IAMWARFACE – Album Review: “Year of the Dragon”

I’ve stated it before, and will say it again – British electro-rock band IAMWARFACE can do no wrong when it comes to making music. From the moment I first heard their debut single “Say My Name” in 2016 – which I likened to being hit by an atomic blast – I’ve been a huge fan. Their aggressive name is a fitting metaphor for their bombastic, groove-based sound, and in the three years since their debut, they’ve continued to deliver one incredible song after another. Three of their four singles: “Say My Name”, “Closer” and “Fear the Future” (all of which I’ve reviewed) have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart, with “Closer” finishing in the top 10 of my Top 100 Songs of 2018. Now, they’re set to finally unleash their first album Year of the Dragon, which drops September 6th. The album contains their first four singles, as well as six new tracks and four remixes.

IAMWARFACE new
Photo by Caitlin Stokes

Based in London and Brighton, England, IAMWARFACE consists of founder and frontman Matt Warneford (songwriting, vocals), Lou Matthews (guitars), Tom Howe (DJ synth), Mike Smith (bass) and Adam Stanley (drums). Influenced by some of their favorite bands and artists such as Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Kasabian, Muse, Big Black Delta, Nero, Queens of the Stone Age, Tears For Fears, MGMT and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, IAMWARFACE creates music that’s aggressive, melodically complex and always exciting.

The opening track on Year of the DragonSay My Name” certainly embodies those qualities, with an explosive barrage of gnarly guitars, screaming synths and thunderous percussion, driven by a deep, buzzing bassline. Warneford’s fierce, mind-blowing vocals are almost frightening as he wails and shrieks the lyrics. This incredible song still gives me chills three years later!

Next up is the gloriously bombastic kiss-off song “You Don’t Love Me Anymore“, which was their second single. Once again, they live up to their name by delivering a furious onslaught of jangly guitars, heavy bass and smashing drumbeats. It’s loud, in-your-face, and melodically beautiful, and the hard-driving guitar work is fantastic. Warneford’s impassioned vocals are positively chilling as he wails “Whoa oh oh, you were right, you don’t love me anymore!” The cool video shows the band performing the song wearing fluorescent body paint.

To Die For” is one of the new tracks, and I love it! The song immediately hooks us in with an assault of crashing drumbeats and a deep, wobbly bassline, then a mesmerizing spacey synth riff kicks in, creating a mysterious soundscape for Warneford’s marvelous vocals. The music intensifies with tortured guitars and piercing synths in the chorus as he laments “Seems like I’m alive for, something I could die for.

Fear the Future” was their most recent single, released this past February, and one of their best songs. The biting lyrics speak to the banal music and entertainment, bullshit and fear-mongering being fed to the masses in a pernicious attempt to dumb-down and divide us. Musically, the song features the band’s signature aggressive instrumentation and massive, driving rhythms, making for a incredibly powerful and exhilarating song that slams us against the wall. The disturbing video brilliantly brings the dark lyrics to life.

Now we get to what I consider to be their greatest song, the monumental and gorgeous “Closer“. Wow, this song is a masterpiece! It opens with a mysterious throbbing synth chord that slowly builds into a stunning and dramatic soundscape that envelops us as Warneford laments of an obsessive and destructive relationship. The song then erupts into a maelstrom of tortured wailing synths, grimy guitars, buzz-saw bass, and explosive percussion, punctuated by almost violently crashing cymbals that emphasize the feelings of desolation expressed in the bitter lyrics. But then, Warneford fervently sings that their love affair that now lies in tatters might still be salvageable: “Feel I’m walking on shattered glass. This romance just has to end, to reset, erase, begin again. And I’ll move, move closer. Yes I’ll move closer to you.” The spooky, strangely beautiful video shows a woman in a shabby gossamer dress dancing in a filthy abandoned warehouse as Warneford sings the song.

From this point on, all the tracks are new to us, and all of them superb. The rousing “Get So High” seems to channel a bit of MGMT with its trippy and melodic synth-driven grooves and chugging riffs of gnarly guitars. “Atomic White Gold” brings a pulsating mix of chiming and reverb-drenched fuzzy guitars, swirling synths and blasting drumbeats, wrapped in a dark, captivating melody. Smith’s deep, throbbing bass is a highlight here, giving the track incredible depth. Warneford’s vocals soar as he sings “Atomic white gold. Just like the real thing.” The extended wailing guitar run in the outro is awesome, sounding like a cross between an air-raid siren and incoming bombs.

Bleed Out” starts off with heavy, distorted reverb, then a driving punk rock beat kicks in, compelling us to take to the dance floor. Matthew’s furious riffs and Stanley’s pummeling drumbeats are so fucking good! I really love songs with this kind of hard-driving beat. At the three-minute mark, the tempo slows as Howe’s throbbing industrial synths take over, giving the song a dark, intense vibe that sounds like something Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails could have cooked up together. The track ends with the same heavy, distorted reverb it began with.

IAMWARFACE continue delivering the goods with the hard-hitting “Red Queen“. With a nod to Queens of the Stone Age, the chugging riffs of grimy guitars and massive driving rhythms really get our blood pumping. Matthews is an amazing guitarist, and his work here is nothing short of phenomenal. Warneford laments about his low status in the eyes and heart of the woman he desires: “You are the red queen. I am the lone dog. I would do anything to win back your heart. You are something, I am nothing to you.

Trigons” is a long (7:13 minutes) mostly instrumental track that really showcases this band’s impressive musicianship. Each member is allowed to shine, as the guitars, bass, synths and percussion are distinct, yet meld together beautifully to create a mesmerizing psychedelic fantasia. Warneford’s soaring vocals are sparse, entering only in the latter part of the track, but are powerfully compelling as always.

The Paris Alexander remix of “Closer” is particularly stunning, giving a the song a different, somewhat lighter feel through a captivating dance beat and dreamy, ethereal synths. Alexander is a music producer and composer, and has collaborated with Antipole, a Norwegian post punk band I’ve previously written about on this blog.

Year of the Dragon is a phenomenal album that feels almost like a greatest hits compilation, as every single track is outstanding. I loved IAMWARFACE before, and love them even more after hearing this album. Year of the Dragon drops September 6th, but you can pre-order it here.

Track Listing:
1. SAY MY NAME
2. YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE
3. TO DIE FOR
4. FEAR THE FUTURE
5. CLOSER
6. GET SO HIGH
7. ATOMIC WHITE GOLD
8. BLEED OUT
9. RED QUEEN
10. TRIGONS
11. SAY MY NAME (PAUL PARSONS REMIX)
12. CLOSER (PARIS ALEXANDER REMIX)
13. YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE (CROSSFLOW REMIX)
14. CLOSER (CONTROL FREAK REMIX)

Catch IAMWARFACE at one of these upcoming shows:

30 August 2019 – Bournemouth, UK (with The Kut, HAWXX, Black Tree Vultures)
7 September 2019- Twickenham, UK (with How To Live, Nick Swettenham)
26 September 2019- London, UK (with The Insect, Graves)
17 November 2019 – Brighton, UK (with Legpuppy, Androids In The Mist)

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

New Song of the Week: DRAWING ON SCARS – “Rewrite”

Drawing on Scars Rewrite

I just reviewed a song titled “Under These Scars”, and now turn my attention to Drawing on Scars, an online alternative rock music project based in Atlanta, Georgia. The creative brainchild of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Will Thacker, Drawing on Scars seeks to collaborate with guest vocalists from across the U.S. in the creation of unique, ever-changing music. Generally, Thacker writes the music and lyrics, which the different vocalists then interpret in their own distinct ways, keeping Drawing on Scars’ repertoire sounding fresh and delivering the unexpected.

Formed in 2012, the project produced an EP featuring seven artists, then went on hiatus in 2017, during which time Thacker formed the band Fieldcrest. He resurrected Drawing on Scars in early 2019, and since March has released four singles, the latest of which is “Rewrite“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The song features vocals by Jena Jones, who is also vocalist for Fieldcrest (I reviewed their EP Canvas last October.) The song has an Evanescence feel, not only because of the dark, complex melody and powerful instrumentation, but also because Jones’ strong, resonant vocals remind me of Amy Lee’s. Thacker’s a skilled guitarist, and his work really shines here as he dazzles our ears with crushing riffs of grimy guitars and heavy bass. The spooky synths and thunderous percussion are pretty fantastic too, and combined with the intense guitars, create a massive backdrop for Jones’ mesmerizing vocals. 

The lyrics seem to speak about someone suffering from mental illness or an emotional breakdown, and their desperate plea for help and support in getting their life together. Jones’ emotion-filled vocals beautifully convey the anguish expressed in the powerful lyrics:

I need you here babysitting my thoughts
I can’t control them, they’ll tear me apart
There’s just little things that go straight for my heart
It makes me sick

I hope I can keep control and not let myself down
But I’m a fake, how much can you take
Can’t you see that I’m afraid

Distorted perception of who I am
Help me rewrite it, begin again
This war going on inside of my head

I don’t know how to fix myself
The words that kill me are my own
Oh, I’m the harshest critic I know

Connect with Drawing on Scars: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play / cdbaby

FALLING INTO RED – Single Review: “Under These Scars”

I’ve been following hard rock band Falling into Red for a while now, and have always enjoyed their aggressive, badass music. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the band was formed in 2016 by the husband and wife team of Scott (vocals, guitar) and Amy Gainar (vocals, piano/synth). Though they had previously worked with other musicians and in other projects, they wanted to combine their love of heavy guitar-based rock/metal, the hi-tech sound of electronica, the cinematic quality of modern film scores, and powerful melodies to create their own brand of hard-hitting rock music. Soon they were joined by Scott’s brother Ray Gainar on bass, and Dave Miklos on drums. They released their first single “Haunt Me” in late 2016, then followed with several more singles over the next two years, finally releasing their debut self-titled album Falling Into Red in early 2019.

Now they’re back with an exciting new single “Under These Scars“, and I think it’s their best song yet. I loved it the moment I first heard it. The song features Falling Into Red’s signature blistering riffs, hard-driving basslines, thunderous percussion and soaring vocal harmonies. But this time, they’re joined by guest vocalist Dev, who adds some fantastic rap verses to the mix, making for an incredibly powerful and exhilarating track. I love when rock and hip hop collide, which is what made the music of Nu-metal bands like Linkin Park, Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit so damn good.

First off, Scott’s raging guitars are mind-blowing, and together with Ray’s relentless driving bass and Dave’s speaker-blowing drums, create a bombastic wall of sound that’s freaking awesome. Second, Scott’s also a great vocalist, and the interplay between his impassioned vocals, Amy’s softer harmonies, and Dev’s rapping is nothing short of spectacular. As Dev sings in one of his verses “When the true colors show, it sends chills to the bone”, and man, I am covered with them!

Lyrically, the song speaks to how we need to learn from our mistakes and work through them to try and become a stronger person. The band stated in on Twitter:  “You make mistakes and they run deep. You need to ask for help…but you don’t. If you make it through, you’ll be stronger than ever… IF you make it through. Until then, you hide Under These Scars.”

“Under These Scars” is a magnificent song, and already among my favorites of 2019. It’s the lead single from their forthcoming second album, and I can’t wait to hear more from this talented band.

Connect with Falling Into Red: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play Amazon

BLACK BEAR KISS – Single Review: “I Wanna Know”

I Wanna Know

British alternative garage-rock band Black Bear Kiss have been on a creative tear since the release of their terrific debut single “Hooks” in April 2018. With their exciting, guitar-driven music, strong charisma and rowdy live performances, the talented five-piece have built a loyal following in their home base of the West Midlands/Shropshire region of England and beyond – even out here in the Coachella Valley of Southern California!

Black Bear Kiss4

Comprised of Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on lead guitar, Rob Jones on rhythm guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums, Black Bear Kiss have been busy playing gigs and putting out a series of great singles, as well as an EP Fighting Our Corner, which they released this past March. A favorite of this blog, I’ve previously reviewed three of their singles (which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this post). Now the prolific band makes a fourth appearance with their latest single “I Wanna Know“, which dropped on August 9th.

The song gets our blood pumping right from the get-go as Haden and Jones lay down chugging riffs of gnarly quitars over Sach’s heavy, buzzing bass line. These guys play as a tight unit, propelling the song forward with their hard-driving rock’n’roll rhythms while Bagnall pounds out the beat. The layered guitars are fantastic, with aggressive, swirling riffs that create an exhilarating backdrop for Leech’s warm, earnest vocals which, along with the stellar guitar work, are a major component of Black Bear Kiss’s outstanding sound.

With regard to the meaning of the lyrics, Leech explained that the song is “about playing live and the buzz that comes from it – plus relying on your bandmates”: “Come a little closer, the room is on fire. But I’m alright, you’re gonna be fine. Ah, this is our time. I wanna know, just how much you’re meaning this. Lookin’ around, can I rely on you? Guided by stars. Wanna feel it. Wanna feel it all. Guided by stars. Take the other way, take the other way home.

“I Wanna Know” is a great tune, and yet another in a string of solid singles by Black Bear Kiss. I hope they’ll continue to strike gold with many more!

Connect with Black Bear Kiss:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their songs on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes cdbaby

VONUM – EP Review: “Dances in the Dark”

VONUM

Vonum are a British alternative blues rock band based in Manchester, England. Formed more than eight years ago while in their early teens, the trio includes Dominic Nicholls (guitar & lead vocals), Ben Stokes (drums) and Jordan North (bass). Lifelong friends who share a passion for music, the guys have known each other since they were four years old.  Since their formation, Vonum has had several fourth members who’ve come and gone and, earlier this year, the guys decided that they have better chemistry as a three-piece, so will remain a trio going forward.

VONUM young photo
A young VONUM playing their first gig in 2011

Drawing influences from some of their favorite bands like Kaleo, Black Stone Cherry, Shinedown, Alter Bridge and Muse, Vonum play some exceptional bluesy, guitar-driven rock. Their progressive, unconventional melodies, smart lyrics, skilled musicianship, and Dominic’s deep, raw vocal style give their music a maturity and depth that’s quite impressive given their relatively young ages. I’d guess it’s partly attributable no doubt to years spent perfecting their craft and growing into seasoned, albeit still young, musicians. In June (2019), they released their debut EP Dances in the Dark, featuring four tracks. The guys wrote and performed the songs, and the EP was produced by Ed Truby.

Reach Out” opens the EP with a moody little riff that immediately grabs my attention, then once the rhythm section kicks in with a deep, bluesy bassline and tumultuous drums, I’m hooked. Dom lays down gnarly riffs while plaintively crooning “She’s a grape to my red wine. She’s my one true life line.” As the song progresses, the guys continue delivering bluesy grooves, punctuated by a blistering guitar solo in the bridge. They keep the bluesy vibes rolling on “Double D-Light“, a lusty, hard-rocking tune about sexual attraction. Dom fervently sings: “It’s getting a little frisky. The air’s so tight. The days are getting stronger. The heat’s a-lasting longer. Now don’t put me on, you’re double d-light.” Once again, he lets loose with a brief but fiery guitar solo in the bridge.

Angel Queen Dancer” is a standout track that really showcases the guys’ great songwriting and musicianship skills. They weave together a compelling story line with a mesmerizing melody, drawing us in and holding our attention for the entire five-minute run time. Dom’s intricate guitar work is nicely complimented by Ben and Jordan’s tight, bluesy rhythms, making for a dynamic and incredibly satisfying track. Dom sounds better than ever as he ardently sings in his raspy, almost sultry voice of feeling besotted by a woman: “It’s her that I adore. She’s a hell of a mover. How do I say ‘scuse me miss, let me get out your way’. She’s an angel queen dancer. She knows just what I mean.” His guitar solo in the bridge is fire, and the piano keys in the final chorus are a nice touch.

Here’s a great Balcony Sessions stripped-down acoustic performance of the song:

The final track “When” is a darker, more intense song. It starts off calmly with Jordan’s deep bass riff, then a delicate synth, guitar and a somber drumbeat enter as Dom laments about the internal demons tormenting him: “When, when, when, when will it stop? The devil inside don’t know when to hide. Oh when, when, when, when will it stop? The thoughts aren’t me, and my mind ain’t free. / Dark cloud knocking at my door. Louder, louder, it’s hard to ignore.” The music eventually ramps up with chugging riffs of gnarly guitars, buzzing bass and pounding drums that continue through to the end for a dramatic finish.

Dances in the Dark is an excellent little EP, and an impressive debut for these three talented lads. All four tracks are superb, and I only wish there were more of them! If you like well-crafted blues rock and great guitar work, you’ll enjoy this EP. I hope we’ll be hearing new music from Vonum very soon.

Connect with Vonum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase their music on  Google Play / iTunes

Artist Spotlight on the massively talented TREVOR JAMES

I get followed by – and follow – so many artists and bands on social media that I often don’t have time to properly listen to all their music and, sadly, many slip beneath my radar. One such artist I’ve somehow missed out on listening to until yesterday is the massively talented and versatile singer/songwriter and guitarist/bassist Trevor James. The Los Angeles-based artist has been making music since the age of 14, and has been especially prolific over the past five years or so, releasing several outstanding albums and singles, the latest of which is the lovely and soulful “Always Be There”, which dropped earlier this month. Since hearing that song, I’ve been making up for lost time by binge-listening to his incredibly diverse music. I was going to review the single, but his music catalog is so varied, extensive and impressive that I’ve decided to do an Artist Spotlight on James instead.

James refers to his music style as “a combination of John Mayer and Lenny Kravitz with a touch of Jimi Hendrix“, and I’d say that pretty accurately describes one aspect of his sound, although it’s so much broader than that. In 2014, he released his first EP Show Time, a fine collection of songs melding pop, hip hop, R&B and funk. One of the standouts is “Mystery Girl”:

Completely changing direction, in 2016 he released two gorgeous albums – The Dreamer and World – that delved deeply into jazz fusion. The Dreamer is an instrumental-only production that really highlights James’ talents for writing beautiful and intricate melodies, and bringing them to life with his skillful musicianship and awesome guitar-playing. All 11 tracks are superb, but I’ll share the title track, which provides a good example of the album’s flavor:

World is more experimental and, like its title suggests, features greater use of world music influences, as well as sparse vocals on some tracks. James inserts elements of rock, funk, blues and soul into the jazzy mix, making for a fascinating and often captivating listening experience. The tracks are all named after natural or weather phenomena. One of the highlights out of many for me is “Earthquake”, where James’ funky guitar work shines. Take a listen to this gem:

Changing direction yet again, it’s on his monumental 2017 album My Train where James really taps into his John Mayer/Lenny Kravitz/Jimi Hendrix aura. Holy shit, this man can play the guitar! The Herculean album kicks ass with a mind-boggling twenty tracks (five of which are over seven minutes long), and every single one of them is fucking phenomenal! James lays down scorching, bluesy riffs in track after track, and I’m sorry I missed out on hearing this album when it came out in 2017, because I’d have named it among the best of that year. I strongly recommend my readers take the time to give this incredible album a listen, but I’ll share a few of my personal favorites.

First up is “Howling Wind”, a blistering, bluesy stunner that pays beautiful homage to Jimi Hendrix with some jaw-dropping guitar work:

Another spectacular track is the 9:22-minute-long epic “Drunken Blues”. James’ bluesy guitar runs are so gorgeous they bring tears to my eyes. Wow!

In 2018, James dropped his fourth full-length album Maxine, yet another exceptional work in which he continued to explore his rock side, only this time channeling his inner Lenny Kravitz by delving further into guitar-driven, melodic alternative rock grooves. Staying true to his eclectic influences, he still manages to incorporate ample amounts of funk, blues and jazz into the dynamic mix. The title track “Maxine” is one of the standouts, with dirty, bluesy riffs, soulful keys, crunchy drums and a funky-as-hell bassline. James’ raw vocals beautifully express his exasperation over Maxine’s intransigent and cruel behavior toward him: “Maxine, you’s the one I want. Maxine, what do you want from me? Maxine, how could you be so mean?

Since the release of Maxine, James has dropped a number of great singles in 2019, one of which is the fiery rocker “Turn Me On”, with a sexy video that’s as hot as the track. It really showcases his strong charisma and good looks, and Jennifer’s pretty easy on the eyes too!

“Pick Up Your Phone” is another fantastic R&B single, and here’s a wonderful video of a live performance of the song by James and his backup band. It was recorded this past Spring at Joshua Tree National Park (located an hour from my home) as part of Dynaudio Unheard’s Desert Sessions:

Finally, I get to his latest release “Always Be There”, which instigated this entire post! It’s a sweet and charming love song, and one of the more pop-oriented of his tracks, with mostly acoustic guitar, subtle synths and crisp percussion. James tenderly sings of his undying love and devotion:

You’re my everything
I can’t explain, you’re my sunny day
You’re sweeter than some sugarcane
I’ll always be there for you
Take my hand, baby I’m your man
Don’t you know, I’m your biggest fan
You’re my queen, baby I’m your king
I’ll always be there for you girl

The music and James’ vocals gradually build as the track progresses, and he thrills us with a scorching-hot distorted guitar solo in the final chorus.

As I’ve tried to make clear in this post, Trevor James is a remarkable talent, and one of the most versatile artists I’ve come across in a long while. He’s a great songwriter, composer, vocalist and, most of all, a truly gifted guitarist and bassist, and I cannot gush enough about him and his music! Plus, he’s a gracious and kind man. I hope my readers will take the time to listen to some of his songs, and grow to like him as much as I have.

Connect with Trevor:  Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / cdbaby

YARD OF BLONDS – Single/EP Review: “Je veux danser tout l’été”

Yard of Blondes is a French alternative rock band now based in Los Angeles. They started out as a folk pop act made up of singer/songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Vincent Walter Jacob and bassist/vocalist Fanny Hill. They released a self-titled two-track EP in 2011, then followed up with a second EP Murderology in 2013. In 2014, they shot a documentary film “Joshua Trip” for French television program France 4, which inspired them to write the song “Born Again”. Jacob and Hill decided to settle in L.A., and eventually expanded the Yard of Blondes lineup with the addition of guitarist Burak Yerebakan and drummer Forrest Mitchell. They’ve been writing and recording new music for a full album being produced by Billy Graziadei (Biohazard, Powerflo) and mixed by Michael Patterson (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club).

Yard of Blondes2

The first single they’re releasing is “Je veux danser tout l’été“, which translates to “I wanna dance all summer long.” It’s a fun, upbeat track that the band states is “lighter, happier and more pop-oriented” than their usual songs. The single was released as an EP on July 19th with three versions: the original rock version (produced by Billy Graziadei), a synth-driven remix by Joachim Garraud, and the initial demo version produced by the band themselves. The song features layers of Jacob and Yerebakan’s jangly and gnarly guitars, fortified by Hill’s buzzing bassline and Mitchell’s lively, thumping drumbeats. Jacob fervently croons about the joys of dancing with sheer abandon, while Hill giggles in the background: “I never felt so young. I never felt the lights. Like a blessing, like a symphony, shining on the pavement. A first time of the year that I can hear the buzz outside. And the lights are calling me. A call to dance around. Je veux danser tout l’été.

For the filming of the video, they collaborated with DJ/producer Joachim Garraud, who also did a special remix of the song in his unique and innovative solar powered and completely self-contained recording studio on wheels he’s dubbed LAGOODVIBE.

Here’s an entertaining video chronicling the band’s adventure traveling from Los Angeles out to the Mojave Desert to record the track, under the direction of Joachim Garraud on his LAGOODVIBE.

Catch Yard of Blondes at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Saturday, August 31

Connect with Yard of Blondes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play / Amazon

New Song of the Week: RUSTY SHIPP – Breaking Waves”

Rusty Shipp BW Single

I’ve been following Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp for two years, since the release of their highly-acclaimed monumental album Mortal Ghost in June 2017. Over the year following the album’s debut, the band produced a series of superb and fascinating videos for several tracks off the album, two of which (“Treading Water” and “SS Naronic”) I featured on this blog. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) They now return with a fantastic new single “Breaking Waves“, the first release from their forthcoming album Liquid Exorcist, a concept work about sea mine terrorism due out later this year.

Rusty Shipp calls itself a “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 highlighted by a dark, immersive sound, heavy riffs and haunting vocals. Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in lineup since forming in 2014, and now consist of singer/songwriter and front man Russ T. Shipp (literally his birth name) on guitar and vocals, Elijah Apperson on lead guitar, AJ Newton on drums and Andrew “Speedy” Speed on bass.

Rusty Shipp2

“Breaking Waves” is a grunge-surf-rock song in keeping with the band’s nautical theme and, as explained by front man Russ T. Shipp, “was meticulously crafted to get stuck in a human being’s brain. The song sounds like Nirvana trying to play a Beach Boys song right after hearing ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. Shipp adds “‘Breaking Waves’ is the catchiest song we’ve ever made. Lyrically, it’s more philosophical and 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. I think that’s for the best, and humanity is better off not waiting for centuries of erosion before it’s returned to what’s immaterial and most important – its soul.

The powerful track features the band’s signature heavily-textured guitar work, with layered riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, all combining to produce an intense, dynamic soundscape for Shipp’s resonant vocals. Newton and Speedy keep a solid rhythm with pounding drumbeats and a humming bassline, while Apperson and Shipp deliver scorching-hot riffage. He was right about crafting a catchy melody, as this one remained stuck in my head long after hearing the song. It’s a great song, and is accompanied by a wonderful music video shot on an actual submarine. The video was produced by Ashley Henry, directed by Aaron Scott, filmed by Jason Hassell, and edited by Jonathan Terry. It features scenes of the band performing the song, interspersed with scenes of them trying to stem water leaks that imperil their safety.

Breakers on the sea, advancing steadily
Little by little taking territory
The armies will erode till Pangaea’s covered over
And the Earth is once again formless and void

Breaking waves crashing on your accolades
Break you down, water torture down the drain
One by one till your soul is what remains
Break you out, breaking from the breaking waves
Break it down and wash it away
Breaking from the breaking waves

Simple H2O crushing your machines
Ships and submarines breaking down to smithereens
The breakers won’t desist clinging to your wrist like exorcists
Feeling for the pulse of a human being

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

MISSIO – Album Review: “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man”

MISSIO

It’s not often that I love an entire album at first listen, but that was exactly the case with The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man by MISSIO.  I was literally stunned by this brilliant and totally original collection of songs the instant they hit my eardrums, and the last time I can remember that happening to me was four years ago with twenty one pilots’ Blurryface. As far as I’m concerned, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is a certifiable masterpiece, and hands down the best album of 2019. I can listen to it over and over, and it knocks me for a loop me every single time.  It was released this past April, and I’m finally getting around to sharing my adoration for it.

MISSIO’s unique and eclectic sound is a glorious mash-up of alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dream pop, drawing the best from all three and more to create some of the most exciting and meaningful music I’ve heard in a while. Based in Austin, Texas and comprised of singer-songwriter/producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler, MISSIO burst onto the music scene in 2017 with their outstanding debut album Loner. The album generated several singles, including “Middle Fingers” (my first introduction to the duo) and the mesmerizing “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea”.

Their name, originally chosen by Brue who first named his solo act MISSIO, comes from the Latin word for “mission.” It had special meaning for him, as it represented the period in his life when he was recovering from addiction, and he even had the word tattooed on his arm. Many of the tracks on the latest album deal with drugs, emotional pain, and the struggles of overcoming addiction in general. The songs were written by Brue and Butler, with assistance on most tracks by Dwight A. Baker, who produced and mixed the album. Several fellow Austin musicians also contributed to some of the tracks.

The album kicks off with “Underground“, a killer track that instantly hooked me with its irresistible hip hop beat, infectious melody and trippy vibes. The way MISSIO incorporates a rich array of synthesizers, instruments and textures to create a dense, sweeping soundscape is really impressive, and I absolutely love Brue’s distinctive vocal style that registers in the higher range, just below a falsetto. He earnestly croons of his frustration that success and money haven’t brought the happiness and peace of mind he expected: “I’m down. I should be on top, but I’m always underground. Things are lookin’ up, but I’m making myself drown. My anxiety and money just compounds. I’ll be right here, just waiting underground.

Next up is “Temple Priest“, a bombastic orgy of trap heaven. In the parlance of today’s youth, this song is fucking SICK! The track opens with Brue shrieking “That’s why they call me temple priest, muthafucka!“, then we’re hit upside the head by a volley of grinding industrial synths and crushing trap beats. Brue snarls the lyrics that (according to his tweets) speak to his feelings about “American religion and all the judgmental assholes out there. Find truth on your own terms. Don’t ever feel forced to believe something because of your upbringing. Don’t listen to artists/celebrities forcing shit down your throat either.” Amen to that! The track features some fine guest vocals by Austin rappers Paul Wall and Kota the Friend. It’s one of my favorites on an album filled with favorites!

Before I’m able to fully process the brilliance of “Temple Priest”, MISSIO unleashes “Rad Drugz” on my senses, and I’m now giddy from the sheer pleasure of listening to such music excellence. Its exuberant, hard-driving EDM beat and infectious melody sharply contrast with the blunt lyrics about being hopelessly addicted to drugs and the highs they bring. Brue laments “Come on let’s be realistic ’cause I am not a role model. I’m just trying to get through my day. I take for granted the best that I’ve been handed. And not to make excuses, but what would help is my medicine./I can’t get enough. Too high to get up. I keep fucking up my life with rad drugz!” The dark and violent video shows the guys partaking in a brutal torture experience provided by the Rad Drugz Corporation, seemingly wanting to undergo pain and suffering as a form of sado-masochistic punishment for their addiction.

By the time “I See You” arrives, I’m helplessly in love with this magnificent album – and band! What a gorgeous song this is, at once sad yet hopeful, and brimming with emotional intensity. Lush, swirling synths and beautiful piano keys provide a dreamy backdrop for Brue’s stirring vocals. The heartwarming lyrics can be interpreted as being directed either to a loved one or to oneself, reassuring the intended that they are understood, supported and loved despite their shortcomings. “I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. What a mess you’ve made of everything. I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. And I’m hoping that you will see yourself. Like I see you./Even when you cry, and even when you’re shy, you mean everything to me. Even when you lie and even when you hide, you mean everything to me.” “I See You” is currently enjoying a long stay atop my Weekly Top 30, and is one of my favorite songs of the year.

MISSIO strikes a chord with me on the provocative “P.O.L.I.T.I.C.S.“, a denunciation of the divisive political climate in America today. To a rapid, head-banging beat, Brue sings “I don’t drink the Kool-Aid ’cause I’m out of my mind. /I don’t need your attitude, your tone is rude. Did your mama give you that mouth?/ This friendship is worse than P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S.” The breakdowns, deep bass beats and synth manipulations on this track are fantastic. “Dizzy” is a dark, trippy number, with distorted industrial synths, deep bass and pounding drumbeats. The lyrics speak to the irresistible seduction of substance addiction, no matter how bad it is for you: “I’ve been feeling self-destructive but I love it. I can’t help myself. Your taste is so seductive. I’m feeling dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy.

The great songs just keep on coming. “Misfit Lunatic” serves up heavy industrial synths and some deep-ass bass drops, and the seductive little Middle Eastern synth melody is a nice touch. Another favorite is “Audi A4“, a deliriously uptempo song about the joys of driving down the highway with the windows down and blasting your favorite tunes. “Music makes my heart beat on its own. Cancels out the issues back at home. I like to roll the windows down ’cause you know I wanna make a scene. Gotta press repeat of some Snoop D-O double G!

Keeping the vibe on an upbeat note, “Shimmy” is a sexy trap song about getting drunk and getting it on. “3 A.M., the room is spinnin’, we should do some sinnin’. You know I wanna, wanna. Make this feeling last forever, we should be together. You know we’re gonna, gonna.” The song was co-written by MISSIO and Austin hip hop duo Blackillac, who also provide some terrific vocals.

Things turn introspective on “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To?“, a beautiful but bittersweet song that touches on the struggle couples experience when they drift apart. Man, the lyrics are so fucking relatable, describing feelings I’ve certainly felt more than once myself: “I am lonely when you’re in the room. And I’m tired, too. It’s the distance that’s dragging us down. I’m not blaming you. It’s like we’re screaming with no sound.” The dreamy synths give the track an 80’s new wave vibe reminiscent of songs by The Psychedelic Furs, A-ha and Joy Division. It was co-written by MISSIO and Austin indie rock band The Wind and the Wave, who also provide lovely vocals that harmonize beautifully with Brue’s.

One of the darkest songs on the album is “Black Roses“, in which Brue delivers a scathing denunciation to an abusive mother and adulterous father: “I am your son, you are my mother. I’m on my own, you’re not my lover. Don’t tell me how to live. I am your son, you are my father. You led us like lambs on our way to the slaughter. Who do you think you are?/ I am your son, she’s not my mother. You think she’s perfect, to me, just another. Do you think it’s okay? But I am your son, for worse or for better. Despite the fact that you a homewrecker. I guess that’s who you are.” The menacing synths and thunderous percussion perfectly dramatize the anger and resentment expressed in the bitter lyrics.

The powerful title track “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man” was inspired by a time MISSIO were driving in a snowstorm in Washington state. Despite feeling exhausted and his voice sore, Brue marveled at the beauty of the landscape he saw from the window, and quickly became grateful for what they had achieved with their music. The words “the darker the weather, the better the man” came to mind as he thought about his introvertedness and tendency to self-sabotage. According to Butler (as quoted in an article by Substream Magazine), the message they wanted to convey in the song is “Sometimes the world might deal you a rough hand, but if you can find purpose in [dark] times, to make yourself a better person and come out all the better for it, then that’s pretty much the best place you can be in.”

The album closes with the hauntingly beautiful instrumental “Esperanza En La Oscuridad“, which is Spanish for “Hope In The Darkness.” It’s a dramatic and stunning composition that feels almost spiritual, with glittery synths that build to an explosive crescendo, bringing chills to my body and tears to my eyes, before calming down to a whisper at the end. It’s a spectacular conclusion to a spectacular album that I cannot gush about enough. As I stated at the beginning of this review, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is one of the finest albums I’ve heard in a very long while. MISSIO is one of the most innovative and creative music acts around today, and they’ve earned a spot among my favorite bands, quite possibly of all time.

Connect with MISSIO:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Google Play / Amazon

New Song of the Week: THE MILLION REASONS – “Secrets”

The Million Reasons Secrets

Chicago rock outfit The Million Reasons has been a favorite indie band of mine ever since I first heard their magnificent song “Dizzy” almost exactly one year ago today. I featured the song on this blog, and loved it so much it ended up at #10 on my list of Top 100 Songs of 2018. They followed “Dizzy” with another fantastic single “Battle of Sound” in early November 2018, along with a humorously charming video. (I reviewed both singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.)

The guys now return with a brand new single “Secrets“, which finds them taking a somewhat darker tone than their previous songs. Drummer Colin Dill explained: “We wanted to surprise people with a darker, heavier song than expected. We are all a little angry about the current state of affairs and this song represents letting people into the frustration that can be hidden deep down.” Besides Dill, The Million Reasons is comprised of Scott Nadeau (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar), Mike Nichols (guitar), and Jason Cillo (bass). They’re all phenomenal musicians, consistently delivering arresting melodies, killer riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals. “Secrets” was produced by guitarist Ken Ugel along with Adam Beck, and mixed by Ugel and mastered by Nick Stetina.

The song starts off with a somber, bluesy guitar riff, moody bass line and pounding drum beat as Scott sings the first verse with his beautiful, understated vocals:

It’s hard to keep the days in line
And it’s hard to tell the time
When your mind is far away from here
When the light begins to fall
And your thoughts begin to stall
What do you do to entertain yourself?

Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets that I keep inside
Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets in this state of mind

Suddenly, Scott’s vocals erupt into an angry wail as the music intensifies with a barrage of gnarly and distorted guitars, chugging bass and tumultuous drums. He passionately rails against the current socioeconomic conditions in America (and elsewhere) that keep a sizable percentage of the population stuck in financial limbo:

Welcome to the modern age
Where there’s no jobs, no decent wage
But that’s OK
You can have some debt for free
All the problems of today
(They) never seem to go away
And the light
Is still so far from me

Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets that I keep inside
Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets in this state of mind

The song ends on a bombastic note, driving home the frustration and anger the band feels about this subject with powerful ferocity. It’s another winning song from The Million Reasons, offering further evidence that they’re an immensely talented band who are skilled at producing exceptional music with compelling and relatable lyrics. I love these guys, and look forward to hearing more from them soon.

Catch The Million Reasons at one of these upcoming shows:

July 19 – Beat Kitchen, Chicago
August 3 – Wedgestock 2019, Middlebury, Indiana
August 9 – Cubby Bear Wrigleyville, Chicago

Connect with The Million Reasons:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon