Artist Spotlight on the massively talented TREVOR JAMES

I get followed by – and follow – so many artists and bands on social media that I often don’t have time to properly listen to all their music and, sadly, many slip beneath my radar. One such artist I’ve somehow missed out on listening to until yesterday is the massively talented and versatile singer/songwriter and guitarist/bassist Trevor James. The Los Angeles-based artist has been making music since the age of 14, and has been especially prolific over the past five years or so, releasing several outstanding albums and singles, the latest of which is the lovely and soulful “Always Be There”, which dropped earlier this month. Since hearing that song, I’ve been making up for lost time by binge-listening to his incredibly diverse music. I was going to review the single, but his music catalog is so varied, extensive and impressive that I’ve decided to do an Artist Spotlight on James instead.

James refers to his music style as “a combination of John Mayer and Lenny Kravitz with a touch of Jimi Hendrix“, and I’d say that pretty accurately describes one aspect of his sound, although it’s so much broader than that. In 2014, he released his first EP Show Time, a fine collection of songs melding pop, hip hop, R&B and funk. One of the standouts is “Mystery Girl”:

Completely changing direction, in 2016 he released two gorgeous albums – The Dreamer and World – that delved deeply into jazz fusion. The Dreamer is an instrumental-only production that really highlights James’ talents for writing beautiful and intricate melodies, and bringing them to life with his skillful musicianship and awesome guitar-playing. All 11 tracks are superb, but I’ll share the title track, which provides a good example of the album’s flavor:

World is more experimental and, like its title suggests, features greater use of world music influences, as well as sparse vocals on some tracks. James inserts elements of rock, funk, blues and soul into the jazzy mix, making for a fascinating and often captivating listening experience. The tracks are all named after natural or weather phenomena. One of the highlights out of many for me is “Earthquake”, where James’ funky guitar work shines. Take a listen to this gem:

Changing direction yet again, it’s on his monumental 2017 album My Train where James really taps into his John Mayer/Lenny Kravitz/Jimi Hendrix aura. Holy shit, this man can play the guitar! The Herculean album kicks ass with a mind-boggling twenty tracks (five of which are over seven minutes long), and every single one of them is fucking phenomenal! James lays down scorching, bluesy riffs in track after track, and I’m sorry I missed out on hearing this album when it came out in 2017, because I’d have named it among the best of that year. I strongly recommend my readers take the time to give this incredible album a listen, but I’ll share a few of my personal favorites.

First up is “Howling Wind”, a blistering, bluesy stunner that pays beautiful homage to Jimi Hendrix with some jaw-dropping guitar work:

Another spectacular track is the 9:22-minute-long epic “Drunken Blues”. James’ bluesy guitar runs are so gorgeous they bring tears to my eyes. Wow!

In 2018, James dropped his fourth full-length album Maxine, yet another exceptional work in which he continued to explore his rock side, only this time channeling his inner Lenny Kravitz by delving further into guitar-driven, melodic alternative rock grooves. Staying true to his eclectic influences, he still manages to incorporate ample amounts of funk, blues and jazz into the dynamic mix. The title track “Maxine” is one of the standouts, with dirty, bluesy riffs, soulful keys, crunchy drums and a funky-as-hell bassline. James’ raw vocals beautifully express his exasperation over Maxine’s intransigent and cruel behavior toward him: “Maxine, you’s the one I want. Maxine, what do you want from me? Maxine, how could you be so mean?

Since the release of Maxine, James has dropped a number of great singles in 2019, one of which is the fiery rocker “Turn Me On”, with a sexy video that’s as hot as the track. It really showcases his strong charisma and good looks, and Jennifer’s pretty easy on the eyes too!

“Pick Up Your Phone” is another fantastic R&B single, and here’s a wonderful video of a live performance of the song by James and his backup band. It was recorded this past Spring at Joshua Tree National Park (located an hour from my home) as part of Dynaudio Unheard’s Desert Sessions:

Finally, I get to his latest release “Always Be There”, which instigated this entire post! It’s a sweet and charming love song, and one of the more pop-oriented of his tracks, with mostly acoustic guitar, subtle synths and crisp percussion. James tenderly sings of his undying love and devotion:

You’re my everything
I can’t explain, you’re my sunny day
You’re sweeter than some sugarcane
I’ll always be there for you
Take my hand, baby I’m your man
Don’t you know, I’m your biggest fan
You’re my queen, baby I’m your king
I’ll always be there for you girl

The music and James’ vocals gradually build as the track progresses, and he thrills us with a scorching-hot distorted guitar solo in the final chorus.

As I’ve tried to make clear in this post, Trevor James is a remarkable talent, and one of the most versatile artists I’ve come across in a long while. He’s a great songwriter, composer, vocalist and, most of all, a truly gifted guitarist and bassist, and I cannot gush enough about him and his music! Plus, he’s a gracious and kind man. I hope my readers will take the time to listen to some of his songs, and grow to like him as much as I have.

Connect with Trevor:  Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / cdbaby

KILLER TAPE – EP Review: “Ghosts”

Killer Tape2

Killer Tape is the music project of young artists Ella Heaton and Luke Hudson. Originally from Leeds, England, Ella is currently studying in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and Luke in Berlin, Germany. In June (2019) they released their debut EP Ghosts, featuring three stunning lo-fi tracks. Melding elements of shoegaze, ambient, electronic and psychedelia, the duo create mesmerizing soundscapes that transport us to dreamy, faraway places.

First off is the title track “Ghosts”, a haunting, ethereal song that opens with clicks that sound like a cassette tape being placed into a player, accompanied by a droning acoustic guitar and mysterious, sinewy synths that gradually build as the track progresses. With breathy echoed vocals that sound appropriately ghost-like, Ella gently croons “There’s a man on the ceiling, and he’s full of misdemeanour.

The dreamy “Scrimmage” features marvelous glittery synths and a fuzzy, reverb-heavy guitar that borders on surf. Ella’s echoed chanting can be heard in the distance, accompanied by a spooky organ riff at the end of the song. I love it!

The final track “May Day” is brief, lasting only 1:40 minutes, but is a wonderful composition, with more of that spooky organ and throbbing spacey synths that impart a fascinating otherworldly vibe. This time it’s Luke’s distant echoed chants that can be heard. The track ends with the same clicking sounds we heard at the beginning of “Ghosts”, signifying that the tape has been removed from the player.

Ghosts is a great little EP from this talented young duo, and my only criticism is that it’s too short, leaving me wanting to hear more.

Connect with Killer Tape: Facebook / Instagram
Stream or purchase on Apple Music / Google Play / YouTube

CULANN – Album Review: “The Great Ecumene”

Culann album

Culann is a band from Irvine, in North Ayrshire, Scotland. Comprised of PJ Kelly (Vocals, Guitar), his brother Sean Kelly (Drums), Greg Irish (Guitar), Ross McCluskie (Keyboards) and Calum Davis (Bass), they blend folk, Celtic-rock, alt-rock, prog rock and even a bit of reggae to create their uniquely colorful and dynamic sound. Largely ignoring the norms of conventional song writing, they employ complex melodies, time changes and a perfect fusion of traditional Scottish music with a contemporary lyrical approach, resulting in a deeply satisfying and distinct sound. Since forming in 2008, they’ve performed the length and breadth of their homeland, gathering adoring fans along the way.

They released their self-titled debut album Culann in 2012, and after dropping a few singles now and then, they returned this past April (2019) with their second album The Great Ecumene, which I’m reviewing today. Curious as to what ‘Ecumene’ means, I checked Wikipedia and learned that it’s an ancient Greek term now used by geographers to mean inhabited land. It generally refers to lands where people have made their permanent home. Accordingly, many of the album tracks touch on various aspects of Scottish life and its history, and its strong connection to the sea.

