Artist Spotlight – The awesome, pure rock of Poison Skies

Bands that play pure, honest and unadulterated rock seem to be an endangered species, given the near-ubiquitous use of synthesized instruments, drum beats, and hand claps in so much music these days.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like some of that music. But once in a while I just want to hear some good old honest rock and roll, but with a fresh sound. New Zealand indie rock band Poison Skies, who hail from Auckland, nicely delivers. (New Zealand seems to be a hotbed of great indie rock music, as I’m hearing of more and more bands from that Down Under country.)

The five-member band formed in 2013, and includes Nick (lead vocals, guitar), Sam (rhythm guitar and backing vocals), Paul (lead guitar and backing vocals), Jamie (bass guitar) and Carl (drums).  According to their bio on their Soundcloud page, the band members were “already linked together through previous bands, gigs and tours” and, having a strong chemistry together, they decided to join forces and Poison Skies was born.  Given their collective years of music experience and having three first-rate guitarists, the band has a high octane, hard-driving sound that’s characterized by killer guitar work and pulse-pounding drums.

Their song “Eighty Six” is a powerful indictment of the stupidity and waste of war, set to an equally powerful thumping bass line and awesome multi-layered guitar riffs that will have the hair on the back of your neck standing up straight.

“City Streets” storms out of the gate with furious guitar and rapid-fire drums, and keeps up the frenetic pace all the way to the end. These guys can play guitar!  The highly entertaining video alternates between scenes of the band performing and a stressed out businessman who dresses as a clown and performs on a city street to make people laugh.  He eventually ends up at the bar where Poison Skies is playing and joins them on stage.  I can’t emphasize enough how much I love this song and video!

The band serves up another dose of mind-bending guitar on the high-energy “Victim Of Reality.”

I’m grateful to the band’s drummer Carl, who first contacted me on Facebook and introduced me to the band, because I’m now a huge fan!  If they ever tour in Southern California, I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket to their concert. Show these guys some love and like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Their music is available for streaming on Spotify and Soundcloud, or purchase on itunes.

Artist Spotlight – Vida

I turn my spotlight back to Europe for a look at Scottish alternative indie rock band Vida, who have an exceptional debut double-sided single “Fade Away/Switch It Off.” Hailing from Clackmannanshire County (love that name), Vida – which means ‘beloved friend’ in Scottish – consists of Jamie Pollock (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Nathan Evans (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ross McShane (bass guitar, backing vocals), Greg Ballantyne (keyboards) and Jamie Piggott (drums).  The guys are all quite young, but already accomplished musicians.

“Fade Away” is a somewhat melancholy but beautiful song about coming to terms with a relationship gone bad. “And how does it feel when you know that you’ve lied? Watching the wheels that go round and round when you say to me ‘It’s never easy as it seems’. And all those childhood dreams, they fade away.” The song has a stellar arrangement, with gentle percussion and gorgeous swirling guitars. I also like that Pollock’s Scottish brogue is evident in his beguiling vocals. The really pleasant video for the song shows the band at various spots in the lovely Scottish countryside.

The equally good B-side “Switch It Off” has a heavier rock sound, with some really excellent multi-textured guitar riffs. It has a bit of an Oasis meets The Cure vibe, and I love it! The song appears to end at about 4 minutes, but then the percussion and killer guitar pick back up as the band continues to jam in fine style.

Here’s a video of a great live performance at Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh.

Show Vida some support by subscribing to their YouTube channel, and following on Twitter and Facebook. You can purchase their songs on itunes.

Top 20 Songs for July 24-30, 2016

1. BORED TO DEATH – blink-182 (2)
2. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers (1)
3. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo (3)
4. HEATHENS – twenty øne piløts (4)
5. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant (6)
6. SOUNDCHECK – Catfish and the Bottlemen (8)
7. BURN THE WITCH – Radiohead (11)
8. ONE DANCE – Drake, Wiz Kid, Kyla (5)
9. FIRE – Barns Courtney (7)
10. JUST LIKE FIRE – P!nk (9)
11. SEND MY LOVE (To Your New Lover) – Adele (10)
12. ALL WE EVER KNEW – The Head and the Heart (15)
13. AIN’T NO MAN – The Avett Brothers (12)
14. CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! – Justin Timberlake (17)
15. CLOSE – Nick Jonas, Tove Lo – (16)
16. GOOD GRIEF – Bastille (19)
17. SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN – Young the Giant (20)
18. RIDE – twenty øne piløts (18)
19. OFF THE GROUND – The Record Company (13)
20. KISS THIS – The Struts (14)

EP Review – “The Internal Frontier” by The Frontier

The Frontier is an indie rock/pop project by the talented singer/songwriter Jake Mimikos, who hails from the Washington, D.C. area. His new self-titled sophomore EP The Internal Frontier dropped on July 22, 2016, and is the follow-up to his excellent debut EP Chaos to Clarity.  And what a winner this one is, with five stellar tracks that only confirms The Frontier as a music artist to be reckoned with. The songs on this EP have a somewhat more polished, radio-friendly sound than those on Chaos to Clarity, but are still every bit as good.

Jake mimikos

The first track “Wake the Dawn” is a gorgeous, celebratory song with an incredibly catchy hook, lush guitar and strong – but not overpowering – percussion. Mimikos’ beguiling vocals soar at just the right moments, eliciting goosebumps. He sings “And I feel free, free as I can be. Together we have found our destiny.  And I feel free, free as you and me. Together we can be our remedy.”  I guarantee you’ll be playing this on repeat.

The upbeat, melodic track “Neon Rays,” sounds like it could have been performed by the band Walk the Moon, which is a good thing in my book. “Gravity” and “Paradigm” are lovely, hopeful tracks with delicate guitar riffs, gentle synth and clean percussion,  accompanied by Mimikos’ sweeping vocals.  I love the video for “Gravity,” which wonderfully complements the song.

The fifth track “Bluff”, about the pain and bitterness from a break-up, is the saddest of the bunch, but one of my favorites. To swirling guitar and gentle percussion, Mimikos emotionally sings “And what you do is not what I’ve done. But it’s wrong if I’m not moving on. What you’ve done is hit and run. Now you’re gone like a bullet from a gun. And I need time to figure you out.  Only took a minute and there’s not much I found.

Support The Frontier by purchasing his music on Bandcamp, and following him on Twitter and Facebook. You can also stream songs from Chaos to Clarity on Soundcloud.

Artist Spotlight – Drillhorse

If you like your rock hard, guitars shredded and vocals raw, then Australian band Drillhorse is for you! They play formidable, take-no-prisoners metalcore rock guaranteed to have you saying “fuck yeah!” Sometimes you just want to hear music that KICKS ASS, and Drillhorse delivers the goods.

Drillhorse Photo

I was immediately struck by this band’s honest authenticity, which I’ve found is what makes fans truly loyal at the end of the day. I hate to paraphrase too much, but in their bio, the band articulates their mission in a way I can’t improve upon:

“Over a period of seven years, we’ve managed to evolve from punk hardcore to ‘pale riders of hard rock.’ For most of that 7 years we were known as ‘A Lost Sense of Direction’ which got us ignored or confused with boy bands, [causing] significant pain. But believing wholly and solely in the capacity of rock to deliver joy to the human spirit in ways no other genre can, we’ve steered away from asking for external assistance, preferring to do it all off our own bat, commitment to tight, unreconstructed hard and innovative rock, free from interference, the media or general public indifference, other than that [which] we always get from our beloved fans. Drillhorse will continue to perform music we design our way and deliver it with punch to attract like-minds, those lonesome riders who come out to hear and see us whenever we play.”

Making the music are Miles ‘Ajax’ Bedak-Stone (vocals), Owen ‘Boo’Lawson (Rhythm Guitar), Harry ‘Cuddle’ Monson (Bass), and Jesse Adams (Drums/Percussion). Their songs are so awesome and compelling I’d like to include them all in this post, but have selected four of my favorites that provide a good representation of the band’s music range.

The first is their hyperkinetic single “Choppergate.”  With pummeling drums, gnashing guitars and Bedak-Stone’s furious raspy vocals, the song blasts through the speakers at a dizzying pace. The song lyrics attack the ‘ripoff pollie motherfuckers taking the people’s money and laughing all the way to retirement’ (in the band’s words). “Baby you look so good in your helicopter. Taking the bus from now on. Brought you down! Pull my leash! Tied to the mast, my captain.”  I liked this track so much the first time I heard it, I played it another three times before moving on to their next song!

“Drillhorse” storms out of the gate in a bombastic barrage of shredded guitars and pounding drums, with Bedak-Stone’s raw vocals on full display. This is a real head-banger!

One of the band’s more hardcore tracks, “Madmen” is a brutal attack on the military industrial complex. To their signature gnashing guitar, punctuated by some terrific riffs, Bedak-Stone screams “No shame, we kill and maim.”

The melodic rock gem “Half” is one of my favorite Drillhorse songs, with a great bass line, steady hard-driving beat and killer riffs.

To hear more of Drillhorse’s great music, check out their Soundcloud page, or you can purchase it on Bandcamp.  Support these guys by following them on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to their YouTube channel.

Artist Spotlight – Aaron J. Trumm

Aaron J. Trumm’s Twitter bio states he’s a singer, emcee, poet and producer. He’s also a survivor, and an inspiration to all who want to pursue their dream in the face of life-threatening illness or adversity. Aaron, who calls Albuquerque, New Mexico home, was born with Cystic Fibrosis, but managed to maintain a pretty healthy existence in his youth and early adulthood, playing several sports in high school and college. But by the early 2010’s, his health deteriorated and breathing became increasingly difficult to the point where his long-term survival was in question. So, in July 2013, he underwent a double lung transplant, which gave him a new life, along with an enormous appreciation for it.

Aaron starting making music in his teens, and in 1994 created NQuit Music, one of the oldest independent music labels still in existence. He also earned a Master’s Degree from Stanford University. But his main focus was doing slam poetry at competitions where poets read or recite their poetry in front of an audience, and judges are chosen from the audience. At one point, he ranked 10th in the world. Here’s a video of him at one of the competitions.

According to Aaron’s website bio, his music influences are eclectic and varied, “from The Roots, which he loves because they continue the oldest hip-hop tradition of honest, creative story telling without all the gangster posturing, to Rage Against The Machine, because they’re revolutionaries who can rock, to Johnny Cash and Bob Wills, who remind him of his roots, but buck the stifling traditions and closed mindedness of the country establishment, and were constantly looking to collaborate with people outside their box.” He fuses these disparate elements of hip-hop, rap, rock, blues and country into a unique style and sound all his own, exploring subjects both upbeat and positive, and dark and disturbing.

In the jazz-infused “Livin Is Bling,” from the album of the same name, Aaron draws from his own experience, poking the specter of life’s hazards squarely in the eye and declaring that he can survive anything, loving life along the way.  He raps “I’m alive, I’m alive,  ready for anything, sing it with me if you think living is bling.” I love this song’s arrangement, with awesome piano, funky bass and percussion.

Aaron takes a decidedly more serious turn with “Open Oceans,” another compelling track from Livin Is Bling that deals with the terrible toll that war takes on relationships.  “I been runnin from my bones for days, lookin for another way I can say this to ya. I ain’t never really comin home, they got another little trick in they bag o stones. They call it stop loss, and it means I ain’t comin back. So make a little snack go to bed and relax.” In the video, Aaron raps in front of footage from the Iraq War. The song sounds like it could have been performed by Nirvana, and the woman singing with him is Jennifer Malin.

The dark, heavy rock track “Bleed,” released in 2006, appears to address a relationship gone bad and his partner’s slipping away from addiction, while he sings of his own demons and restlessness. I’m guessing the lyric “I wanna bleed so you can suck it down” alludes to his wanting his partner to regain “life” through his blood. The rather disturbing black and white video has Aaron shaving his hair with a large knife, cutting himself in the process and covering his body with blood. Images of the Devil intertwine with his own image as he looks in the mirror, and at the end his partner licks blood from his body.  Heavy stuff indeed!

Follow Aaron on  Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.  His music is available for purchase on his Website and Spotify as well as other music venues.

Top 20 Songs for July 17-23, 2016

1. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers (6th wk #1)
2. BORED TO DEATH – Blink-182 (2)
3. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo (3)
4. HEATHENS – twenty øne piløts (5)
5. ONE DANCE – Drake, Wiz Kid, Kyla (4)
6. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant (6)
7. FIRE – Barns Courtney (7)
8. SOUNDCHECK – Catfish and the Bottlemen (12)
9. JUST LIKE FIRE – P!nk (11)
11. BURN THE WITCH – Radiohead (14)
12. AIN’T NO MAN – The Avett Brothers (10)
13. OFF THE GROUND – The Record Company (8)
14. KISS THIS – The Struts (9)
15. ALL WE EVER KNEW – The Head and the Heart (19)
16. CLOSE – Nick Jonas, Tove Lo (17)
17. CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! – Justin Timberlake (18)
18. RIDE – twenty øne piløts (15)
19. GOOD GRIEF – Bastille (20)
20. SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN – Young the Giant (N)

Artist Spotlight – Rebel Sound Radio

New Zealand band Rebel Sound Radio recently followed me on Twitter, and it was my lucky day, as I loved their single “Liberation” at first listen. They play some pretty formidable hard-driving rock that kicks ass! Formed in 2015, the band hails from Hamilton, “a sleepy riverside city that has given birth to some of New Zealand’s biggest artists,” according to the band’s bio on their Facebook page. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Jesse James Hanright and bassist Craig Turner had each been in previous bands that went bust, and joined forces to create a new band with a fresh rock and roll sound called Rebel Sound Radio. They added drummer Ashley Goodare to complete their three-man lineup.

