The Marigolds are an alt-rock group based in Liverpool, a city rich in music history and the birthplace of many a band. I’ve featured more artists and bands from Liverpool than I can recall, and The Marigolds are the latest. They formed in 2018 when bassist/vocalist Joe Green and guitarist Joe Morgan met at the University of Liverpool, and bonded over their love of such acts as Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Weather Report, Stevie Wonder and Tame Impala. Drummer Lucas Pidgen was soon added to the mix, and they began writing songs together and playing gigs in and around Liverpool. Their rather bucolic sounding name stands in contrast with their music, which is an intense, high-energy blend of punk, funk and psychedelic elements, delivered with blistering riffs, crushing bass and fierce vocals.
The guys released their terrific debut single “Magnetic” in May, which was well-received by fans and music publications alike. Now they’ve returned with an explosive new single “Smash and Grab“, which dropped July 12th. The song’s title is a fitting description, as the song literally blasts through the speakers, laying waste to the airwaves and sending shivers up and down our spines. Wow, these guys really know how to rock! The song opens with Green’s deep, gnarly bassline, then erupts into a hard-driving, fast-paced onslaught of Morgan’s scorching, fuzz-coated riffs and Pidgen’s smashing drumbeats that never let up for a single moment.
Green’s vocals are downright fearsome as he wails and screams the lyrics touching on themes of insecurity, loneliness and poor self-esteem, viciously railing against those who are making him feel this way: “It’s a smash and grab at my feelings! Eat me, cause I feel numb. Just tear into my flesh cause I’m so done. Consume me, and swallow me whole. Keep me inside you in that deep, deep fucking hole!” Two and a half minutes into the song, the tempo abruptly shifts to a frantic punk groove that’s even more intense than before. Now Green screams with such ferocity, it’s a wonder he has any vocal chords left! I’ve written about some pretty hard-hitting music lately, but this song blows them all out of the water, and I love it!
Now that restrictions against live performances have lifted in the UK, the guys are excited about returning to the stage and sharing their new songs at their first scheduled gig on the 7th of August at Jimmy’s Liverpool.
After being unable to perform live or even see one another during most of 2020, Vancouver, Canada-based alt-rock band Bealby Point are having quite a productive 2021. Starting with the release in February of their debut single “I’m So Bummed Out Right Now” (which I featured in a Fresh New Tracks post), they followed up in April with their second single “Telescope”. On July 15th, they dropped their third single “Talk To Me“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. All three songs will be included on their forthcoming EP, due out later this year.
Named after their favorite beachside vacation spot, Bealby Point consists of four childhood friends, Jack Armstrong (lead vocals), Jordan Studer (bass), Clayton Dewar (lead guitar) and Zack Yeager (drums). Drawing inspiration from fun times spent at Bealby Point, the guys aim to create music “that captures the most cherished memory of your favourite summer and turning it into the perfect sound.” Their buoyant, high-energy garage rock sound has earned them favorable comparisons to The Strokes.
As with their previous singles, “Talk To Me” was recorded with veteran producer Matt Di Pomponio. About the song, the band explains “It’s about balancing heavy emotions with stifled logic – doing something you have reason to believe is wrong, but it feels right because you want it. The track follows a pair who previously revealed their intimate feelings to each other. Now, they have closed off their real feelings and resist the urge to speak from an open heart, in order to save themselves from the perceived consequences of revealing their true thoughts. They long for things to go back to how they were.”
The song opens strong with a wonderful swirling guitar riff, accompanied by a superb rhythm section, courtesy of Zack’s assertive thumping drumbeats and Jordan’s prominent chugging bassline, which is fucking fantastic! The dual guitar work by Clayton and Jack is brilliant, highlighted by what I’m guessing is Clayton’s blistering guitar solo in the final chorus. Jack’s colorful, emphatic vocals are marvelous, with a hazy lo-fi quality that reminds me a bit of The Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas, even when they soar to a falsetto. We can feel his exasperation when he implores his partner to just communicate with him in an open and honest fashion: “Talk to me and I’ll talk back. I never lied to you. I don’t want that. But if you have to lie to me then I’ll lie back. And that’s the back and forth I can’t stand.”
“Talk To Me” is a terrific song, and with three excellent singles to their credit, Bealby Point have firmly established themselves as one of Canada’s best indie bands. Hell, they now rank highly among my own favorite indie bands as well. I look forward to hearing their upcoming EP.
Band photo by Sam Fazio, and single artwork by Quinlin Gustin.
Blight Town are a five piece alternative/math rock band based in Nottingham, England. Formed in 2019, the band consists of brothers Jake (vocals) and Sam Hough (guitar), Will Emmerson (guitar), Scott Taylor (bass) and Joseph Smith (drums). Together, they combine elements of progressive, math, pop and metal rock with bold instrumentation, complex time signatures and a dramatic mix of screamo and melodic vocals to create their wildly explosive sound. In short order, they dropped their debut single “Jejunum” in September 2019, but since then have taken their time releasing new music. Nearly a year later in August 2020, they followed up with their second single “Argument Bargument“ (which I reviewed), and now return with their self-titled debut EP Blight Town, which dropped July 16th. The EP features the two aforementioned singles, plus two new tracks.
The guys get right down to business with the opening track “Frostilicus“, instantly demanding our attention both musically and lyrically with an unrelenting thunderous barrage of grungy guitars and pummeling drums as Jake screams “She needs to listen to us right now!” I have no clue as to what the song’s title means, but the lyrics seem to be about confronting a duplicitous and self-destructive person: “Such whack shit is going down. The bullshit she’s churning out. If you don’t say the words to her then I will. Such a shame that you haven’t got the guts to still. Tell me where do I go? I wish that I didn’t know. A slave to the wages of sin. Where do I begin?” The scorching, intricately layered guitar work is fantastic, and a testament to the guys’ impressive musicianship.
“Jejunum” continues on a similar theme, delivering another onslaught of fearsome riffs and explosive percussion, accompanied by a marvelous, almost skittering bassline. Once again, the intense, richly-textured guitars are mind-blowing, turning hauntingly beautiful at the breakdown that occurs at the 1:06 minute mark. Jake’s vocals are downright fearsome throughout much of the song, but also soften to an enchanting ethereal calm in the interlude. As for the song title, a quick Google search revealed that ‘jejunum’ is a part of the small intestine in both humans and most higher vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, and birds, so it’s anyone’s guess as to the title’s meaning. The lyrics seem to speak to a similar type of unpleasant person we were introduced to in “Frostilicus”, who Jake roundly denounces: “You already know you made my life a living hell.“
The cheekily-titled “Argument Bargument” is a prog-rock gem, opening with an atmospheric strummed electric guitar that gradually becomes enveloped in wobbly reverb. Suddenly, we’re hit with a burst of chaotic gnarly riffs, throbbing bass and aggressive drumbeats as the song evolves into a rousing, melodically complex and discordant banger. Amid some terrific guitar noodling punctuating the otherwise tumultuous proceedings, Jake’s vocal gymnastics are a thing of wonder as he transitions from pleasing croon to scary screams. The band states that the song is “A wistful retrospective on the transient nature of modern relationships and the lengths we will go to in order to rationalise our lived experience.” Jake emphatically snarls “You never wanted an argument, well now you’ve got it. And that’s why they call me the cynicist.”
The guys unleash their full arsenal of sonic weaponry on the final track “Don’t Touch Me I’m Covered in Poisons“. The instrumentals are heavier and more intense than ever, with Sam and Will’s dual intertwining guitars laying waste to the airwaves while Joseph nearly blows the speakers with his smashing drumbeats. Then there’s Jake’s feral vocals, which are positively spine-tingling as he screams like a wild beast. It’s a wonder he has any vocal cords left!
Blight Town is a great little EP, a literal bundle of explosive TNT packed into 12 minutes and 51 seconds, beautifully showcasing this band’s outstanding songwriting and composition talents, as well as their impressive technical skills. Though their music is both complex and intense, it’s still surprisingly accessible and melodic.
Blight Town also offers an array of merchandise, including tee shirts, hoodies and caps made from sustainable and vegan-friendly materials, which you can purchase at https://slugapparel.com/.
One of the more uniquely fascinating acts I’ve written about in my nearly six years of blogging is Rubber Clown Car (I love their name!) Based in the far western Chicagoland suburbs, the band is the brainchild of singer/songwriter and ace guitarist Dirk Prysby, a wildly imaginative, creative, and all-around nice guy. His songs often feature zany titles, but with deeper lyrics touching on the minefields of love, relationships and this crazy thing called life. As I’ve previously noted, his quirky, off-kilter vocal style wouldn’t get him very far on The Voice or American Idol, but it’s incredibly endearing and well-suited to his eccentric songs. Besides Dirk, Rubber Clown Car includes Fred Beasley (drums, backing vocals, guitar) and Tony Pantalones (bass, keyboards and everything else). Their eclectic alt-rock sound has been compared to such acts as XTC, Bob Mould, the Damned, the Who, GBV, the Replacements, and Matthew Sweet, with one reviewer describing them as “the Beatles on Quaaludes”.
Formed in the mid-2000s, Rubber Clown Car started out making fairly straightforward music drawing from rock, grunge and punk elements. Their first release was the excellent 2006 album Make the Noise, featuring one of my favorite of their songs “Home in the Suburbs”, a no-holds-barred commentary on the American Dream. They subsequently began incorporating more psychedelic and alternative elements into their music, which can be heard on their follow-up 2008 release Music “They” Don’t Want You To Hear, with songs like “The Boy With the Plexiglas Head” and “Gene Pool Party”. Since then, they’ve been quite prolific in their output, releasing ten more albums and EPs, featuring clever titles like Jesus is not a Weapon, Cake Solves Heartaches, Let’s Go Bowling and Slave to the Algorithm.
In May 2019, I reviewed their brilliant eighth album Horse Logic, an ambitious and trippy tour de force featuring 18 tracks ranging from rock to psychedelic to blues to ballads, and everything in between. Two years later they’ve returned with their latest album Go.Do., which dropped on May 28th, and I’m finally getting around to reviewing it. The delightful album features 11 tracks, including seven original songs and four covers – the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Long Way Down”, the Association’s “Never My Love”, the Gin Blossoms’ “Found Out About You” and the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride”.
