PAUL IWAN – Double Single Review: “Returning (Red)” & “Returning (Blue)”

Paul Iwan3

I’ve recently been revisiting a lot of artists that I’ve previously featured on this blog, as so many of them are putting out new music. One of my personal favorites is British artist Paul Iwan, a gracious and talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Liverpool. Last October, I reviewed his outstanding single “Reward”, which was a cover of the song originally recorded by Liverpool new wave band The Teardrop Explodes. I liked it so much, it spent four months on my Weekly Top 30. Now Paul is back with a new single “Returning”, for which he recorded two different versions – “Returning (Red)” and “Returning (Blue)”.

He wrote the song last year for submission to the Liverpool Acoustic 24 hour Songwriting Challenge at Threshold Festival 2019, and he won! Like many singer-songwriters, Paul’s lyrics often reflect his own life experiences. The theme of the 2019 Challenge was ‘Returning’, which inspired Paul to contemplate his own personal struggles with PTSD and addiction, and explore the concept of returning as it relates to his experiences with relapse and regression. The competition also pushed him to venture outside of his usual comfort zone and into a more acoustic setting, where the song could speak for itself.

Now, a year later he has released two newly recorded versions of the song to coincide with what would have been the first day of Threshold 2020 (unfortunately sidelined by the damned COVID-19 pandemic). The Red version of “Returning” is in Paul’s more typical exuberant alt-rock style, with layered synths, loops and electric guitars, whereas the Blue version is stripped back to a simple arrangement with acoustic guitar, piano, vibraphone and subtle percussion. The songs were performed and produced by Paul at Studio 45 in Liverpool, and mixed and mastered by Andy Fernihough at 3rd Planet Studios Liverpool.

So I lean into my darkness
I touch the trauma with the tips of my fingers
Under this light how can I see?
The shadows are shifting; inviting me in.

You are there
You are there
Suffocating and suffering
I hold my hands
I’ll be watching
And I’ll be waiting for you
I’m returning to my fear, its all I know
I’m returning to my tears, it’s all I know.

I know my storm is coming in
Whatever I’ve taken
You hold my soul my memories
This face in the mirror
The face of my nightmare
Lost and corrupted

I’m returning from a distance
But my reflection is all I see
I’m yearning for the past
The one I thought I’d lost forever
So much pain within

I’m returning to my fear
It’s all I know

I like both versions a lot, but I think I prefer the Blue version if I had to choose one over the other. I like the higher clarity of sound in the Blue version, where the lovely piano keys and acoustic guitar really stand out. Also, Paul has a distinctive and vibrant tenor singing voice, and with the more subdued instrumentals, the power of his vocals and lyrics are allowed to shine through. Take a listen to each version, and decide for yourself.

 

Connect with Paul Iwan: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase on BandcampAmazonMusic Glue

JOHNNY KOWALSKI AND THE SEXY WEIRDOS – Album Review: “Until The Day”

Johnny Kowalski & Sexy Wizards album

One of the quirkiest and most enjoyable bands I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog is Johnny Kowalski and the Sexy Weirdos. Based in Birmingham, England, the self-described “body-snatching carnival punk band” fuse Celtic, Balkan and Gypsy folk melodies with reggae, ska, mariachi, punk and rock’n’roll to create a uniquely eccentric sound that’s totally original, eclectic, and deliriously entertaining. In 2017, I reviewed their wonderfully marvelous album European English, and am now pleased to feature their latest release Until The Day, which dropped March 19.

Like many bands, they’ve experienced changes in personnel over the years since forming in 2009. Their current lineup consists of frontman Johnny Kowalski (Vocals, Lead Guitar), Chris Yates (Bass), Ilias Lintzos (Percussion), Matthew Osborne (Drums) and Katherine McWilliam (Violin). McWilliam is also violinist and vocalist for the Celtic rock band Quill, and her image is featured in the wonderful artwork for Until The Day, which was designed by Kat Bennett.