The album opens with “Evonium“, a jubilant, monumental song with symphonic rock overtones that call to mind the great 70s bands Yes and Boston, with a bit of a nod to Dream Theater. The song was first released as a single more than two years ago, in May 2017. Once again, I was compelled to Google ‘Evonium’, and found the following:

Evonium is a purported lost city in Scotland that was first described by Hector Boece in his 16th-century Scotorum Historiae. According to Boece, it hosted the coronation of forty kings and was located in the Lochaber area.” Writer A.J. Morton has suggested that if Evonium actually existed, it could have been located at the band’s home of Irvine, Ayrshire. Culann assembles a rich mix of roiling guitars, exuberant piano and organ, and lots of percussion to create a powerful song befitting of the epic saga of Evonium. Lead vocalist PJ Kelly passionately sings of how the historic legacy of Evonium has shaped the lives of all who are born there:

Blood of this town, the place where I was born
A strength that’s driven in across the sea
Cut from the coast, we wake with price each morn
For all that’s past, it’s richest history
We owe our lives to our western home
Where kings and rulers stole their destiny
Shaped their lives and carved them into stone
With all that’s seen and all were yet to be, all were yet to be 

Now I understand
It’s all because I’m from Evonium
Now it’s in my hands
The greatness past fuels greatness not yet done that’s still to come

The beautiful video shows scenes of the band performing the song in historic Dundonald Castle, interspersed with scenes filmed in the Scottish countryside and Duncarron Medieval Village, a replica of an early Medieval fortified village. The album version of the track includes a somber but beautiful synth instrumental beginning at 4:15 that continues through to the end.

Next up is “Event Without Experience“, a rousing, melodically complex extravaganza of Celtic prog-rock brilliance. The intricate guitar work is fantastic, and nicely complemented by some fine keyboards, humming bass, and aggressive thumping drumbeats. I really like how PJ’s Scottish brogue shines through in his fervent vocals. Culann deliver more Celtic folk-rock grooves with the philosophical drinking song “Brewing of Ale“, and once again, the guitars, keyboards and rhythm section are perfection. The just-released video was directed & edited by Stuart Breadner, and filmed on location in Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, and the Galloway Forest Park.

Century Box” is a stomper of a tune that took a couple of listens to grab me, but once it did, I couldn’t get enough of that wonderful melody. The lively guitars are killer and I love how they perfectly meld with the piano keys, something this band does so beautifully in many of their songs. The terrific organ riff and guitar solo in the bridge are real treats.

The title track “The Great Ecumene” is a near-epic six-minute-long ode to Scotland. This is true progressive rock, with a meandering (in a good way) melody, highlighted by a smooth organ riff and accompanied by delicate piano, measured drums and a wondrous mix of guitar textures that pull you deeply into the song. PJ croons about the complexities and contradictions of his homeland: “My country is bitter. My country is cold. My country is beautiful. My country is bold. My people are bitter. My people are cold. My soul it is sacred. My spirit is sold./ Join the great ecumene, see what you find. A road never ending, stretching through time.” Everything ramps up to a crescendo in the chorus, with impassioned vocal harmonies and a cascade of crashing cymbals for a dramatic finish.

Culann keep the energy flowing on “All Reverie” with rolling guitars, galloping drumbeats and passionate vocals. “Sunken Ships” appropriately opens with underwater sounds, then launches into a glorious mix of jangly guitars, sparkling piano keys, pummeling drumbeats and a deep, humming bassline. “Aegis” is perhaps the most high-energy track on the album (and also the shortest, though still running 3:51 minutes). Frantic riffs, pounding drums and exuberant piano keys make for a real banger of a track. PJ earnestly sings the lyrics to someone who’s been his aegis, or shield, helping him to overcome some of his self doubts and fears: “Closely, look at where I have come from. You made me, you taught me to be strong and lead the way. I can’t face the outside on my own. I can’t understand them. I can’t bear the inside, my unknown. Please don’t make me stand there alone.”

The guys really show us what they’re capable of on “Man Alive“, one of the standouts on an album filled with standouts. Running over seven minutes, this song has it all: melodic change-ups that hold our attention, complex and intricate guitar work, enchanting keyboards, a marvelous funky bassline, and some of the most impeccable drumming I’ve heard in a while, not to mention PJ’s always-great vocals. As I’ve mentioned on previous tracks, the interplay between the guitars and keyboards here is so freaking good. Finally, despite it’s length, “Man Alive” seems much shorter, always a sign of a great song (unlike some songs that seem to go on forever, with me wishing they’d come to a quicker end).

The lyrics speak to the resilience of the Scottish people: “Come gather ’round, meet the gladdest man alive. You see him everyday. Come gather’ round, meet the saddest man alive. He’ll never tell you so. A blackened sense of pride. No man alive could meet the broken soul of mine.”

The song immediately segues into the closing track “Queen Street“, a poignant ballad about life on the streets of Glasgow. The song has a more stripped-back sound than their other tracks, with mainly acoustic guitar, delicate piano and gentle percussion providing a somber backdrop for PJ’s heartrending vocals. With a strong sense of despair and pain, PJ laments: “I never needed a human being more. Sat down in the street, with a cup down by my feet. Oh but nobody seen me and the traffic arrow moving ’em on. And if I needed something, and I could reach out to you and I’d ask. I would beg of you one thing. Don’t make me beg for it. And if I needed someone, but I’ve turned my back on everyone that I had. I would beg of you one thing. Don’t make me beg for it.

Like a lot of progressive rock, it took me a couple of listens to fully appreciate all the nuance and complexity of the songs on The Great Ecumene, but once I totally immersed myself in the music, it really came alive for me. It’s a beautiful album, and Culann’s songwriting, lyrics and musicianship are all quite impressive. These guys are masters of their respective instruments, and operate as an incredibly tight unit to create music that’s flawless, exciting and a joy to hear.

Connect with Culann: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase: Bandcamp / Big Cartel

Top 30 Songs for July 28-August 3, 2019

 

1. I SEE YOU – MISSIO (1) 4th week at #1
2. BAD GUY – Billie Eilish (2)
3. MISSED CONNECTION – The Head and the Heart (3)
4. ALLIGATOR – Of Monsters and Men (4)
5. DOIN’ TIME – Lana Del Rey (6)
6. OLD MAN’S WAR – Roadkeeper (5)
7. ROOM TO BREATHE – Made of Eyes (8)
8. FALLING WITH STYLE – Heist At Five (10)
9. COMING UP FOR AIR – Mars Motel (11)
10. RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH THE DEVIL – Revolvers (12)
11. WHEN AM I GONNA LOSE YOU – Local Natives (13)
12. ESCAPE – Ships Have Sailed (7)
13. STRANGE KIND – Blair Dollery (15)
14. I’LL BE AROUND – Morning Fuzz (9)
15. UNDER THE COLD LIGHT OF THE MOON – Crystal Cities (16)
16. HERE WE GO – Ben Priory and Charlie Pereira (17)
17. 3 NIGHTS – Dominic Fike (18)
18. CRINGE – Matt Maeson (19)
19. HELP ME STRANGER – The Raconteurs (20)
20. GO – The Black Keys (25)
21. DARK PLACES – The Frontier (14) 21st week on chart
22. FOUR WINDS – Unquiet Nights (24)
23. RAGGED TOWN – Second Player Score (26)
24. THIS LIFE – Vampire Weekend (27)
25. BOOM – X Ambassadors (28)
26. BLOW – Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton & Bruno Mars (29)
27. BROTHERS – Harroland (30)
28. SOCIAL CUES – Cage the Elephant (N)
29. FEAR THE FUTURE – IAMWARFACE (21) 21st week on chart
30. STILL FEEL. – half alive (22)

New Song of the Week: DARKSOFT – “WannaCry”

Darksoft single art

This past February, I featured the creative and talented young Seattle music artist Darksoft when I reviewed his brilliant debut album Brain. Released in November 2018, Brain is a concept album named for the very first computer virus to attack the internet back in 1986, with each track named after infamous viruses that followed. In keeping with his penchant for writing and recording songs that address timely and relevant social and cultural issues related to technology, he’s just dropped a great new single “WannaCry“. The song was written and produced by Darksoft, and mixed and mastered by Mathieu Riede of L453RL4Dy Studios

The song features Darksoft’s signature fuzz-coated jangly guitars, accompanied by swirling synths and crisp percussion that create a dreamy, almost psychedelic soundscape. But my favorite aspect of the overall sound is his silky, almost breathy vocals that are incredibly pleasing, even when he sings of a rather disquieting subject.

The lyrics speak to the deep cultural and political divide in America, fed by our tendency to stay stuck in our own echo chambers. Reading and hearing only what we choose to read and hear makes it harder to learn the real truth, and reinforces our beliefs and opinions. Furthermore, the social networks we thought were friendly spaces now seem to be corrupted by those who use them to spread misinformation.

Maybe they just wanna give us all a say 
But I can’t help but feel like a pawn in some conspiracy 
What am I used to fight? 
Am I lined with the right history? 
Who are you working for? 
Are you buried in your day to day? 
I know, it shows 

So we live alone in our twin code 
Seeing polar sides to every lie 

wanna wanna cry 
you wanna wanna cry 
But you don’t know how… or why

Connect with Darksoft on Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Google Play
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / cdbaby

YARD OF BLONDS – Single/EP Review: “Je veux danser tout l’été”

Yard of Blondes is a French alternative rock band now based in Los Angeles. They started out as a folk pop act made up of singer/songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Vincent Walter Jacob and bassist/vocalist Fanny Hill. They released a self-titled two-track EP in 2011, then followed up with a second EP Murderology in 2013. In 2014, they shot a documentary film “Joshua Trip” for French television program France 4, which inspired them to write the song “Born Again”. Jacob and Hill decided to settle in L.A., and eventually expanded the Yard of Blondes lineup with the addition of guitarist Burak Yerebakan and drummer Forrest Mitchell. They’ve been writing and recording new music for a full album being produced by Billy Graziadei (Biohazard, Powerflo) and mixed by Michael Patterson (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club).

Yard of Blondes2

The first single they’re releasing is “Je veux danser tout l’été“, which translates to “I wanna dance all summer long.” It’s a fun, upbeat track that the band states is “lighter, happier and more pop-oriented” than their usual songs. The single was released as an EP on July 19th with three versions: the original rock version (produced by Billy Graziadei), a synth-driven remix by Joachim Garraud, and the initial demo version produced by the band themselves. The song features layers of Jacob and Yerebakan’s jangly and gnarly guitars, fortified by Hill’s buzzing bassline and Mitchell’s lively, thumping drumbeats. Jacob fervently croons about the joys of dancing with sheer abandon, while Hill giggles in the background: “I never felt so young. I never felt the lights. Like a blessing, like a symphony, shining on the pavement. A first time of the year that I can hear the buzz outside. And the lights are calling me. A call to dance around. Je veux danser tout l’été.

For the filming of the video, they collaborated with DJ/producer Joachim Garraud, who also did a special remix of the song in his unique and innovative solar powered and completely self-contained recording studio on wheels he’s dubbed LAGOODVIBE.

Here’s an entertaining video chronicling the band’s adventure traveling from Los Angeles out to the Mojave Desert to record the track, under the direction of Joachim Garraud on his LAGOODVIBE.

Catch Yard of Blondes at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Saturday, August 31

Connect with Yard of Blondes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play / Amazon

ARTHUR KAY – EP Review: “Arthur Kay”

Arthur Kay

Arthur Kay is a renaissance man of sorts. The hard-working and versatile Norwegian musician has been a prominent figure in the Oslo music scene for the past decade. In addition to being frontman for galactic jazz-pop band Dr Kay and his Interstellar Tone Scientists, Kay has worked or collaborated with indie rock band The Switch, Norwegian rapper Ivan Ave, and neo-psychedelic pop-rock band Orions Belte, among others. Becoming a veritable whiz kid on synths and keyboards while still a young child, Kay had mastered Ray Manzarek’s iconic “Light My Fire” organ solo by the age of eight.

Now Kay has recorded his first solo effort, a self-titled EP Arthur Kay that’s scheduled for release on October 11 via Jansen Records. In advance of the EP release, he’s unveiled the first single “Holiday Pay“. The upbeat song is a celebration of the Norwegian institutional policy of employers being required by law to pay a certain percentage of last year’s wages as holiday pay during the Summer months. Like the title would suggest, the song has a bouncy dance beat that evokes a blissful summer day at the beach. Kay artfully employs a mix of sunny keyboard synths, an irresistible dance groove, and touches of jazz and funk to create a breezy track that just makes you feel good. Kay’s smooth vocals are pleasing as he sings about the joys of having nothing pressing on his schedule: “The rush of sweat pants, and lazy mornings every Sunday. Of waking up too early Monday, knowing where I’ll be the entire day. Holiday day, holiday pay, that’s the life that I chose, OK.”

Kay has produced two versions of the song, a 6:13 minute-long ‘single version’ featuring some terrific instrumental runs that would have made it a great disco song back in the late 70s or early 80s, and a shorter 3:42 minute-long radio edit.

The EP will feature four other tracks, the first of which is “Say It Out Loud“, an exuberant jazz-infused tune with an infectious strutting beat. If this song doesn’t get you moving, nothing will! Kay’s jazzy synths and intricate keyboard work are sublime, and quite impressive. It’s no wonder he’s in such demand by other artists wanting him to play music for their songs. The lyrics speak to his adoration for his love and how, even though he’s hurt her in the past, she’s the one that sustains him: “You are my power. You are my one. You are all the things I love under the sun.”

Next up is “Higher Ground“, a languid, ethereal track with hazy atmospherics and glittery synths that make for an enchanting listen. The bittersweet lyrics lyrics speak to coming to terms with the fact that the only way to survive is to completely avoid the one you want but cannot have: “A higher ground is all there is, and all that’s left for me to do. This blankly stare at empty space, and concentrate on simply just not calling you. Take a stand, as a peaceful man, and make my way from A to B./I’ll keep on falling. I’ll keep on getting through. And all I have to do is stay away from you. That’s everything that’s left of what was me and you.

On “My Love is an Only Child“, Kay seems to channel James Blake, with stunning piano work, delicate synths and soft, layered vocals. With a sense of sad resignation, Kay croons the poignant lyrics that seem to touch on the fragile nature of his love: “My love is an only child. No he can’t come play outside. Won’t go running around with scissors. That’s the point that you’ve been missing.” It’s a really captivating track.

Standing on Shoulders” starts off with a beautiful piano-driven melody as Kay sings about growing up with childhood fantasies and dreams of being a hero, going on adventures and saving the world: “I was mad with desire, stoking a fire, singing my songs of a savior far away. The savior was older and wiser than me. He held all the answers and sway. His feelings could be what he’d like them to be, but never did he run away. ” Suddenly, the music transitions to a lively Latin-infused beat, with exuberant synths and percussion added to the mix. Kay acknowledges that his childhood dreams were made possible by being able to stand on the shoulders of others who were there to support and nurture him: “Well, that savior was me, but now age 33, I have the hopes of my youth now following me. / I’m beginning to see that my savior was also just standing on shoulders and reaching for dreams that were living inside an adventure that’s made just for people like me.

Arthur Kay is a lovely and immensely enjoyable little EP by this talented singer-songwriter and musician. He’s a great lyricist and composer, skilled at crafting songs with thoughtful, introspective lyrics, memorable melodies and beautiful instrumentals.

Connect with Arthur on Facebook
Pre-order Arthur Kay on Bandcamp

Top 30 Songs for July 21-27, 2019

1. I SEE YOU – MISSIO (1)
2. BAD GUY – Billie Eilish (2)
3. MISSED CONNECTION – The Head and the Heart (3)
4. ALLIGATOR – Of Monsters and Men (5)
5. OLD MAN’S WAR – Roadkeeper (6)
6. DOIN’ TIME – Lana Del Rey (10)
7. ESCAPE – Ships Have Sailed (4)
8. ROOM TO BREATHE – Made of Eyes (9)
9. I’LL BE AROUND – Morning Fuzz (7)
10. FALLING WITH STYLE – Heist At Five (11)
11. COMING UP FOR AIR – Mars Motel (12)
12. RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH THE DEVIL – Revolvers (13)
13. WHEN AM I GONNA LOSE YOU – Local Natives (14)
14. DARK PLACES – The Frontier (8) 20th week on chart
15. STRANGE KIND – Blair Dollery (18)
16. UNDER THE COLD LIGHT OF THE MOON – Crystal Cities (19)
17. HERE WE GO – Ben Priory and Charlie Pereira (20)
18. 3 NIGHTS – Dominic Fike (22)
19. CRINGE – Matt Maeson (23)
20. HELP ME STRANGER – The Raconteurs (25)
21. FEAR THE FUTURE – IAMWARFACE (15) 20th week on chart
22. STILL FEEL. – half alive (16)
23. SAW LIGHTNING – Beck (17)
24. FOUR WINDS – Unquiet Nights (26)
25. GO – The Black Keys (28)
26. RAGGED TOWN – Second Player Score (30)
27. THIS LIFE – Vampire Weekend (N)
28. BOOM – X Ambassadors (N)
29. BLOW – Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton & Bruno Mars (N)
30. BROTHERS – Harroland (N)

New Song of the Week: RUSTY SHIPP – Breaking Waves”

Rusty Shipp BW Single

I’ve been following Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp for two years, since the release of their highly-acclaimed monumental album Mortal Ghost in June 2017. Over the year following the album’s debut, the band produced a series of superb and fascinating videos for several tracks off the album, two of which (“Treading Water” and “SS Naronic”) I featured on this blog. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) They now return with a fantastic new single “Breaking Waves“, the first release from their forthcoming album Liquid Exorcist, a concept work about sea mine terrorism due out later this year.

Rusty Shipp calls itself a “Nautical Rock’n’Roll” band, with a sound influenced by the melodic chord progressions of The Beatles, the surf guitar of Dick Dale, the grunge rock of Nirvana, and the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin, among others. Their music is highlighted by a dark, immersive sound, heavy riffs and haunting vocals. Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in lineup since forming in 2014, and now consist of singer/songwriter and front man Russ T. Shipp (literally his birth name) on guitar and vocals, Elijah Apperson on lead guitar, AJ Newton on drums and Andrew “Speedy” Speed on bass.

Rusty Shipp2

“Breaking Waves” is a grunge-surf-rock song in keeping with the band’s nautical theme and, as explained by front man Russ T. Shipp, “was meticulously crafted to get stuck in a human being’s brain. The song sounds like Nirvana trying to play a Beach Boys song right after hearing ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. Shipp adds “‘Breaking Waves’ is the catchiest song we’ve ever made. Lyrically, it’s more philosophical and describes the battle between technology and nature in a tortoise-and-the-hare-like metaphor where mankind’s mightiest technology won’t stand a chance in the long run against the simple, steady erosion of the ocean’s immortal waves (i.e, nature) breaking it down. I think that’s for the best, and humanity is better off not waiting for centuries of erosion before it’s returned to what’s immaterial and most important – its soul.

The powerful track features the band’s signature heavily-textured guitar work, with layered riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, all combining to produce an intense, dynamic soundscape for Shipp’s resonant vocals. Newton and Speedy keep a solid rhythm with pounding drumbeats and a humming bassline, while Apperson and Shipp deliver scorching-hot riffage. He was right about crafting a catchy melody, as this one remained stuck in my head long after hearing the song. It’s a great song, and is accompanied by a wonderful music video shot on an actual submarine. The video was produced by Ashley Henry, directed by Aaron Scott, filmed by Jason Hassell, and edited by Jonathan Terry. It features scenes of the band performing the song, interspersed with scenes of them trying to stem water leaks that imperil their safety.

Breakers on the sea, advancing steadily
Little by little taking territory
The armies will erode till Pangaea’s covered over
And the Earth is once again formless and void

Breaking waves crashing on your accolades
Break you down, water torture down the drain
One by one till your soul is what remains
Break you out, breaking from the breaking waves
Break it down and wash it away
Breaking from the breaking waves

Simple H2O crushing your machines
Ships and submarines breaking down to smithereens
The breakers won’t desist clinging to your wrist like exorcists
Feeling for the pulse of a human being

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TRUE THE GRAY – EP Review: “Bledstone”

True the Gray Bledstone

True the Gray is a metalcore band from Denver, Colorado, consisting of Peter Vaughn (guitars, clean vocals, percussion, keys & overthinking to a fault) and Scotty Wilson (growls & screams, guitars, percussion & weed). They’ve been friends for years, and played together in the now-defunct Denver metalcore band Me Against Sunrise prior to forming True the Gray in 2016. Inspired by some of their favorite bands like Slipknot, Wage War and Polaris, True the Gray make relentlessly aggressive yet melodic metalcore rock. They cheekily describe their sound as “great background music for wine and cheese board parties and satanic rituals.

