REALITY SUITE – EP Review: “Awaken”

Reality Suite

Reality Suite is a New Jersey-based rock band with a fresh sound defined by scorching riffs and anthemic melodies. The band was formed in 2009 by three life-long friends, Brian King (drums) Antonio Valenti (bass) and Joe Padula (guitars). After struggling through a string of male and female vocalists, the wonderful Kimmii Heart came to the rescue, and their winning lineup was firmly established. They released their debut album Skinn to critical acclaim in 2015, and followed a year later with the single “Bury Me Alive.” This May, they dropped their EP Awaken, which I have the pleasure of reviewing today.

The EP is a deeply personal work for the band, each of whom have experienced the death of a loved one in the past few years. In an interview with PopBreak.com, Brian explained: “During the writing for what became “Awaken,” Kimmii and I realized most of what we were writing about were losing loved ones. Each of us had lost someone close to us in the last two years. I lost my mother in 2016 to lung cancer – which spawned the song “Cut, Burn Bruise.” Kimmii lost a close family friend which inspired “Grave.” Antonio lost his mother and Joe had lost an Aunt in 2017 – so, as much as “Grave” and “Cut” are about missing a loved one, in the context with the other songs – “Awaken” becomes an album about recovery and rebirth…leaving the pain behind and moving on. The songs “Live Now Forever,” “Dead to Me,” and “Lust” drive that point home.”

Dead to Me” perfectly exemplifies their dynamic, hard-hitting sound. Brian’s pounding drumbeats establish a sturdy foundation for Joe’s gritty riffs and Antonio’s buzzsaw bass lines, though the song also has moments of relative calm where glossy synths and delicate guitar notes dominate. Kimmii’s emotive vocals run the gamut from seductive purr to malevolent snarl to impassioned wail as she throws dark shade on someone she’s clearly had enough of: “I’m done playing nice with your sick little ways. Breaking my back just to keep you away. It’s over this time I’m losing my mind. You think that I’m blind well I’m feeling like – You’re dead to me!” The music and vocals ultimately build to a crescendo, with sweeping strings, wailing guitars and a soaring harmonic chorus that make for a dramatic finish.

Grave” is a dark anthemic ballad with fantastic guitar work that wends its way amongst the crushing bass and crashing cymbals. Kimmii’s passionate echoed vocals are marvelous. The band dials things up a notch on “Live Now Forever,” a terrific head-banger with fierce riffs of fuzzy guitars and humming bass. I like the way Joe makes his guitar squeal, and his blistering riffs and Brian’s pummeling drums in the bridge and final chorus are fire. Kimmii’s vocal gymnastics are impressive as she matches the fury of the instrumentals note for note. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the EP.

Another powerful anthem, “Cut, Burn, Bruise” is about missing someone so desperately you’d do almost anything to have them back: “Can’t bring you back. So I drive through the night. Going fast makes me feel alive. You make me feel alive. / Love’s a cut, a burn, a bruise. But I loved you til I’m black and blue. Feeling broken, I am learning to live without you. But I’d die for another day with you.” Reality Suite keeps the hard-driving rock grooves coming with “Lust.” These musicians are really at the top of their game, delivering more of their signature fiery riffs, throbbing bass and tumultuous percussion, and Kimmii’s dazzling vocals raise plenty of goosebumps. It’s a great track, and Awaken is an awesome little EP that packs one hell of a mighty wallop.

Connect with Reality Suite:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / cdbaby

VERIS – Single Review: “Gimme More”

VERIS Gimme More

Boston duo VERIS burst onto the indie music scene in early summer 2017 with their infectious ear worm of a dance track “Opening Night.” They followed in September with their sultry and seductive “Devil in the Details,” which was a Top 10 hit on my Weekly Top 30 Chart. (I featured both songs on this blog, which you can read here and here.) Now they return to please our eardrums with a fantastic new single “Gimme More, and they sound better than ever!

Veris

VERIS is singer/songwriter/guitarist AJ Edwards and songwriter/drummer Mark Hylander, and with assistance from Bleu (William James McAuley III), who produced and co-mixed the song with Ducky, they’ve created a stylish and sexy track that really showcases their musical versatility. The song is different from their previous two singles – it’s always a good thing to change things up and bring fresh sounds – but still delivers a catchy melody, cool grooves, smart lyrics, great vocals and fine instrumentals, all things we’ve come to love about VERIS.

