Artist Spotlight – Fiction Peaks

I love alternative rock music and am always pleased to discover new artists who play it, especially when their music is really good. Such is the feeling I experienced when I stumbled across the Irish band Fiction Peaks.  They play melodic alt-rock/pop that runs the gamut from high-energy to achingly beautiful. Their music has a rich, lush sound achieved through the use of synthesizers and multiple instruments, including horns and strings. The five band members include Joey Doyle (lead vocals, guitar and sampler), Cillian Kenny (bass guitar & trumpet), Barry Lyons (backing vocals, synth), Joáo Francisco (drums) and Brian Giles (guitar).

Formed in 2013, Fiction Peaks got their start playing shows around their hometown of Dublin, gradually sharpening their sound and building a fan base. They released their self-titled debut EP Fiction Peaks in January 2015, featuring four stellar tracks. I’d like to include them all for this review, but have chosen two that showcase the band’s diverse sound. The first, “Dye Is Cast,” is a catchy, upbeat tune that charges out of the gate with shredded guitars and a driving beat. To my ears, the song has an Oasis vibe, and Doyle’s vocals even sound a bit like Liam Gallagher. Take a listen:

“Document Dissent” is beguiling, with gentle guitar and percussion, and poignant lyrics  beautifully sung by Doyle.  “Tonight all fears are on the outside looking in. The scrambled litany, a purchased forgery. You document dissent with all your hours spent.  A tale of disbelief, was reaching from beneath.” The song builds to a emotionally-charged crescendo that raises goosebumps. I love this gorgeous song!

They followed up with a “double A-side” single Spring’s In Bloom/All I Got in February 2016.  “All I Got” is another joyously upbeat song featuring great hooks and some pretty awesome guitar riffs, set to a pulse-pounding beat.

Their latest single “In For A Penny” dropped in May of 2016, providing further evidence of this band’s incredible talent. The beautiful opening guitar riffs, Doyle’s heartfelt vocals, and soaring orchestration at the end make this an exceptional song.

Show Fiction Peaks some love by following them on Facebook and Twitter, subscribing to their YouTube channel, and listening to more of their music on Soundcloud.

Top 20 Songs for June 26-July 2, 2016

1. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers (1)
2. OFF THE GROUND – The Record Company (3)
3. ONE DANCE – Drake, Wiz Kid, Kyla (2)
4. BORED TO DEATH – Blink-182 (5)
5. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo (8)
6. RIDE – twenty øne piløts (4)
7. HAPPY SONG – Bring Me The Horizon (6)
8. OPHELIA – The Lumineers (7)
9. KISS THIS – The Struts (10)
10. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant (12)
11. DESTRUCTION – Joywave (9)
12. TAKE IT FROM ME – KONGOS (14)
13. FIRE – Barns Courtney (16)
14. AIN’T NO MAN – The Avett Brothers (19)
15. JUST LIKE FIRE – P!nk (N)
16. SOUNDCHECK – Catfish and the Bottlemen (20)
17. BRAZIL – Declan McKenna (N)
18. SEND MY LOVE (TO YOUR NEW LOVER) – Adele (N)
19. HEATHENS – twenty øne piløts (N)
20. BURN THE WITCH – Radiohead (N)

Ten Best James Bond Theme Songs

There have been 24 films about the dashing British secret service agent James Bond, beginning with Dr. No in 1962, up to the most recent film Spectre, released in 2015.  It has been a long-established tradition for each film to have a theme song. Over those 53 years, some are impressive tracks that have stood the test of time, while others were quickly forgotten. Here are my picks for the ten best Bond theme songs:

10. LICENSE TO KILL – Gladys Knight (License to Kill – 1989)

Initially, Eric Clapton and Vic Flick (who played the guitar riff in the original “James Bond Theme”) were asked to write and perform the theme song for License To Kill.  It was to be an updated version of the original theme, but that project fell apart, and this song, performed by Gladys Knight, was chosen instead.  It was composed by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff, and based on the “horn line” from Goldfinger, which required royalty payments to the original writers. (Wikipedia)  I love Gladys Knight’s voice, and think it’s a pretty good song that well complements the film.

9. GOLDENEYE – Tina Turner (GoldenEye – 1995)

“GoldenEye” was written specifically for Tina Turner by Bono and the Edge of U2 after they learned that she had been invited to sing the theme to the Bond film of the same name. Like many of the other women who sang Bond themes, Turner’s strong, sensuous vocals were perfectly suited for the genre.

8. NOBODY DOES IT BETTER – Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977)

I really love this song, which is why I’ve ranked it higher than it probably should be. It’s a great song, but it just doesn’t evoke the sense of mystery and danger we expect from Bond movie themes, and is better suited for a romantic comedy. Written by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Carol Bayer Sager, the song is one of the more pop-oriented, radio friendly Bond themes, and it was a huge hit for Carly Simon.

7. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH – Garbage (The World Is Not Enough – 1999)

Written by composer David Arnold and lyricist Don Black, “The World Is Not Enough” was performed by the alternative rock group Garbage, with sensuous sweeping vocals by lead singer Shirley Manson. Regarding the choice of Garbage to record the song, Arnold stated “Part of the reason I thought Garbage would be such a good idea is that I think Shirley Manson is someone who could easily inhabit Bond’s world.” (Wikipedia)

6. SKYFALL – Adele (Skyfall – 2012)

After the massive success of “Rolling in the Deep” in 2011, Adele seemed the perfect choice by Sony Pictures President of Music Lia Vollack to record the theme for Skyfall. She thought Adele’s voice had a “soulful, haunting, evocative quality” that would bring back the “classic Shirley Bassey feel” of several earlier Bond themes, so she suggested to the film’s producers that Adele be asked to write and record the theme song. After reading and falling in love with the script for Skyfall, Adele agreed to write a song, with assistance from Paul Epworth, her producer and co-writer for her smash album 21. The result was a tremendously powerful track that captured the Bond vibe that Vollack had envisioned, even incorporating the 007 theme.  It was awarded the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2013.

5. LIVE AND LET DIE – Paul McCartney & Wings (Live and Let Die – 1973)

Film producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli invited Paul McCartney to write the title theme for Live and Let Die, but wanted it to be sung by Shirley Bassey or Thelma Houston. McCartney told them he would only allow it to be used in the film if performed by his band Wings. “Live and Let Die” captures the menacing danger of the film, and was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

4. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE – Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice – 1967)

One of the most gorgeous Bond themes, “You Only Live Twice” was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. The song features lush, soaring orchestration and lovely vocals by Nancy Sinatra. Barry initially wanted the song to be performed by Aretha Franklin, while Cubby Broccoli wanted Frank Sinatra to sing it. Frank recommended his daughter Nancy instead, and the rest is history.

3.  A VIEW TO A KILL – Duran Duran (A View to a Kill – 1985)

John Barry teamed up with Duran Duran in the writing of the excellent “A View to a Kill.” Another dramatic song, it perfectly complements the perilous espionage-filled world of James Bond. According to Wikipedia, Duran Duran were chosen to do the song after bassist John Taylor, a lifelong Bond fan, approached producer Cubby Broccoli at a party and rather pointedly asked “When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?” (By the mid-80’s, Bond themes had become pretty stale and boring.) Obviously a good sport, Mr. Broccoli subsequently introduced the band to John Barry, resulting in this awesome collaboration. A huge hit, it’s the only Bond theme to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.

2. JAMES BOND 007 THEME – John Barry & Orchestra (Dr. No – 1962)

The original – and classic – Bond theme, and the basis for many subsequent Bond themes, has been the subject of much squabbling over songwriting credit. Monty Norman has been credited with writing it, and received hundred of thousands of dollars in royalties, despite the fact that for Dr. No, the tune was arranged by John Barry, who claims he actually wrote it.  (Barry would go on to compose the scores of another 10 Bond films.)  Courts have ruled twice that the theme was written by Monty Norman. (Wikipedia)

1.  GOLDFINGER – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger – 1964)

The most iconic Bond theme, “Goldfinger” is the gold-standard of them all (no pun intended). This masterpiece was composed by John Barry, with lyrics written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.  The song opens with piercing horns, followed by Shirley Bassey’s powerful, dramatic vocals that propel “Goldfinger” into the sonic stratosphere, guaranteed to raise goosebumps every time.  Unbelievably, the song was almost taken out of the film because producer Harry Saltzman hated it, saying, “That’s the worst fucking song I’ve ever heard in my life”. (Wikipedia)

A final note about Bond themes. The alternative rock band Radiohead were asked to write a song for the film Spectre, but it was rejected by the film’s producers in favor of the song “Writing’s On the Wall” by Sam Smith.  They considered “Spectre” too “dark.” The band was rather stoic about it, and decided to release the song themselves (it appears on their latest album A Moon Shaped Pool).  Many critics and fans agree that “Spectre” is superior to Sam Smith’s song, despite the fact “Writing’s On the Wall” went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song.  I think it’s gorgeous and a perfect Bond theme that would have placed in my top 10.

Artist Spotlight – Romeo Crow

I love Twitter, if for no other reason than the fact I’ve had the pleasure of discovering so many talented independent singer/songwriters and bands who are making some really good, unique music. One such artist is Romeo Crow, a Renaissance man who hails from London. He not only writes and sings songs, plays some pretty awesome guitar, writes both fiction and a blog and makes films, he’s also an entrepreneur/teacher working to help other musicians. And if all that weren’t enough, he’s an amazing photographer too!

With his striking looks, ready smile and warm, generous personality, Romeo has a growing legion of devoted fans. His music style is pretty eclectic, melding rock, pop, blues and funk into an enjoyable stew of sounds. He writes all his own music and lyrics and performs, mixes and produces the music in his home studio.

One of my favorites of his songs is “Living Like You Do,” from the EP Sketches Vol. 1. The scratchy guitar riff gives the track a bit of an old-school rock vibe.  On his website, Romeo explains the meaning of the song’s lyrics: “It is about someone with an addiction problem not facing up to their situation, not yet making the changes they need to make until they eventually realize that they MUST make changes…because their life is now, literally, at stake.”

Another favorite is the playful “Hots For You.” Romeo’s vocals are accompanied only by guitar, yet musically, the track seems fuller, and the video’s a pure delight to watch. If you’re not smitten by his self-deprecating charm and humor, then I don’t know what. Take a look:

A more recent track “Shoes” has funky guitar riffs and more drum than many of his older songs, and will appear on his upcoming EP Grip the Sky. The fast-paced video for the song is a film montage of Romeo traveling from his home in London to Ischia in Italy.

On a lark, Romeo wrote the song “Around the Bend” as a fantasy soundtrack for the trailer of the film Desperado, starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. It works pretty well, I think.

To learn more about Romeo, check out his Website, where you can follow his blog and download his music, some of it for free. Also, watch his videos and subscribe to his YouTube channel.

Top 20 Songs for June 19-25, 2016

1. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers (1)
2. ONE DANCE – Drake, Wiz Kid, Kyla (2)
3. OFF THE GROUND – The Record Company (4)
4. RIDE – twenty øne piløts (3)
5. BORED TO DEATH – Blink-182 (9)
6. HAPPY SONG – Bring Me The Horizon (7)
7. OPHELIA – The Lumineers (6)
8. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo (12)
9. DESTRUCTION – Joywave (10)
10. KISS THIS – The Struts (11)
11. THE SOUND OF SILENCE (5)
12. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant (15)
13. I TOOK A PILL IN IBIZA – Mike Posner (8)
14. TAKE IT FROM ME – KONGOS (18)
15. HAND CLAP – Fitz & the Tantrums (14)
16. FIRE – Barns Courtney (N)
17. PRAYERS/TRIANGLES – Deftones (13)
18. ALONE – Sun Arcana (16)
19. AIN’T NO MAN – The Avett Brothers (N)
20. SOUNDCHECK – Catfish and the Bottlemen (N)

 

the h0nest man – Honest Music!

When it comes to music, I generally tend to connect with songs first through their melody and arrangement, then sometimes later with their lyrics. But that was not the case when I first listened to songs from the musician who goes by the artistic name the hOnest man.  His lyrics immediately grabbed me in a way I hadn’t felt since listening to the searing lyrics of Kendrick Lamar.  I was struck by his honest, powerful words sung to simple melodies – played mostly by really fine acoustic guitar and a bit of percussion – and quickly felt certain that his artistic name was not some bullshit, but totally genuine. I could sit and have a beer with this guy!

Born Doug Rose, the hOnest man hails from rural North Carolina and, like most singer/songwriters, expresses himself through the poetry of his song lyrics – wearing his heart on his guitar, so to speak. His music is a melding of rock, folk and Country, with a style reminiscent of The Band. In his Twitter bio, he writes “Haven’t got a clue what’s really going on anymore. I write songs with the intent of provoking thoughts and feelings.” And does he ever! Some songs, like the relevant and timely “Bully Pulpit” and “Just Desserts,” address head-on the state of things in America today. His raspy vocals make the songs all the more powerful.

One of my favorites is “Bully Pulpit,” a poke in the eye to the charlatans and frauds who prey on the public’s fears and create division for their own gain. “Now we got blues to the left, and reds to the right, throw a rich monkey in the middle and you watch them fight. Oh no, we better run just as fast we can. We got bullies in the pulpit and they don’t understand. How can we still call this the American Way?  Seems like our old way of living has seen it’s dyin’ day.”
https://theh0nestman.bandcamp.com/track/bully-pulpit-2

“S.O.S.” is more philosophical, accompanied by beautiful guitar. “Trapped in the desert plagued by shifting sands. Never knowing just where we’ve been. We watch the flags in search of helping hands. We’re finding far more foes than friends. Behind the shadows there are monsters. Now one of them might just be you.”

He shows his funnier side on another of my favorites, the Country-tinged “Curb.” “Well I tried to take the last train out of Clarksville, but they tore up the tracks. Walkin’ 15 South with a guitar on my back. Baby, open up the front door, my key don’t seem to fit! Now I’ve been walking for ten hours, please don’t give me no shit. She said, ‘I’ll give you every single bit I believe that you deserve! You ain’t been home in three damn weeks, and all your shit’s out on the curb!'”

The hOnest man also has a tender, romantic side, poignantly expressed in the lovely “Stay With Me.”
https://theh0nestman.bandcamp.com/track/stay-with-me-2

Show some support for the hOnest man by following him on Twitter. His songs can be purchased on Bandcamp.

Top 20 Songs for June 12-18, 2016

1. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers (2)
2. ONE DANCE – Drake, Wiz Kid, Kyla (4)
3. RIDE – twenty øne piløts (1)
4. OFF THE GROUND – The Record Company (6)
5. THE SOUND OF SILENCE – Disturbed (3)
6. OPHELIA – The Lumineers (5)
7. HAPPY SONG – Bring Me The Horizon (8)
8. I TOOK A PILL IN IBIZA – Mike Posner (9)
9. BORED TO DEATH – Blink-182 (16)
10. DESTRUCTION – Joywave (12)
11. KISS THIS – The Struts (17)
12. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo (19)
13. PRAYERS/TRIANGLES – Deftones (10)
14. HAND CLAP – Fitz & the Tantrums (15)
15. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant (20)
16. ALONE – Sun Arcana (7)
17. WOMAN, WOMAN – AWOLNATION (11)
18. TAKE IT FROM ME – KONGOS (N)
19. SPIRITS – The Strumbellas (13)
20. 7 YEARS – Lukas Graham (14)

Album Review: The Autumn Stones – “Escapists”

I stumbled upon the Canadian band The Autumn Stones a while back on Twitter, so had to check out their music. I was immediately struck by their amazingly compelling sound that’s retro, yet fresh, with an 80’s vibe. Perhaps it’s the lively sax that’s heavily featured in their songs, or the fact that they seem to channel The Smiths or Blow Monkeys a bit in their style, but their music is definitely current.

Formed in 2010, The Autumn Stones have been though several personnel changes – not uncommon with bands – and are now comprised of Ciaran Megahey (vocals, lead guitar), Gary Butler (saxophones, guitar) and Marcus Tamm (bass). Their sophomore album Escapists dropped in July 2015, four years after their excellent debut album Companions of the Flame.  (Michael Newton played bass and Matthew McLaughlin hit the drums on Escapists, but have since left the band.)

According to Megahey in an interview for the website Pop Matters, “Lyrically, Escapists is a celebration of life, love and liberty. It’s also a flick to the nose of naughty faith-based ideologies.  Although that may sound super-heavy and serious, we aren’t delivering sermons—just trying to give people a compelling listening experience.”  He added that the addition of saxophonist Butler gives their songs on Escapists more character and nuance.

Regarding that amazing sax, Butler explained to The Quietus, “Our sound is the sum of many parts. We’re very early-alt rock influenced but at the same time we keep our feet firmly planted in modern subgenres, especially dream pop.”

Three singles included on the album were released in 2014, prior to the album’s launch a year later. The first, “End of Faith,” is brilliant. The subtle yet topically relevant lyrics – “This is the end of faith/the poisonous talk enslaved/freedom at last/chains of the past/what took so long to write this song,” – are expressed through Megahey’s smoldering vocals, and empowered by gorgeous, throbbing guitars reminiscent of Johnny Marr’s jangly riffs in “How Soon is Now?”, plus Butler’s assertive, wailing saxophone.

Their most recently-released single “Endless War” has a catchy, uptempo melody. The combination of both shredded and gentle guitars, punctuated by rapid-paced sax, contrast with the song’s darker lyrics “Gotta endless war on our hands.”

One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Time Is a River,” has a mellower, jazzy vibe, with nimble guitar riffs and funky sax that still manage to keep the energy level high.

“In With the Out Crowd” and “Dark Age” keep the jazzy energy flowing, while the track “Sweet Libertine” slows things down to a languid pace with acoustic guitar and mellow sax. The beguiling “Ooh La La,” another of my favorites, seems to channel early 80’s Smokey Robinson, as does “Creatures,” with their gentle, jangly guitar and wobbly sax.
You can learn more about the Autumn Stones on their website. Follow them on Twitter and listen to their music on Soundcloud or Spotify, or purchase on itunes.
A special thanks to Alison Waddell for the use of her photo.

Top 20 Songs for June 5-11, 2016

1. RIDE – twenty øne piløts
2. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers
3. THE SOUND OF SILENCE – Disturbed
4. ONE DANCE – Drake, Wiz Kid, Kyla
5. OPHELIA – The Lumineers
6. OFF THE GROUND – The Record Company
7. ALONE – Sun Arcana
8. HAPPY SONG – Bring Me The Horizon
9. I TOOK A PILL IN IBIZA – Mike Posner
10. PRAYERS/TRIANGLES – Deftones
11. WOMAN, WOMAN – AWOLNATION
12. DESTRUCTION – Joywave
13. SPIRITS – The Strumbellas
14. 7 YEARS – Lukas Graham
15. HAND CLAP – Fitz & the Tantrums
16. BORED TO DEATH – Blink-182
17. KISS THIS – The Struts
18. WALKING ON A DREAM – Empire of the Sun
19. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo (N)
20. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant (N)