in my head I heard the phrase ‘constant craving’. When I wrote it, I felt it deeply, but I honestly can’t tell you what I was craving at the time. Sex? Love? Something cold to drink? I don’t remember. As a Buddhist I struggle with desire, but sometimes I just embrace it. Acknowledging it, contemplating it, and making friends with it is one of my lifelong journeys.”
Even through the darkest phase Be it thick or thin Always someone marches brave Here beneath my skin
And constant craving Has always been
Maybe a great magnet pulls All souls to what’s true Or maybe it is life itself Feeds wisdom To its youth
Constant craving Has always been
Craving Ah-ha Constant craving Has always been Has always been
Constant craving Has always been Constant craving Has always been
Craving Ah-ha Constant craving Has always been Has always been Has always been Has always been Has always been Has always been
As a blogger who writes about new music, I’m continually inundated with submissions from artists, PR firms and record labels, all wanting me to review their music offerings. There’s no way I can possibly write about or feature even a tenth of them, so must carefully pick and choose those I feel are standouts, or that resonate with me in some way. And so it was when I received an email from a nice man at Nice Marmot PR about Canadian artist dwi – aka Dwight Abell – and his debut album Mild Fantasy Violence, which dropped October 1st. Though several days passed before I was able to give the album my undivided attention, once I did I was hooked on this exquisite and beautiful work. I’ve listened to it multiple times since, and love it more with each play. The songs are brilliantly written and executed, with such compelling lyrics and memorable melodies, many remain stuck in my head long after hearing them.
Based in Maple Ridge, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Abell is also bassist for Canadian alternative/power pop band The Zolas. When the global pandemic shut everything down in March 2020, he decided to create his solo music project, which he dubbed dwi after the first three letters of his first name. With time alone (albeit with his wife and two young children), he had a chance to reflect on his own life and insecurities, as well as the crazy world around him, which led him to create this deeply personal record. Influenced by some of his favorite acts like The Beatles, The Cure, Oasis and Damon Albarn, dwi’s music is wonderfully refreshing and innovative, spanning with ease across a wide range of genres and styles.
Released via the label Light Organ Records, Mild Fantasy Violence explores feelings of disconnect from the normalities of relationships and society, touching on such topics as childhood, friendships, addiction, politics and environmentalism. “It’s about using extremes of both escapism and deep self reflection to come to terms with everyday life” Abell explains, adding “There’s so much I want to say about this album, but I honestly think everything I want to tell you about it is already in the songs. I’ve been dreaming about this moment ever since I heard Oasis for the first time at the tender age of 10.”
The album was artfully produced, mixed and engineered by James Younger, bassist of Canadian synth-rock band Yukon Blonde, who also played bass on “Intuitive”, as well as synths on some tracks. Abell played all other instruments except for drums. In listening to his songs, two of the most immediately striking aspects of dwi’s sound are his outstanding guitar work and quirky, endearing vocals that remind me at times of Declan McKenna or grandson, yet are uniquely his own. Then there are his disarmingly pointed lyrics that are so honest and relatable.
This is immediately evident on the first track “Intuitive“, a bouncy tune with a sort of hip hop beat, highlighted by a blaring distorted guitar riff. The song opens with noises one might hear at a party or bar as dwi bemoans his jadedness and ennui: “You said you brought the good shit, but I can’t taste the difference no more.” Later in the song, he expresses his desire for a hooker, knowing that nothing’s gonna come of it: “Senorita of the night. You’re stuck in bathrooms practicing your lines. I wanna love you but both my hands are tied. I wish I wasn’t so intuitive all the time.”
