WAITING FOR SMITH – Single Review: “Lines of Love”

Waiting for Smith Lines of Love

Waiting For Smith is the music project of London-based singer/songwriter Harry Lloyd. His music career was born from adversity; while working as a ski instructor in the French Alps, Harry broke his back in two places during avalanche training. Fighting for his life as he was airlifted to the hospital in a helicopter, he had an epiphany that he should dedicate his life to music. He spent a year in bed recuperating and learning to play guitar, eventually naming his music act Waiting For Smith after a drummer named Smith who always failed to show up for recording sessions.

He quickly got to work writing and recording songs, and since late 2017 he’s released 12 outstanding singles that collectively have been streamed over 345,000 times on Spotify. Given his own life experiences, Lloyd is fascinated by change, which has inspired him to write songs that reflect our innate ability to evolve for the better. He says “I’m also a hopeless romantic, so a lot of my songs focus on the different angles on love. My music is like a free form of therapy and hopes that he can bring a similar liberating feeling of comfort and emotion, to make listeners smile and sometimes cry.” His sincere, accessible lyrics are delivered with upbeat, pleasing melodies, beautiful guitar work and his warm, soothing vocals.

Waiting for Smith

Following up on his previous single “Long Life”, a bouncy and heartwarming Americana-infused song he wrote during his recovery, Waiting for Smith released his latest single “Lines of Love” on June 26th. Produced by Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg (Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, Massive Attack, Natalie Imbruglia, Jeff Beck), the song was inspired by a long-distance phone call from a friend Lloyd had one night while walking around King Cross. The song is a plea for someone to keep the faith and persevere through a difficult time in their life, an assurance that a loved one or friend will always be there for them no matter what, and that everything, even the most trying times, will pass eventually. Lloyd states “I want people to feel hopeful when listening to ‘Lines of Love’, to dance carefree and even raise their hands in an almost tribal sense of unity. We can overcome the speed bumps in the road, our lives and our relationships and that is surely where the good stuff comes from – out of the struggle.

“Lines of Love” has a pleasing folk vibe, opening with Waiting for Smith’s soothing vocals accompanied by his gently strummed acoustic guitar. A kick drum enters as he croons “It’s often difficult to over speculate. One minute you’re up and then you’re down, and that’s your day.  It’ll be alright, it’ll be just fine, it’ll be OK. But I guess we’ll never know. So please hold on to my lines of love, they are strong. And I promise that it won’t be too long now, before we have our house down by the sea in the sun.” As the song progresses, soft percussion is added along with his own backing vocal harmonies, giving the track a fullness of sound and a comforting sense of warmth reflected in the hopeful lyrics. It’s a wonderful song, and another winning single from this very talented young artist.

Follow Waiting for Smith:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud/ Google Play 

New Song of the Week – US3R: “Oasis”

Us3r pic

US3R (pronounced ‘user’, and the artistic moniker of a very nice guy named Kristian Alexander) has been making a name for himself over the past year through his prolific output of great synthwave-inspired electronic pop music and dazzling live performances. Last year the Seattle-based singer-songwriter and composer dropped two albums, beginning in May 2019 with his debut 1985 (named for the year of his birth), then followed in December with INFLUENCE, a brilliant work addressing modern influencer culture and the loss of intimacy in the digital age. Both are outstanding, and I urge my readers to check them out on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review. So far this year, he’s released several new singles, some of them collaborations with other artists. In March, I featured his beautiful song “Forever Blue”, a collaboration with Minneapolis composer Jasper Mitchell (you can read that review here). Now US3R returns with a sunny new single “Oasis“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

A highly creative and talented guy, Kristian came up with the name US3R for his music project through his work in the IT industry. “In computer terminology/operating systems, there are references to “user” in a million different forms. It felt like an archetypal term that represented computer culture… and also in hacker culture, we have a tendency to talk in “leet speak” (where you swap numbers for letters), so, ‘US3R’ is a reference to the hacky nature of my music.“ There are a lot of artists and producers out there making various kinds of electronic music, and US3R seeks to fill a gap by creating his own style of what he calls “electronic grunge that borders on R&B”.

