THE OCEAN BENEATH ft. FRAN MINNEY- Single Review: “Skin”

When I last featured British electronic music project The Ocean Beneath on this blog in July 2019, it was to review his marvelous debut self-titled EP The Ocean Beneath (which you can read here.) The Ocean Beneath is the brain child of Leeds-based musician, composer and producer Matt Burnside. Influenced by bands such as Gunship, HVOB and Talk Talk, he combine 80’s synthpop elements with modern recording techniques, analogue synthesis and huge melodic grooves to create music that sounds retro, yet fresh and now.

He recently teamed up with Leeds-based singer-songwriter and electronic musician Fran Minney for their smoldering new collaborative single “Skin“, which drops today, September 29th. In their own words, the song “encapsulates the almost drunken touch-starved feeling a lot of us have experienced during lockdown these past few months with a beat to help you dance out that desperation.” Well, I must say that Matt and Fran do a superb job in capturing those desperate feelings of desire through their sensuous instrumentals, arrangement and vocals.

Photo by Matthew Baxter

After listening to “Skin” a few times, it struck me how it has a somewhat similar feel as Everything But The Girl’s 1995 hit song “Missing”, not only because of the way it transitions back and forth from a calm, moody vibe to a sensuous dance groove, but also that Fran’s sultry vocals remind me of Tracey Thorn’s.

The song opens with enchanting glittery synths, then Fran’s lush vocals enter as the music expands with darker, more ominous synths and a crisp percussive beat. At the one minute mark, a throbbing dance beat ensues along with Fran’s haunting, echoed vocals, and lasting around 15 seconds before calming down, only to briefly return at 1:50. This back and forth pattern continues through the rest of the track, building to an exhilarating crescendo in the final chorus before calming back down at the end. It all serves to create a strong sense of tension and unfulfilled desire that makes for a very powerful song.

The days and the months
The weight of your touch
I’ve waited so long
The dry thickened clay
Baked deep in the layers
I’m breaking away

I am lost in your skin
Feel the waves crash within
I’m off my feet
I’m floating
Your skin, your, your skin, skin
Your skin, your, your skin, skin

The sand and the blood
A coarse thickened flood
I waited so long
The foam and the blue
That brought me to you
The pull of a truth

I am lost in your skin
Feel the waves crash within
I’m off my feet
I’m floating

I die a little each time x3
I die a little
I die a little each time x3
Let me drown in this night

I am lost in your skin
Feel the waves crash within
I’m off my feet
I’m floating

Connect with The Ocean Beneath: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

Connect with Fran Minney:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

EML’s Favorite Albums – twenty one pilots: “Blurryface”

Blurryface is my favorite album of the past 10 years, and twenty one pilots is my current favorite band. I love them, and their music brings out the 25-year-old still lurking inside my decrepit old body. I saw them in concert in St. Louis with my sister in August 2016, and the two of us were quite literally the oldest people there who were not chaperoning their children or grandchildren!

Formed in 2009 and based in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, twenty one pilots consists of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun (who joined the band in 2011 after two of the previous founding members left). Incorporating a ridiculously eclectic mix of genres – including hip hop, rap, alternative rock, pop, reggae, ska, psychedelia, electronica, new wave, folk and funk – and employing a vast array of instruments and synth sounds too numerous to mention, they create music that’s complex, innovative, exciting and totally original. With their unique sound, not to mention Joseph’s distinctively quirky vocals, they sound like no other act, and their music is immediately recognizable.

Released in May 2015, Blurryface was the band’s fourth studio album. Although they’d been putting out music since 2009, it wasn’t until April 2015 that I learned of them, when I first heard their single “Tear in My Heart”. It was love at first listen, and I quickly became a huge fan. I downloaded Blurryface on iTunes as soon as it was released, and also binged on their back catalog of music, especially their brilliant 2013 album Vessel. I burned Blurryface onto a CD, put it into my car stereo, and played it every time I went anywhere for months, turning many friends onto it as well.