His skill for writing a great melody is showcased on the darkly beautiful “Reverse Engineering“, which to my ears has a strong twenty øne piløts feel. The song is really terrific, with elements of hip hop, alternative rock and dream pop, and I love the glittery synths, lovely piano keys, twangy guitars and snappy percussion, not to mention dwi’s wonderful vocals. And on the brilliant title track “Mild Fantasy Violence“, he ventures heavily into electronica to create a futuristic soundscape as a backdrop for the lyrics about addiction, using video games as a metaphor. He explained to Colleen Flanagan of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News that the song “is about someone who has an urge to play a video game and by the end of the song they are completely sucked into it. I love it lyrically and I love the progression of the song. It’s kind of like three songs in one. The first half of the song describes the struggle. The second half is like you are going through this tunnel and you’re getting all these warnings thrown at you. By the end you’ve just escaped and you’re inside this thing that you really didn’t want to be in but it’s glorious nonetheless.”
“Freak N Out” speaks to the emotional trauma many have experienced as a result of both the Covid pandemic and the destructive political divisiveness of late: “We’ve poisoned the well again but that’s old news I guess. The news is division of class and races no.” The hauntingly beautiful and sweeping orchestral and psychedelic synths and bold jangly guitars are fantastic. The dark and trippy video, directed by Sterling Larose, shows dwi seemingly losing touch with reality – i.e. freaking out – as he dances about in a wet field on a rainy night while interacting with a giant rather scary-looking teddy bear.
The album’s vibe makes an abrupt turn with the deliciously-upbeat, radio-friendly track “Good Friend“. The lively but poignant pop/rock song is about “discovering that a friend had been struggling with something dark and wishing you knew more at the time so you could help them through it” explains dwi. Against a backdrop of hard-driving rhythms and frantic riffs, he plaintively laments “Had I known you were broken inside. Had I known you were empty inside. If I was a good friend, I’d a known better. If I was a goodfriend, I’d have done better.” It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
“On the Weekend” has a languid, doo wop sound, with a wonderful mix of reverb-soaked jangly and distorted guitars, accompanied by swirling synths and gentle percussion. The lyrics seem to speak to wasting time with momentarily pleasing, but ultimately unproductive, pursuits like porn and watching strippers: ” Oh porno on the weekend helping the time go a little slow. Well I was in a daze until I finished, deleted the history but it wasn’t my history.” That x-eyed teddy bear makes a return appearance on the quirky surreal video, in which dwi performs the song with a backup band and a host of characters doing weird shit.
On the catchy “Summer’s Shut Down“, another radio-friendly tune, dwi laments about his ruined summer thanks to Covid, and how he misses his friends and fun times: “Just like a hunger strike, but at least with that you can put up a fight. My only vacation is staring at my laundry trying to figure it out. I guess my summer shut down.” The musically complex “Balance” sounds like a song that could have been recorded by the Talking Heads. I adore the bouncy groove and, as always, dwi’s guitar work and vocals are superb. The album closes with the achingly beautiful “Soon“, another of my favorites. Oh hell, they’re all favorites, as I love the entire album! The bittersweet lyrics seem to speak to feelings of disconnect and that something’s missing in your life, but remaining optimistic that things will be better soon: “I’m always home, but I’m never quite there. Like a lion’s roar that’s too loud to hear./ Soon. Hold my breath for me./ This land was grey, but the weather has changed.”
Mild Fantasy Violence is a brilliant and beautifully-crafted album filled with wonderful, outstanding songs. It’s an impressive debut effort, and a testament to dwi/Abell’s strengths as an imaginative and innovative songwriter and musician. He should be very proud of what he’s accomplished here, and I thank him for gifting us this lovely record.
Abell will be touring Canada in November with The Zolas to promote their latest album Come Back To Life, as well as perform his own songs. The tour starts in Montreal on November 4, and will finish in Victoria on the 27th.
Los Angeles-based Lord Huron have become one of my favorite bands over the past year, and I think their gorgeous album Long Lost is one of the very best of 2021. “Mine Forever”, the second single to be released from the album, is my new #1 song this week. It’s their second song to top my chart this year, the first being “Not Dead Yet”, the first single from Long Lost.
Entering the Top 10 this week are “Never Looked Back” by British band The Zangwills, and “Distorted Light Beam” by Bastille. Continuing their climb up the charts are “I Don’t Wanna Talk (I Just Wanna Dance)” by the Glass Animals and “Bitter Taste” by the legendary Billy Idol, both leaping seven spots. The lone debut this week is “Beggin'” by Italian rock band Måneskin, entering the chart at #30, and giving them two songs on this list (the other is “I Wanna Be Your Slave”, at #14).
I follow more blogs than a reasonable person should, and spend far too much time struggling to keep up with all their posts, often to the detriment of writing for my own blog. And like mine, a good many of them are about or related to music, which then entails devoting even more time listening to one or more songs those bloggers have shared, sometimes an entire album! So it’s nice when that time I’ve invested pays dividends in the form of great music discoveries. Such was the case when I heard the new album Simmons and Schuster on Abominations, a blog I follow that’s written by the hyper-talented and creative Marc Schuster. A collaboration between Schuster and fellow teacher/musician Timothy Simmons, the album is an unusual, fascinating and thoroughly unique work that I like so much, I have to share it with my readers.
A true renaissance man, Marc Schuster not only teaches English at Montgomery County Community College in southeastern Pennsylvania, he’s also written several books, scripts for two short films, and numerous book reviews, as well as writes songs and records music both as a solo artist and with music projects Plush Gordon, The Ministry of Plausible Rumours and experimental electronic music project Android Invasion. Last April, I featured his single “Before the Boys” on one of my Fresh New Tracks posts. I don’t know very much about Timothy Simmons, other than that he teaches music at Delaware Valley Friends School in Paoli, Pennsylvania, and is a terrific and imaginative musician as well.
The album features seven wonderfully-titled instrumental moodscapes that run the gamut from dark and menacing to light and soothing, with a cinematic quality that makes it feel, in their words, “like the soundtrack to a film that has yet to be made.” Los Angeles-based noir rock band Edgar Allen Poets compared it to Dante’s Divine Comedy, calling it “A journey between hell, purgatory, and then heaven”, a description I cannot argue with. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect about the album is that it was almost entirely improvisational, in that none of the seven tracks were composed, written or planned out in advance. Schuster explained “Usually, Tim would just start playing, and then I’d either play along or overdub my parts. ‘Start With Drums’, for example, literally started with Tim playing drums, and then I added some guitar and bass parts.”
Each of them played various instruments, with Simmons mainly playing drums, upright electric bass and piano, whereas Schuster played mostly electric guitar and bass, as well as snare drum on “Infernal Combustion Engine” and cymbals on “Murky Depths”. Most of the instruments are analog, and the drums were all recorded live and, in some cases, looped or rearranged in the editing process. They recorded the majority of the album in Schuster’s basement studio on August 18 and 28, 2021, though they did a fair amount of editing and overdubbing afterward. The exception is the album’s closing track, “Ralph Waldo Steps In,” which Simmons recorded in his living room earlier in the year, and Schuster later adding a string arrangement.
With Simmons and Schuster, the guys attempt to “depict the history of creation in the space of about forty-five minutes“. The darkly beautiful opening track “Start with Drums” represents the big bang, “flinging bits and pieces of music everywhere“. Actually, the track sounds somewhat more orderly than that to my ears, with Simmons’ repetitive drumbeats providing a kind of forward momentum in the creation of the universe, though Schuster’s throbbing bass and otherworldly blend of chiming and jangly guitars suggest the more random elements.
Next up is “Infernal Combustion Engine”, an eerie, almost dystopian sounding track intended to depict “a hot mess of a planet gradually taking shape“. The spooky music and sounds are created from mostly harsh industrial synths and sharp percussion, giving the track a strong sci-fi vibe. The first time I heard it, I immediately thought it would perfect as the basis for the soundtrack of the next installment of the Alien franchise, should there ever be one. Moving right along, “Murky Depths” “imagines the first signs of life appearing deep beneath the primordial sea“. It’s the longest track on the album, and has a cinematic, almost contemporary classical feel, with dramatic sweeping string synths, accompanied by subtle bass, strongly resonant chiming guitar notes and delicate cymbals.
