ART BLOCK – EP Review: “Tiger EP”

There are some musicians and bands who possess such uniquely distinctive styles or singing voices, they sound like no one else, making their music immediately identifiable as only theirs. London, England-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Art Block falls into this esteemed category on the strength of his affecting vocals that are so heartfelt and steeped in emotion, they have the power to take our breath away as we try and swallow the huge lump in our throats that forms after listening to him sing.

The brilliant and prolific artist creates a haunting brand of alternative folk, characterized by stirring melodies, captivating arrangements and gorgeous instrumentation built around his poetic, deeply moving lyrics. He’s been writing and recording beautiful music for nearly a decade, and has released an impressive amount of it since early 2015. I’ve previously written about him and his music four times on this blog, including his enchanting single “The Basement” (his most successful single, which has been streamed over 350,000 times on Spotify alone) in late 2019 and, most recently, last September when I reviewed his stunning White Horses EP. The title track “White Horses” went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart last December.

Art Block has stayed busy in 2023, dropping a single “Vilnius” in February, then his first full-length album Stones and Fire in March, followed by Tiger EP, the subject of today’s review, at the end of April. Featuring four tracks, including “Vilnius” and an alternate version of “White Horses”, the EP was produced, recorded and mixed by William Robertson and mastered by John Webber. For the recording, Art played all instruments except for drums, which were played by Raphael Bouchara.

The title track “Tiger” opens with a strummed acoustic guitar, accompanied by mysterious airy synths and sounds taken from the streets of Cairo as Art begins to sing, with a strong tremolo effect in his voice, “A plain heart that cuts through all the acerbic dust.” As the song unfolds, the melody gradually swells and instrumentals expand with beautiful guitars, heavier synths and more intense percussion, all of which culminate into a dramatic crescendo. Like the music, the lyrics become more forceful too, with Art Block passionately lamenting of his pain and sorrow over having been left abandoned in a relationship: “A silence that kills, insatiable rips my tongue. A tiger has ripped my lungs, unable to breathe. A figure of speech, crawling through arctic veins. You left me when I needed a friend. A quarrelsome mind, and we don’t see we’re spinning all around as if it’s meant to be.”

Vilnius” was inspired by Art’s visit to the Lithuanian capital last October, where he engaged with the Chromatikon artist collective who participated in a series of concerts intended to revive the old Jewish music of the Vilnius ghetto lost during Nazi occupation. Vilnius holds a special place in his heart, as he spent a year there as a volunteer for Voluntary Service Overseas after Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union. The lyrics seem to be told from the perspective of a young Jewish man witnessing the fall of Vilnius and Lithuania to the Nazis: “A Hebrew song, an old man’s lungs. Hold on my Vilnius. I see a cage and hold my rage. Hold on my Vilnius. I was meant to be playing C. Oh what a scene. Wasn’t yet an orphan. We were meant to meet in the dying streets but I forgot your number.” Art’s delicate acoustic guitar notes, accompanied by sparkling atmospheric synths and gentle drumbeats, create a melancholy but beautiful soundscape for his emotive, heartfelt vocals.

White Horses (Alternate version)” is the same version that appears on Stones and Fire, and to my ears sounds very close to the original. For this alternate version, Art’s added some pretty guitar notes and more drawn-out string synths, as well as a drum machine beat, all of which add subtle textures to the original piano-driven track, making it even more gorgeous than ever. He says the song “was inspired by a beautiful place in England, but also by the attack in Mariupol, Ukraine which was in the news, where I imagined I was going through the devastation there. Perhaps ‘White Horses’ is a metaphor for something else, greater, perhaps mystical or mysterious? The place I visited in England certainly had a mystical feel even though the White Horse itself etched into a hill was not ancient.”

The final track “New Dawn” is a haunting piano ballad about struggling with inner demons and self-doubt that keep him from living a fuller and happier life: “I want to know when life will change, so I can reach out for a new day. Tired of manifesting, tired of love, I have a hole in my heart oh my God. I was always fighting with my thoughts, trying to find peace amid the wars. I was overthinking life, I was overcome with strife.” Art’s echoed vocals have an interesting lo-fi feel, backed by a vintage-sounding piano and Raphael’s skillful measured drums.

Tiger EP is wonderful, serving up eleven and a half minutes of auditory bliss that transports us to dreamy, faraway places. Art Block is a uniquely gifted artist who never fails to deliver exceptional music that’s deeply impactful, sonically beautiful and intensely thought-provoking.

Connect with Art Block: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Find his music on BandcampSpotify / Apple Music / SoundcloudYouTube

Top 30 Songs for June 4-10, 2023

Hozier‘s provocative “Eat Your Young” remains at #1 for a second week, while “Not Strong Enough” by boygenius moves into second place. “The Perfect Pair” by Filipino-English singer-songwriter beabadoobee and “Essence” by Danish producer-composer Refeci and Canadian-American singer-songwriter Shimmer Johnson enter the top 10. Two songs make their debut this week: “Stuck” by L.A.-based alt-rock band 30 Seconds to Mars, now a duo consisting of the ageless Leto brothers Jared and Shannon, at #29. Their first new music in five years, the song is the lead single from their forthcoming sixth studio album, It’s the End of the World but It’s a Beautiful Day, due for release on September 15. Entering at #30 is the wonderful “Puppet Show” by another L.A.-based artist Beck Black, which I reviewed two weeks ago.

  1. EAT YOUR YOUNG – Hozier (1)
  2. NOT STRONG ENOUGH – boygenius (3)
  3. KID – The Revivalists (2)
  4. PAID OFF – Oli Barton & the Movement (4)
  5. DUMMY – Portugal. The Man (6)
  6. GO DOWN RIVER – The Heavy Heavy (7)
  7. RESCUED – Foo Fighters (10)
  8. NEW GOLD – Gorillaz, Tame Impala & Bootie Brown (5)
  9. THE PERFECT PAIR – beabadoobee (11)
  10. ESSENCE – Refeci & Shimmer Johnson (12)
  11. GHOSTS AGAIN – Depeche Mode (8)
  12. RESCUE ME – Dirty Heads (16)
  13. LEAVING – Au Gres (17)
  14. 1982 – Morgendust (15)
  15. THE WAY – Manchester Orchestra (18)
  16. THOSE EYES – New West (19)
  17. THE WALK HOME – Young the Giant (9)
  18. FLOWERS – Miley Cyrus (13)
  19. IN MY HEAD – Mike Shinoda & Kailee Morgue (20)
  20. WHY – Future Theory (21)
  21. WOLF – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (14)
  22. HELLO – GROUPLOVE (24)
  23. EMPTY NEST – Silversun Pickups (25)
  24. PINEAPPLE SUNRISE – Beach Weather (26)
  25. MARRY ANOTHER MAN – Wise John (27)
  26. WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE – Joy Oladokun & Noah Kahan (28)
  27. CHEMICAL – Post Malone (29)
  28. SUPERGLUE – Michigander (30)
  29. STUCK – 30 Seconds to Mars (N)
  30. PUPPET SHOW – Beck Black (N)

CALLUM PITT – Album Review: “In The Balance”

One of the brightest spots on the British music scene today is Callum Pitt, a thoughtful and immensely-talented singer-songwriter based in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Inspired by such esteemed artists as Elliott Smith, Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Sufjan Stevens, The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, he creates, in his own words, “indie-folk with a grand, orchestral, chamber pop sensibility plus an alt-rock edge”. I say that’s a pretty accurate description of his beautiful music, which is characterized by lush harmonies, captivating melodies, and honest, meaningful lyrics touching on subjects like depression, anxiety, and social and political unrest, expressed through his emotive pleasing vocals that nevertheless manage to instill feelings of optimism and unity.

Since 2017, Callum has released an impressive number of singles as well as a four-track EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. His second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering well over 100,000 streams. He’s also earned accolades such as the Alan Hull Songwriting Award in 2019, and the Fender Player Plus competition in 2021. I love his music, and have previously written about four of his songs, two of which – “Fault Lines” and “Mayfly” – made my Weekly Top 30 chart, with “Fault Lines” ranking #84 on my 100 Best Songs of 2020 list, and “Mayfly”, which peaked at #8 earlier this year, guaranteed to rank even higher on my 100 Best Songs of 2023 list. (You can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.)

Photo by Daniel Stark

Now Callum has just dropped his long-awaited debut album In The Balance, and it’s a real stunner! The culmination of nearly three years of work, the album’s nine songs were informed by a number of events that prompted him to explore questions of existentialism and fate, including a vehicle accident that could have killed his parents and brother, a close friend almost dying of a drug overdose after leaving a party at his house, and the death by suicide of a childhood friend. Remarkably, he wrote and recorded the album while also working at a job and studying for his masters degree in Occupational Therapy.

He wrote the album in his bedroom, using only a nylon-string guitar and cheap 90s keyboard. He then took his demos to the studio, where he worked with long-time producer John Martindale to turn them into rich recordings, featuring a string quartet, and trumpets by James Leonard Hewiston and saxophone by Alex Saxon. Callum sang lead vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards, Luke Elgie played bass, Gavin Christie played drums, and John Martindale played percussion, with Ada Francis and Jodie Nicholson on backing vocals

The album kicks off with “I Feel a God and Devil in This Room“, in which Callum explores how both good and evil are present in human experiences more than in otherworldly realms like heaven or hell, and that we should embrace our lives here and now, rather than wait for a theoretically better afterlife: “I feel alone, but I feel in my bones tonight, something bigger moving like a tidal wave, a wilting bouquet, on fire. I feel a God and devil in this room.The song is enchanting, opening with delicate guitar, piano and strings, then gradually building to a dramatic crescendo with added saxophone, heavier percussion and gorgeous harmonies. The lovely video, filmed and produced by Gareth Williams, features Mia Fuller dancing to the song in an empty church.

Black Holes in the Sky” addresses the aforementioned close friend that almost died from an overdose of acid after leaving a party at Callum’s house, and was thankfully saved by a passing dog walker at dawn: “You left our party, the last one to go / I heard that a stranger found you laid down, blue in the lips and frost upon your clothes on the edge of town.” The song starts off with an almost gospel-like feel, but transitions into a stirring anthem, with emphatic piano keys, bold guitar notes and blaring trumpets. On the hauntingly beautiful and contemplative “Crow“, Callum speaks of his struggles with depression and anxiety: “There’s something in the leaves reminding me there’s no light without dark.” His piano and guitar work are particularly stunning here.