The album is named after a fictional character called Blurryface, who Joseph said “represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around, are insecure about”, namely, our doubts, fears and self-loathing. Joseph wore black paint on his hands and neck during their live shows and music videos for the album, almost apologizing: “Very dramatic, I know, but it helps me get into that character.” The album is of such high caliber that every one of its 14 tracks could be a hit song, and in fact, in 2018 it became the first album in the digital era to have every track receive a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. It spent 276 consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200 Album chart, peaking at #1. It finally dropped off the chart three weeks ago, but then re-entered the following week, and as I write this, it’s enjoying its 278th week on the chart.

Although I love every song on the album, I’ll discuss my favorites to keep this write-up from becoming tedious. The first is “Tear in my Heart”, the second single released from the album and, as I stated earlier, my introduction to twenty one pilots. It’s a delightful song of love inspired by Joseph’s marriage to his wife Jenna a month earlier. Not only do I adore the song’s exuberant arrangement, arresting stop and start melody, colorful instrumentation, and Joseph’s wonderful plaintive vocals, I also love the endearing lyrics about the contradictory emotions of joy and agony that often come from romantic love: “The songs on the radio are okay. But my taste in music is your face! And it takes a song to come around to show you how. She’s the tear in my heart. I’m alive. She’s the tear in my heart. I’m on fire. She’s the tear in my heart. Take me higher than I’ve ever been!”

The video shows Joseph and Dun performing the song in L.A.’s Chinatown, with the people around him barely paying attention. Eventually, the surrounding buildings begin crumbling as Joseph notices Jenna in a group of people, and follows her down an alley and into a restaurant. She sings to him the opening lyrics of the song: “Sometimes you’ve got to bleed to know, that you’re alive and have a soul“, to which he responds: “but it takes someone to come around to show you how“, whereupon she starts beating him until he’s bleeding. The video ends with them kissing.

The pinnacle track on the album is “Stressed Out”, which is my favorite of all their songs, and now ranks among my favorite songs of all time. It’s a catchy and brilliant song with a relatively simple alternative rap-rock melody. The lyrics speak of facing the burdens and responsibility of adulthood, while longing for the simplicity and safety of one’s childhood: “Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days. When our mama sang us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out.” The song also references the album’s title and Joseph’s alter-ego Blurryface, expressed in the lyric “My name’s Blurryface, and I care what you think.” I especially love the strong drumbeats, spacey synths and contemplative piano keys. The song was a massive hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs, Mainstream Top 40, Adult Top 40 and Alternative charts, where it spent 12 weeks on top. The delightful video, which has been streamed more than 2.1 billion times, portrays Joseph and Dun as both children at play and young adults grappling with the onset of adulthood, their parents and siblings looking on in bemused disapproval.

“Ride” was the fifth album cut to be released as a single, and was also a big chart hit. It’s a deliriously upbeat alternative hip hop song with a strong reggae undercurrent, and I love Joseph’s extraordinary vocals that go from earnest to rapping to falsetto to impassioned wails. He’s a really talented rapper, with an ability to deliver lyrics in a hard, staccato style of fast-paced rapping that only a handful of artists like Eminem are good at. The lyrics speak to uncertainties and anxieties over the meaning of life, with references to thinking about death, which Joseph raps about at high speed: “‘I’d die for you,’ that’s easy to say / We have a list of people that we would take a bullet for them, a bullet for you, a bullet for everybody in this room / But I don’t seem to see many bullets comin’ through / See many bullets comin’ through / Metaphorically, I’m the man / But literally, I don’t know what I’d do / ‘I’d live for you,’ an’ that’s hard to do / Even harder to say when you know it’s not true.” At the end, he concludes “I’ve been thinking too much, help me.” Dun’s power drumming is amazing, and the organ is a nice touch as well.

“Tear in My Heart”, “Stressed Out” and “Ride” all rank in the top 20 of my 100 Best Songs of the 2010s.

The guys show their darker, edgier side on album opener “Heavydirtysoul” which was the sixth and final single released from Blurryface. A melodically complex song with harsh industrial synths, crushing drumbeats and Joseph’s frantic rapping, several critics named it the best track on the album. They typically opened their sets with this song for their tours promoting Blurryface.

