CALLUM PITT – Album Review: “In The Balance”

One of the brightest spots on the British music scene today is Callum Pitt, a thoughtful and immensely-talented singer-songwriter based in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Inspired by such esteemed artists as Elliott Smith, Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Sufjan Stevens, The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, he creates, in his own words, “indie-folk with a grand, orchestral, chamber pop sensibility plus an alt-rock edge”. I say that’s a pretty accurate description of his beautiful music, which is characterized by lush harmonies, captivating melodies, and honest, meaningful lyrics touching on subjects like depression, anxiety, and social and political unrest, expressed through his emotive pleasing vocals that nevertheless manage to instill feelings of optimism and unity.

Since 2017, Callum has released an impressive number of singles as well as a four-track EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. His second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering well over 100,000 streams. He’s also earned accolades such as the Alan Hull Songwriting Award in 2019, and the Fender Player Plus competition in 2021. I love his music, and have previously written about four of his songs, two of which – “Fault Lines” and “Mayfly” – made my Weekly Top 30 chart, with “Fault Lines” ranking #84 on my 100 Best Songs of 2020 list, and “Mayfly”, which peaked at #8 earlier this year, guaranteed to rank even higher on my 100 Best Songs of 2023 list. (You can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.)

Photo by Daniel Stark

Now Callum has just dropped his long-awaited debut album In The Balance, and it’s a real stunner! The culmination of nearly three years of work, the album’s nine songs were informed by a number of events that prompted him to explore questions of existentialism and fate, including a vehicle accident that could have killed his parents and brother, a close friend almost dying of a drug overdose after leaving a party at his house, and the death by suicide of a childhood friend. Remarkably, he wrote and recorded the album while also working at a job and studying for his masters degree in Occupational Therapy.

He wrote the album in his bedroom, using only a nylon-string guitar and cheap 90s keyboard. He then took his demos to the studio, where he worked with long-time producer John Martindale to turn them into rich recordings, featuring a string quartet, and trumpets by James Leonard Hewiston and saxophone by Alex Saxon. Callum sang lead vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards, Luke Elgie played bass, Gavin Christie played drums, and John Martindale played percussion, with Ada Francis and Jodie Nicholson on backing vocals

The album kicks off with “I Feel a God and Devil in This Room“, in which Callum explores how both good and evil are present in human experiences more than in otherworldly realms like heaven or hell, and that we should embrace our lives here and now, rather than wait for a theoretically better afterlife: “I feel alone, but I feel in my bones tonight, something bigger moving like a tidal wave, a wilting bouquet, on fire. I feel a God and devil in this room.The song is enchanting, opening with delicate guitar, piano and strings, then gradually building to a dramatic crescendo with added saxophone, heavier percussion and gorgeous harmonies. The lovely video, filmed and produced by Gareth Williams, features Mia Fuller dancing to the song in an empty church.

Black Holes in the Sky” addresses the aforementioned close friend that almost died from an overdose of acid after leaving a party at Callum’s house, and was thankfully saved by a passing dog walker at dawn: “You left our party, the last one to go / I heard that a stranger found you laid down, blue in the lips and frost upon your clothes on the edge of town.” The song starts off with an almost gospel-like feel, but transitions into a stirring anthem, with emphatic piano keys, bold guitar notes and blaring trumpets. On the hauntingly beautiful and contemplative “Crow“, Callum speaks of his struggles with depression and anxiety: “There’s something in the leaves reminding me there’s no light without dark.” His piano and guitar work are particularly stunning here.

Fraction of a Second” was inspired by a night in 2019, in which Callum was reminded of how a change of a mere second of time could have resulted in a life-altering outcome. Minutes after he waved goodbye to his brother and parents as they left his house, a fire engine hit the back edge of their car. They were all unharmed, but had their car been in the engine’s path a fraction of a second later – if he’d said one more word to them at the doorstep – it would have slammed directly into the drivers’ side. Musically, the song has a melancholy yet hopeful feel, and features a buoyant drumbeat overlain with delicate sweeping synths, beautifully-strummed guitar notes, lovely piano keys and vibrant strings. As always, Callum’s smooth vocals are comforting and warm as he sings of his gratitude that his family safely survived the crash: “And I don’t know what I’d do, if that truck had taken all of you, I think the moon may disappear. But a fraction of a second kept you here.”

On the piano-driven “More Than This“, Callum touches on the impermanence of life and worldly beauty: “And no one ever said there would be more than this, but I feel it turning golden in the fall. Everything must go, it’s an angel in the snow. And I will never ask for more.” The moving video was directed by Sel MacLean and filmed by Ross Marshall, and shows Callum singing the song in an empty theater as he watches a couple, played by Igor Tavares and Laura Alise do an interpretive dance.

One of my favorite songs on the album, “Mayfly” is essentially about adulthood, and speaks to Callum’s feelings of apprehension over the responsibilities he’ll face as a potential parent, fearing he might not be up to the task: “I don’t deserve the love that I am shown, but someday I will. ‘Cause I, I need time, so I can be, who you need me to be. So hold out please.” Musically, the song has a lively, upbeat melody that contrasts with the poignant lyrics. I love the perfect melding of acoustic guitar notes and delicate piano chords in the verses, and how the drums become more intense in the choruses, accompanied by glorious exuberant riffs and swirling keyboards. Callum’s smooth vocals are both comforting and heartfelt, backed by Ada and Jodie’s lovely harmonies, and Alex’s bold saxophone in the final chorus is wonderful.

