Top 20 Songs for January 29-February 4, 2017

1. MY NAME IS HUMAN – Highly Suspect (1)
2. CLEOPATRA – The Lumineers (2)
3. DON’T WANNA KNOW – Maroon 5, Kendrick Lamar (3)
4. ATLAS, RISE! – Metallica (6)
5. SQUARE HAMMER – Ghost (7)
6. STILL BREATHING – Green Day (8)
7. BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd, Gucci Mane (4)
8. TAKE IT ALL BACK – Judah & the Lion (10)
9. BLOOD IN THE CUT – K.Flay (11)
10. SHINE – Mondo Cozmo (12)
11. SHAPE OF YOU – Ed Sheeran (13)
12. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars (5)
13. OBSOLETE – Agony in the Garden (9)
14. I NEED A LIGHT – Run With It (15)
15. STARBOY – The Weeknd, Daft Punk (14)
16. RUST TO GOLD – Council (17)
17. SCARS TO YOUR BEAUTIFUL – Alessia Cara (19)
18. WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE – Adele (20)
19. WASTE A MOMENT – Kings of Leon (16) 18th week on list
20. HEAVYDIRTYSOUL – twenty øne piløts (N)

Song Review: ADELITAS WAY – “Tell Me”

I have a great respect and fondness for artists and bands who appreciate their fans and make a genuine effort to acknowledge them, even when those bands become famous. One such band is the Las Vegas hard rock collective Adelitas Way. They formed in 2006 and released their debut self-titled album in 2009. Like many bands, they’ve gone through some personnel changes over the years, and the current line-up includes Rick DeJesus, Trevor Stafford, Robert Zakaryan and Andrew Cushing.

adelitas-way

Following on the massive success of their excellent fourth studio album Getaway – which included the awesome hit song “Bad Reputation” (which ranked #69 on my Top 100 Songs of 2016) – the band is now recording their fifth album, planned for release this Spring. They’ve dropped two singles thus far, the topically relevant “Ready For War (Pray For Peace)” and their latest, the beautiful rock anthem”Tell Me.”

The song immediately hooks you in with a pulsating synth beat, accentuated by hard-driving percussion and crunchy guitar riffs. With his signature power vocals, DeJesus emotionally pleads: “Tell me what you love, is it sunlight? Tell me what you feel, is it all right? / Tell me what you want out of this life. Tell me what you say, when the moon’s right.” The soaring backing choruses are so gorgeous they give me chills. Listen up:

Adelitas Way is currently touring on the West Coast in advance of their tentative album release, and I will be seeing them tonight! Show Adelitas Way support by following them on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Stream their music on Spotify or purchase on iTunes and other sites offering music for purchase or download.

Album Review: THEY CALLED HIM ZONE – “Crow Swan Wolf”

It might seem to my readers that I’m obsessed with UK artists, but there’s just so much really fine music coming out of the British Isles that I’m compelled to feature their music time and time again. Another UK act I recently stumbled upon is a duo that goes by the intriguing name They Called Him Zone. Their music is hard to classify because it draws from many stylistic elements, but a good label might be ‘Dark-wave Gothic Alternative Psychedelic Electro-pop.’

Barely a year old, They Called Him Zone formed in early 2016, and consists of  Mik Davis (lead vocals, programming) and Steve Maloney (guitar, programming, backing vocals). They are joined by John Bradford on keyboards and percussion for live performances (coincidentally, the band is from Bradford, England). As their bio states, ‘Their approach combines a love of post-punk abrasiveness and electronic experimentation with a pop sensibility, albeit one at the darker end of the spectrum.’ Hallmarks of their sound are mesmerizing synth chords, heavy bass, shredded guitars and Davis’s seductive, breathy vocals.

they-called-him-zone

They released their debut EP Miami in early 2016 to wide acclaim, receiving airplay both globally and on BBC Introducing. They’ve now produced a new six track mini-album titled Crow Swan Wolf that’s due for general release through Ambicon Music in February 2017, although they’ve made two of the songs available for purchase on Bandcamp, as well as released two videos on YouTube.

