For my final review that I’ll be writing for the foreseeable future, I’m featuring an amazing band with a fascinating name, Onism E. The brainchild of California-born, Texas-raised and now New York City-based singer-songwriter Eline Chavez, the term “Onism” can be defined as “The awareness of how little of the world you will actually experience.” Inspired by groundbreaking female rockers like Joan Jett, Bonnie Raitt and Melissa Etheridge, Eline draws from her experiences living in vastly different places to create her own distinctive style of edgy and soulful indie rock, expressed through her honest, often biting lyrics and fierce vocals.
To help deliver her message, Eline has enlisted three talented Texas musicians – Chris ‘Lefty’ Vargas on guitar, Chris ‘CeeRod’ Rodriguez on bass, and Raj Arenas on drums. The energy and inspiration they contribute helps elevate Onism E to even greater musical heights, and together, their warm, welcoming approach and riveting live performances have enabled them to form a strong positive relationship with their fans. Since the release of their debut single “Love You More” in August 2019, they’ve dropped several more outstanding singles, as well as an album Survivors in February 2021. Now they’re back with a brilliant new single “Lin Manuel“, a song inspired by Eline’s struggles of trying to make it as a musician during the uncertainty of the pandemic.
The song is darkly beautiful and melodic, with a moody, almost progressive vibe. The arrangement and instrumentation are pretty spectacular too. CeeRod lays down a sensuous throbbing bassline, while Raj keeps pace with his flawless drumming that goes from restrained to explosive and back again. Then there’s Lefty’s gorgeous intricate guitar work, which is positively mind-blowing. Wow, this man can play, coaxing shimmery notes, wobbly psychedelic riffs and screaming distortion from his six-string, seemingly with ease. All this incredible music serves as a dramatic backdrop for Eline’s powerhouse vocals, which she delivers with an impassioned conviction that’s downright chilling. “Lin Manuel” is a magnificent track in every sense of the word.
I asked Eline why she chose to name the song after the talented singer-songwriter, composer, playwright and actor, to which she kindly responded: “I’ve always found Lin [Manuel] an inspiring individual. He’s been one of those people that just kept going and working to make his dream happen. As an indie artist, I gravitate towards people like him because his story resonates with me. It’s about the everyday struggle where I question my place in this industry – ‘What am I doing? Should I keep playing? Should I keep working towards this goal?’ I know it’s a common artist struggle but during the pandemic, that voice got louder and I started questioning my next steps. I kept thinking…what would Lin do right now, what would Tom (Petty) or Bruce (Springsteen) do? The answer was always the same. Keep going. Keep writing. Keep believing.”
Those sentiments are beautifully articulated in her poetic lyrics: “Broken glass and shattered ceilings, I’m still waiting for my season they tell me you will one day see. But darkness comes and darkness goes, and I’m still all alone here with my dreams. / Lin Manuel reminded me that freedom comes at a cost for those who believe in. But I’m so scared of failing, I rarely sleep, I rarely sleep. And we’re all just working for better days, but sometimes I wanna scream!“
Skar de Line is the solo music project of singer-songwriter, producer and composer Oskar Abrahamsson, a talented, handsome, thoughtful and creative artist born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England. Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, he fuses his love for cinematic soundtracks by such composers as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi with hip-hop, rock and electronic metal to create dark, unconventional music that takes the listener on a sonic adventure while giving us a lot to think about. He writes, performs, records and produces all his own music, as well as writing, directing and editing all his music videos.
In October 2019, Skar de Line released his debut single “In Charge”, a fascinating orchestral electronic song about the human need to understand and control our surroundings, followed a year later by “Satisfied”, which explored the concept of satisfaction, posing the question “do we get satisfaction from being right, or merely by the act of searching for what we think we want?” The intensely dramatic song ended up spending 10 weeks on my Weekly Top 30 from January through March of 2021. (I reviewed both singles, and you can check them out by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post.)
Now he’s back with another single “Reset“, a dark and cinematic song that sees him continuing to explore new musical sounds by pushing beyond his comfort zone. He explains that the song “is built on my need to be better. A wish to constantly evolve, but also a fear that nothing ever will be enough. This is a journey out of this mental prison, in order to try to find something that I believe in, something I can hold on to forever.” He further elaborated on his Instagram page “Does every circle, even the ones we’ve created ourselves, hold us back? No matter how positive they are meant to be? As I looked around the room, I knew myself well enough to know that in my search to be better, this moment was just a phase, and would not mean anything in the next moment once I’ve grown beyond it. But I didn’t know if I really could accept that and let that happen, or if I, in this moment, could be more than that… Just take what I needed from myself.“
“Reset” opens on an eerie note, with sounds of Skar de Line’s echoed breathy gasps, which are soon accompanied by a distant rumbling bass and gently ticking drums as he sings in a rather ominous voice “Every time I open my eyes I kill an old version of mine. But I’m not a murderer, no, I’m a maker./ Every time I close my eyes, I am already set to reset.” From there, the music gradually builds as the breathy gasps continue, with the addition of dark orchestral synths and sharp percussion, creating a strong aura of tension along the way. His vocals turn more menacing as the tension continues to build, finally exploding into a bombastic cinematic crescendo, highlighted by a hauntingly beautiful angelic chorus that he states serves to “lift us out of the darkness“.
The brilliant video, filmed mostly in black and white and sepia tones, pays homage to the neo-noir black-and-white art style, and reflects the claustrophobic sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Skar de Line is dressed in black amidst a dark background, representing him feeling deeply trapped in the dark mental prison from which he wants to break free. His mind’s eye envisions a setting sun in a world of color, symbolizing a sense of freedom that still eludes him, and pushing him to fulfill his wish to climb out of this cycle that holds him back.
Follow No One is the collaborative music project of two highly accomplished musicians from different parts of the world, with two completely separate musical backgrounds – singer/songwriter and pianist Rich Hall, who’s originally from Nashville, Tennessee, but now based in Denver, Colorado, and guitar virtuoso Pedro Murino Almeida from Lisbon, Portugal, but with roots in Brazil. Rich began performing at a young age in theater, but found his true calling in writing and performing music. Pedro was classically trained in music composition, with a successful career involving his own musical acts, and his work has been featured in film and video.
Influenced by such rock giants as Dream Theater, Alter Bridge, Foo Fighters, Queensryche and Styx, to name but a few, they draw from the classic hard rock that defined an era, while adding a fresh approach to create their own distinctive sound. Working remotely from their respective home bases in Denver and Lisbon, the duo released their debut EP, simply titled “5“, in September 2017, featuring five hard-hitting tracks (here’s my review). They followed up with several singles over the next few years, including an excellent cover of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” (which especially resonates with me at the moment, but I digress). In 2019, Follow No One was named Best Rock Act at the Nashville-based Josie Music Awards, the world’s largest all-genre, privately-owned award show.
Now they return with their first full-length album FATE, a monumental concept work based on Hall’s real-life and near-death experiences that tested his faith, endurance and will to live. The album is an epic rock opera of sorts, featuring 17 tracks, 11 of which are songs and the other six spoken word pieces that drive the storyline forward. FATE‘s overarching theme is predicated on the question “If you lost everything you had, would you just give up or fight like hell to get it back?” The various tracks follow Hall’s journey from the depths of despair that culminated in a life-threatening health incident, to his self-redemption and healing that followed to get him to where he is today.
The album opens with “The Beginning Is in the End“, a spoken word piece that begins with sounds of someone gasping for air making a 911 call, then hanging up. We soon realize it’s Hall in a severe state of distress, recalling some important events in his life as he stares death in the face. Those events include happy times like the birth of his first son and his early career success (to which his father comments “You’re a lucky young man. This is one helluva place you got here, son. Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine. But, if you want my advice, enjoy your time at the top of the mountain. You may not always be here“), as well as the devastating news that his wife is leaving him and taking their two sons with her.
Next, we’re launched headlong into the hard-rocking “No Happy Ever Afters“, in which Hall bitterly laments of feeling betrayed and abandoned, his life now in tatters: “Take everything you have, and all that you hold dear, and watch it disappear. It’s just me we’re talking about, but I don’t think we’ll ever speak again.” Almeida’s guitar-playing prowess is on full display as he lays down scorching hot riffs, backed with pummeling rhythms and explosive percussion. They keep the aural onslaught going full throttle on the appropriately blistering “Drowning in Fire“, which is followed by a spoken word interlude “Adding Insult to Injury” that chronicles Hall’s life spiraling out of control from destructive behaviors, and isolating himself from others to the point where his father sends the local police to check in on him.
As the album progresses, Hall’s story unfolds with the telling of the rupturing of a major blood vessel in his throat, detailed in the song “Hanging by a Thread” and spoken word track “ICU – Can You See Me“, in which his doctor tells him of the severity of his condition. Realizing he nearly died, Hall has an epiphany “You were on a hell of a ride, but soon you may be dead. Now you’re in that moment where the memories of your life are passing by. Better hope the man pulling the strings, is pulling for your side.”