On “Moths and Butterflies”, Callum speaks to the value of expressing one’s emotions in a society where the expectation is for men and boys to suppress their feelings. Though still essentially a folk song, it has more of a rock vibe, with heavier guitars and drums, especially in the bridge. The enchanting “Uncanny Moon” features delicate guitar notes, stirring strings and gorgeous soaring harmonies.

Album closer “The Will of the River” is a beautiful, cinematic anthem in the vein of Sam Fender’s “Seventeen Going Under”, which means I love it! The combination of gentle acoustic guitar notes with more resonant jangly chords and fuzz-coated gnarly riffs, layered over an exuberant stomping groove, make for an exceptionally impactful track. The poignant lyrics speak of the childhood friend who took his own life, leaving him wondering if there might have been something he could have done to prevent it: “I’m so sorry for how we drifted, maybe I knew you too soon. It’s darker now. You’re now away, but my memories are so clear. We move at the will of the river, but you’re ringing in my ear.”

I’m not sure what more I can say about In The Balance, other that to state with confidence that it’s a gorgeous little masterpiece. Mr. Pitt and company have gifted us an impressive, flawlessly-crafted work, for which they should be quite proud.

Connect with Callum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Find his music on BandcampSpotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud Amazon

THE PETAL FALLS – Single Review: “Obsession”

After having written about music for nearly eight years, I’ve come to the conclusion that, while trends come and go, music of high quality will always speak for itself and have a following, no matter the genre. Many have written of the death of rock, and while it’s largely been absent from the ridiculous Billboard Hot 100 (which, because it now relies primarily on streaming stats, is heavily weighted to formula pop, hip hop and bro-country), it’s undeniable that rock is still very much alive and loved by millions of fans.

Case in point is British rock act The Petal Falls, the music project of Kent-based singer-songwriter Keith Leahy. I’ve previously reviewed two of his singles “I Won’t Be There”, in August 2021, and “Somebody To Love Me”, in April 2022 (you can read them by clicking on the “Related” links at the end of this post). To briefly reiterate some of what I previously detailed about The Petal Falls’ unfortunate history, Leahy formed the band in the mid 1990s as a performance platform for his music. Consisting of Leahy, who sings vocals as well as plays guitar and keyboards, and four other musicians – Robert Harpum (guitar), Dave Richards (guitar), Marius Ryndziewicz (bass) and Robin Tucker (drums) – they signed with a mid-tier music label in the hopes it would lead to greater success, but it instead resulted in their ultimate undoing. The label stifled their creativity and stalled their career for several years, leading to a great deal of frustration among band members and their eventual demise, without ever being given the opportunity to publicly release any of their impressive output of songs.

Thankfully, their outstanding music catalog eventually became available for release, and Keith jumped at the opportunity to re-master the original recordings into four albums, with help of friend and producer-engineer-drummer John King. The first of those albums, Workin All Night Workin All Day, was released in July 2020 to positive fan and critical response, an amazing feat for an act that had long been given up for dead. Though their songs were recorded nearly 30 years ago and feature an 80s vibe reminiscent of music by such artists as Whitesnake, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen, among others, they still strongly resonate today, garnering over 1.2 million streams on Spotify alone. That first album’s success inspired Keith to resurrect The Petal Falls as a solo project, recording and releasing new music in collaboration with King. They followed with a second album All These Years in September 2021, then a third Everything About You in September 2022.

Now he returns with “Obsession“, the lead single from his fourth album The Rhythm Train, due for release this coming October. For the recording of “Obsession” Keith played guitar and keyboards and sang lead vocals, Robert Harpum played guitar, Martin Corder played bass and Robin Tucker played drums. Backing vocals were sung by Avril Davis and Tracy Tucker, with added guitar by Barry Kitchin and keyboards by Lee Tucker. The track was mastered by John King.

The song is an intense and brooding rocker about a passionate and reckless affair and the burning obsession it breeds. I know from personal experience how easy it is to fall under someone’s thrall, willing to cast all rationality and caution aside in the pursuit of their attention and, hopefully, love. To drive home their message, The Petal Falls unleashes a torrent of searing riffs, pulse-pounding bass and thunderous drums, creating a powerful and darkly sensual soundscape. The combination of three guitarists working their magic results in a rich and contrasting tapestry of shimmery chiming notes, spine-tingling psychedelic runs and grinding buzzsaw riffs. Keith’s arresting vocals are brimming with passion as he wails “I’d jump off a mountain, if I thought you’d stop and stare. I’d swim a raging river, if I knew you would be there. You can beat me, beat me to despair. You can love me, I don’t really care. You’re my obsession!

The dark, beautifully-filmed video brings the song’s lyrics to life with sizzling scenes of a sexy woman dominating her willing subject.

Connect with The Petal Falls: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find his music on Spotify / Apple Music / SoundcloudYouTube

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 29 – Jigsaw Sequence/Machina X, Johnny Ritchie, Novus Cantus, Thunder Fox, Western Jaguar

Friday, May 26th was one of the biggest days for new music releases I can remember, at least in terms of artists and bands I follow, and from what I could tell, at least nine of them released new singles. Because I like all these artists and their songs and want to show them support, I’ve decided to feature them all in a Fresh New Tracks post. To make it easier on me, as well as not overload my readers with too many songs all at once, I’ve broken them into two separate posts. I published the first one two days ago, and this is the second, which includes Scottish synthpop artist Jigsaw Sequence with British electro-pop artist Machina X, American singer-songwriter Johnny Ritchie, American Baroque pop duo Novus Cantus, Australian soul-funk-pop-rock band Thunder Fox, and Canadian alt-rock band Western Jaguar. I’ve previously featured all these acts on my blog, with the exception of Jigsaw Sequence. And true to my blog’s name, each of these five songs couldn’t be more different from one another.

Jigsaw Sequence + Machina X – “Late to the Party”

Jigsaw Sequence is the music project of Scottish synthpop artist Richard Tracey, and Machina X (aka Annie James) is an electro-pop artist based in Yorkshire, England. The two talented individuals have been making music both as solo artists and in collaborations with others, and recently teamed up to write and record a great new synthpop dance single “Late to the Party.” The song and collaboration marks a resurgence for Annie, after she experienced a bit of a slump, as she recently acknowledged on Twitter: “In the last 6 months I’ve thought a lot about closing the door on making music because it feels so much harder than it did. Thank you Jigsaw Sequence for believing there was more inside, and collaborating with me.

In contrast to the exuberant, pulsating dance beat and luxurious retro 80s synth grooves, the lyrics are rather bittersweet, speaking of living in denial about a relationship that’s breaking apart, hoping things will turn around. Machina X’s lilting vocals are wonderful and heartfelt as she sings “Behind a mask where no-one sees. Hiding for the sake of sanity, ‘cos hearts like mine bruise easily when they’re washed up on the shore. Late to the party. Always early to leave. Scared by the truth, but always wanting to believe.”

Johnny Ritchie – “Chirp”

Johnny Ritchie is an engaging, intelligent and wildly imaginative young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who I’ve previously featured three times on this blog. Originally from Indiana, Johnny’s now living in Spokane, Washington. With a lifelong love for music, he began learning to play piano and drums as a child, then went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago, and in 2020 earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as giving lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation. He also writes and records music in which he fuses alternative and experimental rock with neo-psychedelia and contemporary jazz to create incredibly fascinating and sophisticated soundscapes.

Ever-creative and continually willing to push musical boundaries, every new release of his sounds totally original and distinctive. His latest single “Chirp” is an unusual instrumental piece that couldn’t be any more different from his previous alternative psychedelic hip-hop single “Elite Deviance”. Already his fourth single of 2023, with another one on the way in a couple weeks, “Chirp” is the first that Johnny’s both recorded and produced entirely by himself. Featuring a relaxing synth groove, accompanied by deep bass and punctuated by a sharp percussive beat and beguiling piano trills, the song also features delicate bird chirps throughout that lend a charming atmospheric air to the proceedings. Johnny never fails to dazzle my senses with each release, and I cannot wait to hear what new experimental sounds he comes up with next!

Novus Cantus – “Caterpillar”

Novus Cantus is an innovative music act comprised of brothers Alexander (vocals and guitar) and Christian Herasimtschuk (drums and percussion). Based in the Hudson River Valley roughly halfway between Albany and New York City, the duo draw from a broad and eclectic mix of influences ranging from traditional ethnic music like flamenco and Hungarian folk, to classical Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, to alternative rock, in the creation of their uniquely enchanting and exotic sound. They’ve been performing and recording together since 2010, and have released a fair amount of music. I’ve written about them four times over the past five years, most recently when I reviewed their hauntingly beautiful Civil War-themed song “Georgia”. 

Now they’re back with “Caterpillar“, a bewitching song originally written for a children’s concert last year that the brothers decided was too good to not release as a single. The lyrics tell the story of a humble-looking caterpillar who starts out crawling upon the ground and feeding on plants (“and I walked in the cool of the night“), then climbs into the trees to become a chrysalis (“and I slept in the cool of the night“), finally emerging as a beautiful butterfly (“and I flew in the cool of the night“). The most striking aspect of the song for me are the beautiful sounds from a Wot, a Thai pan flute played by Christian. I love how his fluttering notes evoke the sounds of a butterfly’s wings unfolding for the first time. Of course, Alex’s lovely acoustic guitar and warm, emotive vocals, accompanied by Christian’s percussive beats, are really wonderful too.

Thunder Fox – “Feels Like Forever”

Mere words cannot express how much I adore Australian band Thunder Fox. The Sydney-based five-piece is one of the most creative, wickedly funny and insanely talented – not to mention sexiest – acts I’ve ever encountered, and have gushed about them and their music numerous times on this blog over the past four years. Now comprised of the charismatic and silky-voiced Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass), they skillfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. And while their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness, their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication, thanks to their great songwriting and musicianship, including having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup.

They’ve released an impressive amount of music since 2015, including three terrific albums – Mother Machine in 2016, Love at First Sniff in 2019, and Sanctuary in 2021 – the most recent two of which I’ve reviewed. One of the singles from Sanctuary, “Head in the Clouds” reached #4 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranks #47 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list. On their new single “Feels Like Forever“, Thunder Fox channels Prince, Morris Day & the Time and James Brown to create a rousing slab of old-school soulful funk. I love the song’s stomping groove, courtesy of Casey’s deliciously funky bass and Max’s spirited drumbeats, and fortified with Sam’s gnarly riffs, Travers’ hot and jazzy sax notes, and Jesse’s bold trumpet blasts. It’s one of the most exuberant songs they’ve released in a long while, and I love it!

Western Jaguar – “Better Daze”

Hailing from the picturesque Fraser River Valley of British Columbia, east of Vancouver, alt-rock act Western Jaguar was born in 2012 when singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Trainor turned to music to get him out of a low point in his life. With the help of an evolving lineup of musicians, Western Jaguar released three stellar EPs and several singles between 2013 and 2019, including their beautiful song “Disappear”, which went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 in 2019. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, bringing things to a halt for just about every musician and band, the social isolation gave Jeffrey time to reflect on how unhappy he’d become as a musician. He’d become fixated on, in his own words, “likes, a following, positive feedback…and became hyper focused on making music other people liked.” By the end of 2020, he decided he didn’t want to make music anymore, essentially walking away from Western Jaguar, which he conveniently blamed on the pandemic.

Thankfully, after a long break he came to realize that, just like in 2012, music could once again lift him out of his slump. He decided to resurrect Wester Jaguar as essentially a solo act, and beginning last November, went to work writing and recording songs in his home studio for what would become his new album Oblivion, scheduled for release on July 7th. For the recording of the album, Jeffrey sang vocals and played most instruments, though his former Western Jaguar bandmates Davis MacKenzie Zand played bass and AJ Buckley played electric guitar and drums, and sang backing vocals on two tracks, and KC Roces played electric guitar on a third track.

The first single from the album is “Better Daze“, a poignant song about going through hard times after a tragedy and trying to get back to better days. Musically, the song has an upbeat dream pop feel, with a breezy melody, beautiful chiming guitars and snappy drums. Jeffrey’s clear, pleasing vocals have a hint of sadness as he sings the lyrics about a woman named Suzie, whose fiance Harold died suddenly after a fall in the shower just before they were due to be married. Suzie falls into a deep depression, and with the best of intentions, her father insists she take medication to help improve her mood. Unfortunately, the drugs only make her feel worse: “Suzie’s felt worse since the medicine. Her lungs are burning and she can’t breath in. Her father insists on the vice, it’s the only way for a normal life. But a normal life was lost last June when Harold fell in the bathroom. She hasn’t taken them for 6 weeks. If only it was that easy. Her father asks if she’s feeling well. She gives him a smile though she feels like hell. She wants him to think that she’s okay, even though she’s thinking of better daze.”

It’s a wonderful, albeit melancholy song, and it’s great to have Western Jaguar back. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the songs on Oblivion.

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 28 – Frank Joshua, The Frontier, Gooseberry, Healer

Friday, May 26th was one of the biggest days for new single releases I’ve ever seen – at least with regard to artists and bands I follow who chose that day to drop new songs. From what I could tell, at least nine of them released new singles. Because I like all these artists and their songs, and want to show them support, I’ve decided to feature them all in a Fresh New Tracks post. To make it easier on me, as well as not overload my readers with too many songs all at once, I will break them into two separate posts. For the first of two, I’m including (in alphabetical order) British singer-songwriter and producer Frank Joshua, American singer-songwriter The Frontier, American alt-rock band Gooseberry, and British indie rock band Healer. I’ve previously written about Frank Joshua, The Frontier and Gooseberry, whereas Healer is new to me. All four songs deal with navigating through the challenges and uncertainties of romantic love, in hopes of emerging a better person in the process.

Frank Joshua – “Patent Leather Car”

In just the past few months, London-based singer-songwriter and producer Frank Joshua (who wishes to remain anonymous, thus posts no photos of himself) has become a favorite of mine, on the strength of his beautiful silky vocals and enchanting music style. The prolific artist has released an impressive amount of music in a little more than two years, including two albums and numerous singles, one of which, his gorgeous song “Bluebell Wood”, has spent the last three months on my Weekly Top 30. Remarkably, his latest single “Patent Leather Car” is his 25th release since last December! It’s another superb song, with a breezy and mellow groove, and as with all of Frank’s songs, flawlessly-arranged and produced.

Titled after the famous London taxicab, the song speaks to “fear and love and finding solace in something you know probably isn’t good for you“. The video shows an old wrecked and rusted Austin being rescued and restored by a man whose face we never see, then driven across scenic landscapes. Frank says “Rebuilding is like reworking the past. Only by looking back can we take steps forward and keep the flame of dreams alive.”

Connect with Frank:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram 

The Frontier – “Walk Through the Fire”

A long-time favorite of mine is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jake Mimikos. Based in northern Virginia, the talented, gracious and funny guy has released an impressive amount of music since 2015, and we’ve been following each other for nearly that long. Jake skillfully blends elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica to create memorable and pleasing songs about love, relationships and loss. His lyrics are honest and straightforward, as if he were having a conversation with a friend, and delivered with comforting vocals.

I’ve loved all of his songs, three of which – “Dark Places”, “Can We Go Back” and “Closer” – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 charts. His latest offering, “Walk Through The Fire“, serves up three minutes of catchy toe-tapping grooves and beautiful jangly guitar notes. The lyrics are a plea to a loved one for a second chance: “Everyone falls sometimes. Dying to stay alive. Everyone has their fight. It’s how we walk through the fire.”

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Gooseberry – “Orbit”

Gooseberry is an utterly delightful and talented trio from Brooklyn, New York who formed in late 2019, and now consist of Asa Daniels (guitar, vocals), Evin Rossington (drums), and Will Hammond (bass). Together they blend indie rock, R&B and light jazz to create their own distinctive and sophisticated style of alternative rock. Their wonderful song “Sleep” spent many months on my Top 30 chart, and ranks #29 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.

Their latest single “Orbit” has a grittier, more bluesy vibe than most of their previous songs, and addresses the toll that being a musician takes on relationships. Asa elaborates: “Orbit is a love song. Or at least I’d argue on its behalf! Though I suppose it’s really about the selfishness that is required for an artist to chase such an ill-fated pursuit with such single minded obsession as is needed for fame and success in this industry. Knowing that the hours dedicated to the craft, to being on the road ultimately disrupt (and, potentially, unravel) meaningful relationships outside of music. Like a loved one. I argue this is a love song because its self awareness of its selfishness makes the sting of love that much more present.” Asa’s vocals have never sounded this raw and impassioned as he wails “I know it’s taking me further away from your orbit. I know it’s selfish and it’s ugly. I know that there’s nothing I can do.” God, I love this band!

Connect with Gooseberry:  Facebook / Instagram

HEALER – “Bones”

Photo by Tom Freer

HEALER is a five-piece indie rock band based in Grimsby, England, comprised of Steve on lead vocals, Kirk on guitars, Dave on guitars, Tony on bass, and Jazz on drums. They’ve only been together for one year, but have already built a strong following in the local music scene, as well as garnering recognition from BBC Introducing. They released their terrific debut single “Hurricane” in December 2022, followed by the equally great “Fire” this past February, and now their latest single “Bones“. Their songs explore themes of love, loss, and hope, with “Bones” addressing the latter. Band vocalist Steve explained “It’s about finding the strength to keep going, even when things are tough. We wrote it after going through a difficult time ourselves, and we wanted to share our message of hope with others. [Specifically], it addresses the fear of falling in love and the idea of it not lasting forever at the same time. The anxiety of giving yourself completely to someone but the inner need to be with them forever. Loves flickering momentary happiness being on a knife edge and enjoying your feet getting cut while you walk through it.”

Musically, the song starts off slowly, but gradually transitions to a fantastic full-on rocker, with aggressive, gnarly but beautiful riffs, driving bass and pounding drums. Steve’s vocals are passionate and heartfelt as he apologizes for the hurt and pain he’s caused, promising to be a better man: “And problems, we’ve had a few. I know now what not to do. And these bones, they’re for you, sorry for what they do. It’s your choice, it’s what you do. These bones will follow you.

The sweet video, directed by the band and filmed and edited by Lincolnshire-based photographers and filmmakers Lola and Joel, was filmed at Howlin’ Jacks Record Store and Fryer Tuck’s Take Away. It stars Lucas Albion and Lisa February as a young couple who meet at a record store, are quickly attracted to each other, then spend the day together as romance blossoms. Their wonderful skeletal face makeup was done by Micky Stephenson Jade Wilson.

Connect with HEALER: FacebookTwitterInstagram

SODA CRACKER JESUS – Single Review: “Space Boy”

Soda Cracker Jesus is the solo music project of the wildly imaginative, enormously talented and flamboyant singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. Based in Tacoma, Washington, Regan has been actively involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for 40 years, with his hands in many projects, including serving as front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright. He created Soda Cracker Jesus in early 2021 as a way of expressing his punkier power pop side, releasing his first single “My Anthem” that April. Since then, he’s followed with five more singles, his latest of which is “Space Boy“, which dropped May 15th.

Regan’s been honest and candid on social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. With an unwavering sense of optimism, he creates music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past, and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. I’ve featured both Strangely Alright and Soda Cracker Jesus on this blog numerous times over the past four years, most recently in April of last year when I reviewed his upbeat banger “Hoping For The Best”.

“Space Boy” – which Regan describes as “a little Velvet Underground and a little Bowie in the bass-driven spoken word verses and driving punky choruses, with a lesson from the universe to slow the fuck down” – was inspired by a near miss with a semi on his way home one day. He elaborates: “A near head-on collision on my way home ended up being a message from the universe. In my mind, anyway…lol. I’d been pushing myself pretty hard and it caught up to me. I’d been listening to Billy Nomates and really dug the simplicity of her arrangements and how the bass was incorporated in each song. So after dodging the semi-truck that I had almost hit running a red light, I blew one of my tires and ended up at a gas station. Freaked out but alive, I had a conversation with a friendly guy from a homeless camp who helped me out, and what he said to me really spoke to me. Life can be cool that way.

In addition to writing the words and music and singing vocals, Regan played all instruments and produced the track, which was mastered by his longtime collaborator Todd Ensminger. The song starts off with a great little bass riff, backed by a faint wobbly synth, which are soon joined by a strong thumping drumbeat as Regan begins to sing in his colorful vocal style: “I was driving home from work, a little spaced out. You know, my busy fucking life. I ran a red, the semi didn’t care. Speeding up to let me know that life ain’t really fair.” Eventually, the song turns into a fist-pumping punk rock anthem in the choruses, with an explosion of stomping drumbeats, swirling spacy synths and grinding riffs – “Space Boy, you better slow down. Going to explode before you hit the ground.” It’s a terrific banger, and another stellar single from this brilliant artist.

Follow Soda Cracker Jesus:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find his music on Bandcamp / SpotifyApple Music 

32 TENS – Single Review: “This Just Ain’t My Year”

Calling themselves a “half decent band from the sonic wastelands of Warrington“, British indie rock trio 32 tens are an assault on the senses, but in a good way! Named after the classic 90’s Nokia phone, and influenced by such acts as Jack White, Jamie T and The Arctic Monkeys, 32 tens play a fierce and gritty brand of indie post-punk that’ll immediately shake away whatever ennui that might be plaguing you. Making this awesome noise are Max Vickers on vocals and guitar, Sam Glancy on lead guitar and Danny Hall on drums, with Ed Dowling of alt-rock band The Zangwills (another terrific band with a lead singer also having the surname Vickers but no relation, who I’ve also featured on this blog) as guest bassist.

I recently learned about 32 tens when their manager Jackie (who also manages The Zangwills) reached out to me about their latest single “This Just Ain’t My Year“, and it knocked me for a loop. I was so intrigued, I had to go check out their back catalog of songs, and immediately became hooked on their high-octane edgy sound and Max’s unusual vocals. I love their music, and have been listening to them nearly on repeat the last few days.

From what I can tell, they’ve been releasing only singles since 2017, and have garnered some very impressive streaming stats. Their 2017 single “Lost” has racked up over 2.1 million streams on Spotify alone, with six other singles earning over 100,000. “This Just Ain’t My Year” is their 15th single, and has already been named Record of the Week on XS Radio, and last week, it garnered the top spot on Tom Robinson’s Fresh on the Net.

The song’s a rip-roaring banger, storming out of the gates with a torrent of shredded guitars, hard-driving basslines and explosive drums. The pace is fast and relentless as 32 tens blow our minds and ears for two minutes and 51 seconds. It’s the kind of song you want playing when you feel like breaking some shit. The one brief moment we’re able to catch our breath comes in the bridge at 1.37, where we hear only the wonderful thumping rhythm of Ed’s bass and Danny’s drumbeats. Max’s warbly vocals are a thing of wonder, at once both sweet and raw, a winning combination that’s perfectly suited to their dynamic and gnarly sound.

The lyrics touch on the struggles of the everyday person trying to make it through a difficult time: “Hard to see what’s real when you’ve been living by sin and I know you’re tired. People only really give in when there’s no fight left. Everytime you’re getting close, just enough fear to face my ghost. I swear, this just ain’t my year.

“This Just Ain’t My Year” is another fantastic single by this amazing band, and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next!

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JOSEPHINE PASCOE – Single Review: “Starfish”

Today I have the pleasure of introducing a wonderful artist named Josephine Pascoe who, together with guitarist and producer Neil Thom, creates exceptional instrumental music with various and ever-changing elements of jazz, acid jazz, classical, blues and funk. Based in the London suburbs, she’s a classically trained pianist, violinist and flautist with a life-long love of music. She began studying piano at the age of five, then violin at eight and flute at thirteen, much of it at Trinity College of Music in London, where she also began composing her own music. She also trained to be a secondary school music teacher, but prefers giving one-on-one instrumental instruction on piano and violin.   

According to an article about Josephine on the music blog COOLTOP20, she met Neil in 2016 when she began taking guitar lessons from him. Besides teaching guitar, Neil is a producer and sound engineer with a wealth of experience working with various artists, bands and record companies. One night, after a few rounds of drinks, the two decided to have a go at writing something together, and took some jazzy chords Josephine had been playing with and developed it into what would become their first track “Florescence”, which they released in May 2017. In the years since, they’ve recorded and released 14 more songs, their latest of which is “Starfish“, an exuberant acid jazz tune which dropped May 5th. Josephine and Neil are both big fans of English funk and acid jazz band Jamiroquai, whose influence is strongly evident in their music.

Like most of their songs, “Starfish” was co-written by Josephine and Neil. For the track’s recording, she played piano, Rhodes electric piano, strings and flute, while he played guitar, bass and drums. Neil also produced and engineered the track. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, their songs incorporate an ever-changing mix of styles that make each one sound unique. Whereas their previous single “Eden” has a mellow jazz vibe, “Zomer” is breezy acid jazz, and “Before The Light Goes Out” is a soothing, contemplative piano ballad, “Starfish” has a more spirited dance-oriented feel, with a strong lively beat. Highlights for me are Josephine’s resonant piano keys, spirited strings and airy flute. Neil’s funky guitars and bass provide a wonderful, edgy counterpoint to the more classical-sounding strings and flute, yet complement both quite nicely. It’s a marvelous track.

Here’s “Starfish” on YouTube:

And on Bandcamp:

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BEALBY POINT – Single Review: “America”

One of my favorite indie bands I’ve gotten to know over the past few years is Vancouver, British Columbia-based four-piece Bealby Point. Named after a local beachside vacation spot, they’re comprised of four childhood friends, Jack Armstrong (lead vocals), Clayton Dewar (lead guitar), Jordan Studer (bass), and Zack Yeager (drums). I love their buoyant, high-energy alternative/garage rock they cheekily call “music to fold laundry to“, which has earned them favorable comparisons to such bands as The Strokes. Their description of themselves as “approachable guys making cool music” is genuine, based on the mutual respect, camaraderie, and joy of spending time together that’s so evident in all their photos and little acoustic performance sessions they frequently post on TikTok and Instagram.

Beginning with the release of their debut single “I’m So Bummed Out Right Now” in February 2021 (which I featured in an installment of Fresh New Tracks, and has been streamed over half a million times on Spotify) the engaging four-piece continued dropping a series of excellent singles, including the brilliant “Talk To Me”, which I also reviewed and earned a spot on my Top 100 Songs of 2021 list. They released an EP Fridays in July 2022, and on May 10th, dropped their latest single “America“, a song they say is about falling in love, then falling out of love in tragedy. When I asked the band why they used “America” as the title and the subject of a romantic relationship, drummer Zack told me “The idea to personify America as a girl is tied to the idea of the American dream, [with] living a happy successful life basically culminated into a relationship. All of your hopes and dreams, ambitions and expectations, crushed by falling out of love.”

Like all their music, “America” was recorded and produced by Matt Di Pomponio, however, the song is a bit of a departure from their previous work, with a more serious, introspective vibe. I love how it opens with a gentle fuzz-coated riff, then launches right into the anthemic chorus. As always, the guys’ instrumentation and musicianship are outstanding, with Jack and Clay’s vibrant guitars accompanied by Jordan’s sturdy bassline and Zack’s spirited drums. I really like Jack’s warm, plaintive vocals as he sings of the joys of a new love in the opening chorus: “America, she loves me. I thought it couldn’t be I get down on my knees and scream America. Her shoulder rests on mine, I’ll be here for a lifetime“, then turn emotionally-wrought in the final chorus as he laments about how their love now lies in ruins: “America, I’m a human being. The faults that lie in fate that I don’t want to make. Fuck sakes America. Her shoulder rests on mine. Now let me drift away and wallow desperately again.”

“America” is yet another superb track by this talented and wonderful group of guys, and I remain a loyal fan!

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BECK BLACK – Single & Video Review: “Puppet Show”

Artwork by Royce Richmond

Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Beck Black is a veritable dynamo, possessing immense quantities of imagination and creativity, with a colorful persona to match. She’s been releasing music since 2014 (including a terrific album Hollywood Blvd in 2021), both as a solo artist and as a band under the Beck Black moniker, with the help of drummer Adam Alt and guitarist Mo Matatquin. Her music spans across multiple genres ranging from alternative, rock’n’roll and punk to country and pop, and everything in between. Listening to her music catalog, I’m struck by the fact that no two songs of hers sound alike (I adore her 2019 country song “Don’t Call Me Darlin'”). In addition, with her love of make-up and dressing up, she’s continually changing her style, such that she looks vastly different from one photo to the next, and I love it!

Beck has recorded songs with Ringo Starr (“Who’s Gonna Save Rock & Roll” in 2020) and Tony Valentine of The Standells (“Another Dimension” and “You’re Never Gonna Stop Me!” in 2021), and is also is part of the duo JYNX, with two songs licensed to the Netflix film Dumplin. She and her band have played some of L.A.’s most iconic venues like the Troubadour, The Echo, Whisky a Go Go, The Viper Room, and The Satellite. Besides making music, she has appeared on TV, films and many online shows including S.W.A.T., Grey’s Anatomy, and Ruth & Lori.

Photo, makeup and styling by Robert Hayman Flores

I first learned about Beck last month when I heard her marvelous cover of David Bowie’s song “Aladdin Sane”, which she recorded for the album Forget That I’m 50, a magnificent cover of Bowie’s entire album Aladdin Sane, produced by Julian Shah-Tayler. Now she’s back with a delicious new single “Puppet Show“, accompanied by a delightful video. Written and produced by Beck, the song is originally from the album Hollywood Blvd, but has now been released as a single. Beck sang vocals and played keyboards, Mo Matatquin played guitar and Adam Alt played drums. The track was mastered by Magic Garden Mastering.

It’s a lively banger, with an emphatic foot-stomping groove overlain with swirling cinematic synths, intricate edgy guitars and thunderous percussion. The infectious synth-driven melody reminds me a bit of the great 1982 song “Wishing” by A Flock of Seagulls. Beck’s vibrant lilting vocals are wonderful as she sings the lyrics that seem to be telling us that life is like a puppet show, with some people trying to control or influence our thoughts and actions, but we can choose to cast off those strings and life on our own terms: “Telegram the words to me, a puppet sings. People pulling at your strings and other things. Dancing with a back and forth motion, to and fro. Wearing shiny, sequin clothing a puppet show. Chances are interesting a puppet dreams. Reality is what you make it wearing strings.

The brilliant video for the song, created and produced by Beck, co-directed with Justin L. Smith, and filmed by Eli Wallace Johansson, is utterly charming. It features Beck as a human marionette, along with a marionette miniature of her, created by Rasputin Marionettes. Both Beck and her marionette doppelgänger are dressed in matching hot pink sequined dresses and wigs. Beck is shown singing the song and playing her keytar in a vast outdoor field while the marionette acts out the lyrics. Eventually freed from their strings, they both jump into a lake, where they savor their newfound independence “Swimming in a deep blue ocea, ebb and flow. Life can be your pearly oyster, a puppet show.”

To learn more about Beck, check out her Website

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ANTIPOLE & PARIS ALEXANDER – Album Review: “Crystalline”

The music industry has long thrived on the collaboration of talented songwriters and musicians, and one of the most successful collaborations I know of is the one between Norwegian coldwave/post-punk project Antipole and British electronic music artist Paris Alexander. Antipole is the music moniker of guitarist and composer Karl Morten Dahl, who’s based in Trondheim, Norway, whereas singer-songwriter, composer and producer Paris Alexander is based in Brighton, England.

Antipole (aka Karl Morten Dahl) & Paris Alexander

While each has released music as solo artists, the majority of their output consists of albums they’ve recorded together or with other musicians and vocalists. I’ve followed them both for quite a while, and have written about some of their previous works – in 2017, I reviewed their collaborative album Northern Flux, and in 2021, I reviewed Alexander’s album Renaissance, featuring his partner Eirene. On May 12, they dropped their latest album Crystalline, featuring eight outstanding tracks.

The music was co-written by Antipole and Alexander, and lyrics written mostly by Alexander, with the exception of the songs “Marble” and “Infractions”, which were written by Eirene. Antipole’s guitar parts were recorded at AGV63 studio in Trondheim, while Alexander’s programmed synths and vocals were recorded at his Blue Door Studio in Brighton. Eirene sang additional vocals on “Marble”. Alexander also produced, mixed and mastered the album. The beautiful artwork for the album cover was created by Anne-Christel Gullikstad.

Listening to Crystalline, I hear strong influences by iconic darkwave and synthwave acts like Joy Division, New Order and The Cure, with a bit of Depeche Mode for good measure. Antipole’s jangly and shimmery guitar work is pretty spectacular throughout, and together with Alexander’s hypnotic beats and dreamy cinematic synths, create darkly beautiful and mesmerizing soundscapes. I also love Alexander’s rich baritone vocals, which have a haunting yet sensual quality, reminding me at times of David Bowie, most notably on “Midnight Shadows” and “Marble”.

Most of the songs have a somewhat similar sound and feel, certainly not a bad thing, as they’re all quite arresting and beautifully-arranged. At 30 minutes and 45 seconds in length, the album seems to pass by quickly, always a sign of a quality work in my book. I like every track a lot, but will touch on some of my favorites. Opening track “Perceptions“, features a strong pulsating groove, overlain with lush industrial synths and Antipole’s intricate jangly guitars. Alexander’s breathy vocals are wonderful, both mysterious and sensual. The video, filmed in black and white and at night, shows Antipole making magic on his guitar outdoors on a cold night in front of a church in Trondheim, while Alexander walks through the abandoned streets of Bath, England.

Perhaps the darkest song on the album is “Bleached“, a beautiful but brooding track for which the guys have also fortunately created a video showing them performing the song, superimposed over rather bleak footage of a large English industrial city filmed along a railroad line. The lyrics speak of a desperate existence in an urban wasteland, which Alexander sings in ominous whispered tones: “Take me. Houses full of lost dreams. Structures gripping the sky. Roads leads to hope, but walking is tiring. Reality is the end. Dead end streets and turnarounds. Windows gaze down upon me. Wandering these city streets, struggling for breath to nourish the blood. Stuck on an island, gotta get off. Get me off my phone, get me off my phone…

Marble” is an especially lovely and melodic track, with a rapid, pulsating beat, sharp percussive synths, and marvelous jangly guitar notes. Alexander’s comforting vocals are nicely backed by Eirene’s ethereal harmonies. “Infractions” has a wonderful psychedelic vibe, thanks to a greater use of spacey synths, while “Sentiments” is a gorgeous four-minute-long tour de force of hypnotic beats, dreamy atmospheric synths and jangly guitars, accompanied by Alexander’s brooding but hopeful breathy vocals.

With Crystalline, Antipole and Paris Alexander have gifted us another stellar collection of exquisite darkwave songs. I continue to be impressed by the consistently high quality of their output.

Crystalline is also available on vinyl and CD through Young & Cold Records

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Find his music on BandcampSpotify / Apple Music