In the space of only six months, alternative pop-rock trio Beach Weather have become one of my favorite bands. I first learned about them last summer when I heard their song “Sex, Drugs, Etc.”, which I loved at first listen. Though the song was originally recorded in 2016, and included on their debut EP Chit Chat, it wasn’t released as a single back then, and largely went unnoticed. After releasing a second EP What a Drag, the band went on hiatus as the three members, Nick Santino, Reeve Powers, and Sean Silverman, relocated to different cities and began working on their own solo projects.
As luck would have it, they decided to reunite in late 2021, and began work on their forthcoming debut album Pineapple Sunrise, due for release on March 3rd. In the meantime, “Sex, Drugs, Etc.” went viral on TikTok in the summer of 2022, and started getting airplay on AltNation and many alternative radio stations. The song eventually went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. It’s also spent 20 weeks and counting on my own Weekly Top 30, three of them at #1, and ended up ranking at #3 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.
They released “Unlovable” last August, their first new release in five years. They followed in November with the melancholy but beautiful “Trouble With This Bed”, which just entered the top 10 on my Weekly Top 30. Today they’re back with their latest single “Homebody“, and I love it aleady! It’s more upbeat than their two previous singles, with a sunny vibe and infectious toe-tapping groove. Like all their songs, though, the instrumentation, musicianship and production values are top-notch, particularly the breezy synths and lively percussion. And lead singer Nick Santino’s vocals have an earnest, yet casual quality that’s incredibly appealing. All four singles will be included on Pineapple Sunrise.
About the song, Santino told Substream Magazine: “Homebody is a song about being a homebody. That’s about it. Who wants to go out and see people you don’t really like when you could just have your own party for one, roll a joint, order some tacos and watch YouTube all night. We think people are really going to relate to this one. It’s one of our new favorites.”
Been a downer for a minute
Sunshine in my eyes
Got me blurry all the time
Primadonna in my feelings
Just a kick back kid in the low lightsHomebody
Just a homebody
Let me slide for a while
It’s my own party
Just a homebody
Let me slide for a while
Slide for a whileI can take it I can leave it
Cause I’m already bored
And it’s seven in the morning
Burning messages I
Can’t remember if I
Forgot or I’m ignoringThese days
I been fading away
And I wanted to stay
Don’t keep calling me, calling me nah ah
I can dream out the day
In a lavender haze
Don’t keep calling me, calling me nah ah
Beach Weather have also released a delightful video to accompany “Homebody”, directed by L.A.-based photographer and content creator Guadalupe Bustos. With a nod to the 60s, the video shows the guys cavorting around the house in vintage robes as they go about their day as homebodies.
I love dream pop with an alternative bent, and the music of singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Darksoft fits the bill quite nicely (and his first name also happens to be Bill!). Originally from Seattle, where he was active in the local music scene both as a solo artist and a collaborator with other musicians, he relocated in late 2021 clear across the country to Portland, Maine. Deftly blending elements of dream pop, shoegaze and alternative rock, he creates music that’s both sumptuous and pleasing. His compelling lyrics, addressing timely and relevant issues related to technology, social media and disillusionment, are delivered with his enchanting and soothing ethereal vocals. The imaginative, talented and creative artist has released four concept albums thus far, the latest of which is Beigeification.
I previously featured him and his music three times on this blog in 2019, first when I reviewed his brilliant debut album Brain, a concept work named for the very first computer virus to attack the internet back in 1986, with each track titled after infamous viruses that followed. I later reviewed two singles, “WannaCry”, which addressed the deep cultural and political divide in America, fed by our tendency to stay stuck in our own echo chambers, and “Cybersecurity“, which questioned whether all our data floating around out there in cyberspace was somehow being kept safe. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.) He followed with Meltdown (which includes the two aforementioned singles) in 2020, then Cryo in early 2022. They’re all excellent albums, but Beigeification is my favorite of them all.
Released on January 13th via Darksoft’s own label Look Up Records, Beigeification was produced and recorded entirely by him, mixed by Brian Fisher (Hibou, Éclo, Eastern Souvenirs), and mastered by Stefan Mac (Cold War Kids, No Vacation, Sea Lemon). He describes the album as “a postmodern dose of beigey moods and pastel phrases to match the disillusionment of our age.” For the album cover, he decided to use only a single beige color. He further elaborated in an Instagram post on his thoughts and inspiration for creating the album:
“When producing an album, I find that having a consistent theme is really helpful to inform the overall sound, lyrics, progressions, melodies, and instrumentation. For lyrics, I’m using a lot of ‘thought-terminating cliches’. These annoying, overused phrases and idioms have the effect of ending a conversation, because they are vague, universal truths. What’s also interesting is that grammatically they say absolutely nothing but they carry a lot of weight in context. Examples are ‘it is what it is’, ‘you gotta do what you gotta do’, ‘win some lose some’, ‘only time will tell’ and ‘to each their own‘.
This theme has been fun to play with, and I think fits the general attitude after watching the world over the past few years. I don’t want to encourage inaction, but when so much negativity piles up, it’s like ‘whaddya gonna do?’ To stay sane and functional as a digital being, you sort of have to accept that an endless barrage of bad news will always be at your fingertips, and then focus on what matters to you. Also, remember when everything got beigeified? Perhaps your parents painted the walls beige to increase the ‘resell value’ of their home (even if they weren’t selling it). Or think of Carmela Soprano’s Etruscan-themed living room, or how beige was used for conformity reasons on workplace PCs for most of the 20th century. I want these songs on Beigeification to carry nothing too heavy, say something without saying anything, and sit in the background of everyday life, like how sand fits around your toes at the beach, passive like the color beige, and worn-out like these idioms.
Every song on Beigeification uses only one chord progression over and over! I was trying to simplify with less is more. I realized I could just add or remove layers to change the vibe. Or change the playing/strumming slightly or use different chord inversions. This approach keeps things cohesive and was totally different from how I used to write, which was different chord progressions from section to section. It’s more carefree. It is what it is.“
The album contains nine wonderful tracks, starting with “It Is What It Is“, which was also released as the first single. The song has a fun, bouncy vibe, highlighted by Darksoft’s beautiful jangly guitar notes and breathy vocals singing the cliche lyrics he alluded to above: “Say what you will. When you know you just know. All’s well that ends well. What goes around comes around.” The charming video for the song, showing him barefoot and dressed all in white, doing a simple dance move in front of empty, nondescript office parks around Portland, Maine, was filmed on VHS recording equipment, giving it a vintage lo-fi quality.
“Only Time Will Tell” has an 80s new wave sound that calls to mind some of the music of Joy Division, New Order and The Cure, but with a modern twist. I love the lush jangly and chiming guitars and snappy percussion, and Darksoft’s silky vocals are both comforting and sensuous. The lyrics speak of being patient and taking things slowly and deliberately, aware that ‘good things come to those who wait’: “You got to learn to walk before you learn to run. Everything will come to the one that waits. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Only time will tell.”