“Liberation” starts with a pummeling bass riff, then shredded guitar and hammering drums break the song open and keep the energy high, with the pummeling bass moving it all forward. Hanright sings with abandon and coaxes some merciless riffs from his guitar. Take a listen to this thunderous gem:

“End of Everything” provides further evidence of the band’s hyperkinetic hard rock sound and awesome guitar prowess.

New Rebel Radio will be heading to the studio in the coming weeks to record new music and, as a new fan, I can’t wait to hear more from them. Show some support for these guys and follow on Twitter and Facebook, and look for their music on Soundcloud.

Top 20 Songs for July 10-16, 2016

1. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers (5th wk #1)
2. BORED TO DEATH – Blink-182 (2)
3. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo (4)
4. ONE DANCE – Drake, Wiz Kid, Kyla (3)
5. HEATHENS – twenty øne piløts (6)
6. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant (7)
7. FIRE – Barns Courtney (9)
8. OFF THE GROUND – The Record Company (5)
9. KISS THIS – The Struts (8)
10. AIN’T NO MAN – The Avett Brothers (12)
11. JUST LIKE FIRE – P!nk (13)
12. SOUNDCHECK – Catfish and the Bottlemen (14)
14. BURN THE WITCH – Radiohead (17)
15. RIDE – twenty øne piløts (10)
17. CLOSE – Nick Jonas, Tove Lo (20)
18. CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! – Justin Timberlake (N)
19. ALL WE EVER KNEW – The Head and the Heart (N)
20. GOOD GRIEF – Bastille (N)

Artist Spotlight – Sherpa

Well, here I am, once again reviewing another band from Europe, a wellspring of so much great music. The latest is Sherpa, a unique indie hip-hop/rock band from Bergen, Norway.  As with many international bands, Sherpa’s sound is a fusion of music influences from multiple cultures and genres: hip hop, indie rock, 70’s Persian, funk and jazz. As the band states, their infectious, high-energy music style is “a conglomeration of music from the seven mountains, hovering in a place between Gorillaz and The Roots.”

I spoke by e-mail with band frontman Babak Ziai, who was born in Tehran, Iran after the 1979 revolution.  He stated that his parents were very liberal and didn’t want to live under the theocratic government, so they emigrated to Norway.  Being an aspiring musician and lover of hip hop, he joined forces with Norwegian guitarist Johannes Vaage to form Sherpa in 2012. They subsequently added two musicians from the Bergen indie rock and jazz music scene – bassist Nils Henrik Sagvåg and drummer Tore Ljøkelsøy – to complete the band lineup.

Ziai explained that they wanted to create music that wasn’t bound by one specific genre, but rather fusing different genres to create an original eclectic sound that is raw and beautiful, using live musical instruments, and anchored in hip hop, indie and jazz.  When I asked Ziai how they chose the name “Sherpa” he explained that “Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains [it’s known as the city of seven mountains] and sherpas go places where the average man does not go. Sherpa literally means ‘man from the East’ and has a mystical esoteric aspect to it.”

Though Sherpa has released only a handful of songs, they’re all awesome. One of their first hits was “Rabbit,” an incredibly catchy tune with funky bass and jazzy hip hop beats, plus a bit of reggae vibe thrown in. Would not have expected such a funky song to come from a Norwegian/Persian band but I love it! Wishing it was longer, I kept hitting replay. It’s the kind of song they could jam with for 15 minutes at a concert.

Their new single “The Mind,” released in May 2016, is a hyperkinetic gem of danceable hip hop that examines the chaos of the mind. “It’s an interaction, a fracture in alignment between cultures like the Pharoahs and the Mayans. A place in our thoughts like Zion. Pure like the crystals in your tears when your cryin’. Gravity is holding you down, but you’re flyin’ and definin’. Chains will bring you back like a lion.  Time is changing like the state of your mind.”

The song opens with a brief funky bass guitar riff, then explodes into crushing hip hop beats, heavy bass and jazzy brass. Ziai raps at a rapid-fire pace and, halfway through, Persian music influences are introduced, creating a rich, complex sound that is quite exhilarating.  The video, filmed in London’s busy Camden Market, has Ziai singing the song while walking through the crowded market, further emphasizing the song’s frenetic intensity.

Another fine new track “Mantra” features exuberant synth-pop interspersed with segments of rapid-fire rapping in the style of the virtual band Gorillaz.

Sherpa is working on new music and plans to release their debut studio album in Spring 2017, and I can’t wait! Support these guys by following on Facebook and Twitter, and listening to their music on Soundcloud.