I love the quirky and colorful names that musicians often come up with for their music projects, and one of the best I’ve seen lately is Soda Cracker Jesus, the new brainchild of longtime Tacoma-based singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. Lane is also front man and ringmaster of psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. The wildly imaginative, talented and seasoned artist has been a mainstay in the Northwest music scene for years. Besides Strangely Alright, he was previously a member of Tacoma punk band Baby Knockorsand 80s rock band Strypes. More recently, he helped produce the new album Butterfly Hand Grenade for up-and-coming rockers Stargazy Pie, 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. He recently confided on Facebook, “I’ve come to the point in my life where I know for me that happiness comes from the inside. It’s not about being the greatest or the best, but about having gratitude for what I have, appreciating the people and love in my life and continuing to try to treat people like I’d like to be treated. And all those things help me feel creative and free to share who I really am.” It’s in this spirit that he wrote “My Anthem“, which he’s released today, April 1st, as his debut single.
The aptly-titled song is a euphoric power pop anthem and foot-stomping banger, with a joyously upbeat old school punk-infused vibe that nicely conveys Lane’s hopeful message. In addition to singing vocals, he played all instruments, mixed, and produced the track, and Todd Ensminger did the mastering. I love his chugging riffs of gnarly guitars and aggressive pounding drumbeats, and his always colorful vocals are emphatic and animated, perfectly complementing the song’s powerful driving rhythms. The lyrics speak to having an optimistic, open-minded and courageous philosophy for living your best life possible, and with gratitude, which Lane sings with such conviction and joy that we can’t help but be swept up alongside him: “I can hope and I can dream. I can fight and I can scream. Look to the light I won’t disappear. Never have to run away from anything I got no fear. Clear and Real and Free. Ya ya ya ya ya This Is My Anthem.“
I’ve been following Canadian artists Krosst Out and Melotika for more than four years, and it’s been gratifying to watch them grow both artistically and professionally. Krosst Out is the musical alter-ego of singer-songwriter and rapper Aaron Siebenga,, who grew up in a small town not far from Toronto, and melds hip hop with grunge, alt-rock and punk to create his own unique contemporary sound. Melotika is the alter-ego of Mel Yelle, a Montreal-born sultry-voiced singer-songwriter who makes intriguing electro-pop.
The hard-working and creative duo met in Toronto, but are now living in Montreal. They’re both successful artists in their own right, as well as a delightfully charming and hilarious couple I’ve grown quite fond of over the years, and have featured them both numerous times on this blog. Last October, I reviewed Krosst Out’s debut album Phone Calls With Ghosts, a deeply personal work addressing youthful mistakes, broken relationships, and the reality that nothing will ever again be what it once was. (You can read that review here.) And just last month, I chose Melotika’s latest single “Beautiful Disguise” as my New Song of the Week, which you can read about here.
Now the two are back with a hot new collaborative single “Runaway“. The song was recorded at Phase One studio in Toronto under the guidance of long-time collaborators Jor’Del Downz and Sean Savage. Drums were played by Spencer “Taabu” Heaslip, who also mixed and mastered the track. With “Runaway”, Krosst Out and Melotika wanted to create a dynamic, punk influenced hip hop ballad reminiscent of the late 1970’s London punk scene. Krosst Out explains “I’ve been calling it 1977 punk meets rap, or Sid and Nancy meet hip hop.I wrote this at the same time I was writing my album Phone Calls With Ghosts, [but] in the end, I just felt like this song deserved to be a stand alone track. ‘Runaway’’s message is one that all can relate to, especially during these times; it’s one of escapism, running away from a place you no longer want to be in. There’s times where we do just need to pick up and run away from everything. If you find yourself in a place you don’t want to be in, pick yourself and run away from that spot, put yourself someplace better. It’s meant to be this cross between both happy and melancholy. The beat was an anthem type feel that gets you amped up, but my chanting of ‘I don’t want to be here’ gives you the feeling of hopping on the next train to anywhere, running away.”
The song opens with a flurry of spritely skittering synths, then expands with a layer of brooding synths as Melotika croons her lyrics followed by Krosst Out, who raps his lines as a deep trip hop beat kicks in. Soon the melody ramps up into a frantic punk beat at they both shout “I wanna run away, I gotta run away, I’m gonna run away!” This back and forth continues throughout the song, providing alternating moments of frenzied tension with calmer interludes of introspection that convey a cool sense of self-awareness and humor.
The two have made a crazy-fun video that nicely showcases their strong charisma and zany playfulness.
Sub Urban is the music project of New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and producer Daniel Virgil Maisonneuve. The highly imaginative and insanely creative 21-year-old exploded onto the alternative music scene early last year with his breakout hit “Cradles”. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart, and has been streamed 330 million times on Spotify. He followed up in March 2020 with his outstanding debut EP Thrill Seeker.
Regular readers of this blog know I’m a huge fan of the artist Two Feet, a massively talented New York-born and now Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and guitarist who’s song “Fire” is currently enjoying a long run at #1 on my Weekly Top 30. I love all his music, and have written about him numerous times. Over the past few months, he’s collaborated with other artists such as electronic producer Gryffin on “I Want Love”, electro-pop band SHAED on “Part Time Psycho” and now Sub Urban on a trippy new song “PATCHWERK“.
The song, which was written and sung by both Sub Urban and Two Feet, and produced by Sub Urban, has an eerie, yet oddly sexy vibe. The skittering trip hop beat, discordant melody and piercing, goth-like synths are incredibly dramatic and deliciously creepy, unlike anything I’ve heard before. Two Feet sings his verses in his signature seductive vocal style, whereas Sub Urban’s go from spookily breathy to electronically-altered otherworldliness, perfectly complementing the unsettling music. The lyrics are rather ambiguous and abstract, but seem to speak to living an empty, hedonistic existence: “Cause I’ve got no soul. Live in a hole I dug. And I’ll fall apart if I don’t get it./ I’m sewing the patches right onto my skin. I’m counting the dollars to buy me out. I’m losing myself to the competition. At what point did I start to think that I’d win.“
Every bit as eerie as the song is the accompanying video, which features a surreal mix of classical Greek imagery, kabuki-inspired choreography, and macabre body horror. The video was conceived and created by Sub Urban, directed by Andrew Donoho and produced by Valerie Bush of Huffman Creative. As with the song itself, Sub Urban wanted to produce a video that was different and shocking, drawing inspiration from Tim Burton films, as well as his mother’s Japanese and Chinese dramas. In the Official YouTube Premier for the video, he stated that he wanted it to “feel scary and uncomfortable and inhuman, as I thought that those kabuki characters in my mother’s films made me feel as a child.” He went on to say that the first thing he visualized was Two Feet singing as a Greek bust, then later immersed in a pool of wine, like a drunken Greek god. Sub Urban himself portrays two characters – a man like one from a Renaissance painting, only whose body is a creepy patchwork of stapled-together pieces, and a bald, alien-looking kabuki character all in white. Check it out:
As a lover of music, I listen to a lot of it, often for several hours a day. As a music blogger, I also learn about at least one new artist or band a day too. And every now and then, I come across a particularly good one who’s been around for several years, wondering how I could have possibly not known about them earlier. One such act is Michigander, an alternative rock project from Michigan (obviously) who makes some of the most consistently good melodic rock I’ve heard by any act in a long while. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bingeing on their back music catalog, and can honestly say that I love every one of their songs – a rarity for even some of my favorite artists and bands. They dropped their latest EP Everything Will Be OK Eventually on March 19th, and I love it so much that I want to shout about it from the rooftops.
Michigander is the brain child of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jason Singer. Originally from the central Michigan city of Midland, in 2014 he moved to Kalamazoo, where he started his music career playing in dive bars and open mics. He released his wonderful debut single “Nineties” two years later, followed by several more singles and two outstanding EPs, Midland in 2018 and Where Do We Go From Here in 2019. I first learned about Michigander in late 2019 when I heard his single “Misery”. One of the songs from Where Do We Go From Here, “Misery” spent many weeks on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart, peaking at #20, and has been streamed more than 3.5 million times on Spotify.
Over the years, Singer has been joined by other talented musicians for the recording and performing of his music. The current Michigander lineup includes guitarist Jake LeMond, bassist Connor Robertson, and drummer Aaron Senor. (Senor also has his own music project Dawning, whose gorgeous EP Petals I reviewed last month.) Singer has also recently relocated to Detroit.
Everything Will Be OK Eventually, released through C3 Records, was produced by Singer and long-time collaborator Jake Rye, recorded at Social Recording Company in Adrian, Michigan, and mastered by Mike Cervantes. I think it’s Michigander’s finest work yet, with a fuller, more polished sound, thanks to a greater use of electronic elements than on their previous music. In an article about the EP in BrooklynVegan, Singer explains his approach for the creation of this record: “In the past, I didn’t want to write anything I wasn’t sure we could pull off live. This time, I didn’t care. I incorporated programming and samples that went beyond being a rock band. I became more sure of who I am, what I want to do with music, and how I want to go about it. I tried to be more vulnerable and make something I’m very proud of. I got to add in everything I always wanted to.”
As its title suggests, the EP offers positive messages of hope in these troubled times, delivered with dreamy, upbeat melodies and gorgeous instrumentation. Singer confided on his Instagram page: “I am so happy that these songs are now out in the world for you to hear. Each one of these tracks was a labor of love that my friends and I worked so hard on for over a year. I hope this EP finds a special place in your heart for the years to come. I hope it becomes the soundtrack for this time in our lives as we are slowly healing and returning to some sort of normalcy. I couldn’t have made these songs without the help of my best pals and my incredible team.”
He further elaborates in his comments for BrooklynVegan: “Even though there was so much uncertainty, I found peace in the fact we were all in it together. It was straightforward about the times we’re in, but it was meant to be peaceful. I’ve said the title over and over again to all of my friends; eventually, we’ll get back to normal, and everything will be alright. Personally, I’m very optimistic and hopeful about everything to a fault. You can hear it in the music. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing though.” It certainly isn’t, and the result is a stunning collection of songs that make you feel good, even in the sad parts.
The EP opens with “Better“, an exuberant yet poignant song about loss and wanting to be a better person; “Cause life might be good, but I wish that it would be better. Just want to be better. / Cause you tried to love me and I probably should have let you. Cause things would be better. Things would be better with you.” The song is gorgeous, with a swirling torrent of jangly and chiming guitars, driven by a pulsating bass line and urgent drumbeats, all melding into an electrifying wall of sound. The dual guitars of Singer and LeMond are quite breathtaking.
The touching video for “Better”, which was released concurrently with the EP, shows a man, played by Alex Wells, missing his former wife or girlfriend and trying to straighten out his life and become a better person, while Singer lurks in the background (or foreground) as he sings the song. At first it appears the man missing his wife or girlfriend is making himself better in the hopes of winning her back, but at the video’s end, it’s revealed that she had passed away. About the video, Singer explains: “I’ve wanted to do a video that doesn’t feature me as the focus. So when [director] Tyler [Appel] pitched a story-driven narrative for this one I knew right away it was the right vibe. I think it really captures my personality as the video is goofy but also makes you cry. It’s emotional. ‘Better’ is probably my favorite song off the new EP, it’s the type of song I’ve always dreamed of writing and sounds the closest to what I think Michigander embodies.”
Next up is “Let Down“, the deliriously-catchy lead single for the EP and the band’s highest-charting single to date, peaking at #8 on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart. I love this song, which is currently enjoying a long run on my own Weekly Top 30. The track’s arrangement and production values are superb, and a close listen reveals so many wonderful touches like Senor’s ace drumbeats, LeMond’s rousing guitar solo in the bridge, and the haunting piano keys in the outro. The lyrics speak to those optimistic feelings one gets when meeting a possible new love interest, but also the nagging fear that it won’t work out: “Well I feel like I’ve known you. Even though I’ve only met you. I don’t wanna mess it up, I’m probably gonna mess it up. / Cuz I got high hopes, I got high hopes. But they let me down, they usually let me down.” The sweet video shows Singer’s playful side.
“Saturday” starts off gently, with strummed guitar and delicate percussion as Singer softly croons “Well it always feels like Saturday when I’m next to you. / And it’s all downhill from here, the minute that you walk away.” Soon, the song expands into a beautiful guitar-driven Kings of Leon-esque anthem. Singer’s heartfelt vocals remind me of Sir Sly front man Landon Jacobs as he plaintively sings of his fear of losing the things he values: “I heard my voice on the radio for the third time this week. So scared to death of losing it, I can’t breathe. And It’s all downhill from here, the minute that you realize that we’re all living in fear. And it’s something that we can’t hide. Well I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna let you slip away. Let you slip away.”
The beautiful tunes keep coming with “Headlights“, a bittersweet song about a lost love that Singer co-wrote with LeMond. Once again, the arrangement and instrumentals are stunning, with glittery piano keys and synths, over which LeMond’s layers chiming guitar notes. And as always, Singer’s vocals are deeply moving and lovely as he sings “Cause I can’t get over you. And I don’t think I want to.” “OK” is a bouncy, lighthearted tune with somewhat dark but optimistic lyrics that speak to wanting to be with the object of one’s affection, but also acknowledging that it’s alright to be alone, at least once in a while: “You’re the only one that I want to see right now. But since you’re not here, I think I’ll just go home. Kicking up the dust as I wander around downtown. I’ll do anything to not go home. It’s OK to be lonely. It’s OK to be alone sometimes.” I especially like the interplay between the jangly guitar chords and tinkling piano keys that take the edge off what could be an otherwise melancholy message.
Closing track “Together” is a charming song about coping with the anxiety and isolation many of us experienced at the outset of the global pandemic: “Well oh my god, the world is ending. Do you still want to meet me for dinner?If the world’s gonna fall apart, maybe we could fall together. If the world’s gonna fall apart, I’ll stick with you.” Musically, the song has an exuberant, sweeping melody, highlighted by glittery synths and jangly guitars, giving it a bit of a Coldplay vibe. The blaring trumpet notes add a lovely sophisticated texture to the track as well. At the song’s end, Singer wistfully laments “Wish I could be with all my friends, but I’m feeling all alone again.”
Well, what can I add about this beautiful EP that I haven’t already gushed about? Everything Will Be OK Eventually is a stunning, flawlessly-crafted work, and easily one of the best EPs of 2021. I now count Michigander among my favorite artists currently making music, and look forward to hearing more stellar music from them for years to come.
Michigander will open for Mt. Joy at a socially-distanced Detroit show on May 7 (tickets).
London-based Reckless Jacks is the music project of a charismatic singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist named Matt, who with his beautiful, distinctive vocal style and a passion for excellence and authenticity in his music, has built a growing and loyal fan base, me included. Born and raised in San Francisco, Matt spent his teenage years in Paris, then moved to London as an adult, where he established his music career, first as a band, and more recently as a solo act where he collaborates with other music producers.
He’s released seven outstanding singles over the past four years or so, my favorite of which is “Guide You in the Dark”, a gorgeous song that I ranked #61 on my Top 100 Songs of 2018 list. On March 5th, he dropped his latest single “Fugitive“, a hauntingly beautiful song about redemption and forgiveness. The song was written by Reckless Jacks with the help of Lawrence Diamond and musician/producers VOAH and Bob Matthews, who also produced the track.
The song starts off moody and introspective in the verses, as Reckless Jacks plaintively sings about both the pain and hurt he’s caused his romantic partner, and the pain she’s now inflicting upon him in return: “You light the fire just to burn me. Like you’re running after some kind of memory. Is this how we’ll always be? In this dark room, same old stories. If there’s love could you show me a little bit of the way we used to be?” The spooky synths, somber keyboards and measured drumbeats convey feelings of emotional fragility and desperation. His vocals turn impassioned and mournful in the choruses, accompanied by music that swells to a pulsating crescendo as he laments about not wanting to be kept in the dark, and pleading for mercy in the hope of reconciliation: “Fugitive, but I don’t wanna hide, hide no more. / Take, take, take me back, take me back in your life.”
Strangely Alright is a delightfully quirky and wonderful psychedelic-punk rock band based in and around Seattle-Tacoma, Washington. I’ve been following them for approximately three years, and have become especially fond of them, both because of their terrific music and also for their strong sense of humanity. Accordingly, I’ve featured them several times on this blog (you can read my reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post).
Referring to themselves as an “Eclectic Traveling Minstrel Magic Music Medicine Show”, their unique and entertaining style of punk-infused alternative rock is heavily influenced by such iconic British acts as David Bowie, T.Rex, Pink Floyd, later-period Beatles, Suede, the Buzzcocks and Supergrass. Through their music, they strive to spread positive messages of love, kindness and acceptance, with a guiding philosophy of “Be kind. It matters. Love always wins, so don’t be a dick.”
The band is comprised of front man and ringmaster Regan Lane, who does much of the songwriting and sings lead vocals, Sean Van Dommelen (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ken Schaff (bass), Raymond Hayden (keyboards, backing vocals) and Jason Bair (drums). They’ve released a number of recordings over the past several years, beginning in 2013 with their debut album The Time Machine is Broken, a compilation album All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) and an EP Stuff, both released in 2018, and too many singles to mention along the way. One of my favorites is the brilliant and trippy single “Psych Film”, which spent over four months on my Weekly Top 30, and ranked #42 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list.
On March 5th, they dropped their latest single “Alien Lover“, a song Regan describes as “that space between a dream and waking up. We wanted to do something that sounded and looked like the world inside our heads… Where answers lead to questions like the light leads to the dark and back.” Like some of their other recent singles, “Alien Lover” is a long one, clocking in at eight minutes. With it’s meandering cinematic arrangement, trippy otherworldly synths, sweeping orchestral flourishes and bold, psychedelic guitars, the song has a marvelous and epic Pink Floyd-esque vibe. The spacey psychedelic touches and distorted guitar notes perfectly conjure up images of both that blurred state between dreaming and being half-awake, and of an ethereal alien lover inhabiting our dreams. Regan has a terrific and highly emotive vocal style, and his rather mischievous-sounding croons nicely complement the otherworldly music, as well as imparting a sense of an unconventional love described in the lyrics. It all makes for a wonderful trip we’re more than happy to take!
I’m so glad you’re here so I don’t have to disappear into the shame Nothing really matters when I’m feeling like a shadow that can’t change I was wrong and you were right and I am sad without your light we need I just want to fly up in the sky so we’ll be free
Alien Lover What’s your name? Alien Lover We can change Alien Lover lover I don’t know where to go I am here to see the life you sacrificed for me to be here now The gift I have is you and all your love it tells the truth it never shouts Where we are and what we do and all the things that we can choose to be Time is on our side we’re both alive to play the game Alien Lover What’s your name? Alien Lover We can change Alien Lover What’s your name? Alien Lover lover I don’t know where to go Who we are What we do Who we are it always shows What we give What we lose Who we are it always shows Love gonna change what it needs to change Love gonna go where it goes Oh Oh Oh oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Alien Lover Alien Lover What’s your name? Alien Lover We can change We can change, we can change Alien Lover lover I don’t know where to go I don’t know where to go
I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Polarizer, a phenomenal five-piece band from Chicago. They play a progressive style of alternative rock they call “loud, spacey epic rock” that’s earned them comparisons to bands like Muse, Rush and Jane’s Addiction. I learned about them last year through their front man and vocalist Taylor Brennan, who’s also vocalist for Chicago rock band The Million Reasons, one of my favorite bands who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. Formed in 2011 by Brennan and his childhood friend, keyboardist Stan Tencza, along with guitarist Ian Palmer and drummer Ben Ludwig, they released their debut EP Lightscapes in 2013. Ludwig subsequently departed in 2015, and was later replaced by drummer John Schiller, as well as bassist Chris Shen, who complete the current lineup. Polarizer released their 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 a new album, and in August 2020 released a single “One for One”, their first new music in four years. On February 14th, they dropped their latest single “Metronome“, a powerful and stunning feast for the ears that I loved at first listen. The song is magnificent, and though it lasts only four minutes and 22 seconds, it feels and sounds epic in scope, in confirmation of Polarizer’s own self-assessment of their music. Every single aspect of the track – its elaborate melody and dynamic arrangement, Ian’s killer guitar work, Stan’s intricate keyboards, John’s muscular drums, Chris’s incredible bass line (played on what appears to be a five-string bass), and Taylor’s gorgeous vocals – is perfection from start to finish. I love how the music erupts into a monumental crescendo, bolstered by Taylor’s jaw-dropping impassioned vocals that almost sound like another instrument in themselves. It’s truly spectacular!