Until the Day is the fourth album by Johnny Kowalski and the Sexy Weirdos, and continues their tradition for making fun, generally upbeat songs while also touching on political and cultural issues of the day. Kowalski told me that while the album “doesn’t ignore the multitude of horrors being inflicted upon the world right now“, it’s also about “finding some hope and something to live for despite all that, even if that’s something as simple as celebrating the people around you.”

Things kick off with the title track “Until The Day“, a lively song that nicely encapsulates the album’s overall theme. McWilliam’s spirited violin takes center stage here, accompanied by gnarly guitars, exuberant drumbeats and a bit of funky bass to round out the proceedings. With his distinctive smoky vocals and delightful Brummie accent, Kowalski croons to his beloved about soldiering on together through good times and bad: “Let go of your secrets they’ll be safe with me / From the floor of this bedsit into eternity / We could live like pirates, each day standing tall / Fuck and fight for freedom until the day we fall.

The mood abruptly changes with “Flowers For Antifa“, a dark and aggressive song of protest against fascism. The raucous, punk-infused melody and harsh instrumentals are the perfect backdrop for Kowalski’s raspy, emotionally-charged vocals that sound a lot like The Clash’s Joe Strummer as he rails against those who fall prey to the hateful and divisive rhetoric of would-be fascist politicians and media talking heads. A verse in the lyrics express support for the militant anti-fascist movement Antifa: “I gave my money to buy flowers for Antifa / And to get the chance to shoot you I would trade in my guitar / When the war is over we will dance in sweet release / Feasting on the bones of all your sycophants and chiefs / Fall in fall out of line…” The song ramps up to a near-frenzy at the end, with Kowalski angrily shrieking “Good night alt right!” I wholeheartedly agree!

Smug Song” is a classic Sexy Weirdos tune, featuring a rousing gypsy folk vibe delivered with a colorful mix of instruments, highlighted by Lintzos’ electrifying percussive beats and McWilliams plucky violin notes. She lets loose with a terrific violin solo in the bridge that continues through to the end of the track. Next up is “Batch Music“, the first of two instrumental tracks on the album. The blending of fuzz-coated heavy electric guitar and bouyant violin give the song a strong Celtic rock feel.

The band shows their playful side on “Next Year“, which sounds to me like an old drinking song. The lyrics speak to letting loose and opening oneself up to any and all experiences and debaucheries that come along, and to hell with the consequences. We’ll worry about that shit tomorrow. “Pull down the ceiling again / Contact all your crazy friends / Wasted in weird foreign streets / Making memories we will not repeat / The circus is coming to town / Pretty girls bury your frowns / Weird women and men / They might not come again / Ah, fuck it, they’ll be back next year.” The delightful video shows Kowalski and a lovely, scantily clad woman taking turns on a stripper pole in the middle of a rather stylish room, while the other sits in a chair with their back to the person dancing.

Anarchist Barbeque (Egg For McGregor)” is the second instrumental, and once again, the combination of electric guitars, strong percussion and spirited violin give the song a wonderful Celtic folk-rock feel. The final track “The Dead Yard” continues the Celtic-gypsy vibe, with a bouncy violin-driven melody, gnarly electric guitars, a pulsating bass line and a frantic mix of exuberant percussion and snappy drums. I’m not certain about the song’s meaning, but my guess is that it’s about how on a certain level, our own truths are the ones that really matter to us in the end: “Deceivers will naysay but we’ll still be here / Believe us as we slay / The things you hold dear are gone / I’ll see you in the dead yard once again.” But whatever the meaning, it’s a fantastic song from a musical standpoint, and a fine finish to a terrific and highly satisfying album.

Connect with the band:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on BandcampGoogle Play

KROSST OUT – Single/Video Review: “Funerals”

Krosst Out Funerals

One of the things I most enjoy about being a music blogger is getting to know a lot of musicians and bands through social media, and following them on their musical journeys over time. An artist I’ve grown particularly fond of is Krosst Out, a singer-songwriter and rapper from Toronto, Canada. I first learned about him in early 2017, when he reached out to me about his debut EP Life of the Party, an outstanding work that examined the darker aspects of party life, along with the sex, drugs and alcohol abuse that often go hand in hand. (I reviewed that EP, as well as one of his later singles, both of which you can find under “Related” at the end of this post.)

Born and raised in the small Ontario town of Campbellford, he first studied piano as a child, then took up the bass guitar in his teens. Influenced by the music of artists such as Manafest, Eminem, Underoath, Rage Against The Machine, System Of A Down, Vinnie Paz, Nas, and Marilyn Manson, he developed a love for alternative rock, hip hop and rap. He played in various local bands, developing his rapping skills along the way, and eventually moved to Toronto, where he started writing his own songs. Drawing upon the aforementioned influences, he fuses hip hop with grunge, alt-rock and punk to create his own unique sound. Like a lot of hip hop artists, his songs draw heavily from his own life experiences, with honest, raw and introspective lyrics.

On March 13, he dropped his latest single “Funerals“, and followed up with a brilliant companion video for the song that was filmed and directed by Eric Soto. The track was produced by Adam Van Ameringen, recorded at Pink Distortion Music in Toronto, and mixed and mastered by Sean Savage.

“Funerals” is a deeply personal song for Krosst Out, and touches on how he’s changed and grown since leaving Campbellford. It’s often challenging when people leave home and move away to make a new life for themselves, and though we generally maintain a sense of love and fondness toward family and friends we left behind, the distance and passage of time can complicate or often diminish relationships. Krosst Out told me the song title “Funerals” is a metaphor for the death of his old self. “I feel like I’ve just grown so much that I’m unrecognizable now, but at the same time, if I wanted to go [back] home I couldn’t. Also, the more you grow, the more you have people that will hate you for that.”

The song opens with Krosst Out telling us who he is now, accompanied by resonant keyboard notes:

I’m not that kid that you used to know
Now I’m living life so unusual
Less weddings and more of these funerals

The tempo then abruptly shifts to a heavy dub step beat, as the music expands with a dramatic mix of spooky psychedelic synths, deep, throbbing bass, glittery keyboards and some of the sickest percussive synths I’ve heard in a while. The instrumentals are really superb, creating a dark and moody backdrop for Krosst Out’s impassioned free style rapping as he laments about the guilt trips foisted upon him by his mother and friends:

You’re always telling me that I don’t pick up that phone much anymore
And you don’t call home
Why are the people that you’ve got ignored
Saying that you’re one of us
But it’s pretty clear that you’re not
You think that you’re better
You think that you’re big now
Move from the small town
Go and get the big stuff
Now that your ego’s even bigger now
And you fucking forgot our names, wow

From that same town where nothing ever happened
But that was back then
Fuck those memories you can have em
I’m past it
I’m not that kid that you used to know
Want black roses at my funeral
And I’m sorry mom, but I’m not that kid that you used to know

He goes on to sing that his new life isn’t all a bed of roses either:

But if you have to know I hate this city
Cause I been here too long
And I know that I can’t go home
Cause I don’t belong
And no I don’t need no phone call
Hold on, spare me the sad song
I don’t need to hear about the old me
It should be quite clear that’s what I don’t need
I’m just a grown man who can’t afford these groceries
If you think the grass is greener on my side
It’s not really

The fascinating video was filmed mostly in a church, and shows Krosst Out singing the song as if addressing an imaginary congregation. He then goes into a restroom, where he cuts off all his hair, and is later shown as his new self singing the song in a gymnasium, as well as outside at night, digging a hole with a shovel, seemingly for the purpose of burying his old self.

Connect with Krosst Out:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on BandcampGoogle Play

New Song of the Week – COUNCIL: “Savages”

Council Savages

I’ve been following New York alternative rock band COUNCIL for the past four years, and have featured them on this blog a number of times, beginning in 2016 when I reviewed their debut EP Rust to Gold, and most recently in June 2019 with the release of their single “Born Ready”. (You can check out those reviews under “Related” at the bottom of this post.) Through their signature sweeping melodies, bold instrumentation and anthemic choruses, COUNCIL’s dynamic sound has been compared to Imagine Dragons. Their magnificent life-affirming single “Rust to Gold” received worldwide acclaim, including being played at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, as well as on American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, World Of Dance and Premier League. It’s been streamed more than 7 million times on Spotify, and ended up on my list of 100 Best Songs of 2017.

Council3

COUNCIL is comprised of three strikingly handsome brothers – Patrick, Doug and Andy Reeves. Patrick (bass and lead vocals) and Doug (drums) are twins, and Andy (guitar) is a year younger. Raised on a farm in rural upstate New York, they now split their time between tending the family farm and working on their music in New York City. The guys have just released their latest single “Savages“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

It’s a darkly beautiful and grandiose anthem, highlighted by a complex mix of dramatic industrial synths. The track opens with spooky synths and haunting plucked guitar notes that set an ominous tone. The music then expands with sharp percussive synths, deep bass and thunderous echoed reverb sounds that add a palpable sense of tension and foreboding. The instrumentals are really spectacular, and the finest of any song COUNCIL has done thus far.

The lyrics speak of a couple for whom the love that originally brought them together has turned into hate and acrimony for one another. Patrick fervently laments that they now behave like savages to each other, his vocals soaring to a passionate wail in the chorus.

All the plans that we made were just a lost cause
It’s like we turn a parade into a death march
A dirty angel landed on my shoulder
She said be calm and let the drums take over
I’m just trying to blow these ashes into sparks
We live like savages, savages…oh oh, savages!

Connect with Council:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / ReverbnationApple Music
Purchase it:  iTunesGoogle Play

TWO FEET – Album Review: “Pink”

Two Feet 2

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

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

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

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

Two Feet 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, if and when the world gets back to some semblance of normality, he will be heading back out on tour starting in late April. Here are the scheduled dates, which as I write this on March 20th, may be subject to change:

Two Feet Tour

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

FOLLOW DEEP – Album Review: “Will You Still Love Me…”

Follow Deep album art

Follow Deep is a young indie/alternative rock band from Hull, England who are making quite a name for themselves on the UK music scene with their dynamic, innovative music and high-energy performances. Making the music are Luke Bushby (vocals, guitar & bass), Joe Ingram (bass, keyboards & saxophone), and Jed Pearson (drums, vocals). The talented trio skillfully blend elements of alternative, progressive, psychedelic and grunge rock to create their unique, eclectic sound, with an added bonus of having two vocalists and a saxophonist in the mix.

They released their debut single “Bad Influence” in December 2017, then dropped an EP of the same name in July 2018. They followed up with several new singles in 2019, and in December, released their debut album Will You Still Love Me, which I’m finally getting around to reviewing. The album features ten songs addressing the highs and lows of love, along with the myriad perils of entering into romantic relationships.

Follow Deep

The brilliant opening track “Before The Storm” is a shining example of Follow Deep’s solid songwriting and musicianship. The song has everything I love in a great rock song: a complex melody, a strong, driving bassline, intricate, multi-textured guitars, explosive percussion and superb vocals that span a wide emotional range. The aggressive gnarly riffs contrast nicely with the more subdued jangly guitars and deep bass during the track’s calmer interludes, and along with the dramatic stop-start breaks in the melody, keep the song’s overall tension on a high level. I really like Luke’s voice, which goes from a seductive croon as he sings “You’re a fan of Mozart / I love him too / But it’s now your time to…“, then launches into a chilling full-blown scream with “Sing!” I also love his well-placed shouts of “Woo” and the harmonica riff that comes later in the track.  The lyrics seem to speak to our darker impulses, and possibly someone suffering the effects of PTSD. In an voice electronically altered to sound evil and menacing, we hear the words “Do you know what it is to be a monster? You have no idea.”

The band has released two videos for the song, first a lyric video to coincide with the album release last December, then an official video at the end of February. I’ve included them both, as the film footage in the lyric video nicely complements the lyrics, whereas the official video shows the band performing the song.

Next up is the album’s lead single “Alive“, a terrific rock song about the overpowering feelings that hit us when we fall hard for someone: “Cuz you are the reason that I’m not OK. Cuz you are the reason that I’m in pieces.” The dual contrasting vocals of Luke and Jed are highlights on this track and also the sexy and grungy “Sweet Innocence“, one of my favorites on the album. A torrent of grimy guitars and crashing cymbals are layered over a deep, throbbing bassline, creating a sizzling-hot backdrop for the guys’ sultry mix of falsetto and deeper vocals as they alternately croon and wail: “Cuz I don’t wanna behave anymore. There’s no good in your heart.” “Press Rewind” is a bittersweet song about a couple facing the fact their relationship is over, and needing to move on. The track has a pleasing guitar-driven melody, backed by some gentle, sweeping keyboard synths.

Another standout for me is “Hearts In Hands“, with its outstanding bluesy guitars and the guys’ passionate vocals making for a really stellar track. “Lifeline” is a hard-driving rocker, with fuzz-coated jangly guitars, crunchy bass and lots of crashing cymbals. But the real treat is Joe’s lively saxophone solo in the bridge, injecting a bit of a jazzy flourish to the track. “Steal A Flower” is a dark, grungy song with a strutting bass-driven melody. Luke laments about a relationship that began with promise, but ended badly. “How did it get so dark? You are not my destiny. I know what we could have been.” The intense, gnarly riffs and heavy percussion that erupt in the final chorus are fantastic.

Paradise” is another fine example of how Follow Deep expertly fuses grunge with progressive and psychedelic elements to great effect. The track starts off with a fairly straightforward grunge rock melody, with some fine guitar work setting the tone. At 2:23, the guys inject a blast of grinding psychedelic riffs and spooky swirling synths that last about 28 seconds before calming back down to the previous melody. Luke admonishes: “I’ve told you once, won’t tell you twice. I’m sick of being nice. Why do you think you’re making it to paradise?” With that, the music abruptly launches back into the psychedelic trip, only this time with an onslaught of screeching, heavily distorted guitars that continue to the end.

The guys pull out all the stops on the final two tracks, beginning with the bombastic “Start A War“. Luke’s blazing guitar work is positively mind-blowing, accompanied by Joe’s lush, ominous synths that seem to channel Depeche Mode. Jed attacks his drum kit like a man possessed, adding tremendous power to this glorious track. On the 7:18 minute long “The Same“, they complete the question they began asking in the album title “Will you still love me the same?” This monumental track has more of a prog-rock feel, starting off slowly with a hauntingly beautiful little acoustic guitar riff. Gradually, the music expands into a thunderous soundscape, then Joe enters with a terrific, moody sax solo that’s pure bliss. At 3:50, the music calms down to the gentle acoustic guitar of the beginning, while Luke repeatedly croons the question in a lovely falsetto: “When I’m no longer here no more, will you still love me the same?” The music intensifies again, this time into a gorgeous extended instrumental, highlighted by a stunning guitar solo that continues for the last two minutes before fading out. It’s a magnificent track.

Will You Still Love Me… is a superb album from this very talented and creative trio who make up Follow Deep. I don’t know their ages, but I’m guessing they’re barely in their 20s, and their music has a maturity and complexity that’s quite impressive. With so many elements in the mix, there’s a lot going on here from a musical and compositional standpoint, and I found myself discovering something new with each listen. The guys are great songwriters and musicians, and have much to be proud of with their first full-length album. My lone criticism is that I wish a few more tracks featured Jed’s saxophone, but that’s pretty minor in the overall scheme of things.

Catch Follow Deep at one of these upcoming shows:

Sunday, March 8 – w/Bone Broke Kings, Slackrr & King Boa
West Street Live, Sheffield, UK

Thursday April 16 – w/Dude Trips
The Polar Bear, Kingston upon Hull, UK

As their name implies, follow them deeply on FacebookTwitterInstagram
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Purchase on Google PlayAmazon

New Song of the Week – AIRPORT IMPRESSIONS: “Why Are We Here?”

Airport Impressions

I’ve written previously about the tremendous amount of great music being produced these days, and though I make an effort to try and keep up, a lot of it slips beneath my radar. Fortunately, I saw a tweet yesterday by my Sheffield, England Twitter friend John Oxley about the new single “Why Are We Here” by alt-rock band Airport Impressions, and immediately liked it so much that I decided to make it my New Song of the Week. I was also a little embarrassed to discover that Airport Impressions and I already follow each other on Twitter, but I’d somehow neglected to check out their music. My bad, because they’re fantastic!

Hailing from Malta, they’re the first artists from that Mediterranean island nation I’ve featured on this blog. They’re also undeniably one of the most successful acts to emerge from Malta. Drawing from elements of rock, pop and folk, their music is incredibly melodic and beautiful, reminiscent of such bands as The Killers, U2, Kings of Leon, and Mumford and Sons. Like many a band, they’ve undergone changes in lineup since forming in 2008, and now founding member Errol Sammut (guitar, lead vocals) is the only original remaining member. In the past two years, Daniel Genius (bass, backing vocals), Ryan Magro (lead guitar) and and Daryl Curmi (drums, percussion) have all joined the band to replace the former members who left.

Airport Impressions 2

Under their previous lineup, Airport Impressions released two outstanding albums, Minutes of a Lifetime in 2010 and Mariette in 2014. They’re both overflowing with gorgeous songs, and I strongly urge my readers to check them out on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this post. Since the new members came on board, the band has released a number of terrific singles, the latest of which is “Why Are We Here?”, which dropped February 28.

The song has a darker feel than most of their music, with ominous industrial synths and a deep, throbbing bass line forming a dramatic foundation for the phenomenal guitar work and smashing drums. The piano and moody organ keyboards add texture and tension to the track, and I love the gnarly guitar solo in the bridge. Sammut’s vocals are fantastic, starting off with a vulnerable croon that sounds a bit like Bono, then erupting into impassioned wails in the chorus, backed by haunting echoed vocals. It’s a magnificent track.

The lyrics could be open to a rather broad interpretation, but to me they seem to speak to the eternal question of the reason for man’s existence – namely, what is the meaning of life, and what is our purpose on this earth? The lines “Can you hear my cries in the pouring rain? Can you walk the walk? Can you hear my call? Can you see me crawl?” are a plea to be noticed, to feel significant, to feel that our existence is worthwhile, especially to those around us.

To learn more about Airport Impressions, check out their Website

Connect with them on FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple MusicYouTube
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

CuriousHour – Single Review: “She Lies”

Curious Hour She Lies cover

Two years ago, I was blown away when I first heard the music of London alternative blues rock band CuriousHour. In my review of their superb debut EP Explore, I wrote “If you like soulful, blues-soaked rock accompanied by raw, passionate female vocals, then you should be listening to the music of UK band CuriousHour.” It’s been far too long since they’ve put out new music, but I’m happy to report that they’re back with a great new single “She Lies“, which officially drops February 27th. And my recommendation still stands.

Formed in 2014, CuriousHour consists of vocalist Emily Grazebrook, guitarist Andy Grazebrook, bassist Aaron “Bison” Lafayette, and drummer Louis Ricard (who recently replaced Wal Srankiewicz, who played drums on Explore and “She Lies”. On the strengths of their powerful, unique sound and dynamic live shows, they’ve built quite a following in and around London and southern UK.

“She Lies” is a dark and moody track – a “murder ballad” as described by band guitarist Andy. The intense fuzz-covered jangly guitars and deep, muddy grooves are fantastic, with an almost watery quality that quite effectively complements the grim narrative laid out by the lyrics, which were written by Emily. Her raw, soulful vocals are incredibly powerful in expressing the pain and terror of her dire circumstances – that her man is going to drown her to punish her for things she’s done. The words “she lies” can be interpreted to have two meanings: that she’s a liar, and that she now lies at the bottom of the river. Some pretty heavy stuff here.

Father forgive me my sins
He promised me many things
And when he got a hold have mercy on my soul
And when I told him no
He took me down to the river
He held me way down low
Held me way down low on the riverbed 

She lies
(I never lied)
Have mercy on my head

And here on my river bed
Way down here on my river bed
My sins washed away he said

The beautifully filmed but rather disturbing video shows scenes of Emily walking down to a river and touching the water, as a mother desperately clinging to a young boy who would appear to be her son (played by her actual son), knowing it will be the last time she’ll see him, and her lying dead in the river. Have a look and listen:

Catch CuriousHour at one of these upcoming shows:

Friday, Apr 17 – The Birds Nest, London
Friday, May 08 – The Birds Nest, London

Connect with CuriousHour:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

THE MILLION REASONS – EP Review: “If Not for the Fire”

The Million Reasons If Not For the Fire

One of my favorite indie rock bands is Chicago-based The Million Reasons. I became a fan of theirs the instant I heard their magnificent song “Dizzy” in the summer of 2018 (I love it so much it ended up at #69 on my 100 Best Songs of the 2010s list). I’ve closely followed this talented group of guys ever since, and have featured them a number of times on this blog. (You can read my previous reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) Having five members, including two guitarists, their sound is dynamic, heavy and melodic, and consistently delivered with killer riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals. 

I was sad to learn their vocalist Scott Nadeau left the band last August but, fortunately, they quickly found a phenomenal replacement in Taylor Brennan, a close friend of band drummer Colin Dill. Brennan is also vocalist for Chicago alt-rock band Polarizer (they’re pretty terrific too, so do check out their music). In addition to Brennan and Dill, the other band members include guitarists Mike Nichols and Ken Ugel, and bassist Jason Cillo. Brennan brought not only his vocal talents, but also his great songwriting skills and years of experience, which have expanded The Million Reasons’ musical horizons quite nicely. Whereas their music has primarily been classic rock/rock’n’roll oriented, some of their new songs venture more into progressive rock territory. They’ve also employed additional instrumentation, including keyboards and cello, into some tracks, giving them a fuller and richer sound.

With that in mind, the band set to writing and composing a huge array of songs, four of which they’ve selected for their new EP If Not for the Fire, which dropped February 21st. The songs are rather dark, with brutally honest lyrics that the band describes as “a study of separation and self-discovery.” The EP was beautifully produced by band guitarist Ken Ugel, along with Nick Stetina and Noam Wallenberg, and flawlessly mixed and mastered by Stetina. The other band guitarist Mike Nichols designed the artwork.

They kick things off with the title track “If Not for the Fire”, a bombastic, high-energy rocker that clearly shows the band hasn’t lost their stride. The song opens with a brief flurry of fuzzy guitars and Dill’s power drums, then Cillo lays down a funky little bass solo before everything erupts into a barrage of thunderous musical mayhem, and we’re off to the races. The guys unleash their inner beasts, setting the airwaves aflame with fiery riffs, throbbing bass and explosive drumbeats. Brennan quickly dispels any doubts I may have held regarding the issue of a new vocalist, blowing me away with his incredible vocals. He literally raises goosebumps as he fervently wails the lyrics that speak of his need for an intense, almost obsessive kind of love that thrills and excites: “I came for the curse of / I came for the kiss of / A love divine that paralyzes / What did you come for / If not for the fire to light you up this way.”

The fantastic video, filmed and directed by Philip Goode, shows Brennan seated at a table, struggling to write (something I can identify with as a music blogger), juxtaposed with scenes of the band performing the song and working their magic with their respective instruments. Their energy and charisma are strongly evident.

“Pretty Ones” is a brilliant track, with a complex melodic structure and intricate, yet powerful  instrumentation that give it a monumental prog-rock feel. The dual guitars of Nichols and Ugel are really spectacular here. The lyrics explore the restlessness that exists in some of us – the internal struggle between putting down roots in one place or with one person vs. the desire for eternal freedom and believing the grass is greener somewhere else or with someone else, but also fearing that perhaps we’re just running away from ourselves: “Ever after chasing down the pretty ones / Right back to the place where I am running from / In motion, stuck in motion / I fear it’s just my nature.

The guys slow things down on “No North Star”, a gorgeous but melancholy ballad about a man at the end of his rope, ready to give up all vestiges of hope. The song starts off with a mournful cello and beautiful acoustic guitar, as Brennan forlornly laments about mistakes he’s made: “Four on the floor / As the shower head pours heat on me / Praying to the god of sorry / I’m sure she has questions for me.” Gradually, a lovely piano enters along with more guitar, drums and bass, all of which grow more expansive as the song progresses until reaching a dramatic crescendo at the end, at which point Brennan passionately implores: “Stare in the sunken-in eyes of a ghost of a shell of a half of a half of a man / Saying what good can I be if I couldn’t be better for you / I couldn’t lie when you asked me to lie / But I’ll die if you ask me tonight / I’m going to die anyway / I might as well do it for you.” Though I love all four tracks, “No North Star” is my favorite.

“All You Can Afford” is a dark and heavy kiss-off to a lover who’s pushed the relationship beyond the breaking point: “I’m taking the keys to my heart and your car / I’ll leave you behind / Hoping you’ll find all that you can’t afford / My love, anymore.” The guys deliver blistering riffs and a torrent of hard-driving grooves during the first two-thirds of the track while Brennan sings the lyrics. The music then transitions to an almost cinematic instrumental for the outro, finally ending with a harsh, increasingly loud static-like sound in the final 30 seconds that seems to symbolize a rather violent end – of the relationship perhaps?

If Not for the Fire is a wonderful little fireball of an EP (sorry for the bad pun, but hey, it perfectly describes the work) that packs quite a major punch in it’s 16-minute run time. I love The Million Reasons, and am thrilled to see them continue to grow and evolve through time and personnel changes, something not all bands are able to successfully navigate. Drummer Colin Dill told me they’ve written about 20 new songs, and I cannot wait to hear them!

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

AMONGST LIARS – Single Review: “Over and Over”

Amongst Liars Over & Over

I’ve stated it numerous times on this blog, but it bears repeating yet again that some of the best rock music being made today is coming from the UK. Almost on a weekly basis, I come across another band or two making a name for themselves in a very crowded field, and today I have the pleasure of introducing an exciting new band with a terrific name – Amongst Liars. They recently released their spectacular debut single “Over and Over“, which I loved at first listen and must share with my readers.

Based in the Brighton/Eastbourne area along the southern English coast, Amongst Liars was formed in September 2019 from the ashes of two bands – Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Both were successful bands in their own right, and actually met in 2016 when they shared the same bill at a show in Manchester. After the vocalist of Saint Apache left in April 2019, and Katalina Kicks broke apart a few months later when one of its members decided to leave the UK, KK vocalist Ian George joined the three remaining members of Saint Apache to form Amongst Liars. In addition to Ian, who also plays guitar, the other band members include Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums). Given they’re all accomplished musicians, they hit the ground running and wasted no time writing and recording new music.

Amongst Liars2

Drawing influences from some of their favorite bands like Rage Against The Machine, Every Time I Die, Buckcherry, Guns N’ Roses, Crass, Heavens Basement, Cancer Bats, and Audioslave, they play an aggressive and melodic style of hard rock. “Over and Over” is a rampaging monster of a track. With Ross’s intense buzzing bass line serving as a powerful driving force, Leo and Ian serve up killer riffs of gnarly guitars while Adam pummels his drum kit like a man hellbent on destruction. The guys are really impressive musicians, and Ian is a vocal beast, practically spitting the lyrics as he furiously rails; “We don’t need to beg no more. We don’t need to beg. Make time for this! Yeah, yeah, yeah – over and over we run!”

The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, but seem to be a bitter indictment against the numbing mind-control of technology and societal pressures to conform and be ‘productive’. The artwork for the single shows a man on a treadmill, surrounded by naked men lying facedown, their backs open to reveal inner machinery, along with a scattering of wheels that appear to have fallen off a cog.

One line for the memory
One love for the soul
I don’t care for the harmony
I don’t write for the show

One love for this jealousy
I feel bad for you son
No time for your remedy
So we dance till it’s done

We don’t need to beg no more

Walk on with an energy
Hold out for the pain
No time for the feeling
Inside of the brain

One time for this heresy
In spite of the sun
One life for the strangers
They can walk, we shall run

We don’t need to beg no more
We don’t need to beg
Make time for this
Yeah, yeah, yeah – over and over we run

The fantastic video shows the band facing off what appears to be their alter ego selves as they perform the song, and really showcases their intense energy and strong musicianship. “Over and Over” is a brilliant song, and a triumphant debut for Amongst Liars. I cannot wait to hear more from this phenomenal band.

Connect with Amongst Liars:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream “Over & Over:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon