BLACK | LAKES – Single Review: “The Divide”

I’m back in the UK, this time to shine my spotlight on the band BLACK | LAKES, who just released their phenomenal debut single “The Divide.” The band is comprised of five members who hail from South Wales and Southwest England, including Will S. Preston (lead vocals), Scott Bradshaw (guitar, backing vocals), James Rowlands (guitar, backing vocals), Lee Harris (bass) and Dafydd Fuller (drums). Influenced by too many bands to name, they play an electrifying and melodic style of progressive alternative metal rock.

Black Lakes Promo 2

The single is the title track from their EP The Divide, which was produced and mastered by Romesh Dodangoda at Longwave Studios, and premiered along with a review on Down the Front Media, which you can read here. As the band explained in that post, “The Divide” is “about rejecting the predetermined path laid out in front of you by mainstream society. It’s about demanding your individuality in a world hell bent on making you the same.” The article’s author Claire Hill goes on to say: “Based on the band’s collective personal experience and persistent, bitter disappointment at being let down by those holding positions of power and authority, ‘The Divide’ is a pretty good assessment of what a lot of people feel about what is happening in society today.”

The song starts off with a delicate synth chord, then blasts open with a cascade of gnarly and wailing guitars, mammoth bass, and thunderous drums. As the song progresses, layers of jangly and distorted guitars are added to the already dynamic mix, propelling the track into the sonic stratosphere.  Will’s gorgeous vocals are filled with passion as he fervently sings the powerful lyrics, soaring to intense heights in the choruses that spread chills up and down our spines: “One by one we fall in line with docile obedience. In lies we trust, stand in line justified you’re one of us. Father forgive them for the lives they have stolen. Further we are taken down the paths they have chosen. One more time.”

It’s a monumental track, and as close to perfect as any rock song I’ve heard lately. The brilliant video was created by Yuvraj Imaginaria. Check it out:

Connect with Black | Lakes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on  Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

FIELDCREST – EP Review: “Canvas”

Fieldcrest EP

Guitarist/songwriter Will Thacker and singer/songwriter Jena Jones were both artists from small towns, each struggling on their own in the search for someone to work with to bring their songs to life and get them heard. After nearly giving up hope, Will almost jokingly posted an ad in his home town of Casper, Wyoming, and to his surprise and good fortune, Jena answered and Fieldcrest was born. (Jena is now based in Wyoming, and Will in Georgia.) Incorporating elements of their shared love of music influences ranging from 70s classic rock to grunge, they developed their own hard-driving style of modern rock, and began fleshing out songs Will had written, which they presented to the world with the release of their debut EP Meadowlark this past April. Building on the success of that EP, they continued writing and recording new songs, which are featured on their second EP Canvas, which dropped on September 14.

The songs address themes of self-identity, life changes and loss. First up is “Strange Girl,” a rather dark-sounding but optimistic song about female empowerment. Jena’s clear vocals are filled with urgency as she sings the lyrics encouraging a woman who’s marching to her own beat but unsure of her path: “You’re a little unconventional, strange girl. Don’t be discouraged, you are wonderful. I know you’re scared, but you will be OK. There is nothing in your way, except you.” Will’s guitar work is impressive as he delivers an array of textures ranging from delicate strums to jagged, gnarly riffs, all nicely layered over a throbbing bass line and anchored by a strong drumbeat. The track closes with a gently strummed guitar that gradually fades to quiet but, curiously, continues for another 30 seconds after the music ends.

Perhaps it’s to provide a moment of calm before the storm, which arrives like a thunderbolt in the form of the next track “Tuesday.” The song blasts through the gates with bombastic riffs of Will’s raging guitars and pounding drums. Jena emotionally sings of being stuck in a rut, feeling like she’s losing herself: “Sitting in the same place, same chair as I did last year. You’re in the same place. Hey do I know you? I don’t think so. Life’s too short for this.” The heavy modern rock goodness continues with the hard-hitting “The Silence,” a song about a couple who’ve gotten to the point where they’re no longer able to communicate with each other. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but Will’s guitar work is so fucking good! He shreds and distorts his six string, coaxing riffs that sing, wail and soar, bringing goosebumps. The song has an Evanescence vibe, partly due to the fact I think Jena’s stong, passionate vocals remind me a bit of Amy Lee.

Transitional” is a lovely instrumental interlude consisting only of a simple piano movement, along with the sound of falling rain at the beginning and end. It’s sublime, and I’d love to hear more music like this from Fieldcrest, as one of them is a pretty good pianist.

The final track is the dark and mournful “Empty.” a powerful song about dealing with loss. Will’s jagged and wailing guitars, combined with Jena’s emotionally-wrought vocals, dramatically convey the heartbreak and desolation that remains after the death of a loved one. It’s a phenomenal song.

In my grief I just can’t accept this
It’s a blow that knocks me to my knees
In my grief I held you last night but then I woke up empty
I’m gonna miss you forever
I would have never pictured life without you
You helped hold me together
How can I be strong without you
People keep talking at me about how God has called you home
A Part of me hopes they’re right cause you had so little time
It seems so unfair, I wasn’t ready to let you go

I will admit that it took a couple of listens for these songs to really click with me, but once they did, I was hooked on this band. Jena’s sultry and emotive vocal style is utterly beguiling and Will’s guitar-playing is positively badass! Canvas is a solid EP, and I look forward to hearing more from Fieldcrest very soon.

Connect with Fieldcrest:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / Apple Music
Purchase on cdbaby / iTunes

FIE! FIE! FIE! – Album Review: “No Light For Lies”

Fie! Fie! Fie! album art

Fie! Fie! Fie! is a gloriously-named alternative rock band who make glorious music. Based in West Yorkshire, England, the band was formed in 2013 by seasoned musicians Daniel Varley and Pete Long, both of whom play some pretty mean guitar. Later joining the band were bassist Avon Blyth and multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Matt Burnside. (Burnside recently departed the band, though he’s played on all their recordings, and Marcus Ambler is a new addition to the lineup.) Daniel sings lead vocals, and the other band members provide backing vocals.

Fie Fie Fie

They’ve released a number of tracks and albums, including Can You Hear This? in 2015, and Live at St. Mary’s and a terrific single “Hit the Spanish Main” a year later. In August 2017, they released a double A-side single “Edge of Space/Everything I Told You”, which I reviewed, then followed with another single “Famous Liars.” This August (2018) they dropped a new album No Light For Lies, which includes all four of the aforementioned singles.

The guys describe the album as being about “Courage, Truth & Love – that there is no light for lies – yet there is light for the truth.” It opens with “Intro Venus,” a brief but captivating instrumental that immediately draws us in with a haunting guitar riff paired with dark synths. Having gotten our rapt attention, Fie! Fie! Fie! proceeds to blow our minds with the stunningly beautiful “Edge of Space.” Oh man, this song has one of the most arresting guitar-driven melodies I’ve ever heard. What sounds like lush synths is actually an effect that Pete put down on one of his guitar tracks, along with an achingly beautiful guitar riff that burns itself into your mind. It stayed with me long afterward, leaving me humming the melody and wanting to hear the song again and again.

Using metaphors of space exploration, Daniel fervently sings about finding enough forgiveness to salvage a damaged relationship, or possibly a damaged world: “Could you find a way, a way to see past this. Past the mess that we both left, could you see through it. Gliding through the stratosphere, could fall off, float away. There’s bigger fears alone up here as we try to find our way.” The song ends with snippets of what sound like old recordings of astronauts speaking from their spaceships, and a final dramatic flourish of distorted guitar.  It’s fantastic, and my favorite track on the album.

Another highlight for me is the fun and bouncy “Hit the Spanish Main.” As it’s title suggests, the song features lots of tasty Latin guitars, but the guys spice things up with jolts of gritty and distorted guitars in the choruses that have the effect of Tequila shots on a beer buzz. Daniel sings about leaving their troubles behind when they reach Panamanian shores: “Got red-faced about everything. Still it all gets better when we hit the Spanish main.” The guys change up the tempo again with the mellow folk-like ballad “Everything I Told You.” The silky layered acoustic guitars floating above a smooth bass line and gentle percussion are sublime, and I really like Daniel’s earnest vocals, backed by a dreamlike harmonizing chorus. Here’s a lovely live performance of the song:

Famous Liars” is a fascinating tune, with sweet acoustic guitars, gentle snare drums and an enthralling background whistle set to a delightful galloping drumbeat. The delicate whispered vocals add a nice bit of mystery to the track. “From the Wreck” speaks to overcoming adversity and moving on with your life, becoming a stronger person for it: “Come on, you’re that long lost mother’s son. Her unwanted Caesarean. Who’s skull she loved to smash against the paisley walls in the living room. / And after all that, and after all this, hearts still beat. Could care less.” The pleasing acoustic guitars seem to give a feeling of reassurance.

The guys shed light on hypocrites and phonies on the Americana folk songs “Bullet Points for the Bullet Proof“: “Your sped-up lines just don’t rhyme, so unctuous and overrated. If you could see past your nose, you’d be better off castrated.So declare your manifesto, then we’ll decide if we’ll abide you or throw you over the side”, and “Bleeding Obvious“: “Who do you think you are telling us not to go far. With your snide remarks and your half-assed retorts. Is it stating the bleeding obvious you made such a stink and a fuss? About whether we have the right. Well our needs are a must.”

The hard-driving “Bloody Lane” is a moving protest song against the senseless jingoism and profiteering that lead to war: “bunkers filled with bankers playing with remote controls. Squares count lives in dollars...”  They close out the album with “Outrospective,” a biting but optimistic clarion call for us to rise up against the tyranny and bullshit being foisted upon us by our so-called leaders and big corporate interests: “They bankrupt and bleed you more. Disrupt their aims, move to settle the score. / You pay your dues, they burn your soul. You’ll run them out, run into the light. Become free, become one. You can’t submit. Cast out the bullshit. / Come out, come on. We are so strong! Get it together, you’re not alone. Morning coming, we are the light!”

No Light For Lies is a wonderful album from start to finish, and every track is stellar, with not a single filler. I’ve had a few conversations with Daniel by internet, and I found him to be generous, thoughtful and kind. I admire this band’s philosophy and dedication to their craft, and love their music and lyrics, so they’ve got a huge fan in me!

To learn more about Fie! Fie! Fie!, check out their website

Connect with them on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase their music on  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon / cdbaby

FROM THE CAVE – EP Review: “Medieval”

Medieval EP Art

London-based From the Cave is one of the most distinctive and special bands I’ve come across, and I know a lot of bands! Their very eclectic style of alternative rock covers a broad range of influences, incorporating punk, pop, shoegaze, blues, funk and ethnic folk elements into their exuberant mix. They debuted with their self-titled EP From the Cave in 2016, and in 2017 began releasing a series of singles, some of which are now included on their new EP Medieval, which dropped on September 10. I’ve previously featured two of the tracks – Halloween and “Cavalier” – on this blog, and am now reviewing the EP.

Band front man Kristian Møller-Munar says the EP is “a big hug to all their influences and puts them in one place where they can express themselves.” As such, each track is totally unique and completely different from every other track on the EP, making for a fresh and surprising listen. In addition to Kristian, who plays guitar and sings most lead vocals, the other band members are Mikaela Lindgren on vocals, keys and percussion, and Josh Scriven on guitar and vocals. Johan Crondahl (bass, percussion and backing vocals) and Anton Vysotsky (drums) also played on the EP, but recently left the band to return to their home countries, so From the Cave is now a three-piece. The bass and guitars for “Medieval”, “Halloween” and “Wasting Time” were recorded by Jules Gulon.

The EP kicks off with the rousing title track “Medieval (Pánico)” a delightful high-energy Latin-rock tune. Fast-paced riffs of scratchy guitars are paired with Anton’s assertive drums and swirling synths to create a powerful backdrop for Kristian’s commanding vocals, which are sung in Spanish, one of his two native languages (he was born in Copenhagen and partially raised in Majorca). The word Pánico signifies that there’s no reason to panic. The guitar work on the track is electrifying, and I love the harmonic backing vocals. It’s a fantastic song, and Kristian said it’s one of the tracks he’s most proud of.

Cavalier” was inspired by a London cabaret bar the band members have frequented, and basically tells a saga of falling in love with one of the waitresses there. The band employs all kinds of exotic synths and strings, including guitar and violin but also possibly zither or mandolin, to create an intriguing Eastern European sound that’s incredibly catchy and marvelous. Kristian’s vocals are captivating as he expresses his frustration that the object of his desire keeps rebuffing his romantic intentions. “I could be your cavalier if you like me. I’m sitting by the cabaret but you don’t mind me. / But angel, I’ve been waiting for long. Still I’m writing you songs.” I love it!