The first cut on the album, and also one that’s already available for purchase, is the spellbinding “Just Fall.” A hypnotic EDM beat is overlain with lush synths that alternate between soothing and raw, a warm guitar riff keeping pace. Davis’s seductive vocals lend a mysterious, almost menacing vibe to the song, although the lyrics seem to be about plunging into a romantic relationship: ‘There will be a place where we can settle down. Watch ourselves in the sun, reaching up to clouds. Waking up from dreams. Holding out for love.‘  The song’s gorgeous video features stunning computer-generated imagery.

The second released track, and a real standout, is “Devil Dying.” A delicate synth movement begins the song, then scratchy guitars are introduced, along with a heavy bass line. Halfway through, the music ramps up with a guitar riff that would make The Cure proud, and our ears are treated to more of Davis’s sultry vocals.

More dark synths and scratchy shredded guitars are featured on the ethereal “Oh Well Nevermind” and “Wish You Were Here.” The band channels Depeche Mode in “Only You,” with a catchy EDM beat and echoed synths and guitars that create a compelling, otherworldly vibe. The darkest track on the album is “Waste You.” To a languid, repetitive bass line, distorted synth chords and a mournful guitar riff, Davis menacingly sings “I’ll waste you, I’ll take you. Even in my dreams I like to hate you.” The song closes with a computer-altered voice-over of a portion of the moving speech Robert Kennedy gave in Indianapolis after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., that tragically foreshadowed his own assassination two months later.

This is a great, well-crafted album that explores man’s darker sensibilities with imaginative use of electronic synthesizers and artful instrumentation. Support They Called Him Zone by following them on  Twitter and Facebook. Stream their music on Soundcloud and purchase it on Bandcamp.

Song Review: RESTLESS NATIVES – “Endless Possibilities”

I recently discovered the UK duo Restless Natives, and instantly loved their beautiful new song “Endless Possibilities.” Referring to themselves as ‘Renegade Audio Guerillas – a shadowy musical splinter cell created to enhance your mind with musical and visual splendour,’ Restless Natives are Dave Hubbard and Sam Simmons. Hailing from Lincolnshire, they play a distinctive style of music that melds electronica with alternative folk rock. In addition to their joint efforts in forming Restless Natives, they’re both accomplished solo musicians who also collaborate on different projects with other musicians. Dave is one half of funky electronic house music producers Peach Trees, while Sam plays in his alt-rock/shoegaze band The Loving Memory and is also a member of folk/punk band The Finest Hour. These are two busy guys!

endless-possibilities

With their latest song “Endless Possibilities,” the guys paint a dreamy ambient soundscape with lush, intricate synths, accentuated by a mesmerizing guitar riff. A strong drumbeat introduces us to the song, then a steady bass line takes over, providing depth and weight but never overpowering. A highlight is the delicate, beguiling flute that seemingly floats throughout the track, lending a bit of an ethereal vibe. The guys’ enchanting harmonizing vocals complete the package, making for a lovely, intensely satisfying song. Have a listen:

Support Restless Natives by following them on  Twitter and  Facebook, and subscribe to their  YouTube channel.  Their music is currently only available for streaming on Soundcloud and YouTube, but they plan to distribute their music more widely in the near future. Be sure to check out their other music projects too.