Fraction of a Second” was inspired by a night in 2019, in which Callum was reminded of how a change of a mere second of time could have resulted in a life-altering outcome. Minutes after he waved goodbye to his brother and parents as they left his house, a fire engine hit the back edge of their car. They were all unharmed, but had their car been in the engine’s path a fraction of a second later – if he’d said one more word to them at the doorstep – it would have slammed directly into the drivers’ side. Musically, the song has a melancholy yet hopeful feel, and features a buoyant drumbeat overlain with delicate sweeping synths, beautifully-strummed guitar notes, lovely piano keys and vibrant strings. As always, Callum’s smooth vocals are comforting and warm as he sings of his gratitude that his family safely survived the crash: “And I don’t know what I’d do, if that truck had taken all of you, I think the moon may disappear. But a fraction of a second kept you here.”

On the piano-driven “More Than This“, Callum touches on the impermanence of life and worldly beauty: “And no one ever said there would be more than this, but I feel it turning golden in the fall. Everything must go, it’s an angel in the snow. And I will never ask for more.” The moving video was directed by Sel MacLean and filmed by Ross Marshall, and shows Callum singing the song in an empty theater as he watches a couple, played by Igor Tavares and Laura Alise do an interpretive dance.

One of my favorite songs on the album, “Mayfly” is essentially about adulthood, and speaks to Callum’s feelings of apprehension over the responsibilities he’ll face as a potential parent, fearing he might not be up to the task: “I don’t deserve the love that I am shown, but someday I will. ‘Cause I, I need time, so I can be, who you need me to be. So hold out please.” Musically, the song has a lively, upbeat melody that contrasts with the poignant lyrics. I love the perfect melding of acoustic guitar notes and delicate piano chords in the verses, and how the drums become more intense in the choruses, accompanied by glorious exuberant riffs and swirling keyboards. Callum’s smooth vocals are both comforting and heartfelt, backed by Ada and Jodie’s lovely harmonies, and Alex’s bold saxophone in the final chorus is wonderful.

On “Moths and Butterflies”, Callum speaks to the value of expressing one’s emotions in a society where the expectation is for men and boys to suppress their feelings. Though still essentially a folk song, it has more of a rock vibe, with heavier guitars and drums, especially in the bridge. The enchanting “Uncanny Moon” features delicate guitar notes, stirring strings and gorgeous soaring harmonies.

Album closer “The Will of the River” is a beautiful, cinematic anthem in the vein of Sam Fender’s “Seventeen Going Under”, which means I love it! The combination of gentle acoustic guitar notes with more resonant jangly chords and fuzz-coated gnarly riffs, layered over an exuberant stomping groove, make for an exceptionally impactful track. The poignant lyrics speak of the childhood friend who took his own life, leaving him wondering if there might have been something he could have done to prevent it: “I’m so sorry for how we drifted, maybe I knew you too soon. It’s darker now. You’re now away, but my memories are so clear. We move at the will of the river, but you’re ringing in my ear.”

I’m not sure what more I can say about In The Balance, other that to state with confidence that it’s a gorgeous little masterpiece. Mr. Pitt and company have gifted us an impressive, flawlessly-crafted work, for which they should be quite proud.

Connect with Callum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Find his music on BandcampSpotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud Amazon

THE PETAL FALLS – Single Review: “Obsession”

After having written about music for nearly eight years, I’ve come to the conclusion that, while trends come and go, music of high quality will always speak for itself and have a following, no matter the genre. Many have written of the death of rock, and while it’s largely been absent from the ridiculous Billboard Hot 100 (which, because it now relies primarily on streaming stats, is heavily weighted to formula pop, hip hop and bro-country), it’s undeniable that rock is still very much alive and loved by millions of fans.

Case in point is British rock act The Petal Falls, the music project of Kent-based singer-songwriter Keith Leahy. I’ve previously reviewed two of his singles “I Won’t Be There”, in August 2021, and “Somebody To Love Me”, in April 2022 (you can read them by clicking on the “Related” links at the end of this post). To briefly reiterate some of what I previously detailed about The Petal Falls’ unfortunate history, Leahy formed the band in the mid 1990s as a performance platform for his music. Consisting of Leahy, who sings vocals as well as plays guitar and keyboards, and four other musicians – Robert Harpum (guitar), Dave Richards (guitar), Marius Ryndziewicz (bass) and Robin Tucker (drums) – they signed with a mid-tier music label in the hopes it would lead to greater success, but it instead resulted in their ultimate undoing. The label stifled their creativity and stalled their career for several years, leading to a great deal of frustration among band members and their eventual demise, without ever being given the opportunity to publicly release any of their impressive output of songs.

