ASHRR – Single Review: “Sacrifice”

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Though a relatively new band formed just last year (2018), Los Angeles-based ASHRR collectively have a long and impressive music pedigree. Comprised of singer-songwriter Steven Davis and artists/producers Ethan Allen and Josh Charles, the accomplished trio have a seasoned and eclectic musical background, combining their wide-ranging experience and diverse stylistic influences. Davis has headlined at the famed Rainbow Room, sharing the stage with Diana Krall and Tony Bennett, co-written songs with pop legend John Oates, and had his music featured on several TV shows and films, including Criminal Minds. He’s released numerous albums, including his jazzy, easy-listening What Happened to Romance and This is Christmas in 2015, a collection of great standards The Way You Look Tonight in 2016, and his tribute to 80s pop-rock classics Departure in 2018.

Allen is a record producer, mixer, engineer, writer, and multi-instrumentalist musician originally hailing from Austin and New Orleans. His credits include Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ben Harper, The 88, Tricky, Luscious Jackson, The Cult, Gram Rabbit, Sheryl Crow, Tim Finn, Brant Bjork, Donita Sparks, Meg Myers, Patty Griffin and Better Than Ezra, as well as many licensing placements in film and television.

Charles is a critically acclaimed piano prodigy, guitarist, singer, producer and songwriter, mentored by the legendary Dr. John. He has recorded for Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, Island Records and Elektra Records/Warner Music Group, and has produced/co-produced and written/co-written seven albums, including his own Love, Work & Money (2010) and 1974. He’s also produced exclusive sound content for Native Instruments and Splice, and has had many of his songs played on radio, film and TV, including several cuts with the aforementioned John Oates.

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ASHRR joined forces after meeting through mutual musician friends, seeking to collaborate to create the kind of music they all wanted to make. Charles explains “Our collective love of analog synth pop, classic new wave melodies and songwriting, and taking modern production to the limits, defines us. We all come from different backgrounds, which is what can be heard inside the music.” Their sound is strongly influenced by Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem, among others.

In October 2018 they released their first single, the captivating “Don’t Wait Too Long”, which premiered at NPR.org and garnered regular airplay on famed Los Angeles alt-rock radio station KROQ. They dropped their self-titled EP ASHRR a few months later, then followed this past May with their debut full-length album Oscillator, which contained all the tracks from their EP, plus five new tracks. In October (2019) they released a stellar new single “Sacrifice“, which I’m reviewing today. The song was co-written by all band members, vocals were sung by Davis, and instruments played by Allen and Charles, except for Blair Sinta on drums and Grant Curry on electric bass. Allen and Charles produced the track, which was then mixed by Allen and mastered by Dave Collins.

The uplifting song seems to me to be about looking back on one’s life, realizing that all the hurdles we faced, all the pain we may have experienced, were worth going through to get where we are now, to be the better person we’ve become. Davis’ rich, beautiful baritone vocals are backed by a dreamy soundscape of sweeping orchestral synths. Sinta and Curry provide a mesmerizing rhythm accompaniment with their jubilant percussion and resonant bass lines, respectively. It’s a gorgeous song.

The rain it will come
And the wind it will blow
You wanna stay true
Don’t forget what you know

Haunted with memories
Blinded by noise
Too much to take
A crack in the voice
You lost the hope in your eyes
Was it worth the sacrifice

Preachers preach
Poets rhyme
The years tick slowly out of time
Angels watch while devils stare
We took the poison without care
The ferryman will name his price
We all know the sacrifice

Innocence is all you have when you are young
Darker days have come to pass
And we are stronger
looking back now
on all those dreams denied
It was worth the sacrifice

Connect with ASHRR:  WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music: SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  iTunesGoogle Play

New Song of the Week – CARL THORNTON: “Let Me Fly”

Carl Thornton

Carl Thornton is a multi-faceted singer, songwriter, actor and dancer based in Brooklyn, New York.  From the very first moment he stood up on stage as a member of his elementary school chorus at the age of seven, Carl knew he wanted to be a singer. He later studied at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, H.B. Studios, and the Broadway Dance Center, and went on to star in the national tour of RENT, where he played the role of Benny. He also performed in the musical 5 Guys Named Moe, as well as From My Hometown, and You Shouldn’t Have Told.

