Album Review: “Head RUSH”

This is perhaps the most ambitious and unusual album I’ve reviewed yet, as it’s an extensive compilation work consisting of 15 tracks by different artists contained in three vinyl LPs (or two CDs), plus a bonus CD featuring another seven tracks, for a grand total of 22 songs! All of them are electronic instrumentals in various styles, but all essentially influenced by early 70s krautrock and motorik beat music made famous by such German acts as Can, NEU!, Kraftwerk and Harmonia. The collection, entitled Head RUSH, is being released by British independent label Fruits de Mer Records on May 17th.

First off, I must state that I’m astonished by the huge number of artists still producing electronic music, particularly krautrock and all its variations. Many artists featured on Head RUSH are accomplished acts with sizable discographies and followings, while some are relative newcomers. It’s truly an international compilation; represented are acts from England, Wales, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, Russia, Peru and California. All were carefully selected for inclusion by Fruits de Mer Records head Keith Jones based on their quality and appropriateness for the overall theme. Because there are so many tracks – nearly all of which are over five minutes long, with one running over 30 minutes! – I won’t be boring my readers or making myself crazy by discussing all of them in detail. I’ll try to touch on as many as possible, albeit briefly, and include samples of songs for which the artists have made audio videos.

The album kicks off with “Sunrise, Part 7“, a shimmery homage to the music of NEU! by Giacomo & Carolina, the collaborative music project of California-born and now Berlin-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Anton Barbeau, and California-based singer Julia Boorinakis Harper. German electronic artist Das Blaue Palais dazzles with a mesmerizing “Dusseldorf Motorik” remix of his 2016 single “Zeitfeld”. The otherworldly synths, plucked strings and colorful guitar notes are exquisite and haunting.

Welsh-based English composer and multi-instrumentalist David Oakes, a long-time favorite of mine who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog, is represented here by his brooding track “The Sahara (2020 Remix)“. David layers a thrilling mix of exotic and gritty, reverb-laden guitar riffs over Nine Inch Nail-esque industrial synths and a pulsating groove to create a cinematic soundscape that beautifully conveys the vast and often terrifying expanse of the Sahara Desert.

Another terrific offering is “Getaway” by English space rock band Sonic Trip Project, who layer haunting spacy synths over a hypnotic EDM beat, creating a gorgeous sweeping soundscape.

Opening the second LP is Welsh psych space rock outfit Moon Goose with their trippy song “Shiny Man“, followed by the deliciously captivating “Obsession is the Mother of All” by Italian avant-rock trio Oslo Tapes. I said I wasn’t going to discuss every track, but the next one – “Ecstatic Engines” by California composer, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Jay Tausig is so good that I must give it mention too. I also realize I’m overusing the words “mesmerizing” and “cinematic”, but both words strongly apply to many tracks. I wish I had a sample of “Ecstatic Engines” I could share on this post, as it’s incredible. I love the strong, driving beat, spacy synths and otherworldly sound textures he employs. In preparation for reviewing this album, I researched every artist and found that Tausig is especially prolific, releasing a full album and two EPs in February and March alone!

Netherlands is well-represented by “Telefunken Baby!“, a nearly 13-minute-long tour de force by electronic composer Son of Ohm. The track was originally featured on his 2019 album Zeitgeist. His psychedelic guitar work is fantastic.

Next up is the wonderfully spacy “Martine à la Plage” by French experimental psych-rock duo Alber Jupiter, the music project of Nicolas Terroitin and Jonathan Sonney. The song was also originally included on their excellent 2019 album We Are Just Floating in Space.

Wales is once again represented, this time by Fruits de Mer favorite The Lost Stoned Pandas and their sprawling psychedelic extravaganza “Motorik Wah Nine“. The reverb-soaked psychedelic guitars would make Jimi Hendrix proud, and the wobbly synths and undulating rhythmic grooves are pretty amazing too. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a video or link to the song. I do have one for the phenomenal “MOTOR!K” by Belgian krautrock trio Tyrants, however. The hypnotic song features a relentless driving motorik beat, a 4/4 beat originally pioneered by Jaki Liebezeit, drummer for the German experimental rock band Can.

From Lima, Peru hail space rock trio Culto al Qondor, with their trippy and dark “E1“, an epic 12-minute-long track originally featured on their 2019 album Electricidad. The spooky synths, wailing psychedelic guitars, pummeling rhythms and explosive percussion are pretty spectacular.

London krautrock trio (many of these acts seem to consist of three members) Psychic Lemon dazzle our senses with “Jam 7“, one of a series of studio jams they’ve recorded, in which all instruments were recorded live into a single microphone. Band guitarist Andy Briston lays down a barrage of super-gnarly distortion drenched in reverb, while his bandmates keep the track grounded with a powerful thumping rhythm. The face-melting track closes out the three LP set.

The Bonus CD serves up over 76 minutes of additional music contained in seven tracks, including “Vuh Parts 1 and 2” by British electronic outfit Taras Bulba, another terrific Jam by Psychic Lemon, the wonderfully psychedelic “69 Wheeler” by prolific British artist and guitarist Vince Cory, and the delightfully trippy “Grobmotorik” by Hungary-based Audio Cologne Project (a krautrock inspired music collaboration between Uwe Cremer (Level π) on guitars and keyboards, British musician Dave Pearson (aka computerchemist) on bass, keyboards and sequencers, and Zsolt Galántai on drums).

Closing out the Bonus CD are the two longest tracks of this entire project, the meandering and beautiful 14:14 minute-long “der Wald” by British composer and guitarist Icarus Peel, and the 30:25 minute-long live version of Harmonia’s 1974 motorik classic “Watussi” by Russian electronic band The Legendary Flower Punk. They’ve taken the original six-minute-long song and refashioned it into a magnificent and epic fantasia of atmospheric soundscapes, highlighted by psychedelic riffs, eerie synths and colorful sonic textures, all darting in and out like sprites over pulsating EDM rhythms. It’s a fitting end to this ambitious compilation of extraordinary compositions, and a testament to the enduring legacy and popularity of krautrock. If you like getting lost in spacy electronic vibes, then you will really enjoy Head RUSH.

Track List:

LP1:
1. Giacomo & Carolina – Sunrise, Part 7 (5:05)
2. Silver Vials – Follow The Sun (6:05)
3. Das Blaue Palais – Zeitfeld (Dusseldorf Motorik Mix) (8:11)
4. The Love Explosion – Anarchy! (3:58)
5. David Oakes – The Sahara (2020 Remix) (5:04)
6. Sonic Trip Project – Getaway (11:10)

LP2:
1. Moon Goose – Shiny Man (5:41)
2. Oslo Tapes – Obsession Is The Mother Of All (5:54)
3. Jay Tausig – Ecstatic Engines (8:42)
4. Son Of Ohm – Telefunken Baby (12:52)
5. Alber Jupiter – Martine A La Plage (7:15)

LP3:
1. The Lost Stoned Pandas – Motorik Wah Nine (10:16)
2. Motor!k – Tyrants (10:28)
3. Culto Al Qondor – Ei (12:19)
4. Psychic Lemon – Jam 7 (7:01)

Bonus CD:
1. Taras Bulba – Vuh Part 1 (3:56)
2. Vince Cory – 69 Wheeler (7:53)
3. Psychic Lemon – Jam 5 (8:26)
4. Audio Cologne Project – Grobmotorik (6:51)
5. Taras Bulba – Vuh Part 2 (5:15)
6. Icarus Peel – Der Wald (14:14)
7. The Legendary Flower Punk – Watussi Live (30:25)

Head RUSH may be purchased on the Fruits de Mer website: https://www.fruitsdemerrecords.com/

TWO FEET – Album Review: “Max Maco is Dead Right?”

Regular readers of this blog know I’m a huge fan of the artist Two Feet, the massively-talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer who’s currently riding a tsunami of musical creativity and output. Over the past few months, he’s collaborated on several songs with other artists, including electronic producer Gryffin on “I Want Love”, electro-pop band SHAED on “Part Time Psycho”, and electro/goth pop artist Sub Urban on the trippy “PATCHWERK“. Now he’s releasing his most ambitious album yet, Max Maco is Dead Right?, which officially drops April 16th.

For those still living under a rock, Two Feet is the musical alter-ego of New York City-born and now L.A.-based Zachary William “Bill” Dess, who is just about my favorite artist making music today. His incredible guitar work – characterized by intense, bluesy riffs and enhanced with hip-hop and jazz elements and floor-rattling synth bass grooves – combined with his soulful, smoldering vocals, make for music that’s strongly appealing, deeply impactful, and undeniably sexy. I love all his music, and have written about him many times on this blog. He records and performs his music with the assistance of his longtime keyboardist Geoffrey Hufford (aka Huff), and recently teamed up with producers John Feldmann (Blink182, Panic! At The Disco) and Andrew Luce to help with the new album.

Beginning with the release of his breakout single “Go Fuck Yourself” in 2016, Two Feet has been on a creative roll ever since, releasing numerous singles, including his #1 alternative hit “I Feel Like I’m Drowning” in 2018, followed later that year by his extended EP A 20 Something Fuck, and in March 2019 by his debut album Pink (read my review here). In October 2020, he dropped “Think I’m Crazy”, followed in quick succession by three more singles “Time Fades Away”, “Fire” and “Never Enough” – all of which are featured on Max Maco is Dead Right?  

For the new album, Two Feet created yet another alter ego character named Max Maco, as a way of wrestling with some of the emotional traumas he’s experienced in the past, as well as the pressures that have come with success and fame. He’s been pretty open and honest with his fans and followers about his own personal struggles with depression and anxiety, and after an emotional breakdown in the summer of 2018, he spent time at a few mental hospitals in New York. He told me that he based the character of Max Maco on some of the people he met during his hospital stays.

In a newly published article in American Songwriter, he further explained: “I had met various, very interesting people who you’d never normally have the chance to talk to at some of these mental hospitals. Some of them had some of the most fascinating, beautiful stories about their lives I’ve ever heard. Over the course of years, I tried to formulate how I could basically tell an amalgamation of some of the stories from various people I’ve met at these hospitals.” My guess is that the album title represents his overcoming at least some of his traumas and demons, personified in Max Maco. Hence the cover art showing the character lying on an embalming table, wrapped in a sheet and staring blankly into space.

He introduces us to Max Maco on the opening track “Hi I’m Max Maco“. The song starts off with a strummed guitar as Two Feet breathily croons “Everybody I’m Max Maco, I always have things to say. There are things that I don’t remember. People treat me like I’m famous, and they’re giving me free money.” Then we’re hit with that signature deep bass groove, accompanied by an unsettling and shrill reverb-heavy synth and plucked guitar chord. As the next track “Nightmare” unfolds, I’m blissfully swept away by the sultry, pulsating grooves, dark, swirling synths and gorgeous guitar notes. Two Feet laments of the downside of success in the lyric “Although grass was gold and green, the money controlling me, so I must go.”

Think I’m Crazy” sees Max Maco describing his feelings of being overwhelmed by hedonistic desires and losing a grip on reality: “I thought that I was calling up my friends now. But Kurt told me that they were in my head, so. / I think I’m crazy, lately. Everything is hazy. Everything and anything I ever want to do. I think I’m crazy lately, feeling like I’m faded everywhere I go.” Musically, the song features a killer thumping bass groove overlain with eerie synths, emphatic percussion and pulsating guitar notes that create a dark vibe that’s both menacing and sexy. I love his vocals, which go from a sultry, earnest croon to a soaring falsetto in the choruses. The lyrics are brought to life in the entertaining and darkly sexy video.

Next up is the smoldering “Fire” (no pun intended), a sultry and cinematic little masterpiece that slowly builds to a scorching crescendo befitting the song’s title. Two Feet sings with a breathy, impassioned falsetto as he croons to a lover of his intense, all-consuming desire: “Darling, You call my name / I like the games you play / Charming, My love for you / Burning, I feel it too.” “Fire” has become one of my favorite of his songs, and just spent a month atop my Weekly Top 30.

One of the notable differences between his previous music and Max Maco is Dead Right? is the inclusion of dance/EDM elements on some of the tracks. The first is the wonderful “Never Enough“, which continues with the theme of succumbing to intoxicating carnal desires first introduced on “Fire”. I love the hypnotic, hip-swaying beat, otherworldly synths and shimmery guitars. The dangerously sexy “Flatline” pays homage to Two Feet’s appreciation for Latin culture with a mesmerizing melody, intense, bluesy guitar notes and vocals so fucking sensuous they raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

The song is instantly one of my favorites on the album, but then I hear “Lies” and I’m blown away. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward tune actually, but I’m a sucker for songs with strong, driving beats, and “Lies” fills the bill quite nicely with its pulse-pounding dance groove and raunchy guitars. And it goes without saying that Two Feet’s sultry vocals are fantastic. Interestingly, those three songs are broken up by the minute-long interlude “Are You Hanging Off The Balcony“, a humorous spoken-word piece in which he tells his engineer Anthony that he loves him, accompanied by acoustic guitar.

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record as I try to come up with descriptors and superlatives for these songs, so bear with me as I continue to profess my unabashed love. “Blame Me” sees Two Feet return to his roots, delivering the intense bluesy riffs we’ve come to love and expect in his songs. On the atmospheric “I Can’t See At All“, his gorgeous guitar work is sublime, accompanied by glittery synths and his echoed breathy vocals singing of his being blinded by his intense desire for another: “Every time I try to run. Thought of you make me numb. / I can’t see at all. Am I here alone? Is it day or night? Got no control.

On the darkly introspective “Time Fades Away“, Two Feet laments of emotional pain and loss amid the passage of time: “I feel a certain way. Too much to numb the pain. And I just don’t know now, the way the world will change. Oh, time fades away. Pull it back but it’s too late.” The song has a languid, melancholic vibe with a repetitive strummed guitar note serving as the driving force, overlain with delicate atmospheric synths and gentle percussion. The distorted guitar solo toward the end is terrific.

Lover” is an interesting track, starting off with a gauzy piano riff and Two Feet’s electronically-altered vocals, giving it an otherworldly lo-fi vibe that makes it sound more like a demo. Just past the minute-mark, harsh industrial synths, sharp percussion, booming bass and distorted guitar come crashing into the mix, completely changing the song’s feel as he continues to drone “Lover, where you staying? Feeling, like I’m playing.”

Album closer “And I Fucked Up (Live)” is another change of pace from his usual sound. With his strummed acoustic guitar and vocals the only sounds we hear, the song has more of a folk/singer-songwriter feel, and I like it. The song seems to tie things up for Max Maco, with lyrics speaking of his remorse over losing someone through his misdeeds: “I feel lost and dangerous. Think I’ve gotta change this. Feeling weak in my knees. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday I say, I will try a new way. But I’m lying, the world is empty now. And the feeling of having you around, was the one thing that kept my soul on the ground. And I fucked up./ If you wanna come back, got a cardboard make shack at 39th and Broadway. People give me money, oh I’m famous honey. No one gets in my way.” I like how Two Feet kept the little misstep at the beginning, similar to Green Day at the beginning of their song “Good Riddance”.

In that above-referenced American Songwriter article, Two Feet commented on his feeling about Max Maco is Dead Right?: “My other albums, even my first two EPs, are of the moment songs I thought of that I then compiled together. So this one, to me, was really thought out. I tried to make everything congruent. From an artistic standpoint, it’s definitely my favorite album I’ve written so far.” I would have to agree with him, and as much as I love Pink, I love this magnificent album even more. Every track is superb, and a testament to his continued growth as an artist and songwriter. Max Maco is Dead Right? is without question one of the best albums of 2021, if not the best.

Connect with Two Feet:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Amazon

TWO FEET – Album Review: “Pink”

Two Feet 2

Amidst all the bad news of late regarding rogue viruses and collapsing financial markets, one of the few bright spots has been the release of the new album Pink by singer-songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Two Feet. Released via Republic Records on March 13th, I’ve had Pink on repeat for the past several days, and can emphatically state that it’s the best album of 2020 so far. I’m writing this review with a bit of trepidation, as I hope to do justice to this magnificent work.

For those unfamiliar with Two Feet, he’s the musical alter-ego of New York City-based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Zachary William “Bill” Dess, who I think is one of the finest guitarists around today. His songs are slow burns, characterized by soulful, smoldering vocals, intense, bluesy riffs, cool jazz and hip-hop undertones, and booming synth bass grooves that cut straight to our cores. He also writes brutally honest and compelling lyrics that resonate with many of us. As beautifully described in his Google Play bio, “his songs are the soundtrack for staying up late into the night, aching to figure out how to remedy heartbreak, anxiety, and uncertainty.”

Two Feet first gained notoriety in 2016 with the release of his single “Go Fuck Yourself”, which quickly went viral on Soundcloud. He soon followed up with a couple of EPs (the cleverly titled First Steps and Momentum), then hit the big time in the summer of 2018 with his breakthrough hit “I Feel Like I’m Drowning”. The gorgeous song went to #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart, and ended up at #18 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the Decade. That October, he released his extended EP A 20 Something Fuck, which featured “I Feel Like I’m Drowning” and the beautiful track “Hurt People”, a deeply personal and haunting duet with Madison Love.

I had the pleasure of seeing him perform in Los Angeles in November 2018 (you can read my review here). He spent the first few months of 2019 touring with Panic! At the Disco, which exposed him to a whole new audience who hadn’t heard of him previously. I relished reading all the tweets from people who’d gone to see PATD and came away enthusiastic new fans of Two Feet. In fact, I have to say that his are some of the most fiercely loyal and devoted fans I’ve seen for any artist. He’s made a point of being open and honest with his fans and followers about his own personal struggles with depression and anxiety, and engages with them fairly regularly on Twitter. That’s pretty rare for artists once they become well-known, so it shocked the hell out of me a few months ago when he tweeted words of encouragement to me in response to my tweet about feeling depressed and overwhelmed. Needless to say, I was deeply touched, and it made me love him even more.

Two Feet 3

He started writing songs for Pink in the fall of 2018, some of them influenced by events happening in his life. In September 2019, he began teasing his fans by dropping a series of tracks in advance of Pink’s release, beginning with “Lost the Game” – though it falls squarely in the center of the track listing. In a heartfelt statement, he expresses his hope that the album will touch us in a meaningful way, also recommending that we listen to it in its entirety, from beginning to end: “With the way the world is going right now, I hope listening to it gives you some peace, or makes you cry, or makes you feel sexy, or makes you happy, or briefly brings you to a different world. As long as you feel SOMETHING, I’m good with that. I worked hard on the track list. This isn’t an album of singles, it’s a ‘thing-in-itself’. Please listen in order. Front to back.”

Two Feet records and performs his music with the assistance of his longtime keyboardist/drummer Geoffrey Hufford (aka Huff), who is adept at delivering the deep, floor-rattling synthesized bass that gives his music such incredible depth. This can clearly be heard on the minute-long opening track “Intro“, with chest-thumping beats surrounded by swirling psychedelic synths and Two Feet’s bluesy guitar notes. Up next is the title track “Pink“, a song that beautifully encapsulates the album’s overall theme. He states “A lot of the songs deal with the passage of time and how you interpret it.”, a topic nicely articulated by the song’s introspective lyrics: “25 don’t feel the same way… / And I keep getting older / My mind is getting colder / The things that all once mattered, I know for sure won’t last.” His intricate guitar work is stunning, and even if you didn’t listen to another track on this album, you’d still have to concede that he’s a phenomenal guitarist.

For this album, Two Feet incorporates a wider range of elements into his songs than ever before, resulting in a more diverse and exciting overall sound. “BBY” is a good example of this, with its bouncy EDM beat that builds as the song progresses. Once again, his guitar work is fantastic, and I love the sweeping spooky synths and his seductive, breathy vocals. “Call Me, I Still Love You” is a gorgeous and bluesy instrumental interlude that provides a perfect segue to “You?“, a dark scorching-hot song about coming to the realization that the relationship was always one-sided: “So tell me the truth was it me then, who needed you?” I realize I’m sounding like a broken record, but once again the intricate guitar work is breathtaking, and I love how the music alternates from a sultry vibe in the verses to a bombastic explosion of fiery riffs and earth-shattering percussion in the choruses. “You?” is perfection from start to finish, and easily my favorite track on the album. It spent five weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 30 from late December through late January.

Two Feet had an official video made for the song, but I like this live studio performance better, as it features a killer extended guitar solo that really showcases his fearsome guitar skills. You can hear the original version on the Soundcloud playlist at the end of this post.

On the moody, synth-driven “44 Lies“, he seems to touch on how we delude ourselves in order to help us fit in, feel accepted, feel ‘normal’: “44 lies / Told in your 20s / Keep you alive / Make you feel empty / All of the guys / Wearing the same shoes / Telling me things / Praying they ain’t true.” Figuratively speaking, the melancholy “Lost the Game” represents the emotional low point on the album. The lyrics speak of coming to the painful realization that the relationship is over for good, with no hope of reconciliation: “And what can I do, I do, I do I know it’s over / Cause I lost the game, I can’t get lower / Caused you pain, it’s taking over.” With all hope now gone, “Grey” sees him rationalizing his fate and accepting that he must move on. Likewise, his mood has evolved from black into something a little less bleak – a shade of grey: “Before I fall away I feel like I should say I’ve always liked your eyes / But now I’ve got to leave / It’s okay It’s alright / I feel good I feel fine.” Musically, the song is dominated by a deep, buzzing bassline set to a mesmerizing hip hop beat, over which Two Feet serves up some of his signature bluesy riffs.

The smoldering track “Maria” was apparently a last-minute addition to the album. Overflowing with menacing synths, throbbing beats and haunting choruses, it’s one of my favorite tracks. Concurrent with the album release, Two Feet released a dark and sexy video for the song, his first to actually tell a story to fit the narrative of the lyrics. It opens with an ominous image of just his eyes, then shows him having a drink in a rather seedy bar, along with an assortment of shady-looking characters. Maria saunters into the bar, orders a beer and sensually dances while all the men gaze at her longingly. She eventually goes home with one of the guys as Two Feet laments “Oh oh oh while you’re getting in his bed, I’m alone without a friend tonight / Maria Maria, I tell ya I need ya..” Maria and the guy start to have sex, and she ties him to the bed. Sadly, he doesn’t get lucky, as she ends up stealing his valuables, even ripping his gold chain from his neck and leaving him tied up. We’re left wondering whether she’s just a gold digger who breaks men’s hearts (and wallets), or if she’s working in cahoots with the guy portrayed by Two Feet.

After the intensity of “Maria”, we need a bit of relief, which he nicely delivers with the captivating and soulful instrumental “Felt like playing guitar and not singing part 2“. The song is a nod to a similarly-titled track that appeared on A 20 Something Fuck. “I Can’t Relate” is a lovely, bittersweet tune that sees him revisiting what went wrong in the relationship: “The winter wind when we first fell in love was cold / You touched my face, my mind began to run, yeah / But you don’t care now, you tell me its all set and done / I’m numb ’cause I can’t relate / Oh, I can’t relate to you.”

Another favorite of mine is “We Will Be Alright“, a poignant and hopeful song reassuring a loved one that your love will endure til the end, and all will be well: “And I, I want you by my side / And I, I need you ’til I die / And when that day comes you will be alright / Because we will love through time. The lyrics could represent either a coming full-circle back to the beginning, or else the birth of an entirely new relationship, but either way, it ends things on a more upbeat and positive note. Musically, it’s more low-key and stripped back than most of his songs, with the only sounds coming from his gently strummed guitar and comforting vocals.

The album closes with “Pink Reprise“, a bewitching instrumental track that revisits and continues upon the haunting melody first introduced with “Pink”. It serves as a fitting closure for the album, and a vivid reminder of Two Feet’s spectacular guitar-playing skills. Properly listening to Pink is an immersive experience that needs to be done in a single sitting for maximum enjoyment, and to fully appreciate it’s immense power and beauty. I don’t normally grade albums, but I would give this an unequivocal 10/10.

Two Feet is donating $1 from every sale of Pink to the Siegel Rare Neuroimmune Association, which benefits those diagnosed with rare neuroimmune disorders like his own sister, GG.

Connect with Two Feet:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music / Google Play