Next up is “Joshstafari,” a reggae-infused rock song inspired by an encounter Kristian had with a homeless man on the street while living in Hammersmith. The track opens with strange synth noises and a frantic guitar riff, then a rising choral yell signals a change in tempo to a languid reggae beat as Kristian begins to tell the tale of Joshstafari. I love his vocals, which sound so different on each song. Here, he seems to channel a bit of Sting, consciously or not, as if in homage to the early Police reggae tunes. The guitar work on this track is fantastic, speeding up then slowing down as the track progresses. In the bridge, Josh lets loose with a scorching punk-like guitar solo, then everything slows back down to a relaxed reggae beat in the outro.

Kristian has produced brilliant, imaginative videos for five of the six tracks on the EP, which I strongly recommend my readers check out on the band’s YouTube channel. Here’s the one he made for “Joshstafari”:

The hauntingly beautiful “Halloween” was actually my first introduction to From the Cave’s music, and I loved it at first listen. The song was written by Mikaela, and addresses the theme of death in a general sense, as in the death of a relationship or friendship. The track starts off with quiet, mysterious synths and plucky guitar accompanied by gentle percussion and a soft chorus that set a lovely tone. Mikaela’s beguiling vocals enter as the music swells with shimmering synths and layered chiming guitars, and Kristian’s vocals join in, harmonizing beautifully with Mikaela’s. The guitars, bass and drums become more intense as the song progresses, making for a dramatically sweeping soundscape that raises goosebumps. Be sure to watch this magical video:

Maybe Not Today” is a straightforward but upbeat pop-rock anthem about putting off an inevitable breakup of a relationship for another day: “The energy when we’re combined, always leaves me magnetized. So how could we still give it up. Maybe not today oh.” The final track “Wasting Time” is a sunny and carefree-sounding pop song with somewhat darker lyrics about remaining stuck in a less than optimal situation. “There’s a million voices telling me that I’ve got to get away from this empty space.” It’s catchy as hell though, with sparkling synths and jangly guitars, and the lovely harmonizing vocals of Josh and Mikaela are oh so pleasing, a word that perfectly describes the entire EP. It’s absolutely sublime, and a testament to the band’s fearlessness in creating music that strays beyond the alternative rock box. I adore From the Cave.

Connect with From the Cave:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

CHIO – EP Review: “Unlearned Lessons”

Chio EP

Chio is the artistic name of singer/songwriter Anthony Chiofalo, and this is his debut EP Unlearned Lessons, which dropped in August. The New York City-based artist plays rock music influenced by a whole assortment of alternative, grunge and garage bands, but with a style all his own. He recently had this to say regarding his sound: “People continue to ask specifically what artists my music sounds like. Fair enough, but I’m usually at a loss with that question. I had come up with some answers, but nothing that felt accurate. I also didn’t like to try to fit what I did into some other artist’s slot. That’s missing the whole point of writing original music. I have influences. Tons of them. But I never want to imitate, replicate or steer too close towards someone else’s creations. Otherwise I might as well just play their songs.

Well, to these old ears of mine, I hear bits of the Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows (specifically the vocals of Adam Duritz), and Tom Petty – all great bands I really like, so it would follow I’d like Chio’s music. He wrote all the lyrics and music, arranged all the songs, and played guitar, keyboards and sang on Unlearned Lessons. Jerome Giancola played bass and Justin Hofmann played drums, and both guys produced, recorded and engineered the songs.

About the EP’s title Unlearned Lessons, Chio explains that it comes from a lyric in one of the tracks called “Into the Waves“: “We all still feel it, subtle heat. Unlearned lessons, always repeat.” It’s the final track on the EP, but I’ll discuss it first. He goes on to state: “The song… is about growing up and feeling the pressure of so many different aspects of life, and getting fed up to where you just want to get away from it all. In the chorus, I use surfing as a metaphor for escape, singing ‘I just want to jump into the waves.’  Surfing’s my metaphor, but the line itself represents anything that helps you get away from the seemingly endless challenges we all have to deal with. It seems that until we figure out how to remove ourselves from whatever cycle we’re playing out, and find a way to move past the continuous and familiar problems we face time and time again, there is only temporary escape in whatever you do to get through it. Until you understand why you’re going through the same patterns and what’s at the root of it, your ‘unlearned lessons’ will always repeat.

Using layers of fuzzy and jangly electric guitars, Chio creates a palpable sense of tension, made even stronger with the addition of his own eerie electronically altered backing vocals.

The opening track “The Rebel Inside” touches on his self-image as a badass, at least while he was coming of age, but also that he has a vulnerable side, and his loved one’s hurtful actions may turn him away: “So maybe I’m not as hard as I thought I was at age 15 when I caught my first real buzz. But that don’t mean my mind won’t break when you put my pride at stake. But you seem to see right through me. You’re all that I’ve got and it’s gonna consume me. But I know it’s good to be choosy. Watch out maybe you’re about to lose me.” The track starts off with a gritty, reverb-heavy guitar riff and Chio’s earnest vocals setting a rather dark mood, then the music breaks open with gnarly guitars, humming bass and heavy drums and loads of crashing cymbals. It’s a great rock song.

Out of My Head” is a hard-driving kiss-off song, and Chio’s terrific guitar work is on full display. With bitter resignation, he tells is ex he’s done with her: “I think I’ll take it easy on myself and keep you out of my head. We threw so many words upon each other. Petty things better left unsaid. Now I only feel peace in myself. This moment’s my only future, and there’s no time left for you.” And speaking of kiss-off, he really goes for the jugular on “Haunted“: “There’s a special place in hell for people like you. The ones that take my heart, but don’t see it through. And I’m just vulnerable if you look too close. A sheet in a dark room, but you think that I’m a ghost. Now I’m haunted. I’m haunted by your ghost.” It’s an interesting track, beginning with a funereal organ synth that seems to represent the feelings of being haunted by the death of the relationship. The song then blasts wide open with shredded guitars and heavy drums, intensifying the emotions expressed in the lyrics. I especially like the catchy little guitar riff Chio plays in the choruses.

Chio tackles obsessive, unrequited love on “Long Distance,” where he addresses someone who’s obsessed with a guy she’s never even met: “You know you love him, but you won’t say a word. And if you love him well, why hasn’t he heard. Know the reason why you keep your feelings inside. When you see him, you run and you hide.” I love the Tom Petty-like guitar work on this track.

Unlearned Lessons is a great little EP and an impressive debut effort from Chio that should make him proud. His honest, thoughtful lyrics are written from the heart, and his ability to set them to dynamic melodies and bring them to life with his skillful guitar playing make for some very solid rock songs.

To learn more about Chio, check out his Website/Blog

Connect with him on Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

9fm – EP Review: “Little House”

9fm - Jarrod Pedone

I recently learned about an outstanding musician who goes by the artistic name 9fm – short for Ninth Floor Mannequin – after he posted his music on my friend Roy’s music sharing website Chatsong. 9fm is the moniker for the solo music project of New Jersey-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone, and I was instantly moved by his arresting sound the moment I heard it. He melds folk with alternative rock, injecting bits of synth pop here and there to create incredibly pleasing music that seems to draw influences from such artists as Fleet Foxes, Paul Simon and Sufjan Stevens. And not only is his music brilliant and captivating, his poetic lyrics are so deeply compelling and filled with meaning that they seem almost Shakespearean. He’s just released a five-track EP Little House, and it’s marvelous.

Before getting into the EP, a bit of background about Jarrod to provide some context for his music, in his own words:

Before 9/2/12, I was a full-time musician, recording engineer and composer. On that evening while out for a run, I was struck by an intoxicated driver. I suffered a laundry list of injuries, the most concerning of which was the traumatic brain injury. When I eventually woke up, I learned that outpatient physical and mental therapy understandably left something to be desired in regard to musician’s skills recovery. I naturally resumed my career path. Little did I know that creating music was now going to be by far the most significant source of therapy that I’d experience.”

9fm2

9fm writes, performs, records, mixes and masters all this own original music, and to my ears, I’d say he’s recovered from his injuries quite admirably. He released his debut album Green & Blue for Blackness in 2016, and followed in late 2017 with the EP 5 Characters (In Search of an Exit), both of which are superb. Little House dropped on September 3.

The title track “Little House” kicks off the EP with layers of shimmering synths and fuzzy guitars set to a galloping drumbeat, gently transporting us into to a dreamy soundscape. Jarrod’s warm vocals are lovely, and even more so when backed by his own soaring harmonies as he plaintively sings of letting down his guard and being honest with his true feelings – that he wants to settle down and be married to the one he’s loved for a long while: “To say it all aloud. The things that I had thought for years. I wouldn’t want a change. I wouldn’t change. I want a little house & rings.”

Tin God” sees him coming to the realization that his lifelong quest to be the best, to be on top, to win, has come at a price, and in the end, did not bring the happiness he’d expected: “The goal was clear from day one. Perfect the game, sharing first place with no one./ Sleep in the hall. No time at all for love now. A legend or a tin god. I risked my life for just one try to dethrone. Well in the end, I did win best of all time. Not worth my time, you keep it, you can keep it.” The track has a progressive rock feel, with reverb-heavy chiming guitars, industrial sounding synths, assertive percussion and echoed vocals. I love the rather haunting melody that weaves throughout the song.

And speaking of melodies, “Allow Me” has one that’s absolutely captivating, in stark contrast to the song’s dark theme. The track opens with glittery, pulsating synths, then expands into a gorgeous soundscape of delicate guitar chords and sparkling keyboards, led by a gentle, driving beat. Jarrod’s layered harmonic vocals are beautiful, bringing chills as they soar. The biting lyrics speak to the facades people create to mask their fears, phoniness and uglier sides, and that doing so only diminishes them: “Lies & smiles are all we are. I think that I can’t keep up. Allow me to let loose, to scream it all. It feels so good to yell out all the truth & the hate that we hold.

Good People Bad” was inspired by a Twilight Zone episode called “The Shelter.” In a nutshell, a group of neighbors are at a dinner party at the home of the only family to have installed a bomb shelter (nuclear war hysteria was rampant in the late 50s-early 60s). After hearing a news bulletin warning of an impending nuclear attack, the neighbors panic and turn against the family that installed the shelter and, eventually, each other. (Quite frankly, this episode should be required viewing for everyone right now.)  Once again, the song’s hauntingly beautiful melody and music contrast with the dark lyrics. “The radio sent us all a noose. We pass it around ’til it’s right. The power of numbers can drive good people bad. Left no choice but to fight.”

The meaning of the final track “Absences V2.0” was a bit ambiguous to me, with my best guess being that it’s about how we identify ourselves and others through the prism of all the factors that comprise our belief systems and biases. But 9fm told me it relates to his accident, specifically about getting blood transfusions and how he lost some of his senses that were damaged: “We exaggerate the loves we lost on the way. Missing less each day, the pain, smell, touch & taste. The times that we had seems like they were fine. The saying isn’t true. Absences & hearts go fine.” Musically, the song is the most experimental of the five tracks, with mesmerizing chord progressions, otherworldly synths, and interesting guitar work.

To sum up, I can’t gush enough over this beautiful little EP. I love everything about 9fm’s songs; his lyrics, melodies, instrumentals, vocals, track arrangements and overall production values are all exceptional. I am a dedicated fan!

Connect with 9fm:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloud / iTunes
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

I FIGHT FAIL – Single Review: “Silhouettes”

Silhouettes

I Fight Fail is an Alternative/Electronic/Emo/Rock band from Canton, Ohio. Consisting of Andy Potter on lead vocals and bass, Daryl Johnson on guitar and backing vocals and Anthony Carter on drums, the band formed in 2014, after the guys had played together in previous bands. Their band name is about perseverance, in their words “a state of mind or an idea that you have to keep going forward even when you fall down.”

Fusing alternative rock with an electronic/pop sound, I Fight Fail creates music that’s fresh, smart and incredibly pleasing. They released their debut EP Move Me in 2014, then followed two years later with their second EP Voyages and Vantage Points, both of which are excellent. In January 2018, they dropped a new single “Silhouettes,” which will be included on a forthcoming third EP, to be released in 2019.

The song is a sort of coming of age anthem, spoken from the point of view of teenagers eager to jump headlong into adulthood, but still struggling to find their way forward and forge their identities: “You were skipping school and I felt cool cause I was older. We broke all the rules, and I let you cry onto my shoulder. / And we can’t wait to start planning our escape. We’re all lost, we’re all lost in our heads. Bring us back. Bring us back from the dead. We are silhouettes.”

Musically, the guys make generous use of glittery synths, delicate keyboards, chiming guitars and snappy drums to create a joyful sense of hopefulness and optimism, but with a serious undercurrent that keeps the song grounded in reality. Andy’s smooth, earnest vocals are really nice, as are the guys’ soaring choruses that appear later in the track. It’s a wonderful song.

Connect with I Fight Fail:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

FUTURE THEORY – Single Review: “Peace of Mind”

Piece of Mind

I’ve featured quite a few artists and bands from the UK on this blog, and one of my favorites is the astonishingly talented Future Theory. The Lincolnshire-based foursome consists of Max Sander on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Moore on lead guitar, Rex Helley on bass, and Rohan Parrett on drums. Drawing inspiration from Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Soundgarden, Audioslave, Queens of the Stone Age, Coldplay and The Verve – and how can you possibly go wrong with inspiration from those legendary bands? – they’ve developed a lavish sound built on elements of alternative and progressive rock, shoegaze, psychedelia and funk. I’m not exaggerating when I use the word ‘astonishing’ to describe them, as their outstanding songwriting and musicianship has a complexity and depth that’s impressive for such a young band. And Max’s amazing vocal style possesses a nuanced emotional intensity that seems mature beyond his years.

Future Theory4

Future Theory released their spectacular debut EP Fool’s Dream in 2016 (which I reviewed), then followed in April of this year with a brilliant single “Fractured Nation,” which I also reviewed. Today they return with a new single “Peace of Mind,” and it’s another stellar track with complex melodies, intelligent lyrics and dazzling instrumentation.

The song kicks off with exuberant jangly guitars, crystalline synths and sharp percussion, all melding together to paint a rich tapestry of sound. Max’s sultry vocals have a raw, vulnerable quality that’s quite pleasing to my ears, though it’s sometimes difficult to understand some of the lyrics he’s singing. The instrumentals build to a turbulent mix of heavy bass, piercing guitars and crashing cymbals in the bridge, then break down to clear jangly riffs that seem to sparkle like glitter on the airwaves through to the end of the track. It’s a dark and beautiful song.

The lyrics speak to the struggle of maintaining a loving relationship by reassuring your significant other of your love and devotion in the face of her alcohol addiction: “Forget about your day and your worries now. Go back into the warmth and find your wants in supply. Cause I adore you and all the things you do for me.” But then he’s trying to hold on to his peace of mind while applying some tough love to convince her to quit drinking: “I gotta stay here. Piece of warmth. Peace of mind. Be so warm, be so quiet. Love factor aside, you need a kick in your behind. You try to make her realize the alcohol don’t fix inside.

Connect with Future Theory:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Google Play /  YouTube
Purchase on:  iTunes /  Bandcamp

Album Review – no mad: “Motions in Black”

no mad album

no mad is a rather unique alternative funk-rock band. It was formed in 2017 by five nomadic professional musicians with the purpose of recording songs that would eventually become the album Motions in Black, which dropped in late May. They’re all pretty talented artists, as evidenced by their superb melodic, guitar-driven rock sound. Though based in London, UK, they refer to themselves as “nomads in a nomadic world.” The band’s songwriter provided some background information about no mad and how Motions in Black came to be.

“The band really started with the songwriter unearthing old songs from cardboard boxes in 2016. Some of these songs had been written 20-30 years ago but never recorded. He met a few friends, friends of friends, etc., and in 2017 the band was formed to record a first 10-song album (the repertoire has a total of 40-50 songs, so plenty for more albums to come!). The songs that were chosen for the debut album Motions in Black were some of the older songs and also some of the darker ones, perhaps with some 1990s nostalgia. 

The five members of the band that recorded the album included the singer, guitarist, bassist, drummer, and the songwriter who did back-vocals and other bits. As modern nomads and London musicians, we came from very different backgrounds as well as music genres. The “D” in no mad is the “The Doctor.” He’s an incredible drummer and has been involved in lots of rock and metal projects, toured in Europe etc. In 2017 he became a father. His family settled in Lisbon and he had to leave London, so sadly, the band was down one. 

The band members are not really trying to stay anonymous, but they like their privacy, and being all professional musicians, they are also busy on other musical projects of their own. Fans can probably figure out who they are by following the tags in some tweets or Instagram pictures. It’s just that no mad believe in the power of the songs, the melodies and lyrics. It’s not about who we are or how we look, it’s about the music and message. Having said that, we’re not hiding either. “The NO” came to England when he was 13. He’s a brilliant guitarist who lives for his music. “The M” is an amazing bassist who’s been involved in lots of rock and metal bands, is a reference on his instrument, and has also settled in London after coming over from Europe. Singer-drummer “The A” is a bit of a different case ’cause he thinks he’s an alien, and actually calls himself “Alien”. He won’t say which planet he’s from though…. your guess is as good as ours on that one!”

