WE KILLED THE LION – Album Review: “Boogie Shoe Blues”

We Killed the Lion is an alternative hard rock band from Chicago I recently learned about when their keyboardist Stan Tencza reached out to me about reviewing their new album Boogie Shoe Blues. Along with Tencza, who also plays keyboards for Chicago alternative/progressive rock band Polarizer (whose album Love from the Underground I reviewed last November), the other band members are Brian Lorenc on guitar & vocals, Joe Gunia on bass & vocals, and Leonard Warren on drums. Formed in 2011, their heavy sound is infused with elements of stoner rock, grunge, psychedelic blues and even a bit of doom to darken things up a bit.

They released their self-titled debut album We Killed the Lion in 2012, then followed two years later with an EP One Way Ride, then a second album Circle of Stars in 2017. After a four-year hiatus, they began work on Boogie Shoe Blues, and dropped the first single “Final Stand” this past April, followed by “Southern Death Trip” in August. Today (Halloween), along with the album’s release, they also release a new video for “Snake Bite”. Though Boogie Shoe Blues contains only eight tracks, three of them are more than six minutes long, making the album feel more substantial than eight tracks would suggest.

Let me state up front that I don’t normally gravitate toward this type of grungy hard rock, however, I listened to the album several times with open ears and an open mind, and found lots to like about it. Opening track “Final Stand” is a fine representation of their signature brawny, dark and dirty sound. The guys get right down to business, grabbing us by the throat with a barrage of grinding buzzsaw riffs, bolstered by a deep, chugging bassline and explosive, pummeling drums that never let up for a second. Lorenc and Gunia’s dual echoed vocals sound ominous as they belt out the violent lyrics speaking of going into battle with an entity that was once an ally but now a bitter enemy: “All out of patience, love turned into vengeance. Run away in fear. Spilling out the blood, spitting out the bones, scratching out the eyes. Pray for your last breath, we’re making our final stand.”

The video for the song shows the band breaking into what appears to be an underground club, whereupon they perform “Final Stand”.

While several of the album’s tracks deal with darker topics, a few others touch on pleasures of the flesh with playful lyrics. On “Come on Get Down“, they sing of showing a hot woman a good time: “Little girl I want to take you downtown. Wanna go for a ride? Get in my backseat and spread your mind. I’m gonna show you a good time.” The song’s a sultry banger, with fantastic gnarly guitars that frequently break into a bone-chilling wail, accompanied by Gunia’s throbbing bassline, Tencza’s aggressive keyboards and Warren’s thunderous percussion. And on the sexy “Peach“, they tell a woman exactly what they have in mind: “I wanna sit on your front porch. I want a sip of your ice tea. I want to gaze at your orchid, yeah. I want to taste your peach meat.” I love the song’s deep, bluesy bassline and sludgy guitars.

Dirty Bones” is a speaker-blowing feast for the ears, with more of those fearsome buzzsaw guitars, and ditto for “Southern Death Trip“, with some of the dirtiest riffs I’ve heard in a long while. The album’s title comes from the song’s lyric “Got the boogie shoe blues.” And just when I think the guys have thrown everything in their sonic arsenal our way, they continue to amaze with the psychedelic monster “Rocket“. The song opens with an onslaught of screaming distortion, followed by a thick, lumbering bassline as the guys begin to sing. Things eventually settle into a tumultuous mix of wailing and grungy riffs, pummeling drums and heavy keyboards, that lumbering bassline still keeping the menacing groove.

I think We Killed the Lion would be a great band to see live, and I really like that their videos show them performing their songs, rather than attempting to act out the narrative of the lyrics (which sometimes works well, but more than often falls flat). The cool video for “Southern Death Trip” shows them performing the song wearing fluorescent body paint.

The last two tracks, “Pick Me Up” and the epic “Snake Bite“, have somewhat of a progressive feel, and feature their signature reverb-soaked psychedelic guitars, thick bass and booming percussion. The latter track is spectacular, highlighted by spine-tingling piercing guitars and some really terrific keyboard organ work by Tencza.

To sort of expand on what I stated earlier, this album grew on me with repeated listens, and I’m truly impressed by We Killed the Lion’s strong songwriting and musicianship. If you like your rock music on the heavier side, with elements of psychedelic, grunge, blues and doom, you will enjoy Boogie Shoe Blues.

Connect with We Killed the Lion:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

Top 30 Songs for October 30-November 5, 2022

Photo by Kirsten Barnett

It’s not often I fall in love with a song the moment I hear it (it usually takes a couple of listens for most songs to grow on me, even from artists and bands I love), but I fell head over heels for the gorgeous “Sex, Drugs, Etc.” by Beach Weather the instant it hit my ears. I’m certain I’ve listened to it over 100 times on Spotify! Interestingly, the song was originally recorded in 2016, and was featured on their debut EP Chit Chat. After releasing a second EP What a Drag, the band went on hiatus as the three members – Nick Santino, Reeve Powers, and Sean Silverman – relocated to different cities and began working on their own solo projects.

They reunited late last year, and began recording their forthcoming debut album Pineapple Sunrise, featuring their single “Unlovable”, which dropped August 11, their first release in five years. In the meantime, “Sex, Drugs, Etc.” went viral on TikTok, and started getting airplay on AltNation and alternative radio stations. I was immediately struck by the song’s dreamy melody, Nick’s captivating vocals and the guys’ beautiful harmonies, and it debuted on both the Billboard Alternative Airplay and my own Top 30 chart in early September. Now, after hovering in the top 5 the past few weeks, the song takes over the #1 spot on my Weekly Top 30. It’s also now #1 on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. “Floating on my low-key vibe” indeed!