US3R was inspired to write “Oasis” while visiting his mom in Palm Springs earlier this summer. He grew up in the Coachella Valley, where I now live. He explains “I grew up in Palm Springs. Swimming pools, sand everywhere, burning hot sun, a thriving diverse community, and teenage romance. I’ve wanted to write a song that felt this way. During quarantine I flew home and wrote this. This song was FUN to record. I layered my voice like old 90s house tracks. I played my us3r-style vocoders, I threw down some brass synths. Its all of the stuff I love about writing synth music.

And what a great job he does on “Oasis”. Starting with an infectious dance beat that aims straight for the hips, he layers sparkling keyboards, thumping synth bass and those smooth brass synths that give the track a sultry, summery vibe. US3R has a silky-smooth vocal style that’s both pleasing and seductive, and he turns up the heat when he croons “You got me walking through the desert. You got my heart and soul. And I can’t go. Move through the desert, got me craving your oasis.” It’s the perfect song for summer romance and hot pool parties. Makes me wish I was 29 again!

Connect with Us3r:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music /  Soundcloud  / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / Bandcamp

A BLUE FLAME – Album Review: “The Secret Breeze”

British singer/songwriter and musician Richard Stone – who goes by the artistic name A Blue Flame – tells compelling stories about life, love, heartache and loss through poetic, thoughtful lyrics and sublime melodies. His music reflects an eclectic range of influences from doo-wop and old-school pop to easy listening ballads, folk, jazz and rock, delivered with sophisticated and utterly pleasing instrumentals and his smooth, clear vocals. The passage of time and the challenge of keeping the faith – both in God and oneself – are recurring themes in his songs, and while a lot of his lyrics are sad or bittersweet, they’re also lovely to listen to and rarely depressing, offering glimmers of optimism and hope. Stone also has a wry sense of humor that shines through on some of his songs.

A Blue Flame2

I first featured Leicester-based A Blue Flame on this blog back in October 2016, when I reviewed his beautiful debut album What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains. In January 2018, I reviewed his equally superb follow-up album When Your Whole World Turns to Dust, which he released in September 2017. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the bottom of this page.) Now he’s about to drop his third album The Secret Breeze, set for release on August 17th, and which I’m previewing today.

Stone writes all his songs, sings vocals and plays guitar, and arranges them with assistance from Adam Ellis, who co-produces and also plays guitar. Other session musicians adding their skills to the album included Damon Claridge on drums, Tony Robinson on horns, Glenn Hughes on piano and Hammond organ, Tom Bull on upright bass and Jo Preston on flute. Though some of the songs were written prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, others reflect these trying times, as he explains: “One of the album themes (as ever) is loss, as I suppose that’s what I feel so keenly. I think the brightness of the 1960’s casts a long shadow to mix metaphors somehow. All that hope and positive change seems like it almost never happened.”

The Secret Breeze features 12 tracks, all of them very good to excellent, but I’ll touch on the ones that resonate with me. The opening track and first single released in advance of the album is “With Love from a Friend“, a bewitching song that beautifully showcases A Blue Flame’s superb songwriting and arrangement skills. The delicately strummed acoustic and chiming electric guitars, sparkling piano keys and jazzy upright bass notes are exquisite, and when combined with the languid tempo and lovely vocals, the song has a dreamy, atmospheric quality. The lyrics seem to be about an inability or fear to fully act on one’s true feelings: “I’m writing a letter that I’ll never send. From the edge of my memory, time without end. And I’ll write at the bottom, ‘with love from a friend’.” It’s a gorgeous song, and instantly one of my favorites on the album.

It’s Raining All Over the World” speaks to the sorry state of current events the world over, what with a global pandemic, rising authoritarianism and social unrest causing anxiety just about everywhere. A Blue Flame fervently laments “What have we done my friends? Looks like the end. Now it’s raining all over the world.” Despite the rather depressing lyrics, the music is great, especially the infectious doo wop melody, terrific guitar work and vibrant piano keys.

Another favorite of mine is “Too Fast“, both for its wonderful instrumentals and relatable lyrics. The song starts off with a gentle acoustic guitar, then a marching drumbeat ensues along with Spanish-style guitar notes as A Blue Flame sings of the rapid passage of time (something that freaks me out on an almost daily basis anymore): “We were too young to know what we were doing. Its just how it is. It’s how we all live…way too fast.” Eventually, the music expands to a carnival-like vibe, with exuberant flutes, horns, and more of those lively marching drumbeats that contrast with the pessimistic and timely lyrics: “The world’s a great big mess. It’s mad. And we can’t catch the truth as it rushes by. So, so, so, so sad.”

The bittersweet “The Moon Obscured the Sun” sounds like a song Harry Chapin and Burt Bacharach could have written together. The lyrics speak to a love that might have been, except that the two never had the courage to act on their feelings: “I remember you from a lifetime long ago. We were frightened into silence, by the things we didn’t know. We couldn’t find the words to say a love we should have spoken yesterday.”

Tiny Little Thing” is a poignant anthem about not allowing others to bring you down with their negative thoughts and hurtful words, causing you to curl up into a ‘tiny little thing’ a kinder and gentler metaphor for the fetal position: “These could be the good old days, if you decide to make them so. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, who hurt you, or who you hurt. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing.” I like the jangly guitars and crisp percussion, but the highlights for me are Hughes’ wonderful piano and organ work. And it goes without saying that I love A Blue Flame’s highly emotive vocals.

The standout track for me is the dark and sultry “Your Mother Said Everything Was Beautiful“. It’s a brilliant song, with an edgier vibe than many A Blue Flame’s songs, and I love it. The lush instrumentals are absolutely fantastic, especially the gnarly surf guitars, Hughes’ mournful organ and Robinson’s blaring wah wah trumpet that brings chills. The lyrics seem to speak to the conundrum of how people with the most wealth and power are often the most unhappy in life: “Your mother said everything was beautiful. Everyone had everything. They saw themselves as queens and kings. They had the keys to the secret breeze. They owned the wind in the trees. So please now tell me why, did all the people cry?

Album closer “If Tomorrow Ever Comes” is an interesting and dramatic song about contemplating the end of the world. It has a complex melody and powerful, varied instrumentation that make for a fascinating listen. It starts off like a folk tune, with sounds of waves crashing onto a beach, accompanied by a gently strummed acoustic guitar and reverb-heavy electric guitar chords. An organ soon enters as Stone croons “If tomorrow ever comes, I’ll be waiting there for you. You can take my hand and say ‘we did all that we could do’.” The music continues to build with jangly and distorted guitars, bass, heavier percussion, tambourine and glittery synths, while his vocals become more impassioned: “And if our sorrow ever leaves. We’ll dance into the sky. Looking down upon the earth, we’ll hold each other tight./ But we’re stuck inside a clock, wishing it would stop./ And you can’t tell what is real, when you’re turning on a wheel./ For if the world should end. We’ll not be there my friend./ If tomorrow never comes.” The music rises to a powerful crescendo, then fades as the song ends with the same crashing waves we heard at the beginning. It’s a fine finish to an outstanding and thoroughly satisfying album.

Track listing:

1. With Love from a Friend
2. It’s Raining All Over the World
3. Too Fast
4. I Met an Angel Today
5. The Moon Obscured the Sun
6. Forever Falling
7. Ladywell Fields
8. Tiny Little Thing
9. Once Upon a Never Was It So
10. I Fell Asleep
11. Your Mother Said Everything Was Beautiful
12. If Tomorrow Ever Comes

Connect with A Blue Flame:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play 

THE HONEST HEART COLLECTIVE – Single Review: “Linework”

The Honest Heart Collective is a rock band based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Though they’ve been around for several years, I just learned about them when they reached out to me about their wonderful new single “Linework“, which dropped on July 17. As I always do when writing about an artist or band I’m not familiar with, I checked out their back catalog and was impressed by their high-energy and melodic style of rock’n’roll and honest songwriting addressing the eternal challenges of life, love and relationships.

Formed in 2013 by brothers Ryan and Nic MacDonald, The Honest Heart Collective now includes Jay Savage and Kevin Heerema. Their music is heavily influenced by their shared love of artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Johnny Cash, The Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner. They’ve released quite a lot of music over the past seven years, including the albums Liars Club in 2015 and Grief Rights in 2018. They also recorded an EP Cash in 2016, a terrific four-track tribute to Johnny Cash. I highly recommend that my readers check it and their other music out on one of the music platforms listed at the end of this review.

The Honest Heart Collective

The band states that “Linework” “is about shared history, acceptance, and coming to terms with how your relationships change. It’s a familiar scenario where you find that you’ve drifted away from someone that was close to you, without realizing it when it was happening. You come to terms with it because you’ll always have those memories from the times you shared. Not everything is as permanent as tattoo ink. Try to stay in touch and make time for your friends as best as you can. Everyone’s busy these days – different schedules, different cities, different everything. Something as simple as sending a text or setting up a lunch date goes a long way. It might not be just like the old days, but it’s still important.”

“Linework” was co-written by all four band members along with Derek Hoffman, who also produced and mixed the track. Mastering was done by Dan Weston. With it’s exuberant riffs of chiming and jangly guitars, lively bass line and smashing drumbeats, the song has a feel-good anthemic quality that makes you want to stand up and cheer. Ryan’s plaintive vocals beautifully convey the mixed emotions of looking back and reminiscing over good times and missing the friends who’ve faded away, yet remaining optimistic about the future and vowing to make an effort to cherish those around us.

I really identify with the lyrics, as I too have seen some friendships that felt vital to my life at a certain point in time gradually fade after one of us moving to another part of the country, leaving a job, or some other major life change. It’s sad when looking back, but it just happens to everyone. “You had some of your own/ Now, they run around just like you / With a look in their eyes I’ve seen so many times / When we punks yeah we were fools / We’ll always have these damn tattoos / But it’s a little too late now / We had to find our way and it’s okay that we slowed it down / Though the ink may fade / Our hearts stay the same.”

The recording and production of “Linework” was funded in part by a grant from the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings, Canada’s private radio broadcasters, and the Government of Canada.

Follow The Honest Heart Collective:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music ReverbnationYouTube
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS – Single Review: “Rock That City”

Philip Morgan Lewis3

British singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis is one of the more creative and adventurous artists I know of. The London East Ender isn’t afraid to explore a wide range of genres and influences for the creation of his own eclectic sound. Drawing from alternative rock, blues, garage rock, folk, R&B and EDM, he crafts exciting blues-soaked rock that nicely complements his distinctive raspy vocal style. He’s one of those artists you immediately recognize upon hearing his songs.

He’s released a fair amount of music over the past decade, beginning with his 2013 EP Karma Comedown. He then released a number of singles, and in late 2017 dropped his brilliant album Grief Harbour, which I reviewed. In 2019, he took a stylistic departure from his usual comfort zone and released a fun album House Works, featuring eight House/EDM tracks. He then followed a few months later with a fantastic bluesy single “Blowtorched Dreams”. Now Philip is back with a great new single “Rock That City“, released on July 13th via label Tx2 Records.

Written and recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown, the song is an ode to many of the social things we’ve all been missing these past several months. Philip says it’s “all about release and freedom”, and the lyrics speak to breaking loose and having a fun night on the town: “Gonna rock that city where life’s so crazy / And I go make it right / Gonna rock that city tonight.” A talented multi-instrumentalist, he plays all the instruments himself, and does a fine job here delivering some  bluesy rock’n’roll. With it’s strong, driving beat, buzzing bassline and grungy guitars, the song reminds me a bit of the great Black Keys song “Fever”. His unusual raspy vocals register in the higher octaves, resulting in a unique style and sound unlike any other singer I’ve heard.

The accompanying video was artfully filmed in black and white on the streets of London during the lockdown. A number of famous sites featured in the video that are normally filled with tourists were totally devoid of people. Philip is shown making his way through buildings, parking garages or the streets, completely alone.

Connect with Philip: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music
Purchase:  Amazon / Deezer / BandcampGoogle Play

Top 30 Songs for July 19-25, 2020

1. IF NOT FOR THE FIRE – The Million Reasons (5)
2. HELL N BACK – Bakar (1)
3. HOW WILL I REST IN PEACE IF I’M BURIED BY A HIGHWAY?// – Kenny Hoopla (6)
4. MARIA – Two Feet (2)
5. LEVEL OF CONCERN – twenty one pilots (3)
6. LEMON DROP – Absofacto (4)
7. LAY YOUR HEAD ON ME – Major Lazer featuring Marcus Mumford (7)
8. BLACK & WHITE LOVE – Beating Hearts Club (8)
9. HALLUCINOGENICS – Matt Maeson (11)
10. HONEYBEE – The Head and the Heart (10)
11. LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN – The Rolling Stones (13)
12. PSYCH FILM – Strangely Alright (14)
13. SOMEONE ELSE – Rezz & Grabbitz (15)
14. YOUR LOVE (DÉJÀ VU) – Glass Animals (9)
15. STRANGERS – Mt. Joy (17)
16. FIRE – The Black Pumas (18)
17. CAUTION – The Killers (12)
18. LOST IN YESTERDAY – Tame Impala (16) 24th week on list
19. HEAVEN IS HEART – Jaded Jane (20)
20. REAL LONG TIME – White Reaper (21)
21. DON’T LET ME DOWN – Milky Chance featuring Jack Johnson (22)
22. MONSTERS – All Time Low featuring blackbear (23)
23. NOT OK! – Chaz Cardigan (24)
24. SWIMMING CLOSER – HAZY (25)
25. IT’S YOU – The Frontier (26)
26. EXPECTATIONS – Katie Pruitt (19)
27. MAYDAY!!! FIESTA FEVER – AWOLNATION featuring Alex Ebert (29)
28. WHEN THE WORLD FALLS APART – Terry Barber (30)
29. MY OWN SOUL’S WARNING – The Killers (N)
30. CAN I CALL YOU TONIGHT? – Dayglow (N)

New Song of the Week – SIENNE: “Side By Side”

Sienne Side by Side art

Formed just a year ago in the summer of 2019, Liverpool indie band Sienne has in short order been making a name for themselves on the local music scene. In February, they officially released their debut single “Where is Home?”, which was premiered at the Liverpool vs Manchester United match, then followed up in April with “Coming Alive”. Now they return with “Side By Side“, which drops today. I think it’s their best song yet, and I’ve chosen it as my New Song of the Week. All three songs will be included on the band’s forthcoming debut EP, due out later this year.

The band is comprised of front man and lead singer Calan Nickle, James Rookyard, Richard Taylor andCharlie Skeggs. Nickle and Rookyard were previously with the band Hanover, who called it quits last summer. Their dynamic style of alternative rock is influenced by some of their favorite bands like The Stone Roses, Manic Street Preachers,  Blossoms and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. 

The track begins with a tentative chiming guitar riff, accompanied by Nickle’s plaintive vocals singing of his fears and negative emotions. The music then expands with a mix of fuzz-coated and shimmery jangly guitars, gentle bass and punchy drums, giving the song a dramatic and beautiful anthemic feel. The lyrics touch on the anger that keeps him down: “Two kids caught in a bar fight for the whole world there to see, put that frown away for another day, just wait. And so when all is said and done, you’ll be the lonely one.” But he eventually realizes that, with help, he’ll be alright: “And I know where to go when I’m hoping I’m still on your mind. If you would be so kind, to walk with me side by side.”

Nickle elaborates on his inspiration for “Side By Side”: “I wrote this song just under a year ago after finding clarity from a low point in my life, I found myself asking why I was writing constantly about the negatives. I had a little moment where I began to see things clearer and this song was written as a message to myself to let go of all the rubbish going on in my head and that I should embrace the new things happening. I wanted the song itself to match the lyrics in how it starts as a no holds barred cry for help, and the understanding comes as the song progresses. For me the song itself is a long, long road from being in a bad place to finding clarity and I think it came to life once we’d finished it in the studio, it’s a very personal song and one that defines what we are as a band, it came from nothing, a darker place and ventured forward into the unknown.”

“Side By Side” is a solid track, and a good indication of more quality music to come from this very promising band.

Follow Sienne:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

EML’s Favorite Albums – COLDPLAY: “A Rush of Blood to the Head”

Coldplay A Rush of Blood to the Head

I distinctly remember the first time I heard British band Coldplay’s magnificent song “Clocks” on the radio in the spring of 2003. Though they’d already released a number of singles over the previous three years or so, I had not yet heard any of them because I listened to crappy radio stations in St. Louis, where I lived at the time. I was blown away by the song and immediately fell in love with it’s haunting piano melody. Given my love for “Clocks”, I rushed out (pun intended) and purchased their CD A Rush of Blood to the Head. It was their second studio album, and is my personal favorite of all their albums. I also became a big fan of Coldplay, who to this day rank among my top ten favorite bands of all time (the Beatles, Stones and Fleetwood Mac will forever be my top three, but I digress). The band is comprised of four underrated musicians: front man and lead vocalist Chris Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman, and drummer Will Champion.

After the popularity and success of their first album Parachutes, the band was under tremendous pressure to deliver an album at least as good – something all artists and bands with successful debut albums have experienced. I’ve heard many say they liked Coldplay’s early music (“Yellow” from Parachutes is one of their most beloved songs), but don’t much care for their later stuff, which they claim sounds too polished, too over-produced, too sappy or too ‘pop’. A Rush of Blood to the Head, with its piano and guitar-driven sound, is generally considered more acceptable to those earlier fans.

The album was released on August 26, 2002 in the UK, debuting at #1, and a day later on August 27 (my birthday) in the U.S. Besides topping the chart in the UK (where it would become the 10th best-selling album of the 21st Century), the album also reached #1 in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Switzerland. It won three Grammy Awards (one of them for “Clocks”, for 2003 Record of the Year), and the 2003 BRIT Award for Best British album.

Though every song on the album is excellent, there are a number of standouts, the two greatest being “Clocks” and “The Scientist”. With its repetitive piano progression, including a descending scale in the chord progression that creates such a hauntingly beautiful sound, “Clocks” is considered one of Coldplay’s finest achievements. That breathtaking piano melody is accompanied by a somewhat minimalist atmospheric soundscape of synths, guitar, bass and drums, yet the whole thing sounds incredibly powerful and compelling. The lyrics are rather ambiguous, but seem to address the conflicts of being in a relationship that causes pain, yet you cannot or do not want to escape it. Martin begins by singing about his situation: “The lights go out and I can’t be saved / Tides that I tried to swim against / You’ve put me down upon my knees / Oh, I beg, I beg and plead.” Then he ponders “Am I a part of the cure? Or am I part of the disease?“, finally concluding “And nothing else compares / You are home, home, where I wanted to go.”

I think it’s a masterpiece, and one of the greatest songs ever recorded, and it boggles my mind that it wasn’t a bigger hit (it only peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100, though it did reach #1 on the Adult Alternative chart). It’s my favorite song of the 2000s, and my fourth favorite song of all time. Surprisingly, “Clocks” was originally not intended for inclusion on A Rush of Blood to the Head. The band planned to use it on their third album, however, their manager Phil Harvey strongly pushed for its inclusion.

“The Scientist” is a gorgeous love song of apology, and another of Coldplay’s most beloved songs. The track starts off with just a melancholy piano riff and Martin’s sad vocals, then eventually a strummed acoustic guitar enters, followed by drums, bass and finally Buckland’s electric guitar. In an interview with VH1, Martin stated: “The song was a turning point. I don’t think we’ll ever top it. It was inspired by George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. We really wanted to do a piano ballad with loud guitars at the end, because we didn’t think many people had tried that, so Jon put this really distorted guitar on the end of it.” Well, I think it’s another masterpiece, and most definitely one of the band’s finest songs.

Though Coldplay has never been known for writing many political songs, they were inspired to write “Politik” a few days after the 9/11 attacks. The song touches on the then-current state of the world, where whole countries and religions were being vilified over the horrific actions of a relative few. Martin implores people to seek the truth and see the bigger picture: “Give me real, don’t give me fake / Give me strength, reserve, control / Give me heart and give me soul / Open up your eyes.” They decided to make “Politik” the first track on the album, and its bombastic opening consisting of an aggressive, banging piano riff and crashing cymbals all but demand that we pay attention.

The beautiful “In My Place” was the first song they wrote after finishing Parachutes, and the first single released from A Rush of Blood to the Head. Buckland’s gorgeous chiming guitar is a highlight of the song. Another favorite of mine is “A Whisper”, with its dramatic chord progressions, glittery synths and spectacular guitar work, especially the shimmery chiming guitar run in the final chorus. The title track “A Rush of Blood to the Head” is a darkly beautiful song about wanting to undo all one’s wrongs and start over anew: “He said I’m gonna buy this place and watch it fall / Stand here beside me baby in the crumbling walls / Said I’m gonna buy a gun and start a war / If you can tell me something worth fighting for / Blame it upon a rush of blood to the head.”

Some songs on the album have a pleasing guitar-driven folk-rock feel, namely “God Put a Smile on Your Face”, “Green Eyes” and “Warning Sign”. Closing out the album is the lovely and introspective piano ballad “Amsterdam”. Like a few of their other songs, the instrumentals build as the track progresses into a dramatic crescendo in the final chorus, before fading out at the end, a right proper finish to a phenomenal album.

I finally saw Coldplay perform live on their Head Full of Dreams Tour in August 2016, at the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Though it was a huge venue, with over 70,000 people in attendance, they still managed to make it feel intimate.

THE PUSS PUSS BAND – Album Review: “Life Cycles”

Puss Puss Band Life Cycles

There’s a lot of musical talent in Wales, and I’ve written about several artists and bands from that fair British Isles nation: David Oakes, Dying Habit, Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, GG Fearn, Dunkie, Head Noise and, most recently, Kidsmoke. Another Welsh act I’m especially fond of is The Puss Puss Band, who I’ve featured a few times on this blog over the past four years. Based in Cardiff, they started out as a duo consisting of multi-instrumentalists Asa Galeozzie and Lee Pugh (the band is named for Asa’s cat Puss Puss). Both are accomplished musicians who’ve worked with numerous artists and bands in the UK and Welsh music industry for nearly 15 years as writers & session musicians. Asa plays guitar, bass, percussion, piano and melodica, while Lee plays lead guitar, bass and piano, as well as sings lead vocals. Their relaxed music style is a pleasing mix of jazz and folk-infused indie pop that just makes you feel good.

In April 2017, with help from seasoned musician and producer John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick (who’s best known for his work with The Who, as well as on the soundtracks for the films The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Almost Famous), the guys released their beautiful debut album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea. (I reviewed that album along with an interview with Lee, which you can read here.) On July 3rd, they dropped their second album Life Cycles, featuring ten wonderful tracks addressing the subjects of life, love, loss and the passage of time. Once again, the recordings were all written, arranged, performed and engineered by Asa, Lee and Rabbit. Post-production, mixing and mastering was done by Richard Digby Smith at TQ1 Studios. The Puss Puss Band has now expanded to include six members, including Asa, Lee, Steven Stanley, Joel Rees, Luke Moore, and Nigel Hodge. Only Nigel is featured on the new album, as he played flute and alto sax on the track “Losing The Rain”.

The opening track “We Should Be” is a bittersweet song about missing someone you’d had a love affair with who now seems to have lost her feelings for you, and wishing she was back in love with you so you could be together. Gently strummed guitars, crisp percussion and delicate synths create a warm backdrop for Lee’s soothing, breathy vocals that convey a sense of sad resignation as he sings the poignant lyrics “The way you see the world is just the same. It’s just the way you feel about me that’s changed. But we should be…. We should be in love.”

The delightful video shows a man in a cat suit (played by Lee) standing in downtown Cardiff, holding a large flip chart printed with words that are directed at his love interest. In various scenes, he’s shown chasing pigeons, riding the merry-go-round, and sitting on the bench offering some of his food to a man who politely turns him down, then proceeding to eat it out of the bowl. By and by, he walks past a busking musician (played by Asa) and throws a few pieces of dry cat food into his guitar case. At the end, the busker sees him sitting forlornly on the ground next to the merry-go-round, offers his hand, and they walk off together down the street holding hands.

Many tracks have a gentle folk-rock vibe, such as “About Time“, which touches on how a relationship built on love and respect endures over time: “It’s about time. It’s about all we got left. It’s about the way you walk. And the way that you still care about me.” The song has a mellow vibe and catchy melody, with a lovely mix of jangly and chiming guitars accompanied by snappy drums, and some nice keyboards and organ. I love Lee’s breathy vocals that hover in a sweet spot between raw and comforting, with an almost seductive quality. Another is “Holding Its Own“, a pretty but poignant song about the daily struggles of keeping one’s sanity in this crazy world: “Hopeful yet empty, Following rules. Blind to the life of a mind. Just holding its own.” The instrumentals are sublime, with what sounds like a mellotron being the highlight for me. The guitars, bass, keyboards and organ are all pretty terrific as well.

The Puss Puss Band channel their rock side on “Thank You“, thanks to a harder-driving beat, heavier electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The lyrics seem to acknowledge a friend who saved the singer through tough love, brutal honesty and perseverance: “But thank you so much for saving me from me. Thank you so much. For friends who never sleep.” One of my favorite tracks is “Pretty Games“, as I love the horns, funky guitars and mellow instrumentals that give it a cool, jazzy vibe. The lyrics speak to the games we play at one time or another, unable to be honest to ourselves or others about how we feel, which keeps us treading water so to speak. I like how they give a nod to their previous album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea: “It’s all a pretty game. Another year and still the same. But I still hear echoes of that sea. Parts we play. Wasted days. Still the same. Pretty games.”

On The Common” is an exquisite song, with beautiful acoustic and delicate chiming electric guitar notes, accompanied by the gentlest of synths, all creating a glittery, ethereal backdrop for Lee’s soft vocals. “Losing the Rain” is another favorite, with its sophisticated, jazzy feel thanks to Nigel’s wonderful flute and saxophone. The lyrics seem to be about trying to make a relationship work despite the many obstacles: “I’m losing the rain. These broken thoughts that roll around inside my brain. Maybe I’m too blind to see? I wasn’t meant for you and you were never meant for me.”

The guys deliver more stellar guitar work on “Junkie“, a song about trying and failing to save someone from addiction and the realization some people just can’t be saved. A standout track is the marvelous Pink Floyd-esque “Time and Tide“. The song starts off slowly, with only gentle acoustic guitars, but gradually builds into a dramatic rock song with electric guitars, piano, sweeping synths and heavy percussion. The lyrics were inspired by the passing of Asa’s uncle, with whom he was close; his uncle took him to gigs and got him into music when he was young. “For all the glitter and gold. We all grow old. As the lights fade down. We still hold for applause. And the show moves on. But the feeling… Lingers on and on.”

They close out the album with “Missed“, a beautiful and very poignant song that nicely encapsulates the album’s overall theme of the cycles of life – how relationships and friendships come and go over time. The piano melody was written a while back by Rabbit, and the lyrics later written by Lee to address the loss of a loved one: “I’m losing you tonight. But I’m here by your side. There’s no more need to fight. / But time shows no kind of nostalgia for goodbyes.” Musically, the song is different from all the other songs, as it features only a haunting piano and Lee’s raw, yet comforting vocals.

Life Cycles is a really lovely album and a pleasurable listen from start to finish, without a single weak or throwaway track. The song arrangements and production values are flawless, and the guys’ musicianship is outstanding on every level. I love this band!

Connect with The Puss Puss Band:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on BandcampGoogle Play

Top 30 Songs for July 12-18, 2020

1. HELL N BACK – Bakar (1)
2. MARIA – Two Feet (2)
3. LEVEL OF CONCERN – twenty one pilots (3)
4. LEMON DROP – Absofacto (5)
5. IF NOT FOR THE FIRE – The Million Reasons (6)
6. HOW WILL I REST IN PEACE IF I’M BURIED BY A HIGHWAY?// – Kenny Hoopla (7)
7. LAY YOUR HEAD ON ME – Major Lazer featuring Marcus Mumford (9)
8. BLACK & WHITE LOVE – Beating Hearts Club (10)
9. YOUR LOVE (DÉJÀ VU) – Glass Animals (4)
10. HONEYBEE – The Head and the Heart (12)
11. HALLUCINOGENICS – Matt Maeson (17)
12. CAUTION – The Killers (8)
13. LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN – The Rolling Stones (14)
14. PSYCH FILM – Strangely Alright (15)
15. SOMEONE ELSE – Rezz & Grabbitz (16)
16. LOST IN YESTERDAY – Tame Impala (11) 23rd week on list
17. STRANGERS – Mt. Joy (18)
18. FIRE – Black Pumas (19)
19. EXPECTATIONS – Katie Pruitt (13)
20. HEAVEN IS HEART – Jaded Jane (22)
21. REAL LONG TIME – White Reaper (23)
22. DON’T LET ME DOWN – Milky Chance featuring Jack Johnson (25)
23. MONSTERS – All Time Low featuring blackbear (26)
24. NOT OK! – Chaz Cardigan (27)
25. SWIMMING CLOSER – HAZY (28)
26. IT’S YOU – The Frontier (30)
27. DELETER – Grouplove (20)
28. BE AFRAID – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (21)
29. MAYDAY!!! FIESTA FEVER – AWOLNATION featuring Alex Ebert (N)
30. WHEN THE WORLD FALLS APART – Terry Barber (N)