THE HIGH RIP – Single Review: “Wasted”

The High Rip is a four-piece indie band from Liverpool, UK who play a deliriously infectious mix of alternative rock and post punk that just makes you feel good. And can’t we use some more of that right now! They also have a wry sense of humor – always a big plus for me. They state in their bio “The most notorious Liverpool gang of the 1890’s was The High Rip. Fast forward 120 years and it would seem little has changed.” Making up this current crew of Liverpool gang members are Ivan on lead vocals, Graham on guitar, Paul on bass and vocals, and Jo on drums.

They’ve released several excellent songs over the past year (I’m especially fond of “Best Holiday” and the T.Rex-ish “System Doesn’t Work”), and just dropped a terrific new single called “Wasted.” The rousing track has an upbeat 80s new wave vibe that reminds me of some of the great songs from The Cure and A Flock of Seagulls, two of my favorite bands from that era. The most arresting element for me is Graham’s exuberant jangly guitar riff that continues throughout the track, as well as some tasty little flourishes of distortion later on. Ivan’s lusty vocals are wonderful, as are Paul’s driving bass line and Jo’s masterful drums pounding out the irresistible beat. It’s a fantastic song that had me hitting replay, and so will you, my kind readers.

Despite the track’s upbeat vibe, its serious lyrics seem to speak of an approaching soul-crushing technocratic and authoritarian state, sort of like the one envisioned in 1984 (and which we’re sadly beginning to see glimpses of today):

And in the future, there will be no understanding
Just a series of rules to obey
And in the future there will be no together
No tomorrow, no today
Waste what you like, waste another lifetime
Wherever you stand you are in the way

And now this feels like, feels just like I always knew it would feel
Like the way that I was told
And in the future, there will be no happy ending
No way of coming in out of the cold
So waste what you like, waste another lifetime
Wherever you stand, you are in the way

Connect with The High Rip:  Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music on Soundcloud

DRAFT EVADER – EP Review: “Heel Turn”

Heel Turn

As a blogger, I’ve gotten to know a great many indie artists and bands, a number of whom I’ve featured on this blog. It’s a real pleasure to follow them on their musical journeys, keeping up with new music they produce over time. And it’s especially heartening for me to watch the younger artists and bands get better and better as they mature and gain more experience. One such young artist is Draft Evader, an earnest singer/songwriter and guitarist based in Chicago who plays rock music with rock’n’roll and punk overtones. Draft Evader is the artistic name for the music project of Ryan Loree, who writes the songs, plays guitar and sings all vocals, with assistance by his good friend Joe Scaletta on bass and drums.

Draft Evader

Following up on his last single “The Devil’s Disguise,” which he released in October 2017 and I reviewed, he’s just released a new EP Heel Turn. “The Devil’s Disguise” is a fine, well-crafted single, but he really ups his game on Heel Turn. His song melodies are more fully developed, the instrumentals more expansive and complex, and the production values tighter. But the biggest improvement is in his vocals, which sound really great on the EP.

Heel Turn contains four new tracks that deal with darker themes like insecurity, depression and problematic relationships. He told me “I don’t write love songs, I write hate songs.” And what a songwriter he is, penning such relevant lyrics that perfectly express the pain and anguish he – and many of us – have felt at one time or another. The first track is “Warpath,” a powerful song about not wasting any more time dealing with duplicitous backstabbers who drive you crazy, and making the decision to just let them go. “…to speak my mind is a waste of time. Light up one more cigarette. We’ll walk the hall of hypocrites. And I will bite my nails to the skin. Burn all my fingertips. / A heel turn’s the only way.” The gritty riffs, thunderous bass and pounding drums powerfully convey the raw emotion expressed in the biting lyrics and vocals. I like the little piano riff that appears late in the track, and the strummed electric guitar in the outro that seems to symbolize the sense of sad resignation.

Complaints” is a terrific hard-driving song that was released as a single in March. The track’s arrangement and production are pretty close to perfection, and Ryan’s guitar work and vocals sound fantastic, as is Joe’s drumming. The lyrics speak of being an overly negative person, unable to see the good in anyone or anything and always complaining (something I’m sorry to admit I’ve been guilty of a few times myself):

Tell me all your secrets
Now I know too much
Don’t know what I’m thinkin’
or what I’ve become
I’ve got nothing better to say
Just constant complaints

Hell bent on a mission
Objective self-destruct
I’ve got nothing better to say
Just constant complaints

On “Stutter” he addresses insecurities that cause him to stutter in just about every life situation, except when he’s alone with himself or singing:

Well I stutter when I’m nervous
Well I stutter when I’m stoned
Well I stutter giving bad news
I don’t stutter when I’m alone

Well I stutter when I’m happy
And I stutter when I’m weak
Well I stutter in good company
I don’t stutter when I sing

The poignant rock ballad “Petty” is my favorite of the four tracks. Not only are the instrumentals stunning from start to finish, but Draft Evader’s heartfelt vocals are wonderful, with a raw vulnerability that makes the painful lyrics seem all the more powerful. It’s a gorgeous song. The lyrics are from the point of view of a person saying a final goodbye to someone who just doesn’t want to be with them any longer:

You are so different these days
I hope that the old you remains
Mistaken for friends, means to an end
I know things cannot stay the same
Petty that’s how you make me feel
Mending my wounds, need time to heal
Petty can’t hide, here’s something real
I’m ready, now serve my final meal

Though brief, with only four tracks, Heel Turn is monumental in scope. All four tracks are outstanding, powerful and flawlessly executed on every level. I’m so proud of Draft Evader, and look forward to hearing more awesome music from him!

Connect with Draft Evader:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify and Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp or itunes

AFTER ARISTOTLE – EP Review: “A Guide To Open Minds”

After Aristotle album art

After Aristotle is an indie alternative rock band based in Austin, Texas, and in late January they released their debut EP A Guide To Open Minds. Formed in 2016, the band consists of Kera Krause on vocals & ukelele, Cam Lamother on guitar, Tyson Zaria on bass, Ethan Schrupp on guitar & synth, and Zach Melvin on drums. The title of their EP encapsulates their collective approach to making music. In their bio they state: “We’re all about open mindedness. With a wide range of influences, our sound ranges from soft, indie rock to in your face punk. We let the music decide where it wants to go. We make the music we feel like making and have a great time doing it!”

After Aristotle3

The EP has a rather heavy, dark theme. With their intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics the band takes on subjects such as depression, fake news and betrayal by both friends and our leaders, and our attempts to find solace through denial and/or self-medication. Setting the tone is opening track “I’ve Got No One to Brush My Teeth For,” a melancholy song about feeling lonely and depressed, unable to see a way forward. With painful resignation, Kera sings “It’s so sunny outside I don’t think I’m getting out of bed. All day under the covers that hope that the day goes away with all of my fear and self hate. Light up the medicine, kill my adrenaline. So scared I don’t know where I’ve been.” The melodic track has some excellent guitar work that goes from jangly to blistering and everything in between, and Zach’s aggressive drumming is on-point.

The hard-rocking “Fakes and Escapes” is my favorite track on the EP. Propelled by Tyson’s driving bass line, Cam and Ethan’s frantic shredded riffs and Zach’s thunderous drums make for a really exciting hard rock song. Kera spits the lyrics that speak of duplicity and betrayal: “Well did you ever bite the hand that fed? Last thing we need is another fake smile. But we’ve all been learning to not feel for a while.”

The band incorporates a bit of Americana on the poignant track “Substance,” featuring some lovely violin courtesy of guest artist Ethan Thayer.  Kera plaintively sings “We’re all pleading for a world we’ll never see, while the one where we live passes by like a dream. / We shouldn’t suffer to fuel their greed. And they wonder why we’re popping pills to get some peace. And they wonder why we’re drowning to feel clean. What dragon are we chasing?

The fast-paced rock song “Shallow Folk” is about having the courage to admit that the lies and stubborn false beliefs you shouted loud and often in order to convince others they were true has been a sham (if only a certain occupant of the White House would do a bit of this self-actualization):

Well what did I think I knew about the world or anything it consumes
Appointing answers as if I could back up my stances
If I shout it so loud will it earn me my chance now
Keep my head held high to combat the downspin of my selfish mind
Keep the crowd’s attention just until I believe in my own words
I’m still getting used to admitting when I’m wrong

You know what drives me crazy?
People who talk with nothing to say
See I couldn’t live another day with lips sewn shut, lungs black with regret
Mind shut so tight, I suffocate inside of it
But I’ve been shallow like water that’s two inches tall
It’s no surprise that I’ve been feeling so small

Escaping Handcuffs” ends the EP on a hopeful note. The lyrics speak to overcoming self-doubt and fear that are holding you back from achieving your potential and living a fuller, more satisfying life. “Don’t let the little things take up your time. Calm down your fight. Pull back the curtain. There’s a whole world and you’re acting so blind. Don’t be scared.” The horns are a nice touch on this soft rock tune.

A Guide To Open Minds is a strong debut effort from After Aristotle that showcases their skillful songwriting and musicianship. I’m curious to see what compelling topics they’ll set to music next.

Connect with After Aristotle on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on SpotifyApple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

FACE OF STONE – Single Review: “Red Moon Sky”

Red Moon Sky

Face of Stone is a Los Angeles-based music project consisting of songwriter/guitarist/producer Marc Palmer and singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Brad Schecter. Each has years of professional experience both as solo artists and with other bands. Marc has long been lead guitarist for L.A. band The Busboys, and Brad was previously in Scarred and Blue Embrace. Brad released his superb debut solo album Live Your Dreams in 2015 (which I reviewed last year, and you can read here). With Face of Stone, they bring to the table Marc’s skills at writing hard-hitting guitar-driven melodies and coaxing blistering riffs from his six-string, and Brad’s talents at penning compelling lyrics, vocal melodies and harmonies, as well as his great vocal abilities and skills with guitar, bass and drums.

They’ve just released their debut single “Red Moon Sky” and it’s a belter! We’re instantly hit with a relentless barrage of raging shredded guitars and gritty bass, punctuated by occasional blasts of distorted guitar that give the song added punch. The scorching riff in the bridge provides an extra dynamic as well. Brad’s raw, impassioned vocals are impressive, taking this electrifying track to even greater heights. It’s a fantastic debut that whets our appetite for more tasty rock treats from the duo.

Brad told me he purposely writes lyrics with some ambiguity so that more people can relate to them and draw their own conclusions. My take is that the song’s about the thin line between love and hate that can occur in a tempestuous relationship plagued by bad feelings and distrust:

Red Moon Sky. Time to heal until it hurts.
Not one to deny what you need to feel fulfilled.
Just not the one to do it.
You’re not someone who is capable of change.
No matter what, you stay the same
.

Stream “Red Moon Sky” on Spotify / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes

BUNDY – Album Review: “Bastard Performer”

Bundy Album

Imagine if you will that Talking Heads, U2, The Cure and Radiohead all came together to collaborate on an album (after setting aside any and all creative differences). That would be one incredible dream album, right? Well, there is one that sounds like it could have come from such a supergroup: Bastard Performer, by a creative and outrageously talented alternative rock band called Bundy. The album is magnificent – a kaleidoscopic soundscape of breathtaking melodies, complex musical structures and deeply meaningful lyrics that elicit strong emotional responses for the listener. It certainly does for me; each of the tracks are so compelling and beautifully executed they bring tears to my eyes and chills to my spine.

Based in Long Beach, California, Bundy consists of front man Nani Serna (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Johnny Lim (Guitar, Keys), Mike Meza (Drums) and JB Vasquez (Bass).  Serna and Lim had years of experience playing locally and abroad before they came together to form Bundy in 2016. “I like to say Johnny is the Greenwood to my Yorke” says Serna, in reference to Radiohead, one of the bands biggest influences. “I’m very much into the reverb drenched, dripping down the walls sound that The Walkman have – but I like to pair it with a Talking Heads feel.” Orange County publication OC WEEKLY named Bundy the Best New Band of 2017, saying: “Bundy temper their dark lyrical content with melodic breaks and pop-forward arrangements, letting audiences come up for air once in a while as they bob their heads to a dancy four-on-the-floor beat.”

The band released three EPs in quick succession during 2016 and 2017, and in late January dropped Bastard Performer, their first full-length album. Serna states the album “is an ode to the sinister feeling of expectations. Of feeling inadequate, unsatisfied, and alone. A lot of this album is about growing up in a broken home. Some of it is political. I thought a lot about my own struggles in life, writing these songs.”

Our first introduction to the album are sounds of sparkling synths, gentle guitar and fluttering horns, announcing the arrival of “Cold Dead Place.” As the instruments build, Serna begins to passionately sing about the pain from the loss of a loved one – “This is a cold dead place. Here lie the memories.” The track shifts to a balled-like tempo, and organ and percussion are added, along with a gorgeous little guitar riff that seems to convey the pain and sadness expressed in the lyrics. The song is mournful yet achingly beautiful.

The poignant second track “Holy Vultures” starts off calmly, but gradually-building riffs of jangly guitars and violently crashing cymbals create a fitting backdrop to Serna’s emotionally-wrought vocals. He wails about the agony of the personal hell he’s going through, causing thoughts of suicide but vowing not to let them overtake him: “I’m being ripped apart by these Holy Vultures. They’re circling the sky. Lighting my head on fire. I’m out of direction I swear. But I won’t let them take me.” The animated video is fantastic.

Bundy really channels Talking Heads on “Lavender and Chamomile,” and by now I’m completely smitten with this brilliant album. The guitar work is so fucking good, with intricate change-ups and melodic shifts that grab hold and shake you out of whatever complacency you may still be harboring. I love the powerful little flourishes of frantic jangly guitar and Meza’s hammering drums which seem to be a hallmark of their signature sound. I also love Serna’s vocals and his craziness that shines through in the endearing, off-the-wall video.

The mesmerizing title track “Bastard Performer” is a deeply personal one for Serna. Addressing his insecurities and self-doubt about his music career, he questions: “What is the point of this? Am I playing to a room full of people who don’t care at all? Does anyone care about me, or am I just stuck in this anxiety?” The poignant lyrics speak to the internal struggle of wanting success and acclaim so badly, but fearing your hopes and dreams are unrealistic and will lead to nothing: “Maybe there’s nothing better than to be in lights. It’s probably too much though, to have hopes so high. Bastard. Performer bastard.” The back and forth wavering of the music and tempo from gentle to intense creates a sense of anxiety that, combined with Serna’s impassioned vocals, makes for a song with great emotional impact. The brilliant and touching video shows an aspiring ballerina as a young girl and a teenager, struggling with her insecurities.

As the album progresses, I continue to be blown away by the band’s incredible musicianship. Remember when I mentioned getting teary-eyed and spine-tingled? Well, “Manic” summons both in spades. God, this song is stunning, with some of the most amazing guitar work I’ve heard in a long while. Like many of their songs, it starts off slowly, with beautiful chiming guitars, horns and a gently tapping drumbeat. A little more than halfway through it explodes into a torrent of shredded & jangly guitars, exuberant horns, buzzing bass and thunderous drums. The tempo shift seems to symbolize the pensive low and manic high of bipolar disorder. Serna wails “I’m up and down, ’cause I’m manic.”

The hard-hitting “Who Let Me In” and “Fill the Well” both have ominous vibes, thanks to a barrage of gritty, distorted guitars, massive bass and lots of crashing cymbals. On the first track, Serna desperately wails: “There’s a monster in a wedding dress. Asking me what am I doing here. And I can’t hear a single thing you’ve said. / I may have made a mistake coming here. But you’re the one who let me in.” “Fill the Well” is an attack on capitalism, and how it feeds our never-ending hunger for material things. “Consume it repeat it. Fill the Well. Wouldn’t you like to try to feel a little better?

One of my favorite tracks is “Kerosene,” a beautiful track with melodic jangly guitar work that reminds me of The Cure. I could listen to this gem all day! Radiohead’s influence really shows on the funereal beauty “What Blood.” Oh man, here come those chills again! Serna’s heartrending vocals express utter despair as he laments: “Will I feel pain like this when I lay dying? The blood on my hands is mine to keep.”

The album closes with the powerful anthemic “They’ve Left Us,” a scathing attack on the wreckage perpetrated against society by our cruel, greedy and soulless leaders, especially in these tumultuous times.

Well the masters pretended there were lions in the den
Rounded up all innocents into a grateful pen
Set fires to cities filled with children
Told us the answers all laid with them
This is how we lost our faith

The changes came quickly and not without a word
A nation ignorant left so many unheard
But soon came the violence the sullen and the poor
Led by the riches delusions of grandeur
This is how we lost our faith
They left us to face our fates

The music suddenly stops, then resumes with gentle guitars as Serna sings with sadness of people’s acceptance of this poor leadership and their worship of capitalism, believing that having more and more stuff will make their lives better, yet blind to the simple things that are really meaningful:

Some people clock in and clock out, wondering what comes next
They spend all their money on meaningless objects
They go to church crying that there left with nothing
If they open their eyes they’d see the world is stunning

And so is this song, with exuberant horns that seem to soar to the heavens, jangly guitars, glittering synths and thunderous percussion. It’s a fitting conclusion to an album that is quite simply a masterpiece. Everything about Bastard Performer is perfect, and I can’t imagine what Bundy could have done differently on this flawlessly executed work.

You can see Bundy at one of these upcoming shows in their home town of Long Beach:

Bundy upcoming shows

Connect with Bundy:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase: BandcampiTunes

CIRCLE CASINO – Single Review: “Bierkeller”

Circle Casino band pic

You know those instances where you hear a song for the first time and you instantly love it? Well, that’s what I felt when I laid my ears on the wonderful debut single “Bierkeller” by UK band Circle Casino. Released in January, the song is so ridiculously catchy and upbeat it made me feel like a giddy teenager. Comprised of lead singer and guitarist Jordan Ashurst, lead guitarist Tom Brindle, bassist Arran Murphy and drummer Tim Glynn, the band amusingly describe themselves thusly:  “Fresh out of your nan’s microwave, Circle Casino are a band from Greater Manchester, caressing your ear-buds with sweet sweet love.” I can most certainly attest that they caressed mine exactly as promised!

The track kicks off with a bouncy riff of jangly guitars and an infectious drumbeat, grabbing hold of your ears and hips with a firm grip from which you won’t be wanting an escape. Layers of intricate guitars and synths are added, along with a thumping bass line, making for a gorgeous musical backdrop for Jordan’s beguiling vocals. I’m one of those silly Americans who finds British accents endlessly charming, so I love that his Mancunian accent comes through in his vocals.

With a rather unusual title for a song from a British band, “Bierkeller” is named for a German drinking establishment where the song’s storyline takes place. The lyrics tell the tale of a character who has a sexual encounter with a woman in the bathroom of the Bierkeller. “She’s got her hands inside. Her hand’s in mine. Her hand’s down mine as she guides me away. I can keep your bathroom secret. ‘Cause I’m your bathroom secret.

“Bierkeller” is fantastic, and an outstanding debut for Circle Casino. If they follow up with songs even half as good, I’m confident they’ll still sound terrific, and I cannot wait to hear them!

Show support for Circle Casino by following them on:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

DAVID GERGEN – Album Review: “The Golden Light”

David Gergen2

David Gergen is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. He’s been making music for over two decades, and just released his 7th self-produced album The Golden Light in early February. He seems to drop a new album every four years – previous efforts being The Dreaming in 2014, The Nearer It Was…The Farther It Became in 2010, and Haunting Whirlwinds in 2006 (although he did release a five-song EP Odyssey in 2012).

Incorporating elements of alternative, indie and experimental rock with Americana and easy-listening, he writes beautiful piano and guitar-driven melodies to accompany his thoughtful lyrics about love, loss and renewal. He explains his writing process on his website: “I write songs faster than I can record them….lyrics are important to me. I change direction with each piece of work and rather than submit to any trends, I create music that I like first and foremost. Music that keeps me interested, that is the secret to longevity I think.”

As I listened to The Golden Light, I was struck by David’s exceptional piano playing and skill at writing melodic piano compositions, both of which are well represented on the lovely album opener “Closer to the Light.” The main piano riff is serene and hauntingly beautiful, and backed by a second layer of piano, as well as a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, mandolin and strings. The track has a spiritual feel, with lyrics that seem to be about hitting rock bottom and seeking a way out of the hole you’re in through love and redemption. David’s smooth vocals have a quiet intensity as he implores “I’m falling, fallingFalling, I’m falling…down. Down, worn and busted. Can love save me again? The only must have is light coming in? Closer, closer, closer to the light.” The song is one of the album highlights for me.

Talking About Love” is an uptempo song with more of a progressive rock sound, thanks to the predominance of electric guitar and a more aggressive drumbeat. The layered guitars on this track are really good. The brooding “Here and There” ventures toward an Americana vibe, and features some awesome moody guitars and piano keys that convey the sentiments expressed in the lyrics: “Slowly, the twinkle is leaving those eyes. Somber days the overture of the times. The moment you notice it’s already gone. I’m afraid to notice who’s driving this train. I know I’m falling in love with this feeling that’s here and there.

Another beautiful piano-driven track is “Looking Glass,” a poignant song that seems to be about facing your own truths with honesty and an open mind. David’s piano playing is exquisite, and the accompanying acoustic guitar and soaring string synths make for a really gorgeous song. His vocals are comforting as he sings: “Don’t run away there’s a price to be paid, it’ll come back to find you again. So many of us running in circles to find out what’s lying within. Life is so pretty like a beautiful city with its lights climbing up to the moon. High rising wild fire burns what it needs to renew. It passed through the looking glass….it’s gone, gone, gone, gone.

Sirens” is an interesting track with rather unusual melody progressions that keep us just a bit off balance, but in a good way. David employs otherworldly synths and a funky distorted guitar riff to create dissonance and a sense of uncertainty that complement the lyrics: “The sweet singing on the red sea leads you right to the edge. The sirens watching are breaking us in. How many signs does it take.

Another unconventional track is “Mountain,” which has two distinct parts. The first 50 seconds of the song consists of eerie, discordant synths and an echoed pounding drum that impart a sense of foreboding. That disturbing part ends with an abrupt shift to a melodic and pleasing Americana song with strummed and chiming guitars, lovely synths and piano. David croons “Can anybody see through the mountain? Can anybody see what’s there? If you only see, what you want to see. It’s an easy way to get lost.” The track closes out the last 10 seconds with a repeat of the discordant sounds, perhaps symbolizing the feeling of being lost?

David goes off in an experimental rock direction on the fascinating “Coffee in Bed.” He uses layers of differently-textured strummed guitars that are sometimes discordant, backed with spooky, ethereal synths to create a hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizing soundscape. David’s soothing vocals are almost seductive as he sings about the ardor of love’s desires: “Calm breeze, sun on her face. I bring her some coffee, she wants me to stay. Not in a long time has anyone said, you must be waiting for coffee in bed.

He follows up with “Big River,” a pleasing Americana ballad about making it home to be with his loved one, and closes the album with “Clouds and Lightning.” Piano is the only instrument on this lovely track about what appears to be death and rebirth, whether in the literal or figurative sense: “It’s easy now, when it comes. Separate the heroes from the villains. Higher than the clouds. The offering to guide you on the way out.  Talk slow, it’s me you’re looking for. Why are you trying to be so strong? Resting clouds, resting angel. There’s a story she’s trying to tell. And then they’re gone, crimson angels.”

I must concede that The Golden Light is a remarkable work that requires at least a couple of listens to fully appreciate the nuance and complexity of the music and poetic lyrics, though the songs still sound wonderful to the casual listener. I discovered new sounds and meanings with each additional listen, and grew to like the songs more and more, to the point where I now think the album is brilliant. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys piano rooted alternative and experimental rock music that’s just a bit out of the ordinary.

Connect with David:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

COLT48 – EP Review: “II”

Colt48

London, UK hard rock duo Colt48 have existed as a band less than a year (they formed in June 2017), but are wasting no time making an impact on the indie rock scene with their aggressive, grunge rock sound. Consisting of vocalist/guitarist Adam Jerome and background vocalist/drummer Matt Savini, Colt48 have quickly gained exposure and fans by opening for such bands as Puddle Of Mudd, Fozzy, Trapt and Crazy Town, as well as issuing an impressive output of songs in quick succession.

In November 2017 they released their debut self-titled EP featuring three hard-hitting tracks, then soon followed up on New Years Day 2018 with the beautiful rock ballad “Start Again.” They’re now back with a new EP simply titled II, and it’s a banger! Keeping with the sentiments so vividly expressed on their first single “Hate Hate Relationship,” with II the band delivers three blistering songs that speak to the emotional toll caused by betrayal and deceit.

The guys get right to the point on “The Fire,” blasting the airwaves with an onslaught of gravelly shredded riffs and hammering drums. The guitars shift to machine gun mode on the verses, where Adam furiously snarls the biting lyrics:

I don’t care for the things you said
Don’t know what is in your head
I know, you left me for dead you’re just another liar.

Don’t matter how you try to fake
No difference in the drugs you take
Can’t say that it’s a mistake you pushed me on the fire.

Out of Habit” is melodically complex, with outstanding guitar work. The track starts off with a gritty extended riff, transitioning to gorgeous jangly guitars on each verse, only to shift back to powerful shredded riffs in the chorus. Matt keeps the beat, adjusting the force of his drumming to match the changing intensity of the melody and guitars.  Adam’s vocals are especially good on this track, sounding a bit like Chris Daughtry at times as he passionately sings of breaking free from a cycle of pain and regret from past mistakes in order to become a better person:

No, holding back now, breaking out of habit, time revealing now 
Days or if years, through the tears we shed we have to carry on now, 
Taking the best of me.

The anger boils over on “Never (Let You Live It Down),” a seething ‘fuck you’ to someone who’s hurt you beyond any hope of redemption or forgiveness. Raging guitar riffs, pummeling drums and crashing cymbals convey the seriousness of the situation, as Adam wails the brutal lyrics:

You think it’s OK to lie 
Playing games always on the winning side 
You’ve got a simple design 
Crush them down, hold them by the windpipe 

Been too long, hate so strong, you broke the straw with a hammer blow.

I will kill you, break you, never let you live it down
Make you, regret, everything you ever said
Think you’re winning, never strive for anything
Victim ,victor, all the same to me, you’re dead to me.

As the vocals end with an air of pained resignation, we’re suddenly head-slammed by a thunderous barrage of gritty bass, guitar and pounding drums that extends for a minute and a half until gradually fading out. It’s a mind-blowing end to an awesome little EP that really packs a wallop in under 11 minutes.

Connect with Colt48:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp

BRAVE YOU – Album Review: “Places”

Brave You

I’m back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (having just written about progressive metal band UNDER AEGIS) to shine my spotlight on Brave You, one of my favorite indie bands that I’ve also previously featured on this blog. In 2016 I reviewed their outstanding debut Six Songs EP, and now have the pleasure of reviewing their new full-length album Places, which dropped in late February. Released through Halloween Records, Places is a concept album. The band’s guitarist & lead vocalist Alex Meylink explains: “Places is entirely about addiction, but we tried to avoid ever mentioning drugs or alcohol. We focused primarily on how addiction interacts with one’s emotional state and relationships, so I think it’s applicable to anyone suffering a mental health issue. These are songs written across a few years: in the early stages of recovery, in relapse, at ‘the bottom’, and finally coming to a place of good mental health and sobriety.”

Brave You plays alternative rock that’s highly melodic, but with an honest, post-grunge sensibility that gives them a distinctive style all their own. In addition to Meylink, the other band members are Noah Snyder on bass & backing vocals, and Erik Burtraw on drums & backing vocals. Outstanding, complex guitar riffs, aggressive drums, and really fine harmonizing vocals are the defining elements of their sound. Add their solid songwriting to the mix, and the result are songs of exceptional quality and depth. And if all that isn’t enough of a winning combination, they’re also pretty nice guys.

Places is aptly named, as each track title is about a specific location, whether it be a geographical one or simply a bedroom. The album kicks off with a distorted riff and voice over of a guy inviting his friends to go to the amusement park on “Lake Michigan.” Swirling guitars, Snyder’s humming bass and Burtraw’s crashing drums ensue, as Meylink earnestly sings of being in a precarious mental state: “So I’m safe for now. Even if it’s just one moment I could crack a smile, goddamn it.” Determined to make it, he defiantly sings “So I’m safe for now. So let’s burn that fucker down and build it up from better ground.”

I may be off base, but my take on “The Hospital” is that it’s about being depressed over the impending onset of winter, which symbolizes the possibility of having a relapse that would necessitate going back into rehab. The lighthearted video puts a happy face on a rather serious subject, namely trying to stave off winter, or preventing a downward spiral and keeping an upbeat attitude by having fun playing sports with friends. By video’s end, the band members are all wearing giant teddy bear heads, indicating they’re getting ready to hibernate, another metaphor symbolizing the inevitability of returning to the hospital for rehab.

One of my favorite tracks is “Mound St.” It starts off with Meylink’s echoed vocals and a gentle riff and drumbeat, then explodes with a barrage of wailing guitars and thunderous drums. Still in a fragile mental state and feeling pessimistic, Meylink sings: “I’d spent a few years treading water in stagnant pools. You asked me where my head had wandered off to. I’ve been lost. / If these are the best days of our lives then we are fucked. I am fucked. / On Mound Street, I let my losses pile up. Refused to claim stake in the rubble and the sum of the stories I told you and to myself: that I’m alright and getting by. So I coasted on hope or the concept of having it. Got myself dry as a bone til mine were cracking, but I couldn’t help but sink into quicksand and pits. A morass of “faultless” debt I could never hope to pay back.

Wind Lake” and “King Cross” are a couplet, with the latter being a precise continuation of “Wind Lake.” It’s interesting the band would create a separate track in “Kings Cross,” as it begins with the exact same riff that “Wind Lake” ends with. Both tracks feature Meylink’s gritty, screaming guitars and Snyder’s deep, droning bass line, sounding fantastic.

The guys’ wonderful harmonizing is well represented on “Washington.” The nimble guitars and bouncy drumbeat lend an optimistic tone for lyrics that speak to a resignation that though things aren’t going so great, we’ll just continue acting like they are: “So let’s just make it through this winter. Toss off the sharp and jagged splinters. No matter, all of this is fine.”

Hometown” speaks to the depression that began while growing up, and wanting to escape that environment in the hope things will get better:  “Always remember how you felt at this moment, in this placeAlone and inconsolable in the house that you grew up inYou wanted to burn that fucker down. Erase twenty years on solid ground.” The track has a great melody, and is filled with loads of jangly guitars and gritty bass. “South Milwaukee” is a short and beautiful track with chiming guitars and warm bass, but sad lyrics about feeling hopeless and alone. Meylink sadly sings “Overworked and underfed, in need of rest, I drove the twenty minutes to South Milwaukee instead, to you and your shitty friend. Towards a beacon of light in an otherwise meaningless night. / Selfish, I expected too much of your company. That just one night could fix me. It didn’t help me at all.

Bedroom” finds him trying to escape his demons by isolating in a safe place:  “Me and these ghosts, still talking until I’m finally sleeping. I just want to stay home, stay in my bedroom alone. Me and these ghosts, still talking until I’m finally sleeping. I just want to be whole.” As always, the frenetic instrumentals and vocal harmonies are first-rate.

The hard-driving, bittersweet “Your Bedroom” speaks to the pain and feelings of loss after the sudden death of a friend. “You’re no ghost, you’re a warmth. A ringing in the ears. A reminder. Stay in motion now. Make the movement matter. And this will freeze and crack, thawed only by the embers. You’re twenty seven forever. By the back door, your old pair of blue Tiger shoes we didn’t throw out, as if after a day or two like Lazarus you’d come from your room. We’d get a sandwich at Lulu’s. God, I’d do whatever you want to. I’d get clean. I’d sing loud. Just come on out.”

Places closes on an optimistic tone with the anthemic “Everywhere.” He’s now confident things will be OK: “I wanna take back this city from dead memories, take back my body. Call off the funeral procession for all these loves that built me. Those years searching for something greater than these homes. Well, I found it. Found it in my bones.” It’s a gorgeous track with layered guitars that start off as tender strums, gradually building to celebratory jangly riffs. Likewise, Meylink’s heartfelt vocals build along with the music, eventually soaring to a crescendo of spine-tingling harmonies. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant effort from a really fine band. I love Brave You and hope they continue making music for years to come.

Connect with Brave You: Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase Places on Bandcamp or iTunes

ABOVE THE SKYLINE – Album Review: “Fall Right Into Place”

ATS Small album picAlternative rock band Above the Skyline has been making a major impact on the South Florida music scene over the past few years. Beginning with the release of their acclaimed 2015 EP A Different Breed, the Miami-based band followed up with a superb album Go For Broke in 2016 (which I reviewed). They’ve now dropped a terrific new album Fall Right Into Place, and they sound better than ever. Their songwriting and musicality have continued to mature, with more complex melodies, a fuller, more expansive sound, greater confidence in their vocals, and tighter production values.

Making up the band are Eric Green on guitar, Zach Wood on keyboards and vocals, Chloe Santiago on drums, Alec Enriquez on bass, and Sierra Karr on vocals. Having both a male and female lead vocalist is relatively rare among bands, and gives Above the Skyline’s sound a greater vibrancy. And it’s an added bonus when both singers have great voices. This is clearly evident on the lively opening track “Shadow,” where Zach and Sierra sound awesome both individually and together. Their vocals harmonize together so beautifully that they’re a real pleasure to hear. The guitar and drums are on-point, and the glittering keyboards are especially nice.

Above the Skyline2

Next up is “Fears,” a catchy, uptempo song that’s one of the album’s standouts. Once again, Zach and Sierra sound fantastic as they sing about being afraid of getting romantically involved: “What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of darling? Show me what you’re made of. Are you into strange love? If what you fear is what you want, lend me your ear. Do you love me not?” The instrumentals are superb, and I love Alec’s bass riff opener that continues throughout the track. The entertaining video shows a vintage TV screen with footage from horror films interspersed with scenes of the band members acting silly.

The wonderful kiss-off “Empêcher” starts off with a piano riff and military drumbeat, then explodes with Eric’s shredded guitar, Alec’s buzzing bass and Chloe’s crashing cymbals. Zach and Sierra snarl the biting lyrics “You’re a waste of time, no no no. You’re a waste of life, no no no. Tell me what can you do on your own. You’re impeached now, go home!” On the hard-hitting rocker “Do the Same,” the band’s skilled musicianship is on full display. All the instrumentals sound completely in sync, with strong piano keys holding their own with the aggressive layered guitars, bass and drums.

The band’s talent for writing romantic ballads is evidenced by “She Waits,” a beautiful piano-driven song about two lovers separated by time and distance, longing to be together again: “Let me tell you a little story that was made for two. Who knows it all, who is one to judge. All we know for sure is his sweetheart waits for him to get home.” The lush, sweeping orchestration in the bridge is gorgeous, and Zach and Sierra’s soaring heartfelt vocals bring chills. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

At the album’s halfway point is “Kairi’s Melody,” a lovely minute-long instrumental interlude with a Coldplay vibe. The next few tracks showcase the band’s signature piano-driven, high-energy rock sound. “Crazy Place,” “Aegis” and “Breathe In” are fast-paced tunes with some amazing riffs, and Zach and Sierra sound great as always.

The band lets loose on the rousing “No Money,” another one of my favorite album cuts. The song is straight-up rock’n’roll with an exuberant foot-stomping beat pounded out by Chloe’s skilled drumming. The jazzy interlude in the bridge, courtesy of some really fine piano, sax and xylophone, is marvelous. Zach and Sierra fervently wail “We don’t care about your money. We just want your attention.” It’s an awesome track.

The album closes with the pop-rock track “Inside Your Brain.” The band employs all the instruments in their arsenal – keyboards, guitars, bass and drums – plus string synths to create a lush, dynamic soundscape. Zach and Sierra’s impassioned vocals plead for honesty from a loved one in a relationship that’s failing: “If I could pick your brain I’d resolve the things that are better left unsaid / Don’t tell me it’s not too late / Stop playing your game. What can I possibly do to get inside of your brain?

With Fall Right Into Place Above the Skyline delivers another solid, well-crafted album, giving us every indication they’re a band that takes their music seriously while still having fun. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to review both of their albums, and look forward to doing more as their musical journey continues.

Connect with Above the Skyline:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase on:  iTunes / cdbaby