In other chart developments, Wet Leg‘s delightfully cheeky “Wet Dream” enters the top 10, while the lovely “SNAP” by Rosa Linn is this week’s biggest upward mover, climbing seven spots to #19. Four songs enter my chart this week. Debuting at #26 is The 1975‘s “I’m in Love With You”, replacing “Part of the Band” which dropped off the chart; “I.N.V.U.” by British band Kid Kapichi at #28; “Shadows in the Dark” by the amazing duo The Star Crumbles at #29; and “Scared Together” by Silversun Pickups at #30.

  1. SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (2)
  2. BAD HABIT – Steve Lacy (1)
  3. MY BABE – Spoon (3)
  4. CRACKER ISLAND – Gorillaz featuring Thundercat (6)
  5. BOY – The Killers (4)
  6. HERE TO FOREVER – Death Cab for Cutie (5)
  7. PARTY4ONE – dwi (9)
  8. THE ECHO – A.A. Williams (10)
  9. PLEASE WRITE RESPONSIBLY – Granfalloon (7)
  10. WET DREAM – Wet Leg (11)
  11. SISTERS – pMad (13)
  12. THESE ARE THE DAYS – Inhaler (14)
  13. TEK IT – Cafuné (8)
  14. SPIT OF YOU – Sam Fender (17)
  15. WHITE HORSES – Art Block (18)
  16. CREST OF THE WAVE – Foals (19)
  17. I LIKE YOU (A HAPPIER SONG) – Post Malone & Doja Cat (20)
  18. WEIRD GOODBYES – The National featuring Bon Iver (22)
  19. SNAP – Rosa Linn (26)
  20. BITTER – Wild Horse (16)
  21. TONIGHT – Phoenix featuring Ezra Koenig (27)
  22. SUPERMODEL – Måneskin (12)
  23. TIPPA MY TONGUE – Red Hot Chili Peppers (25)
  24. BONES – Imagine Dragons (15)
  25. NATURAL BORN KILLER – Highly Suspect (28)
  26. I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU – The 1975 (N)
  27. OFFCUTS – Mount Famine (30)
  28. I.N.V.U. – Kid Kapichi (N)
  29. SHADOWS IN THE DARK – The Star Crumbles (N)
  30. SCARED TOGETHER – Silversun Pickups (N)

LEWCA – Album Review: “Friday Night Rockstar”

England-born, and now France-based, singer-songwriter and musician Lewca is one of the most creative, funny and irreverent artists I’ve come across, with a deliciously bawdy sense of humour. As he cheekily explains in his bio, “Lewca was born in a squat in Brixton, by age nineteen he was living in a squat in Paris, go figure… After studying fine art and dabbling in film, he started making music just before he was too old to die young. His influences range from class A drugs to expensive rum, and also The Clash, A$AP Rocky, Sleaford Mods, LCD Soundsystem, Bob Dylan, Eminem, Tom Waits…whoever is making decent music. He currently lives in Normandy, has three kids and a mortgage, and a semi-domesticated hedgehog named ‘Sonic’.

Lewca’s been making music for years, and after being in a few bands “that fell apart for the usual reasons”, he decided to embark on his own music project as Lewca in 2018. Although he collaborates with lots of different musicians on his projects (most often ex band members or musicians he’s met on Twitter) his main partner in crime is S.O.A.P. (shorthand for Son of A Pitch), a Parisian composer, producer, drum & bass DJ and beatmaker he met when they shared a billing at a gig together in 2013. Their partnership grew from a shared love of wonky beats, British soundscapes and a healthy dose of humour, along with an “expectation of absolute world domination and unfathomable wealth, obviously”. They’re also both fervent players of Dragon Ball Fighterz, and if the music thing doesn’t pan out they’re considering pro gaming as a viable alternative.

Since 2018, they’ve released three EPs, which culminated in a colossal album Year One, released this past June, featuring all 17 tracks originally contained in the three EPs. In addition, the dynamic duo have been working for the last eighteen months on two more albums: Friday Night Rockstar, set for release on December 16th, and Boombap for Boomers, to be released some time in 2023. It’s the first of these, Friday Night Rockstar, I’m reviewing today.

The album features 13 tracks addressing such topics as the passage of time, personal doubts and demons, substance abuse, romantic love, and dreams that may never come true, expressed through Lewca’s honest and heartfelt, sometimes shocking, and often laugh-out-loud funny lyrics. The superb music and beats, composed by S.O.A.P. and influenced by the music they both loved while growing up, range from 80’s new wave and 90’s alternative rock to modern lo-fi indie pop and hip hop. Besides Lewca and S.O.A.P., additional vocals and/or instrumentals were performed by the artists Mondo Trasho, Victory Flow, Oh! Paulo, Chris James Willows, Ambre, Orange G, The JMC, Shark Star, Zar Acoustic, Ian Williamson, Ben Todd and Ben Samama.

The album opens with “Such a Cunt“, which I loved the moment I heard it. The lyrics are so wonderful I want to quote them all (but will control myself). It starts off with what sounds like Lewca clicking start on a tape recording of piano music while he addresses an audience from a stage: “Good evening. Thank you so much for coming out, ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honor. I love you so much. Hi mom. This is a song about cheese.” He than launches into song, admonishing us to live our lives to the fullest, but also try and be a nice person while doing our thing: “Done a lot of crazy shit in my life, but I’d do it all again. Dodged a bullet maybe once or twice. Played the fool every now and then. Hey, you, yeah you in the back, do you get what I’m trying to say? We’re gonna die, mate, that’s a fact, so let the chips fall where they may. But most importantly, stop being such a cunt!” The song has a skittering drum & bass groove, with wobbly industrial synths and sharp percussion, nicely accented by some colorful piano keys and delightfully twangy guitars. Lewca’s gritty vocals are wonderful, oozing with in-your-face swagger that’s a glorious mash-up of Mick Jagger, Joe Strummer and Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods.

Next up is the raucous title track “Friday Night Rockstar“, featuring British garage rock band Mondo Trasho. The lyrics are a humorous take on a guy who thinks he’d gonna be rock’s next big thing, except he’s been waiting for it to happen for years: “World famous in my neighbourhood. If I touch my dick, just assume that I’m touching wood. I could take Tyson, in his fucking prime. Two glasses and a bottle and I’ll make that bitch mine. Ain’t even made it. Already overrated. If a fuck was given mate, I never gave it. Since the late nineties, I’ve been sedated. Still ain’t got a deal, but it’s being negotiate./ They say I got million dollar mind. Shit I ain’t never made a dime. Killing it one weekend at a time. I’m a part time punk, but when I’m drunk I’m a rockstar. Bitch, I’m a rockstar. Friday night rockstar.

Harmony Korine” is a poignant but amusing look back at his childhood that seemed more innocent. To a bouncy new wave groove, Lewca sings “My generation, born in the 80s, lived in a world that didn’t give a fuck mate. The Iron Curtain, the Iron Lady, and my old man chain-smoking in the car with the windows up, and the kids in the back with no seat belts on./ We were poor, like the kids next door. It was my childhood, and I wished for no other./ The world that I knew ain’t coming back. Gotta try and face the facts, and get a move on./ Guess we ran out of time, cuz we ain’t kids no more. And Harmony Korine is like 50 now.”

One of the many things I love about the album is that every song sounds completely different, surprising us as each new track unfolds. “A Million Things” has an endearing, lighthearted groove, with quirky, carnival-like synths and Lewca’s alternately gruff and playful vocals as he sings about some of the shit that’s bothering him, apologizing that he “may be an asshole, but it ain’t by design.” He expands on this theme on “Everyday Struggle“, bemoaning the drudgeries of making a living to a rousing trip hop beat: “Six in the morning, I’m at the train station. Every damn day I take the same destination. Gotta get to work, I gotta pay them bills. Pay for them nappies and them cheap ass thrills. Nine hour shifts all day on your feet. Five days a week just to make ends meet. It’s hard labor, yet I ain’t done no crime. I’m selling my life, one day at a time. Oh lord, it’s an everyday struggle.”

Forget My Name” is a beautiful, deeply affecting track about the idea of success, and that even though you’re at rock bottom, you’re never going to stop chasing that dream: “I’m gonna make, I can fuckin’ take it. Man I’m on a roll now. I’m the king of rock’n’roll now. Don’t forget my name.” Though I love Lewca’s gruff, melancholy vocals, the highlight for me are the stunning soulful vocals by Maryland-based transgender artist Victory Flow. Musically, the song features gorgeous intricate guitar work, somber piano keys, and achingly beautiful notes from a baby trombone.

One of my favorite songs (out of an album full of favorites) is “Incredible“, featuring added vocals by Chris James Willows and Ambre. Over a languid, drum and bass-driven groove, Lewca cheekily raps about his ‘I don’t give a fuck’ approach to music: “I’m at a party and I’m off my face. Falling around, I’m all over the place. High as fuck, I just have to sing. Can’t contain the diva within./ People let me know they ain’t digging the flow. But now I got the the microphone, I ain’t never letting go. I hope you got a sense of humour, turn up the fucking boomer. I don’t give a fuck If I’m ruining the song. Got a mic in hand this is where I belong. Anyway mate, these drugs are way too strong. Ain’t got a fucking clue what the fuck’s going on.” Then we hear an adoring girl, sung by Ambre, croon “You’re so wicked baby, loving your song. Gonna listen to ya all night long“, to which he replies “You’re gonna hear me baby all night long” followed by Chris James Willows’ chorus of “I feel incredible, I feel fucking awesome.” I love it!

The great songs keep on coming, and by now I’m thinking that Friday Night Rockstar might just be one of my favorite albums of the year. “The Love Within” is a hilarious love song that will never get played on the radio. To S.O.A.P.’s deliciously funky dub step beat, Lewca croons to his woman “I only wanna see you smile. I’d drive a thousand fucking miles. Girl I got you under my skin. I need to feel the love within.” But then he gets very sexually explicit in his adoration for her as he raps “I love looking in your eyes when you suck my dick, and listening to your sigh when I licked your clit. When I’m up between your thighs, when I cum on your tits.”

The next few songs touch on the highs and lows of rock stardom. On “Radio Gigolo“, Lewca sings of his dreams of becoming a huge star with a hit song, and willingness to sell himself out to get there: “One day they’ll play my song on the radio. They’ll play it all day long on the radio. I’ll feel like 10 feet tall. Big shots will take my call./ One day I’ll sell myself like a gigolo. I’ll be like someone else I don’t even know. So hungry for fame, I’ll even sell my name, for a spicy chicken wing on some TV show.” Opening with words spoken in French by S.O.A.P., “Golden God” transitions into a trap song with Lewca rapping about how his identity has been subsumed by his rockstar persona: “I’m a golden god, ex officio. Least that’s what I’m told. You can see it all in the video./ Guess I must have lost my mind somehow, somewhere along the line. Take a look into my eyes, mate, I’m not there./ I guess I’m strange mate, yeah I’m all over the place. I’ll keep on being strange until they turn out the light.

Lewca lets loose on “A Song“, a wonderfully frantic and trippy punk song with a bit of an East Indian vibe, thanks to what sounds like a sitar. He rapidly raps through a litany of grievances, with the recipients of his complaints telling him to “write a fucking song about it“. He really channels his inner Mick Jagger on “I Fell in Love With a Serial Killer“, which sounds like a song the Stones forgot to record. I love the rousing rock’n’roll groove, and the guitars and percussion are fantastic. Album closer “Smoke in the Air” is wonderful too, with a rapid drum-bass groove, highlighted by wobbly synths, jangly guitars and skittering percussion. Throughout the album, I’ve been blown away by S.O.A.P.’s amazing beats and instrumentation, and this song nicely showcases his impressive talents.

I don’t what more I can say about Friday Night Rockstar that I haven’t already written, except to say that I absolutely love it! Lewca and S.O.A.P. have really outdone themselves here in the creation of a unique and brilliant album, for which they should be quite proud. The various artists who contributed vocals and/or instrumentals to the project must also be commended as well.

Though the album won’t be released until mid-December, Lewca wanted me to review it well in advance, in the hopes of generating interest and pre-saves prior to it’s official release. Besides, I want as many people as possible to hear this album. He’s already dropped two singles from the album, “Friday Night Rockstar” and “Incredible”, with plans to drop a couple more over the next month. He’s provided me with the following Bandcamp link to allow readers of this post to listen to the entire album:

You can pre-save Friday Night Rockstar on one of these platforms

To learn more about Lewca, check out his Website

Connect with him on FacebookTwitterInstagramTikTok

Stream his music on SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp

CRYSTAL CITIES – Single Review: “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”

Time seems to fly by at an ever-increasing speed, and it’s hard to believe that it’s been five and a half years since I first wrote about Australian alternative dream rock band Crystal Cities, when I featured their captivating song “Who’s Gonna Save Us Now” in April 2017. I’ve been a huge fan of the Sydney-based act ever since, and have written about them several more times over the years (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post). I can honestly state that I’ve loved every single one of their songs without exception, especially their stunning single “Under the Cold Light of the Moon”, which I ranked #10 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019.

The supremely talented trio consists of Geoff Rana on lead vocals, guitars and keyboards, Jared King on bass and backing vocals, and Neel Shukla, who earlier this year replaced long-time drummer Daniel Conte, on drums and percussion. Since the release of their debut single “Tell Me Now” in 2016, they’ve released numerous singles, an EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now in 2017, and two albums, Under the Cold Light of the Moon in 2019, and Hold Me Close Hold Me Tight, in October 2021. Now, nearly a year to the day later, they return with a brand new single “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore“. The song was produced and engineered by Geoff in his bedroom studio in Sydney, and mixed and mastered by Paul Lani in Los Angeles. ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣

It’s always great hearing new music by Crystal Cities, and I couldn’t be happier. As to be expected, it’s another outstanding song, featuring their signature swirling melodies and soaring anthemic choruses. Geoff lays down a rousing mix of jangly and chugging riffs, while Jared’s nimble bassline and Neel’s assertive thumping drumbeats keep the powerful rhythmic groove. Geoff’s warm string and brass synths are marvelous, adding an arresting cinematic feel to the proceedings. I’ve always loved his emotive, slightly raspy vocals, which sound even deeper and more impassioned here.

Geoff elaborates about his inspiration for writing the song (which also nicely articulates my own struggles with being a music blogger): “I happened to be going through one of those ‘down’ moments where giving up music and writing songs seemed like the best option for moving forward with my life…Wild peaks of motivation followed by troughs of listlessness are simply part of the experience of being a creative person struggling to find some semblance of success in an ever-changing world. Ironically, it was when I was feeling at my lowest that I happened to sit down with my guitar and start strumming the opening chords for ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’. It was through that song that I found myself reuniting with why I write songs and why I love it so much. ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ is about the experience of losing something or someone you once loved, and then the joy you get from reconnecting with, or rediscovering that something or someone.”

Now, these bridges, they burn
Man, it’s harder to learn
If they’ve called your name
And I watch from the shore
Darling, I’ve heard it all
Yeah, it’s all the same
And we can sit here and watch
As the seasons get lost
In these faraway dreams
In these faraway dreams

Man, these faces they break
Into tiny mistakes
Yeah, we’ve met before
And I’ve crawled from the floor
Made my way out the door
Into cold-hearted streets
And watch the cigarette burn
Through the hole in my hand
I’m the getaway scene
I’m the getaway scene

Yeah, I’ve been driving through this breakup
And I’ve been waiting out this storm
I’ve been holding all these aces
But I’ve been holding on too long
Cause’ love, it don’t live here anymore
Anymore

Matter of fact
Well, I’m willing to bet
It’s just what they say
And I’m starting to choke
Through the whiskey and smoke
But my heart says to stay
Well, it all tastes the same
Yeah, it all tastes the same

Yeah, I’ve been driving through this breakup
And I’ve been waiting out this storm
I’ve been holding all these aces
But I’ve been holding on too long
Cause’ love, it don’t live here anymore
Anymore

The wonderful cover art for the single was created by Mikey Hart, with voiceover artist, actor and producer Chris Miller portraying the clown. The video was directed and edited by Arron Davis, with Miller playing the sad clown, and Daniel Dydey helping out on guitar duties while Geoff sang.

Connect with Crystal Cities:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes 

Top 30 Songs for October 23-29, 2022

Steve Lacy remains at #1 for a second week on my Top 30 chart with his endearing single “Bad Habit”, while Beach Weather‘s dreamy “Sex, Drugs, Etc.” moves up to #2, with Spoon‘s “My Babe” right behind at #3. Entering the top 10 are the delightful “Party4One” by the wildly creative Canadian artist dwi, climbing three spots to #9, and the magnificent “The Echo” by immensely talented British singer-songwriter A.A. Williams, leaping eight spots to #10.

Two songs make their debut this week: the lovely ballad “SNAP” by Armenian singer-songwriter Rosa Linn (aka Roza Kostandyan), who represented her country with the song at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, enters at #26; and “Offcuts” by British alternative pop-rock band Mount Famine, which enters at #30. It’s their second appearance on my Top 30 chart this year; their previous single “Distance” spent 11 weeks on my chart this past April-June.

  1. BAD HABIT – Steve Lacy (1)
  2. SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (4)
  3. MY BABE – Spoon (5)
  4. BOY – The Killers (2)
  5. HERE TO FOREVER – Death Cab for Cutie (3)
  6. CRACKER ISLAND – Gorillaz featuring Thundercat (7)
  7. PLEASE WRITE RESPONSIBLY – Granfalloon (6)
  8. TEK IT – Cafuné (8)
  9. PARTY4ONE – dwi (12)
  10. THE ECHO – A.A. Williams (18)
  11. WET DREAM – Wet Leg (15)
  12. SUPERMODEL – Måneskin (9)
  13. SISTERS – pMad (16)
  14. THESE ARE THE DAYS – Inhaler (17)
  15. BONES – Imagine Dragons (10)
  16. BITTER – Wild Horse (19)
  17. SPIT OF YOU – Sam Fender (21)
  18. WHITE HORSES – Art Block (22)
  19. CREST OF THE WAVE – Foals (23)
  20. I LIKE YOU (A HAPPIER SONG) – Post Malone & Doja Cat (24)
  21. PART OF THE BAND – The 1975 (11)
  22. WEIRD GOODBYES – The National featuring Bon Iver (27)
  23. FREE – Florence + the Machine (13)
  24. SOMETHING LOUD – Jimmy Eat World (14)
  25. TIPPA MY TONGUE – Red Hot Chili Peppers (28)
  26. SNAP – Rosa Linn (N)
  27. TONIGHT – Phoenix featuring Ezra Koenig (30)
  28. NATURAL BORN KILLER – Highly Suspect (29)
  29. BROKEN RECORD – NAVE (20)
  30. OFFCUTS – Mount Famine (N)

New Song of the Week: “If I Could Fall Into the Skies” by Marianne Kesler

Marianne Kesler is a Dayton, Ohio-based singer-songwriter with a life-long love for music. A prolific artist, she’s been writing and recording music for over 25 years, and has released five albums and more than 10 singles as a solo artist. She’s also collaborated with numerous other artists, including neo-soul/pop/folk artist Leah Thompson, with whom she co-wrote over 30 songs, as well as her friend Kate Stanton, as part of a duo named Every Lovely Thing, who I featured in an Artist Spotlight nearly four years ago. On top of all that, she’s also written a three-volume trilogy of free verse poetry/prose and photography.

Her pleasing style of folk/pop has earned her comparisons to such artists as Judy Collins, Carole King, Aimee Mann and Sheryl Crow. In fact, she cheekily describes her sound this way: “Imagine if Joni Mitchell got together with Leonard Cohen for a writing session at the coffeehouse where Neil Young and the Counting Crows were playing, folk artist Jan Krist was singing, Tori & Fiona were pouting, Over The Rhine & Aimee Mann opened, and Santana stopped by to play some smokin’ guitar…Yeah, It sounds something like that!

Today, Marianne has dropped a hauntingly beautiful new single “If I Could Fall Into the Skies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Her first release of 2022, it’s a melodically simple but impactful song, dominated by a somber but lovely piano movement, and accompanied by airy synths that create an enchanting backdrop for her gentle, ethereal vocals. My only criticism, and it’s a minor one, is that I wish Marianne’s vocals were a bit more pronounced, as the bold piano keys sometimes overpower her delicate vocals. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful track.

The bittersweet lyrics speak of wanting to know someone – perhaps a romantic interest, but it could apply to any special friendship – better, but being unable to break through to them:

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Staring at the water it appears as though the world is upside down
Summer skies reflected there are shimmering like clouds upon the ground         
I could jump right now … If I just knew how

Gazing in your eyes I glimpse a depth I’ve never noticed there before
Subtle undertow beneath the surface has me aching to explore           
I could jump right now … If I just knew how
 
If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Standing on the edge with everything I’ve ever wanted down below
Painfully aware I’ve never told you how I feel or let you know             
But I could jump right now … If I just knew how
Catch a falling star … Landing where you are 

Starlit skies … In your eyes
Upside down … Spun around 
’Til the world seems out of focus as I fall …

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay.

Marianne created a stunning video to accompany the song, about which she has this to say: “This song was inspired by seeing how the sky was reflected through a window onto my glass top desk ~ looking as though I could fall right into it! I tried to shoot video footage that captured this same ‘world upside down’ reflection (mostly on water) to add visuals to these lyrics of longing.”

Connect with Marianne:  FacebookTwitter 

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

VULTURE PARTY – Album Review: “Archipelago”

Vulture Party is a creative Scottish three-piece who, in their own words, make “disquieting Alt Pop for the socially conscious“. Based in Falkirk, a large town located roughly halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the band consists of Louise Ward on vocals and piano, David King on vocals, guitar and synths, and Dickson Telfer on bass and backing vocals. Their pleasing sound is delivered with an array of styles ranging from infectious, new-wave infused dance-pop to moody, introspective piano compositions, and featuring lovely piano keys, bewitching synths and sublime vocal harmonies. Having both male and female vocalists gives their music even greater richness and depth.

I first featured Vulture Party this past June when I reviewed their marvelous dance-pop single “Blood Wolf Moon”. Now they return with their second album Archipelago, released on October 14th via the Scottish not-for-profit independent record label Last Night From Glasgow. The album features nine tracks, including “Blood Wolf Moon” and their previously-released singles “Afterlife” and “Iso Disco”.

About the album, the band explains: “Archipelago is our second album as it was never intended. Back in 2020, we were ready to hit the studio to lay down a fully written, good-to-go second album, but . . . enter pandemic, and thus a re-think. What transpired was a change of direction and a new set of songs, written and put together from a distance. Each of us (David, Louise and Dickson) our own little island, we were forced – like many others – to collaborate in a new and government-rule-approved way. Sending files back and forth using a variety of pieces of kit, and software, we created Archipelago, an album about fear, isolation and hope. Using driving electronic beats, pulsing grooves and big hooks, the album reflects on love, family and friendship being all that counts when the rest of the world seems so bleak and far away.”

All nine tracks on Archipelago are solid, but I’ll touch on my favorites and those I feel are standouts. Opening track “Better Days Will Come” kind of sets the album’s overall theme of hope and resilience in these trying times – that no matter how bleak things may seem at the moment, we need to hold onto the things that matter most: “In the darkness, in the darkness, in the darkness we find our friend. In the sadness, in the sadness, in the sadness, we don’t pretend. Better days will come, better days will come, if you want them to.” The languid trip hop groove, delicate piano keys and fuzzy synths create a soothing backdrop for Louise and David’s comforting vocal harmonies, all of which wrap us in a warm blanket of sound.

My favorite song on the album is “Blood Wolf Moon“, a flawlessly-crafted and addictive dance-pop gem. Essentially a love song with simple lyrics like “Give me your love. It’s all I need“, Vulture Party decided to bring the song to life with a charming video, created under the direction of Neil McKenzie of Keep it Creative. It tells the story of a female werewolf, played by Louise, searching for human contact and finding love through music and dance.

Another favorite is “Ride That Feeling“, a beautiful song about freeing oneself of negative thoughts and obsessions, and instead allowing positive influences and experiences to flourish, in the hopes of living a better life: “You are free if you want to be. No more hiding in the dark. Let it all go. Ride that feeling again.” Musically, the song starts off slowly, with a serene, almost atmospheric vibe, but eventually becomes more intense, with gritty synths and harsh, jangly guitar notes before calming back down.

Afterlife” is a delightfully upbeat track which David describes as “a light-hearted and playful contemplation of a life after death.” And though not a dance song per se, its infectious beat will most definitely have your toes tapping and hips swaying. In sharp contrast, “Leave Your Parables” is a dark, rather unsettling track, with somber piano keys, eerie synths and a spooky droning male vocal, all set to a funereal melody. I’m not sure, but the lyrics seem to speak of connecting with a ghostly spirit, and possibly letting go of fears of the unknown: “Lay down your parables at the doorway. Cause when I’m through, you’ll be done. Maybe if you’re ready, look at me. Now here comes the light. Take in the moment, hold it, let in your delight. I’m slow in my movements. Don’t scare him away. He’s slow in his movements. He scares me away.”

Archipelago ends on a highly satisfying note with the gospel-like “Let Love Shine (On Your Misery Now)“, which brings the album’s theme of the power of love and friendship full circle. I love the soaring melody, warm sweeping synths, twangy guitar and arresting vocal harmonies. At 6:19 minutes, it’s a rather long song, and when first hearing it, I thought it went on a bit too long. But after repeated listens, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s length is just right. It’s the perfect ending to a lovely, uplifting album.

Connect with Vulture Party:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube

Purchase the digital album on Bandcamp or on pink vinyl through the Last Night From Glasgow website.

BLACKWELL – Single Review: “Six Figure Suitor”

Photo of Ryan and Brandon by Denis Cheng

Blackwell is a new Chicago-based folk rock act comprised of singer-songwriter and guitarist Ryan Loree and drummer Brandon Buffington. Ryan has previously released music under his solo act Draft Evader, which I’ve written about on this blog. The duo just released their debut single “Six Figure Suitor“, a hard-driving rocker that Ryan said has a heavier, poppier sound than many of the other songs they’ve been working on. The song was recorded, mixed and mastered by Joe Scaletta, who also played bass.

The song bursts open with a roiling barrage of Ryan’s grungy guitar, which is soon joined by Brandon’s aggressive drumbeats, along with a throbbing bassline that doesn’t let up. I’ve always liked Ryan’s songwriting and lyricism, and his guitar work and Brandon’s drumming are both outstanding here. Further, Ryan’s plaintive vocals have an honest vulnerability that’s really endearing, and keep sounding better and better as he matures as a musician and singer.

To my ears, the song has a bit of a Gin Blossoms feel, only heavier. I’m also impressed by the tight arrangement and economical production; the song immediately gets right to the point, knocking our socks off in the process, without a single superfluous note or wasted second. It’s rock’n’roll at its finest.

As to the meaning of “Six Figure Suitor”, Ryan told me it’s about two people jumping into a new relationship while still being completely consumed by their pasts. The relationship becomes abusive and toxic, with one partner imposing unfair expectations on the other.

I'm not a six figure suitor baby
And I don't think that I'll ever be
A sniper in the U.S. Army
He's content to dance on my grave
But he's got a six shooter waiting
He's been hiding in your driveway

And it won't be long, til we find God
Well he's been lost, but so has paradise

So I guess we've outgrown the honeymoon phase
But disappointment on your face
Tells a lyric I can't think of 
I'm not a six-figure suitor baby
And I don't think that I'll ever be
A sniper in the U.S. Army
 
And it won't be long, til we find God
Well she's been lost, but so has paradise

And it won't be long, til we find God
Well they've been lost, but so has paradise

“Six Figure Suitor” is a very fine debut effort by these two talented musicians. Ryan told me they have lots of songs ready to go, including an EP of acoustic songs, and I can’t wait to hear them.

Top 30 Songs for October 16-22, 2022

Southern California-based singer-songwriter Steve Lacy has been making music since his teens, not only as a solo act and guitarist for alternative R&B band The Internet, but also as a producer who’s worked with such acts as Denzel Curry, Kendrick Lamar, Ravyn Lenae, Solange, Mac Miller and Vampire Weekend. But it’s his monster hit “Bad Habit”, from his second album Gemini Rights, that’s finally catapulted the 24-year old to stardom. Not only is it his first song as a solo artist to chart in the U.S., it’s gone all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, also becoming the first song ever to simultaneously top the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, Hot R&B Songs and Hot Rock & Alternative Songs charts. And this week, it also tops my own Top 30 chart.

It’s a sweet song, with lyrics directed to someone he finds attractive, but thinking he wasn’t good enough, never had to courage to make a move: “I bite my tongue, it’s a bad habit. Kinda mad that I didn’t take a stab at it. Thought you were too good for me, my dear. Never gave me time of day, my dear. It’s okay, things happen for reasons that I think are sure, yeah.” But later in the song, he calls her out for toying with his emotions: “You grabbin’ me hard ’cause you know what you found. It’s biscuits, it’s gravy, babe.” It has an irresistible lo-fi funk-pop vibe, and as someone on YouTube put it so perfectly, it’s “one of those songs that feels nostalgic even though it’s new”.

In other chart developments, “Cracker Island” by Gorillaz, featuring Thundercat, finally enters the top 10 at #7, and three songs make their debut at #s 28-30: “Tippa My Tongue” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers (which just reached #1 on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, but took a while to click with me), “Natural Born Killer” by Highly Suspect, and “Tonight” by Phoenix, featuring Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. I didn’t care for their odd previous single “Alpha Zulu”, but really like “Tonight”, and Ezra Koenig’s pleasing vocals are a nice addition.

  1. BAD HABIT – Steve Lacy (3)
  2. BOY – The Killers (1)
  3. HERE TO FOREVER – Death Cab for Cutie (2)
  4. SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (4)
  5. MY BABE – Spoon (5)
  6. PLEASE WRITE RESPONSIBLY – Granfalloon (7)
  7. CRACKER ISLAND – Gorillaz featuring Thundercat (11)
  8. TEK IT – Cafuné (6)
  9. SUPERMODEL – Måneskin (8)
  10. BONES – Imagine Dragons (9)
  11. PART OF THE BAND – The 1975 (10)
  12. PARTY4ONE – dwi (16)
  13. FREE – Florence + the Machine (13)
  14. SOMETHING LOUD – Jimmy Eat World (14)
  15. WET DREAM – Wet Leg (19)
  16. SISTERS – pMad (18)
  17. THESE ARE THE DAYS – Inhaler (21)
  18. THE ECHO – A.A. Williams (22)
  19. BITTER – Wild Horse (20)
  20. BROKEN RECORD – NAVE (12)
  21. SPIT OF YOU – Sam Fender (24)
  22. WHITE HORSES – Art Block (25)
  23. CREST OF THE WAVE – Foals (26)
  24. I LIKE YOU (A HAPPIER SONG) – Post Malone & Doja Cat (27)
  25. UNTIL I FOUND YOU – Stephen Sanchez (15)
  26. GIANTS – WALK THE MOON (17)
  27. WEIRD GOODBYES – The National featuring Bon Iver (30)
  28. TIPPA MY TONGUE – Red Hot Chili Peppers (N)
  29. NATURAL BORN KILLER – Highly Suspect (N)
  30. TONIGHT – Phoenix featuring Ezra Koenig (N)

HOLY COVES – Album Review: “Druids and Bards”

One of my favorite music finds of 2022 has been Welsh alternative psychedelic rock collective Holy Coves, who I discovered this past February as a guest moderator for Fresh On The Net, an independent music blog launched in 2009 by renowned BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Tom Robinson. As a guest moderator, my task was to listen to all 170 songs submitted that particular week, and choose my top five favorites of the bunch, along with any others I particularly liked. One of my five picks was the Holy Coves single “The Hurt Within”. The darkly beautiful song made me an instant fan of theirs, and I liked it so much that it spent 11 weeks on my Top 30 chart.  

They quickly followed “The Hurt Within” with their brooding stomper “Desert Storm” in late April (which I reviewed), then “Grey” in June, another gorgeous single that recently finished a 10-week run on my Top 30 chart. Now they’re back with their long-awaited third album Druids and Bards, released on October 14th by Yr Wyddfa Records. The album features nine tracks, including the three above-named songs. 

I provided quite a bit of background on Holy Coves in my “Desert Storm” review, but will reiterate a few important details about them here. The brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden, a long-time and respected figure in the Welsh music scene, Holy Coves is based in Holy Island, which is itself situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales. Since forming in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing roster 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 in early 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 – John Lawrence on guitar, Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths, Jason Hughes on bass and Spike T Smith on drums – to help with the recording of Druids and Bards. Marsden wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered it. Mixing and mastering was done by Austin, Texas-based music producer Erik Wofford. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the photo below are musician friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.

Photo by Dai Eastwood

Hallmarks of Holy Coves’ dynamic sound are their striking melodies, powerful, driving rhythms, lush, cinematic synths, exquisite layered guitars, and Marsden’s beautiful and sensuous vocals that remind me at times of U2 front man Bono. Druids and Bards features all these attributes and quite a bit more, with songs addressing such topics as love, relationships, struggles with addiction and finding happiness in this often painful and difficult world.

The rousing opening track, “Away We Go“, seems to be about addiction, both to drugs and also the need for a love that cannot last: “I’m talking to myself again. Her web is spun. She’s taking aim. I can see it coming. She wakes me from my lonely haze. Her fire is hot. I feel a crave. The endless days are coming. All I see is you and me. Come on get in, take two my friend. Sail away we go./ She’s gonna break my heart again. I’m a fool for love. What can I say.” I love the song’s rapid, galloping beat and colorful mix of strummed and grungy shredded guitars.

With its powerful stomping groove, courtesy of Hughes’ thumping bassline and Smith’s pummeling drumbeats, the previously-noted “The Hurt Within” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The layered jangly and psychedelic guitar work is superb, nicely accompanied by brooding industrial synths. The lyrics are directed at a woman who broke his heart: “Here’s another song for you to sing today. About all the pain you caused when you went away. How you made me cold and left a hole inside. I wear those scars with pride. Can’t feel the world outside. How I thought I’d healed my skin. Her love is cruel. The hurt within.”

Grey” is another favorite, with it’s exuberant melody, swirling synths and gorgeous jangly and shimmery guitars. The lyrics speak to allowing yourself to wallow in your pain from time to time, but also being open to the healing powers of love and support from others: “Let go and feel again, cos everything is hopeless when you’re grey. Hurt will find you. Love will guide you home.”

Small and Nothing” has a bit of an Oasis sound to my ears, and seems to be about not wanting more than you already have in life: “There’s nothing in this world that I can’t live without. There’s nothing in this world that I can’t dream about. Staying young is all I care about. Cause now, small and nothing I am.” On the other hand, the dramatic “Another Day” calls to mind some of the anthemic songs of U2. It begins slowly, but gradually builds into a cinematic masterpiece. The lyrics speak of working to overcome drug addiction as an answer to numbing life’s pain: “Ticking over day by day. Heavy medicated to heal the pain. What do you feel, what do you crave? Take it slowly, and feel again. And try to remember it’s just another day./ Leave that bottle closed, we can make it if we try.

On the mesmerizing “Desert Storm“, Holy Coves start with another stomping groove, then layers mysterious psychedelic synths, assertive percussion and an arresting blend of droning and gently distorted guitars to create a moody soundscape with a hint of optimism. Marsden’s echoed vocals have a haunting ethereal quality as he details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from drug addiction.

With its hauntingly beautiful melody, gorgeous strummed guitars and folk-rock vibe, “Welcome to the Real World” reminds me a bit of Michael Kiwanuka’s song “Hero”. The lyrics speak of the futility of tilting at windmills and beating your head against the wall: “They had you now, your time is up. Welcome to the real world. It hurts. It hurts. She had you now, your time is up. Welcome to the real world, and you’re gone. You’re gone.” And on the catchy and melodic love song “Until I Fall“, the vibrant chiming guitars are a thing of wonder!

The final track “Taste the Wine” is a monumental tour-de-force, and an aural feast for the senses, with breathtaking guitar work amidst a soaring cinematic soundscape. Despite its 7:15-minute run time, it’s so gorgeous I don’t even notice how long it is. The song is about letting go of slights and painful experiences that can keep you feeling bitter and resentful, unable to move forward and enjoy your life in the here and now: “It doesn’t hurt to try. It wasn’t worth the fight. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so be strong. Hold on til it’s over. Take it slowly, and taste the wine. Sit back, let it flow dear, open your eyes. Chances are you will lose your mind. Might as well enjoy it, it’s your time.”

Druids and Bards is a superb, flawlessly-crafted album, as close to perfect as any I’ve heard this year. Every track is outstanding, making for a joyful listening experience from start to finish. Holy Coves are back, and then some!

Connect with Holy Coves:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp