Hailing from beautiful Holy Island, situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales roughly halfway between Dublin and Liverpool, alternative psychedelic rock outfit Holy Coves is the brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden. Since its formation in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing group of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn on New Years Day 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.
After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians to record his third album Druids and Bards, due for release this coming August via his label Yr Wyddfa Records. These musicians are (with previous acts they’ve played with in parentheses) John Lawrence on guitar (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci), Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths (WE//ARE//ANIMAL, Hippies Vs Ghosts, The Heights), Jason Hughes on bass (The Painkillers), and Spike T Smith on drums (Morrissey, The Damned, New York Dolls). Marsden told me “It was a honour to work with them. I’ve wanted to work with all of them since I was a teenager. I’m very lucky. They are all geniuses.” He wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered the album. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the header photo are friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.
In late March, Holy Coves released their first single from Druids and Bards, the brilliant “The Hurt Within”, which is currently enjoying a run on my Weekly Top 30. Now, only a month later, they return with the second single “Desert Storm“, and it’s another brooding cinematic stunner. Over a stomping, mesmerizing groove, they layer mysterious, psychedelic synths, crisp percussion and an arresting blend of droning and jangly guitars to create a dark and moody soundscape, but with a hint of optimism. Marsden has a clear and pleasing singing voice, and his slightly echoed vocals have a somewhat ethereal quality here as he earnestly details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from severe drug addiction.
What you see is what you get
What you needs irrelevant
It's time we need to heal my friend
Let's go until we reach the end
Look how far we've come
We've only just begun
You're holding onto me
But I'm so far goneWere coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
I come to feel her love again
And take away all the pain
It seems like everyday I fight her now
It's tearing us apart
Right now I'm falling hard
Let's go back to the start
I'm falling off again
She's got me hook line babe
“Desert Storm” is a marvelous track, and if it and “The Hurt Within” are any indication, Druids and Bards is guaranteed to be a spectacular album.
To coincide with their album release, Holy Coves will kick off their 24 date Druids And Bards UK Tour on August 19th in Wrexham.
Ava Vox is the music project of Irish singer-songwriter Elaine Hannon, a fascinating and seasoned artist who’s been involved with music for much of her life. Originally from Dublin and now based in County Meath, she started her music career at the age of 17 as vocalist for a band, then in 1986 she formed alternative goth rock/post-punk band The Seventh Veil. Their music garnered airplay on Irish radio and earned positive reviews in local press, and they even won a Battle of the Bands competition. They lasted five years until disbanding in 1991. Hannon spent the next few decades involved with various other music projects, and was in the early stages of forming another band when the Covid pandemic brought everything to a halt (as it did for just about every other artist and band) in early 2020. Unable to perform live or record together, she eventually made the decision that September to create her own solo act under the moniker Ava Vox.
With her distinctive deep vocal timbre and commanding delivery, not to mention her arresting goth persona, Ava Vox is a dynamic and compelling performer. Her music style is similar to that of her previous band The Seventh Veil, namely alternative rock imbued with goth rock and post-punk elements, and steeped in strong 80s sensibilities. She began recording songs remotely with a talented group of musicians from Dublin, Scotland, Brazil and Italy, for what would become her debut album Immortalised, which she released on March 25th. Specifically, piano/keyboards and Hammond organ were played by Ray McLoughlin, who also arranged the strings and co-produced the album, electric guitar by Enda Dempsey, bass by James Blennerhassett, and drums Robbie Casserly.
The album features eight marvelous tracks, five of which were previously written and performed by Hannon and her The Seventh Veil bandmates, along with three covers of iconic songs by The Cure, David Bowie and Soft Cell. She elaborates: “I revisited some songs that were written collectively by me and my previous band. I wanted to give these songs new life again, for the world to hear them. Then these songs would be preserved for evermore” – i.e. ‘immortalised’. As for the three covers, she stated that each of those artists and songs were inspirational for her, and hold a special place in her heart.
The album bursts open with “Crash” a darkly beautiful cinematic rocker and standout track. I love the aggressive, pulse-pounding beat, fortified with gothic industrial synths, powerful galloping rhythms and – most appropriately – a torrent of crashing cymbals. Ava’s commanding vocals raise goosebumps as she issues dire warnings of impending doom. The dramatic video, produced by Isaac Burke, is intended to bring attention to the devastation caused by climate change/global warming. Ava portrays the white witch goddess, symbolizing mother nature, who loves the earth and all its species, and provides us with a glimpse of the present and what the future could be, the potential end of the world/extinction of species and the human race.
All of the tracks on Immortalised are strong. “Silent Tear” and “Alone Again” are beautiful synth and guitar-driven rock songs, with compelling melodies that stuck with me long after hearing them. The latter song describes an abusive relationship, wherein the victim eventually finds the courage to escape from their abuser, but sadly falls prey to the abuser’s false charms and promises to change, returning for more: “It’s here again, in rings of garland. Opened eyes and telling hearts. Punch me, hard against the wall. Kick me, trip me, hush me til I fall.”
Another favorite of mine is “One Sweet Goodbye“, a haunting piano ballad about the searing pain that results from the end of a relationship. Ray McLoughlin’s gorgeous piano and string arrangement create a stunning cinematic backdrop for Ana’s heart-wrenching vocals as she laments “Goodbye, goodbye, I feel as though I will die.” “Heart of Good Intention” is great too, with it’s exuberant organ-based groove that calls to mind the music of early 80s The Kinks.
Ava does a fine justice to the three cover songs: “Tainted Love“, originally written by Ed Cobb and recorded by American singer Gloria Jones in 1964, and later covered in 1981 by British duo Soft Cell, “Life on Mars” by David Bowie, and “Love Song” by The Cure. “Tainted Love” is given a full-band treatment, with piano and Hammond organ played by Ray McLoughlin, electric guitar by Daniel Martin and drums by Jonathan Owens, whereas “Life on Mars” and “Love Song” are more stripped down, with mainly piano by Ray McLoughlin (as well as Hammond organ on “Life on Mars” and a bit of drums at the end of “Love Song”) accompanying Ava’s arresting vocals. “Love Song” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and has been covered by many acts, most notably 311, Adele, Good Charlotte, Tori Amos, Death Cab for Cutie and Nina Sky. Ava’s slowed-down interpretation is quite lovely, and her heartfelt vocals are particularly moving, beautifully expressing the intense enduring love described in The Cure’s lyrics.
I’m glad Ava Vox decided to immortalize her songs with this album, and she and her crew have done an outstanding job in its production and execution. Listening to Immortalised is 26 and a half minutes well spent.
MACHINEKIT is a techno-punk band based in Los Angeles. Originally founded as Dharma in 2012 by John Rojas, Dave Cayetano and William Buege, as their sound evolved they made the decision in 2016 to change their name to MACHINEKIT, and the following year released their self-produced debut album Dysappearencer. They followed with two EPs and several singles, and in 2021, drummer Ryan Janke and multi-instrumentalist Ivan Garcia were added to their line up. All veterans of previous bands, the five musicians quickly bonded to become an even stronger musical force, combining their years of collective expertise and array of influences to create what they quite appropriately describe as “an agglomeration of chaos”. Now they’ve released their second album I AM JACK’S LONELY HEARTCLUB BAND, and it’s dark, aggressive and brutal, yet also strangely beautiful and sexy.
In early February, Rojas reached out to me about reviewing the album, and though it’s not the type of music I’m normally drawn to, I liked the songs and agreed to review it, even though I wasn’t quite sure how to write about this music. Soon after, I was hit with another bout of burnout, this time so serious that I decided to stop writing reviews altogether, though I would still honor the commitments I’d already made. To further complicate things, Rojas himself is a terrific writer who does reviews for the website Tourworthy, and after reading a few of his, I felt even more intimidated. But he was gracious and encouraging, and also generous in providing me with his thoughts and inspiration for writing the album, along with the lyrics, and I will do my best to give this album the credit it deserves.
Before I get into discussing the songs, I’ll share some of Rojas’ eloquent words to provide context for I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND. “I started writing the album back in March of 2020. We had just gone into lockdown and I had nothing to do, so I just wrote music. Track 1, “In March of Nothing”, was actually written first and its title paves the way for what would be the concept of the entire album: loneliness. The title is both literal and figurative because 1) I literally had nothing to do in March, and 2) life felt so overwhelming that it confused my beliefs.
During most of 2020 and 2021, I was dealing with a lot of personal issues that gave me a sense of emptiness and boredom. Eventually, I went sober, and for some reason, that exacerbated my loneliness, so I just got into making the album and it just so happened that I had something to say. With all the weirdness happening in politics and society, I felt more isolated, but I wanted to merge that confusing feeling with my personal life. I decided to be cryptic and discuss my childhood in La Puente, my drug use, my current relationships with people, and my interactions with my community and the public. I was also tired of feeling fear and resentment over the toxic behavior that was and still continues to come from the world, so I wanted to talk shit when I felt compelled. By the end of the creative process, I realized each facet was contributing to my loneliness in ways that I still don’t fully understand, but when it came to writing the words, I tried my best to be viscerally honest with myself.
I grew up going to punk shows and raves, and wanted to merge my love for both sounds, which inherently allowed me to push my musical boundaries while I was being inspired by nostalgia. It was definitely a weird formula, but it worked. Also, I had just opened my recording studio, MachineHouse Audio, so I had the privilege to experiment in all capacities with the sound, which I believe helped me get where I wanted to go. With starting the studio and dealing with lockdown, the economy and the world were flipped on their ass in all dimensions, and having trouble in my personal life, the message came back in full circle. The only thing that really stood out to me was that weird ambivalent type of loneliness that wasn’t negative nor positive. It was just filled with anxiety and equanimity, and I just happen to document where I was at the time.”
As previously noted, the opening track “In March of Nothing” describes Rojas’ feelings of ennui and loneliness, as well as setting the overall tone for the album. The song starts off with ominous pulsating synths, portending rough times ahead. The music is gradually joined by a strong synth-bass beat as Rojas sings in a seductive, yet menacing voice “I am Jack’s lonely heart club band. Info news feeds me shit on high demand. The common clutch for the plastic adults. Programmed into the culture of cults. Hit me where it hurts. Enough to feel the burn.” As the song progresses, the music and vocals grow harsher and more intense, finally erupting into a bone-crushing maelstrom of dystopian madness as Rojas screams “Theywant my fun! They can have my fun! But the party is over!”
And speaking of dystopian madness, “LoveFuck” is a two-minute, 56-second-long psychedelic trip into hell. Machinekit unleash their sonic weaponry with a furious barrage of raging guitars, tortured industrial synths, crushing bass and explosive percussion. Rojas channels his inner beast as he savagely rails of his disillusionment over romantic love: “Young adults have all the fun. Pop-stars with fake luck. Click-bait when you’re done. Is it better than a morning fuck? Oh, What I wear fits. Oh, What I fear hits. Fear of missing out throughout those years. I don’t know where the feeling lives!” His vocals are so intensely feral, he’s left panting by song’s end, while I’m covered with goosebumps!
“Distressor” sees Rojas questioning our belief systems and why we follow leaders who don’t seem to know what they’re doing either: “Who’s your modern angel of death? Aren’t you fuckin’ bored to death with picking someone to reform your thoughts? Public figures conduct chess fights. Do you really know wrong from right? I want a sign in full-form.” And on “Divebomb“, he ponders the soul-crushing impacts of the covid lockdowns: “Are you bored of staying in? Is your air getting thin inside your head, your home? Your head is a dead home.” In listening to the song, as well as the entire album, I was struck by its strong Nine Inch Nails vibe, and in fact, Rojas told me he’s a huge NIN fan. He really seems to channel Trent Reznor on this track, as his vocals go from seductive breathy whispers to brutal screams.
One of my favorite tracks is “Purge“, with its frantic, hard-driving techno/dance groove and glitchy industrial synths creating an intense, otherworldly soundscape. In a similar vein, “Glue” features loads of spacey distortion, glitches and blips layered over a hypnotic dance beat, punctuated with jagged, gnarly guitar riffs. Everything erupts into a bone-crushing crescendo in the choruses as Rojas wails “Your bloody thoughts have bloody clots. I can sense your dirty thoughts. Our bloody clogs have bloody spots. I can feel them when I’m not.” On the moody and psychedelic “Anti Anti“, Rojas seems to question his faith, acknowledging the sobering thought that whatever he or any of us believe, we’re all going to end up the same at the end: “And I’ll make my own damn bed at the very end. Cause the dirt is my home. I’m all alone, and I will belong to the worms.” I really like the haunting piano and trippy synths on this song.
One of the standouts is “Whore On The Floor“, a very dark song about the inner conflict between using our guile and physical beauty to get what we want, but also willingly submitting ourselves to those who take advantage of us. Rojas elaborates: “The song and the video for “Whore on The Floor” are intentionally explicit. As the first lyrics says, “Am I a whore on the floor? When I want to,” I have a conversation with myself of how I feel like a whore in many forms. The video portrays me being submissive to a beautiful woman, so I use my sexuality or sexuality in general to illustrate that concept. That song is very literal but can be associated with many things, ie: sex, love, life, money, power, friendship, etc. This again is tied to how the act of being submissive makes me feel like shit and lonely.” The ominous glitchy industrial synths, combined with Rojas’ menacing vocals – which culminate with his screams of “And what you want from me, won’t come for free!” – creates a dangerously sexy vibe.
The instrumental track “__X__” features a repeat of the glitchy synths heard in “Whore On The Floor”, accompanied by hauntingly beautiful sounds that serve as lead-in to the gorgeous closing track “Stressor“. Nearly six minutes long, the song is a magnificent tour de force, with a glorious kaleidoscope of shimmery guitars, spooky industrial synths, grinding bass and thunderous percussion, all of which blend in perfect alchemy to create a darkly cinematic wall of sound that’s at turns both breathtaking and terrifying. Rojas defiantly calls out those who threaten our individuality and identities with their judgemental, soul-killing influencer bullshit: “And then these gatekeepers intervene. They kill our dream with their social scenes. And I stare off in disbelief. So called decent motherfuckers just act like thieves./ And press the stress into my voice. I hear my name inside the noise. Outgrow each god and their brands. I am still Jack’s lonely heart club band.“
Like many albums I’ve reviewed, it took a couple of listens for me to fully appreciate I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND. With each successive listen, I heard more nuances in the myriad sounds and textures of its instrumentation, as well as the complex rhythms and melodies that give the songs such incredible impact and depth. Besides, who doesn’t need some brutally intense music to work out those aggressions now and then! Rojas and company have much to be proud of here, as they’ve created an exceptional, beautifully-crafted record. If you’re a fan of bands like Nine Inch Nails or Daughters, you will enjoy this album.
As some of my regular readers and Twitter followers know, my recent bout of serious burnout caused me to decide, for the second time in six months, to quit writing music reviews. The fact that I actually do not enjoy writing, combined with a relentless and often overwhelming flood of submissions and requests for reviews from artists and PR firms, have time and again caused me tremendous anxiety and stress. On the other hand, I do enjoy lending support to indie artists and bands who follow me on social media in whatever small ways I can. Obviously, giving them a bit of press is an important part of that support. I’d like to continue doing so, but the challenge is finding a way to accomplish that without burning myself out again.
In order to continue featuring new music, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Fresh New Tracks’ series, which has been on a hiatus since I last wrote one in October 2021. For the series, I feature three or four new songs by various artists, with a few paragraphs about each one, rather than a full-blown review. Though they were generally well-received, I got the sense that some artists were not happy sharing the limelight with other artists or bands. But as more than a few musicians have told me, artists and bands should be grateful for any press, especially when I’m giving it to them for free.
Also, many of my reviews tend to be rather wordy and long, and being a slow, meticulous writer, they take me quite a while to get done. This seems to be a counter-productive approach in this day and age, where most people have the attention spans of a gnat. Although most artists and bands love when I write extensive and detailed reviews of their music, I’m guessing that few people actually read those long reviews in their entirety. Therefore, a short, concise description of each song would seem to be more appealing to a lot of readers who are pressed for time. With that in mind, I will make a valiant attempt to write a Fresh New Tracks post each week going forward. Today I’m featuring songs by three outstanding rock bands with great names from the UK, two of whom, Amongst Liars and FloodHounds, I’ve previously written about, as well as one that’s new to me, Mount Famine.
AMONGST LIARS – “Cut It”
Hailing from Brighton & Eastbourne, Amongst Liars play a fiercely aggressive style of melodic hard rock, forged from a powerful trifecta of alternative rock, grunge and punk. Comprised of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums), they formed in September 2019 from the ashes of two successful previous bands – Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Not only are they all highly accomplished and talented musicians, they’re nice guys too. Ian in particular has been very supportive of me and my blog, which of course makes me a loyal fan who’s more than happy to support them as much as I can.
I first learned about them in early 2020, and was immediately blown away by their explosive debut single “Over and Over”. In the two succeeding years, they’ve followed with six more outstanding singles, many of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. Their latest is “Cut It“, a clarion call for people to stand up to abuse in all its forms. While they don’t consider themselves a ‘political’ band, Amongst Liars are not afraid to tackle some of the biggest socio-political issues of the day, including war mongering for financial gain, poverty, greed, fake news, deceitful politicians, election fraud, human rights abuses and climate change, and they’ve been outspoken advocates for social justice on several of their songs. About “Cut It”, the band explains: “These are difficult times behind many closed doors – words and actions can cause a lifetime of damage. Speak up for those being abused and bullied, and be kind – always.“
The song is a ripper, overflowing with the signature searing riffs and pummeling rhythms we’ve come to love and expect from Amongst Liars. Then there’s that droning bass riff by Ross, creating a menacing vibe that chills us to the core. Ian has a beautiful singing voice that turns deadly when he needs to get his point across: “This violence bleeds silence, bleeds silence / Pray, lead us astray! Pray, just cut it!” I love the dark video, which shows the band performing the song surrounded by curtains of sheer fabric, creating powerful feelings of suffocating claustrophobia. “Cut It” will be included on their forthcoming self-titled debut album, due for release July 8th.