Top 20 Songs January 22-28, 2017

1. MY NAME IS HUMAN – Highly Suspect (2)
2. CLEOPATRA – The Lumineers (3)
3. DON’T WANNA KNOW – Maroon 5, Kendrick Lamar (5)
4. BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd, Gucci Mane (4)
5. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars (1)
6.  ATLAS, RISE! – Metallica (10)
7. SQUARE HAMMER – Ghost (12)
8. STILL BREATHING – Green Day (7)
9. OBSOLETE – Agony in the Garden (9)
10. TAKE IT ALL BACK – Judah & the Lion (11)
11. BLOOD IN THE CUT – K.Flay (13)
12. SHINE – Mondo Cozmo (20)
13. SHAPE OF YOU – Ed Sheeran (N)
14. STARBOY – The Weeknd (6)
15. I NEED A LIGHT – Run With It (16)
16. WASTE A MOMENT – Kings of Leon (8)
17. RUST TO GOLD – Council (19)
18. SURE AND CERTAIN – Jimmy Eat World (15)
19. SCARS TO YOUR BEAUTIFUL – Alessia Cara (N)
20. WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE – Adele (N)

Top Ten Best Protest Songs

Given the current political upheaval in the U.S., much of Europe and elsewhere in the world, I’ve been thinking about protest songs and the impact they’ve had on spurring conversation and action. There are so many great ones that it was difficult to choose only ten, but I’ve whittled them down to what I think are the ten best protest songs. Many were inspired by either the Vietnam War or racism.

1.  WHAT’S GOING ON – Marvin Gaye (1971)
One of the most beautiful and compelling songs of protest ever recorded, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is a masterpiece. Recorded in 1971 as one of many tracks for his brilliant album of the same name, the song was originally inspired by a police brutality incident during an anti-war protest in Berkeley, California’s People’s Park, witnessed by Renaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Motown group The Four Tops. Gaye had likewise been inspired by events such as the 1965 Watts riots and Vietnam War, which made him question how he could keep writing and singing love songs when the world seemed to be exploding around him. The song was composed by Benson, Al Cleveland and Gaye, and produced by Gaye after Motown exec Berry Gordy was set against recording such a song (and album). Rolling Stone named “What’s Going On” the fourth-greatest song of all time. Sadly, most of the issues Gaye sang about are still thorny in 2017.

2. MASTERS OF WAR – Bob Dylan (1962)
The week Bob Dylan arrived in New York City, Dwight Eisenhower, in his final address as President, warned of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” His words were largely ignored, and just two years later the world was on the verge of nuclear war, while the arms industry was making a fortune and spreading money all over Washington. The situation enraged Dylan, and he funneled this anger into writing “Masters of War.” The lyrics are searing: “I hope you die and your death will come soon. / I’ll follow your casket in the pale afternoon and I’ll watch while you’re lowered to your death bed and I’ll stand over your grave ’til I’m sure that you’re dead.” The song has been covered by scores of musicians, including the Staples Singers, Ed Sheeran and Pearl Jam in this chilling version.

3.  WAR – Edwin Starr (1970)
The defiant anti-Vietnam War anthem “War” was written by legendary Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong (who penned numerous hits for the Temptations, Four Tops, and Undisputed Truth, among others). It was initially recorded by the Temptations for inclusion on their album Psychedelic Shack but, fearful of alienating their fan base, both the Temptations and Motown executives decided against releasing their version as a single. Motown contract singer Edwin Starr volunteered to record the song, and man did he deliver, his fierce vocals spitting and screaming the lyrics. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was later covered by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bruce Springsteen and, more recently, Black Stone Cherry.

4.  HOLIDAY – Green Day (2005)
From Green Day’s brilliant album American Idiot, “Holiday” is a true protest anthem, inspired by the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq. Billie Joe Armstrong emphatically rails against the neo-conservatives who pushed for war and their strategy of pitting one group against another. According to Armstrong, the chorus’s refrain – “This is our lives on holiday” – was intended to reflect the average American’s ambivalence on the issues of the day.