“Lane Boy” is a perfect example of how they blend together an unorthodox mix of music styles like dubstep, hip hop, jungle, ska, EDM and rock to achieve a thoroughly original and melodically surprising sound. And Joseph’s rapping on this track is particularly mind-blowing. The song challenges the idea that artists should stay in a ‘lane’ or be defined by a particular style, sound or genre, and not stray or vary from that expected formula for fear they’ll alienate fans or confound music critics: “They say, ‘stay in your lane boy, lane boy,’ but we go where we want to / They think this thing is a highway, highway, but will they be alive tomorrow?

Another favorite is the beautiful track “Hometown”, which shows that the band is equally skilled at producing a more conventional EDM-styled song. I’m a big fan of this kind of electronic dance music, and the lush sweeping synths and driving beats are cinematic and glorious. The lyrics seem to address questions of faith, self-identity and depression: “Where we’re from, there’s no sun / Our hometown’s in the dark / Where we’re from, we’re no one / Our hometown’s in the dark.”

Album closer “Goner” is a melancholy song about defeating the darkness and fears represented by Blurryface once and for all. The track starts off with a gentle piano melody as Joseph plaintively sings “I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath / I wanna be known by you.” The music gradually builds with added percussion as he pleads “I’ve got two faces, Blurry’s the one I’m not / I need your help to take him out.” At the three-minute mark, the song erupts with explosive percussion and screaming synths as Joseph passionately wails “Don’t let me be / I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath!“, abruptly calming down at the very end and leaving us spent.

Twenty one pilots would go on to release an equally outstanding follow-up album Trench in 2018. A concept album about the saga of the fictional evil city of Dema ruled by nine bishops, Trench was produced by Paul Meany, front man of alternative rock band MUTEMATH (who opened for twenty one pilots on their Emotional Roadshow Tour), and reflected a somewhat more mature and even more complex sound for twenty one pilots. Nevertheless, Blurryface remains my favorite of their albums.

New Song of the Week – LUKE MOCK: “Better”

Luke Mock is a 19-year old singer-songwriter from Auburn, a small city in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. He writes heartfelt indie pop songs and brings them to life with his fine guitar playing and pleasing vocals. His debut single “Universe”, released this past June, has already garnered over 55,000 streams on Spotify. Luke has opened for such acts as Ryan Quinn, John Gorka, Paul Elia, Mark Doyle, Joe Whiting and Neyla Pekarek, and was a headliner at the Perform 4 Purpose WinterFest 2019.

He’s just released his second single “Better“, a bittersweet folk-pop song about the pain and heartache that remains after a break-up. With his acoustic guitar as the primary musical instrument, Luke skillfully layers subtle synths and additional guitar notes to fashion a lovely soundscape for his fervent vocals. I like how his vocals become more impassioned as the music builds, accompanied by his own backing harmonies that add depth to the song and effectively convey the pain expressed in the poignant lyrics.

The song is directed to a former girlfriend, recalling some good times and asking her if she misses him or still hurting like he is, or has she moved on and feeling ‘better’: “Guess I should have known by the way you looked at me, that you lost feelings, and we’re not meant to be. Do you miss my voice like I miss your heartbeat? Do you feel the pain in my soul through your phone screen? And are you falling apart, torn by the seams like me? Or are you better, whatever that means?” It’s a wonderful song, and I’m pleased to choose it as my New Song of the Week.

To learn more about Luke, check out his Website

Follow him on  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicAmazonGoogle Play

ART BLOCK – Single Review: “Borderline”

Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. A prolific musician, he’s been making beautiful music for several years, and has released multiple singles and EPs since 2015, including his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions album in 2019, and The Basement EP this past March. Last November (2019), I reviewed the haunting title single “The Basement”, which you can read here.

Over the past few months, he’s been releasing remastered versions of some of his earlier songs. One of them is “Borderline“, a beautiful but melancholy song about the lingering pain from a love that’s faded away. The music and lyrics were written by Art Block, who played the electro-acoustic guitar. The Electric and steel guitars were played by Ben Walker, who also produced and mixed the track. Aurora Dolby did the remastering. 

The guitar work is sublime, particularly Walker’s mournful steel guitar that gives the song a bit of a Country feel, as well as creating a stunning backdrop for Art Block’s tender, heartfelt vocals. He has a lovely and incredibly emotive singing voice, with an ability to convey a deep sense of sorrow and despair as he sadly laments: “What must I do? To win the fair alliance with you? Why don’t you shred my soul? ‘Cos our love is so weak and old. Who are the lost ones walking with me? Who are the wounded all I can see? Oh, Borderline in the sea. Oh, cross the line here with me. Oh, Borderline.”

It’s a wonderful song, with a quiet intensity and poignancy that rips at our heartstrings.

Follow Art Block:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

ORTARIO – EP Review: “Playing With Fire”

Ortario is an alternative hard rock band from the South Wales Valleys, a region rich in musical heritage, as I’ve written about several artists and bands from that bucolic corner of the country. I’ve been following Ortario for more than four years, and first wrote about them back in March 2017, when I reviewed their debut EP A Place Called Home for The Symphony of Rock blog. (You can read that review here.) Comprised of Chris Clark (vocals), Jamie Thomas (bass), Scott Lloyd (guitar), Mark Lloyd (guitar) and Nathan Lewis (drums), the band released their self-titled album Ortario in April 2018, followed that December by Live, featuring live versions of seven of their best songs.

On September 4th, Ortario returned with their second EP Playing With Fire, featuring five hard-hitting bangers that see them exploring a harder rock sound. As the title suggests, the songs address themes of duplicity and mistrust, and the damage it can cause in relationships. There’s an interesting little story behind the artwork for the EP, as explained by the band: “The matchsticks that appear on the front cover of the EP actually spell out ‘Ortario’. The lettering seen is taken from the old Welsh and primitive Irish alphabet called “Ogham”, which dates back to the 3rd century. The medieval inscription was primarily used on tombstones and stone monuments. Examples of this alphabet can still be found in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.”

The guys get right down to business with the opening track “Losing Control”, blasting through the speakers with a furious onslaught of thunderous distortion and pummeling rhythms. Chris has a perfect voice for their style of hard rock – powerful enough to keep up with the intense instrumentals, while retaining a heartfelt vulnerability that beautifully conveys the pain and despair described in the lyrics. He laments of having to lose a piece of himself along with his self-esteem in order to keep his deteriorating relationship alive: “So I guess I better swallow my pride. But oh, I just want one more go. I know I think I’m losing control. And I don’t want to see the end. Not long ago you were my friend. And everything that we shared, I would never think it’d end this way.

Ortario continues on their relentless sonic rampage as they launch into “Save the Day”, delivering frantic riffs of gnarly guitars and smashing drumbeats. “The Fall” follows suit, as Scott and Mark’s dual guitars slice through the airwaves with a barrage of jagged, buzzsaw riffs, while Jamie drives the rhythm forward with his propulsive bassline and Nathan aggressively beats his drum kit into submission. 

“Time and Space” opens with a melodic intro of gently strummed guitar, accompanied by measured percussion and vocal harmonies lasting around 30 seconds before the song erupts in a storm of shredded guitars and thunderous percussion. While I do love the guys’ hard-driving sound, I also like when they scale things back and show their softer side. I would have enjoyed hearing an entire song played in the more acoustic style that the song opened with. That said, “Time and Space” is a highly satisfying badass rocker with some fine reverb-soaked guitar work.

They close out the EP with the hard-rocking “Sunrise”, featuring more of their signature blistering riffs and massive, speaker-blowing rhythms. The chiming guitar and Chris’s echoed vocals in the bridge add a bit of enchanting beauty, quickly followed by a final blast of distorted guitar to close things out with a bang.

Playing With Fire is an explosive little fireball, delivering 17 minutes of unrelenting hard rock grooves. The five members of Ortario really know how to kick ass, and if you like rock music that’s heavy, aggressive and loud, you will enjoy this EP. 

To learn more about Ortario, check out their Website  

Follow them on:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase: Google PlayAmazonBigCartel.com

RONNIE THE BEAR – Single Review: “Do You Feel That?”

Ronnie the Bear is the music moniker of Joshua Rukas, a talented and charismatic young singer/songwriter and musician from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He’s also a member of the punk/emo rock band MUSCLEMAN, as well as a former member of alt-rock band Dancing On Pluto, who I reviewed a couple times prior to their splitting up in August 2018. On September 9th, he released his stunning debut single “Do You Feel That?“, the first track from his forthcoming EP.

Josh composes, performs and produces all his own music, as well as the mixing and mastering, and I must say he’s done a masterful job (no pun intended) with “Do You Feel That?” Starting with a languid, seductive synth bass beat, he skillfully layers a lush array of shimmery and grainy-textured synths, accompanied by gorgeous chiming guitar notes, then bathes it all in just enough reverb to create a dreamy, atmospheric soundscape that carries us off to an enchanting faraway place.

He has a smooth and warm singing voice, and his somewhat echoed vocals are really lovely and soothing, perfectly complementing the song’s atmospheric aura. Halfway through the song, he briefly transitions to rapping a verse of lyrics, pulling it off quite nicely. Then, during the final minute, his vocals are electronically altered, giving them an otherworldly feel that enhances the song’s overall dreamy vibe. I love it!

The song seems to be about living life to the fullest and in the moment, being independent and free to make your own decisions, and unafraid of what the future might bring:

It might be time to shake things up a little
No longer feel the danger 
I'm just trying to feel myself a little 
So glad I'm on my own 
I think I want to dance just for a little 
Not a care if it's been raining 
I'll leave my shoes behind and let my body be my guide
I'll get by
 I'm just strolling through life

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THE RARE OCCASIONS – Single Review: “Alone”

I recently got a notification in my inbox for the new single “Alone” by an indie rock band called The Rare Occasions. Being the dutiful music blogger that I am, I gave it a listen and liked it so much that I started delving into their impressive music catalog. Well, I’m happy to report that I love their music and am now a big fan. Fashioned with colorful melodies, sparkling arrangements, exuberant instrumentals and endearing vocals, but with contemplative and often biting lyrics, their songs are immediately memorable and deeply addictive. It’s not surprising they have a sizable following; their song “Notion” has been streamed over 1.7 million times on Spotify, with another six of their songs garnering between 100,000-800,000 streams.

With origins in Providence, Rhode Island and now based in Los Angeles via Boston, The Rare Occasions was formed by childhood friends Brian McLaughlin and Luke Imbusch after they moved to Boston to form a band. They soon met bassist Jeremy Cohen and guitarist Peter Stone, and with McLaughlin on vocals and Imbusch on drums, their lineup was complete. In 2013, they released their debut EP Applefork, then followed up a year later with Feelers. Their song “Dysphoric”, one of the tracks from Feelers, won the ‘Song of the Year’ award in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. They released more singles and a third EP, the wonderful Futureproof, in 2016.

Fiercely independent, the band has always recorded and produced all their own music, getting help only with final mastering. Wanting to devote their full energies and earn a living from music by doing studio session work and songwriting, they relocated to Los Angeles in 2017, and would go on to record their exquisite full-length album Into the Shallows, which they released in 2018. After a national tour to promote the album, The Rare Occasions saw the amicable departure of guitarist Peter Stone. Now forced to reinvent themselves as a three-piece, they continued writing and recording new songs featuring, in their own words, “three-part harmonies, wall-of-sound instrumentation, and a pointed sense of cheekiness.”

Since becoming a three-piece, they’ve released three singles, “Control”, “Set It Right”, and their latest “Alone” which dropped September 16th. It’s an infectious, anthemic banger, highlighted by an aggressive foot-stomping beat and explosive instrumentals. The thunderous mix of jangly and gnarly riffs, punctuating by lunging guitar notes, and driven by Jeremy’s powerful buzzing bass line and Luke’s smashing percussion, create an electrifying wall of sound that serves as a dramatic backdrop for Brian’s wonderful plaintive vocals. I especially love the soaring vocal harmonies in the choruses. It’s a fantastic song.

The lyrics are a defiant repudiation of an affluent and controlling parental figure who wants their son to toe the line and adopt their status symbol-based materialistic lifestyle, or face being cut off from the family fortune:

I take time kicking it down the line
I don’t know where I’m going where I’m going
I think twice before taking your advice
‘cause I can see your ignorance is showing

you say “real estate is what you need
a little place beside the sea
if you don’t fall in line
then you’re no son of mine”

so I swing my shoulder through the thick of it
and face tomorrow alone
because you own me and I’m sick of it
but you don’t own me no more

where’ve we seen this before?
the age was gilded; cronuts weren’t to blame
your world is purely transactional
why don’t you look around and think
before you blurt out gems like:

“jewelry is what you want
a sterling piece that you can flaunt
if you don’t fall in line
then you’re no son of mine”

so I swing my shoulder through the thick of it
and face tomorrow alone
because you own me and I’m sick of it
but you don’t own me no more

And here’s a cute video of them performing the song at their virtual release party:

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STRANGELY ALRIGHT – Single Review: “Maybe If”

Strangely Alright is a wonderful and wildly-entertaining psychedelic-punk rock band based in Seattle-Tacoma, Washington. Referring to themselves as an “Eclectic Traveling Minstrel Magic Music Medicine Show”, they’ve built a loyal following not only through their great music, but also for the positive messages of humanity, love, kindness and acceptance in their songs. Their quirky and unique style of punk-infused rock is inspired by such iconic British artists as David Bowie, T.Rex, Pink Floyd, the Jam, Suede, the Buzzcocks and Supergrass. The band is fronted by Regan Lane, who does much of the songwriting and sings lead vocals, Sean Van Dommelen (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ken Schaff (bass), Raymond Hayden (keyboards, backing vocals) and Jason Bair (drums).

They’ve released a number of recordings over the past several years, including their debut album The Time Machine is Broken in 2013, as well as a compilation album All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) and an EP Stuff, both of which were released in 2018. Since then, they’ve dropped a number of terrific singles, one of them the brilliant and trippy “Psych Film”, which has been streamed nearly 75,000 times on Spotify. The song has also spent the past four months on my Weekly Top 30 list, peaking at #4. (You can read my reviews of Stuff and “Psych Film” by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.)

Now Strangely Alright returns with their marvelous new single “Maybe If“, a beautiful song of hope, love and gratitude. About the song’s message, the band states “In a world of pointing fingers, we have decided to look inside for the answers. And let’s be kind! It matters in ways we often never see.” Running nearly eight minutes long, the song has an epic, otherworldly feel reminiscent of some of Pink Floyd’s music. The intricate guitar work is fantastic, alternating between jangly, chiming and grungy textures, and accompanied by sparkling piano keys, measured percussion, and a colorful mix of spacey and sweeping orchestral synths. It all comes together beautifully to create a dreamy cinematic backdrop for Regan’s wonderful Bowie-esque vocals.

Feeling like an alien
Who fell and landed here
Maybe if I face my pride
The answers will be clear
Maybe if I ride a cloud
Into the sun my darkness disappears

Everything I never had
I’d give it all away
If I have to steal a smile
I’ll wear it for the day
If I have to tell where I have been
I have to sell there’s nothing left to win

Maybe If I look inside
I’ll see the things I’ve always tried to hide

Maybe everything I have
Is everything I need
And I can’t control the world outside
And I hate who I can be
If I lose control will I disappear
And will I fade away to the nothing
In the mirror

Galaxies of brokenness that fabricate what I have missed
Peculiar thoughts I died when I was young
Can’t escape what might have been
The atmosphere is getting thin
I’m out of gas
Maybe If

Maybe If my gratitude is greater than my faith
If I see myself in everyone will I share a little grace
And I want to trust all the things I see
And I want to feel just a little peace
There’s a million no’s deep inside of me
If I let em go
I just might end up free

Strangely Alright hit the ball out of the park yet again with “Maybe If”, further cementing their reputation for putting out stellar tunes with the power to both dazzle our senses and stir our souls.

To learn more about Strangely Alright, check out their website
Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

BEATING HEARTS CLUB – Album Review: “Freedom & Rebellion”

One of the benefits (and challenges) of being a music blogger is discovering lots of music by an ever-expanding number of indie and up and coming artists, more than I could possibly ever write about, let alone listen to it all! There’s a surprising amount of real talent out there, and I’ve had the pleasure of writing about quite a few artists and bands who are making some truly great music. And every now and then, one comes along that stands out among the crowd, such as Australian folk-rock band Beating Hearts Club. Since learning about them this past April, they’ve become one of my favorite indie bands. I’ve already featured them twice on this blog earlier this year, when I reviewed their singles “Black & White Love” and “Round the Bend” (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post). I’m now pleased to review their stunning debut album Freedom & Rebellion, which drops today, September 18th.

Based in Sydney, Beating Hearts Club is comprised of Duncan Welsh (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Ciaran Loughran (lead guitar/backing vocals), Lukas Thurner (bass) and Trent Miller (drums), who joined the band a few months ago after their previous drummer left. With their shared love of rock, folk, country and blues, the talented foursome create exceptional music characterized by beautiful melodies, stellar arrangements and intelligent lyrics, and delivered with superb instrumentation and Duncan’s sublime vocals.

As suggested by the title, the album’s theme seems to be about the ups and downs of love and relationships, and the eternal struggle between wanting freedom and wanting to belong to someone. The album opens with “Heroin“, the very first single the band released back in April 2019. It starts off as a gentle ballad, with Duncan’s earnest vocals accompanied by strummed and chiming electric guitars as he sings to a loved one who’s saving him from falling into a downward spiral: “You are my heroin, a shot to the veins / You’re my therapy, you’re the cure.” Then the song expands into a full-blown rocker, with rapid-fire riffs of reverb-soaked guitars, humming bass and thumping drums. Duncan’s vocals rise to the occasion, become more impassioned in their urgency, and Ciaran’s blistering guitar solo in the bridge is fantastic.

Next up is “Black & White Love“, a gorgeous love song that instantly became one of my favorites of the year. I love it so much it’s spent the past four months on my Weekly Top 30, recently going all the way to #1. The instrumentals are stunning, with some of the most achingly beautiful guitar work I’ve heard in a long while. Duncan’s plaintive vocals are lovely and heartfelt, and when the music builds to an anthemic crescendo in the final chorus, I’m covered with goosebumps. The moving lyrics speak of how finding true love in the right person can be a force for healing in our sometimes broken lives: “Could you be the reason? You know I need you, Seen my last chance die but I’m still breathing / Do you feel what I’m feeling? You know I need you shook me upside down and I saw meaning.”

When I didn’t think the guys could top “Black & White Love”, along comes “Crying Wolf” and I’m quickly blown away. What a magnificent song this is, with lush, intricate guitar work and beautiful layered vocals. I also love the mournful organ riff in the outro that gives the song a country rock vibe. The lyrics are about being stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with a partner who constantly complains and threatens to leave, but never does: “Thought I’ve heard, heard it all before / You got me shook, shaking to the core / Why am I the subject, why am I the cries? / Well everybody knows you’re the one who made you cry.

Beating Hearts Club are adept at making both hard-rocking bangers and gentle ballads. A great example of the former is “First Sight of the Rain“, a dark rock’n’roll song about a romantic partner who’s afraid of commitment and wants to bolt from the relationship at the slightest hint of a problem: “You’re running from yourself, it’s you who won’t make a change and no one else / You gave it all to me, then turned and ran away.” The exuberant, hard-driving rhythms and fuzz-coated guitars that break into a scorching solo in the bridge are sensational. Likewise, “Homemade” and “Round the Bend” are rousing folk-rock tunes with resonant jangly guitars and galloping drum beats, punctuated by terrific guitar solos, pummeling drumbeats and ample flourishes of wildly crashing cymbals that make for a lively and highly satisfying listen.

Turning to the ballads, one of my favorite tracks is “Freedom Pt. 2“, a lovely Americana song with strummed acoustic guitar, beautiful piano and strings, and is that a didgeridoo I hear in the background? I may be way off, but the lyrics seem to speak of a man who’s been released from prison, and facing his newly-found freedom with some apprehension: “Heaven knows that I’ve paid my dues / Bring back a feeling, I forgot to use / And from here we’re going wherever I might choose / I know, it’s gonna take a lifetime.” “Olivia” is an equally beautiful song of love and devotion, highlighted by gorgeous strummed guitars and sparkling piano keys.

As the album continues to unfold, it’s clear these guys can do no wrong, as every track is perfect. I’m sounding like a broken record, but on “The Reaper“, the intricate guitar work is spectacular, and when combined with the organ at the beginning and the mournful piano later in the song, the results are breathtaking. Special mention must also be given to Lukas for his wonderful bass line that gives the song such incredible depth. Album closer “Stockholm” is a hard-rocking song about being in an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship similar to Stockholm Syndrome. I love the frantic riffs of grimy guitars and strong, driving beats that nicely convey a sense of tension expressed in the lyrics: “Stockholm Syndrome’s got a hold of me / She takes me down and she won’t let me breathe / I don’t believe in anything I see.”

What more can I possibly say to gush any further about this beautiful work of musical art? Freedom & Rebellion is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and I love every one of its tracks – something that doesn’t happen very often. It’s an impressive debut from this extremely talented band, and they should be very proud of their magnificent accomplishment.

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CALLING ALL ASTRONAUTS – Single Review: “Divided States of America”

British electronic goth punk rock band Calling All Astronauts have never shied away from writing provocative lyrics about the dark underbelly of politics, culture and society, and calling out authoritarians, fascists and racists as often and as loudly as possible. Drawing from an eclectic mix of genres and influences ranging from electro, alternative rock, goth, punk, metal, rap and dub step, the London-based trio create music that’s exhilarating, melodic, compelling and often in-your-face. Making this musical mayhem are vocalist/songwriter/programmer and producer David Bury, guitarist J Browning and bassist/keyboardist Paul McCrudden.

Since forming nearly a decade ago, Calling All Astronauts have released numerous singles and EPs, as well as three excellent albums – Post Modern Conspiracy in 2013, Anti-Social Network in 2016, and #Resist, which dropped this past June. (It’s hard to believe that nearly four years have passed since I reviewed their single “Life As We Know It”!) They’re now set to release one of the tracks from #Resist – “Divided States of America” – as their 19th single on September 18th. The single, being released via Supersonic Media, is a scathing attack on the current political situation in the U.S. As someone who loathes President Donald Trump and what’s become of the Republican Party that’s enabled him (not to mention the millions of delusional Americans who still support him), this song strongly resonates with me.

Musically, the song features a powerful punk-style dance beat that gets our blood pumping and emotions appropriately riled up. Paul McCrudden’s throbbing bass line is deliciously heavy and deep, pummeling our senses as he drives the rhythm forward like a battering ram, while J Browning lays down a swirling deluge of grungy guitars, punctuated by some nicely-placed stabbing chords. With his characteristically gruff vocals, David snarls the blistering lyrics with a venom that reflects my own sense of outrage and despair.

Society falling in a downward cycle
We checked it’s pulse, it’s signs ain’t vital
Decay. Decline. Sodom and Gomorrah
No matter what they tell you, there’s no tomorrow

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Two percent looking down at the rest
And the guy in the store wears a bulletproof vest
White folks offended by “Black Lives Matter”
But it ain’t their kids, whose blood is getting splattered

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Men in suits, above the law
Another refugee pushed against the wall
“The country’s fantastic, we’re doing great”
The President declares a De facto State

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

For the single version used in the video, David’s three-year-old daughter Daisy is heard talking at the end. Engineer Alan Branch (NIN, Depeche Mode, U2) was mixing the track and asked David to record a straight version of the chorus for the end. As Daisy heard her daddy doing the lines over and over, she proceeded to run round the studio singing the chorus, whereupon a mic was quickly handed to her and she happily contributed a few words.

Here’s the slightly longer album version of the song:

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