The album opens with “Everything to Everyone“, a terrific guitar-driven banger, fortified by a fast-paced punkish groove punctuated with gnarly psychedelic guitars. The lyrics speak to the futility of always trying to please everyone: “You bend over backwards with your head up your ass. Nothing in the world kills attraction so fast. You give and give and give and ask not in return. And wonder why you’re alone, won’t you ever learn?“
Among the album highlights for me are “The Math in Her Head“, with it’s slow, infectious guitar-driven melody and Tom Petty vibe. The lyrics address a woman who’s reassessing her feelings about the relationship, and not for the better: “She’s doing the math in her head. I’m starting to wonder, is it something I said? She won’t talk to me. She won’t talk to me. She won’t talk to me anymore.” Another song that seemingly channels Tom Petty, with a bit of the Beatles and Jayhawks thrown in for good measure, is the hopeful “What If“, with lyrics written by Natalie Rose, who also provides backing vocals. “What if I said ‘I loved you’? Would you say that you loved me too? What if I said I need you? Would you say that you need me too?“
Dirk’s skill for writing cheeky lyrics and hard-driving bangers is nicely showcased on the rousing “Out of State Plates“, my favorite track on the album. The song touches on the joys and perils of playing the field, and how it sometimes gets you into trouble: “Out of state plates keep me coming back for more. Out of state plates keep me coming back for years. Out of state plates got me running out the door. Out of state plates probably make me lose my mind. She’s coming round in a wedding dress. I probably should have been a little clearer I guess.” I love the song’s frantic punk-like beat, thunderous percussion and intricate, mind-blowing riffs that set the airwaves aflame! The way the guitars fade out in a wave of distortion and reverb is fantastic.
Rubber Clown Car does a fine job on the four covers, but my absolute favorite is “Found Out About You“. Their interpretation is slower and more introspective than the original by the Gin Blossoms, with Dirk’s lovely acoustic guitar and plaintive melancholy vocals providing the only sounds we hear. The result is a beautiful and deeply moving song that really captures the heartbreak and disappointment expressed in the lyrics in a way the Gin Blossoms’ version did not (though I do love their original too).
Another standout is “Great Guns“, a grungy, psychedelia-tinged tune about a woman’s fears and paranoias that led her to buy a gun for protection. Dirk serves up dark and heavy riffs dripping with gnarly distortion, brilliantly conveying the disconnect between the woman’s fears and her false sense of security that owning a gun brings: “She bought a gun. She liked the way it fit her fingers, and she’s #1. She’ll never feel this way again cause Great Guns are coming round./ She found a way out of her problem situation.”
Album closer “Mannequin Casino” starts off with tribal drum beats, then launches into a reverb-soaked barrage of grungy psychedelic guitars and trippy vibes. My take on the song’s meaning is that it’s about being abandoned by a lover at the Mannequin Casino, which seems to be a metaphor for a dead, lonely house without love or even the presence of an honest human being. Dirk laments “Something was wrong, you couldn’t find a way to say it. You couldn’t make me understand. All alone at night at a Mannequin Casino. What goes at night at a Mannequin Casino? Something just ain’t right at this Mannequin Casino.“
Go.Do. is a very fine album, and while I don’t think it’s quite as strong or innovative as Horse Logic, Rubber Clown Car nevertheless delivers more of the offbeat alternative rock we’ve come to love and expect from them. The outstanding guitar work, catchy melodies and relatable lyrics all make for a fun and thoroughly enjoyable listen.
The wonderful album artwork was created by Logospilgrim, a talented and lovely writer, artist, singer and fellow blogger from Canada who’s a friend of both mine and the band. Check out her blog at https://logospilgrim.com/
It’s time for another installment of Fresh New Tracks, as there’s so much great music being released. Some of the best of it continues to come from the UK, so I’m dedicating this edition to that island kingdom. I’ve chosen three outstanding new singles from British acts I’ve grown especially fond of: Young Decades and Liam Sullivan, both of whom I’ve previously written about on this blog, as as well as The Banshees, who I’m thrilled to feature for the first time.
“Mediterranean” by Young Decades
Born from the ashes of Liverpool-based band COLOUR, Young Decades formed at the early onset of the Covid pandemic. Like every other artist and band around the globe, they were unable to tour or perform live, so they made the most of their down time by setting themselves on a mission to build up a catalog of songs, and I can emphatically state that they’ve succeeded quite nicely. They released their beautiful debut single “Islands” in April 2020, then quickly followed with four more excellent singles, as well as several collections of remixes and alternative versions. On March 5th of this year, they released an EP Let You Down, which featured all five singles, then soon dropped their sixth single “Sinner” on April 23 (you can read my review of “Sinner” here.) The stunning anthem has spent the past two months and counting on my Weekly Top 30.
They also gained, then quickly lost, a drummer, but in April they recruited a replacement, so their current lineup consists of James Tidd (vocals), Scott Harvey (guitar, keyboards), Liam Downey (bass) and Lee Cameron (drums). The various band members are scattered about the Midlands and North West England, but meet up for rehearsals and recording in the city of Stoke on Trent. Now the prolific group is back with a wonderful new single “Mediterranean“, a jubilant celebration of being able to travel more freely again. The band elaborates “Think back to that one perfect trip: the first dive into the water and the feeling of escape. With travel limited, the need for escapism has reached fever pitch. ‘Mediterranean’ is a blistering expression of that bottled-up feeling. Starting like some beachside dream, it kicks you right back to everything good about getting away and the lyrics are dotted with glimpses of holiday life: sleeping on the beach, burnt skin, foreign coins, full moons on open sea and diving into some warm Mediterranean waves. Another anthem built for live gigs… somewhere warm.”
All Young Decades songs are uplifting, melodic and beautiful, with exuberant synths, driving rhythms and stellar guitar work. But for me, the real highlights of their music are Scott’s dramatic piano keys and James’ impassioned vocals that make their sound distinctive from any other band and instantly recognizable as only Young Decades. They don’t disappoint with “Mediterranean”, delivering another top-notch song and a fine addition to their perfect string of exceptional singles.
One of the standout artists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in the past year or so is singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan. The Leeds-based musician is a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice that’s both beautiful and comforting. His music can generally be classified as alternative rock with folk and singer-songwriter elements that make for an incredibly pleasing listen, and I love every one of his songs. Liam’s been writing and performing music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and, more recently, as a solo artist with a back-up band of musicians he assembled to help bring his poetic lyrics to life.
Like Young Decades, Liam has set for himself an ambitious goal of releasing a new single roughly every 6-8 weeks. While he hasn’t quite met that frantic schedule, he has released six singles over the past year, the latest of which is “Jerusalem“. (I’ve reviewed three of his previous singles, most recently his beautiful song “Stadium and Churches” in April, which you can read here.) The song has a harder rock vibe than his last several singles, with a faster tempo, a stronger driving rhythm and edgier guitars. Liam’s always emotive vocals have an even greater sense of urgency here as he sings about his faith and spirituality using biblical references. The song was inspired by his being asked to be a godfather to his friend’s twin babies. While he never considered himself to be religious, he was greatly honored and took being a godfather very seriously. It prompted him to explore what it means to have faith in a broader sense, and also search for answers and question his own faith and spirituality. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt song.
The Banshees are an indie alternative pop-rock duo based in Liverpool, and comprised of Vinny Pereira on vocals & guitar and Paul Holligan on lead guitar. The two met through a mutual friend at a party in Liverpool, hit it off and eventually formed as a band in December 2018. They soon began playing gigs in Liverpool and in May 2019, released their debut single “Self Medicated”. Over the next two years, they’ve continued to release a string of outstanding singles, earning praise from critics and fans alike, along with features in prominent music publications and websites like NME, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Kerrang, Guitar Player, Stereogum and Spin, as well as TV music stations MTV and VH1. Their sound has been favorably compared to The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and Talking Heads. I love all three of those acts, and after having The Banshees’ music on repeat in preparation for writing this review, I can confidently state that I love their music too.
On July 1st, they dropped their latest single “4AM“, a song the band describes as “harking back to the club scenes of the 90s panic, punk and angst all mixed up into a journey of the mind. Nobody wants to be nobody, or maybe it’s just that now we live in a world where self perception of importance carries more weight than the bigger life picture of just being happy.” To my ears, the song has an almost punk aesthetic, with a frenetic dance beat, a strong, thumping bassline, and emphatic gnarly guitars. The guys’ superb musicianship really shines through, with first-rate production values and powerful pulsating rhythms pulling us willingly into an exhilarating soundscape that compels us to throw all our preconceived notions and bullshit out the window, just let loose and be. With a wry matter-of-fact tone, imbued with a touch of cheekiness, Vinny emphatically laments “The habits you created to survive will no longer serve you when its time to thrive. No focus on yourself for a change. Woulda’ coulda’ shoulda’ kept your goal in range.I’m so tired of bein’ tired. I’m so hard to please. Just gimme the truth, so I can go back to sleep.” Give me more of this!
From the moment I first heard their single “Old Man’s War” back in the spring of 2019, I’ve been a big fan of Texas alt-rock quartet Roadkeeper. Blending dreamy shoegaze and dramatic psychedelic rock with complex melodic structures, they craft lush soundscapes that are a perfect backdrop for their intelligent, socially conscious, sometimes political, and always thought-provoking lyrics. Formed in 2018, the band consists of songwriter/producer John Hetherington (vocals, synths, rhythm guitar), Trevor Tull (lead guitar), Nick Cogdill (drums) and Daniel Griffith (bass). All long-time friends, Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio, and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament.
I last featured Roadkeeper in January when I reviewed their magnificent single “Enemy Mine” (which spent more than four months on my Weekly Top 30). The song is a scathing attack on far-right white nationalist professional pundits who radicalize vulnerable young people by feeding them propaganda on social media and YouTube. Continuing in a similar vein, on June 24th, they dropped their 8th single “Take the L“, which addresses the ongoing immigrant and refugee crisis along the US/Mexico border, which has had an especially profound impact on Texas.
Written during the Trump administration and recorded in the Biden administration, the song shines a light on the fact this issue hasn’t gone away with the change in the White House. In an article in the webzine Clash, John explained “The song serves as an important reminder that the two major political parties in the US are just punting this issue back and forth to one another, so when is real change going to happen?“
Roadkeeper never fails to amaze me, and with “Take the L”, they once again deliver an exceptional single. The layered mix of psychedelic and shimmery guitars are gorgeous, backed by sparkling atmospheric synths and thumping rhythms, all creating a melodic and captivating backdrop for the powerful lyrics. John has a wonderful and mellifluous singing voice, and here his smooth vocals remind me at times of Mark Foster (of Foster the People) as he laments “Just take the L and go, so we both get our way. We’ll burn at both ends and say ‘Who started it anyway?’. All these stolen kids who die in their sleep don’t mean anything.”
Since forming in 2018, Dutch indie band Morgendust have been building a loyal following both at home and abroad on the strength of their outstanding brand of alternative rock music. The Zwolle, Netherlands-based quintet is comprised of Marco de Haan (lead vocals, guitars), Ron van Kruistum (guitars, backing vocals), Iwan Blokzijl (keyboards, backing vocals), Dario Pozderski (bass, backing vocals) and Job Noordmans (drums & percussion). All are talented and accomplished musicians with years of collective experience playing in other bands and as session musicians, imparting their music with a maturity and worldliness that comes from having lived on this earth for a while and experiencing the joys and pains of life, love and relationships. Through intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, they tell stories that everyone can relate to, and package them with exquisite rock melodies and beautiful instrumentation.
In September 2019 they released their stunning debut EP Storm Will Come, then followed up in 2020 with a string of excellent singles: “Alien”, inspired by the story of band member Dario, who as a young man fled his war-torn homeland of Bosnia, “Sundays”, a moving song exploring feelings of choking from a lack of freedom due to abuse of power by others, contrasted with a sunny melody, and “Hands”, an uplifting tribute to all the craftsmen and women around the world who take care of us, using their hands to make, build, create and heal. (You can read my reviews of the EP and two of the singles by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.)
On June 11th, they dropped a terrific new single “Easy Way Out“, and today I’m happy to premier the marvelous video they produced for the track. The band says the song is “about former lovers, premonitions and escape routes”, with lyrics inspired by Jonas Wergeland, the main character in the trilogy by Norwegian writer Jan Kjaerstad. Marco explains further: “After reading the first novel, around the end of the nineties, I got in touch with him via email. We had a nice conversation about his books and plans. In this trilogy (The Seducer, The Conqueror, The Discoverer), a man looks back on his life and all the women, music and art that made him the man he is today. A lot of my reading experiences fell in place. You never get out of a relationship easily, you always take something out of it, or with you. At least yourself. It defines you. The mantra ‘Stop wasting time’ has become a motto, but easier said than done… So this song was waiting to be released for another project I did with Ron, a long time ago. Luckily, Iwan brought it back to life with fresh new sounds, but the composition, structure and intention of this song stayed intact.”
“Easy Way Out” was produced by Morgendust, mixed by Iwan Blokzijl (who also created the artwork from a photo by Alain Hermans), and mastered by Erwin Maas. The song has an upbeat retro 80s vibe, with Ron’s animated guitar, Dario’s thumping bassline, Iwan’s colorful, swirling keyboards and Job’s lively drums, all melding together perfectly to create an exuberant wall of sound. Marco has a vibrant and warm singing voice, and his plaintive vocals are especially nice on this track. The guys clearly enjoy making music together, and their playful sense of humor shines through in the fun black and white video showing them performing the song in a very tight space. I love it!
I came to you with nothing but my heart in hand It took some time to realize, I didn’t understand I ignored the warning signs in my head
Stop wasting time
I‘ve served all different queens and each one had its flaws To learn to be obedient in absence of the law And learn about the warning signs in my head
Stop wasting time Stop wasting time You’ll never get the chance
We never agreed to allow There is never an easy way out
I came to you with nothing but my heart in hand All this time I realized, I didn’t understand Living with the warning signs in my head
Stop wasting time Stop wasting time Stop wasting mine You’ll never get the chance again
We never agreed to allow There is never an easy way out There is never an easy way out
Soda Cracker Jesus is the brainchild of the wildly imaginative and enormously talented singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. The Tacoma-based musician has been involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years. Previously a member of Tacoma punk band Baby Knockorsand 80s rock band Strypes, he’s currently front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. More recently, he helped produce the wonderful debut album Butterfly Hand Grenade for young up-and-coming rockers Stargazy Pie (which I reviewed), and is an active mentor in the successful Ted Brown Music Program, where he helps aspiring northwest musicians hone their craft.
Lane created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his “more punky power pop side”, with music influenced by acts like the Beatles, Kinks, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, XTC and more. He’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. The seasoned artist makes music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. On April 1st, he released his Soda Cracker Jesus debut single “My Anthem” (which I also reviewed), and today he returns with his follow-up single “Drug My Soul“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The timely song explores the addictive nature of social media, and the alternate realities we can become immersed in if we’re not careful.
Lane further elaborates: “‘Drug My Soul’ is my perception of social media, at least for me. And it can be very seductive. I have a 12-year-old daughter who is very engaged in it, and I’ve seen it be a very good tool for information and exchanging ideas for her, but at times it exerts a pull that is similar to whatever one’s drug of choice is. (That’s based on my personal experience as a drug addict who’s been in recovery for a while.) And I’m no different. I can get lost in that shit if I’m not careful. And the fact that one can create a narrative of a reality that does not exist is weird and fascinating at the same time. I believe when all is said and done we are judged by our actions in the real physical world. As for the recording of the song, I again did all instruments, voices and production. I’m just trying to get better. Another cool thing for me was to play some slide guitar on this track. I played it a lot as a youngster and this was the first time in many moons that I’ve done that.”
As with “My Anthem”, once again Lane serves up a rousing post-punk banger, replete with a crushing mix of gnarly guitars layered over an assertive bassline and the kind of explosive, foot-stomping percussion that really gets the blood pumping. His instrumentation, arrangement and production values are all first-rate. The song opens with an ominous drumbeat and a teenage boy’s voiceover saying “I made a new friend“, followed by a woman (who could be his mother) asking “Real or imaginary?“, to which he replies “Imaginary.” Lane’s colorfully expressive vocals enter the proceedings as the music ramps up to an electrifying, almost menacing soundscape that continues for the remainder of the song. Things end rather abruptly with graphic sounds of a speeding car violently crashing into something. Wow!
All my friends are just pretend Nothing more than spreadsheets All my friends won’t let me send A different point of view Stumbling down the rabbit hole Chasing the feeling and all I want is more
I’ve recently featured more international acts on this blog than ever (in the past few months I’ve written about artists & bands from South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, England, Wales, Germany, Italy and Denmark, as well as a compilation album featuring artists from across Europe), and today I’m pleased to introduce my first ever act from Finland, a wonderful band called Frozen Factory. I learned about them when band vocalist Stephen Baker reached out to me about their new EP The First Liquidation, which dropped May 28th.
Formed rather spontaneously at the end of 2018, the Helsinki-based group has undergone numerous personnel changes, and now consists of founding member Tomi Hassinen on bass, Stephen Baker (who’s originally from England) on vocals, Mici Ehnqvist on lead guitar, and Marianne Heikkinen on drums. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Alice In Chains, Iron Maiden, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine, they create moody, complex and melodic alternative rock with strong undercurrents of progressive, grunge, symphonic, metal and dream rock. This seemingly contradictory and eclectic combination of stylistic elements makes for some incredibly compelling and darkly beautiful music that’s a joy to listen to.
They released their marvelous debut album Planted Feet in June 2020, then followed with a series of singles from December 2020 to May 2021, which culminated in the release of The First Liquidation. Interestingly, the EP almost never got made, as Frozen Factory originally planned to drop a few one-off singles before moving on to focus on their already-written second album, to be released later this year. But they were having so much fun creating these new songs that ‘a few singles’ eventually grew into to a five-track EP, which then ballooned to become what the band describes as “an EP with a suspiciously high number of tracks.” It now features eight tracks, six of which are fully fledged songs, with the other two serving as intro and outro. Because it runs less than 30 minutes in length, the band feels it doesn’t quite qualify as an album, hence their insistence in calling it an EP. The songs were co-written by Stephen and Tomi, with Tomi also flawlessly producing the EP.
About the EP, Stephen explains: “We’re extremely proud to present this record to you. In between our main records we wanted to spend some time practising our craft using some strong songs that didn’t match the theme of our previous or upcoming albums. It’s been even more rewarding than we imagined in terms of fun and from how much we’ve learned making these songs. This record takes a brief look at human-to-human relationships, expressing some thoughts on empathy or lack of, and telling a couple of true stories.We think you’ll enjoy the emotive true-to-life direction of the record and the expanded use of sound design. We’re active with talking to those who follow us, especially on Instagram, so please come and say hi and join our mailing list on http://www.frozenfactorymusic.com.”
In listening to the EP, what first strikes me is that, despite its relatively short run time, it feels almost like a rock opera or an epic musical in the vein of Les Misérables. This is partly due to the music’s complex and cinematic arrangements, but also the sounds and interludes used between songs that work to tie them together. Also, Stephen’s gorgeous vocals have a rich and commanding timbre that make them perfectly suited for the more grandiose orchestration. (As a side note, he recorded his vocals in a tiny home sauna that he converted into a sound booth, so as not to disturb his family and neighbors. Because it heated up very quickly within the enclosed space, he recorded vocals in his underwear.)
The opening track “The Alternative Missed” starts off rather ominously, with dark, cinematic synths and distant choral vocals, followed by sounds of footsteps in snow and a door opening and closing as someone enters a building. The ominous music returns along with Stephen’s vocals earnestly singing the profound lyrics that seem to speak of a fallen leader, and setting the tone for the EP: “And once his head’s spun with truth and fiction. The wise lament lest they ignore his final diction. And languish their judgement or vanquish indeed. His theatre has vanished and with it his heed. And we all miss the man that he could have been.”
The song immediately segues into “Au Contraire“, a lovely, melodic song with lyrics in both English and French. The song continues with the theme introduced in the previous track, namely what seems to me to be the duplicity of a hubris-afflicted leader who disregards the suffering of his/her citizens: “Fait accompli. The value of the public’s clear. Raison d’être, to earn for you through their blood, sweat, and tears. Objet d’art, the walls of that cathedral stand, Vis à vis, now aligned with your contempt for those who truly need.” Stephen beautifully sings the English and French lyrics with ease, accompanied by guest vocals by French singer Madeleen singing the choruses. The whistling at the beginning of the song, as well as the warm organ and accordion notes and gently-strummed guitars give the song an intriguing French flair.
One of my favorite tracks on the EP is the anthemic “Hour of Need“, with its stirring piano-driven melody and dramatic soaring choruses. The song’s arrangement and execution are first-rate, nicely showcasing the exceptional musicianship of all four band members. I don’t know who plays piano here, but it’s stunning, and I love Stephen’s plaintive vocals, backed by Marianne’s hauntingly beautiful harmonies. The poetic lyrics are somewhat ambiguous to me, but my guess is that they speak to the current fears and strife facing many of us, urging us to remain focused on the big picture, and make the best of this one life we’re given: “In our hour of need, we’re adrift endlessly / Always remember this journey’s but once. Don’t cast it away. A sound destination sits on the horizon. Keep above the waves.”
Frozen Factory taps into their metal sensibilities on “Old Money“, which has a frantic, almost punkish vibe, both musically and lyrically. Mici rips through the airwaves with his blistering guitar work, while Tomi and Marianne keep the pummeling rhythms moving forward at full throttle. Stephen’s rapid-fire vocals sound fiercer than ever as he launches into a diatribe against the wealthy elite and how they keep the rest of us financially enslaved: “Some are born in, with every way out they could wish for. Others are born out, with no way in. Yet many search endlessly for an open door./ Their old money. Their old kings and queens. Their bloody tricks. They’ve had us on our knees.”
I have a special fondness for female drummers, and this video shows Marianne working her magic.
They then show their softer, more introspective side on the poignant ballad “Two Dads“. The touching song is about a man on his way to work who encounters a homeless man begging for a handout. He fumbles through his pockets, only to discover he has no change to give him, and thinks about the fact that they both have children who they’d give their life for, and how fate and luck have put them in such differing life circumstances: “His face says that he knows, my growing dread has been shown. He’s sensed me thinking of my son. We’d both die to save a cherished one. I can’t begin to comprehend gifts only received by the few lucky kids. Ought’a run to my job, can’t be late, no I won’t miss my stop. After leaving I ponder my time. Could have gone to get cash, my career would survive.”
“When You’ve Grown” is equally poignant, with lyrics spoken internally from a father to his child who’s growing up so fast, thinking out loud about how he will miss them as they are now, yet looking forward to knowing them as an adult too: “I feel I will miss you when you’ve grown. That child you are today, it’s sad that we won’t meet again./ I’d never hold you back. Never hope for that. I’ll be proud to see the grown-up that you will be.” The song starts off slowly, with eerie synths and a far-off gently pounding drumbeat that’s soon replaced by somber piano chords as Stephen wistfully sings. Halfway through, the music and Stephen’s vocals turn more dramatic and impassioned, with heavier metal-rock guitar and percussion, before calming back down at the end.
The powerful and haunting rock anthem “You” is another strong track, with outstanding guitar work, sweeping keyboards and thunderous percussion. Mici’s fiery guitar solo and Stephen’s impassioned vocals are fantastic, leaving me covered with goosebumps. The lyrics seem to speak to a leader of some kind who’s waging a valiant but continuously threatened effort against tyranny: “You build us up, and you’re torn down. We suck the gun aimed at you. Target of the noose. You call injustice by its name. And you won’t stop until it’s better. Though you’re sick of the lies. You give yourself for our lives. Enduring the pressure.”
The EP ends on a somewhat optimistic note with “An Improbable Flame“, a brief, rather dark-sounding track that opens with harsh sounds of radio static, eerie thumping drumbeats, ill winds and breaking glass, which are eventually replaced with a somber piano movement. Stephen speaks the hopeful lyrics that perhaps we’ll do better next time: “A flame is improbable in a storm that’s unstoppable. Yet it is not the storm but the greed that tips the candlestick. To light for one a second wick, only to snuff their blessing out. Yet when gifted another time and place, perhaps this soul won’t make the same mistake. But share instead that flame around, til’ the winds blow not amongst the circled crowd.”
In another review of The First Liquidation for Finnish webzine Kaaos, a writer criticized the eclectic nature of the music and songs, commenting that “the listening experience leaves you wondering what the band really wants to be: serene, flexible British pop, gloomy Gothic rock, or post-grunge world pain?” He couldn’t be more wrong, as I think the variety of styles and sounds of the songs are a real strength, keeping the EP sounding fresh and surprising, rather than boring and predictable. Every track is superb, and I found that I grew to love each song with repeated listens, as the music is so complex and rich, and Stephen’s arresting vocals such a joy to hear. The First Liquidation is an exceptional work on every level, and I’m now a committed fan of Frozen Factory.
9fm (short for Ninth Floor Mannequin) is the solo music project of New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone. Drawing influences from some of his favorite artists like Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes and James Blake, Pedone melds elements of folk, alternative rock and synth pop to create fascinating songs with a pleasing, often otherworldly vibe. He’s also a huge fan of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone, as well as the more recent Twilight Zone-influenced British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror, and many of his song lyrics are based on particular episodes of those shows.
I first featured 9fm on this blog back in September 2018 when I reviewed his marvelous EP Little House. Now I’m pleased to share his new EP First One, Ninth Fifteen, which drops today. The unusual title is a combination of words from the titles of each of the four tracks. He wrote the music and lyrics, sang vocals and performed or programmed all music, as well as the recording, mixing and mastering of the tracks himself in his home studio. He’s a thoughtful lyricist, and each song tells a story based on a real-life incident or a TV episode.
The first track “Fifteen Minutes” addresses the traumatic brain injury Jarrod suffered in September 2012, when he was struck by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident while out jogging. He was put into a coma, then endured a grueling period of outpatient physical and mental therapy, as described in the lyrics “With no name or number, John Doe fought for his life. For one day he was someone, but then he went and survived.” Ultimately, it was his return to creating music that proved to be the most successful form of therapy, though he uses self-deprecating lyrics to describe his progress: “But still he plays and keeps on writing, with no good reason why. He sure wasn’t great in the first place, but now he’s barely alright.”
Using a cacophonous mix of instruments and eerie, lo-fi industrial synths set to an almost frantic driving beat, he creates an unsettling, chaotic soundscape that conjures up images of the pandemonium that must have ensued after he was struck and left fighting for his life. I especially like his guitar notes and jazzy saxophone played by Matthew Silberman that add to the overall moody vibe. The song ends with sounds of monitors and medical staff one would hear in a busy emergency room.
“Below the Ninth Floor” was inspired by one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes “The After Hours” from Season 1, in which a woman named Marsha, played by Anne Francis, is taken by elevator to the ninth floor of a department store to buy a gold thimble, even though the indicator above the elevator shows only eight floors. The entire floor is empty, without any merchandise save a single gold thimble, which is exactly what she’s looking for. The employee who waits on her is a mysterious woman who asks a lot of probing questions. As Marsha rides the elevator down, she discovers the thimble is scratched and dented, and is directed by the elevator operator to the Complaints Department on the third floor. When she tries to convince the sales supervisor and store manager that she bought the item on the ninth floor, they tell her the store doesn’t have a ninth floor. To make matters worse, she has no evidence of the transaction as she paid cash, and has no receipt. Marsha spots the salesclerk who sold her the thimble, and is shocked to discover that the woman is not a salesclerk at all, but one of the department store’s mannequins. Things continue to go downhill from there. Jarrod also named his music project ‘Ninth Floor Mannequin’ after the episode.
For this song, 9fm’s lyrics speak of people putting up a false front and creating an image they think will impress others, as if they’re like a perfect mannequin: “Just before the stage lights up to a new crowd. Don’t fuck it up, don’t be yourself, or try too hard. Getting lost in the part, and go all in, give the people what they want.” Musically, the song seems to have an almost lighthearted vibe, with breezy synths and a relaxed, toe-tapping beat, but a closer listen reveals a slightly melancholy undercurrent, befitting the darker lyrics.
The third track “First Blush” is based on Season 3, Episode 4 of Black Mirror, entitled “San Junipero”. San Junipero is a simulated beach resort town where the deceased can live and the elderly can visit, all inhabiting their younger selves’ bodies in a time of their choosing. The plot involves two women, Yorkie and Kelly, who meet at a nightclub, and eventually become romantically involved. They meet up at different times over the years in both San Junipero and in the real world, where they face real-life complications. In the end, both are euthanized so that they can be together in San Junipero.
Starting with skittering percussion and assertive drumbeats, 9fm layers gauzy synths, humming keyboards, and what sounds like a bass guitar, though it could also be guitar that’s been fed though a pedal or some other device to give it a deeper tone. The result is a dramatic, fast-paced song that captures the sense of urgency and emotional intensity described in the lyrics about an unusual and logistically challenging love affair. His smooth vocals have an ethereal quality that’s quite pleasing as he sings “At first blushI came on way too strong. I’d never known someone like you. So I knew first, the path that I would choose. I’d trade that life for one with you. Please see it through, you’re all I have to lose.”
The final track “One for the Benders” is based on the Bender Family, also known as The Bloody Benders, a family of serial killers who lived in and operated a general store and small inn in Labette County, Kansas, from May 1871 to December 1872. While the exact number is unknown, it is believed they killed at least a dozen travelers and buried their remains on their property before their crimes were discovered. 9fm’s lyrics are sung from the point of view of the Benders to their visitors, lulling them to complacency as they move in for the kill: “Never could tell you that you say one lovely grace. Sorry to stop you, it’s just how we pray (prey). It’s been fun, I mean it really was. Now get some rest. Lie down, relax, put your feet up.“
The fascinating song has a bouncy, almost upbeat cadence, however 9fm uses a dark array of mysterious synths, spooky sounds and haunting echoed vocals to create a decidedly menacing vibe befitting the macabre subject matter. It’s another great example of how adept he is at producing soundscapes that strike the perfect tone for each story. First One, Ninth Fifteen is a fine and extremely compelling little EP, and the more I listened to the songs, the deeper they bored themselves into my brain.