Next up is the languid “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do“, a song so beautiful and soothing that I’m now besotted with this album. Once again, Darksoft’s guitar work is gorgeous, as are the sparkling synths and gentle percussion, and his layered breathy vocals are sublime. The way he strings together so many trite cliche sayings into something beautiful and compelling is quite clever: “You gotta do what you gotta do. You gotta be who you gotta be. Do or don’t, live or die. You never know until you try.” The beautiful video, directed by Brett Davis Jr. and filmed by Gerald Davis, shows Darksoft singing the song at Two Lights State Park and Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
The great songs keep coming. “Win Some Lose Some” is a return to the breezy new wave vibe we heard on “Only Time Will Tell”, which nicely serves to reinforce the ‘c’est la vie’ sense of resignation over life’s hiccups that Darksoft is getting at on the album – “Reap what you sow. Take what ya get. Better luck next time. Win some lose some. Win some lose others. If it’s not one thing then it’s another.” “Whatever It Takes” has a lively, toe-tapping beat, neat fuzzy guitars and colorful synths, and, as always, beautifully-layered sensuous vocals.
I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but my gosh, “Stones Unturned” is so gorgeous I can barely contain myself. Darksoft’s delicate jangly guitar work is stunning, accompanied by ambient sounds of a distant thundershower and beautiful swirling synths. His comforting ethereal vocals have been electronically altered in spots, giving them a fuzzy, otherworldly feel. The lyrics seem to be about – to use yet another cliche expression – ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’: “Some stones are best left, left unturned. Some words are better left unheard. Somethings you don’t need to see. Some views look better from dreams. Sometimes the road less traveled is leading nowhere.”
A fantastic dominant bassline takes center stage on “There’s Always Something Going On“, a song about how there will always be some unpleasant issue or problem to deal with in life: “There’s only so much I can do. There’s always something left undone. Even after we’re all dead and gone. There will be something going wrong.” And on the peppy “Fast Lane“, Darksoft sings of the perils of living recklessly: “It’s a short way down, but a long way back. Take a shortcut in the fast lane and you just might crash.” The album closes with “Such Is Life“, a pleasing song of resignation that sometimes shit happens in life, and we just have to accept it and do the best we can as we move on: “Such is life. Guess that’s the way it’s gonna be. C’est la vie.”
I don’t know what more I can write about Beigeification that I haven’t already gushed about, other than to say that I think it’s one of the best albums of 2023 so far. I love it so much I bought my own copy on Bandcamp, and so should you!
One of the more uniquely interesting acts I’ve featured on this blog is Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp. The brain child of front man Russ T. Shipp (his actual birth name is Russell Thomas Shipp), Rusty Shipp is a self-described “Nautical Rock’n’Roll” band, with a sound influenced by, in their own words, “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“. As their name would suggest, their music is characterized by a dark, immersive sound, unforgettable melodies, electrifying guitar work, and Shipp’s vibrant tenor vocals. Like many a band, they’ve experienced numerous changes in lineup since forming in 2014, and now consist of the aforementioned Russ Shipp on guitar and vocals, AJ Newton on drums, Dave Gajda on lead guitar, and Doug Webster on bass.
Rusty Shipp released an EP Hold Fast to Hope in 2014, then followed in 2017 with their highly-acclaimed debut album Mortal Ghost. They dropped several singles throughout 2019, which culminated in the release that November of their phenomenal second album Liquid Exorcist, which I reviewed. In keeping with their nautical theme, the album is a concept work built around the subject of sea mine terrorism. This past January, starting with “Bottom of the Barrel”, they began releasing what would become a series of nine singles at the rate of one per month. All of those songs and more are featured on their latest album Dark Side of the Ocean, which dropped October 28th.
An ambitious work, Dark Side of the Ocean (its official title is Cosmic Innuendo, Vol 1: Dark Side of the Ocean), is another nautically-themed concept album, this time exploring the balance between dark and light, descent and ascent, and men and angels. About the album, Shipp explains: “While it was written and recorded during the pandemic, instead of following the natural response of the world to react to the crisis with fear by retreating into our comfortable “Us and Them” sects and blaming “Them” as the problem and the bad guys, this album tried very hard (as challenging as it was at the time) to focus on the commonalities and good that still exist in all people and the hope that still exists for our world to bring us all together and get all our needs met.“
Shipp wrote the lyrics, co-wrote the music with band drummer Newton, and did the arrangements. The album was produced by Stephen Leiweke at Yackland Studio in Nashville, and mastered by Alex McCollough. The gorgeous artwork was created by Hein Zaayman.
With a few nods to Pink Floyd, including its title, the album is divided into two parts: The first half (consisting of 21 ½ minutes), called “DESCENT”, follows the descent of a drowned sailor, sinking past undiscovered creatures and mysteries to the bottom of the ocean, where his soul is intercepted by a group of sea angels and taken to their underwater kingdom. The 2nd half of the album (also 21 ½ minutes long) is called “ASCENT”, and explores this angelic kingdom, ruled by Poseidon, the king archangel of the ocean. After debating the danger involved, the angels decide to ascend and discover why men’s souls are sinking from the ocean’s surface with increased frequency, with feelings of duty to help these men in the world above the waves, which the angels ironically call “Heaven.” Read the full story here.
The album opens with the title track, a 33-second-long spoken word introductory piece accompanied by eerie underwater sounds and a building guitar riff, informing us that the ocean contains 99% of Earth’s living space, yet 80% of it has never been mapped, much less explored. We have better maps of the surface of the moon than of the ocean floor, and with scientists estimating that there are as many as 90% of ocean species still undiscovered, one has to wonder what else could be down there at the bottom of our planet…the dark side of the ocean.
Those grungy, jagged riffs are quickly joined by a torrent of aggressive drumbeats as we’re launched headlong into “Living Waters“. Shipp passionately sings of the life-giving power of water, despite the fact that it’s also taken the life of many a sailor: “Let the living waters flow and bring the world to life. Trickle down the darkest cracks that never get the light. Weaving in and out of every creature on the Earth. Pull us all into the harmony that we’re created for.”
This immediately segues into the 49-second-long interlude “What Blows Up (Must Come Down)“, a fantastic barrage of raging surf guitars. Like their previous album Liquid Exorcist, Dark Side of the Ocean contains several instrumental interludes that serve to connect the tracks and move the narrative forward. That interlude then becomes “Bottom of the Barrel“, a gnarly but melodic track sung from the perspective of the drowning sailor, whose soul is reborn into a magical undersea world: “Down at the bottom of the barrel. Still your love is bottomless. The weight of the world is crushing me to a pulp, but it brings my soul to the surface. If I make my bed in Mariana Trench, I’m welcomed to a city that’s lit. Bioluminescence.” The cool video was directed by Shipp’s wife Joy Soleil.
Though Rusty Shipp is not a Christian band per se, Shipp is up-front about his faith, as is evident in many of his lyrics. The 36-second-long track “The Bloop“, which serves as an introductory piece for “Tanninim“, a song about undiscovered sea monsters, includes spoken lines of scripture from Genesis, interspersed with Shipp’s own lyrics: “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life. And God created great Tanninim and every living creature that moveth. Which the waters brought forth abundantly after their kind. And God saw that it was good, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas’.” “Tanninim” has a wonderfully eerie vibe, highlighted by a bold reggae beat driven by Newton’s brilliant drumming, and accompanied by Shipp’s spooky vocals that sound like he’s singing while underwater.