“Tadpoles,” so named when Schuster noticed that the graphic representation of the sounds Simmons was making on his bass looked like tadpoles in the recording software they were using, is a languid track musically describing the continuing evolution of life. The music consists primarily of Simmons’ gentle bassline, overlain by Schuster’s twangy guitar notes that give the track a laid-back feel. For this track, Schuster played a Squier VI, which has six strings and is kind of a hybrid between a bass and a guitar. There are also rather strange shrill sounds that to my ears sound like screeching tires or brakes off in the distance. I have no idea of their significance, other than to perhaps add a bit of edginess and texture to the track.
One of the more unusual tracks on the album is “Mucking It Up”, meant to represent “the first land animals crawling onto muddy shores.” There’s a gnarly glop-like sound throughout the track that I thought sounded like it might be from a didgeridoo (an Australian aboriginal wind instrument). When I asked Schuster about it, he said “That didgeridoo sound is actually Tim’s upright electric bass. I ran it through a series of effects in Reason, the program I use to record music. The main effect is called the Synchronus Timed Effect Modulator. That’s what gives it what I think of as the “mucky” sound, hence the song’s title. I thought it sounded like stepping in mud.”
The futuristic “The End Was a Mess (So We Cut It)” sonically represents humankind’s industrialization of the world, millions of years after its creation. Appropriately, the guys use a mix of spacy and ominous industrial synths, wobbly guitar notes and quirky sound effects to create a somewhat unsettling soundscape that very effectively conveys – to my ears at least – the negative aspects of industrialization on both the planet and it’s inhabitants. Thankfully, things close on a tranquil note with “Ralph Waldo Steps In”, an enchanting piano piece with beautiful strings. It’s a fitting and optimistic end to a marvelous work by these two imaginative and creative guys. I hope at least some of my readers will enjoy it as much as I do.
Willow Smith and Travis Barker’s bombastic “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” stays on top of my Weekly Top 30 for a second week, with Lord Huron’s gorgeous “Mine Forever” knocking on the back door. Cold War Kids enter the top 10 with their rousing “What You Say”, and British band The Zangwills anthemic “Never Looked Back” continues it’s climb up the chart to #11. Glass Animals leap eight spots to #22 with their delightful “I Don’t Wanna Talk (I Just Wanna Dance)”, while Billy Idol’s “Bitter Taste” jumps five spots to #23. It’s taken me a while to get into Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats’ latest single “Survivor”, which debuts at #30.
I’ve noted many times on previous posts that some of the best rock music today is coming out of the UK. Perhaps it’s the rich musical legacy, the prickly politics or even the persistently dour skies that spurs such incredible creativity, but whatever the reason, there’s no denying the consistently high quality of British rock. One of the indie bands that stands out among many for me is Amongst Liars. Their fiercely aggressive style of melodic hard rock, forged from a dynamic and colorful trifecta of alternative rock, grunge and punk, has earned them a dedicated and passionate following, me included. With support from Kerrang Radio’s Johnny Doom, Moshville, BBC Introducing and Great Music Stories, their songs have garnered airplay on local and national radio throughout the UK, and have been collectively streamed over 177,000 times on Spotify.
Based in the Brighton/Eastbourne area along the southern English coast, Amongst Liars consists of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums). I’ve written about them numerous times, but to recap, they formed in September 2019 from the ashes of two successful previous bands – Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Not only are they all highly accomplished and talented musicians, they’re nice guys too. Ian in particular has been very supportive of me and my blog, which of course makes me a loyal fan who’s more than happy to support them as much as I can.
Beginning with the release of their spectacular debut single “Over and Over” in February 2020, they’ve followed with five more singles, the latest of which is “Kill the Tide“, which dropped October 8. All six singles will be included on their forthcoming self-titled debut album, due out in Spring 2022. I’ve previously reviewed four of them – “Over and Over”, “Wolf Machine”, “Burn the Vision” and “Black Days” (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the related links at the end of this post) – and three have charted on my Weekly Top 30. All of their songs, along with the entire album, were recorded, produced and mixed by David Radahd-Jones at Red City Recordings in Manchester. “Kill the Tide” was mastered by Grant Berry at Fader Mastering.