Thankfully, their outstanding music catalog eventually became available for release, and Keith jumped at the opportunity to re-master the original recordings into four albums, with help of friend and producer-engineer-drummer John King. The first of those albums, Workin All Night Workin All Day, was released in July 2020 to positive fan and critical response, an amazing feat for an act that had long been given up for dead. Though their songs were recorded nearly 30 years ago and feature an 80s vibe reminiscent of music by such artists as Whitesnake, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen, among others, they still strongly resonate today, garnering over 1.2 million streams on Spotify alone. That first album’s success inspired Keith to resurrect The Petal Falls as a solo project, recording and releasing new music in collaboration with King. They followed with a second album All These Years in September 2021, then a third Everything About You in September 2022.

Now he returns with “Obsession“, the lead single from his fourth album The Rhythm Train, due for release this coming October. For the recording of “Obsession” Keith played guitar and keyboards and sang lead vocals, Robert Harpum played guitar, Martin Corder played bass and Robin Tucker played drums. Backing vocals were sung by Avril Davis and Tracy Tucker, with added guitar by Barry Kitchin and keyboards by Lee Tucker. The track was mastered by John King.

The song is an intense and brooding rocker about a passionate and reckless affair and the burning obsession it breeds. I know from personal experience how easy it is to fall under someone’s thrall, willing to cast all rationality and caution aside in the pursuit of their attention and, hopefully, love. To drive home their message, The Petal Falls unleashes a torrent of searing riffs, pulse-pounding bass and thunderous drums, creating a powerful and darkly sensual soundscape. The combination of three guitarists working their magic results in a rich and contrasting tapestry of shimmery chiming notes, spine-tingling psychedelic runs and grinding buzzsaw riffs. Keith’s arresting vocals are brimming with passion as he wails “I’d jump off a mountain, if I thought you’d stop and stare. I’d swim a raging river, if I knew you would be there. You can beat me, beat me to despair. You can love me, I don’t really care. You’re my obsession!

The dark, beautifully-filmed video brings the song’s lyrics to life with sizzling scenes of a sexy woman dominating her willing subject.

Connect with The Petal Falls: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find his music on Spotify / Apple Music / SoundcloudYouTube

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 29 – Jigsaw Sequence/Machina X, Johnny Ritchie, Novus Cantus, Thunder Fox, Western Jaguar

Friday, May 26th was one of the biggest days for new music releases I can remember, at least in terms of artists and bands I follow, and from what I could tell, at least nine of them released new singles. Because I like all these artists and their songs and want to show them support, I’ve decided to feature them all in a Fresh New Tracks post. To make it easier on me, as well as not overload my readers with too many songs all at once, I’ve broken them into two separate posts. I published the first one two days ago, and this is the second, which includes a collaboration betweeen Scottish synthpop artist Jigsaw Sequence and British electro-pop artist Machina X, American singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie, American Baroque pop duo Novus Cantus, Australian soul-funk-pop-rock band Thunder Fox, and Canadian alt-rock band Western Jaguar. I’ve previously featured all these acts on my blog, with the exception of Jigsaw Sequence. And true to my blog’s name, each of these five songs couldn’t be more different from one another.

Jigsaw Sequence + Machina X – “Late to the Party”

Jigsaw Sequence is the music project of Scottish synthpop artist Richard Tracey, and Machina X (aka Annie James) is an electro-pop artist based in Yorkshire, England. The two talented individuals have been making music both as solo artists and in collaborations with others, and recently teamed up to write and record a great new synthpop dance single “Late to the Party.” The song and collaboration marks a resurgence for Annie, after she experienced a bit of a slump, as she recently acknowledged on Twitter: “In the last 6 months I’ve thought a lot about closing the door on making music because it feels so much harder than it did. Thank you Jigsaw Sequence for believing there was more inside, and collaborating with me.

In contrast to the exuberant, pulsating dance beat and luxurious retro 80s synth grooves, the lyrics are rather bittersweet, speaking of living in denial about a relationship that’s breaking apart, hoping things will turn around. Machina X’s lilting vocals are wonderful and heartfelt as she sings “Behind a mask where no-one sees. Hiding for the sake of sanity, ‘cos hearts like mine bruise easily when they’re washed up on the shore. Late to the party. Always early to leave. Scared by the truth, but always wanting to believe.”

Johnny Ritchie – “Chirp”

Johnny Ritchie is an engaging, intelligent and wildly imaginative young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who I’ve previously featured three times on this blog. Originally from Indiana, Johnny’s now living in Spokane, Washington. With a lifelong love for music, he began learning to play piano and drums as a child, then went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago, and in 2020 earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as giving lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation. He also writes and records music in which he fuses alternative and experimental rock with neo-psychedelia and contemporary jazz to create incredibly fascinating and sophisticated soundscapes.

Ever-creative and continually willing to push musical boundaries, every new release of his sounds totally original and distinctive. His latest single “Chirp” is an unusual instrumental piece that couldn’t be any more different from his previous alternative psychedelic hip-hop single “Elite Deviance”. Already his fourth single of 2023, with another one on the way in a couple weeks, “Chirp” is the first that Johnny’s both recorded and produced entirely by himself. Featuring a relaxing synth groove, accompanied by deep bass and punctuated by a sharp percussive beat and beguiling piano trills, the song also features delicate bird chirps throughout that lend a charming atmospheric air to the proceedings. Johnny never fails to dazzle my senses with each release, and I cannot wait to hear what new experimental sounds he comes up with next!

Novus Cantus – “Caterpillar”

Novus Cantus is an innovative music act comprised of brothers Alexander (vocals and guitar) and Christian Herasimtschuk (drums and percussion). Based in the Hudson River Valley roughly halfway between Albany and New York City, the duo draw from a broad and eclectic mix of influences ranging from traditional ethnic music like flamenco and Hungarian folk, to classical Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, to alternative rock, in the creation of their uniquely enchanting and exotic sound. They’ve been performing and recording together since 2010, and have released a fair amount of music. I’ve written about them four times over the past five years, most recently when I reviewed their hauntingly beautiful Civil War-themed song “Georgia”. 

Now they’re back with “Caterpillar“, a bewitching song originally written for a children’s concert last year that the brothers decided was too good to not release as a single. The lyrics tell the story of a humble-looking caterpillar who starts out crawling upon the ground and feeding on plants (“and I walked in the cool of the night“), then climbs into the trees to become a chrysalis (“and I slept in the cool of the night“), finally emerging as a beautiful butterfly (“and I flew in the cool of the night“). The most striking aspect of the song for me are the beautiful sounds from a Wot, a Thai pan flute played by Christian. I love how his fluttering notes evoke the sounds of a butterfly’s wings unfolding for the first time. Of course, Alex’s lovely acoustic guitar and warm, emotive vocals, accompanied by Christian’s percussive beats, are really wonderful too.

Thunder Fox – “Feels Like Forever”

Mere words cannot express how much I adore Australian band Thunder Fox. The Sydney-based five-piece is one of the most creative, wickedly funny and insanely talented – not to mention sexiest – acts I’ve ever encountered, and have gushed about them and their music numerous times on this blog over the past four years. Now comprised of the charismatic and silky-voiced Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass), they skillfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. And while their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness, their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication, thanks to their great songwriting and musicianship, including having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup.

They’ve released an impressive amount of music since 2015, including three terrific albums – Mother Machine in 2016, Love at First Sniff in 2019, and Sanctuary in 2021 – the most recent two of which I’ve reviewed. One of the singles from Sanctuary, “Head in the Clouds” reached #4 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranks #47 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list. On their new single “Feels Like Forever“, Thunder Fox channels Prince, Morris Day & the Time and James Brown to create a rousing slab of old-school soulful funk. I love the song’s stomping groove, courtesy of Casey’s deliciously funky bass and Max’s spirited drumbeats, and fortified with Sam’s gnarly riffs, Travers’ hot and jazzy sax notes, and Jesse’s bold trumpet blasts. It’s one of the most exuberant songs they’ve released in a long while, and I love it!

Western Jaguar – “Better Daze”

Hailing from the picturesque Fraser River Valley of British Columbia, east of Vancouver, alt-rock act Western Jaguar was born in 2012 when singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Trainor turned to music to get him out of a low point in his life. With the help of an evolving lineup of musicians, Western Jaguar released three stellar EPs and several singles between 2013 and 2019, including their beautiful song “Disappear”, which went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 in 2019. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, bringing things to a halt for just about every musician and band, the social isolation gave Jeffrey time to reflect on how unhappy he’d become as a musician. He’d become fixated on, in his own words, “likes, a following, positive feedback…and became hyper focused on making music other people liked.” By the end of 2020, he decided he didn’t want to make music anymore, essentially walking away from Western Jaguar, which he conveniently blamed on the pandemic.

Thankfully, after a long break he came to realize that, just like in 2012, music could once again lift him out of his slump. He decided to resurrect Western Jaguar as essentially a solo act, and beginning last November, went to work writing and recording songs in his home studio for what would become his new album Oblivion, scheduled for release on July 7th. For the recording of the album, Jeffrey sang vocals and played most instruments, though his former Western Jaguar bandmates Davis MacKenzie Zand played bass and AJ Buckley played electric guitar and drums, and sang backing vocals on two tracks, and KC Roces played electric guitar on a third track.

The first single from the album is “Better Daze“, a poignant song about going through hard times after a tragedy and trying to get back to better days. Musically, the song has an upbeat dream pop feel, with a breezy melody, beautiful chiming guitars and snappy drums. Jeffrey’s clear, pleasing vocals have a hint of sadness as he sings the lyrics about a woman named Suzie, whose fiance Harold died suddenly after a fall in the shower just before they were due to be married. Suzie falls into a deep depression, and with the best of intentions, her father insists she take medication to help improve her mood. Unfortunately, the drugs only make her feel worse: “Suzie’s felt worse since the medicine. Her lungs are burning and she can’t breath in. Her father insists on the vice, it’s the only way for a normal life. But a normal life was lost last June when Harold fell in the bathroom. She hasn’t taken them for 6 weeks. If only it was that easy. Her father asks if she’s feeling well. She gives him a smile though she feels like hell. She wants him to think that she’s okay, even though she’s thinking of better daze.”

It’s a wonderful, albeit melancholy song, and it’s great to have Western Jaguar back. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the songs on Oblivion.

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 28 – Frank Joshua, The Frontier, Gooseberry, Healer

Friday, May 26th was one of the biggest days for new single releases I’ve ever seen – at least with regard to artists and bands I follow who chose that day to drop new songs. From what I could tell, at least nine of them released new singles. Because I like all these artists and their songs, and want to show them support, I’ve decided to feature them all in a Fresh New Tracks post. To make it easier on me, as well as not overload my readers with too many songs all at once, I will break them into two separate posts. For the first of two, I’m including (in alphabetical order) British singer-songwriter and producer Frank Joshua, American singer-songwriter The Frontier, American alt-rock band Gooseberry, and British indie rock band Healer. I’ve previously written about Frank Joshua, The Frontier and Gooseberry, whereas Healer is new to me. All four songs deal with navigating through the challenges and uncertainties of romantic love, in hopes of emerging a better person in the process.

Frank Joshua – “Patent Leather Car”

In just the past few months, London-based singer-songwriter and producer Frank Joshua (who wishes to remain anonymous, thus posts no photos of himself) has become a favorite of mine, on the strength of his beautiful silky vocals and enchanting music style. The prolific artist has released an impressive amount of music in a little more than two years, including two albums and numerous singles, one of which, his gorgeous song “Bluebell Wood”, has spent the last three months on my Weekly Top 30. Remarkably, his latest single “Patent Leather Car” is his 25th release since last December! It’s another superb song, with a breezy and mellow groove, and as with all of Frank’s songs, flawlessly-arranged and produced.

Titled after the famous London taxicab, the song speaks to “fear and love and finding solace in something you know probably isn’t good for you“. The video shows an old wrecked and rusted Austin being rescued and restored by a man whose face we never see, then driven across scenic landscapes. Frank says “Rebuilding is like reworking the past. Only by looking back can we take steps forward and keep the flame of dreams alive.”

Connect with Frank:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram 

The Frontier – “Walk Through the Fire”

A long-time favorite of mine is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jake Mimikos. Based in northern Virginia, the talented, gracious and funny guy has released an impressive amount of music since 2015, and we’ve been following each other for nearly that long. Jake skillfully blends elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica to create memorable and pleasing songs about love, relationships and loss. His lyrics are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend, and delivered with comforting vocals.

I’ve loved all of his songs, three of which – “Dark Places”, “Can We Go Back” and “Closer” – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 charts. His latest offering, “Walk Through The Fire“, serves up three minutes of catchy toe-tapping grooves and beautiful jangly guitar notes. The lyrics are a plea to a loved one for a second chance: “Everyone falls sometimes. Dying to stay alive. Everyone has their fight. It’s how we walk through the fire.”

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Gooseberry – “Orbit”

Gooseberry is an utterly delightful and talented trio from Brooklyn, New York who formed in late 2019, and now consist of Asa Daniels (guitar, vocals), Evin Rossington (drums), and Will Hammond (bass). Together they blend indie rock, R&B and light jazz to create their own distinctive and sophisticated style of alternative rock. Their wonderful song “Sleep” spent many months on my Top 30 chart, and ranks #29 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.

Their latest single “Orbit” has a grittier, more bluesy vibe than most of their previous songs, and addresses the toll that being a musician takes on relationships. Asa elaborates: “Orbit is a love song. Or at least I’d argue on its behalf! Though I suppose it’s really about the selfishness that is required for an artist to chase such an ill-fated pursuit with such single minded obsession as is needed for fame and success in this industry. Knowing that the hours dedicated to the craft, to being on the road ultimately disrupt (and, potentially, unravel) meaningful relationships outside of music. Like a loved one. I argue this is a love song because its self awareness of its selfishness makes the sting of love that much more present.” Asa’s vocals have never sounded this raw and impassioned as he wails “I know it’s taking me further away from your orbit. I know it’s selfish and it’s ugly. I know that there’s nothing I can do.” God, I love this band!

Connect with Gooseberry:  Facebook / Instagram

HEALER – “Bones”

Photo by Tom Freer

HEALER is a five-piece indie rock band based in Grimsby, England, comprised of Steve on lead vocals, Kirk on guitars, Dave on guitars, Tony on bass, and Jazz on drums. They’ve only been together for one year, but have already built a strong following in the local music scene, as well as garnering recognition from BBC Introducing. They released their terrific debut single “Hurricane” in December 2022, followed by the equally great “Fire” this past February, and now their latest single “Bones“. Their songs explore themes of love, loss, and hope, with “Bones” addressing the latter. Band vocalist Steve explained “It’s about finding the strength to keep going, even when things are tough. We wrote it after going through a difficult time ourselves, and we wanted to share our message of hope with others. [Specifically], it addresses the fear of falling in love and the idea of it not lasting forever at the same time. The anxiety of giving yourself completely to someone but the inner need to be with them forever. Loves flickering momentary happiness being on a knife edge and enjoying your feet getting cut while you walk through it.”

Musically, the song starts off slowly, but gradually transitions to a fantastic full-on rocker, with aggressive, gnarly but beautiful riffs, driving bass and pounding drums. Steve’s vocals are passionate and heartfelt as he apologizes for the hurt and pain he’s caused, promising to be a better man: “And problems, we’ve had a few. I know now what not to do. And these bones, they’re for you, sorry for what they do. It’s your choice, it’s what you do. These bones will follow you.

The sweet video, directed by the band and filmed and edited by Lincolnshire-based photographers and filmmakers Lola and Joel, was filmed at Howlin’ Jacks Record Store and Fryer Tuck’s Take Away. It stars Lucas Albion and Lisa February as a young couple who meet at a record store, are quickly attracted to each other, then spend the day together as romance blossoms. Their wonderful skeletal face makeup was done by Micky Stephenson Jade Wilson.

Connect with HEALER: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Top 30 Songs for May 28-June 3, 2023

Irish singer-songwriter and musician Hozier (born Andrew John Hozier-Byrne), has never shied away from addressing social and political topics in his songs, and in a 2021 interview with Forbes magazine, he stated that he believes “the personal is the political“. His breakout hit “Take Me to Church” highlighted the injustices and violence perpetrated against the LGBTQ community; the video for his song “Cherry Wine” raised awareness of domestic violence; and “Nina Cried Power” paid homage to such artists as Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, and Mavis Staples, whose work often took political or social justice stances.

His latest single “Eat Your Young” was inspired by Gluttony, one the 9 Circles of Hell contained in the first part of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Divine Comedy, and describes a feast being prepared and served together with the chaos that comes with it. Many of the allegorical lyrics can be construed to be anti-war, with references to corporate greed and capitalistic warfare, and sacrificing our young to fight our wars. According to an annotation in Genius, the line “pull up the ladder when the flood comes” could be interpreted to mean that when the biblical flood comes, rather than leaving the ladder down to help other people climb to safety, the ladder is pulled up-presumably because to save them would be to share resources with them. The darkly captivating song, from his forthcoming third album Unreal Unearth, due for release in August, ascends to the #1 spot on my latest Top 30. It’s Hozier’s third song to top my chart.

In other chart developments, the Foo Fighters‘ “Rescued” climbs six spots to enter the top 10. Four songs make their debut this week: the lovely and heartwarming “Marry Another Man” by singer-songwriter Wise John (whose wonderful EP The Mr. Love Sunset Show! I recently reviewed), “We’re All Gonna Die” by singer-songwriters Joy Oladokun and Noah Kahan, “Chemical” by superstar Post Malone, and “Superglue” by pop-rock band Michigander.

  1. EAT YOUR YOUNG – Hozier (2)
  2. KID – The Revivalists (1)
  3. NOT STRONG ENOUGH – boygenius (4)
  4. PAID OFF – Oli Barton & the Movement (6)
  5. NEW GOLD – Gorillaz, Tame Impala & Bootie Brown (3)
  6. DUMMY – Portugal. The Man (9)
  7. GO DOWN RIVER – The Heavy Heavy (10)
  8. GHOSTS AGAIN – Depeche Mode (5)
  9. THE WALK HOME – Young the Giant (7)
  10. RESCUED – Foo Fighters (16)
  11. THE PERFECT PAIR – beabadoobee (12)
  12. ESSENCE – Refeci featuring Shimmer Johnson (14)
  13. FLOWERS – Miley Cyrus (8)
  14. WOLF – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (13)
  15. 1982 – Morgendust (17)
  16. RESCUE ME – Dirty Heads (18)
  17. LEAVING – Au Gres (19)
  18. THE WAY – Manchester Orchestra (20)
  19. THOSE EYES – New West (21)
  20. IN MY HEAD – Mike Shinoda & Kailee Morgue (22)
  21. WHY – Future Theory (23)
  22. BLUEBELL WOOD – Frank Joshua (11)
  23. TROPIC MORNING NEWS – The National (15)
  24. HELLO – GROUPLOVE (27)
  25. EMPTY NEST – Silversun Pickups (28)
  26. PINEAPPLE SUNRISE – Beach Weather (30)
  27. MARRY ANOTHER MAN – Wise John (N)
  28. WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE – Joy Oladokun & Noah Kahan (N)
  29. CHEMICAL – Post Malone (N)
  30. SUPERGLUE – Michigander (N)

SODA CRACKER JESUS – Single Review: “Space Boy”

Soda Cracker Jesus is the solo music project of the wildly imaginative, enormously talented and flamboyant singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. Based in Tacoma, Washington, Regan has been actively involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for 40 years, with his hands in many projects, including serving as front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright. He created Soda Cracker Jesus in early 2021 as a way of expressing his punkier power pop side, releasing his first single “My Anthem” that April. Since then, he’s followed with five more singles, his latest of which is “Space Boy“, which dropped May 15th.

Regan’s been honest and candid on social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. With an unwavering sense of optimism, he creates music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past, and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. I’ve featured both Strangely Alright and Soda Cracker Jesus on this blog numerous times over the past four years, most recently in April of last year when I reviewed his upbeat banger “Hoping For The Best”.

“Space Boy” – which Regan describes as “a little Velvet Underground and a little Bowie in the bass-driven spoken word verses and driving punky choruses, with a lesson from the universe to slow the fuck down” – was inspired by a near miss with a semi on his way home one day. He elaborates: “A near head-on collision on my way home ended up being a message from the universe. In my mind, anyway…lol. I’d been pushing myself pretty hard and it caught up to me. I’d been listening to Billy Nomates and really dug the simplicity of her arrangements and how the bass was incorporated in each song. So after dodging the semi-truck that I had almost hit running a red light, I blew one of my tires and ended up at a gas station. Freaked out but alive, I had a conversation with a friendly guy from a homeless camp who helped me out, and what he said to me really spoke to me. Life can be cool that way.

In addition to writing the words and music and singing vocals, Regan played all instruments and produced the track, which was mastered by his longtime collaborator Todd Ensminger. The song starts off with a great little bass riff, backed by a faint wobbly synth, which are soon joined by a strong thumping drumbeat as Regan begins to sing in his colorful vocal style: “I was driving home from work, a little spaced out. You know, my busy fucking life. I ran a red, the semi didn’t care. Speeding up to let me know that life ain’t really fair.” Eventually, the song turns into a fist-pumping punk rock anthem in the choruses, with an explosion of stomping drumbeats, swirling spacy synths and grinding riffs – “Space Boy, you better slow down. Going to explode before you hit the ground.” It’s a terrific banger, and another stellar single from this brilliant artist.

Follow Soda Cracker Jesus:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find his music on Bandcamp / SpotifyApple Music 

32 TENS – Single Review: “This Just Ain’t My Year”

Calling themselves a “half decent band from the sonic wastelands of Warrington“, British indie rock trio 32 tens are an assault on the senses, but in a good way! Named after the classic 90’s Nokia phone, and influenced by such acts as Jack White, Jamie T and The Arctic Monkeys, 32 tens play a fierce and gritty brand of indie post-punk that’ll immediately shake away whatever ennui that might be plaguing you. Making this awesome noise are Max Vickers on vocals and guitar, Sam Glancy on lead guitar and Danny Hall on drums, with Ed Dowling of alt-rock band The Zangwills (another terrific band with a lead singer also having the surname Vickers but no relation, who I’ve also featured on this blog) as guest bassist.

I recently learned about 32 tens when their manager Jackie (who also manages The Zangwills) reached out to me about their latest single “This Just Ain’t My Year“, and it knocked me for a loop. I was so intrigued, I had to go check out their back catalog of songs, and immediately became hooked on their high-octane edgy sound and Max’s unusual vocals. I love their music, and have been listening to them nearly on repeat the last few days.

From what I can tell, they’ve been releasing only singles since 2017, and have garnered some very impressive streaming stats. Their 2017 single “Lost” has racked up over 2.1 million streams on Spotify alone, with six other singles earning over 100,000. “This Just Ain’t My Year” is their 15th single, and has already been named Record of the Week on XS Radio, and last week, it garnered the top spot on Tom Robinson’s Fresh on the Net.

The song’s a rip-roaring banger, storming out of the gates with a torrent of shredded guitars, hard-driving basslines and explosive drums. The pace is fast and relentless as 32 tens blow our minds and ears for two minutes and 51 seconds. It’s the kind of song you want playing when you feel like breaking some shit. The one brief moment we’re able to catch our breath comes in the bridge at 1.37, where we hear only the wonderful thumping rhythm of Ed’s bass and Danny’s drumbeats. Max’s warbly vocals are a thing of wonder, at once both sweet and raw, a winning combination that’s perfectly suited to their dynamic and gnarly sound.

The lyrics touch on the struggles of the everyday person trying to make it through a difficult time: “Hard to see what’s real when you’ve been living by sin and I know you’re tired. People only really give in when there’s no fight left. Everytime you’re getting close, just enough fear to face my ghost. I swear, this just ain’t my year.

“This Just Ain’t My Year” is another fantastic single by this amazing band, and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next!

Connect with 32 Tens: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Find their music on SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud YouTube

RIP Tina Turner

I was very sad to learn of the death of the legendary Tina Turner today, at the age of 83. She was truly one of a kind, with a rich and smoky powerhouse voice that inspired countless other artists and earned her millions of fans around the globe, me included. She was a courageous and great lady, and always a class act.

In honor of her passing, I’m reposting this 2020 article I wrote about Tina’s iconic song “What’s Love Got To Do With It”.


Tina Turner

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my Favorite Songs, so thought I’d get back into the groove with my favorite Tina Turner song “What’s Love Got to Do With It“. Not only is it one of my favorite songs of all time, but Tina is also one of my all-time favorite female singers. And quite honestly, who doesn’t love Tina! One of the best live concerts I’ve ever seen was Tina Turner on her What’s Love? Tour in September 1993 (with Chris Isaak opening for her at the Cal Expo Amphitheatre in Sacramento, California).

Born Anna Mae Bullock in Tennessee in 1939 (hard to believe she’s now 80!), Tina Turner lived part of her rather troubled childhood (thanks to dysfunctional parents) in the town of Nutbush (which she immortalized in her 1973 hit “Nutbush City Limits”), but moved to St. Louis when she was 16…

View original post 980 more words