5.  OHIO – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970)
In May 1970, students at Kent State University in Ohio were demonstrating against the Vietnam War when the Ohio National Guard attempted to disperse the crowd. Ultimately, four unarmed students were shot to death and nine others injured, resulting in outrage throughout the nation. A few days afterward, Neil Young saw the now Pulitzer-Prize winning photo of 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of college student Jeffrey Miller. Young was so infuriated that he immediately wrote the song “Ohio” and convinced his fellow band members to record the song with him. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming / We’re finally on our own / This summer I hear the drumming / Four dead in Ohio.” Interesting bit of trivia: future Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde was then a student at Kent State and witnessed the event.

6. STRANGE FRUIT – Billie Holiday (1939)
Perhaps the most haunting protest song of them all, “Strange Fruit” was first written as a poem, then later set to music, by teacher Abel Meeropol in 1937. It protested American racism and the lynching of African Americans, and ‘strange fruit’ is a metaphor for lynching victims hanging from trees. The most iconic recording of the song was by Billie Holiday, but deeply moving versions have also been recorded by Nina Simone, Diana Ross, Jill Scott and Annie Lennox. Simone called it “the ugliest song she had ever heard.”

7.  BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND – Bob Dylan (1962)
Though not originally intended to be a protest song, Bob Dylan’s classic “Blowin’ in the Wind” quickly took on powerful meaning for many people in the ways it spoke to the issues of war, peace and civil rights. Dylan recorded it in 1962 for inclusion on his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but it was the beautiful cover version by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1963 that made it famous, becoming a #1 hit.

8. AMERICAN IDIOT – Green Day (2005)
Another hard-hitting protest song from Green Day, “American Idiot” was inspired by the American public’s patriotic support of the Bush Administration’s war against Iraq. Band frontman Billie Joe Armstrong believed that mass media orchestrated paranoia and idiocy among the public. Citing cable news coverage of the Iraq War, Armstrong recalled, “They had all these Geraldo-like journalists in the tanks with the soldiers, getting the play-by-play.” He wrote the song after hearing the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “That’s How I Like It” on his car radio. “It was like, ‘I’m proud to be a redneck’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, why would you be proud of something like that?’ This is exactly what I’m against.”

9.  FIGHT THE POWER – Public Enemy (1989)
“Fight the Power” by hip hop group Public Enemy was written for the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing. The song is a scathing attack on racism and classism, incorporating various samples and references to African-American culture, including civil rights, black church services and the music of James Brown. The website NME observed that “the brilliance of ‘Fight The Power’ is that it recognizes that cultural imperialism can be just as repressive a force as more obvious forms of state authority. Everyone knows about the Elvis lyric – but only Chuck D could tease out the unsettling racial stereotypes reinforced by Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’.”

10.  EVE OF DESTRUCTION – Barry McGuire (1965)
“Eve of Destruction” was written by singer/songwriter P.F. Sloan in 1964, when the Vietnam war was still in its infancy, but the Cuban Missile Crisis was a very recent memory and there was widespread fear of nuclear war. The lyrics also address civil rights injustice. Sloan initially presented the song to the Byrds, who rejected it. It was subsequently recorded by the Turtles, Jan and Dean and the Grass Roots, but the version that became most famous was by Barry McGuire. His recording was a rough demo not intended for release, but it somehow got leaked to a DJ who began playing it, and it quickly became a huge hit, going all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965.

Honorable Mentions:
Fuck tha Police – N.W.A.
Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival
We Shall Overcome – Pete Seeger
Sun City – Artists United Against Apartheid
A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
The Blacker the Berry – Kendrick Lamar
Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine
Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye
Sign O the Times – Prince
I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag – Country Joe & the Fish
The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – Bob Dylan
Hurricane – Bob Dylan
For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield
Born in the U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen
Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
Mississippi Goddam – Nina Simone
Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud – James Brown
S.O.S. – The HØnest Man
Revolution – The Beatles
Divisive – Calling All Astronauts

Song Review: RAKER – “Gospel”

I seem to be drawn to the South Florida music scene, because here I am reviewing my fifth Miami-based band in less than a year. I’ve previously featured SunGhostsAbove the SkylineDyslexic Postcards and Xotic Yeyo on this blog, and now I turn my spotlight on a couple of talented musicians who call themselves RAKER. Specifically, RAKER is Michael Sarasti and Andy Rodriguez, who play an intriguing style of experimental indie rock, and they cover all aspects of their music and its production. As stated in their Twitter bio, they “deal in guitars, pedals, machines, buttons, and songs.” Sarasti plays guitar and is lead vocalist and Rodriguez plays bass and provides backup harmonies on their songs.

raker

The guys just dropped their gorgeous new single “Gospel” in late December 2016, and I was smitten the moment I heard it. The song immediately grabs hold with a mesmerizing guitar riff, accompanied by gentle percussion and smooth synths and set to a languid beat. Andy’s layered bass loops beautifully throughout, and Mike’s vocals are beguiling and heartfelt as he sings of trying to salvage a troubled relationship:  “Oh baby don’t you waste no time. These are the trials that bind our kind. / Just when you think it’s all an end, we’re on the rise.” The instrumentals, vocals and arrangement are all first-rate, making for an incredibly pleasing, well-crafted song. Take a listen:

Show RAKER some support by following them on Facebook and Twitter. Stream “Gospel” on Spotify and Soundcloud, and purchase on iTunes.

EP Review: “MAXIMUM HIGH”

One of the things I love about Twitter is discovering great new music and the artists who make it. I continue to be amazed at how much talent there is out there, and a good deal of it is coming from throughout Europe, where rock of all types is alive and well. A new band I recently had the pleasure of discovering when their lead singer contacted me is Maximum High from Athens, Greece. They play an infectiously upbeat style of rock, infused with healthy amounts of soul, funk, punk and blues that give their sound a classic old-school vibe.

maximum-high-band-members

The band consists of Irene Dimopoulou (vocals), Thanos Amorginos (lead guitar and producer), Dimitri Koutsiouris (bass), and Nick Zografos (drums), all seasoned musicians who’ve been a part of the Athens music scene for some time. They recently dropped their debut self-titled EP containing four solid tracks that really showcase their rich sound. The exuberant first track “Long Ago” immediately sets the tone for the EP, with assertive guitar riffs and a strong driving beat. Irene’s smooth, sultry vocals weave through the plucky guitars and vibrating synths, Nick’s cymbals crashing nicely in the background.

The band turns a little bluesy with the standout track “Don’t Let Me Down.” The song starts out with a fine hard rock guitar solo, then settles into an alternating tempo, Irene’s seductive vocals smoldering and soaring along with the intensity of the music. Thanos’ shredded guitar riffs and Dimitri’s bluesy bass provide just the right amount of heft to the song. The guys’ expert musicianship are again strongly evident in the high-energy “Control My Love,” as the guitars are really first-rate and, as always, Irene’s sultry vocals are outstanding. Maximum High gets funky with the delightful “Stay.” The relentlessly catchy dance grooves had me gyrating in my chair as I wrote this!

As the band states on their Soundcloud bio, “Maximum High is better listened to on maximum high levels!” I wholeheartedly agree. To learn more about them, check out their website, and show support by following on Twitter and Facebook. Their EP may be purchased on Bandcamp.

Top 20 Songs for January 15-21, 2017

1. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars (1)
2. MY NAME IS HUMAN – Highly Suspect (2)
3. CLEOPATRA – The Lumineers (4)
4. BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd, Gucci Mane (5)
5. DON’T WANNA KNOW – Maroon 5, Kendrick Lamar (6)
6. STARBOY – The Weeknd (3)
7. STILL BREATHING – Green Day (9)
8. WASTE A MOMENT – Kings of Leon (7)
9. OBSOLETE – Agony in the Garden (10)
10. ATLAS, RISE! – Metallica (11)
11. TAKE IT ALL BACK – Judah and the Lion (12)
12. SQUARE HAMMER – Ghost B.C. (14)
13. BLOOD IN THE CUT – K.Flay (19)
14. BAD DECISIONS – Two Door Cinema Club (8)
15. SURE AND CERTAIN – Jimmy Eat World (13)
16. I NEED A LIGHT – Run With It (18)
17. MOVE – Saint Motel (17)
18. THE SHAKES THAT YOU MAKE – Dyslexic Postcards (15)
19. RUST TO GOLD – Council (N)
20. SHINE – Mondo Cozmo (N)