He starts coming to terms with his life as it now exists and contemplates the path he must take going forward on “Erase Me“. A year later, his sanity reaching the breaking point, he just wants to run away from his pain, which he lays out on the exhilarating rocker “Just Drive“: “Ok, take a deep breath and just remember: Every mile you go is one mile away from where you were. So fuck it, just drive!”
Now we arrive at the title track and centerpiece of the album, “Fate“, an anthemic rock ballad in the style of some of the great rock ballads of the late 80s. Almeida’s guitar work is especially magnificent here, and nicely accompanied by Hall’s beautiful piano and keyboards. His vocals are particularly moving as he plaintively ponders whether all the hardship and pain he’s going through is pre-determined or totally random “Is it fate, that makes our tomorrow? Is it me, that determines it all? Could it be, through the pain and the sorrow, there is no choice at all?”
Hall’s journey toward his recovery and self-improvement encounters a few setbacks along the way. On the very poignant “No Christmas Without You“, he’s left heartbroken at the prospect of facing another Christmas alone, without his sons. This pain is expressed on the hard-rocking “Million Miles Away“, with Hall lamenting about how he feels that, no matter how much he’s moving forward, he still feels farther away than ever. “A million miles away, is not far enough to keep my heart away. The closer I am, the further you are to me.” For this track, bass was played by Tony Franklin, and Hall’s son Reagan sang backing vocals.
Hall takes on his depression on the spoken-word “Just a Dream“, a conversation with his father who also suffered from the mental illness, and the song “This Bastard“, giving a name to the emotional foe he vows to vanquish. Once again, Almeida lays down some blistering riffs, making this a pretty good rocker. On “Never Surrender“, he sings of not giving up and letting his problems and depression defeat him. Things are finally looking up as he picks his sons up at the airport when they arrive for a Christmas visit on “Airport – Reunidos“. I like how he tells them about his new music project with Almeida when they get in the car.
FATE ends on an optimistic note with “Let Love” a beautiful, cinematic rock anthem about the healing powers of love. Reunited with his sons, Hall jubilantly sings of how love, faith and forgiveness helped him to survive and find happiness. “I forgive you, I still love you / You know that anything’s possible, as long as you learn how to survive. Keep your dreams alive, there is nothing to stop you now. Now that you’ve learned how to die.” Almeida’s guitar work is spectacular, accompanied by Hall’s gorgeous piano and soaring strings that make this song one of the highlights of the album.
With FATE, Hall and Almeida have created an epic work of musical art. It’s an impressive accomplishment, for which they should be very proud.
Soloveichik is the music project of Andrew Solway, a talented young singer-songwriter and musician based in and around Detroit, Michigan. Andrew chose his ancestral name of Soloveichik, which is Russian for “little nightingale”, as his artistic moniker because a nightingale is known for its beautiful and powerful song. As Soloveichik, Andrew has recorded and released numerous singles and EPs over the past two years, as well as his debut album At the Close this past January. His music is a pleasing and somewhat eclectic mix of alternative indie rock, emo and pop, and his relevant, often poignant lyrics are delivered with soft, whispery vocals that remind me a bit of Owl City (aka Adam Young). In addition to his solo music project, Andrew’s also works as a session musician and live pianist in the Detroit area, supporting live acts such as Jacob Sigman, Olivia Dear, Au Gres (who’s music I’ve also reviewed), Little Visits and Aaron Benjamin.
Soloveichik is on a mission to release a new single each month for the next year, and his latest is “Could It Possibly Be Me“, which dropped May 13 (a very busy day for new music releases). The song was recorded at Eureka Records in suburban Detroit with the assistance of longtime collaborator Austin William Stawowczyk, who produced the track, and features Andrew’s hauntingly beautiful repetitive piano riff, accompanied by a stirring cello arrangement by Juliano Bitoni Stewart. Andrew calls it “anunusually personal song, at times blatantly self-critical and blunt“. The lyrics that seem to speak to a lost love or relationship that didn’t work out, and his breathy vocals convey a sad resignation as he reminisces: “I’m alone again. And I still see our cat, but she’s elusive now. I think that I’m next. I just can’t forget easily. You asked me oh so honestly ‘could it possibly be me?’” Though melancholy, it’s a lovely song nevertheless.
Morgendust is a Dutch alt-rock band based in Zwolle, Netherlands. Formed in 2018, the engaging quintet is comprised of Marco de Haan (lead vocals, guitars), Ron van Kruistum (guitars, backing vocals), Iwan Blokzijl (keyboards, backing vocals), Dario Pozderski (bass, backing vocals) and Andre Swinkels (drums & percussion). All are talented and accomplished musicians with years of collective experience playing in other bands and as session musicians, giving their music a maturity and worldliness that comes from having lived on this earth for a while. Through intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, they tell stories that everyone can relate to, and package them with exquisite rock melodies and beautiful instrumentation.
They released their stunning debut EP Storm Will Come in September 2019, and since then have dropped a string of excellent singles, several of which I’ve featured on this blog. You can read those reviews, as well as the one I wrote of their EP, by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post. Now they’re back with an ambitious and unique new album 14, in which they reimagine eight iconic songs from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s that had a major impact on each of the band members when they were 14 years old. The band elaborates on their inspiration for making this album:
“Fourteen. The age at which you discover, learn, fall and get up again. The period in your life when you experiment, do your homework, get pimples, fall in love and are really moved by music for the first time. During the various lockdowns, we were thrown back to our own environment. And just like you during this period, we rummaged through our memories in attics and cellars. That gave us the idea to pay tribute to the music we played when we were 14. No 1 on 1 covers… but mashups of our own music with our sources of inspiration. We call it a re-dis-cover.
We grew up in the 80s. The time of the Cold War, squatters, roller skates, on land, at sea and in the air and the first computers. And after years of vinyl and cassette tapes: the CD. The 80s brought bad and of course also very good music, the music from our youth. Recent research shows that the age at which you are musically formed is, you guessed it, 14. ’14’ is about songs that were very dear to us and still influence the music we make today.”
The eight songs they’ve chosen to reimagine for 14 (all of which I love too) are “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police, “This is Not America” by David Bowie & Pat Metheny, “Alive and Kicking” by Simple Minds, “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush, “Walk On the Wild Side” by Lou Reed, “BigLove” by Fleetwood Mac, “Land of Confusion” by Genesis, and “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. For the recording of the songs, they had help from two female vocalists, Cindy Oudshoorn and Judith Elders. Cindy sang co-lead vocals with Marco on “Don’t Give Up” and “Big Love”, and Judith sang lead on “Land of Confusion”. Both ladies sing back-up on most other songs.
I’m not going to go into the specifics of their interpretations of each track, but suffice it to say I think they do great justice to them all. The songs are flawlessly produced and masterfully arranged, with lush instrumental treatments, resulting in really wonderful interpretations that are distinctly their own, while still respectful of the original recordings. Marco’s warm, resonant vocals, as well as those of Cindy and Judith, are marvelous. That said, I think my favorites are “Spirits in the Material World”, “This is Not America”, “Alive and Kicking”, “Don’t Give Up” and “Enjoy the Silence”. Here are two great videos Morgendust produced for “Spirits in the Material World” and “Don’t Give Up”, which I think is the best and most powerful of the eight performances, thanks to it’s stunning arrangement and Marco and Cindy’s gorgeous vocals.
It’s also interesting that some of the songs, most notably “Spirits in the Material World”, “This is Not America”, “Land of Confusion” and “Don’t Give Up”, speak to issues that are sadly still relevant 35-40 years later.
Here’s a 14-minute long video of the band members discussing their own musical awakenings and why they chose the songs they wanted to include on 14.
JEEN (Jeen O’Brien) is a talented, successful and established singer-songwriter and musician from Toronto, Canada with quite an impressive resume. According to her bio, her songs have been used in commercials for such companies as Google, Panasonic, Estée Lauder, Kraft, BlackBerry, KIA, Rogers, MasterCard and Molson, as well as various movies and television programs, including Cook Off, Republic of Doyle, Instant Star, Ruby Gloom, Degrassi, Killjoys, Hockey Wives, Workin’ Moms, MTV Catfish, and MTV Are You the One. Though we’ve followed each other on Twitter for a while, she somehow slipped under my radar until a few days ago, when she reached out to me about her latest single “On and On“. I liked it at first listen, and agreed to feature it on this blog.
Before I’m able to properly review music by an artist I’ve not written about before, I check out their website and various social media accounts to learn as much as I can about them (alas, I’ll never be able to shake the research methods I learned in grad school), and try to listen to at least some of their music catalog to better familiarize myself with their sound. In searching through JEEN’s, I was amazed by her tremendous music output over the past eight years. After starting out as a member of Toronto alternative pop-rock band Cookie Duster (who released a fine album When Flying Was Easy in 2012), she went solo and released her debut album Tourist in 2014. Since then, she’s put out scores of singles and four more albums, most recently Dog Bite last October (2021). Her music is so good, I found myself going down a rabbit hole of binge-listening to her back catalog. Her alternative pop-rock music style and sound are somewhat similar to a few other female artists I’ve heard, yet also distinctly her own.
“On and On” is the first single off JEEN’s forthcoming sixth album Tracer, due for release in October. For the recording of the single and album, which were co-produced by JEEN and her frequent collaborator Ian Blurton, JEEN played rhythm guitar, bass and synths, Ian played lead guitar and Stephan Szczesniak played drums. The song was also engineered and mixed by Ian, and mastered by Brad Boatright. JEEN says the song is “about breaking points and falling down more times than you’re willing to get back up. I wrote this song last year when everything was grinding me down and nothing seemed worth it.”
The song is a lively banger with a hint of punk undercurrent, driven by Stephan’s urgent thumping drumbeats and JEEN’s throbbing bass. Ian and JEEN lay down a colorful mix of grungy and chiming guitars, accompanied by exuberant sparkling synths, creating a rousing backdrop for her echoed, somewhat mumbled vocals, which are backed by her own soaring harmonies as she laments “Everything got so complicated. Every day’s so intoxicating. Anyway I tried a hundred times (and on and on and on). And I think you must be blind, when you say everything’s fine (and on and on and on).Hey I’m sorry that I lost my place, started running but I fell on my face.” I like the gnarly instrumental fade out at the end, as if to signify someone becoming emotionally deflated like a tire losing air.
For the rather trippy video, JEEN’s chosen a fascinating way to show her lyrics, including written in lipstick on a bathroom mirror, in ink on her hand and arm, crumpled scraps of paper, mylar balloons, an old sneaker and concrete walls, and typed out on a computer screen.
Another week, another boatload of new releases to choose from. For my 17th edition of Fresh New Tracks, I’ve selected three great new singles from (in alphabetical order) American singer-songwriter Matt Csiszar, Canadian alternative indie band Fake Shape, and Canadian artist Feather Weight.
MATT CSISZAR – “Chicago”
Matt Csiszar is an earnest and kind singer, songwriter, musician and composer based in Michigan who I got to know on Twitter last year. With a lifelong love for music, he started writing and recording his own songs at the age of 13, and over the years has taught himself to play guitar, piano, bass, and drums. His music is pretty eclectic, drawing from a wide range of genres and styles from pop, rock, folk, country and blues to electronic, funk, dance, industrial, jazz and even classical. A prolific artist, Matt released his debut album In The Mind in 1999 while in his early 20s, then played in the band Endless Question for a while before returning to recording and releasing music again as a solo artist in the early 2010s. Over the past 11 years, he’s released numerous singles and an astonishing seven albums, most recently his moody and beautiful instrumental classic work Pieces,Volume 1, in June 2021. He followed with more singles and an EP Forward last October, and has just dropped his latest single “Chicago“.
In addition to writing the music and lyrics and singing vocals, Matt played all instruments and produced, mixed and mastered the track. “Chicago” is a melancholy pop-rock ballad about a guy traveling to Chicago in the hopes of finding a lost love he let slip away. Over a lush array of programmed keyboards, strings, horns and drums, Matt layers acoustic, electric and bass guitar to create a beautiful and stirring soundscape. The twangy guitar notes in the bridge give the song a bit of a country vibe, and his raspy, plaintive vocals convey a sad resignation as he laments “Wandered around downtown, and now the rain is pouring down with no sign of her. I guess I learned my lesson. I know she was a blessing. I wish her all the happiness in the world.”
Fake Shape – is that not a great band name! – is a Canadian alternative-indie group based in Hamilton, Ontario (the second act from Hamilton I’ve featured recently; just last week I wrote about Burn The Louvre on my previous edition of Fresh New Tracks). They formed in September 2018 as a five-piece, but now consist of four members: Chester Edington (guitar/lead vocals), David Baldry (keyboards/flugelhorn), Olivia Brown (bass, backing vocals) and Mackenzie Read (drums). Their bio states that each band member brings a different influence to Fake Shape’s sound, resulting in a music aesthetic falling between funk, indie rock, pop, and ambient electronic. From what I can tell by a search of various platforms, they didn’t start releasing music until early 2020, when they dropped two marvelous singles “Headspace” and “It’s Easy”. We all know what happened next to virtually all musicians and bands, as the pandemic brought things to a screeching halt.
Now that things are somewhat back to normal, Fake Shape was able to get back into the studio to record songs for their debut EP NightSwim, to be released June 14th. The band describes the EP’s songs as “drifting through contrasting mindsets and morphing textures like navigating a solitary swim through dark water.” In advance of the EP, they’ve dropped a fabulous new single “‘Nother Thought“, a haunting, melodically-complex beauty of a song. Starting off with ominous sounds, a resonant guitar note enters along with stomping drumbeats as Chester begins to sing in an arresting voice that fluctuates between a gravelly rasp and lilting falsetto. The music continues to build with gorgeous guitars, exuberant strings and horns, and thunderous percussion, climaxing in a goosebump-raising crescendo in the final chorus. I’m blown away, and now a full-fledged fan of this band!
About “‘Nother Thought”, the band explains “This song is about trying to convince yourself that you’re okay when you’re really not. It’s about acknowledging that you can trivialize your mood and emotions to make other people more comfortable, when really you should be working through your problems and taming the creatures in your head.”
Toronto, Canada-based Feather Weight started out as a four-piece in early 2018, playing a compelling style of music drawing from elements of garage rock, dream pop and psychedelia, and highlighted by band frontman Alistair Bundale’s gorgeous jangly guitars. Over the next couple of years they released a number of outstanding singles and an EP. One of their best songs was “Volcano”, which I reviewed in January 2019, and liked so much that it ended up ranking #43 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. In early 2021, Alistair decided to continue Feather Weight as a solo act, and has subsequently released a number of fantastic singles, along with a stunning EP Permutations in March 2021. He followed a few months later with the wonderfully dreamy “Pack Your Shit Grimes”, a song I assumed was inspired by Grimes’ split with Elon Musk, but according to Alistair, touches on the “concept of the ultra rich investing and planning for their safe haven once the economic or environmental systems collapse.“
Now Feather Weight is back with another terrific new single “It Follows“, and I love it. It’s darker and edgier than many of his previous songs, with a bit of a 80s New Wave groove that makes for an exciting listen. Opening with sounds of grimy distortion, the song quickly erupts into a roiling soundscape of hypnotic driving rhythms, gnarly industrial synths, grungy bass, and a spellbinding blend of jangly and fuzz-coated guitars. Even Alistair’s echoed droning vocals have a gritty quality too, beautifully complementing the song’s haunting vibe. The song closes with the grimy distortion we heard at the beginning. As for the song’s meaning, Alistair says it’s essentially about “navigating the social construct and the feeling of alienation and isolation that that can lead to.”
Formed in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic, talented British five-piece Express Office Portico is comprised of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums). In cleverly naming themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, England, it follows that they would not be afraid to address all sorts of relevant and timely issues, including those related to mental health and emotional well-being. Their debut single “I Like it Weird”, released in late January 2021, dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how it can exacerbate feelings of jealousy over past lovers. Their second single “Mishmesh” explored the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits, while their third single “Then Wave” addressed abandonment and trust issues.
I really like their brand of dreamy synthpop with an edge, and have reviewed all three of their previous singles, which you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post. Now they’re back with their fourth single “Cosmic Joke“, which has a mellower vibe than their previous singles, as well as a more lighthearted message. They’ve provided a bit of background on their creation of the song: “‘Cosmic Joke’ came about by trying and failing to work out the chords to the 70s classic “I’d Rather Be with You” by Bootsy Colins. As big fans of artists immersed in RnB and funk like Erykah Badu, Yellow Days and Steve Lacy, we began thinking, how would an Express Office Portico track with these accidental chords sound? ‘Cosmic Joke’ evolved from there, with other influences such as Men I Trust, Beach House, Yellow Days, Rex Orange County & Mac Demarco adding to its creation. We love comedians that go on long rants that are more like philosophical monologues than stand-up. Bill Hick’s famous ‘It’s Just a Ride’ piece, being the perfect example. From here we decided on using this framing device for the track.
The title comes from an idea in philosophy that the entire universe and life in general is just one big joke. A trick played on humanity by existence itself, or God, or whatever you wanna call it. ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more’. The lyrics are essentially about having an existential crisis and the utter confusion of being a conscious human in the physical world. Everyone is searching for meaning, but life is fundamentally meaningless. So, we might as well just laugh about it all, and try to enjoy it as much as we can! During the recording weekend, we booked ourselves an Airbnb to house us all. After a mild night of drinking, our guitarist Roo had a bit too much nicotine, which resulted in a fairly violent bout of sickness, starting with us all sat around the TV. Who knew too much nicotine could do that to you hey?“
The song opens with Olly’s assertive drumbeats, then silky keyboards enter along with Ben’s funky bassline and Reuben’s beautiful shimmery guitar as the music settles into a delicious R&B groove. In her sweet, lilting vocals, Tara cheekily croons “Sit back, relax. As the curtains draw, the microphone stands upon the stage floor. Out walks a comedian. The crowd we roar. Out walks a comedian, and they say ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more. Your ticket’s already pulled, so you may as well just laugh and applaud’.” The song is filled with great moments like the quiet little interlude halfway through the song during which Ben’s funky bass really shines, and Tara and Billy’s wonderful harmonies in the final chorus.
With “Cosmic Joke”, Express Office Portico keep their perfect score of putting out stellar singles fully intact.
It’s been three weeks since my last Fresh New Tracks post, so I’m long overdue for a new one. For my 16th installment in this series, I’ve chosen three wonderful new songs by (in alphabetical order) Canadian indie rock duo Burn the Louvre, British rock artist The Petal Falls, and Tacoma, Washington-based psychedelic pop-rock artist Soda CrackerJesus. So, without further ado…
BURN THE LOUVRE – “Driving In The Rain”
Burn The Louvre are a Canadian indie rock duo based in Hamilton, Ontario, and comprised of Jordan Speare (vocals/guitar) and Sean Cooper (guitar/vocals), although the act originally began as a duo consisting of Jordan and his brother Dylan. From what I can tell, they first released Post-Romance EP in late 2014, then followed in 2017 with a second EP We’ll Be Just Fine. By 2018, Burn the Louvre became Jordan’s solo project, at which time he began work on a full-length album Silhouettes with the help of his friend Andrew Billone, of indie rock band Silvertone Hills, on lead guitar and bass. The album was recorded, mixed & mastered by engineer/producer Mickey Ellsworth, and is finally being released in 2022 as 11 separate singles, at the rate of one song per month over a period of 11 months. “Driving In The Rain“, which dropped April 26th, is the fourth single to be released.
Rather serendipitously, after he and Mickey finished recording Silhouettes in late 2018, Jordan received an email from guitarist Sean Cooper, in response to an old “musicians wanted” ad he’d forgotten to take down. The two immediately hit it off, and began jamming together on the already-recorded songs. Jordan recalls “The way he was able to come up with his own unique leads to songs that were already recorded, giving them different nuances while maintaining the vibe of each song…I mean, I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad practice. I felt this was a perfect opportunity to re-imagine Burn The Louvre as a duo and I am very happy he wanted to be a part of this.”
“Driving In The Rain” has a pleasing folk-rock vibe, driven by a colorful blend of twangy and jangly guitars, accompanied by subtle bass and percussion that allow the wonderful guitars to shine. Jordan’s vocals have an endearing singer-songwriter quality that work to great effect as he sings the lyrics describing a man driving through a rainstorm to see his girlfriend, with whom he has a troubled relationship: “I’m 15 minutes out, the sky is darker than her hair. And all Beck’s “Modern Guilt” has got me way too self-aware. The weather’s getting worse, man it’s really coming down. It’s just the second verse, but I think I’m gunna drown. Conventional conversation is ringing in my ears. I want to kiss her in the rain, so I can’t see the tears. Seven hundred fourteen thousand, she’s the only voice I hear. I’d call her just to listen if I didn’t have to steer.” It’s a fine song, as are the three previously-released tracks “Wish We Were”, “Nice Guy” and “Alison”, giving us a good indication that Silhouettes promises to be a winner.
Last August, I first wrote about British rock act The Petal Falls, the music project of Kent-based singer-songwriter Keith Leahy, when I reviewed his single “I Won’t Be There” (read the review here). To briefly reiterate some of what I previously detailed about The Petal Falls’ unfortunate history, Leahy formed the band in the mid 1990s as a performance platform for his music. Consisting of Leahy, who sings vocals as well as plays guitar and keyboards, and four other musicians: Robert Harpum (guitar), Dave Richards (guitar), Marius Ryndziewicz (bass) and Robin Tucker (drums), they signed with a mid-tier music label in the hopes it would lead to greater success, but it instead resulted in their ultimate undoing. The label stifled their creativity and stalled their career for several years, leading to a great deal of frustration among band members and their eventual demise, without ever being given the opportunity to publicly release any of their prodigious output of songs.
Thankfully, a few years ago their music catalog once again became available for release, and Keith jumped at the opportunity to re-master the original The Petal Falls recordings into four albums, with help of his friend and producer/engineer/drummer John King. The first of those albums, Workin All Night Workin All Day, was released in July 2020 to positive fan and critical response, an amazing feat for an act that had long been given up for dead. The album’s success inspired Keith to resurrect The Petal Falls as a solo project, recording and releasing new music in collaboration with King. They followed with a second album All These Years in September 2021, and are now planning to release a third album Everything About You this coming September. The first single from that forthcoming album, “Somebody To Love Me“, was released April 29th.
The song is a rousing upbeat stomper, with a hard-driving heartland rock groove that calls to mind some of the great mid-80s music of John Mellencamp. The lively guitar work is terrific, accompanied by sparkling keyboards and supported by a powerful rhythm section that keeps the song’s energy going full throttle. With his commanding vocal style, Leahy sings of his strong desire for a woman to call his own, wondering why he can’t seem to attract one: “I bought a new suit, shirt and tie. My hair wet down looking sharp through and high. Thought I’d impress with a twinkle in my eye. One look at me, she said ‘baby, bye bye’. I can’t pretend I understand what makes a woman love a man. I’ve seen your love in the face of a stranger. It seems to me, some girls are real dangerous.Am I a fool to think this way? I can’t be a loser every day. I need somebody, somebody, somebody to love me, yeah.”
Soda Cracker Jesus is the solo music project of the wildly imaginative, enormously talented and flamboyant singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. Based in Tacoma, Washington, Regan has been actively involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years, with his hands in many projects, including serving as front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright. He’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. With an unwavering sense of optimism, he creates music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past, and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound.
I’ve featured both Strangely Alright and Soda Cracker Jesus on this blog numerous times over the past three or so years, most recently last October when I reviewed his wonderful single “Kaleidoscope”, a heartwarming song inspired by the memory of his late father. Now he’s back with “Hoping For The Best“, his fifth single under the Soda Cracker Jesus moniker.
Ever the optimist, Regan says the song is about “finding one’s way, the sadness that hits sometimes, and trying to see a glass that’s half full”, expressed by the refrain “I don’t know why I’m sad. Hoping for the Best.” Musically, the song is an exuberant power-pop banger, infused with generous helpings of punk and psychedelia. Over a heavy stomping groove, Regan layers fuzz-coated gnarly riffs, spacey synths, and lots of crashing cymbals to create a high-energy psychedelic backdrop for his reverby vocals that sound like a cross between 1970s John Lennon and David Bowie. “Hoping For The Best” is another outstanding entry in an unbroken string of superb singles.
Hailing from beautiful Holy Island, situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales roughly halfway between Dublin and Liverpool, alternative psychedelic rock outfit Holy Coves is the brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden. Since its formation in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing group of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn on New Years Day 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.
After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians to record his third album Druids and Bards, due for release this coming August via his label Yr Wyddfa Records. These musicians are (with previous acts they’ve played with in parentheses) John Lawrence on guitar (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci), Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths (WE//ARE//ANIMAL, Hippies Vs Ghosts, The Heights), Jason Hughes on bass (The Painkillers), and Spike T Smith on drums (Morrissey, The Damned, New York Dolls). Marsden told me “It was a honour to work with them. I’ve wanted to work with all of them since I was a teenager. I’m very lucky. They are all geniuses.” He wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered the album. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the header photo are friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.
In late March, Holy Coves released their first single from Druids and Bards, the brilliant “The Hurt Within”, which is currently enjoying a run on my Weekly Top 30. Now, only a month later, they return with the second single “Desert Storm“, and it’s another brooding cinematic stunner. Over a stomping, mesmerizing groove, they layer mysterious, psychedelic synths, crisp percussion and an arresting blend of droning and jangly guitars to create a dark and moody soundscape, but with a hint of optimism. Marsden has a clear and pleasing singing voice, and his slightly echoed vocals have a somewhat ethereal quality here as he earnestly details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from severe drug addiction.
What you see is what you get
What you needs irrelevant
It's time we need to heal my friend
Let's go until we reach the end
Look how far we've come
We've only just begun
You're holding onto me
But I'm so far goneWere coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
I come to feel her love again
And take away all the pain
It seems like everyday I fight her now
It's tearing us apart
Right now I'm falling hard
Let's go back to the start
I'm falling off again
She's got me hook line babe
“Desert Storm” is a marvelous track, and if it and “The Hurt Within” are any indication, Druids and Bards is guaranteed to be a spectacular album.
To coincide with their album release, Holy Coves will kick off their 24 date Druids And Bards UK Tour on August 19th in Wrexham.