INWATER – Single Review: “Nobody Else Than Me”

Inwater Nobody Else Than Me

Although the vast majority of artists I’ve featured on this blog are from either the U.S. or the UK, I do from time to time write about artists and bands from other countries. Just a few days ago, I reviewed a band from Italy, and now turn my spotlight for the first time on Portugal, to Lisbon rock band Inwater. Formed in 2014, the band is comprised of songwriter/producer Miguel Moreira (lead guitar, synths, programming &  backing vocals), songwriter/producer Rui Duarte (rhythm guitar, synths & lead vocals), João Barbosa (drums, percussion & programming), and André Pires (bass & backing vocals).

Although they identify their music as generally falling into the broad category of alternative rock, Inwater draws from a wide range of influences to create their own unique sound, and prefer to not be labeled any one particular genre. As they so eloquently put it, “[We] can be sweet as a little boat on the sea, or as frightful and dreadful as Godzilla emerging from the deep ocean. What best describes our sound is the fact that we recognize in ourselves the ability to reach out and discover what each song needs, and let them always show us the way. This approach gives us the chance to explore an infinite amount of possibilities driven by the song’s potential, and with patience and perseverance, it grows by itself and leads us to a different sight every time. We just have to come ashore and breathe the new air that is waiting for us.” An interesting aspect of their sound is that, listening to their songs, I’d never guess they were from Portugal.

Inwater has spent the past couple of years writing and recording songs for their forthcoming debut album Wet Dreams, and began releasing singles this past February, starting with the lovely and bittersweet “My Tragedy”.  In June, they followed up with a beautiful love song “Plain Heart”, featuring guest vocals by Caroletta The Girl From Chiado, and on November 15, they dropped their third single “Nobody Else Than Me“, which I’m reviewing today.

True to their desire to remain eclectic, the song starts off with an 80s new wave vibe that reminds me a bit of Depeche Mode. The hypnotic melody, deep bass and jangly guitars are fantastic. Then the chorus kicks in, and the song transitions to a faster, pop-rock tempo that’s equally satisfying. The guitar work and lively percussion are terrific, and the 30-second guitar solo in the bridge is particularly good. The track’s arrangement and production values are really outstanding as well. There were many hands involved in its production, including Nuno Oliveira and Pedro Isaac Ribeiro on bass, Ribeiro again on electric guitars, and João Tiago Fernandes on drums. The track was produced, mixed and mastered by Moreira and Duarte.

The lyrics, written by Duarte, speak to the protagonist’s inability to love anyone but himself, and his desire to remain free, enjoying only the physical pleasures from a sexual encounter. But they also reveal in inner turmoil, and the self-realization that he’s not necessarily a good person.

Don’t you understand?
Love means nothing to me
So, take it easy
Your love means nothing for me

My Freedom
Runs threatened by your love
My Freedom
Loves to walk alone

So please take a step back
I hate being followed

Can’t you see?
There’s nobody else than me
Nobody else
Nobody else than me

I’m not sweet
I’m not gentle and kind
I’m hungry
I’ve a battle inside

I need passion
I just wanna be surprised
I need passion
I just wanna take you higher 

Here are all three singles for those so inclined to take a closer listen to Inwater:

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ASHRR – Single Review: “Sacrifice”

ashrr-sacrifice-final

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

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

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

ASHRR2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DYING HABIT – Single Review: “Into Colour”

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISAAC GRINSDALE – EP Review: “Entertainment”

Isaac Grinsdale EP Art

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

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

Isaac Grinsdale performing

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

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

Because now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUSTY SHIPP – Album Review: “Liquid Exorcist”

Rusty Ship Liquid Exorcist

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

Rusty Shipp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Rusty Shipp: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / YouTube
Purchase: iTunes / cdbaby / Bandcamp

BRAIN APE Release Trippy New Video for “Stop Sulking”

Brain Ape is a talented, wildly imaginative, and highly entertaining London-based rock band who skillfully fuse punk, stoner rock, grunge, noise rock and shoegaze to create their unique sound they call “Scratch Rock.” Originally formed at the beginning of 2012, the trio now consists of Minky Très-vain on guitar & vocals, Sol Alex Albret on bass, and Jamie Steenbergen on drums. In August 2017, they released their second album Auslander, which was released through Schlimbum Records, an independent record label started by Très-vain and Dydy Haynes. (The label was rebranded as Scratch Rock Records this past August.) It’s an ambitious work, containing 12 brilliant tracks and running nearly 55 minutes in length. I reviewed the album in January 2018, which you can read here.