On the hard-driving grungy rocker “What’s Kracken?“, Shipp uses the mythical sea monster Kracken as a metaphor for the truth in a divided political environment where what constitutes the truth is often elusive and up for debate: “A tentacle washed up on shore. The TV says there’s something more ‘Was it just a giant squid or evidence of Leviathan?’ Can anybody out there say ‘What’s Kraken?‘”
One of the many things I love about this album is how every track sounds uniquely different, with a wide variety of music styles and genres represented. “Fish in the Sea” is in the style of a sea shanty, a traditional work song once commonly sung aboard large merchant sailing ships, while “Angel Aquarium” fuses ska with frantic guitar-driven rock. “DESCENT” ends with “Bioluminescence“, a brief hauntingly beautiful piano ballad reprising the chorus from “Bottom of the Barrel”.
Opening the “ASCENT” half of the album is “King of the Deep“, a funereal-sounding sea shanty that’s one of the most powerful tracks on the album, and also one of my favorites. With verses alternately sung by sailors, angels and Poseidon, the song seems to be an ode to Poseidon himself. I like how the vocals and instrumentals are presented differently for each: the sailors’ are delivered with deep, baritone vocals accompanied by pounding drumbeats and fuzz-coated gnarly guitars, while the angels sound…well, angelic, with Shipp’s near-falsetto front and center, accompanied by lovely synths and delicate guitar notes. And as Poseidon, Shipp’s vocals are more commanding, of course. The song ends in a dramatic chorus of all three entities singing in glorious harmony.
“Man Myth Legend” is a roiling punk rock gem fueled by marvelous psychedelia-tinged surf guitars. Man, this band knows how to rock! The lyrics speak to looking beyond our pre-conceived notions about people, keeping us locked in eternal conflict, and instead try to see them as humans not all that different from ourselves: “Tradition tries to demonize what we don’t understand. We need to see them through the love that covers all our skins. Until we’re dining in their homes, these men will be as good as myths and legends. They say the issue’s black and white, but aren’t we all just different shades of gray? If it makes us black and blue, then we’re going the wrong way. But we could bring in an age of peace, joining both our worlds into one. We could be the heroes that make a new end to the legend.“
Each of Rusty Shipp’s three albums includes a cover of a classic rock song by a famous band. Their first album Mortal Ghost featured the Beatles song “Helter Skelter”, Liquid Exorcist featured Audioslave’s “Show Me How to Live”, and now Dark Side of the Ocean includes Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them“, from their 1973 masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon. While honoring the song’s compelling melody, Rusty Shipp’s version shaves a little over four minutes off the original, and gives it a harder rock treatment, with a bold mix of jangly and gnarly guitars and more emphatic vocals. The lyrics speak to the stupidity of war: “Us and them. And after all we’re all just ordinary men. Me and you. God only knows, it’s not what we would choose to do. Forward he cried from the rear. And the front rank died. The general sat and the lines on the map moved side to side. Black and blue. And who knows which is which and who is who? Up and down. And in the end we’re spinning round ‘n round.“
The darkly beautiful instrumental interlude “Waking Braves” is a playful reimagining of their song “Breaking Waves” from Liquid Exorcist. This is followed by the grungy “Untouchable“, a terrific Nirvana-esque song about a soul with eternal life, free from earthly worries: “I am untouchable ‘cause nothing in this world can touch my soul. I am unconditionally loved, more than my heart could ever hold. I am a part of a plan where I am taken care of forever. I have eternal life, so tell me what is left to fear?” The grungy rock vibes continue on the raucous minute and a half long instrumental interlude “Up the Waterspout“.
The album closes with “The Other Side“, where so many of the elements that make Dark Side of the Ocean such a great album come together into a grand finale. The songs starts off as a slow acoustic ballad, then erupts into a celebratory feast of rousing surf guitars and frenetic ska grooves. The lyrics speak to what I think of as my own definition of Heaven, which is not some magical ‘perfect’ place in the clouds, but rather a sense of happiness and contentment that exists as a state of mind: “People always look for Heaven in the wrong places as if it’s just somewhere you go on retirement vacation. But a wise man once said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within; try looking there and let me know when you find it.We’re going on a search for the real Heaven. A Heaven we don’t have to wait for till our lives are through. We’re finding out the real meaning of salvation, and finding out it’s better than anything we thought we knew.”
I’m not sure what more I can say about Dark Side of the Ocean, other than to reiterate how marvelous it is. Not only are its concept and storyline brilliantly executed, it’s sounds damn good too! The musicians and sound engineers involved in the album’s recording and production did a masterful job, and the result is a work that’s flawlessly arranged and beautifully crafted on every level. Finally, a great deal of credit must go to Russ Shipp’s incredible vision, imagination and talents, both as a songwriter and vocalist.
One of my recent music finds is an alternative rock band from Wisconsin with the rather endearing name of This Heart I Surrender. The other day I happened upon their debut album THIS: FOUNDATIONS, which dropped October 21st, and made the wise decision to give it a listen. I immediately liked it, so much so that I reached out to the band to let them know I would be featuring it on my blog.
Combining elements of emo-punk, metal and alternative rock, they create melodic, impactful rock music that sounds at once familiar, yet distinctly their own. Listening to their music, I hear an eclectic range of influences from bands like Sum 41, Bring Me the Horizon, Aerosmith and Blink-182, to name just a few that come to mind. According to their bio, “blaring guitars, strong vocal melodies, and beat thumping drums is what This Heart I Surrender is all about; the powerful hooky melodies and ear-candy moments will have you coming back wishing the song was longer.” After listening to their album, I can’t argue with that!
The engaging and talented four-piece consists of lead vocalist Jourdan Westenberg, drummer/beat maker Jairius Stolar, lead guitarist Kyle Conner, and bassist/guitarist Will Peters, who joined the band while recording of the album was underway, but ended up playing bass on all the tracks. (Unfortunately, the band already had photos taken of themselves before he came on board, hence the inclusion of only three band members in their photo).
THIS: FOUNDATIONS opens with the beautiful and cinematic neoclassical “OVERTURE“, which sounds like it could be part of the soundtrack to a fantasy adventure film or series like Game of Thrones. This overture was composed by This Heart I Surrender with the assistance of Larry Moore, who band vocalist Jourdan described as ‘a master of synthesized orchestration’. Indeed, Mr. Moore co-wrote, arranged and played the orchestral string parts for the entire album. Jourdan added that nearly every track includes an element of strings, and was intended as the connecting “sound” between songs.
Thinking it might be a concept album of sorts, I also asked about the album’s title, to which Jourdan responded: “If I had to describe the theme of the album it’s in the title. This is our first full length album, and we titled it ‘Foundations’ because it’s the foundations of us starting out. Our sound. Our style. All of it. A lot of the songs [touch on the idea] of a new beginning and being tired of the same old same old. Taking risks and moving forward toward something new.”
“OVERTURE” directly segues into “RAISE IT” a powerful and stunning rock anthem, featuring added vocals by Garett Rapp of Illinois metalcore band The Color Morale. The inspirational song is a clarion call to arms against forces who lie and distort the truth for the purpose of keeping us divided and fighting each other: “Falling short when we need to stand up strong. Why do we keep on deciding wrong? Faceless victims in the night, not knowing where the demons hide. So raise it up, raise it up! Let us spark a revolution today!” Jourdan and Garett’s dual vocals complement each other nicely.
Themes of love and loss are addressed again and again on the album. “THANK YOU” is a beautiful song of thanks to a loved one who’s no longer around, but who had a major part in shaping who we are now. Jourdan has a great voice, and his plaintive vocals are heartfelt and filled with emotion as he sings “I never expected to lose you. I never thought I’d say goodbye. I know there’s a promise to see you. I cling to that hope with my life. But until that day. All I can say is ‘thank you’. Thank you for all that you were for me. Thank you for everything.” And on “STAY“, he pleads for someone to stay with him and help him through a rough patch.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “MORE THAN A MELODY“, a gorgeous song that starts off as a gentle ballad with breathtaking acoustic and chiming guitars, then transitions into a stirring anthem, highlighted by soaring vocal harmonies and a terrific solo in the bridge. The lyrics seem to address a troubled relationship, and trying to remember the things that brought you together in the first place: “Remember what you are to me.You’re more than a melody? You’re more than a song. You’re more than a moment that’s fading along. Are we caught up in our mess? Broke in all that stress. Forgetting just who we are. We won’t forget.”
“DEATH OF IT” is a fast-paced rock song, with driving rhythms and bold, jagged riffs. The lyrics speak of never giving up on your dreams, and to keep moving toward your goals: “I’ll keep my mind on this. I won’t give up or quit. Rushing, rushing around, don’t let my feet hit the ground. Never stop moving. Oh, this is the death of it.”
“WELCOME TO COMPROMISE” has a bit of a Blink-182 feel. thanks to its lively groove and Jourdan’s fervent vocals. The bittersweet lyrics speak of reminiscing about a lost romantic relationship and what could have been: “I’ll always miss you and I won’t forget you. I’ve been wondering how you are, and how you have been. I’ve been wishing to go back relive the moments. Though I miss you, you’re always with me.”
True to its title, “HAUNTING” is a hauntingly beautiful song, both musically and lyrically. Once again, I have to bring attention to the stunning guitar work, as well as the arresting melody and Jourdan’s commanding, emotion-filled vocals. The song is about struggling with emotional demons, and fighting to overcome them: “My demons haunt me no matter where I go./The war is raging and it’s never letting go. Sometimes I hold my head and wish that it would stop. Seems like a cycle that will never end at all. It’s all the same, haunting me. So let it rain./This isn’t who I want to be.”
Closing track “DAYS OF GOLD” speaks to those who are struggling day to day, hoping there’s something more for them in this life: “Back at it again repeating my steps. Still waiting for an answer if there’s one at all. Still sit here in the grind, thinking I’m made for more. I’m not looking for some glory, just a different story.I’m done with the same thing tonight. I’m holding on for a new light. I don’t know tomorrow, but still I will wait for a better day.” The song is a brilliant rock anthem, and I love how it closes with beautiful orchestral strings, bring the album full-circle. The guys really show us what they can do here, blowing our minds and dazzling our ears with their impressive musicianship, while Jourdan digs deep into his core, summoning all the passion he can muster to deliver a spine-tingling vocal performance. Watch and listen to them create musical magic:
THIS: FOUNDATIONS is an outstanding album, and a triumphant debut for This Heart I Surrender. All the hard work and effort they put into it really shows, for which they should be quite proud. It’s my honor to support them.
We Killed the Lion is an alternative hard rock band from Chicago I recently learned about when their keyboardist Stan Tencza reached out to me about reviewing their new album Boogie Shoe Blues. Along with Tencza, who also plays keyboards for Chicago alternative/progressive rock band Polarizer (whose album Love from the Underground I reviewed last November), the other band members are Brian Lorenc on guitar & vocals, Joe Gunia on bass & vocals, and Leonard Warren on drums. Formed in 2011, their heavy sound is infused with elements of stoner rock, grunge, psychedelic blues and even a bit of doom to darken things up a bit.
They released their self-titled debut album We Killed the Lion in 2012, then followed two years later with an EP One Way Ride, then a second album Circle of Stars in 2017. After a four-year hiatus, they began work on Boogie Shoe Blues, and dropped the first single “Final Stand” this past April, followed by “Southern Death Trip” in August. Today (Halloween), along with the album’s release, they also release a new video for “Snake Bite”. Though Boogie Shoe Blues contains only eight tracks, three of them are more than six minutes long, making the album feel more substantial than eight tracks would suggest.
Let me state up front that I don’t normally gravitate toward this type of grungy hard rock, however, I listened to the album several times with open ears and an open mind, and found lots to like about it. Opening track “Final Stand” is a fine representation of their signature brawny, dark and dirty sound. The guys get right down to business, grabbing us by the throat with a barrage of grinding buzzsaw riffs, bolstered by a deep, chugging bassline and explosive, pummeling drums that never let up for a second. Lorenc and Gunia’s dual echoed vocals sound ominous as they belt out the violent lyrics speaking of going into battle with an entity that was once an ally but now a bitter enemy: “All out of patience, love turned into vengeance. Run away in fear. Spilling out the blood, spitting out the bones, scratching out the eyes. Pray for your last breath, we’re making our final stand.”
The video for the song shows the band breaking into what appears to be an underground club, whereupon they perform “Final Stand”.
While several of the album’s tracks deal with darker topics, a few others touch on pleasures of the flesh with playful lyrics. On “Come on Get Down“, they sing of showing a hot woman a good time: “Little girl I want to take you downtown. Wanna go for a ride? Get in my backseat and spread your mind. I’m gonna show you a good time.” The song’s a sultry banger, with fantastic gnarly guitars that frequently break into a bone-chilling wail, accompanied by Gunia’s throbbing bassline, Tencza’s aggressive keyboards and Warren’s thunderous percussion. And on the sexy “Peach“, they tell a woman exactly what they have in mind: “I wanna sit on your front porch. I want a sip of your ice tea. I want to gaze at your orchid, yeah. I want to taste your peach meat.” I love the song’s deep, bluesy bassline and sludgy guitars.
“Dirty Bones” is a speaker-blowing feast for the ears, with more of those fearsome buzzsaw guitars, and ditto for “Southern Death Trip“, with some of the dirtiest riffs I’ve heard in a long while. The album’s title comes from the song’s lyric “Got the boogie shoe blues.” And just when I think the guys have thrown everything in their sonic arsenal our way, they continue to amaze with the psychedelic monster “Rocket“. The song opens with an onslaught of screaming distortion, followed by a thick, lumbering bassline as the guys begin to sing. Things eventually settle into a tumultuous mix of wailing and grungy riffs, pummeling drums and heavy keyboards, that lumbering bassline still keeping the menacing groove.
I think We Killed the Lion would be a great band to see live, and I really like that their videos show them performing their songs, rather than attempting to act out the narrative of the lyrics (which sometimes works well, but more than often falls flat). The cool video for “Southern Death Trip” shows them performing the song wearing fluorescent body paint.
The last two tracks, “Pick Me Up” and the epic “Snake Bite“, have somewhat of a progressive feel, and feature their signature reverb-soaked psychedelic guitars, thick bass and booming percussion. The latter track is spectacular, highlighted by spine-tingling piercing guitars and some really terrific keyboard organ work by Tencza.
To sort of expand on what I stated earlier, this album grew on me with repeated listens, and I’m truly impressed by We Killed the Lion’s strong songwriting and musicianship. If you like your rock music on the heavier side, with elements of psychedelic, grunge, blues and doom, you will enjoy Boogie Shoe Blues.
England-born, and now France-based, singer-songwriter and musician Lewca is one of the most creative, funny and irreverent artists I’ve come across, with a deliciously bawdy sense of humour. As he cheekily explains in his bio, “Lewca was born in a squat in Brixton, by age nineteen he was living in a squat in Paris, go figure… After studying fine art and dabbling in film, he started making music just before he was too old to die young. His influences range from class A drugs to expensive rum, and also The Clash, A$AP Rocky, Sleaford Mods, LCD Soundsystem, Bob Dylan, Eminem, Tom Waits…whoever is making decent music. He currently lives in Normandy, has three kids and a mortgage, and a semi-domesticated hedgehog named ‘Sonic’.”
Lewca’s been making music for years, and after being in a few bands “that fell apart for the usual reasons”, he decided to embark on his own music project as Lewca in 2018. Although he collaborates with lots of different musicians on his projects (most often ex band members or musicians he’s met on Twitter) his main partner in crime is S.O.A.P. (shorthand for Son of A Pitch), a Parisian composer, producer, drum & bass DJ and beatmaker he met when they shared a billing at a gig together in 2013. Their partnership grew from a shared love of wonky beats, British soundscapes and a healthy dose of humour, along with an “expectation of absolute world domination and unfathomable wealth, obviously”. They’re also both fervent players of Dragon Ball Fighterz, and if the music thing doesn’t pan out they’re considering pro gaming as a viable alternative.
Since 2018, they’ve released three EPs, which culminated in a colossal album Year One, released this past June, featuring all 17 tracks originally contained in the three EPs. In addition, the dynamic duo have been working for the last eighteen months on two more albums: Friday Night Rockstar, set for release on December 16th, and Boombap for Boomers, to be released some time in 2023. It’s the first of these, Friday Night Rockstar, I’m reviewing today.
The album features 13 tracks addressing such topics as the passage of time, personal doubts and demons, substance abuse, romantic love, and dreams that may never come true, expressed through Lewca’s honest and heartfelt, sometimes shocking, and often laugh-out-loud funny lyrics. The superb music and beats, composed by S.O.A.P. and influenced by the music they both loved while growing up, range from 80’s new wave and 90’s alternative rock to modern lo-fi indie pop and hip hop. Besides Lewca and S.O.A.P., additional vocals and/or instrumentals were performed by the artists Mondo Trasho, Victory Flow, Oh! Paulo, Chris James Willows, Ambre, Orange G, The JMC, Shark Star, Zar Acoustic, Ian Williamson, Ben Todd and Ben Samama.
The album opens with “Such a Cunt“, which I loved the moment I heard it. The lyrics are so wonderful I want to quote them all (but will control myself). It starts off with what sounds like Lewca clicking start on a tape recording of piano music while he addresses an audience from a stage: “Good evening. Thank you so much for coming out, ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honor. I love you so much. Hi mom. This is a song about cheese.” He than launches into song, admonishing us to live our lives to the fullest, but also try and be a nice person while doing our thing: “Done a lot of crazy shit in my life, but I’d do it all again. Dodged a bullet maybe once or twice. Played the fool every now and then. Hey, you, yeah you in the back, do you get what I’m trying to say? We’re gonna die, mate, that’s a fact, so let the chips fall where they may. But most importantly, stop being such a cunt!” The song has a skittering drum & bass groove, with wobbly industrial synths and sharp percussion, nicely accented by some colorful piano keys and delightfully twangy guitars. Lewca’s gritty vocals are wonderful, oozing with in-your-face swagger that’s a glorious mash-up of Mick Jagger, Joe Strummer and Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods.
Next up is the raucous title track “Friday Night Rockstar“, featuring British garage rock band Mondo Trasho. The lyrics are a humorous take on a guy who thinks he’d gonna be rock’s next big thing, except he’s been waiting for it to happen for years: “World famous in my neighbourhood. If I touch my dick, just assume that I’m touching wood. I could take Tyson, in his fucking prime. Two glasses and a bottle and I’ll make that bitch mine. Ain’t even made it. Already overrated. If a fuck was given mate, I never gave it. Since the late nineties, I’ve been sedated. Still ain’t got a deal, but it’s being negotiate./ They say I got million dollar mind. Shit I ain’t never made a dime. Killing it one weekend at a time. I’m a part time punk, but when I’m drunk I’m a rockstar.Bitch, I’m a rockstar. Friday night rockstar.“
“Harmony Korine” is a poignant but amusing look back at his childhood that seemed more innocent. To a bouncy new wave groove, Lewca sings “My generation, born in the 80s, lived in a world that didn’t give a fuck mate. The Iron Curtain, the Iron Lady, and my old man chain-smoking in the car with the windows up, and the kids in the back with no seat belts on./ We were poor, like the kids next door. It was my childhood, and I wished for no other./ The world that I knew ain’t coming back. Gotta try and face the facts, and get a move on./ Guess we ran out of time, cuz we ain’t kids no more. And Harmony Korine is like 50 now.”
One of the many things I love about the album is that every song sounds completely different, surprising us as each new track unfolds. “A Million Things” has an endearing, lighthearted groove, with quirky, carnival-like synths and Lewca’s alternately gruff and playful vocals as he sings about some of the shit that’s bothering him, apologizing that he “may be an asshole, but it ain’t by design.” He expands on this theme on “Everyday Struggle“, bemoaning the drudgeries of making a living to a rousing trip hop beat: “Six in the morning, I’m at the train station. Every damn day I take the same destination. Gotta get to work, I gotta pay them bills. Pay for them nappies and them cheap ass thrills. Nine hour shifts all day on your feet. Five days a week just to make ends meet. It’s hard labor, yet I ain’t done no crime. I’m selling my life, one day at a time. Oh lord, it’s an everyday struggle.”
“Forget My Name” is a beautiful, deeply affecting track about the idea of success, and that even though you’re at rock bottom, you’re never going to stop chasing that dream: “I’m gonna make, I can fuckin’ take it. Man I’m on a roll now. I’m the king of rock’n’roll now. Don’t forget my name.” Though I love Lewca’s gruff, melancholy vocals, the highlight for me are the stunning soulful vocals by Maryland-based transgender artist Victory Flow. Musically, the song features gorgeous intricate guitar work, somber piano keys, and achingly beautiful notes from a baby trombone.
One of my favorite songs (out of an album full of favorites) is “Incredible“, featuring added vocals by Chris James Willows and Ambre. Over a languid, drum and bass-driven groove, Lewca cheekily raps about his ‘I don’t give a fuck’ approach to music: “I’m at a party and I’m off my face. Falling around, I’m all over the place. High as fuck, I just have to sing. Can’t contain the diva within./ People let me know they ain’t digging the flow. But now I got the the microphone, I ain’t never letting go. I hope you got a sense of humour, turn up the fucking boomer. I don’t give a fuck If I’m ruining the song. Got a mic in hand this is where I belong. Anyway mate, these drugs are way too strong. Ain’t got a fucking clue what the fuck’s going on.” Then we hear an adoring girl, sung by Ambre, croon “You’re so wicked baby, loving your song. Gonna listen to ya all night long“, to which he replies “You’re gonna hear me baby all night long” followed by Chris James Willows’ chorus of “I feel incredible, I feel fucking awesome.” I love it!
The great songs keep on coming, and by now I’m thinking that Friday Night Rockstar might just be one of my favorite albums of the year. “The Love Within” is a hilarious love song that will never get played on the radio. To S.O.A.P.’s deliciously funky dub step beat, Lewca croons to his woman “I only wanna see you smile. I’d drive a thousand fucking miles. Girl I got you under my skin. I need to feel the love within.” But then he gets very sexually explicit in his adoration for her as he raps “I love looking in your eyes when you suck my dick, and listening to your sigh when I licked your clit. When I’m up between your thighs, when I cum on your tits.”
The next few songs touch on the highs and lows of rock stardom. On “Radio Gigolo“, Lewca sings of his dreams of becoming a huge star with a hit song, and willingness to sell himself out to get there: “One day they’ll play my song on the radio. They’ll play it all day long on the radio. I’ll feel like 10 feet tall. Big shots will take my call./ One day I’ll sell myself like a gigolo. I’ll be like someone else I don’t even know. So hungry for fame, I’ll even sell my name, for a spicy chicken wing on some TV show.” Opening with words spoken in French by S.O.A.P., “Golden God” transitions into a trap song with Lewca rapping about how his identity has been subsumed by his rockstar persona: “I’m a golden god, ex officio. Least that’s what I’m told. You can see it all in the video./ Guess I must have lost my mind somehow, somewhere along the line. Take a look into my eyes, mate, I’m not there./ I guess I’m strange mate, yeah I’m all over the place. I’ll keep on being strange until they turn out the light.”
Lewca lets loose on “A Song“, a wonderfully frantic and trippy punk song with a bit of an East Indian vibe, thanks to what sounds like a sitar. He rapidly raps through a litany of grievances, with the recipients of his complaints telling him to “write a fucking song about it“. He really channels his inner Mick Jagger on “I Fell in Love With a Serial Killer“, which sounds like a song the Stones forgot to record. I love the rousing rock’n’roll groove, and the guitars and percussion are fantastic. Album closer “Smoke in the Air” is wonderful too, with a rapid drum-bass groove, highlighted by wobbly synths, jangly guitars and skittering percussion. Throughout the album, I’ve been blown away by S.O.A.P.’s amazing beats and instrumentation, and this song nicely showcases his impressive talents.
I don’t what more I can say about Friday Night Rockstar that I haven’t already written, except to say that I absolutely love it! Lewca and S.O.A.P. have really outdone themselves here in the creation of a unique and brilliant album, for which they should be quite proud. The various artists who contributed vocals and/or instrumentals to the project must also be commended as well.
You can pre-save Friday Night Rockstar on one of these platforms
Time seems to fly by at an ever-increasing speed, and it’s hard to believe that it’s been five and a half years since I first wrote about Australian alternative dream rock band Crystal Cities, when I featured their captivating song “Who’s Gonna Save Us Now” in April 2017. I’ve been a huge fan of the Sydney-based act ever since, and have written about them several more times over the years (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post). I can honestly state that I’ve loved every single one of their songs without exception, especially their stunning single “Under the Cold Light of the Moon”, which I ranked #10 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019.
The supremely talented trio consists of Geoff Rana on lead vocals, guitars and keyboards, Jared King on bass and backing vocals, and Neel Shukla, who earlier this year replaced long-time drummer Daniel Conte, on drums and percussion. Since the release of their debut single “Tell Me Now” in 2016, they’ve released numerous singles, an EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now in 2017, and two albums, Under the Cold Light of the Moon in 2019, and Hold Me Close Hold Me Tight, in October 2021. Now, nearly a year to the day later, they return with a brand new single “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore“. The song was produced and engineered by Geoff in his bedroom studio in Sydney, and mixed and mastered by Paul Lani in Los Angeles.
It’s always great hearing new music by Crystal Cities, and I couldn’t be happier. As to be expected, it’s another outstanding song, featuring their signature swirling melodies and soaring anthemic choruses. Geoff lays down a rousing mix of jangly and chugging riffs, while Jared’s nimble bassline and Neel’s assertive thumping drumbeats keep the powerful rhythmic groove. Geoff’s warm string and brass synths are marvelous, adding an arresting cinematic feel to the proceedings. I’ve always loved his emotive, slightly raspy vocals, which sound even deeper and more impassioned here.
Geoff elaborates about his inspiration for writing the song (which also nicely articulates my own struggles with being a music blogger): “I happened to be going through one of those ‘down’ moments where giving up music and writing songs seemed like the best option for moving forward with my life…Wild peaks of motivation followed by troughs of listlessness are simply part of the experience of being a creative person struggling to find some semblance of success in an ever-changing world. Ironically, it was when I was feeling at my lowest that I happened to sit down with my guitar and start strumming the opening chords for ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’. It was through that song that I found myself reuniting with why I write songs and why I love it so much. ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ is about the experience of losing something or someone you once loved, and then the joy you get from reconnecting with, or rediscovering that something or someone.”
Now, these bridges, they burn
Man, it’s harder to learn
If they’ve called your name
And I watch from the shore
Darling, I’ve heard it all
Yeah, it’s all the same
And we can sit here and watch
As the seasons get lost
In these faraway dreams
In these faraway dreams
Man, these faces they break
Into tiny mistakes
Yeah, we’ve met before
And I’ve crawled from the floor
Made my way out the door
Into cold-hearted streets
And watch the cigarette burn
Through the hole in my hand
I’m the getaway scene
I’m the getaway scene
Yeah, I’ve been driving through this breakup
And I’ve been waiting out this storm
I’ve been holding all these aces
But I’ve been holding on too long
Cause’ love, it don’t live here anymore
AnymoreMatter of fact
Well, I’m willing to bet
It’s just what they say
And I’m starting to choke
Through the whiskey and smoke
But my heart says to stay
Well, it all tastes the same
Yeah, it all tastes the same
Yeah, I’ve been driving through this breakup
And I’ve been waiting out this storm
I’ve been holding all these aces
But I’ve been holding on too long
Cause’ love, it don’t live here anymore
The wonderful cover art for the single was created by Mikey Hart, with voiceover artist, actor and producer Chris Miller portraying the clown. The video was directed and edited by Arron Davis, with Miller playing the sad clown, and Daniel Dydey helping out on guitar duties while Geoff sang.
One of my favorite music finds of 2022 has been Welsh alternative psychedelic rock collective Holy Coves, who I discovered this past February as a guest moderator for Fresh On The Net, an independent music blog launched in 2009 by renowned BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Tom Robinson. As a guest moderator, my task was to listen to all 170 songs submitted that particular week, and choose my top five favorites of the bunch, along with any others I particularly liked. One of my five picks was the Holy Coves single “The Hurt Within”. The darkly beautiful song made me an instant fan of theirs, and I liked it so much that it spent 11 weeks on my Top 30 chart.
They quickly followed “The Hurt Within” with their brooding stomper “Desert Storm” in late April (which I reviewed), then “Grey” in June, another gorgeous single that recently finished a 10-week run on my Top 30 chart. Now they’re back with their long-awaited third album Druids and Bards, released on October 14th by Yr Wyddfa Records. The album features nine tracks, including the three above-named songs.
I provided quite a bit of background on Holy Coves in my “Desert Storm” review, but will reiterate a few important details about them here. The brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden, a long-time and respected figure in the Welsh music scene, Holy Coves is based in Holy Island, which is itself situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales. Since forming in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing roster of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn in early 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.
After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians – John Lawrence on guitar, Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths, Jason Hughes on bass and Spike T Smith on drums – to help with the recording of Druids and Bards. Marsden wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered it. Mixing and mastering was done by Austin, Texas-based music producer Erik Wofford. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the photo below are musician friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.
Hallmarks of Holy Coves’ dynamic sound are their striking melodies, powerful, driving rhythms, lush, cinematic synths, exquisite layered guitars, and Marsden’s beautiful and sensuous vocals that remind me at times of U2 front man Bono. Druids and Bards features all these attributes and quite a bit more, with songs addressing such topics as love, relationships, struggles with addiction and finding happiness in this often painful and difficult world.
The rousing opening track, “Away We Go“, seems to be about addiction, both to drugs and also the need for a love that cannot last: “I’m talking to myself again. Her web is spun. She’s taking aim. I can see it coming. She wakes me from my lonely haze. Her fire is hot. I feel a crave. The endless days are coming. All I see is you and me. Come on get in, take two my friend. Sail away we go./ She’s gonna break my heart again. I’m a fool for love. What can I say.” I love the song’s rapid, galloping beat and colorful mix of strummed and grungy shredded guitars.
With its powerful stomping groove, courtesy of Hughes’ thumping bassline and Smith’s pummeling drumbeats, the previously-noted “The Hurt Within” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The layered jangly and psychedelic guitar work is superb, nicely accompanied by brooding industrial synths. The lyrics are directed at a woman who broke his heart: “Here’s another song for you to sing today. About all the pain you caused when you went away. How you made me cold and left a hole inside. I wear those scars with pride. Can’t feel the world outside. How I thought I’d healed my skin. Her love is cruel. The hurt within.”
“Grey” is another favorite, with it’s exuberant melody, swirling synths and gorgeous jangly and shimmery guitars. The lyrics speak to allowing yourself to wallow in your pain from time to time, but also being open to the healing powers of love and support from others: “Let go and feel again, cos everything is hopeless when you’re grey. Hurt will find you. Love will guide you home.”
“Small and Nothing” has a bit of an Oasis sound to my ears, and seems to be about not wanting more than you already have in life: “There’s nothing in this world that I can’t live without. There’s nothing in this world that I can’t dream about. Staying young is all I care about. Cause now, small and nothing I am.” On the other hand, the dramatic “Another Day” calls to mind some of the anthemic songs of U2. It begins slowly, but gradually builds into a cinematic masterpiece. The lyrics speak of working to overcome drug addiction as an answer to numbing life’s pain: “Ticking over day by day. Heavy medicated to heal the pain. What do you feel, what do you crave? Take it slowly, and feel again.And try to remember it’s just another day./ Leave that bottle closed, we can make it if we try.”
On the mesmerizing “Desert Storm“, Holy Coves start with another stomping groove, then layers mysterious psychedelic synths, assertive percussion and an arresting blend of droning and gently distorted guitars to create a moody soundscape with a hint of optimism. Marsden’s echoed vocals have a haunting ethereal quality as he details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from drug addiction.
With its hauntingly beautiful melody, gorgeous strummed guitars and folk-rock vibe, “Welcome to the Real World” reminds me a bit of Michael Kiwanuka’s song “Hero”. The lyrics speak of the futility of tilting at windmills and beating your head against the wall: “They had you now, your time is up. Welcome to the real world. It hurts. It hurts. She had you now, your time is up. Welcome to the real world, and you’re gone. You’re gone.” And on the catchy and melodic love song “Until I Fall“, the vibrant chiming guitars are a thing of wonder!
The final track “Taste the Wine” is a monumental tour-de-force, and an aural feast for the senses, with breathtaking guitar work amidst a soaring cinematic soundscape. Despite its 7:15-minute run time, it’s so gorgeous I don’t even notice how long it is. The song is about letting go of slights and painful experiences that can keep you feeling bitter and resentful, unable to move forward and enjoy your life in the here and now: “It doesn’t hurt to try. It wasn’t worth the fight. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so be strong. Hold on til it’s over. Take it slowly, and taste the wine. Sit back, let it flow dear, open your eyes. Chances are you will lose your mind. Might as well enjoy it, it’s your time.”
Druids and Bards is a superb, flawlessly-crafted album, as close to perfect as any I’ve heard this year. Every track is outstanding, making for a joyful listening experience from start to finish. Holy Coves are back, and then some!
Dan Szyller is an imaginative and earnest Brazilian singer-songwriter and musician currently based in Metz, France. Born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he also spent time living in the U.S. and Israel before emigrating to France, and those life experiences led him to write and record songs for his debut album The Celestial Immigrant. Dan says “It’s the story of many travels I have made and places I have been in my life, mostly as an immigrant.” The album, written and recorded over a six month period earlier this year, was released on Apple Music and Spotify on July 20th. For recording of the album, Dan played guitar and sang vocals, Fabien Pilard played additional guitars, bass, keyboards and sang backup, and Meriem Rezik played drums.
A lifelong lover of music, Dan’s songs are influenced by some of his favorite bands like The Doors, Iron Maiden, King Crimson and Pink Floyd. These influences are readily apparent on the opening title track “The Celestial Immigrant“. With its expansive, moody soundscapes, highlighted by a vibrant blend of jangly and psychedelic guitars, it sounds like a long-lost Pink Floyd song. The lyrics, about a young boy hurtling through outer space toward the Milky Way, seem to be an allegory for Dan’s well-traveled, sometimes beautiful and perhaps at times chaotic, childhood, being repeatedly moved without his consent to several different countries, in search of a better life: “Sent away into the darkness. No warnings were given, the baby. In the wake of the night.The celestial immigrant is on his way, in the Milky Way. Will he ever make it? The stars are watching him—riding the neon wave. Will he ever make it? Will he find new home? All the forgotten faces, all part of a strange dream somehow. All the beautiful places, The journey of the sacred moon-child.”
On the grunge-flavored “My Road“, Dan seems to ponder the fleeting impermanence of life: “Life passes by so fast; old pictures and you’re gone. The Crossroads is coming. Another drifter’s story.” And on the optimistic “Summer Kiss” he sings of the joys of summer, and how people and nature come alive with activities and romance: “The birds are calling, the people will wake. The smell of grass, the children that play. The night is falling, the feast will begin. A man is hunting, a girl is the prey.” The song features some great reverby guitars and 60s-flavored organ.
Some of the progressive influences from bands like King Crimson and Pink Floyd are strongly evident on the next three tracks, with meandering melodies and fascinating instrumental flourishes. On “The Believer” Dan sings of being a world traveler, in search of a better life: “I can see a land of riches. / The howling winds of freedom, my life and blood astray. I dream of a paradise beyond the clouds. I read, the signs are so evident now. Believe, the blind shall see. I am away. I am a troubadour. I have many stories to tell.” His vocals, while not particularly powerful, are emotive and heartfelt, conveying just the right amount of passion and fervor when he sings.
On the dark and dramatic “King’s Hall“, he uses medieval fantasy metaphors to describe what could be the plot of a Game of Thrones episode: “Inside the King’s Hall, love and jealousy. Blades are held high! The old man is gazing from his throne. A lifetime before his eyes.” I’m not quite sure what the story in this song has to do with the album’s overall theme, but it’s an intriguing track nonetheless.
On the introspective and bittersweet “Sunday Again“, Dan wistfully sings of being at a low point in his life, feeling bored and alone, and missing those he’s left behind: “Looking out the window. A quiet street, no life at all. The rain that falls each day. The fog that hides the dawn. Sitting on a couch, I think of her. Could I fall in love once more? My imagination is playing games with me. Happiness seems so far, so lost.” Musically, it sounds almost like two different songs melded together, with the first, more grungy segment ending just after three minutes, and the second segment having a more relaxed vibe, with some great reverby and distorted surf guitars. On this segment, Dan seems to have come to terms with his loneliness, finding solace in his music: “It’s Sunday, I’m free again. In a corner, playing my guitar. La La, La La La.“
The final track “Interstellar (Voyager 1)” is a captivating instrumental piece, with more of those great reverb-drenched guitars we’ve heard on several of the album’s songs, accompanied by spacey atmospheric synths that beautifully convey images of traveling through outer space. The only vocals we hear are Dan’s spoken words briefly reciting a description of the Voyager 1 space probe that was “launched by NASA on September 5, 1977, as part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System and interstellar space beyond the Sun’s heliosphere.” The description is taken from Wikipedia, which he cites on his album liner notes, and includes a statistic of how long the space probe has been in operation “Launched 16 days after its twin Voyager 2, Voyager 1 has been operating for 44 years, 9 months and 12 days as of June 17, 2022 (now 45 years, 1 month and 6 days as of today, October 12, 2022). The track brings the album’s celestial theme full-circle, with an overriding message – to my mind at least – that we’re all travelers on this planet, which itself exists within a much greater universe that’s beyond our comprehension.
The Celestial Immigrant is an ambitious and fascinating work, and an impressive debut for Dan Szyller. His creativity, imaginative songwriting and strong musicianship really shine on this very fine album.
I recently learned about Canadian rock band The Ember Glows when they followed me on Twitter. Based in Montreal, the four-piece consists of Richard Bunze (lead guitar), Kevin Hills (bass), Martin Saint (vocals, guitar and keyboards) and Dan Stefik (drums). Friends since their teens, all are seasoned and accomplished musicians who were previously members of Montreal bands Room Control, Repo, Scene Noir & Citylake. With a shared love of 60s psychedelic rock, late 70s post-punk, 80s new wave and 90s British indie, what started as a side-project for each of them eventually became everyone’s music priority, and The Ember Grows was officially born in 2019.
Influenced by an eclectic array of artists ranging from Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, Nick Cave, The Cult, The Verve and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to The Mission, Interpol and The War On Drugs, their dynamic sound is characterized by strong hooks, richly-textured intertwining guitars, muscular driving rhythms and resonant vocals. They released their debut five-track EP Passerby in March 2021, then followed this past June with their outstanding single “SILENT LOVE”. On September 23rd, they dropped their second EP Where Spirits Play, which I’m reviewing today.
The EP features four songs, including “SILENT LOVE”, with lyrics written by vocalist Martin Saint, and music collectively written by the entire band. It was recorded at Closet Studios in Montreal by Daniel Karrasch and John Gurnsey, and produced by Karrasch. The beautiful photography and cover artwork was done by lead guitarist Richard Bunze.
Where Spirits Play opens with “TOMORROW’S THE DAY” a song about someone who recognizes they need to change some of their behaviors that are holding them back in life, but lack the will or drive to follow through, keeping them on an endless self-destructive cycle: “Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. You’re haunted by the words out of your inner voice. You might fool the gallery, but you always had a choice./ Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. Just like you said the day before. When you swore no more, no more, no.” The song blasts open with a barrage of super-grungy riffs, which are soon joined by jangly guitars, gritty bass and thunderous drums that don’t let up for the song’s four-minute duration. Though a bit flat in spots, Martin’s commanding and clear baritone vocals remind me of the late Scott Walker of The Walker Brothers.
“MIRROR” is an intense and stunning song, with biting lyrics that seem to speak to the never-ending death and destruction mankind has rained upon one another and the planet, unable or unwilling to stop: “Suburbs crawl where rivers once ran. A nation’s sins live on streets across the land. Our lost romance, as warriors sweat and dance, and break the mirror. And we crack… No country right or wrong. Clear your conscience in a protest song. Plant your flags upside down, where a stolen child’s ghost haunts the ground.” Richard and Martin’s intricately layered grungy, distorted and chiming guitars are spectacular, while Kevin and Dan’s flawless bass and drums keep the propulsive rhythm rampaging forward.
On “SILENT LOVE“, the guys combine a powerful driving Simple Minds-esque groove with lush instrumentation a la The War on Drugs to create a robust cinematic soundscape that’s truly exhilarating. Once again, the complex, intertwining guitar work and production qualities are impressive, and Martin’s impassioned vocals sound their best here. Essentially a love song, the lyrics are directed to a loved one who’s going through personal turmoil, assuring them he’ll be patient and supportive, and give them as much space and time as they need to heal: “Whenever you close your eyes, whether near of far, I will let you be. But I will stand guard when you wake up in tears. After dreams crossed your defenses I’ll be here to give you space and silence. Now there’s nothing left to do except wait for you. Now there’s nothing left to give except silent love. As you sit and gaze at the stars above.”
The longest track on the EP, “HIGH FEVER” is a guitar-lover’s delight, overflowing with a jaw-dropping maelstrom of jangly, grungy and wailing psychedelic guitars. Of course, the throbbing bassline, tumultuous percussion and screaming industrial synths are all pretty amazing too, adding to the song’s overall explosive impact. The song seems to be about being besotted with a woman, wondering whether you’re in love or just deeply infatuated with her beauty and sensuality: “Her eyes light every dream she rules, like two sparkling jewels. I’ll dive in her mystery and feel real arms around me. Is this love or is your fever running high, running high?“
To sum up, Where Spirits Play is a great little EP that packs quite a powerful punch in just four tracks. The members of The Ember Glows are all outstanding musicians, with the collective skills and experience to successfully coax the best possible sounds from their respective instruments. I love their music, and hope we’ll be hearing more from this talented band soon!