With an irresistible strutting bass-driven dance beat that grabs hold of both hips, “Gimme More” quickly has us in its thrall. The seductive dance groove is punctuated in spots by trap-like break downs and lots of quirky electronic synths, making for an interesting and exciting track.  AJ’s smooth vocals are wonderful, soaring to a pleasing falsetto as he sings of feeling besotted with desire for another:

I can’t help I’m impatient
Is it a crime, lock me up
I’ve got nothing but time
Is this more than just an obsession
Please let me in, gotta feel, gotta feel it yeah
Gimme more

It’s a great song, and certain to be another hit for the creative duo. Take a listen:

Connect with VERIS:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify and Soundcloud, and purchase on iTunes

LAZY QUEEN – Single Review: “Turn From Void”

Lazy Queen
Photographs by Anine Desire

As EclecticMusicLover, I have a special fondness for artists and bands who push boundaries and go outside the proverbial box in the creation of their music and/or identity. So it was my lucky day when I was contacted by Henrik Søberg of Norwegian band Lazy Queen for consideration of their new single “Turn From Void.” In their bio, the band states they “speak for the disenfranchised, the outcasts, the queers, the allies, the feminists, for the pissed off, for the isolated and lonely, the weirdos and the freaks.” Since I fall into several of those categories myself, they’re definitely for me! Their music is a loud and intense mix of noise rock, grunge and punk – the sonic equivalent of a car crash, as someone so eloquently put it.

Lazy Queen was started by Søberg in 2013, who’s Norwegian with Colombian roots and gender fluid, while they were living in Brooklyn, New York. The band then consisted of Søberg and three American musicians, and they released four singles and a fantastic EP Drift to critical praise from both national and international press. They earned a broad following from performing in numerous shows in the New York region, a tour in Puerto Rico, and opening slots for legendary bands such as Psychic TV. Søberg had hoped to settle in New York, but a bureaucratic snafu at the Norwegian embassy forced them to return to Norway.  Upon returning to Oslo, Søberg reformed Lazy Queen with Norwegian musicians Jonas Røyeng, Jon Bernhard Hunskaar, Peter Mortensen and Petter Anderdal. They’re now recording songs for a forthcoming EP or album, and “Turn From Void” is the first single.

The song is brilliant, with numerous melodic change-ups that keep us in a near-constant state of surprise. There’s a lot going on, and it took several listens for me to fully digest this complex track. It starts off with a little acoustic guitar riff, then Søberg begins singing “Take what you need, and leave the rest to me.” A heavy drumbeat soon kicks in, along with gnarly guitars and a humming bass line that take the song deep into grunge territory.

The guitar riff that appears in the chorus is absolutely captivating and so damn good! Søberg’s vocals grow more passionate and raw as the music swells, backed by a vocal harmonies that bringing goosebumps. Suddenly, we’re hit with a wild punk rock flourish of frenzied guitars and thunderous percussion, while Søberg wails at the top of his lungs. Just as quickly, things calm back down to the same acoustic riff and gentle vocals we heard at the opening, until the song ends with a massive crash of guitar chord and cymbal. Wow, what an awesome track! I cannot wait to hear what new songs Lazy Queen will throw at our ears.

Connect with Lazy Queen:  Website / Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music on Soundcloud / Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes, and Drift may also be purchased on Bandcamp

ANDREW LA TONA – Album Review: “Human”

The great city of Toronto, Canada has a thriving music scene, and I’ve featured a number of artists and bands based there, most recently The Autumn Stones and their stunning album Emperor Twilight. After seeing that review, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Andrew La Tona reached out to me for consideration of his latest album Human for a review, and I’m so glad he did because it’s fantastic! I can say without equivocation that I love his extraordinary album. Andrew’s a creative and gifted composer, songwriter and musician who employs all sorts of experimental and unique instrumentation, melodies and time signature and chord changes that make for incredibly interesting songs that always deliver unexpected surprises for the listener.

Andrew has had a lifelong love affair with music. As he explains in his bio:

“It seems as if music has been my life since the day I was born.  My mother always reminds me that as a toddler, she signed me up for a Mother and Tot music class. A fond memory of mine is that for as long as I remember, there has always been a piano in my home.  At the age of seven, I began formal lessons in piano and classical theory through the Royal Conservatory of Music for seven years. By fourteen I made a commitment to myself that music was to become my life.  I discovered my father’s old guitar hidden in the basement.  I took it upon myself to learn by ear, listening to records and reading guitar magazines.  When I entered high-school I was proficient on Piano, Guitar, Bass and Drums.  I made the band room my home, where I played in all the school ensembles, refined my sight reading and theory, and learned Trumpet, Euphonium and Flugelhorn as a personal project.”

He went on to study Radio Broadcasting and Journalism at Seneca College and School of Communication Arts, and from 1999 to 2006, he played with various groups with long-time collaborator Edward Kramer, with whom he founded the bands Odd Man Out and Yesterday’s Gone.  They recorded four albums together, and Andrew personally completed three solo albums which went on to be the foundation for his and Ed’s band Big Stereo, to which he devoted his full attention from 2006 to 2009. Since 2010, Andrew has continued to work on his own music, and Human is his latest album, which dropped in June.

Andrew La Tona

Human is a commentary of sorts on the current state of things, in which Andrew expresses his antipathy for today’s leaders, our growing obsession with gadgets, and ponders our place within the vastness of the universe. His lyrics are so well-written and compelling that I’ll be quoting a lot of them. The powerful opening track “Leader” speaks of how humankind’s ignorance and greed is wrecking our planet, yet we’re hungry for leadership to help us solve our problems, but our leader (Trump) is a fraud:

Here, we find ourselves trapped inside a fate so paramount 
And we live for ourselves with no regard for other animals 
Our mother earth is threatening with disaster 
We’re blind, we are condemned to live upon the soiled earth 
How could we figure out how to reverse our plight, our misfortune, our ignorance 
Total genocide 

You’re not the leader we want 
Leave or we’ll never have peace 
The way you speak is absurd 
It warps the minds of our young

Musically, the track starts off with a distorted spacey synth, then expands to a rolling drumbeat as Andrew begins singing in his silky, yet vulnerable voice. His layered jangly and chiming guitars are marvelous, and he uses a variety of synths to great effect in creating a very intriguing song.

Borderlines” is a feast for the ears. Andrew employs guitar, bass, organ, horns, cymbals, drums and glittery synths to weave a rich tapestry of sound that unfolds throughout the length of the enthralling track. The song is about breaking free from mind control and expectations placed upon us by oppressive societal norms.

I want to be free. Free from your borderlines
I need to break the mold you’ve always cast for me
And in my mind, there’s a place like this
Without your rules, your greed

Andrew takes on people who feel success is having more money and stuff than everyone else on “At the Top.” The delightful song has a Latin vibe thanks to a peppy Samba beat and instrumentation that beautifully softens the bite of the lyrics:

Boast among your rich yuppy friends 
‘Bout how you trample on all those around you 
All just to end up at the top 
And what’s left for you? 
Is there more than just the cars – the yacht? 
Honestly, I’m not impressed 
Baby, nothings cooler than you, my friend

Power and Prowess” is an incredibly satisfying ‘fuck you’ to Donald Trump, which automatically makes this a winning song in my book! The track has a fast-paced galloping drumbeat, with wonderful intricate guitar work and crisp layered percussion.  Andrew vocals get downright raw as he snarls the scathing lyrics:

“Be the champion”, that’s what you tell yourself 
I guess in your mind you are 
It’s true you shit on johns of gold 
You’re at least champion of that 
So how can you lead the people of today 
Forward to tomorrow? 

I doubt you know the gravity of your post 
I’d say no 
There are people out there who want to love 
There are people out there who don’t want to die 
You’re not one of us 
We should be blessed with human rights 
No one should be groped by you 
No one should be owned by you 
You’re in charge of you, big boy 
And that’s all (And that’s all) 

Weald that sword in battle, head up to the front line 
Bring yourself to ‘fess-up to one crime 
Let us know who’s running the show 
You’re not the man for the job 
Move over, asshole 
We can save the world 

One of my favorite tracks is “The Walls,” a beautiful declaration of love to someone to whom you are beholden. This song is so utterly captivating it gives me chills. It’s as if Andrew has gone out of his way to make the guitars and synths sparkle like jewels of sunlight strewn across the sea. His fervent vocals, which occasionally soar to a smooth falsetto, are positively sublime.

Another favorite is the bouncy “Laniakea Supercluster,” a fascinating track that has a strong Talking Heads vibe. Along with his echoed vocals, Andrew uses lots of otherworldly synths to create a sci-fi feel to go with the lyrics that speak to the fact that, on the one hand, Earth is but an insignificant speck in the overall massiveness of the universe, but on the other hand, it’s our home and so very significant to our survival and well-being.

So Long to the Human Race” is an apocalyptic clarion call after a nuclear war for those who survive and repopulate the world to try and co-exist in peace and be one with the earth. The gritty guitars, heavy buzzing bass,  organ, and spacey synths lend a somber mood.

It makes me sick to look upon all we’ve done
And the little we’ve done to help
And if I could, I’d eat up all the terrible things we’ve done
And shit it down your throat 

Can’t you see that our kind is a warning 
From the first flame, to the first rocket 
So little is left of what we blew all our cash on 
And burned up all the oil 
And killed who we loved 
So long to the human race 

Time Goes Ever By” touches on our obsession with our mobile devices, addicted to the siren song of staying connected on all our social media accounts, at the expense of many other facets of our lives. I know I’m sometimes guilty of this behavior myself. Musically, the track has a lovely melody, with some terrific guitar and organ. And have I mentioned that I love Andrews’ vocals?

Everyone around me seems to be gripped by the same illness 
Never putting down their device 
Never looking up from their trance 
Never have the time to sow seeds 
Never stepping past the bar 
Of this jail we’re put in by ourselves and our will 
Can we find the strength to let drop the rock upon the screen 
And our friends logged on the web

Human is a brilliant album on every level I can think of – composition, melodies, lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and production. Andrew has done a masterful job with all aspects of the album production, and should be very proud of this outstanding work. And if all that weren’t enough, he even did the amazing cover art!

He’s now in the process of forming an ensemble of musicians to perform with him live, and is excited to have them add some amazing character and flavor to the songs from Human, as well as some of his songs from his back catalogue.

Check out Andrew’s Website and connect with him on  Facebook 
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

ALLEN & DOUGLAS – Album Review: “The Spider and the Phoenix”

Allen & Douglas Album Art

Allen and Douglas are a singing & songwriting duo from Birmingham, UK who play an interesting and pleasing style of folk rock. They’re also two prolific guys, recording and releasing eight albums – containing an astonishing total of 128 songs – in under five years! (They pack a lot of tracks into their albums, with each containing anywhere from 14-20 songs.) Their latest offering is The Spider and the Phoenix, which dropped this past March. It’s an ambitious work with 17 tracks, and is essentially a concept album in two parts, though it flows beautifully as one large production.

Lifelong friends, Craig Allen and Steven Douglas began writing songs in their teens. In their bio, they expand a bit on their background and what the latest album is about:

“Strumming, singing and writing away in old railway stations and under canal bridges we developed our sound, harmonies and song-craft as young men through hard work and trial and error. Nowadays after several hiatuses due to differing work and travel paths, we practice and record regularly in a small bedroom studio in Birmingham, UK. We write primarily for pleasure, producing many genres of music. Our latest body of work ‘The Spider and the Phoenix’ is conceptual and charts a journey from depression to recovery.”

They also have a cheeky sense of humour (notice I used the British spelling):

Allen & Douglas funny pic

The Spider” kicks off the album, not only setting the tone on a musical level, but also establishing the overall theme of depression, represented metaphorically by a spider that spins its web inside our minds, gradually taking over our personality and poisoning our thoughts. The jangly, heavily strummed guitars and spooky keyboard synths lend an unsettling feel to the track, and the guys’ earnest vocals exhibit a hint of menace as they sing: “The Spider inside your mind spins and winds. The Spider deals in junk, what does he find? And I was doing fine.

The melancholy “I Can’t Stand the Pain” speaks to a relationship that’s unraveling: “You scream it’s finished. And I feel diminished.” Listening to the album, one of the things that strikes me is the strong Pink Floyd vibe running throughout, and this song reminds me a bit of “Comfortably Numb” with it’s interesting use of keyboards and sweeping synths.  And the even sadder “So Blue” finds the singer sinking into despair over his emotional abandonment: “So blue, so very blue. Drowning in memories. / Dissecting reality from dreams, I’m struggling upstream. / Rejection is a mother.

One of the prettiest tracks is “Set Sail Suite,” a mostly instrumental composition with hauntingly beautiful string and keyboard synths. The song is briefly interrupted in the middle with a sweet interlude of delicate acoustic guitar and the guys’ distant echoed vocals that sing “Set sail, set sail on your way. You never have the courage to sail.” “Dark Matters” is pure folk rock, and really channels Pink Floyd, especially in the vocals. The song has the singer lamenting his state of loneliness: “Since you left me I’ve been so lonely. / Dark matters swirling round my brain. Too much space drives me insane.” These feelings of loss are affirmed on “The Sun Went Out Last Night,” as they sing “I find myself crawling since she went away.”

“Nothing Comes Out to Play” and “Through the Eye of a Needle” wrap up the depression part of the album. Both tracks have some interesting music touches, thanks to a greater use of synths and organ.  The latter is a somber but lovely piece, and finds the singer concluding that the one who broke his heart is not a good person after all, and therefore not worth wasting any more tears on: “You didn’t realize you were dead in the heart. Trampling innocent people filled with fear. You were so busy doing damage. You didn’t realize you would leave tears along the path.”

Wrap it Up” is the first track of the 2nd half of the album “The Phoenix,” that represents recovery. It speaks of beginning the healing process by regaining your sense of sanity: “Catch your psychosis, wrap it up in cellophane. Don’t let it breathe. Squeeze out the pain. / Don’t bubblewrap your brain.”  “And When All Hope is Gone” is actually a quite hopeful tune, with tentative piano and electric guitar notes that gradually expand into a pleasing melody that seems to evoke sunshine breaking through a layer of clouds: “The sun will shine again, and it will lead me from this pain.” This sunshine is celebrated in the cheerful “Rainbows in the Sky,” and the jangly strummed guitars on the track are especially nice.

Yellow Blue” speaks to a brand new day, while the raw and bluesy “Quite Like You” has the singer extolling the virtues of a new woman who’s captured his attention and heart.  The track has some great guitar and honky-tonk sounding piano.

The Phoenix” is a declaration of survival and rebirth: “Found myself again. / Shook off the feathers. New feathers give me flight. I feel myself again. Same me, shining very bright. I feel I can fly, I feel I can soar holding hands with the sky.” The song is one of the more interesting tracks on the album from a musical standpoint, with a heavily-strummed guitar riff accompanied by xylophone and plucky electric guitar. At the break, the track transitions with an awesome psychedelic flourish of distorted guitar and organ that continues through to the end. The guys shout “Ha Ha, I am the phoenix!”

The guys turn their attention back to that exciting new woman who’s got their juices flowing on the bouncy, romantic tune “Overflowing.” And album closer “Sweet Sweet Dreams” ends things on an upbeat note, with the singer appraising his happy situation with his new love. It’s a pleasing ending to an expansive work that encompasses a broad range of emotions from pain, despair and bitterness, to acceptance, hope and, finally, joy. This was a terrific concept and theme for an album, and I applaud Allen & Douglas for their skill and success in translating their vision into a coherent and finely-crafted work of near-epic proportions. Their creativity, songwriting and musicianship are impressive, and they should be very proud of The Spider and the Phoenix.

Connect with Allen & Douglas:  Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Reverbnation / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

THE PUSS PUSS BAND – Single & Video Review: “We Should Be”

Puss Puss Band We Should Be

I’m back in Wales (having just featured Welsh band Dying Habit), this time to talk about the lovely new single “We Should Be” and it’s delightful video from The Puss Puss Band.  Based in Cardiff, and 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 over the last ten years as writers & session musicians. They perform every aspect of their music: songwriting, instrumentals, vocals, arranging, engineering, producing and mixing. Asa plays guitar, bass, percussion, piano and melodica, while Lee plays lead guitar, bass and piano, as well as sings lead vocals.

In April 2017, with help from seasoned musician John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, the guys released their beautiful debut album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea. I reviewed the album along with an interview with Lee, which you can read here. Over the past six months or so, they’ve been writing and recording songs for a second album, and “We Should Be” is the first single. It’s a wonderful song, delivering the pleasing jazz and folk-infused pop we’ve come to expect from these talented guys. And once again, Mr. Bundrick lends his expertise on the keyboards.

The bittersweet song is about missing someone and wishing they were back in love with you so you could be together. Layers of gently strummed guitar, crisp percussion and delicate synths create a sparkling backdrop for Lee’s smooth, breathy vocals that convey a sad resignation as he sings the poignant lyrics:

Lighted excited waiting in the rain
Two minutes ‘til I see you again
Near misses, longed for kisses
An everlasting wait
The magic word that is her name

We stole our days away
Wishing by the sea
Wrapped up in you
Wrapped up in me

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
We should be in love…
See you’re all I’m wishing on

Dying, just trying to find
The words to say
The few minutes that I’ll see you today
Near misses, longed for kisses
An everlasting wait
The tragic word that is my name

If the way you see the world
Is just the same?
Maybe there’s no need…
To hurt in vain?

Is it right?
To close up tight?
To feed this cold divide…
Between you and me?
Is it so hard to see?…
That we should be

We should be…
We should be in love…
We should be in love…
You’re all I’m wishing on
We should be….in love

The video is one of the most delightful I’ve seen in a long while. It shows a man in a cat suit (played by Lee) sitting or standing in various locations on a busy street in Cardiff, holding a large flip chart printed with words that are directed at his love interest. 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. I love the scenes where he’s chasing pigeons, riding the merry-go-round, and when he sits on the bench, offers some of his food to a man who politely turns him down, then proceeds to eat it out of the bowl. 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. What a sweet story, and I love both the song and video!

Connect with The Puss Puss Band:  Website / Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music on Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes

BLACK BEAR KISS – Single Review: “Secret Side”

Black Bear Kiss 2

Black Bear Kiss is an alternative indie rock band from the West Midlands/Shropshire, UK, and are made up of the very talented Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on lead guitar, Rob Jones on guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums. Hot on the heels of their awesome debut single “Hooks,” which dropped in April (and I reviewed), they now return with a great follow-up single “Secret Side.

The track opens with Sach’s funky little bass lick, then layered guitars and Bagnall’s snappy drums kick in with a catchy toe-tapping beat. Haden and Jones lay down some tasty melodic riffs in the break that continue through to the end of the song. Leech has a fine singing voice, and his earnest vocals nicely convey equal parts mischief and emotion as he sings of the blurred lines between reality and fantasy: “There’s something strange with how I feel. Like choosing right from wrong but what is real, yeah. My compass points to what I know. But now I’m lost and I just don’t know where to go.”

The song essentially speaks to some of the fantasies many of us harbor at one time or another – our ‘secret side’ if you will. The opening lyrics are directed toward a woman “dressed head to toe with curves and all in black” who’s the object of his desire. Eventually, they speak of wanting to escape the drudgery of a frustrating job and have fun hanging out with friends. The clever and highly entertaining video shows the guys performing the song at their workplace and later, outdoors, interspersed with scenes of their abusive boss tormenting them at work, and them ultimately exacting revenge by chasing him with a tank! And who of us hasn’t fantasized about coming to the rescue or punishing the bad guys while riding into town in a tank?! It’s a funny and satisfying accompaniment to a terrific song.

Catch Black Bear Kiss at one of these upcoming shows. Click the event names for the event pages.

August 17   7:00 pm   Dana Prison Shrewsbury
August 25   3:00 pm  Bridgnorth Music Festival
August 25   7:00 pm  Telfest

Connect with Black Bear Kiss:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their songs on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes / cdbaby

DYING HABIT – Single Review: “Unrealities”

I keep featuring bands and artists from the UK on this blog, but there are just so damn many good ones! Another promising band I’ve been following for a while is a four-piece from the town of Bangor in northwestern Wales who call themselves Dying Habit. They play a highly melodic style of alternative rock influenced by such bands as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool. The band is comprised of Nathan Jones (vocals), Alan Hart (guitar), Aled Hughes (bass) and Mark Jones (drums).

Dying Habit

Since forming in 2011, Dying Habit has been fine tuning their music style and songwriting, and performing in venues throughout Wales and northwest England. More recently, they’ve been recording songs for their forthcoming debut album Unrealities, and just released the fantastic lead single, also titled “Unrealities.” The band explained their inspiration for the song and it’s meaning: “We all have some kind of goal we aim for, be it a job, a passion or a style of life we really want. Hopes and dreams is what keeps us all going. Many of us do the shitty jobs we do to get us closer to whatever we want to achieve, whilst [others] are content with our jobs and feel content with who we are. Whatever the case, our ambitions are unrealities …an illusion in societies eyes. Our single “Unrealities” is about never giving up on your dreams, as unreal as they may seem. Unreal means failure and failure leads to success. Be true to yourself and never stray from the path your heart puts you on.”

Musically, the song is magnificent. It starts off with Hart’s haunting guitar note that expands into a somber riff, accompanied by Hughes’ humming bass and Mark Jones’ crisp percussion. At around the minute mark, the music explodes into a fusillade of wailing guitars and thunderous drums, before settling back down to the somber melodic riff that’s so arresting it bores right into your brain. Wow, it’s gorgeous and covers my body with chills! Nathan’s vocals, while not necessarily powerful, have a vulnerable, emotive quality that are perfectly suited to the music and lyrics. They’re especially moving and beautiful when they soar in the choruses. I love this song, and am so looking forward to their album.

The gripping, beautifully-filmed video shows a young woman struggling with her inner demons – her “unrealities.”

Connect with Dying Habit:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

“Unrealities” will be available for purchase on all music platforms on August 15

THE AUTUMN STONES – Album Review: “Emperor Twilight”

Autumn Stones

The Autumn Stones are a Toronto, Canada-based band who play music that’s difficult to label as any particular genre, but who cares, really, so long as it sounds great. Their beautiful, pleasing sound incorporates elements of alternative rock, dream pop, jazz, and what the band refers to as “literary rock,” which I take to mean songs built around intelligent, thoughtful lyrics – which theirs have in abundance. Rather unique in their music style is their use of a wide array of instruments, especially saxophone and organ that, along with their gorgeous jangly guitars. creates a lush soundscape that serves as the basis for their wonderful songs.

Since forming in 2009, the band’s undergone a number of changes in personnel, and the current lineup consists of founding member Ciaran Megahey (vocals & guitar), Marcus Tamm (bass), Gary Butler (sax & keyboards), Raymond Cara (drums & percussion) and Dan Dervaitis (guitar & organ). They released their debut album Companions of the Flame in 2011, followed by Escapists in 2015, which I reviewed in 2016. Now they’re back with a stunning new album Emperor Twilight, which dropped on June 22. The album was recorded at Andy Magoffin’s House of Miracles studio in Cambridge, Ontario, and co-produced by the band and Magoffin, who also engineered and mixed it. Harris Newman did the mastering, and I have to say everyone involved in the recording and production of Emperor Twilight did a fantastic job, as The Autumn Stones have never sounded better.

In describing the album’s sometimes doleful theme, Megahey explains: “I’m a little preoccupied with exploring human nature’s dark side. I guess I have always thought of that as the artist’s role in culture. I think, for all the gloom easily pointed out, there’s a lot to be hopeful over and cheered by in the world. Emperor Twilight is also about being grateful for that and resisting the temptation to be cynical.

Kicking off the album is “Nightmares,” a beautiful track that speaks to utopian visions and the tribal and hypocritical aspects of our nature that give rise to authoritarianism.  “Pale as a ghost. Hungry again. Nightmares are born again.” The splendid jangly guitars and Butler’s soulful sax, both defining elements of The Autumn Stones’ appealing sound, are on full display here, as well as on the bouncy “Living in a Dream.” I love Megahey’s smooth, emotive vocals that have a vulnerable, yet seductive quality.

I thought those first two tracks were beautiful – and they surely are! – but the romantic and incredibly melodic “Fontana” is honestly one of the loveliest songs I’ve heard this year. The jangly guitar work is stunning, the swirling keyboard and organ riffs are sublime, and Megahey’s vocals are positively captivating. It’s my favorite track on the album, though quite frankly, I love them all.

Lovebomb” has more of a rock feel, with reverb-drenched and fuzzy guitars overlying a solid buzzing bass line.  Megahey sings of our natural carnal instincts: “There’s a sin in our skin. Can you blame us? Lovebomb.” On “The Bigger They Fail,” their gorgeous jangly guitars seem to channel The Cure, and Butler’s smooth sax is sublime.  I’m running out of superlatives to describe their songs, but damn this is a beauty, and yet another favorite of mine. The upbeat “Lovelife” has a breezy Style Council vibe and, as always, the guitars, bass, sax and percussion are perfection. Megahey croons the positive lyrics about embracing the good things about your life, and letting go of the bad: “You’ve go to love life down to the bitter end. Cause you don’t get a second chance. It’s so late, but is it too late?

The album’s marvelous lead single “Mandatory Love” is an exuberant gem that seems to tell us that love should liberate, rather than imprison, the heart and mind. The instrumentals are dazzling, and the lyrics poetic:

It was an idea unrare
Breathes like solid air
A total flop, a keystone cop
Agents of despair

This little heart, you’re set upon
This little heart, it can’t beat wrong

Our gilded prologue
Drives a wedge
Fills our ancient cup
This little dove locked up
She cannot be tamed
By mandatory love

It was an idea unsound
Feels like shaky ground
A total bore, a ‘less not more’
The undead overground

Closing out Emperor Twilight is the sweeping anthem “Every Little Shadow.” Dervaitis’ lovely organ work takes a starring role on this moving track, and the guitars are superb. It’s the perfect ending to as close to perfect an album that I’ve heard this year. Every track on this beautiful album is outstanding, and I cannot heap enough praise upon it. The guys that make up The Autumn Stones are all gifted musicians, and I hope they continue to grace our ears with their music.

Connect with The Autumn Stones:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  iTunesBandcamp

BRETT VOGEL – Single Review: “Superwoman Sway”

Brett Vogel is an immensely talented and hard-working singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. We’ve followed each other on social media for nearly three years, and I find Brett to be a warm, kind and gracious guy. He was one of the very first artists I featured on this blog, way back in January 2016, and you can read that post here. Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, he grew up listening to his father’s records and became a fan of music at a very young age – something that I closely identify with, as I was listening to my parents’ Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Elvis Presley records as soon as I was able to walk.

Brett describes his passion for music: “Music is within every fiber of my being! I sincerely believe without music I’d be doomed. Music has kept me alive. Music, I believe, has saved my life. Music is love to me. Music helps people heal. It’s what connects people, and for that I’m grateful!” Blessed with a large vocal range and beautiful tone, Brett showcases his sweet and soaring falsetto in many of the wonderful songs he writes.

Brett Vogel

Brett released his first album Lonely Traveler in 2004, and subsequently moved to LA. He eventually became discouraged about the music industry and returned to Illinois, but after three years he decided to move back to L.A. and give music another go, and has never looked back. In 2015 he released his second album Never Giving Up, a superb effort featuring 11 beautiful tracks that are a celebration of his passion for – and dedication to – his dream of making music. Since then, he’s released several singles and remixes, the latest of which is his delightful new single “Superwoman Sway,” which dropped July 20th.

It’s an upbeat, happy tune with an infectious reggae/dance beat that aims straight for the hips.  The carefree guitars, lively synths and snappy drums transport us to a sun-kissed tropical beach, making it a perfect song for summer. Brett’s earnest vocals are lovely as he sings of his devotion for a loved one who brings so much joy to his life:

There you go brightening up my day 
You wouldn’t know it but it’s true
What you’ve got is that Superwoman Sway
I wouldn’t have any other

Through the thick and thin when I’m dashed upon the rocks
You stay close to me and give me all you’ve got
Through the lightning clouds
The sorrow and the rain
You take away my blue, brighten up my sky
To see the light again

Every little thing you do is so so you
I couldn’t have it any better no
Every little thing you do is so so you
I couldn’t have it any better

Connect with Brett:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: iTunes /