Brain Ape 3

Brain Ape has just released “Stop Sulking”. the third and final single from Auslander, along with a trippy new video. The video, which is alternately disturbing, amusing and heartwarming, was filmed by frequent band photographer Nuri Moseinco, and produced by Alex, Minky and Dom Bolton. The dark song has a strong Nirvana vibe, with sharp, clipped verses, fuzz-soaked gnarly guitars and deep bass. I had a little chat with Minky about the track and video.

EclecticMusicLover:  First off, I really like your video for “Stop Sulking.” What made you & the band decide to make a video for that particular “Auslander” track?

Minky:  Glad you liked the video. For us, it’s a very defining end to our ‘Auslander’ experience. That record came out a couple of years ago now, and we’re very ready to move on from it. It’s been a terrific journey, and the band has turned into something much larger than we could ever have imagined. It’s still on an incredibly small scale, and I can’t stress that enough, but when we were recording the album we were in a band that nobody cared about, making music that was too harsh for most listeners, and due to a succession of drummers that didn’t work out we found ourselves playing live a lot less often than we would have liked. But ‘Auslander’ changed that. We’re now on the road more often than not, taking our music to places we’ve never been to before. We always took our little project as seriously as possible and have been dedicated to the music that we put out, so it’s nice for people to take our band seriously now too.

This video marks the end of that transition for us. It was important for us to do, for us. The reason we chose ‘Stop Sulking’ is because when we sat back having just completed ‘Auslander’ there was some debate as to what the first single should be off the record. ‘Give Me My P45’ won out as the lead single, but its only contender was ‘Stop Sulking’. So now with hindsight and the context of what the album means to us several years on, it felt only right to chose ‘Sulking’ as the finale.

EML:  The song seems to describe a depressed, petulant person who’s unhappy with his situation, feeling like he’s losing his mind or sense of self, that he has no control over what’s happening to him – am I close? I like how you’re shown wearing a straight jacket to convey these feelings described in the lyrics.

Minky:  It’s always interesting to me when I hear how people are interpreting our work. I’m a product of our genre in that I prefer to keep my own personal meaning to myself when it comes to lyrics, and I find it far more interesting to hear from other people about how our words have affected them. That’s the beauty in art: there is no right or wrong answer. As far as your interpretation? I’d say it’s not a terribly inaccurate description of where I was when we were making the record. The album ended up becoming a ‘coming of age’ story, but as we’ve lived with it for several years it’s come to mean something completely different to the band. Our lyrics tend to be ambiguous enough that they can lend themselves to different perspectives, even if those perspectives are coming from the same person years apart. My own interpretation can change from hour to hour, depending on my mood and environment. I’m a fairly rash person, and my mood can 180 at the flip of a coin.

For the video, we collaborated with the great Nuri Moseinco. He’s an amazing videographer and photographer, and our walks of life have been different enough that our views on the track were very varied when we sat down to brainstorm ideas for the video. I can’t remember who exactly came up with the idea for the straight jacket, but it plays off the rest of the footage. I’ll leave the meaning up to the viewer, as I think that’s important. No one wants to know how the magic trick is done once they’ve found out. They’d rather re-experience the wonder of not knowing. But once you know, it’s too late to go back. Ignorance is bliss, and art is ignorance.

EML:  The interplay between you and Sol & Jaime in the scenes where the three of you are together is interesting. Sometimes you’re all playing your instruments, and other times you’re sitting around looking serious or you are horsing around with Sol. Was there any conscious intent in the filming of those scenes?

Minky:  Everything we’ve ever done has always been very deliberate. In our view, if something’s worth doing at all then it’s worth doing right. The world needn’t be filled with people like us who take our art too seriously, as there’s always room for comedy, satire, and absurdity. For the most part, in fact, it’s very necessary to have those things. We’d all go mad, otherwise. But for whatever reason, Brain Ape has always been a serious deal to us. I don’t think we take ourselves too seriously, mind you. But we’d rather not make a mockery of a product that took years, blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of sacrifices to make. So when it comes to those scenes; yes, there was intent. My intent was probably different to Sol’s, and his probably different to Jamie’s. But every detail was thought out. The choice of camera, for example, was a deliberate artistic choice. It held a lot of meaning for us. We wouldn’t half-arse anything. The only thing I didn’t mean to do was dye my hair green before shooting the straight-jacket scenes. That was almost a complete fiasco.

Here’s the video, so enjoy!

Catch Brain Ape at one of their upcoming shows in the UK, beginning tonight:

NOV 14 – IVW Launch w/ Brain Ape, Manalishi, Junky Love, Indigo, 7 PM, Dublin Castle, Camden, London
NOV 15 – w/Gutterflower, Manalishi, & The Kecks, 8 PM, The Pipeline, Brighton
NOV 16 – A Northern Underground Liverpool, 2 PM, The Jacaranda Club, Liverpool
NOV 17 – A Northern Underground Manchester, Aatma, Manchester
NOV 26 – RAMS Presents II: Brain Ape, 7 PM, The Cavern Club, 83 Queen Street, Exeter

Connect with Brain Ape:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

ALL TAKEN – Single Review: “Monsters Anonymous”

All Taken is an alternative hard rock band based in Los Angeles. Formed in 2015 as a duo by long-time friends Daniel Daghlarian (guitar, lead vocals) and Avo Karapetyan (drums, backing vocals), they released their debut single “Burning Red” a year later. In March 2017 they followed up with their EP Accept This, which I reviewed, then later that year, David Eye joined the band as bassist. They released a fantastic head-banging single “Smells Like Mistakes,” in summer 2018, which I also reviewed, and on October 25th, just in time for Halloween, they dropped their latest single “Monsters Anoynymous“.

The hard-hitting song opens with fuzz-coated gnarly guitars, then explodes into a frantic barrage of hard-driving rhythms, anchored by a David’s deep, humming bass line and Avo’s muscular pounding drumbeats. Daniel lays down kickass scorching riffs that cover me with goosebumps while he fervently sings the colorful, horror-themed lyrics that speak to a loss of identity and self-worth – of feeling anonymous and invisible. It’s a great song, and I think All Taken continues to get better and better with each release.

Hey guys, I’m a zombie, been undead for weeks
My flesh is rotted and green
I crave brains and spleen
Just check out what happened last week

In the dark of the night , tryin to grab a bite
spot a meat bag looking so fine
I lunge at her and she screams
Oh my gawd are you from that zombie show?

I’m a spirit bound to this earth
Been struggling with my self worth
I used to love the scaring work
Now boos don’t get a second look

I’m not the monster I used to be
All these things tearing at me
What scares me is I don’t scare you now
What scares me is I don’t scare you anymore

Connect with All Taken:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play

OUTTAKE13 – Single Review: “Warrior”

Outtake13

Outtake13 is a recently-formed alternative rock band based in Wilmington, North Carolina. The three-piece is comprised of identical twin sisters Michaela and Annabelle Sanchez, and Calen Barbour. Michaela plays acoustic guitar and bass, Annabelle plays electric guitar, and Calen plays drums. Both sisters sing the lovely vocal harmonies.

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Michaela and Annabelle began writing and singing songs when they were only eight years old. While in their early teens, they formed their own two-piece act Entangled Dreams, and went on to release two studio albums, an EP, and multiple singles. They earned awards for their music and played over 200 shows, all before the age of 17! After continually being asked “where’s your drummer?”, they decided to bring Calen into their act, which they rechristened Outtake13. On November 4th, they released their first single “Warrior“, an uplifting song of inspiration. The track was produced by Will Baker, front man of Wilmington band Hollow Intent, who I featured on this blog this past September.

About “Warrior”, the band explains “It’s meant to inspire the notion that nobody is alone in their troubles. This song discusses the power of art. How writing, composing, or just simply creating can give you purpose. With every bad moment, a fire is brought to the surface with the purpose to fight negativity. ‘Warrior’ portrays many messages but with one meaning: you can bring purpose to your life through a craft of your choosing, to take you from a dark place to a space with inspiration and drive. You can do anything, because YOU are a Warrior.”

The song starts off with Michaela’s strummed acoustic guitar, giving it a folk vibe, but soon Calen’s snappy drums and Annabelle’s resonant electric guitar enter the mix, taking things toward a heavier rock sound. It’s clear the sisters are both fine guitarists, and the interplay between their acoustic and electric instruments is really wonderful. Toss in their skill for writing an arresting melody, and Calen’s tight drumming, and the result is a powerful, uplifting backdrop for their vibrant harmonies. It’s a terrific debut for Outtake13.

Look into these eyes and tell me you don’t see a warrior
Don’t forget, I’m really no different than you dear
Overcome what you’ve yet to face and you’ll feel it too
Together let’s stand and become something beautiful and new

A blank space
That’s where it all begins
We’ve turned something meaningless
Into something colorful

Follow Outtake13:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream/purchase:  Spotify / Apple Music / Bandcamp

WE ROYALS – Single Review: “Ready For It”

We Royals is a new electro/psych rock duo from the mountains of Colorado, consisting of Andy Crosby on guitar and vocals, and Shelton Summerville on drums. Crosby is also the super-talented and wildly-creative brainchild behind electro/psych music project Vox Eagle, who I’ve previously featured on this blog a number of times. We Royals have just released their debut single “Ready For It” and it fucking rocks! The song is the first single from their forthcoming EP, due out soon.

We Royals

The song erupts like a rampaging T-Rex, laying waste to the airwaves as he slashes and smashes everything in his path. It’s as if Aerosmith and Nine Inch Nails combine forces to do battle with Godzilla for sonic supremacy. Crosby shreds and distorts his guitar to the breaking point, making it wail and scream over an intense humming bass line, while Summerville blows out the speakers with his relentless, explosive drumbeats. All of this is backed by harsh industrial synths, creating an incendiary soundscape for Crosby’s feral vocals. His raw, impassioned screams would do Steven Tyler proud.

The song has a raw, high-energy sound like one would hear in a live concert where a band really lets loose. Crosby told me that was essentially what he and Summerville were after: “It was such a super fast process of meeting and tracking and mixing the EP. We only had about 48 hours in studio to get it all done, and didn’t really get too much time to retrack anything so was a bit of a jammy rush. But for the first EP we were just kinda excited to quickly catch the energy and vibe from the rehearsal room the previous week, so it’s definitely more of a raw, live sounding record.”

“Ready For It” most definitely kicks major ass, and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the EP.

Connect with WeRoyals: Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase “Ready For It” on Spotify / Google Play / Apple Music

ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Freak”

Andrew Neil Freak art

Of the hundreds of artists and bands I’ve featured on this blog over the past four years, perhaps the most uniquely compelling life story would have to be that of Andrew Neil. The Virginia-based singer-songwriter is considered an “outsider” music artist along the lines of Daniel Johnston, and in fact, he now ranks as the #1 Best Outside Artist on Ranker, just above the late Johnston. The 31-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.

After growing up as a fairly typical kid and a high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

His sentence was changed to not guilty by reason of insanity, whereupon he was released from jail and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d already written prior to his hospitalization. Andrew writes songs entirely by ear, creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar. He would record songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would then upload to the home computer. To date, he’s written over 400 songs!

Andrew Neil

Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville, where he still resides. Upon his release, he decided to produce an album of some of his songs, many of which were melancholy yet optimistic. Andrew hoped that perhaps his songs might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The result was his debut album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 of the 70 songs he’d written while in the hospital. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them. The art work for the album cover was done by his brother Kyle (the one he stabbed in the arm).

In 2018, he entered a studio to record his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. Some of those musicians included Andy Waldeck, who also produced the album, on bass & guitar, Nathan Brown on drums, Gina Sobel on flute, and  and Jack Sheehan on sax for one track.

While it would seem that Andrew had already faced more than his fair share of challenges in his young life, in June 2019, while wrapping up the recording of his third album Freak, he was hit with yet another health crisis when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected.

Freak was released digitally for streaming on October 15th. It’s also now available on CD, and will soon be available for download, as well as a limited number of vinyl pressings. For the recording of Freak, Andrew was joined once again by Andy Waldeck on bass and Nathan Brown on drums, with additional musicians Matty Metcalfe on lead guitar, baritone electric guitar and marxophone, Nick Berkin on piano, and Andrew’s dad Ray on acoustic guitar and backing vocals on two tracks. His brother Kyle also did the arresting painting for the album cover, which was designed by Daniel Benayun.

The album is an ambitious work, with 14 unique tracks that address topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity. It opens with the marvelous title track “Freak“, and the first thing that struck me is its strong Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe. In fact, Andrew’s unusual, quirky vocals at times sound a lot like Anthony Kiedis. The intricate guitar work is terrific, and I love the track’s funky psychedelic grooves. Andrew’s simple lyrics speak of being a ‘freak’ as a badge of honor, something that sets him apart as a unique individual, rather than simply strange: “In every way, every day of the week, I’m a freak, freak, freak. I got a feeling, like a ceiling leak. And if I could, I probably would grow a beak, beak, beak./ What can I say? I’m so unique, I’m a freak, freak, freak.”

Next up is “Kentucky Whiskey“, a languid and lovely song about throwing caution to the wind and giving into temptation and vices. With a wistful tone in his voice, Andrew croons “Goodbye teacher, goodbye teacher, gonna learn rock’n’roll. Goodbye preacher, goodbye preacher, I’ve already sold my soul. Killing myself, killing myself, with a cigarette. Girl I know, yes I know that we just met. But I’m gonna, yeah I’m gonna make you miss me. Killing myself, killing myself, Kentucky whiskey.” He’s written a captivating melody here, and Matty Metcalfe’s marxophone lends an enchanting addition to the gorgeous guitar work. “Hope” is a pleasing ballad about a girl named Hope who lifts him up with her love and support. The interplay between the guitars and Nick Berkin’s tinkling piano keys is delightful.

By the time we get to the fourth track “Overdose“, it’s clear that Andrew has a real knack for creating compelling and memorable melodies. Each of the songs sound completely different, with an eclectic mix of styles that keeps his music fresh and surprising. This song has a wickedly seductive melody with fuzz-soaked driving riffs, and Nathan Brown’s sexy drumbeats that nicely complement Andrew’s lyrics about submitting to love’s ardor:  “Cause I’m about to overdose. Let my spirit soar. Become a ghost. Walk through your heaven’s door. Overdose.” It’s a great song, one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Help” sees Andrew crying out for support and understanding: “If you only knew all of the bullshit I’ve been through. Then you could give me no blame when I give the blunt a flame.” The jangly guitars and piano keys are sublime. “All Over” is a pleasant love song that starts off with Andrew rapping to a hip hop beat, then 20 seconds in it transitions to an upbeat pop-rock duet, with guest vocalist Savannah Weaver singing with Andrew. Their vocal harmonies are delightful. Here’s a snippet of lyric that provides a great example of his honest, straightforward songwriting that’s so relatable: “Because of you my heart beats. Because of you I got to wash my sheets.”

Awesome bluesy guitars are a highlight of the poignant “Put Me Back Together“, a plea for love and support to heal his broken soul. Andrew references nursery rhymes to make his case: “Mary had a little lamb. So will you love me as I am? / I’m a bloody humpty dumpty. And babe I need your company. Or else.” Another favorite track of mine, mainly due to the lyrics, is “American Dream“, a candid critique of the rat race. Andrew laments “I’m living the American dream, but things aren’t what they seem. I’m living the American dream, and it makes me want to scream. Wake up and go to work. Thank god my boss isn’t a jerk. People really aren’t so bad. But every now and then I get sad. So my doctor gives me pills They make me happy so I pay my bills. What would I do without my wine?

The optimistic “Drum Song” has an Americana vibe, with rousing folk-rock guitars, lively piano keys, and Appalachian dulcimer played by guest musician Roxanne McDaniel. Andrew sings of how the world would be a better place if people were more kind and loving to each other: “Love is in your heart, so find it and play your part./ This life would never be such a bummer, if we collectively loved one another.” Those wonderful bluesy guitars make a welcome return on “Beautiful Dancer“, a song about a woman who could be his savior or his undoing (romance can often be like that): “The birds are flying, or maybe they’re spying, or maybe they’re trying to let me know. That you are my answer, or maybe a cancer. Beautiful dancer. I’m at your show.” I really like the song’s rather sensuous melody, and Andrew’s vocals sound particularly good here.

Andrew takes a bit of an experimental turn on the trippy “Thirty-Two“, with more of those great bluesy grooves, accompanied by Andy Waldeck’s throbbing bass and some fine drumming by Nathan Brown. I love the lyrics “Take a shower, I feel dirty. In an hour, I’ll turn thirty. Life’s so fast and rough. I think I’ve had enough. Then I saw her walk back, and I knew I could make it to thirty-two.” The final track “Disappear” is a bluesy foot-stomper with an infectious country-rock vibe. I’m not sure, but the lyrics seem to speak of the mind-controlling aspects of blind faith: “Fork in the road. Choice is clear, do what you’re told, have no fear./We are free, when we do what it is that gods do. Disappear.

Freak is a wonderful album, made all the more special given Andrew’s remarkable talents, despite the many adversities he’s had to face throughout his adult life. His intriguing melodies, simple, honest lyrics, beautiful instrumentals and endearing vocal style have a way of burrowing into our brain and capturing our soul. I’m genuinely impressed by his imaginative songwriting and sincere musicality, and he’s a true inspiration for all who have experienced challenges, both large and small.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / cdbaby / Google Play