FloodHounds are a terrific rock band from Sheffield who play a high-energy style of guitar-driven alternative rock, drenched in blues, punk and grunge influences. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Jack Flynn on guitar and vocals, Lauren Greaves on drums, and Anna Melidone, who replaced Joel Hughes on bass in summer of 2021. I’ve been following them for nearly six years, and they’re among the earliest bands I wrote about when my blog was still in its infancy, way back in October 2016 when I reviewed their excellent EP Look What You’ve Started.
In the years since, they’ve released numerous singles and a second EP Always in Sight, in 2019, and have toured extensively throughout the UK, including performances at the Isle of Wight and Liverpool Sound City festivals in 2019, as well as twice in Paris. FloodHounds remained active during the repeated lockdowns, putting out live streams and sessions for platforms such as Jagermeister, God Is In The TV Zine and Wentworth Festival, as well as self-producing a 10-track acoustic album. They also made the final shortlist of Record Store Day’s national video competition, and their innovative video for their single “Take It Too Far” garnered high placement at the London Music Video Festival 2020. Also in 2020, they released a brilliant single “Something Primeval“, a hard-hitting song about tapping into our inner resolve to survive in this world, which I also reviewed.
Now FloodHounds are back with “Panic Stations“, a stomping banger fueled by Jack’s jagged fuzz-soaked riffs, Anna’s grinding bassline and Lauren’s fearsome drumbeats. The biting lyrics call out those who spread lies and misinformation to sow fear and divisiveness, urging them to instead put their energy into trying to bring people together for a common good. “Panic Stations touches on the air of uncertainty we’ve all been labouring under“, explains Jack. “I wanted to write a song that echoed us roaring out of lockdown, and back into real life. The takeaway is that sticking together will serve us better than alienation and blind panic. It’s great fun to play live, it’s heavy but catchy, so people seem to really get on board with it.” In his arresting vocals, Jack emphatically implores “Give me something with meaning. And I will show you something to believe in. But if you just try and deceive me with all the lies that you hear blaring out your TV. It is your mission to heal division, so go and rally all the people who will listen.” It’s a great song.
Jack is also a photographer and graphic artist, and created the artwork for the single.
MOUNT FAMINE – “Distance”
Mount Famine are a rather enigmatic post punk/synth infused indie rock’n’roll project based in Derby. From what I can tell, they formed in 2019, and according to their bio, their sound is inspired by 80s bands such as The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and Pet Shop Boys (all of whom I personally love too), and 90s bands like Manic Street Preachers, Pulp & Suede, along with “the same desire to tell stories that produce the adrenaline-fueled highs of indie disco dancefloors.” They have no photos of themselves on any of their social media, and I was told by band member Martin Stanier that they’ve steered away from photos, wanting the focus to instead be on their music. They’ve released four outstanding singles thus far, beginning in January 2020 with “Faith”, followed that July with “Pulse”, then “Lost” in February 2021, and now “Distance“, which dropped March 11th.
Martin reached out to me about “Distance” after seeing posts of my recent Top 30 song lists on Instagram, thinking it would be to my liking. Well, he was correct, as it’s right up my alley. With it’s rousing, guitar-driven melody, swirling cinematic synths and exuberant dance groove, all creating a glorious 80s-influenced wall of sound, it’s exactly the kind of sound I love. The band says the song was written and recorded on an old Roland synthesizer and beaten-up drumkit, which gives it that wonderful vintage 80s feel. The lyrics speak to the speed of life, and how it passes by with the blink of an eye, a sentiment they beautifully capture in the frenetic video.
Plains of Silence is a progressive/post-rock act based in Lincolnshire, England, and comprised of the very talented double threat of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rick Whitehead and bassist/guitarist Geoff Standeven. The busy duo have also been active with other bands and music projects both in the past and present. Both were members of alt-rock band The Saboteurs (who I’ve previously written about and are now on hiatus). Rick also records music under his music project Sparralimb, and was previously a member of now defunct rock band Tripswitch, while Geoff also plays bass with metal rock band Sleepless.
As Plains of Silence, Rick and Geoff create exquisite instrumental compositions that incorporate elements of progressive, alternative, grunge and metal rock. Rick plays lead guitars, keyboards/synths and drums, while Geoff plays rhythm guitar and bass. Last August, they released their debut single “Jeremiah”, a darkly beautiful 8-minute, 40-second long tour-de-force of melodic guitars, meandering rhythms and cinematic crescendos. Now the guys are back with their debut EP Archangel, which they’ve released on Bandcamp. The EP will be available beginning March 4th on all major streaming sites.
Archangel features “Jeremiah”, along with four new tracks, each of which sounds uniquely different and most of which are fairly long, running well over five minutes. Kicking off the EP is the gorgeous title track “Archangel“, which Geoff told me is dedicated to all mums everywhere, and in particular his own mum who’s currently battling cancer. He said he wanted to write something from the heart that people could connect with, and after listening to the track, I think he’s succeeded quite nicely. The song begins with a somber but lovely acoustic guitar riff, backed by a rather mysterious gravelly background synth of some kind that provides a fascinating contrast with the haunting guitar notes. Two minutes in, the music expands into a glorious and almost spiritual Pink Floyd-esque soundscape, with shimmery guitars, throbbing bass and emphatic drumbeats.
Plains of Silence switch things up on the next track “Redded“, a moody rocker with a blend of grungy and melodic riffs layered over a strong driving rhythm. Rick lays down a tasty psychedelic guitar solo in the bridge, before the song fades out. This is followed by “Jeremiah“, which I think is my favorite track on the EP. As I alluded to earlier, the song is a monumental tour-de-force and a feast for the ears. The song starts off with a simple but arresting acoustic guitar riff lasting slightly over a minute, at which point it’s joined by a rhythm section of subtle bass and measured drums. Soon, the guitar becomes more intricate and melodic up to around 3:45, when the tempo increases with edgier riffs and more forceful drums and bass. The instrumentals continue to build until everything erupts into a dramatic crescendo of grinding gnarly riffs, pummeling bass and assertive, military-style drumbeats that transition to a barrage of thunderous percussion. The music calms back down to just strummed guitar and thumping drumbeats for the final minute as the song ends on a somber note.
As its title would suggest, “The Saint of Killers” is the darkest, most intense track on the EP, with strong progressive and alternative metal underpinnings. Much of the song features a furious barrage of grinding buzz saw riffs, crushing bass and explosive percussion, interspersed here and there with brief interludes of beautiful chiming guitar notes and subtle drumbeats, all of which serves to create a powerful and sonically fascinating track.
The final track “Starlight” is a wonderful melodic rock song, highlighted by Rick’s impressive guitar work and Geoff’s gorgeous driving bassline. The first two-thirds of the song is hard-hitting, with an onslaught of heavy riffs, bass and drums. But at around 3:45, the tempo abruptly changes to a serene, contemplative mood, with lovely strummed guitar notes and ambient natural sounds of birds chirping in the breeze all that we hear. It’s a fine, soothing close to the EP, ending it as it began with the first notes of “Archangel”.
Archangel is a stellar EP, and a testament to the creativity and talents of these two musicians Rick and Geoff. Anyone who’s a fan of progressive rock or alternative metal, delivered with outstanding musicianship, will enjoy this record.
I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands lately that I’ve previously featured on this blog, as so many are putting out new music in recent weeks. One of them is Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer brett.grant.5 (aka Brett Grant), who just dropped his latest single “Insomnia“. Music has been a long-time passion for Brett, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a solo artist and as a member of several bands. (One of them is a million rich daughters, who’s haunting single “Left Behind” has been enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30 for the past few months.) Since 2016, he’s released two EPs and a number of singles, several of which I’ve reviewed. You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post. He found time to earn a B.A. Degree in Music from Columbia College Chicago in 2019, and also has his own private practice teaching music to budding artists.
Drawing from a broad and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock to industrial and hip hop, Brett’s sound is bold, unorthodox and always deeply compelling. On “Insomnia”, he seems to artfully blend most of those elements into one song, making for a fascinating and continually-evolving track. The song starts off with a repetitive melancholic piano riff played in a kind of trip hop cadence, then he adds skittering percussive sounds as he begins to sing in his distinctive and vulnerable vocal style. Soon, the music swells into a beautiful soundscape of soaring cinematic synths and dramatic piano keys, before returning to the urgent trip hop melody, where he adds darker industrial synths, heavier drum fills and his own backing vocal harmonies. This back and forth continues through the second chorus, then just past the 3-minute mark, the song transitions to a breathtaking symphonic-like movement, highlighted by sparkling piano keys and gorgeous orchestral synths, backed with a haunting chorale-like harmony.
His blunt, poetic lyrics are often deeply personal or downright scathing, exploring some of the darker sides of society, relationships and mental health. “Insomnia” addresses ongoing struggles with inner demons that negatively affect one’s life, relationships, and overall well-being, making it impossible to find peace of mind: “My heart’s racing, my head’s a mess.They try to tell me read the bible. It’s not about you, I must confess./ Memories lost in sleepless nights. I’d give anything for rest.” In the song’s final movement, Brett repeatedly laments “All the love in the world can’t save me from myself. All the love in the world can’t save us from ourselves.”
“Insomnia” is Brett’s most ambitious, melodically complex and sonically beautiful release yet, and a master class in songwriting, composition and execution. The fact that he handled all aspects of the song’s recording and production by himself is really impressive. It makes me happy to see him continue to grow both artistically and professionally, and I look forward to what he has in store.
As with all his releases, the trippy artwork for “Insomnia” was created by Brett’s beautiful wife Ashlee, who’s an amazing visual artist.
Unquiet Nights is an outstanding rock band with a somewhat unusual career trajectory. Originally started in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a solo project by singer-songwriter and guitarist Luke Mathers in 2006, he began recording tracks with help by Rodger Firmin on drums for what would become the first Unquiet Nights album 21st Century Redemption Songs. In 2010, Luke relocated to Italy, where he eventually finished and released the album.
He was later joined by Italian musicians Francesco Piciucchi on bass and keyboards, and drummer Matteo Bussotti for live shows, though Rodger still played drums on their recordings. In 2015 they released their beautiful and compelling second album Postcards in Real Time. One of the tracks from that album, “George Best City”, which was never released as a single but was used in the Federico Buffa Racconta documentary series, landed them several live national appearances on Italian TV stations. Their best known and most successful song, it’s now garnered more than 355,000 streams on Spotify. Luke moved back to Belfast in 2016, where he continues to record and release music with Rodger and Francesco as Unquiet Nights.
I first learned about them in early 2018 when Luke reached out to me about their superb single “Promise of You”, which I reviewed. They quickly followed with “Young Believers”, then a year later they released another stellar single “Four Winds“, which I also reviewed. I enjoyed that song so much it ended up ranking #76 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list.
Now Unquiet Nights are back with a new single “In Spite of ItAll“, which they’ve released in conjunction with their third album First Ten (2012-2022). A sort of ‘greatest hits so far’, the album commemorates the ten year anniversary of their debut album 21st Century Redemption Songs, in recognition of their impressive body of work over the past decade. The album features ten songs they feel are an important part of their musical journey up to this point, including two songs from 21st Century Redemption Songs, three from Postcardsin Real Time, the three standalone singles listed above, and the new one written especially for this collection, “In Spite of It All”. As depicted in the art work for the album, all ten songs are gems, written and produced by Luke, and flawlessly mixed and mastered by Neal Calderwood.
Though not quite as hard-hitting as their last three singles, “In Spite of It All” is a beautiful rock song nonetheless, with a somewhat gentler, more melodic sound. As always, Luke’s guitars are gorgeous as he lays down an intertwining mix of urgent riffs and chiming notes over a hypnotic driving rhythm, courtesy of Francesco’s beautiful humming bassline and Rodger’s propulsive drumbeats. Francesco’s sparkling synths are the added jewel in the crown, beautifully complementing Luke’s swirling guitar to create an enchanting and exciting backdrop for his clear, plaintive vocals.
The lyrics seem to address the fact that the journey of life can be difficult and full of obstacles, and to make it, you shouldn’t follow the crowd, but instead forge your own path forward, learning from your mistakes and staying true to yourself: “You don’t have to jump just ’cause they tell you to jump. You don’t have to dance just ’cause they call you up. You don’t learn to walk before you learn to crawl. But you keep moving forward still in spite of it all.”
And here’s the full album, available for purchase on Bandcamp at a very reasonable price. I just bought mine!
I’ve been following Nashville alt-rock band The Ivins for nearly five years, and have had the pleasure of featuring them several times on this blog. I first wrote about them back in June 2017 when I reviewed their excellent debut album The Code Duello, then again in April 2019 with a review of their single “Certain”, followed a year and a half later, in November 2020, when I reviewed their single “Bloom” (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) This past November, the talented four-piece dropped their second album Conditions, and like The Code Duello, it’s an ambitious work, featuring 13 stellar tracks.
Consisting of brothers Jim and Jack Ivins (with Jim on guitars & vocals and Jack on drums), Hatton Taylor on lead guitar, and Regan Akers on bass & vocals, the engaging four-piece plays a hard-hitting, guitar-heavy style of melodic rock. Their intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics are delivered with Jim and Regan’s earnest and raw, yet pleasing, vocals, backed by intricate riffs, sturdy basslines and aggressive percussion (courtesy of Jack’s athletic agility on his drum kit). On Conditions, the guys really pushed themselves further than they ever had before, and the result is an exciting, melodically complex and beautiful rock album. They were assisted by Michael Zuehsow on engineering and production, Robert Venable and Zach Scott on mixing, and Duncan Ferguson on mastering. Additional last-minute mixing and mastering were done by Caleb Sherman and Andreas Magnusson.
Before I get to my review, I want to share some heartfelt words Jim wrote about the album on his Facebook page: “I have never tinkered, worked harder on or been more emotionally invested in a record than this one. And it certainly beat the hell out of me. From that first day, it’s been a slog full of intense writer’s block, songs changing in editing, songs changing in mixing, re-writing lyrics, re-playing guitar parts long after they were “finished”. I had to go to a damn one-room cabin in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness alone for several days just to get the lyrics out (and that would prove to be just the first draft). And all of this drama is only fitting given the content. Going back to the beginning, this record started with a panic attack. A truly frightening, paralyzing episode the likes of which I had never before experienced and where I legitimately thought I was going to die. The ensuing mania that defined the next several months had me convinced that my girlfriend was about to go running for the hills. Sooooo that’s kinda what this record is about…..OK, maybe not entirely. But it’s basically a snapshot of my life from when I was turning 30, and all of the anxiety and fear that I had never experienced is the nucleus of it all. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are legitimately HAPPY songs on here! A few! I wrote a true love song for the first time in a decade after I had literally forgotten how to do it (I thank Matt Nathanson for showing me the way, writing for his last album that his goal was to write something sincere about his wife without sounding like a Hallmark card).
This record is also significant because it may be the only real “band” album that I have ever made. While Jack and I made the last one, this one was made by the FOUR of us – Jim, Jack, Hatton & Regan. ‘Conditions’ shines because of that and I am so so proud of it. I’ve been making records since I was 15 and have made something like ten or so and this very well may be the best one I’ve ever made. I’m not sure yet. I’ve lived in it way too long to see the forest from the trees and objectively make that determination. But if you are looking for a really interesting 46 minutes that takes you on a journey, I implore you: give this album a listen. I really think it’s great and that you will enjoy it.“
Well, I gave it a listen all the way through from beginning to end, and let me say I was dutifully impressed, which doesn’t happen very often when I first listen to an album. All 13 tracks are strong, with no filler or toss-offs, and I’ll touch on most of them in my review. Things kick off with “Better Days“, a rousing rocker that serves not only as the opening track, but also as an introduction to the album’s overall theme. The lyrics speak to feelings of inadequacy and that your efforts don’t matter in the scheme of things, but hoping that will all change: “I long for better days. Days that haven’t happened yet. A future’s past worth remembering./ Because the only thing worse than worry is indifference.” The song features an abundance of time and melody changes that make for an arresting listen, and I love the shimmery guitars and atmospheric vibe in the bridge, during which Jim softly croons the line that makes me think the song is about him wanting to be valued as a musician – “Waiting for you to understand that rock’n’roll ain’t dead yet” – before everything erupts into a raging crescendo in the final chorus. It’s a great song.
On the hard-driving “All I Want“, Jim issues a plea for a return of the love he thought was his: “All I want is to feel the love you laid aground“, while the catchy ear worm “Begin Again” finds him ruminating about his feelings that his life is an endless cycle of disappointment: “Love only gives what you deal out, but you can’t leave out yourself. You can’t, you can’t begin again, when you find your middle never had an end.” The jangly guitars and and swirling synths gives the song an 80s feel.
One of my favorite tracks is “Love Tonight“, thanks to its infectious dance groove, Regan’s wonderfully sultry bassline, Jim and Hatton’s scorching riffs and Jack’s thumping drumbeats. Another standout is “Hide & Lie“, inspired by Jim’s difficulties with making small talk, and how he’s used alcohol to loosen up, as he elaborated to Gerard Longo for Nashville webzine Underground Music Collective: “When I was single, I was never the guy who could effectively do bar banter. Finding, talking and picking up girls from a large group of people? Not my thing, no matter how much I wanted it to be. Same goes for regular interpersonal relationships — never very good at networking, never very good at getting past that initial 30-60 second ‘how’ve you been?’ phase of conversations. So, simply put, alcohol was, is, my security blanket.”
The entertaining and humorous video for “Hide & Lie”, filmed at the Old Glory bar in Nashville, shows the band playing an audition performance at a bar where they’re having a hard time impressing the owner. To help them play better, they indulge in a bit of liquid courage served up by a sexy bartender played by Monique Staffile of Nashville rock band HER.
The great tunes keep coming. “Growing Pains” is a beautiful, melodically complex song highlighted by a flourish of wobbly distortion that would make Jimi Hendrix proud. The anthemic and pleasing “Patient” features some really pretty guitar work, nicely accompanied by Jack’s assertive drumbeats that give the song considerable heft. “Canyons” is a hauntingly beautiful rock song about missing a loved one who’s gone: “So what if I stayed in a dream? Would it make me closer to you, or would I just sleep. Because I know if I open my eyes, I’ll lose you again.” As always, the guitar work is fantastic, highlighted by gorgeous chiming notes. The grungy, anthemic “Scream” speaks to not allowing fear and complacency to rule your life: “It’s hard to let go, when comfort is controlled.”
The album closes on a powerful note with “Chameleon“, one of the darkest, most intense songs The Ivins have ever done, and I love it. The guys pull out all the stops on this song, unleashing a barrage of gritty, reverb-soaked riffs, pummeling rhythms and soaring choruses. The guys’ intricate, textured guitar work is really spectacular, and I love the spooky industrial synths throughout the track. My only criticism is that the instrumentals are so big and bombastic, they overpower the vocals, making them difficult to understand. But my guess is that they’re about politicians – or anyone without conviction really – who talk out of both sides of their mouths, trying to please everyone with their doublespeak, but pleasing no one in the end.
Conditions is an outstanding, beautifully-crafted album that nicely showcases The Ivins’ growth and maturity as both songwriters and musicians. They’re a talented, underrated band who deserve to be more popular and successful. Hopefully, this review will bring them at least a few more fans, which is what I aim for at the end of the day.
London-based alt-rock band Oli Barton & the Movement are a long-time favorite of mine. As indicated by their name, the band is headed by the wildly creative and charismatic singer-songwriter Oli Barton, with the Movement comprised of four outstanding musicians – Ryan Wilson on lead guitar, Jamal Lagoon on rhythm guitar, Marco Paone on Bass, and Josh Needham on drums. With a winning combination of talent, imagination and personality, their eccentric yet sophisticated style of alternative rock is a colorful mix of post-punk and psychedelia, fortified with touches of funk, grunge and pop.
I’ve written about them numerous times on this blog since first featuring them in May 2017 (You can read some of my reviews by clicking the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post), and have loved every one of their releases. Three of their songs have appeared on my Weekly Top 30 lists – their provocative 2017 single “Kinky” went all the way to #1, and their 2018 single “44”, and more recent single “Martyr” from earlier this year, both reached the top 5. They’ve been on a creative streak since the fall of 2020, and have released a string of excellent singles. Their latest is “Just Like Always“, a beautiful song featuring guest vocals by London-based singer-songwriter Maella that I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Released via Coke & Dagger Records, the track was produced by the band’s long-time collaborator Jules Gulon.
“Just Like Always” starts off with strummed acoustic guitar and Oli’s soothing vocals, giving it a more introspective feel than many of their previous songs. The music gradually expands with added guitars, bass, drums and synths into a lush, melodic soundscape in the choruses. The shimmery guitar notes and piano chords are sublime and, as always, I love Oli’s beautiful plaintive vocals as he sings words of encouragement “And just like always, you say you’re done. But I know inside my heart, you’ve just begun“. Everything builds to a dramatic crescendo in the final chorus as Maella’s vocals enter, highlighted by a terrific guitar solo.
The lyrics generally speak to not allowing the impediments that life often throws in our path to prevent us from realizing our dreams. Oli states that the song is deeply personal to him, as it’s about someone he knew who was giving up on life, referenced in the lyric “she tried to lift her head up but a force just brought it down“. “We’ve all been there” he adds. “The Maella segment of the song is the kind of positive end which speak to not waiting for the moment to strike but to seize it in order to reach your goals and not needing anyone else’s permission to do so.“
“Just Like Always” is a wonderful song that beautifully showcases Oli Barton & the Movement’s ongoing growth and maturity as a band. Their music just keeps sounding better and better, and I’m thrilled to follow them as they continue moving forward on their musical journey.
Polarizer is a phenomenal five-piece band from Chicago who play a progressive style of alternative rock they appropriately describe as “loud, spacey epic rock”, earning them comparisons to bands like Muse, Rush and Jane’s Addiction. Formed in 2011, they’ve undergone a few changes in line-up over the years, and now consist of singer-songwriter Taylor Brennan, Stan Tencza (keyboards), Ian Palmer (guitars), Chris Shen (bass) and John Schiller (drums). (Brennan is also vocalist for Chicago rock band The Million Reasons, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog.)
Polarizer released their debut EP Lightscapes in 2013, followed by a superb full-length album The Fall and the Swell in 2016, after which they stayed fairly quiet over the next few years. They returned to the studio in late 2019 to begin recording their long-awaited second album Love from the Underground, but the pandemic interrupted their progress for several months. Finally, in August 2020, they released their single “One for One”, then followed six months later with a second single “Metronome”, which I reviewed. Both singles are included on Love from the Underground, which dropped November 11th.
Two years in the making, the album is most definitely worth the wait. It’s a dark, beautiful, and utterly magnificent work that marks a triumphal return for Polarizer. While none of its 12 tracks can be described as “catchy”, they’re all incredibly melodic and meticulously-crafted. Overflowing with nuance, the songs are highlighted by deeply compelling lyrics, jaw-dropping instrumentation and Brennan’s arresting tenor vocals. It’s not often that I love every single song on an album, especially one as long as this, but that’s exactly the case with Love from theUnderground. I’ve listened to it more than ten times, and still feel almost giddy at the arrival of each song. This has also been one of the more challenging album reviews I’ve ever written, as there’s a lot to unpack, both musically and lyrically.
Like a lot of albums, this one also features songs addressing such oft-covered topics as love, loss, familial relationships and even politics. Kicking off the album is “Sink intothe Ghost“, an intense rock song that, along with closing track “Dead Can Sing“, as well as the hard-hitting gem “We’ll Meet Again“, speak of coming to terms with losing people that helped shaped you, who with their deaths took a piece of you with them, and leaving you wondering whether you could have done anything to change the outcome. On “Sink into the Ghost”, Brennan passionately implores “What if I sing aloud the right words? What if I sing aloud, could I really be heard? It won’t bring you back. It won’t make me whole. Until the dead can be, I will sing no more.”
One of the highlights on an album full of them is “Metronome“, a truly spectacular song calling out the divisive and destructive ways of many of our leaders, and urging newer generations to rise up against those forces to build a better future, with a lyric from which the album’s title comes: “The old way is divisive. It keeps us small. Make way for the new kids. They’re coming up. / The future belongs to those in love from the underground.” Everything about the song is perfection from start to finish, and when the music erupts into a monumental crescendo, bolstered by Brennan’s impassioned vocals that almost sound like another instrument in themselves, I’m left covered with goosebumps. I love the song so much that it spent 20 weeks on my Weekly Top 30, going all the way to #3. I love the video too, which shows the guys giving a socially-distanced yet electrifying performance in a Chicago studio.
Continuing on a similar theme, “One for One” is a scathing takedown of those who traffic in conspiracy theories, intolerance and extreme political views, nicely delivered with hard-driving rhythms, grungy riffs and psychedelic synths. Brennan’s vocals are almost chilling as he sings the biting lyrics: “I’m fluent in this psycho talk. I speak the party’s opinion. Last one in on the lie and the lie’s all yours. I am a nightmare in the dark. Turn on the lights I come to life. Melody never taught that you can’t catch falling stars. I’m all for one and one for one. The story ends. You’ve lost your friends to the party’s opinion. There’s a lot on the line. So where is your line crossed?” Man, those last three lines really resonate with me, as recent political trends have greatly strained or ended several friendships and familial relationships.
Polarizer ventures toward metal rock on “Eventually You Get Caught“, with an opening guitar riff that reminds me a bit of “Enter Sandman”, though the song sounds totally different, both melodically and structurally, than the Metallica classic. And the flourishes of distortion at the end are definitely metal-esque. The hard-driving “Everything is Mad” is heavy and intense, though Brennan told me it’s meant to be a joyful song about a parent feeling so stunned and humbled by bringing a new life into the world, but also left wondering what this responsibility and joy means when they aren’t living their own truth. Will the compromises they need to make in order to experience true happiness be reachable?
The band’s extraordinary musicianship is showcased on virtually every track, highlighted by Palmer’s virtuoso guitar work, Tencza’s colorful keyboards and the tight rhythmic grooves of Shen and Schiller not to mention Brennan’s gorgeous resonant vocals. Case in point is “Ever a Stranger“, with beautiful riffs layered over a galloping bassline, and featuring a thrilling guitar solo by Palmer in the bridge. The lyrics touch on the loss of innocence, and realizing you can no longer rely on a relationship when your partner refuses to meet you halfway. “Fear the attraction, harder to trust. You’re calling it love, but your love’s not returned. /And I need you now, how I knew you then, but strangers still have a way to go.”
The centerpiece of the album is “Le Drama Des Os” (The Drama of Bones), a stunning five-minute long celestial masterpiece that tells the romantic saga of Black Hole and Nova. Brennan explained the meaning behind their characters: “Black Hole is the more isolated loner, living day to day, not pushing himself to find happiness, just floating about, not taking chances. The ‘black hole’ title means that this character needs light and joy in his life he hasn’t seen before. Like a black hole when he receives this light, this energy, he can’t get enough of it, consuming it at all costs. And Nova is the opposite, an endless giver of light and energy, who meets Black Hole at the time when he needs her most, but the mutual need and attraction is almost unsustainable, its almost destructive. It’s like two magnets being pulled apart slowly but that attraction being too strong to break it apart. They get together at all costs, and it either is the most beautiful love ever on record, or it ends the world around them as they know it.“
The song opens with Palmer’s glittery guitar riff, accompanied by Shen’s gentle bassline as Brennan softly introduces us to the two characters: “Black Hole was proud to be alone. He never had to give a piece away. Nova had pieces on her mantle, that never added up to anything. The Big Bang they felt was catastrophic challenged everything they thought they knew.” The music explodes like a supernova in the choruses with a riotous mix of raging and swirling guitars, thumping bass, otherworldly synths and thunderous drums, before calming back down in the verses as Brennan concludes the story: “Finally their eyes met from a distance. The bigger bang had stolen from their core. As the world around them faded into darkness, nothing of the pieces that they were. Traveling the path of least resistance. Compromise with the best intentions, still halfway to nowhere.”
The great songs keep on coming. “Phases of the Moon” is a full-blown rocker, loaded with a chugging barrage of gnarly riffs and explosive rhythms. Brennan’s vocals sound lower and more muscular on this track, and I love how they trail off to a low growl at the end. The darkly beautiful “Time of Death” has a strong Muse vibe, thanks to its eerie piano riffs and shredded guitars. Brennan passionately laments “Throw me a line, I feel insane. Does it seem that way to you? It falls away, it’s all the same. Another hour I’m making mirror deals selling out my future self. High hopes are put off until tomorrow.” And the marvelous Alice in Chains-esque “Glow”, with its fierce, jaw-dropping guitar work and explosive rhythms, speaks of being drawn to someone so intensely that you can barely function.
The dramatic album closer “Dead Can Sing” brings things full-circle with a blend of shimmery and gnarly guitars, sparkling keyboards, pummeling bass, tumultuous percussion and soaring vocals, giving the song a wonderful anthemic quality. In the final chorus Brennan plaintively sings the refrain “Until the dead can sing and be heard, where do I turn to? And in the end when it’s my turn, how will I find you?” as the song fades off in a trail of spooky synths and military drumbeats.
What more can I say about this spectacular record that I haven’t already gushed about? Love from the Underground is a marvelous, flawlessly-produced album, and one of the best of 2021 in my humble opinion. I love Polarizer’s music, and hope my readers will give this album a listen and enjoy it as much as I do.