Song Review: GODZILLA LOVES LEMON TREES – “Kaiju”

I’ve long been a fan of hard rock, but it’s only fairly recently that I began appreciating hardcore, death metal, metalcore, deathcore, and all their sub-genres. In fact, I’ve come to like this music so much that I can now state that I’m a big fan, and the louder and more intense the better! What distinguishes hardcore and death metal from traditional hard rock are the powerful, distorted instrumentals and highly aggressive, brutal vocals. And whereas I once thought those brutal vocals were just a lot of guttural screaming, I’ve since learned that there’s a real art to that style of vocalizing (though one criticism I have is that it can be difficult or impossible to understand the often deeply meaningful and compelling lyrics).

I recently discovered a new basscore metal band with one of the best names I’ve seen in a while – Godzilla Loves Lemon Trees. The band is actually a duo from Cremona, Italy, consisting of Luca Barbanotti, who plays a 7-string bass guitar, and Ded (Federico “Dedde” Balestreri) who does the incredible vocalizing.  The guys call their particular style of music ‘basscore’ because there are no guitars, only bass, which creates a much heavier, denser sound. For a detailed explanation of the origin of their sound and influences, check out this excellent article on the band by Darkland Promotions. But for the sake of reference, I’ll just state that Luca and Ded claim as their influences the hardcore and death metal bands Korn, Tool, Iron Maiden, Gojira, Mastodon, Extinction Level Event, Car Bomb and Cradle of Filth, among others.

Their song lyrics are built around the theme of monsters and humanity, specifically the irony of humanity as seen through the eyes of different monsters. Their debut single is “Kaiju,” named for the Japanese film genre that features classic monsters such as Godzilla who typically attack major cities and engage the military and other monsters in battle. The monster theme is fitting, as Godzilla Loves Lemon Trees play really intense, face-melting music. The song is fairly simple but incredibly powerful, with relentlessly heavy, pummeling bass and furious, staccato drums that conjure up images of a rampaging monster on the loose, laying waste to everything in its path. Despite the crushing intensity of the bass, Luca still manages to make it sound quite melodic. Ded’s savage vocals match the ferocity of the instrumentals note for note. Crank up the volume to fully appreciate this gem!

I’ve included the hard-hitting lyrics that help explain the song’s meaning:

Confused phases of existence melting the hemispheres of denial
within this cubical space, within open wounds.
Chaos can never be stopped…
For this illusion of time shall drop while the makers of cruelty erupts.
I have walked the earth, even before you were in her womb,
laughed with the eyes of intentional extinction.
Tangled between the edge of endless nightmares…
Searching for you at the gates of my passage.
You are nonsense with the blankest reason to exist.
You tried to evolve, but the result ended up in corrosion.
Watch the failure of creation infest the life before your eyes!
Why justify your doubts to your non-existent idols?
Just erase your hope for a better existence.
The fracture has opened…
Unexpected spectrum of life, knocking the concrete void of the mind…
Suicide will never stop your destined ever lasting torment.

Ded is also involved with a number of other music projects, providing vocals for the bands Abdominal Rupture, Call It A Plan, and Atomic Factory. Here’s a video of him covering a song that really shows his amazing vocalizing talents that range from high-pitched screams to the deepest growls. His ferocious sounds sure contrast with his handsome, personable appearance!

Support Godzilla Loves Lemon Trees by following them on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. “Kaiju” may be purchased on Bandcamp.