The lyrics call out the divisiveness and self-destructive ways of many of our leaders, urging newer generations to rise up against those forces to build a better future: “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.” Then there’s the amazing video, which shows the guys at the top of their game, performing the song in a Chicago studio. I often prefer seeing artists and bands performing their songs on videos, rather than a scripted, acted-out storyline, unless it’s done really well. Their performance, even done socially distanced from each other, is electrifying.
I can confidently state that “Metronome” is one the best new songs I’ve heard in a very long while, and I’m thrilled to feature this brilliant band and their song on my blog. They deserve more acclaim and many more followers, so please check out their music and give them a follow on social media.
One of my favorite new* acts to emerge in 2020 was British rock band Amongst Liars. I placed an asterisk by their name because, while the band was technically new, each of its members are all seasoned musicians who came together after the breakup of their previous bands Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Thus, they had the advantage of starting out with a built-in following that’s grown exponentially since their rebirth. In little more than a year, Amongst Liars have written and recorded 18 songs, including their debut album to be released later this year.
They released four of those songs as singles in 2020, beginning in February with their spectacular debut “Over and Over”, followed by “Wolf Machine”, “Burn the Vision”, and “Mind”. I wrote about three of those singles on this blog, which you can read by clicking on the related links at the end of this post. I like their music so much that two of their singles – “Over and Over” and “Burn the Vision” – ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list. Now the guys are back with their fifth single “Black Days“, delivering more of the fiercely aggressive hard rock and in-your-face lyrics we’ve come to expect from them. The track was produced, mixed & mastered by David Radahd-Jones at Red City Recordings in Manchester.
Based in the Brighton/Eastbourne area, Amongst Liars consists of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums). Not only are they all highly accomplished and talented musicians, they’re nice guys too. And while they don’t consider themselves a political band per se, they haven’t shied away from expressing their opinions and anxieties about what’s been happening in the world. On “Burn the Vision” for example, the band took aim at political leaders who’ve sought to profit from the misfortune of others by distorting the media with fake news to spread their own narratives and lies. With “Black Days”, the band launches a full frontal assault on the last 10 years of Tory rule in the UK, calling out austerity measures, questionable decision making, incompetence, lies and self-serving political bias.
The band further elaborates: ”The last 10 years have seen some really despicable and self-serving politics in the U.K, which have caused huge division across the country, with hardship, suffering and ultimately many deaths amongst some of the most vulnerable people in society. Even in the last year there has been a huge contradiction in the approach to dealing with Covid and a large number of people still remain excluded from help and support. It just seems to be one thing after another, with nepotism, cronyism, greed and a ‘one rule for them, another for us’ mentality – and no accountability for government actions at all. This song reflects our frustration, and we had to release ‘Black Days’ as a commentary on everything happening and the desperation that a lot of people have felt during the last 10 years. The black days and the fires we sing about are both caused and fueled by the very people voted in to supposedly protect and develop a healthy society.“
Amongst Liars always push their respective instruments to the breaking point in the creation of their signature explosive wall of sound, and they don’t disappoint on “Black Days”. The song opens ominously, with sounds of a buzzing alarm announcing an unfolding crisis, then Ian’s fearsome vocals enter as he wails at the top of his lungs “Black days are here now! Start the fire, burn it out!” From there, the guys deliver an unrelenting onslaught of shredded guitars and thunderous rhythms, laying waste to the airwaves like a rampaging sonic beast. They fully channel the strong sense of anger and frustration expressed in their searing lyrics into their music with a ferocity that’s positively mind-blowing in its intensity and raw power. As I’ve noted on my reviews of their previous songs, Ian’s a literal beast on vocals as he unleashes a full-throated denunciation of our failed and duplicitous leaders. It all makes for an electrifying, cathartic and highly satisfying listening experience.
The provocative and sometimes disturbing video shows footage of leaders like Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, juxtaposed with scenes of political protests and violence, patients dying of Covid, and vintage footage of nuclear explosions. It was produced, directed and edited by Josh R Lewis, with assistant editing by Robert Ruardy.
Like for all their singles, the terrific surreal artwork for “Black Days” was created by the artist Pierre Engelbrecht.
There continues to be such a tremendous amount of new music being released that I simply cannot keep up with it all! Consequently, I’m going to have to do more of these group posts in order to feature more artists and songs. Here are three great new singles by artists or bands located on the west coast of North America, (in alphabetical order) Bealby Point, Matt Jaffe and Yard of Blondes.
“I’m So Bummed Out Right Now” by Bealby Point
Named after their favorite beachside vacation spot, Canadian alt-rock band Bealby Point had a rather serendipitous beginning. Comprised of four childhood friends who grew up in North Vancouver – Jack Armstrong (lead vocals), Jordan Studer (bass), Clayton Dewar (lead guitar) and Zack Yeager (drums) – Jack and Jordan were already a two-piece band when, one day in 2018, they stumbled upon music coming from the house of their old friends Clayton and Zack, who were also playing as a two-piece. The four reconnected, quickly realizing they complemented each other’s instruments and music styles, and Bealby Point was born.
On February 17th, they released their debut single “I’m So Bummed Out Right Now“. Recorded with veteran producer Matt Di Pomponio, the single will be included on their forthcoming EP, due out later this year. The band states the song was inspired by missing out on opportunities to hang out, have fun, and create memories with your best friends because of being stuck at home during the recurring lockdowns. The upbeat melody, buoyant guitars and snappy drums create a fun, breezy vibe that contrasts with the melancholy lyrics about feeling lonely and isolated, beautifully sung by Jack in vocals that go from a vulnerable croon to plaintive falsetto: “I’m so bummed out right now. Don’t leave me behind. Don’t leave me inside. Watch my friends through a screen. Stuck in a box, alone without me. Having fun without me. Making me feel, oh so lonely.” It’s a fine debut from Bealby Point, and I look forward to hearing more from these guys.
Matt Jaffe is a talented, hard-working and silky-voiced young singer-songwriter based in San Francisco who’s been making music since his early teens. While playing at an open mic one evening when he was only 16, he was discovered by Jerry Harrison of the band Talking Heads, who went on to help him produce his first album. In the years since, he’s written scores of songs, released three more albums, and has performed as an opening act for Blues Traveler and Wilco, as well as co-written songs with Tom Higgenson of the Plain White T’s. Matt has also served as musical director for experimental theater, collaborated with poets on genre-bending spoken word, and curated residencies among fellow songwriters. And if that’s not enough, he also volunteers with Bread & Roses, a non-profit that brings live music to facilities such as prisons, rehab centers, and foster homes. Having suffered from seizures himself since 2015, Matt also uses his music to unite local and national epilepsy communities.
Matt released his fourth album Undertoad on February 12th, and I especially like one of its singles “Time Traveler“. It’s a melodic and beautiful track, with exuberant jangly guitars and lush sweeping synths that build to a dramatic and glorious wall of sound. I’m a fan of male voices in the higher ranges, and Matt’s vocals are stunning as he fervently sings the lyrics that speak to regrets for past mistakes and time wasted: “I’m the time traveler, and what I were to flip the hourglass. Watch promise of the future turn to phantoms of the past. I wasted all my moments dear, traversing centuries. Cause it not time, but distances, dividing you and me.” “Time Traveler” is a magnificent track, and I think it’s one of Matt’s finest.
From humble beginnings in France as a folk pop duo making mostly acoustic music, Yard of Blondes have come a long way in the years since relocating to Los Angeles in 2014. Now a four-piece, they’ve made a splash on the L.A. music scene with their exciting and edgy style of alternative rock. The band is comprised of French-born singer/songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Vincent Walter Jacob and bassist/vocalist Fanny Hulard, Turkish-born guitarist Burak Yerebakan, and California native Forrest Mitchell on drums and backing vocals. Yard of Blondes are no stranger to this blog, as I’ve previously featured them three times, most recently last October when I reviewed their last single “Do You Need More?” On February 19th, they released “Hummingbird“, the fourth and final single from their forthcoming debut album Feed the Moon, due out later this year. The single and album were produced by Billy Graziadei, mixed by Michael Patterson, and mastered by Maor Applebaum.
Never shy to take on social and political issues, the band actually wrote “Hummingbird” a few years ago after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri that erupted after the killing of Michael Brown, as well as in the wake of yet another school mass shooting. They explain “Being in the U.S. for only a few years at this time, we came to realize America was dealing with a lot of things that were unresolved for decades and centuries. The growing appeal for conspiracies and alternative narratives also [played] a great part in our writing this song. Ironically, in the music video, we tried to picture an invisible threat coming at people, something like a virus, destroying our community. Now that we are in an actual pandemic the song takes on another meaning.“
The song is a rampaging beast, with a barrage of jagged, gnarly guitars, driving bass and pummeling drums, befitting the dark and violent subject matter. Vincent and Fanny’s commanding vocals start off with an angry resignation as they lament “It’s happening again. It’s not a crime to shoot a humming hovering around. It’s happening again in my town. They’re killing hummingbirds. Soaked in blood. They soon grow more impassioned as they furiously scream their refusal to accept that the killings were provoked: “I don’t believe you when you said they attacked you! I don’t believe you now!” It all makes for a fearsome and compelling track, both musically and lyrically, and I think “Hummingbird” is their best song yet.
Liam Sullivan is an accomplished musician based in Leeds, England who’s been writing and performing outstanding music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and as a solo artist. He’s a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice, and his music is a pleasing blend of folk and alternative rock. I first featured him on this blog last May when I reviewed his lovely folk single “When This is Over”. Written and recorded during the COVID-19 quarantine, the poignant song is a hopeful look ahead toward happier times. Now Liam is back with his latest single “Be Kind“, a hauntingly beautiful and deeply moving song I’m happy to make my New Song of the Week.
Liam wrote “Be Kind” back in 2016 while travelling around Europe, but his lyrics resonate now more than ever as he advocates for kindness and acceptance at a time when many people are feeling anxious, fearful or angry. He states the song “is about getting out of the darkness of the city and finding solace in nature. Using this as a metaphor, it also looks at taking responsibility in relationships and standing up with kindness and not always pointing the finger.”
The opening lyrics speak of someone with a closed mind who doesn’t seem to want to deal with problems: “Meet me in some corner of the dark and distant city. Away from all the handsome men, away from all the pretty. I promise I will listen if you promise not to talk. Don’t talk of indecision and don’t talk of all these thoughts. / I promised my belligerence, you promised to be calm. Just be calm.” Eventually, through the patience and kindness of another, he softens his resolve and opens up to other points of view and toward a common understanding: “Meet me where the trees begin to disinfect the sky. I promised I will live and learn. You promised to be kind. Just be kind.”
Musically, “Be Kind” has a darker, more powerful sound than most of his previous songs, yet still features the stirring melodies, beautiful layered guitars and emotion-packed vocals we’ve come to love in his music. The song starts off as a gentle folk ballad with strummed acoustic and electric guitars and subtle percussion, then gradually builds to a dramatic and stunning anthem, highlighted by bold, fuzz-coated jangly guitars, throbbing bass and exuberant drums. His intricate guitar work on this song is some of his best, and his commanding vocals have a vulnerable fervency that’s really touching. It’s a magnificent song.