He’s had a successful music career over the past five years, beginning with his 2015 debut dance single “Get Up!” The Carlos Sanchez and Sami Dee remix of the song has garnered over 154,000 views on Spotify. Carl followed up with a number of excellent EDM and pop singles, which culminated in his 2016 EP Destined. He released a wonderful, inspirational dance single “I Depend on Me” in 2018, and now returns with another joyously uplifting new dance track “Let Me Fly“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The lyrics speak to not wallowing in negativity and defeatism, instead choosing a more positive outlook to help guide our way forward. And we can all certainly use a great song with a positive message right about now!

The single, released through Casa Rossa Records, features a lush soundscape of shimmery orchestral synths and percussion, set to an exuberant and hypnotic deep house EDM beat. Carl has a beautiful, resonant singing voice, and his powerful soaring vocals have a commanding, almost gospel-like quality that give the inspiring lyrics even greater impact. It’s a terrific song.

There were times, moments in my life when I felt shattered
My mind is weary, so completely battered
Not willing to go on, I felt defeated
All alone with the voices in my head
I couldn’t shake them
Much negativity, I was surrounded
Kept thinking to myself I might not make it
But then I heard a voice, and let me fly, yeah
Let me fly, yeah

Connect with Carl:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  iTunesGoogle PlayBeatport

ISOLDA – Single Review: “Night Time”

Isolda is a London-based singer-songwriter and musician who recently dropped her debut single “Night Time” on November 13. It’s a captivating track, and an impressive debut for this promising young artist, who began writing songs as a child. Classically trained on the violin and piano, she spent her formative years playing in orchestras, then later performing her songs at the piano in and around London. Inspired by those classical influences, as well as her interest in EDM, synth pop, psychedelic pop and trip hop, she began experimenting with electronic and acoustic elements to create her own unique sound, even learning to produce her own music in her north London home.

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With the assistance of Dave De Rose on drums and Ami Kirby on violin, Isolda recorded her first EP Night Time, from which the title track is the lead single. The EP was mixed by noted sound engineer Shuta Shinoda at Hackney Road Studio, and is scheduled for release in early 2020. About “Night Time”, Isolda explains “The song is a hypnotic electronic beat-driven piece, written on sleepless nights and dreamlike states of realisation as time pulls us further away from the persons we loved and the places we have been. [It’s] a contemplation on the identity lost, and the resulting wakeful alertness that persists when the psyche has been disturbed from such reflection during a dark night of the soul, inspired by the inability to sleep when the past haunts someone as they press on towards an unknown future.”

“Night Time” has a rather unusual opening, starting off with a muffled synth chorus that quickly fades out as if the power source has been cut. After a second of silence, a delicate synth riff begins, then the music swells into an enchanting, ethereal soundscape of lush atmospheric synths. Isolda skillfully chooses from a bold palette of sparkling orchestral and percussive sounds to create a dreamy backdrop for her spellbinding, breathy vocals. She gently croons “And on this long road, no turning back. No, there is no, no, no going back. I was in a lifetime, away. It wasn’t my time to find a way. / It’s the night time, but I can’t get back to sleep.”

The fascinating video shows footage of traveling through city streets at night, interspersed with surreal images of Isolda in different settings that one could imagine her experiencing in a dream. Have a look and listen:

Connect with Isolda:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Night Time” on Spotify 
Purchase:  iTunes  

A MILLION RICH DAUGHTERS – Album Review: “Hidden Parents”

A Million Rich Daughters

Today I’m happy to introduce my readers to a terrific band with an equally terrific name: a million rich daughters. Hailing from Chicago, they play an interesting and totally unique style of, in their own words – “garage/industrial/horror inspired alternative post-punk – music that transcends the typical boundaries of the observable universe.” That sounds about right. The band was founded by brothers Brett and Jake Grant, with Brett on vocals, guitars and synths, and Jake on drums. They were later joined by Matt Clepper, Rene Gutierrez and Taylor Ford, and just released their new EP Hidden Parents, which dropped November 15. After recording the album, Gutierrez and Ford left the band, and were replaced by bassist Josh Victor. Brett also has a solo project under the moniker brett.grant.5, and released his own EP disqui.etude this past June (which I reviewed).

The first track “Hitting Backspace” is a reworking of a song that was originally featured on disqui.etude. This time the mesmerizing track has been expanded by more than a minute, and gets a heavier full-band treatment. Starting off with moody, throbbing synths and shadowy bass chords, the music gradually builds into a spine-tingling crescendo of swirling jangly and psychedelic guitars, accompanied by harsh industrial synths and a deep, thumping percussive beat. Brett has a quirky, distinctive singing voice, and here he sings in a kind of plaintive monotone that grows more dramatic as the music intensifies. His vocals perfectly express the desperate feelings of being buried alive by the staggering weight of one’s problems:  “It wasn’t like I anticipated facing all this in the time since yesterday. Sands keep falling. Feels like I’m slipping away, and trapped hitting backspace./ It wasn’t like I could keep up pacing, keep up pacing through the sands of yesterday.”

The next track “Love Me After” is a feast for the ears, and possibly my favorite on the album. It begins with an enticing mix of plucked guitar strings, delicate snare and a delicious little bass riff that really does it for me. Then a thumping drumbeat ensues, punctuated by jarring jolts of what sound to me like intensely amplified guitar chords. As Brett’s vocals enter the proceedings, the music explodes with equal measures of heavier guitars, synths and percussion. Brett passionately laments of a relationship heavily damaged by a long history of hurt and verbal abuse, yet still holding out hope that perhaps it can be salvaged: “Just like you said, I’m as good as dead, yet you call my words slander. One day we’ll break these goddamn mistakes. Maybe you’ll love me after?” The wailing guitar solo after the final chorus is wonderful.

Melancholia” is a bit of a musical tour-de-force, as it takes us on a delightful four minute long sonic journey. The first part of the song features a frantic punk rock tempo, with rapid-fire riffs and pummeling drumbeats, all anchored by a killer bass line. At around 2:30, the song transitions to a languid, synth-driven melody, with crisp percussion and that lovely bass taking center stage. Eventually, the frantic punk vibe returns in the final chorus for a great, head-banging finish. The lyrics seem to be about not allowing yourself to be defeated by depression or the oppressive forces imposed upon us by others, and to instead speak up and fight for one’s rights: “If you feel like you’re captive in a boat with no captain, speak up! Well I can’t just forget it, and I’ll always regret it, come on. Melancholia’s passion is a pit of distraction, come on. Now we’ve lost all our assets and we can’t pay for access, speak up!

Truth Be Told” is another track from disqui.etude that’s given a fuller instrumental treatment here, with spooky synths, muscular thumping drumbeats and intricate layered guitars. The stabbing guitar chords add a dramatic touch to the mix to great effect. I think this remake nicely enhances the impact of the haunting lyrics that speak to feelings of misery and guilt over the death of a loved one. Brett’s heartfelt vocals are really moving as he sings “Truth be told, I never thought that you’d be dead. Truth be told, I just can’t get you out my head. Truth be told, I’ve been obsessing for so long, I’d give anything to write a different song. Truth be told, I should’ve been the one to go. Truth be told, this burden’s getting hard to hold.

A million rich daughters dial the energy back up with “Possibly a Problem“, delivering furious riffs of jangly guitars and hard-driving rhythms. My take on the song’s meaning is that it’s about how as more aspects of ourselves and our past are revealed in the early stages of a new relationship, we fear the other may lose interest in us, given our shortcomings. In this case, alcoholism appears to be the possible problem: “Lost so many to elixir, don’t you disappear. I just want to make sure, if I’m sick again, be my cure. Possibly a small problem, but I just want to be your man.

The title track “Hidden Parents” has a wonderful electro-psych rock groove, and I love the haunting lead melody. Once again, there’s a lot going on here musically speaking, with numerous tempo and melodic change-ups. At times the song has an 80s new wave vibe, only to later veer headlong into frenetic punk rock beats. Backed by dark, sweeping synths and aggressive rhythms, the intricate, multi-textured guitar work is fantastic. Brett’s distant, echoed vocals convey a vulnerable sense of desperation as he seems to be asking for forgiveness for the wrongs he’s done: “Oh things, have changed, the damage done. Oh look, at what, I have, become. Now I, am lame and most probably not sane. There is, no me, no in-between. There’s still, one thing, I want, to do. And what, I want is to get a little closer to you. Oh it’s always for you.”

I must admit that this was one of the most challenging reviews for me to write in my four years of doing this. Despite having only six tracks, there’s a whole lot to unpack in each song. Not being a musician, and having no music ability nor training of any kind, I sometimes have a difficult time articulating what I’m hearing. Hidden Parents is an experimental work, teeming with unconventional, ever-changing melodies, deep, often abstract lyrics, and loads of innovative, complex instrumentation that give it a compelling and fascinating sound. Indeed, Brett himself told me the album “is fucking weird; there’s a lot going on technique-wise in the music theory, as well as a lot of layers.” That’s for sure, and while it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think it’s brilliant.

Connect with AMRD:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

Top 30 Songs for November 24-30, 2019

1. UNDERGROUND – MISSIO (4)
2. SOMEONE YOU LOVED – Lewis Capaldi (1)
3. CIRCLES – Post Malone (3)
4. YOU? – Two Feet (7)
5. DISSOLVE – Absofacto (6)
6. THE HYPE – twenty one pilots (2)
7. UNDER THESE SCARS – Falling Into Red featuring Dev (9)
8. SOCIAL CUES – Cage the Elephant (5)
9. FIGHTER – Joseph (8)
10. STAY HIGH – Brittany Howard (11)
11. GOOD THINGS FALL APART – ILLENIUM with Jon Bellion (10)
12. DRIFTING AWAY – Stereohaze (13)
13. OBSESSION – Joywave (16)
14. WHITE LIES & PALM TREES – The Lovepools (17)
15. LONELY – Secret American (18)
16. CALM DOWN – Pete Yorn (19)
17. ORPHANS – Coldplay (21)
18. WANNACRY – Darksoft (12)
19. 16 – Highly Suspect (15)
20. NOVOCAINE – The Unlikely Candidates (22)
21. REWARD – Paul Iwan (23)
22. ALL THE GOOD GIRLS GO TO HELL – Billie Eilish (26)
23. MIGHT BE RIGHT – White Reaper (27)
24. NO BULLETS SPENT – Spoon (20)
25. THE MIDDLE – Agency Panic (14)
26. THE END OF THE GAME – Weezer (29)
27. MAN ON THE MOON – The Common View (30)
28. THE RUNNER – Foals (N)
29. BLIND LEADING THE BLIND – Mumford & Sons (N)
30. WARS – Of Monsters and Men (N)

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7MwEssemp8rcynjD3xkxbq?si=_f8mSJA0QHi6zzjlA0yclA

New Song of the Week – ART BLOCK: “The Basement”

Art Block

Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. He’s been making beautiful music for several years, beginning with his 2015 debut L.A.-inspired single “Los Feliz”. He’s released multiple singles and EPs in the years since, most recently his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions earlier this year. Today he drops his latest single “The Basement“, a haunting track I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song was written and performed by Art Block and produced by Ian Barter (Amy Winehouse, Izzy Bizu, Paloma Faith).

The song opens with a softly strummed guitar accompanying Art Block’s tender vocals that are just above a whisper as he croons “When the ocean opens up light, I don’t see the fire. Tell me what I know. Bright light in the sunlight breaks away my fear. What I see is you.” The music then expands with lush atmospheric synths and gentle percussion, his vocals becoming more earnest and heartfelt as he pleads for help and comfort to ease his heartbreak, the ‘basement’ symbolizing how far down he’s fallen emotionally: “Someone left my heart. Someone left my heart in the basement. Come on take it out. Come on take it out of the basement.

The music continues to build as the song progresses, Art Block’s captivating vocals growing more impassioned, before calming back down in the bridge as he sings with a rather sad sense of resignation: “Tell me what you see when you find a little glow in your mind. Tell me what you see. Oh, I’m not the same man I’m supposed to be.” It’s a beautiful, emotionally moving song.

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

DYING HABIT – Single Review: “Into Colour”

Dying Habit is an alternative rock band from northern Wales, whose electrifying, dynamic sound is influenced by such bands as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool. Hailing from Anglesey Island, they started off as a group of friends who bonded over a shared love of music and began jamming together around 2011. They finally became an official band in 2016 when they realized they had a special musical chemistry between them. Previously a four-piece, Dying Habit now consists of Nathan Jones (vocals), Alan Hart (guitar) and Mark Jones (drums).

In August 2018, they released their first official single “Unrealities”, a magnificent and powerful song that I featured on this blog, which you can read here. I liked it so much that it ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2018. They followed up with a second single “Into Colour” this past July, which I’m now getting around to reviewing. It’s another hard-hitting banger, with a heavier, more modern rock vibe than “Unrealities”. It’s not quite as melodic, but still an impressive track, with a thunderous barrage of blistering riffs, pummeling bass and smashing drums. The guys play as a tight unit, their layered gnarly and distorted guitars nicely enhanced by powerful driving rhythms. Nathan isn’t the strongest vocalist, but he handles the more dramatic parts of the song quite well, and his wails at the end are spine-tingling.

About the song, the band states “It is when we are at our lowest point that we find an inner strength we never knew was possible.” The hopeful, poetic lyrics urge us to turn toward the light – ‘into colour’ – to find a reason and the strength to continue and fight for our survival in this difficult and challenging thing called life:

Float above the surface
Think about tomorrow
Digging up the past it’s becoming real
We are getting somewhere
No more living in shadows
You got to show your face just get it done
On the edge of a dotted line, about to end it all
Wandering why I’d leave it all behind

Sink below the bottom
There’s not much to uncover
Behind the walls we’re finding all the clues
I’m on the edge for a second time, about to end it all
Wandering why should I turn away
But I’m melting into you
Into colour we flow, Into colour we flow
Screaming the words at you, all because of you
Gripping onto the edge, about to end it all
Wandering why should I turn away

Connect with Dying Habit:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase on Bandcamp

ISAAC GRINSDALE – EP Review: “Entertainment”

Isaac Grinsdale EP Art

I recently learned about British singer-songwriter Isaac Grinsdale when he reached out to me about his new EP Entertainment. I’m so glad he did, because it’s a terrific work. Inspired by such artists as Jimmy Eat World, Radiohead, Placebo, Frank Turner and American Football, the Leeds-based musician writes songs with thoughtful, compelling lyrics and unconventional, yet enthralling melodies. Isaac learned to play the guitar in his early teens, and got heavily into hard rock music, which led him to play in several rock and hardcore bands. Now a bit older and wiser, he’s transitioned into making more introspective, singer-songwriter acoustic-driven music, which has culminated in the release of his debut EP Entertainment.

About his new music direction, Isaac explains “I was really inspired by the ethos of the band Refused: That as musicians we should be playing at the edge of our ability, and pushing the boundaries of our music at all times. Otherwise, we’re not playing the kind of music we should be. It’s always stuck with me and frames how I write.”  Entertainment provides ample evidence that he was right to follow his instincts, as all four tracks are beautifully-crafted and deeply honest. A skilled multi-instrumentalist, Isaac played all the instruments himself, and even produced and mixed the recordings.

Isaac Grinsdale performing

The first track “The Blind Leading the Blind” was also one of the first songs Isaac wrote and recorded. It’s a lovely tune, with a peppy guitar-driven melody that belies the withering lyrics that speak to the divisive rhetoric and false promises of our political leaders. In an interview with the webzine imPRESSED, Isaac stated that the song “is basically about growing up and realising the world we live in is fucked up – completely removed from what I was taught as a child.” His intricate strummed and chiming guitar work is exquisite, and all the supporting instruments are perfectly balanced, providing a strong, albeit understated soundscape that allows the guitars and Isaac’s clear, earnest vocals to shine.

They’re words that I have heard since a child
I hear them now: ‘I promise change!’
I once had no reason to doubt
Oh how strange it all seems looking back

Because now…

The suits fail to hide the Facade
And their words fail in their intended charm
And it all sounds so bizarre
Like a lexicon based on Orwell’s Newspeak

They are words that I have heard since a child
I hear them now again
But here where the blind lead the blind
It will all fall on deaf ears, that’s all they’ll find

In the great deception, our language will strip us, and the world, of any sense of the plural. Now we’re left to speak in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’

Inspired by a book by author Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle, the title track “Entertainment” is about how music, or any other art form for that matter, can provide a small counterbalance or escape to the depressing political bullshit touched on in the first track. Isaac based the cover art for his EP on the book’s cover art of the book, which he explained “captures perfectly the idea that we tend to look at the world through a distorted lens/framework.” The song has a rather interesting and unconventional, but pleasing melody that to my ears has a late-90s vibe reminiscent of artists of that period like Duncan Sheik and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Nullius in Verba” is my favorite of the four tracks, not only because of it’s hauntingly beautiful melody and sublime instrumentation, but also the message of the song, which I strongly identify and agree with. The title is Latin for “not in any words” – essentially “take nobody’s word for it”, and is also the motto of the Royal Society, the British national academy of sciences. Isaac touched on the song’s meaning in his imPRESSED interview: “[It’s] about the importance of science, and rational thinking, slowly creating a more progressive and liberal culture from our draconian past. I had a very religious upbringing, but as a late teenager, I started to discover a lot more about how science, over time, has largely overturned our ideas from our past. One example that springs to mind is that human beings have evolved, rather than being created by a supreme being. For me, these are some of our greatest achievements.” Isaac urges us to view things through open eyes and an open mind: “Take a close look at all the terms we lay down. To look at this as objectively as we can. Just not in words, just not in opinion. No don’t you tell God what to do with his days.”

The first thing that came to my mind when hearing the fourth track “Speed of Film” was Joni Mitchell, arguably one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time. Isaac’s unusual chord progressions and guitar notes call to mind many of Mitchell’s songs, and with his distinctive guitar-tapping technique, the song has a marvelous, fascinating sound. He explained that the song “is about how our memories make us into the people we are today. Lyrically, it’s packed with anecdotes of my friends and family: The great (and not so great) experiences we’ve had together.”

Entertainment is a wonderful debut effort by this skilled musician, who I admire not only for his impressive musical talents, but also for his unflinching stances on social and political issues. An interesting little side thing I noticed about the EP is that the four tracks are arranged such that each one is progressively longer than the one before. The first is 2:30 minutes long, while the last is 4:00 minutes. Isaac just finished recording his second record, an eight-track album titled Paper Crowns that he hopes to release in Spring of 2020, and I really look forward to hearing it. He’s supported acoustic greats such as Jon Gomm, Nick Harper and Beth Orton, and is now gearing up for a major UK Tour in support of his EP.

Follow Isaac:  Website / Facebook / Twitter 
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play / iTunes

Top 30 Songs for November 17-23, 2019

1. SOMEONE YOU LOVED – Lewis Capaldi (3)
2. THE HYPE – twenty one pilots (1)
3. CIRCLES – Post Malone (4)
4. UNDERGROUND – MISSIO (5)
5. SOCIAL CUES – Cage the Elephant (2)
6. DISSOLVE – Absofacto (7)
7. YOU? – Two Feet (10)
8. FIGHTER – Joseph (8)
9. UNDER THESE SCARS – Falling Into Red featuring Dev (9)
10. GOOD THINGS FALL APART – ILLENIUM with Jon Bellion (6)
11. STAY HIGH – Brittany Howard (12)
12. WANNACRY – Darksoft (13)
13. DRIFTING AWAY – Stereohaze (14)
14. THE MIDDLE – Agency Panic (11)
15. 16 – Highly Suspect (17)
16. OBSESSION – Joywave (18)
17. WHITE LIES & PALM TREES – The Lovepools (19)
18. LONELY – Secret American (20)
19. CALM DOWN – Pete Yorn (23)
20. NO BULLETS SPENT – Spoon (22)
21. ORPHANS – Coldplay (28)
22. NOVOCAINE – The Unlikely Candidates (24)
23. REWARD – Paul Iwan (25)
24. SECRETS – The Million Reasons (15)
25. GO – The Black Keys (16) 20th week on list
26. ALL THE GOOD GIRLS GO TO HELL – Billie Eilish (29)
27. MIGHT BE RIGHT – White Reaper (30)
28. DESERVING OF LOVE – Lyia Meta (21)
29. THE END OF THE GAME – Weezer (N)
30. MAN ON THE MOON – The Common View (N)

RUSTY SHIPP – Album Review: “Liquid Exorcist”

Rusty Ship Liquid Exorcist

One of my favorites of the many artists and bands I’ve featured on this blog is Nashville four-piece Rusty Shipp. (You can read my reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) The brain child of front man Russ T. Shipp (his honest to God real birth name), Rusty Shipp is a self-described “Nautical Rock’n’Roll” band, with a sound influenced by ‘the melodic chord progressions of The Beatles, the surf guitar of Dick Dale, the grunge rock of Nirvana, and the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin’, among others. Their music is characterized by a dark, immersive sound, high-octane riffs and haunting vocals. Like many bands, they’ve experienced changes in lineup since forming in 2014, and now consist of the aforementioned Russ T. Shipp on guitar and vocals, Elijah Apperson on lead guitar, AJ Newton on drums and Andrew “Speedy” Speed on bass. Together, they’re an immensely talented group of musicians who truly know how to deliver the hard rock goods.

Rusty Shipp

Following up on their phenomenal and highly-acclaimed 2017 album Mortal Ghost, Rusty Shipp has put out a new album Liquid Exorcist, which dropped on November 7th. In keeping with their nautical theme, it’s a concept work built around the subject of sea mine terrorism. It also plays somewhat like a rock opera, with one song seamlessly transitioning into the next without skipping a beat. Liquid Exorcist has a relatively short run time of only 26 minutes, exactly half that of Mortal Ghost, as several of the tracks are transitional or connectors between longer tracks. Nevertheless, it still makes an incredibly powerful statement and packs quite a wallop in it’s relatively short run time. Also, whereas Mortal Ghost has a heavier grunge feel, Liquid Exorcist sounds more melodic, sweeping and epic. The first time I listened to it all the way through, I was blown away.

It opens with the 42-second-long “Mine Factory“, an ominous-sounding instrumental intro that builds into a frantic barrage of gnarly riffs and smashing drumbeats as it immediately segues into “Liquid Pendulum“, a fantastic song with blistering guitars and intense, hard-driving rhythms that ebb and flow like waves on a stormy sea. Apperson and Shipp’s intricate guitar work is terrific, and Newton’s power drums provide just the right amount of propulsive thrust. Shipp has a beautiful singing voice that registers in the mid-range, occasionally rising to a just shy of a falsetto. The biting lyrics are a denunciation of the terrible legacy of countries filling the oceans with explosive mines: “Aren’t your wars waged on land enough? Why don’t you just keep your mankind to yourself? Leave behind your mess for someone else. Sharks will gladly come to your help.”

The track transitions into “Mindsweeper” a dark instrumental with chugging, distorted riffs, throbbing bass and harsh industrial synths. Then, watery plucked guitar strings and Speedy’s pulsating bass riff announce the arrival of “Detonator“. Suddenly, the music explodes into an electrifying maelstrom of swirling, fuzzy and wailing guitars, driving bass and thunderous percussion. It’s a spectacular song.

Rusty Shipp is not a Christian band per se, though Shipp is up-front about his Christian faith, as is evident in lyrics like “Raptured from the shrapnel in the twinkling of an eye. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said the end was near.” Overall, the lyrics address the dangerous work of those attempting to dismantle sea mines: “Disconnect the wires, before we all expire, but the water is turning into fire now. Everybody down, the bombs have stopped their ticking sound, five seconds till Heaven’s all around.

SS Naronic (Reprise)” is a ghostly revisit of the original track featured on Mortal Ghost, chronicling the White Star Line ship lost at sea in the north Atlantic in February 11, 1893, along with all its 74 passengers on board. To echoed, underwater sounds, Shipp’s electronically altered vocals lament “O God, please tell me there is more than this. That this cold abyss is not the end. Tell me it’s more than an accident, a warning to teach a lesson. Show me how it’s all part of the plan.”

Rusty Shipp then pays homage to Audioslave with a well-executed cover of “Show Me How to Live“, doing great justice to the powerful classic.  Once again, there’s a religious reference with the lyric “Nail in my hand from my Creator. You gave me life now show me how to live.”  Though different from Chris Cornell’s, Shipp’s vocals are just as effective in conveying the raw passion expressed in the lyrics. That segues into the face-melting and aptly-titled instrumental interlude “Blow Your Mine“. This intense, minute-long track perfectly showcases the band’s impressive skills.

Hundred Crosses” is, I think, the most beautiful song on the album, with a dramatic, sweeping melody that switches from calm to exuberant and back again, making for a very exciting listen. The multi-textured guitars are sublime, accompanied by Newton’s snappy drums and wildly crashing cymbals, all working in tandem to create a glorious soundscape for Shipp’s soaring vocals. Next up is “Breaking Waves“, the first single released in advance of the album last July, which I featured on this blog. It has a dark but catchy melody, with layered riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, throbbing bass and pounding drums. Shipp explained that the song “describes the battle between technology and nature in a tortoise-and-the-hare-like metaphor, where mankind’s mightiest technology won’t stand a chance in the long run against the simple, steady erosion of the ocean’s immortal waves (i.e, nature) breaking it down.” 

Liquid Exorcist closes with another religious nod on the nautical poem “Navy Hymn“.  “Eternal Father, strong to save. Whose arm doth bind the restless wave. Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep. Its own appointed limits keep. O, hear us when we cry to Thee. For those in peril on the sea.” The brief track features stirring a capella choir vocals, accompanied only by sounds of the sea, and it’s a fitting end to the album.

Folks, this is a stunning and masterfully-crafted record on every level. Given it’s relatively brief run time and riveting listening experience, it seems to end far too quickly. That’s a good thing, and certainly preferable to some albums that overstay their welcome with too many filler tracks. Rusty Shipp continue to impress me with their incredible songwriting and musicianship, and deserve to be huge.

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