While they don’t consider themselves a ‘political band’ per se, Amongst Liars have been pretty outspoken on some of their songs about what’s happening in the UK and beyond. Band vocalist Ian George explained “We’re not preaching at anyone or trying to change the world. We’re just saying these are the things that affect and concern us.” On “Wolf Machine”, they called out inept and ineffectual governments led by power hungry politicians, while “Burn the Vision” denounced those who’ve sought to profit from the misfortune of others by distorting the media with fake news to spread their own narratives and lies. “Black Days” railed against the last 10 years of Tory rule in the UK, calling out austerity measures, questionable decision making, incompetence, lies and self-serving political bias.
On “Kill the Tide”, which was the very first song they wrote together after forming in late 2019, the band reflects on their own personal traumas they experienced over the collapse of their previous bands that ultimately led up to their formation as Amongst Liars. They describe the song as an “anthem of rebirth” that tells the story of their formation and determination “to dig deep and come back even stronger.” Ian explains: “Our new single has its genesis in our beginnings, yet it also marks a new chapter for the band. Despite the enormous challenges during lockdown, we used the time to focus on our songwriting and to issue new material regularly. During this process, we found our sound, we pushed ourselves, and we grew as songwriters. ‘Kill the Tide’ marks that evolution.”
In an interview with VENTS Magazine, Ian elaborated on their experiences: “Originally I was in a band for many years that imploded in mid 2019, and was really let down over the space of six months by a succession of people I really trusted. The other guys were in a different band who had a similar experience, being let down by people too, and we kind of knew each other before that having played a show together, so I reached out, we met up and it just clicked. It’s what bonded us so quickly I think, when you go through similar things. The title for the song came from a group chat when we were looking for a band name. Someone suggested ‘Kill the Tide’, which we didn’t like as a band name, but I thought that it would make a great song title. And with that title, the lyrics for this song just flowed and came quite easily – and helped me personally move on from the past, so it was very cathartic writing it!“
Tonight we’re gonna demonstrate So long – we nearly got it right Those eyes they want to self-assure Your side I can’t give any more Those lies you’re not the only one No end without a setting sun Alive – you’ll never take it When your hearts not in it – your head’s on fire For what’s it worth This wreck of hurt I cast it all aside I will embrace, I will insist You are no friend of mine In all I am – and all I see – I’ll bring it back to life Don’t kill the tide, don’t kill the tide
The song was originally recorded in late 2019 with a long intro, but this past April, the band asked David Radadh-Jones to cut the intro and remix the song to make it more ‘fresh’ sounding. The result is a tight, beautifully-arranged melodic track that delivers the powerful driving rhythms and fearsome riffs we’ve come to love and expect from Amongst Liars. The song begins rather tentatively, with Adam’s gentle drumbeats and Ross’s soft vocal chorus, then Ian’s raw vocals enter the proceedings as the music ramps up. At 34 seconds the songs blasts open with Leo’s heavy chugging riffs layered over Ross’s throbbing bassline and Adam’s pummeling drumbeats. Ian’s vocals rise to the occasion, displaying the spine-tingling emotional ferocity that makes him one of the finest and most exciting vocalists in rock music today. I love the contrast between his intense vocals and Ross’s gentler backing vocals in the verses. Leo lets loose with a terrific guitar solo in the final chorus that takes the song to the next level.
“Kill the Tide” is another fantastic banger, and further proof Amongst Liars are a band to be reckoned with.
The official video shows the band giving an electrifying performance of the song in a studio space at the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne. It was produced, directed and edited by Josh R Lewis, with assistant editing by Robert Ruardy, the same team who produce all Amongst Liars videos.
Along with “Kill the Tide”, Amongst Liars has also released an exclusive (and elusive) B-side “Crucify”, a blistering song of protest. Their raging guitars, crushing bass and thunderous drums are positively mind-blowing, and Ian’s already feral vocals sound more fearsome than ever. The track will not be available on streaming sites, but only by download for one week only, via their website at https://www.amongstliars.com/
Those of you fortunate enough to live in the UK can see Amongst Liars at one of these upcoming shows:
One of my favorite songs from the 1980s is “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield. Released the day after Christmas in 1987 as the second single from the Pet Shop Boys’ second album Actually, it’s my favorite track of 1988. On the strength of “West End Girls”, their first chart single in the U.S., and my favorite song of 1986, British synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys (consisting of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe) became one of my favorite acts of the late 1980s. And who doesn’t love the legendary Dusty Springfield?
“What Have I Done to Deserve This?” was written in late 1984 by Tennant and Lowe, with help from American songwriter Allee Willis (who co-wrote the Earth, Wind & Fire hit “Boogie Wonderland” with Jon Lind). It was originally intended for inclusion on the Pet Shop Boys’ first album Please (which includes “West End Girls”, “Opportunities” and ‘Love Comes Quickly”), but they couldn’t come up with a female vocalist suitable to sing the other half of the duet. Various popular singers of that time period were suggested to them, including Tina Turner and Barbra Streisand, but none seemed suitable for the song. Tennant and Lowe wanted a woman whose voice suggested both experience and vulnerability, warmth but also a tough, independent attitude.
Their manager’s assistant eventually suggested Dusty Springfield, whose 1969 album Dusty in Memphis was a favorite of Tennant’s. But EMI did not want her, believing her career had been in decline for too long and that she would not bring anything of value to the song. Tennant insisted that they choose Springfield, but after reaching out to her with a demo of the song, she turned them down. She had no idea who the Pet Shop Boys were, and wasn’t interested in singing a duet with them, so the song was left off Please. Many months later, Springfield heard “West End Girls” on the radio and liked it so much that she reconsidered. She was living in California at the time, so flew to London in December 1986 to record the song. In an interview for The Sunday Times, Tennant later recalled the vocal session with Springfield:
“She arrived at the studio on time, in a black leather designer jacket and high-heeled boots, with blonde hair and black eye make-up, clutching the lyric-sheet of the song, annotated and underlined. Chris Lowe, Stephen Hague and I began to consult with the living legend about how to sing our song and she was very nice, surprisingly a little lacking in self-confidence. As if by telepathy, a Dusty fan appeared on the studio doorstep and was invited in to listen. Dusty’s English secretary arrived, bearing a new compilation cassette. ‘They keep repackaging the old songs,’ the legend marveled. Then she went through to sing. Her voice was the same as ever. When she sang her solo part ‘Since you went away …‘ everyone in the control room smiled. She sounded just like she used to. Breathy, warm, thrilling. Like Dusty Springfield. ‘Is that the sort of thing you want?’ she asked.”
Though the song has a bouncy, upbeat vibe with exuberant synthesized orchestral instrumentation, the bittersweet lyrics describe a dialogue between two adults in the aftermath of their acrimonious breakup. Each of them wistfully observes that they should be happy to now be free of each other, yet wonder how they’ll move forward without them. Tennant rap/sings with resentment from the male point of view: “I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers. I read you books and talked for hours. Every day, so many drinks, such pretty flowers, so tell me what have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?”
Springfield then responds with feelings of regret and second thoughts: “Since you went away, I’ve been hanging around. I’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down. You went away, it should make me feel better. But I don’t know, oh how I’m gonna get through?/ We don’t have to fall apart, we don’t have to fight. We don’t need to go to hell and back every night. We can make a deal.” Their wonderful vocals complement each other’s so beautifully, particularly when they harmonize.
It’s a marvelous song, and peaked at #2 in both the U.S., where it was kept from the top of the Billboard chart by Exposé’s “Seasons Change” and fellow British singer George Michael’s “Father Figure”, and the UK, where it was held back by Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. It’s also Dusty Springfield’s highest-charting single, and would help revitalize her career by introducing her to a new generation of listeners.
The official video for the song barely features Dusty Springfield at all, so I’ve instead chosen their live performance at the 1988 BRIT Awards. Unfortunately, they lip sync the song, which was still typical for that time period.
One of my very favorite indie bands is Los Angeles-based duo Ships Have Sailed. The brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Will Carpenter, who originally formed the band in 2012 with a few other musicians who’ve come and gone over the succeeding years, Ships Have Sailed has for the past five years or so consisted of just him and drummer Art Andranikyan. They play a pleasing style of alternative pop-rock characterized by beautiful melodies, intelligent, uplifting lyrics, and sublime arrangements and instrumentation. I love their music, and have written about several of their songs on this blog over the past three years. Two of them – “Escape” in 2019 and “Breathe” earlier this year – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30, with “Escape ranking #19 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. And their last single “Take My Money” is currently enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30. On September 30th, they dropped a brand new single “Love in October“, which is so special, I’ve chosen it as my New Song of the Week.
Will told me the song and its accompanying video were born out of both a long daydream of his, and their 2020 tour that was abruptly cut short by the Covid pandemic. He elaborates: “A lot of my songs come from a real, personal experience, [but] that actually isn’t the case here. This loss I’m describing in ‘Love In October’ didn’t happen in real life, it happened in a long and involved daydream (kind of a waking nightmare if you will) that prevented me from making a series of decisions that would have led straight to the actual situation. I’m grateful for that and for the fact that such a beautiful song came out of it.”
One of the many things I like about Ships Have Sailed is that every song of theirs sounds uniquely different. Some of them, like “Escape” and “Breathe”, are uplifting ballads, while “Skin” has a laid-back folk vibe, and “Take My Money” is fun, bouncy pop. “Love in October” is one of their most musically complex songs yet, with a dramatic blend of cinematic and alternative rock elements that make it particularly compelling.
The song begins with a gorgeous orchestral instrumental intro that slowly builds into an almost religious experience. At about 55 seconds in, a rather haunting guitar note enters as the song transitions to a mid-tempo beat, accompanied by the introduction of bass, percussion and more guitar. Will’s beautiful vocals are heartfelt and vulnerable as he gently sings to a loved one, admitting he’s made mistakes and asking her to not abandon their relationship “Don’t walk away, I want you back. It seems I’ve stumbled in the wrong direction, on the train but off the track again. Ooh, I’d do anything to keep the leaves from falling. You know I’m all in.” When the chorus arrives, the song explodes into a full-fledged rock track, with blazing guitars, driving bass and Art’s aggressive drumbeats. Will’s vocals rise with emotion along with the more intense instrumentals as he fervently implores “How did we get here, love in October. Same old sun is so cold. But I don’t wanna let go.”
“Love in October” is a stunning track from start to finish. The gorgeous instrumentation and vocals, dramatic arrangement and flawless production make it one of their best songs yet.
With regard to the video, in March 2020, after much planning and preparation, Ships Have Sailed embarked on what was to be a 10-show tour across the Southwestern U.S. with fellow L.A. band Quitting Whitney. After playing only the first show in Las Vegas, their tour came to an abrupt halt the next day as Covid suddenly began spiraling out of control. Will explained “When we realized (in Denver) that our tour was going to completely fall apart, we had a choice to make: turn around and slump back to LA, or follow our non-refundable tour route and create as much content as possible along the way…really telling our story. We were sharing a van and all gear with another duo (Quitting Whitney) and we all agreed to find a silver lining and create some content and art along the way. We outlined two music video treatments on our way from Denver to Albuquerque, one for them and one for us, and I had Danny (my co-producer on ‘Love In October’) print me the rough production of the song (which wasn’t even totally finished yet) so we could have playback.”
Each band shot video of the other playing their instruments at the AirBnB where they were staying, while the owner, who was staying in an adjacent guest house, thankfully didn’t mind the noise. They captured film footage from the road, and managed to turn a ‘ruined’ tour into something of an adventure, making two new friends in Matt and Ryan of Quitting Whitney along the way, and Will and Art becoming closer through the experience as well. Will also said that this is their first video that his wife Payal (via their wedding photos) has ever been willing to appear in.
I just love “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l”, wherein 20-year-old WILLOW (the daughter of actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, for those who don’t already know) goes off on fake and duplicitous people with scathing lyrics, raging guitars and the pummeling drumbeats of Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. The lead single from her fourth solo studio album Lately I Feel Everything, it’s my new #1 song this week, displacing twenty øne piløts’ “Saturday”, which falls to #2. Entering the top 10 is “Take the L” by Texas alt-rock band Roadkeeper, one of my favorite indie bands who’ve become regulars on my Weekly Top 30. “Take the L” is their fourth song to appear on my list, all of which have made the top 10. Two songs make their debut this week: “Colorado” by German alternative pop-rock band Milky Chance, and the delightful “I Don’t Wanna Talk (I Just Wanna Dance)” by British electro psych-pop band Glass Animals.
I’ve featured hundreds of bands on this blog since I began writing reviews in early 2016, and have to say that some of the best hail from the United Kingdom. And among all those great British bands, one that impressed me from the start is alternative psychedelic group Future Theory. Blending elements of alternative and progressive rock, psychedelia, grunge, shoegaze and funk, they write especially compelling songs characterized by lavish, complex instrumentation, intelligent lyrics and mesmerizing vocals. Like many bands, the Lincolnshire-based foursome has undergone some lineup changes over time, and now consists of Max Sander on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Moore on lead guitar, Jacob Brookes on bass and Tom Paton on drums, although for the recording of their latest single “Hang Your Hat“, former band members Rex Helley played bass and Rohan Parrett played drums.
I first wrote about them in April 2017 when I reviewed their fantastic 2016 debut EP Fool’s Dream, then twice in 2018 when I reviewed their excellent singles “Fractured Nation” and “Peace of Mind”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Now the Lincolnshire-based foursome are back with “Hang Your Hat”, their first new single in more than three years. The lead single from their forthcoming self-titled debut album, the song is a biting kiss-off to a romantic partner who’s been unfaithful, and broken the bonds of trust in the relationship. The track was recorded at 2fly Studios by Alan Smith (Arctic Monkeys, Reverend & The Makers, 65daysofstatic), mixed and produced by Koncide (aka Chris Hengmith), Max and Chris, and mastered by Yves Altana and Chris Ree.
Musically, “Hang Your Hat” is a marvelous feast for the ears, with some of the more dramatic and varied guitar work I’ve heard packed into one song in a long while. The song opens with a fairly intense instrumental flourish like you’d normally hear in a bridge or chorus, with a barrage of fuzz-coated psychedelic guitars and lots of crashing cymbals. At around 25 seconds, the music calms to a languid bass-driven groove, accompanied by strummed guitar and light drums as Max begins to sing in his distinctive sultry croon. Those gnarly guitars and aggressive rhythms ramp back up in the chorus, then transition back and forth in another verse and chorus, punctuated with beautiful chiming guitar notes and highlighted by a killer reverb-soaked guitar solo in the bridge.
I love Max’s vocal style that’s equal parts sensuous and raw, and enhanced by echo and reverb that render them particularly effective here in conveying the bitterness and pain expressed in the lyrics: “I don’t want to do this anymore. Where did you go last night? I said I’d lose my mind, where did you go last night? Got to be, where did you hang you’re hat? You’re gonna need that some day, pick it up wrap it up, just for today.” In the calmer moments, he almost sounds a bit like Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, not a bad thing at all.
With “Hang Your Hat”, Future Theory return in fine form, proving they haven’t lost their stride one bit during their hiatus. It’s a very strong track, and I’m confident we’ll be hearing more gems from them in their forthcoming album.