True the Gray2
Scotty & Peter

In 2016, they released a very respectable debut self-titled EP True the Gray, and followed up in May 2018 with a powerful, face-melting single “Greet Your Tragedy”, which I reviewed. That October, they dropped a three-track EP In A Wake, and last month (June 2019), they released their latest effort Bledstone, a five-track EP serving up more of their signature punishing wall of sound, dark lyrics and fearsome vocals. The EP was produced and mixed by Peter and Scotty, and mastered by Mike Kalajian. Tanner Lichty played bass (and mixed and mastered “The Old Haunt”), and drums were played by John Baptiste Maukbuke.

Kicking things off is “The Old Haunt“, which opens with what sounds like a stylus being placed onto a worn record album before an onslaught of raging guitars and pummeling drumbeats ensue. Scotty savagely growls the lyrics that speak to man’s inherent evil nature, and our internal struggles to conquer that evil in the hopes of finding our better selves: “There is a piece of everyone’s heart that is wicked from the start. But there’s a reason to feel we were placed here to heal and contrive new working parts.” As the song unfolds, Peter fervently sings “A way to cross the line. A face an image of lies. And through thoughts he finds a side. Through thoughts he finds the sight.” But alas, goodness is not to be found, as Scotty bitterly laments “And in conclusion a sweet delusion of fortune and good faith, but as I have no doubt, nothing works out for the bold and the brave.

With nary a break in the action, “Lionize” explodes with a furious barrage of staccato riffs, crushing bass and hammering drums. It’s an exquisite track, both beastly and beautiful, and my favorite on the EP. The guitar work is spectacular, and really showcases the guys’ impressive musicianship. At the two and a half minute mark, everything calms down momentarily as we’re treated to an enchanting melodic guitar interlude before ramping back up for a dramatic finish. Peter and Scotty’s contrasting vocal styles complement and mesh together quite nicely on this and other tracks.

The guys unleash their sonic fury on “Dreamstealer“, a near-epic song with searing lyrics spoken from the perspective of a godlike figure to humankind. Angered by the mess they’ve made of earth and themselves, god concludes that the only solution is to flood the earth again, as was done in Biblical times: “I’ll fuckin’ turn the tide again. Let a wave take away your precious land./ You failed me. You all fell from my grace. So spineless. Empathy; I have none for the weak. Your price to pay. I gave you life. You meant everything to me. I’ll miss your sight. But you weren’t meant to be.” The heavy, distorted guitars and percussion fade out at around 4:40, transitioning to an atmospheric soundscape of haunting ethereal synths lasting another full minute, symbolizing the somber aftermath of such a global cataclysm.

Eon” blasts through the speakers with a relentless volley of machine gun riffs, frantic guitar runs and jackhammer percussion. Now it seems the devil is the one ready to settle some scores, and accordingly, Scotty’s vocals are more savage than ever as he screams “I will open the sky, I will watch as your demons die! With certainty the moon will bleed and light our darkest nights!” Once again, Peter’s clean vocals provide a dramatic contrast to Scotty’s metalcore growls. True the Gray continue to lay waste to the airwaves with their intense metalcore mayhem on the final track “Deadwood“. The song’s meaning isn’t totally clear to me, but my take is that the godlike figure is telling mankind that he/she is no longer their god: “These hearts left hallowed. My feelings shallowed. And I’ll turn away. I can’t be the one you follow.” Scotty and Peter’s vocals have never sounded better, and raise the hairs on the back of my neck from start to finish.

Bledstone is a fantastic and well-crafted little EP. Despite it’s relatively brief running time of only 19 minutes, it’s a raging beast of unabashed ferocity and brilliant metalcore grooves. True the Gray continue to grow in terms of their songwriting and performance with each release, and Bledstone is clearly a step forward for the talented duo.

Connect with True the Gray:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify /  Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp