It’s been three weeks since my last Fresh New Tracks post, so I’m long overdue for a new one. For my 16th installment in this series, I’ve chosen three wonderful new songs by (in alphabetical order) Canadian indie rock duo Burn the Louvre, British rock artist The Petal Falls, and Tacoma, Washington-based psychedelic pop-rock artist Soda CrackerJesus. So, without further ado…
BURN THE LOUVRE – “Driving In The Rain”
Burn The Louvre are a Canadian indie rock duo based in Hamilton, Ontario, and comprised of Jordan Speare (vocals/guitar) and Sean Cooper (guitar/vocals), although the act originally began as a duo consisting of Jordan and his brother Dylan. From what I can tell, they first released Post-Romance EP in late 2014, then followed in 2017 with a second EP We’ll Be Just Fine. By 2018, Burn the Louvre became Jordan’s solo project, at which time he began work on a full-length album Silhouettes with the help of his friend Andrew Billone, of indie rock band Silvertone Hills, on lead guitar and bass. The album was recorded, mixed & mastered by engineer/producer Mickey Ellsworth, and is finally being released in 2022 as 11 separate singles, at the rate of one song per month over a period of 11 months. “Driving In The Rain“, which dropped April 26th, is the fourth single to be released.
Rather serendipitously, after he and Mickey finished recording Silhouettes in late 2018, Jordan received an email from guitarist Sean Cooper, in response to an old “musicians wanted” ad he’d forgotten to take down. The two immediately hit it off, and began jamming together on the already-recorded songs. Jordan recalls “The way he was able to come up with his own unique leads to songs that were already recorded, giving them different nuances while maintaining the vibe of each song…I mean, I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad practice. I felt this was a perfect opportunity to re-imagine Burn The Louvre as a duo and I am very happy he wanted to be a part of this.”
“Driving In The Rain” has a pleasing folk-rock vibe, driven by a colorful blend of twangy and jangly guitars, accompanied by subtle bass and percussion that allow the wonderful guitars to shine. Jordan’s vocals have an endearing singer-songwriter quality that work to great effect as he sings the lyrics describing a man driving through a rainstorm to see his girlfriend, with whom he has a troubled relationship: “I’m 15 minutes out, the sky is darker than her hair. And all Beck’s “Modern Guilt” has got me way too self-aware. The weather’s getting worse, man it’s really coming down. It’s just the second verse, but I think I’m gunna drown. Conventional conversation is ringing in my ears. I want to kiss her in the rain, so I can’t see the tears. Seven hundred fourteen thousand, she’s the only voice I hear. I’d call her just to listen if I didn’t have to steer.” It’s a fine song, as are the three previously-released tracks “Wish We Were”, “Nice Guy” and “Alison”, giving us a good indication that Silhouettes promises to be a winner.
Last August, I first wrote about British rock act The Petal Falls, the music project of Kent-based singer-songwriter Keith Leahy, when I reviewed his single “I Won’t Be There” (read the review here). To briefly reiterate some of what I previously detailed about The Petal Falls’ unfortunate history, Leahy formed the band in the mid 1990s as a performance platform for his music. Consisting of Leahy, who sings vocals as well as plays guitar and keyboards, and four other musicians: Robert Harpum (guitar), Dave Richards (guitar), Marius Ryndziewicz (bass) and Robin Tucker (drums), they signed with a mid-tier music label in the hopes it would lead to greater success, but it instead resulted in their ultimate undoing. The label stifled their creativity and stalled their career for several years, leading to a great deal of frustration among band members and their eventual demise, without ever being given the opportunity to publicly release any of their prodigious output of songs.
Thankfully, a few years ago their music catalog once again became available for release, and Keith jumped at the opportunity to re-master the original The Petal Falls recordings into four albums, with help of his friend and producer/engineer/drummer John King. The first of those albums, Workin All Night Workin All Day, was released in July 2020 to positive fan and critical response, an amazing feat for an act that had long been given up for dead. The album’s success inspired Keith to resurrect The Petal Falls as a solo project, recording and releasing new music in collaboration with King. They followed with a second album All These Years in September 2021, and are now planning to release a third album Everything About You this coming September. The first single from that forthcoming album, “Somebody To Love Me“, was released April 29th.
The song is a rousing upbeat stomper, with a hard-driving heartland rock groove that calls to mind some of the great mid-80s music of John Mellencamp. The lively guitar work is terrific, accompanied by sparkling keyboards and supported by a powerful rhythm section that keeps the song’s energy going full throttle. With his commanding vocal style, Leahy sings of his strong desire for a woman to call his own, wondering why he can’t seem to attract one: “I bought a new suit, shirt and tie. My hair wet down looking sharp through and high. Thought I’d impress with a twinkle in my eye. One look at me, she said ‘baby, bye bye’. I can’t pretend I understand what makes a woman love a man. I’ve seen your love in the face of a stranger. It seems to me, some girls are real dangerous.Am I a fool to think this way? I can’t be a loser every day. I need somebody, somebody, somebody to love me, yeah.”
Soda Cracker Jesus is the solo music project of the wildly imaginative, enormously talented and flamboyant singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. Based in Tacoma, Washington, Regan has been actively involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years, with his hands in many projects, including serving as front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright. He’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. With an unwavering sense of optimism, he creates music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past, and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound.
I’ve featured both Strangely Alright and Soda Cracker Jesus on this blog numerous times over the past three or so years, most recently last October when I reviewed his wonderful single “Kaleidoscope”, a heartwarming song inspired by the memory of his late father. Now he’s back with “Hoping For The Best“, his fifth single under the Soda Cracker Jesus moniker.
Ever the optimist, Regan says the song is about “finding one’s way, the sadness that hits sometimes, and trying to see a glass that’s half full”, expressed by the refrain “I don’t know why I’m sad. Hoping for the Best.” Musically, the song is an exuberant power-pop banger, infused with generous helpings of punk and psychedelia. Over a heavy stomping groove, Regan layers fuzz-coated gnarly riffs, spacey synths, and lots of crashing cymbals to create a high-energy psychedelic backdrop for his reverby vocals that sound like a cross between 1970s John Lennon and David Bowie. “Hoping For The Best” is another outstanding entry in an unbroken string of superb singles.
Hailing from beautiful Holy Island, situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales roughly halfway between Dublin and Liverpool, alternative psychedelic rock outfit Holy Coves is the brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden. Since its formation in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing group of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn on New Years Day 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.
After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians to record his third album Druids and Bards, due for release this coming August via his label Yr Wyddfa Records. These musicians are (with previous acts they’ve played with in parentheses) John Lawrence on guitar (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci), Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths (WE//ARE//ANIMAL, Hippies Vs Ghosts, The Heights), Jason Hughes on bass (The Painkillers), and Spike T Smith on drums (Morrissey, The Damned, New York Dolls). Marsden told me “It was a honour to work with them. I’ve wanted to work with all of them since I was a teenager. I’m very lucky. They are all geniuses.” He wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered the album. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the header photo are friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.
In late March, Holy Coves released their first single from Druids and Bards, the brilliant “The Hurt Within”, which is currently enjoying a run on my Weekly Top 30. Now, only a month later, they return with the second single “Desert Storm“, and it’s another brooding cinematic stunner. Over a stomping, mesmerizing groove, they layer mysterious, psychedelic synths, crisp percussion and an arresting blend of droning and jangly guitars to create a dark and moody soundscape, but with a hint of optimism. Marsden has a clear and pleasing singing voice, and his slightly echoed vocals have a somewhat ethereal quality here as he earnestly details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from severe drug addiction.
What you see is what you get
What you needs irrelevant
It's time we need to heal my friend
Let's go until we reach the end
Look how far we've come
We've only just begun
You're holding onto me
But I'm so far goneWere coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
I come to feel her love again
And take away all the pain
It seems like everyday I fight her now
It's tearing us apart
Right now I'm falling hard
Let's go back to the start
I'm falling off again
She's got me hook line babe
“Desert Storm” is a marvelous track, and if it and “The Hurt Within” are any indication, Druids and Bards is guaranteed to be a spectacular album.
To coincide with their album release, Holy Coves will kick off their 24 date Druids And Bards UK Tour on August 19th in Wrexham.
Ava Vox is the music project of Irish singer-songwriter Elaine Hannon, a fascinating and seasoned artist who’s been involved with music for much of her life. Originally from Dublin and now based in County Meath, she started her music career at the age of 17 as vocalist for a band, then in 1986 she formed alternative goth rock/post-punk band The Seventh Veil. Their music garnered airplay on Irish radio and earned positive reviews in local press, and they even won a Battle of the Bands competition. They lasted five years until disbanding in 1991. Hannon spent the next few decades involved with various other music projects, and was in the early stages of forming another band when the Covid pandemic brought everything to a halt (as it did for just about every other artist and band) in early 2020. Unable to perform live or record together, she eventually made the decision that September to create her own solo act under the moniker Ava Vox.
With her distinctive deep vocal timbre and commanding delivery, not to mention her arresting goth persona, Ava Vox is a dynamic and compelling performer. Her music style is similar to that of her previous band The Seventh Veil, namely alternative rock imbued with goth rock and post-punk elements, and steeped in strong 80s sensibilities. She began recording songs remotely with a talented group of musicians from Dublin, Scotland, Brazil and Italy, for what would become her debut album Immortalised, which she released on March 25th. Specifically, piano/keyboards and Hammond organ were played by Ray McLoughlin, who also arranged the strings and co-produced the album, electric guitar by Enda Dempsey, bass by James Blennerhassett, and drums Robbie Casserly.
The album features eight marvelous tracks, five of which were previously written and performed by Hannon and her The Seventh Veil bandmates, along with three covers of iconic songs by The Cure, David Bowie and Soft Cell. She elaborates: “I revisited some songs that were written collectively by me and my previous band. I wanted to give these songs new life again, for the world to hear them. Then these songs would be preserved for evermore” – i.e. ‘immortalised’. As for the three covers, she stated that each of those artists and songs were inspirational for her, and hold a special place in her heart.
The album bursts open with “Crash” a darkly beautiful cinematic rocker and standout track. I love the aggressive, pulse-pounding beat, fortified with gothic industrial synths, powerful galloping rhythms and – most appropriately – a torrent of crashing cymbals. Ava’s commanding vocals raise goosebumps as she issues dire warnings of impending doom. The dramatic video, produced by Isaac Burke, is intended to bring attention to the devastation caused by climate change/global warming. Ava portrays the white witch goddess, symbolizing mother nature, who loves the earth and all its species, and provides us with a glimpse of the present and what the future could be, the potential end of the world/extinction of species and the human race.
All of the tracks on Immortalised are strong. “Silent Tear” and “Alone Again” are beautiful synth and guitar-driven rock songs, with compelling melodies that stuck with me long after hearing them. The latter song describes an abusive relationship, wherein the victim eventually finds the courage to escape from their abuser, but sadly falls prey to the abuser’s false charms and promises to change, returning for more: “It’s here again, in rings of garland. Opened eyes and telling hearts. Punch me, hard against the wall. Kick me, trip me, hush me til I fall.”
Another favorite of mine is “One Sweet Goodbye“, a haunting piano ballad about the searing pain that results from the end of a relationship. Ray McLoughlin’s gorgeous piano and string arrangement create a stunning cinematic backdrop for Ana’s heart-wrenching vocals as she laments “Goodbye, goodbye, I feel as though I will die.” “Heart of Good Intention” is great too, with it’s exuberant organ-based groove that calls to mind the music of early 80s The Kinks.
Ava does a fine justice to the three cover songs: “Tainted Love“, originally written by Ed Cobb and recorded by American singer Gloria Jones in 1964, and later covered in 1981 by British duo Soft Cell, “Life on Mars” by David Bowie, and “Love Song” by The Cure. “Tainted Love” is given a full-band treatment, with piano and Hammond organ played by Ray McLoughlin, electric guitar by Daniel Martin and drums by Jonathan Owens, whereas “Life on Mars” and “Love Song” are more stripped down, with mainly piano by Ray McLoughlin (as well as Hammond organ on “Life on Mars” and a bit of drums at the end of “Love Song”) accompanying Ava’s arresting vocals. “Love Song” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and has been covered by many acts, most notably 311, Adele, Good Charlotte, Tori Amos, Death Cab for Cutie and Nina Sky. Ava’s slowed-down interpretation is quite lovely, and her heartfelt vocals are particularly moving, beautifully expressing the intense enduring love described in The Cure’s lyrics.
I’m glad Ava Vox decided to immortalize her songs with this album, and she and her crew have done an outstanding job in its production and execution. Listening to Immortalised is 26 and a half minutes well spent.
The mysterious and smoldering “Deception” by British singer-songwriter Hannah Reem, with stunning cinematic music by producer-composer Noodle Beard, is my favorite song for a second week. I think Hannah’s powerful, sultry vocals would hold their own up against many of today’s top-rated female singers. This song is so good – to my ears anyway – that I want it to keep going for nine or ten minutes. I guess I’ll just have to keep hitting replay!
Harry Styles jumps eight spots to #2 with his exuberant earworm “As It Was”. Though I was not a fan of One Direction (the boy band he was a member of in his teens, for those who are somehow unaware), I really like a lot of his music as a solo artist, and his latest single is terrific. According to an article in the webzine Stylecaster, though Styles hasn’t confirmed the song’s meaning, many believe it’s about his relationship with fame and how his life isn’t “the same as it was” since becoming a music star, expressed by the lyrics “In this world, it’s just us. You know it’s not the same as it was.” The song also alludes to his loneliness and concern from others as he isolates himself from the world, opening with a child’s voice (an actual phone recording of his goddaughter Ruby Winston) saying: “Come on, Harry, we wanna say goodnight to you,” and in the second verse Styles acknowledges “Answer the phone. ‘Harry, you’re no good alone. Why are you sitting at home on the floor? What kind of pills are you on?’”
Otherwise, just the typical chart movement this week as older songs slowly move down to make way for newer ones on their way up. The Black Keys‘ “Wild Child” climbs four spots to #4, as does Florence + the Machine‘s “My Love”, which moves up to #11. Yet again, I wanted to add at least five new songs to this list, but only had slots for two: Bastille‘s delightfully upbeat Calypso-infused “Shut Off the Lights”, and the mesmerizing “Miracle Mile” by Welsh electro-punk band Head Noise, which enter at #29 and #30 respectively. I love Bastille lead singer Dan Smith’s distinctive vocals, and am glad they’re still going strong after 10 years. And I’ve been following self-described oddball band Head Noise for a couple of years, and for me, the epic “Miracle Mile”, from their recently-released EP SCRAM, is their best song yet.
DECEPTION – Hannah Reem and Noodle Beard (1)
AS IT WAS – Harry Styles (10)
WHAT, ME WORRY? – Portugal. The Man (2)
WILD CHILD – The Black Keys (8)
BLACK SUMMER – Red Hot Chili Peppers (6)
LOVE BRAND NEW – Bob Moses (7)
BROKEN HEARTS – Ships Have Sailed (4)
JUST LIKE ALWAYS – Oli Barton & the Movement & Maella (3)
I’LL CALL YOU MINE – girl in red (5)
GIVE A LITTLE LOVIN’ – Jamie Alimorad (9)
MY LOVE – Florence + the Machine (15)
BROKEN HORSES – Brandi Carlisle (11)
CHEER UP BABY – Inhaler (14)
SLEEP – Gooseberry (16)
CHASING TRAINS – HULLAH (17)
WILD – Spoon (18)
CAVIAR – Two Feet (12)
THE ONLY HEARTBREAKER – Mitski (13)
I LOVE YOU – Fontaines D.C. (19)
LA CIENEGA – Chief Springs (22)
ON MY KNEES – RÜFÜS DU SOL (23)
THE HURT WITHIN – Holy Coves (24)
VIRGINIA (WIND IN THE NIGHT) – The Head and the Heart (25)
PORTS is a talented four-piece based in Derry, Northern Ireland who formed in 2012 while at music college. Influenced by such acts as Phosphorescent, Big Thief, Andy Shauf, Aldous Harding and Stars of the Lid, their music is an incredibly pleasing blend of folk, indie rock and shoegaze. They released their beautiful debut single “Ancient Wave” in 2014, then followed with several more singles which culminated in the release in 2016 of their album The Devil is a Songbird, featuring 13 stunning tracks. It’s really outstanding, and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out.
The guys then toured extensively throughout the UK, the US, Canada and Australia in support of the album, garnering play and live performances on numerous BBC radio channels and MTV, which earned them a strong following. Additionally, eight of the songs from their album have been used in a number of TV shows, including Teen Wolf, Bloodlands, Awkward, Wild Ireland and Love in a Day. Collectively, their songs have been streamed more than 3.2 million times on Spotify alone.
The band took a brief hiatus after touring, then began writing and recording songs again in early 2020, before Covid brought things to a halt. Nevertheless, they managed to drop another lovely single “Reading in the Dark” in August 2020, and once restrictions against gathering together were lifted, they continued with writing and recording songs for their forthcoming second album Wild Awake, replacing some of those they’d previously written with new ones. The songs on the new album will feature a mix of folk rock, Cajun, and electronic lo-fi shoegaze soundscapes. One of the tracks to be included on the new album is “Swimming Pool“.
Band member Steven McCool explains their inspiration behind the song: “During our short hiatus, we didn’t know what we wanted from the band. We had some discussions on what direction to go and what sound we should create, but it became frustrating. When we decided to start writing again we decided we’d stop overthinking and just write. We were just messing about between takes and ‘Swimming Pool’ started to take form. The music and melody fell together within minutes, so we decided to record it. We were using a new lyric writing technique, where we would imagine a scene. So I said I can see someone diving into a swimming pool at night in slow motion. The song ultimately became a metaphor for our emotions, if you fight them they become harder to manoeuvre. So, like swimming you just go with it and it gets easier the more relaxed you are.”
The song is beautiful, with a serene, contemplative vibe that nicely conveys the feeling of someone slowly gliding through the waters of a swimming pool. PORTS creates this enchanting soundscape through the use of a lush array of instruments, including what sounds like cello and mellotron, along with lovely piano keys, gently strummed acoustic and twangy guitars, subtle bass and delicate drums. The warm, soothing vocals, who I’m guessing are Steven’s, perfectly complement the music.
When you held your breath til' the sun came down
Beneath the surface a muffled sound
When you can't make out the synthetic sea
Bead of air attempt to flee
Can't stop the overflow round your body
It's just a motion, these emotions
You can let it go, let it move on
It's just a motion, these emotionsYou sink back down and the picture slows
Projected chaos above you glows
The water breaks to reveal the sky
A road to take reflects in your eye
Can't stop the overflow round your body
It's just a motion, these emotions
You can let it go, let it move on
It's just a motion, these emotions
The beautiful video shows gauzy images of the band performing the song interspersed with those of a swimmer slowly gliding through the water, all filmed in a deep shade of blue.
One of the perks (and there are a few downsides as well) of being a blogger who writes music reviews is getting to know a lot of musicians and bands from all over the world, some of them on a personal level. High on my list of favorites, both as musicians and humans, is Chicago-based rock band The MillionReasons. Though I’ve never met them in person, I seriously love these guys and consider them friends who honestly care about me as a person, rather than simply a blogger who can be of use to them. A few of them actually check in from time to time to ask how I’m doing, which means a lot to me. It also makes me an intensely loyal fan.
The Million Reasons originally formed in 2016 as a trio comprised of Scott Nadeau on lead vocals, and Ken Ugel and Mike Nichols on guitars. They were joined a year later by drummer Colin Dill, then bassist Jason Cillo in 2018. I first learned about them when they followed me on Twitter in July 2018, around the time they released their magnificent single “Dizzy”. It was love at first listen, and I quickly became a big fan of theirs. Without question one of the most beautiful rock songs I’ve ever heard, I was happy to write a review of “Dizzy”. I loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ultimately ranked #69 on my 100 best songs of the decadelist.
The guys went on to release a few more singles, then in August 2019, Scott decided to leave the band. Fortunately, they quickly found a phenomenal replacement in singer-songwriter Taylor Brennan, a close friend of Colin’s, and the band lineup was complete again. Taylor brought not only his impressive vocal talents, but also great songwriting skills and years of experience, which have expanded The Million Reasons’ musical horizons quite nicely. Whereas their music had primarily been classic rock/rock’n’roll oriented, some of their new songs venture more into progressive rock territory.
All five band members are highly accomplished musicians, several of whom are also involved with other projects. Taylor is vocalist for alternative-progressive rock band Polarizer (who’s brilliant album Love From the Underground I reviewed last November). Ken is guitarist for rock bands Guardrail and Wild Gravity, and Colin and Jason are members of covers band Dad’s Night Out. Having five members, including two guitarists, their sound is dynamic, heavy and melodic, consistently delivered with incredible riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals – everything we lovers of rock want to hear.
With their new lineup, the band set to work writing new songs, as well as re-working a few song ideas from their previous iteration that had never been fully-developed. This culminated in the release of their EP If Not For the Fire in February 2020, which I also reviewed. The title single “If Not For the Fire” also climbed to the top of my Weekly Top 30 chart, and ended up at #20 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list.
Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic cast its ugly pall soon after the EP’s release, hindering the relatively new lineup from touring or performing live to promote it. Also prevented from gathering together to record more songs, the guys soldiered on remotely, often struggling in the process. In the hopes of getting their music out to a wider audience, they signed with Pavement Entertainment in summer 2020, and once Covid restrictions were lifted, got back into the studio to continue recording songs for what would become their debut full-length album Haven, which finally dropped April 15th. It’s a beautiful work that was definitely worth all the blood, sweat and tears it took them to finally get it done and released.
The word ‘haven’, defined as a place of safety or refuge, is the perfect title for The Million Reasons’ new album, as it encapsulates all that got them to this point. The album features 11 tracks, including the four previously released on the EP, which have been re-engineered and mastered with a bigger and fuller sound. Though I did not conduct an interview, each band member beautifully articulated their own thoughts about the album, some of which I’d now like to share in order to provide some context.
Taylor: “It’s an intensely personal album for me. But I/we always hope that our songs connect with people, whether it’s an individual or a crowd. I like to think there are enough overarching themes to speak to someone else going through the emotions represented by the songs; the highs, the lows, or especially if it’s both. It’s about one’s journey through highs and lows, no matter the obstacles, no matter the duration of the tumult. One of my favourite lyrics on this album is ‘It’s not over til it’s better’. It updates on the ’til its over’ aspect because to me the original phrase implies a potentially negative finality. The point being, I now believe there is always “better”. Even if the body shots keep coming, even if it feels like death by a thousand shots, even if “better” is achieved incrementally…if you keep going…if you work on yourself and surround yourself with love and support…it will get better. To me, that culminates in ‘Haven’. Haven is the place where you finally feel safe. The place where you finally feel home. The place where you finally feel better. The place where you finally feel like ‘you’.
To me, the album represents that natural chemistry cannot be denied. That’s obviously a theme of the lyrics, but the band also lived that. We have a great time together when we get together. Musically, we gel. I think we had the rocky start that could have ended some projects before they had a chance to get going. But we made it through and now we know what we are capable of. I love the record, I am as proud of it as anything I have done. When you have to work hard to get through adversity, the end result is that much sweeter. We’ve done that, and we like each other and this band more now than we did when we first met, I feel. So while this feels like our peak right now, like a penultimate record, I think it also represents that we’re in this together and we have what it takes to see this through indefinitely. We are a band, and a fucking good one. And we’re just getting started.”
Colin: “‘Haven’ is the culmination of 5 years of songwriting, practice, shows, line-up changes and hard work, all finally pieced together to create the true foundation and spirit of The Million Reasons as a band. The spirit being defined by keeping Rock N’ Roll alive and well and having a damn good time doing it. COVID impacted our timeline and motivation greatly. It was extremely challenging to find time to finalize writing and recording each piece whether at the studio or on our own. There were absolutely discouraging times that we would never quite get there, but we persevered and are absolutely ecstatic at the end product. I’m very proud of this album and release. I love the guys in the band like family and it’s so exciting to have this release finally happening. “If Not For The Fire” and the passion of the group, there would be no album!“
Jason: “This really is a culmination of all the band’s work. Some of these songs were written during the first iteration of the group (Mike & Ken being the only remaining members) and then re-done with new vocals. I personally joined the band where the music was already mostly outlined for about half the album and the other half was written together. We write the music completely separate from the lyrics and let Taylor write on top of what we came up with. A lot of these songs came from jams or specific writing sessions in Ken’s apartment. Ken and I paired off a lot to write in a more rigid, methodical way, while Mike and Colin would go into the rehearsal space and jam with something recording them and then we’d converge on those ideas. I hope that [the album] gets in front of people who will enjoy it. I’ve never felt better about music that I’ve worked on and I know it’s good, it’s just a matter of showing the world that. Truthfully, I just want people to enjoy it and for the band to play some more shows to see that in-person.”
Ken: “‘Haven’ is our defining moment as a group and the place where we’ve established our sound. This is our base, and acts as the beginning of something special. The journey to find our ‘Haven’ over years of songwriting, lineup changes, and a pandemic; has led us here: our safe place, where we are coming into our own. The metaphorical and physical start of this new chapter of TMR. I truly believe if these songs were played to a wider audience and given the attention it deserves, we’d break out of the ‘only friends and family’ listening parties. I’d hope to start opening up for some bigger acts and get in front of new people over the next year. ‘Haven’ showcases everything the band is about and just to boost my self-esteem up a bit: I think it’s a damn good album!“
Mike: “‘Haven’ is about overcoming adversity, from being at your lowest point and attaching your focus from one silver lining to the next in order to escape your rut. It’s an emotional story from Taylor’s point of view, but to me it can also represent the journey the band has gone through over the last few years. There’s darkness, but there’s light to bring us out of it. Lyrically, ‘Haven’ delves into love, loss, and self-doubt, followed by hope, confidence, and triumph over hardship. Musically, the album explores the spectrum of rock music we grew up listening to, from the poppy sensibilities of “1985” and “Alone With You”, to the high energy of “Oh, Tranquilizer” and “If Not For The Fire”, to the anger of of “All You Can’t Afford” and “Only Human”. “No North Star” might be a standout track on the album, easily distinguished by being melancholic and acoustic, but it also reads as a flashback, setting the scene for how we’ve arrived at the emotional state that came to influence the rest of the record. Track by track, there’s something for everybody. Everything about this album is overdue, it’s about time the world gets its ears on The Million Reasons. I want people to hear the album and love it. I want to play on stage for those people. I want this album to inspire people to create. ‘Haven’ is the catalyst that turns our dreams into reality.”
Well, I’ve heard the album loud and clear, and I love it more with each listen! Haven kicks off with “Oh,Tranquilizer!“, a rousing blast of atomic energy that both Ken and Mike name as one of their favorite tracks to play. And no wonder, as they deliver an onslaught of scorching riffs, fortified by Jason’s pummeling bassline and Colin’s explosive drumbeats. Taylor has a commanding tenor voice, dazzling our earbuds as he sings about our failing to clearly see what’s important amid all the noise: “Oh tranquilizer, this will be our year. You soothe the symptoms of this mania. We’ve got a lot to lose. Pay attention to the signs around. You’ve got a lot of nerve, to hear the noise but miss out on the sound.”
On the fiery (no pun intended) title track “If Not for the Fire”, the guys unleash their inner beasts, letting loose with an electrifying barrage of thunderous musical mayhem. The song is a rock masterpiece, and a highlight of the album. Taylor says the message behind the song is simple: “Do not settle. We get one go at this. Whatever makes you happiest, whatever makes you feel most alive, whatever lights you up, go fucking get it.” And once again, he raises goosebumps as he passionately wails of his need for an intense, almost obsessive kind of love that thrills and excites: “I came for the curse of, I came for the kiss of, A love divine that paralyzes. What did you come for, if not for the fire to light you up this way.”
The powerful video, filmed and directed by Philip Goode, shows Taylor seated at a table and struggling to write, juxtaposed with scenes of the band performing the song and working their magic with their respective instruments. Their energy and charisma are clearly evident.
Perhaps the most upbeat track on the album is “1985“, a bittersweet love song with an infectious and pleasing pop-rock sensibility that sets it apart from the others. I love the bouncy, guitar-driven melody, soaring harmonic choruses, and especially Colin’s spirited drumbeats. Taylor plaintively reminisces about lost time he could have enjoyed with a loved one: “Take me to 1985. I’d do it all again with you. I learned too late, the only priceless thing is time. Bring me back to 1985.“
The guys get back to business churning out hard-rocking bangers on the next several tracks, starting with “Coup De Grâce“, a blistering song about a toxic and abusive relationship featuring lyrics with boxing metaphors: “Back in the ring again, absorbing the body shots. Jab to a cross then uppercut, sends me back to my corner.” I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but wow, these guys know how to deliver the rock goods, nearly blowing out the speakers with rampaging riffs and explosive, stomping rhythms. And it goes without saying that Taylor rises to the occasion with his jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics.
“Shine On” has a bit of a Meat Loaf vibe, with it’s frantic galloping beat and aggressive guitar work, but especially in that Taylor’s vocals sound at times like those of the late, great singer. “Alone With You” is a proper rock tune with a catchy melody, intricate guitars, and thumping rhythms. Essentially a love song, Taylor sings of the joys of being with the woman he loves: “Anything to be alone with you. Where you go, I’m locked beside you babe. I don’t think I can get enough of you. And we are only getting started.” “Ride Or Die” starts off with a grunge vibe, highlighted by Jason’s gnarly bassline, but eventually explodes into a full-blown rocker with blazing riffs and heavy chugging rhythms every bit as good as some of the iconic rock songs of the late 70s and 80s. And on the poignant “Only Human“, Taylor pleads with a friend to not surrender to the pain that threatens to overwhelm them: “We’re far from done. But please hold on. You’re going to make it. Remember, it’s not over ‘til its better.”
“Pretty Ones” is a brilliant track, with a complex melodic structure and intricate, yet powerful instrumentation that give it a monumental prog-rock feel. Mike and Ken’s dual guitars are really spectacular here, and Colin’s drums are perfection. Taylor’s vocals are filled with intense passion as he sings the lyrics touching on restlessness and the internal struggle between putting down roots in one place or with one person vs. the desire for freedom, believing the grass is greener somewhere else or with someone else, but also fearing that perhaps we’re just running away from ourselves: “Ever after chasing down the pretty ones / Right back to the place where I am running from / In motion, stuck in motion / I fear it’s just my nature.”
Without question the most beautiful song on Haven is “No North Star”, a powerful and melancholy ballad about a man ready to give up all vestiges of hope. The song opens with a mournful cello played by Alyssa Laessig, accompanied by a lovely acoustic guitar as Taylor forlornly laments about mistakes he’s made: “Four on the floor / As the shower head pours heat on me / Praying to the god of sorry / I’m sure she has questions for me.” The music gradually grows more expansive until reaching a dramatic crescendo at the end, at which point he passionately implores: “Stare in the sunken-in eyes of a ghost of a shell of a half of a half of a man / Saying what good can I be if I couldn’t be better for you / I couldn’t lie when you asked me to lie / But I’ll die if you ask me tonight / I’m going to die anyway / I might as well do it for you.” Along with “If Not For the Fire”, it’s my favorite song on the album.
The final track “All You Can Afford” is a dark and heavy kiss-off to a lover who’s pushed the relationship beyond the breaking point. The guys deliver a torrent of blistering psychedelic riffs and crushing rhythms during the first three minutes of the track while Taylor rails “I’m taking the keys to my heart and your car. I’ll leave you behind, hoping you’ll find all that you can’t afford, my love, anymore.” The music then transitions to a gritty, almost cinematic instrumental for the remainder of the song, punctuated by a rather ominous, barely intelligible male voiceover and a mix of sirens and other harsh sounds.
What more can I say that I haven’t already gushed about, other than to proclaim that Haven is a spectacular album and a glorious feast for the ears. The five talented lads of The Million Reasons have outdone themselves, and should be quite proud of what they’ve created here. This band deserves to be successful, and I hope this review will encourage my readers to give this album a listen. And if they like it even half as much as I love it, my efforts will have been worthwhile.
This is my first post in a week, the longest stretch I’ve gone without writing a post in my blog’s nearly seven-year history, as I’ve been hit with another crippling bout of writer’s block. But I cannot miss sharing my latest Weekly Top 30, and this week brings a few exciting new developments. First of all, “Deception”, the stunning collaboration between soulful-voiced British singer-songwriter Hannah Reem and producer-composer Noodle Beard, takes over the top spot. The dramatic song is a dark and twisted love story about infidelity and the complexities surrounding painful choices, set to a smoldering, cinematic trip hop soundscape. Hannah explained her inspiration for writing the song: “I’ve felt fury and been forced to lose, I’ve been homeless and broke, felt like a joke, and cheated on by those that I choose. But I’ll get through.” As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, “Deception” would make a great James Bond theme song, and even after having it on repeat for the past month and a half, it still has the power to cover me with chills. It’s an incredible song that deserves to be a huge worldwide hit.
In other chart highlights this week, The Black Keys‘ “Wild Child” leaps eight spots to #8, and the hauntingly beautiful “My Love” by Florence + the Machine jumps seven spots to #15. As always, there’s so much great music out now, with about 10 songs I wanted to add to my list. Alas, I had room for only three new ones: Harry Styles‘ delightful “As It Was” enters high up the chart at #10 (it debuted at #1 last week on the Billboard Hot 100), while Weezer‘s “A Little Bit of Love” and Foals‘ “2am” enter at #29 and #30.
DECEPTION – Hannah Reem & Noodle Beard (3)
WHAT, ME WORRY? – Portugal. The Man (1)
JUST LIKE ALWAYS – Oli Barton & the Movement with Maella (2)
BROKEN HEARTS – Ships Have Sailed (5)
I’LL CALL YOU MINE – girl in red (4)
BLACK SUMMER – Red Hot Chili Peppers (8)
LOVE BRAND NEW – Bob Moses (9)
WILD CHILD – The Black Keys (16)
GIVE A LITTLE LOVIN’ – Jamie Alimorad (10)
AS IT WAS – Harry Styles (N)
BROKEN HORSES – Brandi Carlisle (12)
CAVIAR – Two Feet (6)
THE ONLY HEARTBREAKER – Mitski (7)
CHEER UP BABY – Inhaler (14)
MY LOVE – Florence + the Machine (22)
SLEEP – Gooseberry (17)
CHASING TRAINS – HULLAH (18)
WILD – Spoon (21)
I LOVE YOU – Fontaines D.C. (15)
B-SIDE – Khruangbin & Leon Bridges (11)
REDCHURCH STREET BLUES – Philip Morgan Lewis (13)
LA CIENEGA – Chief Springs (25)
ON MY KNEES – RÜFÜS DU SOL (26)
THE HURT WITHIN – Holy Coves (27)
VIRGINIA (WIND IN THE NIGHT) – The Head and the Heart (28)
I love the music of Portland-based Portugal. The Man (who are originally from Wasilla, Alaska, not Portugal), and their deliciously upbeat “What, Me Worry?” is my new #1 song this week. Co-written by the band, along with Jeff Bhasker and OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, both of whom also produced the track, “What, Me Worry” is an antidote for overcoming the gloomy pall of the pandemic. The song’s title is a nod to long-time Mad Magazine cover boy Alfred E. Newman and his iconic phrase. And how about that fantastic bass line?
In other chart news, there’s lots of activity this week. Sliding into the #2 spot is the hauntingly beautiful “Just Like Always” by one of my favorite British acts Oli Barton & the Movement, featuring added vocals by British singer Maella. The dark and cinematic “Deception” by British producer-composer Noodle Beard and vocalist extraordinaire Hannah Reem, continues it’s rapid move up my chart, leaping six spots to #3. Moving into the top 5 are “I’ll Call You Mine” by Norwegian singer-songwriter girl in red and “Broken Hearts” by L.A. duo Ships Have Sailed. Three songs enter the top 10: “Black Summer” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Love Brand New” by BobMoses, and “Give a Little Lovin'” by Jamie Alimorad. The Black Keys leap nine spots to #16 with their latest single “Wild Child”. And making their debut this week are the lovely “Virginia (Wind in the Night)” by The Head and the Heart, “Distance” by British dream rock band Mount Famine, and “Bloodrush” by British alt-rock band TheAmazons.
WHAT, ME WORRY? – Portugal. The Man (2)
JUST LIKE ALWAYS – Oli Barton & the Movement & Maella (4)
DECEPTION – Hannah Reem & Noodle Beard (9)
I’LL CALL YOU MINE – girl in red (6)
BROKEN HEARTS – Ships Have Sailed (7)
CAVIAR – Two Feet (1)
THE ONLY HEARTBREAKER – Mitski (3)
BLACK SUMMER – Red Hot Chili Peppers (11)
LOVE BRAND NEW – Bob Moses (12)
GIVE A LITTLE LOVIN’ – Jamie Alimorad (13)
B-SIDE – Khruangbin & Leon Bridges (10)
BROKEN HORSES – Brandi Carlisle (16)
REDCHURCH STREET BLUES – Philip Morgan Lewis (8)
CHEER UP BABY – Inhaler (17)
I LOVE YOU – Fontaines D.C. (18)
WILD CHILD – The Black Keys (25)
SLEEP – Gooseberry (20)
CHASING TRAINS – HULLAH (21)
HEAD IN THE CLOUDS – Thunder Fox (5)
LOVE DIES YOUNG – Foo Fighters (14)
WILD – Spoon (26)
MY LOVE – Florence + the Machine (27)
ONCE TWICE MELODY – Beach House (19)
CHAPSTICK – COIN (15)
LA CIENEGA – Chief Springs (28)
ON MY KNEES – RÜFÜS DU SOL (29)
THE HURT WITHIN – Holy Coves (30)
VIRGINIA (WIND IN THE NIGHT) – The Head and the Heart (N)
There’s so much new music being released these days that it’s already time for another installment of Fresh New Tracks. Today I’m featuring new songs by (in alphabetical order) Virginia-based singer-songwriter The Frontier, British rock band Partisan, and Montana-based singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie. All three singles were released yesterday, April 8th.
THE FRONTIER – “Closer”
The Frontier is the music project of singer-songwriter Jake Mimikos, who’s based in northern Virginia. An enormously talented, gracious and funny guy, he’s released an impressive amount of music both as a band and a solo artist under The Frontier moniker since around 2015, and we’ve followed each other on social media for nearly that long. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted. As with many singer-songwriters, Jake’s songs are often inspired by personal experiences, and touch on such topics as love, relationships and loss. He prefers to write lyrics that are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend. I’ve loved all of his songs, and have featured many of them on this blog over the years. Two of his singles, “Dark Places” (from 2019) and “Can We Go Back” (from 2021) went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, while “Sleep” (released in late 2020) reached #2.
On his latest single “Closer“, The Frontier delivers more of the catchy and melodic pop-rock we’ve come to love and expect from him. The song is more upbeat and pop-oriented than some of his previous releases, with a bouncy, guitar-driven groove and colorful synths nicely complementing the optimistic lyrics. About the song, Jake told Cool Top20 blog “This song was written during the pandemic while there was a very intense feeling of loneliness and isolation going on. It’s really a response to that. Wanting to get back to feeling connected again, I wanted to release something that hopefully everyone might be able to relate to and enjoy. I’m hoping that came through in the song. This song is special because it was 100% funded and supported by my friends, family, and fans. Huge thanks to everyone who contributed to my kickstarter to make this happen.“
Manchester, UK rock band Partisan was one of the earlier bands to follow me on Twitter way back in 2016, and I loved their high-energy style of melodic rock right from the start. Now comprised of Stuart Armstrong on guitar and vocals, Dan Albon on bass, and Leo Stanfield on drums, I first wrote about them in August 2016 when I reviewed their fantastic single “Juggernaut”, then two months later had the pleasure of meeting them when they performed at the legendary Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip. I featured them a second time in June 2018 when I reviewed their single “Oxygen.” They followed with three more singles over the next two years, before the pandemic brought things to a halt.
Now, I’m happy to report that the guys are back with a brilliant new single “Animal“. It’s their first new music in over two years, and was definitely worth the wait. The song is both melodically beautiful and intensely satisfying from a rock perspective. It’s an electrifying stomper, highlighted by Stuart’s gorgeous, intricate guitar work, Dan’s driving bassline and Leo’s galloping drumbeats. I love Stuart’s beautiful tenor singing voice, which sounds better than ever here. The lyrics speak to the inherent dichotomy that exists with physical love and lust, namely that we often want a bit of both devil and angel in a romantic partner, but more heavily oriented toward the latter, of course: “Give me some more of that modern love. One from below, and two from above. Animal.” I love this song, and cannot get enough of it!
JOHNNY RITCHIE – “Too Much Trouble“ featuring Jay Davis
Johnny Ritchie is an engaging and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Great Falls, Montana. With a lifelong love for music, he began learning to play piano and drums as a young child, then went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago, and in 2020 earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as providing lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation. He also writes and records music in which he fuses alternative and experimental rock with neo-psychedelia and contemporary jazz to create incredibly fascinating soundscapes.
In March 2021 he released his debut single “Social Robots”, a song addressing human behavior and social media consumption following the tragedy of the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL (which I reviewed). He followed with “Tired of the Media”, a song decrying the scare tactics so often used by the media. Now he returns with another socially topical single, “Too MuchTrouble“, which touches on the superficiality of many of our interpersonal interactions these days, specifically the feelings of emptiness, disconnectedness and isolation that often result from using dating apps. Social media platforms were supposed to bring us closer together, but as Johnny noted to me, they “ironically make us feel more disconnected from those traits of human connection that we so desperately desire: love, physical touch, understanding and acceptance.”
Musically, the song has an incredible arrangement and sophisticated jazzy vibe, dominated by a fabulous soulful organ and deliciously funky bass groove. The trippy psychedelic synths, subtle guitar notes and crisp percussion are perfection, and nicely complemented by some well-placed finger snaps adding even more coolness to the proceedings. The marvelous solo at the end was performed by his friend Jay Davis on an electric wind instrument. Johnny’s smooth, low-key vocals are wonderful too, exuding just the right amount of emotion as he sadly ponders “Is it too much trouble, baby, to want to know your mind? / I want to connect, skin on skin contact. But it’s only video call dates, swiping to find a mate. Nothing seems to last more than a day.”
One of my best new finds in 2021 was British psychedelic pop/rock collective Solar Eyes. Based in Birmingham and formed little more than a year ago, the trio is comprised of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Glenn Smyth, Tom Ford and Sebastian Maynard-Francis, who together play an arresting style of pop/rock awash in colorful psychedelic grooves, twangy surf guitars and dreamy cinematic synths. The moment I heard their music I became a fan, and happily reviewed their fantastic singles “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship” and “I See the Sun” (you can read those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post), both of which included B-side tracks. I loved them all, and “I See the Sun” recently spent four months on my Weekly Top 30, two of them at #1. In February, Solar Eyes signed to Fierce Panda Records, through which they’re now releasing their debut EP Dreaming of the Moon, which drops today.
The EP features five tracks addressing a variety of topics, including love, loss, betrayal and the cost of fame. It opens with the title track “Dreaming of the Moon“, a haunting song with some of those gorgeous and cinematic Spaghetti Western vibes I love so much in “I See the Sun”, only slowed down and with greater emotional intensity. A mix of twangy and grungy guitars are layered over a galloping rhythmic beat and a backdrop of moody psychedelic synths, creating a sense of urgency and longing. Glenn has a pleasing voice, and here his vocals have an almost ethereal quality, which he uses to great effect to share his dreams with a loved one for a better life away from the world: “I been dreaming of the moon, I’m gonna get there soon and build a house for us two loons. I’m gonna drive us there, in my own spaceship, and let the world know that I got out. I been dreaming of the moon, how am I gonna make you see that I, really love you?“
Here’s a cool 360° video of the band performing the song:
“Nothing’s for Free” is a rousing stomper that seems to touch on the perils of being a rock star: “Make some money, girls will find you funny. The bright lights–they make you see, ahhh – nothing’s for free.” I love the song’s exuberant New Order-esque sound, with its lush, cinematic synths, swirling guitars and buoyant driving rhythms. On “Russian Roulette“, Glenn laments of a woman who stole his love and soul, leaving him alone and miserable: “In so much pain, but I’m not to blame. Can you put me out of my misery. The end is here, it’s all coming clear, my sense of freedom has gone.” The music is appropriately dark, with more of those wonderful twangy guitars and moody synths. But the highlight for me are the gorgeous notes from what sounds like a mandolin or balalaika, which combined with the mournful vocal chorus, give the song an almost funereal Russian feel.
“Nobody Knows” is a full-blown rocker, with screaming psychedelic riffs, driving bass and thunderous drums that really get our blood pumping. The biting lyrics take issue with self-appointed people who make decisions that have a major impact on society, but are they right or do they even know what they’re doing? “Ooh burn the witches, ooh they’re just bitches. What did it solve? Nobody cares. / Ooh they’re the rulers, ooh they’re the soldiers, who is in charge? Nobody knows.” The music calms to a lovely interlude as it slowly fades out in the final 40 seconds or so.
The final track “Sitting Here on My own Again” reminds me of the music of another band, but I can’t quite put my finger on who it is. At any rate, it’s a wonderful, upbeat-sounding song, but with bittersweet lyrics about preferring to be alone and unhappy: “I gotta let you go, cos this was too far good. I don’t wanna be happy. I wanna sit on my own and play my guitar to myself and no one can hear what I sing, cos I am on my own. / Crying myself to sleep, and that is just my dream, and don’t you be so sad. It’sjust what we had la, la, la, la, la.” I really like the bouncy melody, and the chiming guitars are particularly enchanting.
Dreaming of the Moon is a fine little EP that nicely showcases Solar Eyes’ impressive creativity, imagination and musicianship. As noted by a fellow music blogger, each song sounds completely different, a good indication of the variety in their sound. I hope they’ll continue making great music together for a very long time.
To coincide with the release of their EP, they’re also giving their first ever live performance as a band tonight at a sold out show at Muthers Studio in Birmingham.