A particularly exciting Top 30 chart this week, with lots of movement and a ton of new music. The Killers keep a firm grip on the #1 spot for a second week with their hopeful anthem “boy”, and Death Cab for Cutie‘s “Here to Forever” advances to #2. “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy moves up two spots to #4, and Beach Weather‘s dreamy “Sex, Drugs, Etc.” jumps five spots to #5. Entering the top 10 are “Please Write Responsibly” by Granfalloon, from his wonderful album Calendar, which I just reviewed, and “My Babe” by Spoon, leaping 10 spots to #10, the highest upward mover for the second week. God, I love Spoon, and love that song!
A whopping six new songs enter my chart this week, more than I can remember in a very long time, and interestingly, four are by British acts. Beginning at #25, they are in order: “These Are the Days” by Irish band Inhaler, fronted by Elijah Hewson, the heartthrob son of U2 front man Bono Hewson; “The Echo” by immensely talented British singer-songwriter A.A. Williams, a hauntingly beautiful song I was alerted to by fellow blogger Robert Horvat (Rearview Mirror); “Spit of You” by British singer-songwriter Sam Fender (the guitars are absolutely gorgeous); the achingly beautiful “White Horses” by British singer-songwriter Art Block, who’s similarly-titled EP I reviewed last month; “Crest of the Wave” by British band Foals, one of my current top 10 favorite bands who can do no wrong when it comes to music; and “I Like You (A Happier Song)” by Post Malone & Doja Cat, currently at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. I’ve had several songs by the great Post Malone on my chart, but this is the first appearance for Doja Cat.
BOY – The Killers (1)
HERE TO FOREVER – Death Cab for Cutie (3)
SUPERMODEL – Måneskin (2)
BAD HABIT – Steve Lacy (6)
SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (10)
BONES – Imagine Dragons (5)
TEK IT – Cafuné (8)
BROKEN RECORD – NAVE (4)
PLEASE WRITE RESPONSIBLY – Granfalloon (11)
MY BABE – Spoon (20)
PART OF THE BAND – The 1975 (12)
UNTIL I FOUND YOU – Stephen Sanchez (7)
VIVA LAS VENGEANCE – Panic! At the Disco (9)
CRACKER ISLAND – Gorillaz featuring Thundercat (18)
FREE – Florence + the Machine (17)
FAILURE TO COMPLY – MISSIO (14)
SOMETHING LOUD – Jimmy Eat World (19)
BREAK MY SOUL – Beyoncé (13)
GIANTS – WALK THE MOON (21)
PARTY4ONE – dwi (22)
WHAT’S THE TRICK? – Jack White (15)
SISTERS – pMad (26)
BITTER – Wild Horse (27)
WET DREAM – Wet Leg (30)
THESE ARE THE DAYS – Inhaler (N)
THE ECHO – A.A. Williams (N)
SPIT OF YOU – Sam Fender (N)
WHITE HORSES – Art Block (N)
CREST OF THE WAVE – Foals (N)
I LIKE YOU (A HAPPIER SONG) – Post Malone & Doja Cat (N)
There’s a literal avalanche of new music being released again, so it’s time for another Fresh New Tracks installment. Today I’m featuring songs by three artists I’ve previously written about – (in alphabetical order) Chicago-based alternative electronic rock artist brett.grant.5, Virginia-based singer-songwriter The Frontier, and Spokane, Washington-based singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie, as well as Youngy, a Scottish singer-songwriter from Glasgow who’s new to me. All four songs were released today, September 30th.
brett.grant.5– “Ancient Messages”
brett.grant.5 is the artistic name of singer-songwriter, composer and producer Brett Grant, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a member of several bands and as a solo artist. Drawing from a wide and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock, his sound is bold, unorthodox and fascinating. We’ve been following one another on social media for over five years, and I’ve grown quite fond of him, both as an artist and a human. Since 2019, I’ve written about his solo music as well as that of his band A Million Rich Daughters.
With his new single “Ancient Messages“, he continues to push himself artistically by exploring new sounds and techniques, keeping his music innovative and fresh in the process. Brett told me he actually wrote this song a few years ago while still in college, but lost it when his laptop was stolen. He recently stumbled across an old demo he’d recorded, and decided to rework the track. The song has a dark undercurrent, gradually building from a somewhat unsettling and tentative vibe, highlighted by a droning, pulsating synth bass groove, into a magnificent dramatic soundscape of eerie synths and jagged grungy guitars. The lyrics are rather abstract, but my take is that they’re about a growing emotional chasm between two people in a relationship, and being unable to either reach them or quit them: “And if I reach for your embrace, your questions could I even face? I guess I know I’ll never win. My motivation drips with sin. Decaying from within. Why can’t I exorcise you from the claim?”
Another artist I’m very fond of is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter Jake Mimikos. Based in northern Virginia, the talented, gracious and funny guy has released an impressive amount of music since 2015, and we’ve followed each other on social media for nearly that long. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted. As with many singer-songwriters, Jake’s songs are often inspired by personal experiences, and touch on such topics as love, relationships and loss. He 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, and have featured many of them on this blog over the years. Three of them – “Dark Places”, “Can We Go Back”, and most recently “Closer” – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 charts.
He never disappoints with each release, and hits a home run with his new single “Rather Be“. It’s a melancholy but lovely song, with a languid guitar-driven melody, nicely enhanced with lush keyboards and percussive synths. Jake’s guitar work is really beautiful, as are his heartfelt layered vocals. The bittersweet lyrics speak of a relationship that’s broken beyond repair due to one partner’s inability to be faithful and honest “All that you said, was it easy to find the right combination of words in your mind? Well I’d rather be lonely than lied to.”
Johnny Ritchie is an engaging and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who I’ve previously featured twice on this blog, when I reviewed his singles “Social Robots” and “Too Much Trouble”. Originally from Indiana, Johnny recently relocated from Great Falls, Montana to 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 (where he also met Brett Grant), 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 providing 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.
His latest single “Know Better” certainly fits that description, with a progressive jazzy vibe that’s both pleasing and compelling, in a vein similar to some of Steely Dan’s music. The track, which was produced by brett.grant.5, features a meandering free-form melody and a colorful mix of sparkling synths, gentle bass and guitars, and just the right amount of crisp percussion, allowing each instrument to stand out without overpowering the others. Regarding the song’s inspiration and meaning, Johnny said it not only helped him grow and learn as an artist, but also made him thankful for people who, despite no longer being in his life, were nevertheless influential in his development as a person and an artist.
All of us have people who come in and out of our lives over time, some of whom have a significant impact on shaping who we are. The lyrics in “Know Better” are directed at a woman he was once romantically involved with. Though no longer together, he still thinks of her, and wonders if she ever thinks of him: “Sometimes I wonder if you’re missing me. Or missing the person that I used to be. Well I hope you do, I hope you don’t, ooh. Cause now we’re strangers, though I’ve seen your eyes glow. And we’re strangers who have shared our bodies exposed. Yeah we’re strangers./I wish you could know me better as I am now. I wish I could know you better than memories. I wish present us could sit down and talk but I’ll just keep wishing we had known better than to fall in love.“
Youngy is an artist based in Glasgow, Scotland who recently reached out to me about his new debut single “Halo“. I don’t know very much about him, other than that he was a member and front man of Glasgow indie grunge band Audiotown, who disbanded this past March. Now he’s embarking on the next phase of his music career as a solo artist, and “Halo” is his first single. To prepare to write about him, I listened to Audiotown’s back catalogue of songs, and their songs couldn’t be any more different in style and sound than “Halo”. Whereas Audiotown’s music was grungy and edgy, in the vein of such bands as Alice in Chains, Youngy’s debut track is unabashed synthpop. That’s not a bad thing, at least for me, as I love synthpop, especially when it’s fueled by a strong driving dance beat.
And wow, “Halo” hits right from the start and doesn’t let up. I love this kind of music, so it’s right up my alley. The driving beats, exuberant melody and cinematic instrumentals are all fantastic, and I defy anyone to not get moving while hearing this song. The rather simple lyrics seem to speak to letting loose and enjoying the moment for all its worth: “Living life inside a daydream. No place I’d rather be. Nothing makes me feel so happy. There’s nothing else I need. Smoke rings growing like a halo. Twist up around my head.” Youngy sings in a somewhat gravelly monotone, which I didn’t care for at first. But the more I listened to the song, I think his low-key vocals work well with the mesmerizing music. I look forward to hearing more from him!
I continue to be astounded by all the creativity and talent coming out of the British music scene, and one of my favorites (who I’ve been following for several years) is Granfalloon, the music project of Manchester-based singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax. Using acoustic guitars, synthesizers and drum loops, along with unusual instruments such as vintage Omnichords, the engaging, curly-haired artist creates his own unique style of music that’s a pleasing hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. His songs are enchanting little stories touching on the many idiosyncrasies of everyday life, but with a dollop of quirky surrealism to keep them fun. And his warm, soothing vocals, delivered with a lighthearted cheekiness and charming accent, are so wonderful I would literally enjoy hearing him sing the telephone book. Simply put, his songs make me feel happy.
Since forming Granfalloon in late 2016, Lomax has released a fairly steady stream of singles and albums, beginning with his debut album Down There For Dancing in 2017. He followed two years later with his beautiful second album RGB, then dropped his marvelous third album Positive Songs in August 2021, a collaborative work featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. They invited songwriters to create new music by challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings, rather than negative or depressing songs about feeling isolated and bored during lockdown. The response was overwhelming, resulting in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world. (I reviewed two of the tracks from Positive Songs – “Working On Your Own” and “The Pigeon” – which you can read by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post.)
Now he’s back with his fourth album Calendar, featuring 12 delightful tracks. I’ll leave it to him to explain his inspiration behind the album’s creation: “The roots of this album can be traced back to 2014, when I was recording a debut album with my previous band. It was the 13th time I had recorded that album. Getting it right was proving difficult… A different approach was needed to keep things fresh. I would write new songs, one every week, without perfectionism weighing down the process. By the end of 2014 I had amassed 52 new songs, each one reflecting the week I’d experienced, all framed as fevered journal entries. After founding Granfalloon in 2016 and releasing two albums, I went into the studio in February of 2020 to begin the task of committing definitive versions of the songs from my ’52 Project’.
Obviously the pandemic put the project on hold and ironically, now everyone had a double album of songs squirrelled away. But I never wrote because I had too much time on my hands. Writing has always been a matter of necessity for me. I returned to the studio again in 2021 with a core band from the Positive Songs Project to whittle down the original 52 to 12 songs. These 12 songs comprise this new album ‘Calendar’.”
In addition to Lomax, who sang lead vocals and played guitars, Wurlizter, Omnichord and melodica, a host of other musicians contributed their talents on some or all of the songs, adding a colorful kaleidoscope of instrumental sounds and textures: Daz Woodcock (bass, vocals, organ, keys), Andy Lyth (drums, percussion, banjo), Cleg (guitars, mandolin, vocals), Garreth Knott (trumpet), Sarah-Jane Pearson (vocals), Caffs Burgis (vocals, synths), Dom Major (guitars), Ellie Boney (cello), George Burrage (violin), Robin Melinda Koob (violin), Molly Becker (violin), Tim Davies (drums), Jack Wakeman (bass), and Jason Alder (contrabass clarinet).
The songs encompass an array of styles, from the exotically folksy “Witch of Woodplumpton” and seductively bluesy “Eulerian Circles“, to the whimsically poppy “Bee on a String” and Americana-tinged “A Year After the Party Died“. But the one thing they all have in common is their outstanding arrangements, instrumentation and production values. The album kicks off with “Archive“, which opens with Jason Alder’s fascinating contrabass clarinet notes, nicely accompanied by twangy guitars, George Burrage’s violin, Ellie Boney’s cello, Tim Davies’ military-style drumbeats. and Sarah-Jane Pearson’s gentle vocals.
I like all the songs of Calendar, but I’ll call out some of the standouts for me, as well as some particularly lovely little moments heard on a few tracks. The aforementioned “Witch of Woodplumpton” is pleasing, but with a mysterious undercurrent, and lyrics that speak to the historic and ongoing oppression of women: “From Mary of Eden to Joan of Arc, we’ve been burning and burying you from the start. You have to dig your way out of your own grave.” Richard’s intricate guitar work is sublime, and I think I also hear Cleg’s sweet mandolin notes. And once again, we’re treated to Sarah-Jane Pearson’s smooth backing vocals, Ellie’s lovely cello, and George’s violin, with added violin by Robin Melinda Koob for good measure.
“Paint It By Numbers” is a cheeky number sung from the perspective of a professor who can only express their love through mathematical figures: “Shall I compare thee to the fundamental theorem of algrebaic K-theory? Like Pythagorus said, something’s deeply irrational about the square root of 2 where the 2 are me and U. Let me show you the numbers. Tell you in numbers. Lay down the numbers. Paint it by numbers 4 U.“
Far and away the highlight for me on the album is the thoroughly enchanting “Please Write Responsibly“, which tells the story of an innocently-written song that goes rogue: “This yarn had caused more harm than was ever my intention. I’d only scribbled words on paper, I hadn’t wanted this destruction. I mean, whoever got hurt by a story? What song brought a government to its knees? What poem dismantled a tank, or started World War 3? And As I tracked the trail of carnage caused by my fantasy, it leapt right out of my computer screen and began to attack me. My Story tore me limb from limb, all the while screaming with glee: ‘Words are more powerful than you ever could conceive So please write responsibly!’” The beguiling song features the musical handiwork of Richard and Dom Major on guitars, Molly Becker on violin, Daz Woodcock and bass, and Andy Lyth on the sweet banjo. I love this song, which is currently enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30.
Another favorite is the bouncy “Bee on a String“, with its lively guitars and Garreth Knott’s warm trumpet. The lyrics describing a woman who keeps a bee on a string trapped in a tupperware box in her refrigerator are an allegory for keeping her man similarly under her control: “I know you’re fascinated by me but won’t you let me be free? Why won’t you let me bee free? O must you keep me in a deep freeze. It makes me sleep so you keep me, and she keeps bees in a deep freeze...”
“O Joyce” tells the story of a Joyce over a 60-plus period of years, beginning with how her mother bought a pet Macaw who she named Bobby Corwen when Joyce was a young child. It’s a cute little ditty, with some nice trumpets by Garreth and guitar, Wurlizter and Omnichord by Richard. I also like how he whispers in a slightly seductive voice, “Joyce, make us a cuppa tea“, after each verse.
“All My Old Lovers (live on the same street)” is a rather wistful, introspective song about past loves, loss, and the need to move on and away from judgmental neighbors and gossiping tongues: “All the meetings they’ll have about this and that, make you feel so exposed. In a small town like this all you do is exist. This is no place to heal. It’s time to move on – You can’t live here any more.” The song is lovely, with a bit of a melancholy undercurrent, highlighted by gentle chiming guitar notes, cello and violin. Richard’s smooth vocals convey a slightly sad sense of resignation.
In a similar vein, “The Day the Party Died” speaks to loss and the passage of time, with references to several mythical characters like Ahab, Peter Pan and Cupid to drive home the inevitable changes that happen with time. Not all of these changes are for the better, expressed in the lyrics “They’ve turned the club into a takeaway. They’ve turned the pub into a takeaway. They’ve turned our home into a takeaway.”
But then on the album closer “Rushmore“, Granfalloon admonishes us to look to the future with hope and optimism, and not dwell in the past: “Don’t waste your life on a memory. The wind will change, both kind and strange. It’s never as dark as you think.” The song is another favorite of mine, as I love the dramatic shimmery electric guitars and beautiful soaring vocal harmonies in the chorus. It’s a fine finish to a delightfully charming album. With Calendar, Richard and his fellow musicians have created a lovely and thoughtful work that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen, for which they should be very proud.
“Am I a villain or a saint?” MISSIO asks on the title track of their brilliant new album VILLAIN. It’s an aural and emotional roller-coaster, encompassing the yin and yang of evil and goodness that exists within most of us. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of the Austin, Texas-based duo, which consists of singer-songwriter and producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler. On the strength of their exceptional music catalog, as well as their honesty and openness with their fans and followers, they’ve earned a place among my favorite music acts of all time, and I’ve featured them several times on this blog. Their edgy, thoroughly original sound is an eclectic mash-up of gritty alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dreamy emo vibes. Matthew’s beautiful, deeply emotive vocals add to their distinctive sound that’s totally unlike any other act.
Beginning with the release of their debut album Loner in 2017, they’ve consistently put out a tremendous amount of outstanding music, including their magnificent second album The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man in 2019 (my review of that album has garnered over 2,900 views, making it my highest-viewed album review ever). They released their gorgeous fourth album Can You Feel The Sun in October 2020, and their fifth and latest album VILLAIN dropped September 23rd. Three of their songs – “I See You”, “Underground” and “Can You Feel the Sun” – have reached #1 on my own Weekly Top 30 chart, with “I See You” also being my #1 song of 2019 and #10 of the entire decade of the 2010s.
Though most of MISSIO’s songs are inspired by personal experiences, both good and bad, VILLAIN is perhaps their most deeply personal and introspective: “This is the first album we’ve chosen to release independently, and we poured our hearts into it. We always aim to write vulnerably about what we are feeling in the moment, and honestly, the last few years have been filled with a lot of difficult moments for us. Therefore, this album was written and inspired from some of the darkest spaces / heaviest emotions that we’ve experienced. It’s an album cultivated over hundreds of hours of internal/external dialogue within ourselves and each other about the meaning of the world and our place in it.“
The ten tracks touch on such topics as the conflict between good vs. evil, feelings of self-worth, anger and resentment, and the need for love and acceptance. The title track “Villain” seems to encapsulate all of these: “Complicated and a mess, slightly OCD. Take for granted many things that mean a lot to me.I know, I’ve got a lot to learn. I was raised as a scorpion. Being pulled by the moon in a high tide. That’s why I’m broken. I know, this hurts a lot. It’s not my fault it never was. And I know, I’m tough like stone. But right now, please hug me, I feel alone.” Musically, the song alternates between pensive, atmospheric moods and urgent, beat-driven grooves, nicely conveying the inner conflict touched on earlier.
On the menacing trip hop song “Demons“, Matthew starts off lamenting of his shortcomings “I feel I am letting go. And that makes me angry because I’m not who I want to be. It seems like I’m fading. And that makes me terrified because I’m not who I want to be.” But then he seems to take on the persona of the devil as he malevolently snarls, perhaps in reply to himself “Ay boy, what the fuck you think you’re doing here? This is Hell, don’t you know that you were coming here? I’ve been playing with your demons all day.”
MISSIO summon their inner beast on the bombastic “Say Something” and “#gimmeakiss“, which according to Spotify streaming stats are two of the most popular tracks on VILLAIN. Both tracks last barely two minutes, but blast through the speakers like a sonic battering ram of grinding industrial synths and pummeling beats. It’s clear the guys had a lot of fun recording these bangers, which are more frantic than their usual style, and both need to be played at full volume!
“I Wanna Fight And You Know It” is an eerie, aggressive song in which Matthew speaks to his darker, more combative side: “People tell me that I may be the disease. Like I’m the crazy bitches in the sea. Maybe all of ’em are right when it comes to being shady. I wanna fight and you know it. I got my fists up tonight and you know it.” And on the anthemic “We Are Who We Are“, Matthew addresses the importance of being true to ourselves, and accepting our imperfections in order to live a life that’s honest and real: “Why do we try to live a lie? It isn’t worth it. Who you tryna please? ‘Cause if it’s me, it isn’t working. We are who we are. That can be hard to accept. We are all fucked up human beings.”
One of the more enjoyable tracks on the album is “Does Anybody Love Me“. I love the infectious upbeat vibe and hearty piano and bass-driven groove. The lyrics speak to overthinking and worrying too much about what others think of you, but also cognizant of the fact that many others do the same: “Does anybody love me? I don’t know. Is everybody lonely? I think so.”
The final three tracks on VILLAIN are more contemplative and melodic, beginning with “Failure to Comply“, a beautiful, powerfully moving song about a narcissist who’s unable to love or show empathy toward others: “What is it you’re looking for? What is it that leaves you wanting more? Will you ever fight for me? Will you ever love someone other than you?” The mournful piano and dramatic, sweeping instrumentals are gorgeous, as are Matthew’s deeply heartfelt vocals. My favorite song on the album, it’s spent the past three months and counting on my Weekly Top 30.
“Picture in My Pocket” is a beautiful love song, with a languid, almost jazzy feel. The warm piano keys, subtle percussion and strummed guitar are positively sublime, and Matthew’s gentle vocals have an enchanting ethereal quality as he softly croons “Hang on to love if it’s real. I want to believe. I have this picture in my pocket of a peace I won’t grieve. And then I saw you. And you saw me. And suddenly the world wasn’t as bad as once before.”
VILLAIN closes on a positive note with the stunning and cinematic “To the Universe“. The lyrics speak to living life with an open mind and an open heart, unafraid to take chances and follow your dreams: “Open your mind to ideas that you don’t like. It’s a beautiful world if you quit puttin’ up a fight. You can let your walls down and be who you want to be. ‘Cause it’s a beautiful world, you can scream it when you don’t believe. To the universe, to the universe. It’s where we’re headed.”
Their previous albums are all so exceptional, I wasn’t sure how MISSIO could possibly keep matching their quality, let alone top them. But how shortsighted and wrong I was to doubt them, as once again they’ve gifted us with a phenomenal album in the form of VILLAIN. Every single one of its tracks is outstanding, which is not something that can be said about very many albums. I remain a faithful and devoted fan.
I’m happy that The Killers are still together and making music more than 20 years after their formation, and their latest single, the beautiful, uplifting anthem “boy”, takes over the #1 spot on this week’s Top 30. About the song, band front man and vocalist Brandon Flowers said: “This was the first song written after we had to cancel the ‘Imploding The Mirage’ tour due to the pandemic. I had recently moved back to Utah and started to make trips to Nephi, where I grew up. I found that the place I had wanted to get away from so desperately at 16 was now a place that I couldn’t stop returning to. I have a son approaching the age I was at that time in my life. With ‘boy’, I want to reach out and tell myself – and my sons – to not overthink it. And to look for the ‘white arrows’ in their lives. For me now, white arrows are my wife, children, my songs and the stage.”
In other chart developments, Måneskin‘s “Supermodel” inches up a notch to #2, while Death Cab for Cutie‘s “Here to Forever” moves up three spots to #3. I can’t get enough of Beach Weather‘s “Sex, Drugs, Etc.”, which enters the top 10 at #10. The biggest upward mover is “My Babe” by Spoon, jumping seven spots to #20. And the lone debut this week is the delightfully delicious “Wet Dream” by quirky English duo Wet Leg. I couldn’t stand “Chaise Longue” but really like “Wet Dream” a lot.
BOY – The Killers (2)
SUPERMODEL – Måneskin (3)
HERE TO FOREVER – Death Cab for Cutie (6)
BROKEN RECORD – NAVE (1)
BONES – Imagine Dragons (7)
BAD HABIT – Steve Lacy (10)
UNTIL I FOUND YOU – Stephen Sanchez (4)
TEK IT – Cafuné (9)
VIVA LAS VENGEANCE – Panic! At the Disco (5)
SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (14)
PLEASE WRITE RESPONSIBLY – Granfalloon (12)
PART OF THE BAND – The 1975 (13)
BREAK MY SOUL – Beyoncé (8)
FAILURE TO COMPLY – MISSIO (11)
WHAT’S THE TRICK? – Jack White (15)
SEASICK – The Rare Occasions (18)
FREE – Florence + the Machine (21)
CRACKER ISLAND – Gorillaz featuring Thundercat (22)
After signing with the label Fierce Panda, Solar Eyes had to take down some of their earliest releases so that they could be re-released under their new label. “I See the Sun” has now been re-released, so I’m re-posting my review of the song from November 2021.
This past August, I featured the marvelously trippy single “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship” by British psychedelic pop/rock band Solar Eyes, which you can read here. Now the Birmingham trio, who are comprised of Glenn Smyth, Tom Ford and Sebastian Maynard-Francis, are back with a fantastic new single “I See the Sun“. “I See the Sun” is their third release in six months, with many more to come.
“I See the Sun” was born from a conversation Glenn had with the band’s mixing engineer Jeff Knowler. After Glenn mentioned to Jeff that he’d written a cool ’60s-sounding Tarantino-esque track on his newly acquired 12 string guitar, Jeff suggested that he watch Tarantino’s film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood before recording the track. Glenn took Jeff’s advice, and went up to his sweltering attic studio, where he found inspiration in the resounding reverb and echo chambers…
Hailing from the beautiful nation of Finland is the exceptionally talented rock band Frozen Factory. I first introduced them to my readers last June when I reviewed their excellent EP The First Liquidation, which they cheekily described as “an EP with a suspiciously high number of tracks.” I was so impressed with its high quality that I didn’t think they could top it, but their new album Of Pearls & Perils has proven me wrong. I’m not generally a huge fan of hard rock, but I loved it at first listen. And it’s not often I call an album a “masterpiece”, but Of Pearls & Perils deserves that title, and then some.
Since forming in December 2018, Frozen Factory has undergone several personnel changes, and now consists of founding member Tomi Hassinen on bass, keyboards and backing vocals, Stephen Baker (who’s originally from England) on lead vocals, Mici Ehnqvist on lead guitar, Marianne Heikkinen on drums, and Johnny Koivumäki, who joined the band in late 2021, on rhythm guitar. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Alice In Chains, Iron Maiden, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine, they create moody, complex and melodic alternative rock with strong undercurrents of progressive, grunge, symphonic, metal and dream rock. This seemingly contradictory and eclectic combination of stylistic elements makes for some incredibly compelling and darkly beautiful music that’s a joy to listen to.
Interestingly, Of Pearl & Perils was actually written and partly recorded before the band even began writing and recording The First Liquidation EP. They explain: “We penned ‘Of Pearls & Perils’ almost immediately after finishing 2020’s ‘Planted Feet’ and fell so in love with the songs that we wanted to make sure we’d give the album all the right conditions to sound the best it could. So, we banked the songs and experimented with the creation of ‘The First Liquidation’, expanding our horizons along the way. As a result, the EP and this new album link together almost like siblings. That’s not to say that ‘The First Liquidation’ is a B-record – it simply felt like a necessary bridge to our growth before we tackled the monster we knew was lurking within ‘Of Pearls & Perils’.“
And what a magnificent monster it is! They’ve really outdone themselves with their skillful blending of alt-rock, melodic metal and progressive elements to create an epic, mind-blowing and stunning work. All 12 tracks are outstanding, overflowing with gorgeous melodies, driving rhythms and breathtaking instrumentation. The poetic lyrics are both biting and deeply insightful, and delivered with Stephen’s powerful, resonant vocals, which often cover me with chills. He seriously has one of the more beautiful voices in rock today.
Written by Stephen and Tomi, the album addresses such topics as inequality and oppression, toxic masculinity, the afterlife, and the climate crisis. More specifically, the dark lyrics reflect Stephen’s inner struggles with the behavior of much of the human race, including himself. He elaborates: “I really cannot comprehend why we’re so careless with our home planet and the living communities that depend on it. I’m sad when I see regular people fighting with other regular people and then voting to give power to people who’re hell-bent on destroying regular folk. I feel like we’ve become so easy to influence, so easy to deceive, so easy to distract with trivial differences. I’d like to see a safe world where every kind and life-respecting human has the opportunity to reach their potential, no matter what kind of body they possess, beliefs they follow or lifestyle they lead. Our songs are usually a wake-up call, and often written to push myself as well as anyone else who listens, because I sometimes feel lazy and inactive about things that should anger me to the core. I want to be more. I want to do more to help. I want human civilisation to succeed.”
Album opener “Murder in the Depths” starts off with a woman speaking the line “Il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis” (which translates to English as “Only a fool would never change their mind”), accompanied by jarring sounds of a siren blaring a warning. The woman speaking is Angela Carolei, one of Frozen Factory’s most active fans, whom they’ve never met. Her voice is also featured in several other little moments throughout the record, in both French and English. Stephen said that he chose to use some minor French moments for both Of Pearls & Perils and The First Liquidation “because the French language includes some absolutely killer phrases that don’t work so well in English.”
With lyrics containing nautical references, a theme that will be repeated on several tracks, the song encapsulates the album’s overall messages of social injustice and inequality, not only among classes but between men and women, oppression and environmental degradation. “Murder in the Depths” speaks of a woman who perished while diving for pearls intended for the wealthier class, which she would never have had the opportunity to wear: “With little choice like most before, she laboured for a dream. Was sent to dive too deep, where nobility refused to even dip their toes. Her lungs collapsed far below...if we don’t face up together, fear will point our distrust down. And billions more will drown.”
The song quickly segues into “Host With the Most“, blasting through the speakers with a barrage of raging guitars, throbbing bass and Marianne’s explosive drumbeats. And though it’s purely coincidental, I like the little guitar riff that sounds like the one from The B-52s “Rock Lobster”, and Mici’s wailing guitar solo in the bridge is absolute fire. As an Atheist who does not believe in heaven nor hell (other than how both are manifested here on earth), the lyrics about how so many people endure injustice and pain in their lives, hopeful in the belief they’ll do better in an afterlife, strongly resonate with me: “How many place their bets on bliss? How many live their lives for this? Oh have they seen some guarantees or signs of afterlife? / There’s only one life given at a time. The rest is a question that will never die. But you will die, so be prepared to say goodbye. No afterlife.“
“Solar Windfalls” is a gentle song with a nod to David Bowie’s iconic “Space Oddity” and “Life On Mars”, sung from the perspective of an astronaut traveling through space, contemplating their endless search for exciting new adventures and the state of the world they’ve left behind: “I’m closer than ever to an answer for Bowie. Yeah I turned to face the strange, but what can life on Mars teach me about the richer man’s change?/ What have I become? Pursuing shiny desires. Points of light above keep me majorly wired. Is there even a place at the end of my trail? Or will I endlessly trace a line that’s destined to fail? The pale blue dot fades, she is to me ever darker, ever farther she wanes, and the chasm grows starker.” The somber piano keys, twinkling synths and chiming guitars are wonderful, as are Stephen’s plaintive vocals.
The next several tracks see Frozen Factory railing against racism, cruelty and putting our faith in duplicitous leaders who steer us to ruin. On “Equalise Power“, they call out racism, fear of the other, and police brutality, and implore us to act with fairness, tolerance and compassion: “What part of you is broken? That your heart cannot be open to a person of another colour, what is colour? You’ve been put in a bubble to elevate your struggles. Your fire stoked by nonsense that you swallow gladly. Apparently unable to see what’s on the table. The poison that you’ve been fed since your first days alive./ Your reasons for hate are not reasonable. When you discriminate you are not reasonable. That call you will make it is not reasonable. The actions police take will not be reasonable. Time to end this now. Time to equalise power. Seize thy hour.”
They channel their inner Alice In Chains on the hard-hitting “The Depths of Hell“, a scathing diatribe against too many societies’ penchant for going against our best interests in the support of disingenuous and evil leaders who stoke hate and divisiveness by preying on our fears: “Our only future is the ash of the past, when we fund and root for the most egregious ass. We love a Lucifer to fork our lives on every burning issue. They will decide. We’ve picked our demons to fix our aim and sell us our trip to heaven.” The song’s a proper metal rock gem, with a deep, pummeling rhythm courtesy of Tomi’s crushing bassline and Marianne’s speaker-blowing drums. Mici’s guitar work is positively fearsome as he makes his six-string wail and scream, and Stephen’s vocals are dripping with venom as he matches the music’s fury note for note.
And speaking of venom, they launch headlong into “Loud, Lazy, Late“, furiously calling out an asshole totally lacking in any redeemable attributes: “Can’t you show any will to grow? Any thoughts to be kinder than you’ve been. You’ve no empathy, it’s all me me me. You don’t like my tone, but you’ve abso-fucking-lutely got to go! Loud, lazy, late and low quality!“
“Pie in the Sky” is a stirring anthemic ballad, with beautiful piano, cinematic synths, and exuberant jangly and wailing guitars. The lyrics seem to speak of finding contentment not from material possessions and desires, but from the natural beauty and love that lies inside each of us if we allow it to flourish and grow: “False symbols of winning life, bring promise before denial. ‘Cause what we’d like you cannot buy. This is our own and it’s beautiful.”
I think my favorite track from a musical standpoint is “Absolute in Vanity“. I love its strong driving beat, heavy chugging rhythms and gorgeous ostinato guitar riffs of a similar vein as Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, though the melody is vastly different. The song is a kind of response to “The Depths of Hell” above, but this time sung from the perspective of the evil Trump-like leader people have elected: “You! I will be your king if you please. What’s that? You love me? Well. I don’t come free. No. I will be your king if you please. What’s that? You chose me? Well. I don’t come cheap. Because of lies, lies. You idolise lies.” Between those fiery riffs and Stephen’s spectacular impassioned vocals, I’m left covered in goosebumps.
“We’re Gonna Die” is a rousing banger decrying peoples’ greed and insatiable need for more, more, more, and how it’s killing the planet: “Long ago on a hill lived a group who felt they had a need. Though they had more than most, their whole life was a spiral of greed. They lit a fire for their revolution. The first distant lands burned with absolution. Hey you, we’re gonna die if you don’t change your lifestyle now.” The arresting piano riff reminds me a bit of U2’s “New Years Day”. “Never is a Theory” is perhaps the most enigmatic song on the album. I’m not sure of the song’s meaning, but my guess is that it’s about coming to terms with one’s own death, as expressed in these lyrics: “Will I cease to be tonight, as i can’t believe my sight. A myth the trust in vision seems hard to swallow, lies or dreams yeah. End of the river. End of the river. I’m trying to see, what’s at the end of the river. End of the river for me.” In any case, it’s an enchanting rock song, with terrific improvised guest vocals sung by Lily M.
The title track “Of Pearls & Perils” opens on a pensive note with a man assuring his son that, even though the ship (representing the Titanic) is in trouble, everything will be alright: “Try not to worry about it son. You know what the captain said. He said ‘Every single one of us is safe on this ship.” The song gradually expands into a haunting piano-driven anthem, accompanied by grungy guitars and soaring vocals.
Stephen states that the song is essentially about toxic masculinity, and how men have taken the world in the wrong direction, but remain incredibly stubborn and resistant to change, denying or underplaying their weaknesses and overstating their strengths in order to protect their pride. The ship represents the ruling elite of men who currently control the ship of human destiny, and in this song, a man gains a woman’s love with a gift of pearls, assuring her the ship is safe: “With a hull so strong, we will brush off ice and storms. On the treacherous cold seas we will never freeze. I’ve heard no man can steer us wrong. Our ship will n carry on. This titan can’t be breached. These props will never seize.” As the ship continues to sink deeper into the ocean, his unwavering belief in the men who built the ship, and that it would never sink, cannot be broken: “Sit with me, be relaxed. Rest assured this is a lapse. Don’t listen, look or think. You cannot know that we will sink.” The song ends with sounds of actual Morse code from the Titanic, sending out a distress call, accompanied by an eerie voiceover of a woman, sung by Angela Carolei, saying “Ce n’est pas la mer à boire“, which translates to “It’s not the sea to drink”.
The album closes with the somber “Deceit Upon the Decks“, a final note to the story of the woman described in “Of Pearls & Perils”. The song also mirrors the first track “Murder in the Depths”, except that in this song, the woman who perished was upper-class, rather than a worker: “A skull dressed with her jewels. He never loved her true. They never really were for her, but emblems for other men to observe. Of status, cash and property. The shackles in his evil dream. Her trust went to the top of the chain. They both tumbled when he fell from grace.” Stephen says that the final lines of the song sum up the album’s overall meaning, that we’ve been conditioned to believe that many things that are actually against our own interest would be good for us, and we often allow things to happen that are bad for us: “Of pearls and perils there is much lore. To claim each as a gem for the men with it all. And they’ve told you they’re one and the same. And it’s not your place to question their game.” The last words, spoken by Angela, quietly implore us to “Please, think again.”
What more can I say about this album that I haven’t already gushed over, other than to restate that it’s an epic, mind-blowing and stunning work. The thought, care and strong musicianship that have gone into its creation and production are truly impressive, and the five members of Frozen Factory should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished. I think it’s one of the best albums of 2022.
Ryan Redwood is a creative, charming and affable young British singer-songwriter based in Lowestoft. I’ve been following him since the beginning of 2018, back when he was lead vocalist for alternative indie rock band The Only Route, and reviewed several of their singles. After the band called it quits at the end of 2019, Ryan soldiered on as a solo artist, writing and recording songs influenced by some of his favorite acts like Oasis, The Charlatans, Catfish and The Bottlemen and Blossoms. He released his first single “Perhaps” in December 2020, and since then has released four more singles, the latest of which is “All Said and Done”, which I’m pleased to select as my New Song of the Week.
Ryan says “All Said and Done” is “effectively two songs sort of bashed together“. He’d finished the initial framework for the song, but hadn’t yet developed a bridge. He’d also composed another musical piece, but didn’t feel he could create an entire song around it, so he came up with the idea of inserting it into the middle of “All Said and Done” to change things up a bit. Under the guidance of producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist Sam Wilson, who then recruited his musician friend Dylan Levett to play sax, together they’ve created a wonderful, more melodically complex and interesting track.
The song starts off as a rousing rocker, with a lively blend of shimmery and jangly guitars bathed in reverb and accompanied by assertive thumping drumbeats. At the two minute-and-fifteen second mark, the music abruptly downshifts to a mellow instrumental interlude lasting about a minute, highlighted by Dylan’s terrific saxophone solo, giving the song a jazzy, sophisticated vibe. At the end of the interlude, everything ramps back up to the urgent rock groove heard at the beginning, ending with a strong finish. Ryan has a relatively low-key vocal style that’s not particularly powerful, but he does a fine job here, his earnest vocals rising in intensity along with the music.
The lyrics speak to the inevitable predictability and drudgery of day to day life that eventually afflicts us all as we age, but also taking solace in the fact we have a loved one beside us to help and support us along the way: “I can’t help but shake the feeling I’ll wake up one day, in the same job, in the same house, in the same place. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be me and you.When push comes to shove, it’s always better with you. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be us forever.”
I think “All Said and Done” is Ryan’s best work yet, and nicely showcases his growth and maturity as a musician, songwriter and vocalist.
There are a ton of really outstanding songs out now, and I have to say that, having grown up during the 60s and 70s – which many consider to be the greatest years for music – I honestly never imagined I would still enjoy hearing new music at my advanced age in the year 2022. It keeps me hopeful about the future of music! Now, let’s get to the highlights of this week’s Top 30 chart. I love every song on this list, and wish I could place them all in the top 5. The haunting and topical “Broken Record” by British artist NAVE spends a second week at #1. The Killers‘ inspiring anthem “boy” closes in at #2, while Måneskin‘s “Supermodel” holds at #3 for a third week.
Entering the top 10 are “Here to Forever” by the ever brilliant Death Cab For Cutie, climbing five spots to #6, and “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy, leaping eight spots to #10. British artist Granfalloon‘s delightful “Please Write Responsibly” and The 1975‘s enthralling “Part Of The Band” both climb four spots to #12 and #13, respectively. And Beach Weather continues their rapid ascent up my chart with their marvelous “Sex, Drugs, Etc.”, climbing seven spots to #14. Three songs make their debut this week: “My Babe” by Spoon, entering at #27, “Sisters” by Irish artist pMad, entering at #29, and “Bitter” by British trio Wild Horse, bringing up the rear at #30.
BROKEN RECORD – NAVE (1)
BOY – The Killers (4)
SUPERMODEL – Måneskin (3)
UNTIL I FOUND YOU – Stephen Sanchez (2)
VIVA LAS VENGEANCE – Panic! At the Disco (6)
HERE TO FOREVER – Death Cab for Cutie (11)
BONES – Imagine Dragons (7)
BREAK MY SOUL – Beyoncé (8)
TEK IT – Cafuné (10)
BAD HABIT – Steve Lacy (18)
FAILURE TO COMPLY – MISSIO (5)
PLEASE WRITE RESPONSIBLY – Granfalloon (16)
PART OF THE BAND – The 1975 (17)
SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (21)
WHAT’S THE TRICK? – Jack White (15)
CLOSER – The Frontier (9) 19th week on chart
SIDELINES – Phoebe Bridgers (14)
SEASICK – The Rare Occasions (19)
MISTAKES – Sharon Van Etten (13)
LEMON TREE – Mt. Joy (12)
FREE – Florence + the Machine (22)
CRACKER ISLAND – Gorillaz featuring Thundercat (23)
Though many singer-songwriters tend to draw inspiration from their own life experiences, few I’ve come across are quite as thoughtful, candid and personal as Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (born Andrew Neil Maternick). Considered an outsider music artist in a similar vein to the late Daniel Johnston, Andrew writes from his heart and soul. The 34-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his faith, strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled him to flourish as an artist.
I’ve featured Andrew twice on this blog, first in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak, then again in June 2021 when I reviewed his fourth album Sunny Side (you can read those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post). I wrote extensively about his life experiences in those reviews, but will touch on a few significant points to provide a bit of context.
After growing up as a fairly typical kid and high school athlete, he suffered a life-altering event in 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that he needed help, rather than being incarcerated.
He was subsequently released and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray later uploaded to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.)
Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. He followed up a year later with his second album Merry Go Round, then quickly went back to work in early 2019 to record his third album Freak. Sadly, as he was wrapping up the recording he was hit with yet another health crises when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.
His cancer thankfully in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, featuring 10 optimistic tracks with a mellower, more lo-fi folk sound. Ever the creative, hard-working artist, Andrew’s now returns with his fifth album Alien, which dropped September 15th. Similar to Sunny Side, the songs on Alien were performed with just Andrew’s vocals and acoustic guitar, giving them a lo-fi folk sensibility. But the subject matter is a bit darker, touching on such issues as mental health, loneliness, suicide, alcoholism and relationships.
In order to get a bit more insight into his inspiration for writing Alien, I asked Andrew a few questions, to which he graciously responded.
EML: Thank you, Andrew, for agreeing to speak with me about your latest album Alien. You’ve experienced more than your fair share of trauma and difficult challenges in your life, and also suffer from depression, which you’ve spoken about pretty openly on social media. Like many songwriters, you draw from your own experiences when writing your lyrics, and as was the case with your previous albums, the songs on Alien address such topics as mental health and emotional well-being, addiction, suicide, loneliness and faith. Does writing and recording songs help bring you a little peace of mind?
Andrew: Yes, writing songs does bring me a little peace of mind. Some songs help me process my grief and sorrow. When I write it is like the hand of my heart reaching out to the world for help, love and understanding; almost always the world reaches back and that feels good. I also hope that my music will help others to deal with their own issues, depression, loneliness. If you think about it, it’s almost like a continuous circle of emotions. You write to help yourself, which directly or indirectly helps others and they in turn help you back with positive feedback. They view my song within their own life experiences and relate in their own way. We all learn from this exchange of melody and lyrics and emotions. Knowing this gives me peace of mind.
EML: The title track “Alien” reminds me a bit of “Freak” in that it seems to speak to embracing one’s identity, warts and all, rather than being ashamed of it. Is that the point you’re trying to make on this song?
Andrew: The point of “Alien” is the truth behind my belief in a universal family. We may come from other places, have different religions, have different governments, eat different food, but at the end of the day I firmly believe we all have hearts with similar desires. These hearts feel and desire love and it’s this desire that illustrates we truly are a family. So, when we see someone different, someone who fits the mold of an alien we should reach out to them with love and understanding.
EML: Two songs in particular, “I Need a Reason” and “Don’t Tell the Doctor”, are pretty heavy and dark, dealing with thoughts of suicide. Your dad told me that “Don’t Tell the Doctor” was inspired by a comment a woman whispered to you during a group therapy session – “Don’t tell the Doctor, but I’m in love with suicide”. What prompted you to write about that experience?
Andrew: I have spent a fair share of time in mental hospitals and have met many interesting characters. During one of my first stays at Virginia Baptist Memorial Hospital I met a young lady named Holly. It is true that we had a group session in which we were supposed to talk about what we love. Her answer was “Suicide”. I, like many in the group, could relate and it’s a moment of genuineness I will never forget. I wonder where Holly is these days, and she will always have a place in my heart.
EML: Not being a songwriter nor musician, I’m always impressed by people who can write compelling lyrics and compose interesting or catchy melodies. Do you generally write your lyrics first, then set them to music, or do you first come up with a melody or guitar riff, then write words to fit?
Andrew: When writing songs, I usually start with strumming some chords on the guitar. Then I hum a tune that fits and then I transform that tune into words. Sometimes I feel as though my fingers are guided on the fretboard. I don’t really know any standard chords or notes or even musical keys, but my fingers seem to find the right sound and melody. I really think melody is important. Melody is something I think is missing from many songs written today. There are lots of “beats” but not really much melody in many contemporary songs.
Once I have a melody, I try to determine what the melody is telling me or saying. The words/lyrics are by far the hardest part of the process. The lyrics are really my notes in a weird way. I write the lyrics so that the melody wraps around them. Sometimes I’ve come up with lyrics when the guitar is not in my hands. I might have a dream or a special feeling and the lyrics just pop into my head. “Mongolia” was a good example of this. In that case the lyrics helped to dictate the melody. I tend to write 2 to 3 songs a month.
EML: From what I can tell, the only sounds we hear on these songs are your voice and acoustic guitar, is that correct?
Andrew: Yes, it was certainly stripped down. Just me and my nylon string ovation guitar. I do not recall any keyboard dubs on the Alien album tracks. We decided to keep it simple and maintain a lo-fi sound. We also wanted to help the subtleties of my guitar playing, which is different than many guitarists, stand out. Over the years, I have come up with my own style of playing and make up my own chord shapes. It’s a very percussive style. My dad says it reminds him of Richie Havens in some ways. I am not really encumbered by the rules, scales, etc. of the instrument. I really think this gives me a certain amount of freedom in writing songs that many songwriters don’t have. They tend to stick to the conformity of the instrument.
EML: Who are some living artists or musicians whose work inspires you, or that you would like to collaborate with if possible?
Andrew: My inspirations are many. The living artists who come to mind are Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana, Richard Thompson, Sanjay Mishra, and Lady Gaga to name a few. I’ve also been listening a lot to Country artists John Anderson and Raelyn Nelson. It would be cool to collab with them, but I realize that is pie in the sky kind of stuff. More realistically, as far as collaboration, I would love to work with and perhaps co-write songs with some rising artists in different genres. One genre in particular I am developing an interest in is Alt-Country, which is a mix of Country, Garage Rock, Blues and Alternative. One up and coming Alt-country artist I would love to co-write a song with is Raelyn Nelson. As you know I was scheduled to open for her Band on 19 August of this year in Hershey PA, but it was cancelled due to an illness in her band. It will be rescheduled hopefully in November. After her manager notified me that they wanted me to open for them, I started listening to the Raelyn Nelson Band music. That listening experience inspired me to write a few Alt-County songs for the show. I would love to release an alt-country album after Alien. This would definitely be a different direction, but I think it’s also a way to reach more people with my music.
Prior to the inspiration by the Raelyn Nelson Band, I had begun to dabble in writing more country-like songs. For instance, I think the songs “Gambin Man” and “Kinda Turns me On”, on my Sunny Side Album have an alt-country feel to them. I think I am going to travel in that direction for the time being. Also, I am on this list on Ranker (Best Outsider Music Artist list). Many of the artists that are listed have passed on now. I really wish I could have worked with Daniel Johnston. But there are a few younger living artists on the list like John Revitte who is an exceptional lyricist, that I would love to collab with. R. Stevie Moore, and Iggy Pop are also on the list, but are really up there in age and I’m not sure if they are still active in music.
EML: Anything else you’d like to say about Alien or yourself that I’ve neglected to ask?
Andrew: No storm lasts forever. Life is good and people are beautiful. I appreciate you taking the time to review my music and get my story out there into this world. Music makes a difference in this jello world. Thanks again and peace out.
Now, let’s get to the album, which opens with the title track “Alien“. As Andrew stated, the song speaks of reaching out to people who are different from us with love and understanding, as we’d hope they’d do for us: “Far from ordinary, makes life kind of scary. I’d have it no other way. We come in peace. Don’t shoot please. It’s alright alien.” On the melancholy “I Need a Reason“, he questions the value of his very existence: “Like a bug stuck in a spider’s web, the more I struggle, the more I’m dead. I am blue, and blue I remain. Will I get conquered by my pain?I need a reason baby, a reason to be here. I need a reason baby, to make it through the year. I need a reason baby, before I disappear.“
While “Mongolia” comes across as a pleasing folk tune, its lyrics are packed with meaning and emotional conflict. It starts off with Andrew listing a few of his psychoses: “I know angels on a first-name basis. And I can’t stare at the walls too long, or else I’ll see faces.” He then describes his wanting to escape to an exotic place in hopes of overcoming some of his shortcomings: “I want to go to Mongolia, Perhaps there I’ll get holier. Holier than the Judas that I am. Holier like Mary’s little lamb.” Continuing on, he acknowledges that he’s too old to be treated like a child, yet still needs emotional support and comfort from his mother: “Mommy please don’t spank me. I’m way, way too old. And I need a blankie, cause this world is so cold. So I wanna go to Mongolia.” Here’s a wonderful live performance of Andrew singing the song in 2021.
As described earlier, “Don’t Tell the Doctor” was inspired from an experience Andrew had in one of his group therapy sessions back in 2009, in which the discussion leader asked them to talk about what they loved. A woman in the group leaned over to Andrew and whispered “Don’t tell the doctor, but I’m in love with suicide“. The song has a languid, rather somber melody, with some really fine guitar noodling. Andrew’s melancholy vocals sing of feelings of hopelessness: “Sometimes I feel like there’s only one way out. That’s when you’ll find me hanging from a cloud. And sometimes I feel like there’s nowhere left to run. I keep my promises, I won’t use a gun.” That line, combined with the almost grungy feel of Andrew’s acoustic guitar, makes me think of Nirvana.
“Fingers Crossed” seems to touch on people’s superficiality and phoniness, and making empty promises but not following through: “Ring, ring, ring, I ignore the call. So leave a message and I’ll call you back. Fingers crossed, yeah we all know that.” On “My Best Friend is Not Whiskey“, Andrew speaks to how alcohol does not solve our problems or make us feel better: “Where’s my fairy tale ending? What the fuck happened to me? Every day I keep pretending that I’m not in misery. Every day I keep pretending my best friend is not whiskey. It’s a thirsty world.” And on the allegorical “The Beat Goes On“, he describes a series of dreams in which he meets an Aztec priestess, has Jesus in a high school class, and is a Samurai warrior addicted to death and glory who ultimately commits hara kiri.
“Remember to Forget” is a sweet song about being supportive and loving to a friend in need: “When you’re cold, I’ll be your sweater. When you’re sad, I’ll make you smile. We’re all in this together, mile after mile. When you need a hug, I’ll be your teddy. Yes, I’ll be your happy thought. Remember, remember to forget, the vampire that bit. Remember, remember to forget all of the bullshit.” And of course, it’s always wonderful getting that support in return: “When it rains, you’re my umbrella. When I cry, you dry my tears. We’re all in this together. You put meaning in my years.“
The album closes with the charming “Black Sheep“, which speaks to how just because someone may be quirky and different, they still have qualities worth loving: “One day, we all kick the can. So girl, won’t you hold my hand. I promise that I am no creep. Yeah, I’m just a black sheep.” Andrew’s percussive style of guitar playing is strongly evident in his heavily-strummed acoustic notes. It’s an upbeat ending that keeps the album from being too overwhelmingly bleak. All in all, Alien is a marvelous little album, and Andrew’s stripped-down acoustic treatment really allows his endearing, heartfelt vocals and relatable poetic lyrics to shine.