The album kicks off nicely with the funky and upbeat “Car Jam.” A delightfully funky bass line, snappy drums and jazzy organ form a solid foundation for layers of intricate guitar work and lively vocals. The lyrics are an admonition to a rigid, uptight person to just loosen up, quit being so judgmental and have a good time – get down with the funk and do the car jam baby! no mad takes a more serious turn on “Just Another Love Story,” a song about trying to convince yourself a relationship is over, but you can’t get over her and keep imagining you see her everywhere you go. “But each time I’m feeling blue. I fall into some freaking view. Over you.” The guitar work is awesome, continuously surprising us with new textures that go from chiming to funky to bluesy, and everything in between. The percussion is fantastic too, with flourishes of military-style drumbeats that seem to drive home the bitterness expresses in the lyrics. It’s a great track; guitar-driven rock doesn’t get much better than this.

The beautifully-filmed video shows “The M” walking around Camden, where he thinks he repeatedly spots his old girlfriend.

Another standout track, and one of my favorites, is the dark “To the Other Side.” The gorgeous haunting melody hits you right between the ears, and as always, the guitar work is splendid. The impassioned vocals of “The A” have a seductive, yet slightly dangerous quality as he sings the lyrics that could mean he’s about to die or is suffering from a mental breakdown. “You know I love you Donna. Don’t want to leave you now. You know I love you don’ya. I’ll never let you down.” I really like the play on the words “Donna” and “don’ya.” The backing female vocals are beguiling, and add to the song’s haunting vibe.

As the album progresses, I’m blown away by the band’s ability to write such beautiful and memorable melodies. “Anna” has a fantastic hook, along with plenty of rock grooves that make for a really nice track. The song’s about a women who seems lost in her own world, with the singer trying to break through to her. “Anna, Pretty Anna what do you see? When you’re waiting for a message but there’s nothing on the screen. How d’you feel?” Clocking in at nearly six minutes, “Sweet Loneliness” has an almost epic quality, with extensive lyrics that read like a long, deep poem: “Why did you have to go so soon. It’s like you left an empty room. You filled my life with your absence.  Pronounced an unfinished sentence. Sweet loneliness, my old friend I’ve come to be with you again. You are my peace, my consolation. And I’ll be with you till the end.” The bluesy riffs and haunting melody are positively mesmerizing, and I can safely state that I’m head over heels in love with this album, even though I’m only halfway through it!

Next up is the gorgeous title track “Motions in Black.” The track starts off with “The A” singing “Da da da da da da da” to a jangly acoustic guitar, then the track opens up into an achingly beautiful melodic riff of jangly and bluesy guitars. The song was written in 1985, and speaks to a love that used to be: “If you wanta be anything to me. I’ll take no other feeling than your sentiment of love. And if you want a chat. Why don’t we talk it over. Motions in black.” It’s absolutely sublime, and another of my favorite tracks on the album.

The guys return to a funky mood with “Get Along,” essentially an anti-war song that urges us to stop fighting and learn to love and accept one another and get along: “We’re all sons of the World. On this I’ll give you my word. We’ve been waiting too long. Why can’t we all get along?” The bouncy and funky “Downtown” tells the saga of Betty, who went to the big city to try and make it on her looks and charm, but ended up in trouble and on the streets. “She’s not a bitch or a witch I realized. She’s just another human being. / I hear an angel crying. Down Town.”

Mental Revolution” is an interesting track, with two completely different melodies. The song opens with a soaring anthemic chorus, then abruptly transitions to an uptempo funk-infused rock reminiscent of the kind the Average White Band played back in the 70s. The anthemic chorus is repeated halfway through, then the melody shifts back to the funky rock tempo. Album closer “Tonight” is an upbeat rock song of love and devotion: “Tonight, I want you to know. Wherever you go I’ll be there for you.” The track features some fine guitar and keyboards.

To sum up, Motions in Black is a fantastic album and stellar debut for no mad. It really showcases their skill for writing poetic lyrics and gorgeous, guitar-driven melodies, and bringing them to magnificent life. I eagerly look forward to them recording more of those already-written songs.

Connect with no mad:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  Bandcamp / iTunes

AGENCY PANIC – Single Review: “Panic”

Agency Panic 2

Agency Panic is an alternative/progressive metal rock band based in Wexford, Ireland, and in July they made an auspicious debut with the release of their powerful new single “Panic.” It’s the first song off what they are calling their ‘drip feed’ EP, which is being released one song at a time. Making the hard-hitting noise are J.D.K. on vocals, Tubs on guitars, Lee on bass, and Revsy on drums.

“Panic” is four minutes and 49 seconds of hard rock perfection. The track opens with a blast of crashing drums and fierce guitar, and never lets up. The guitar work is phenomenal – Tubs sets the airwaves afire with scorching riffs of shredded and wailing guitars that are pure bliss for those of us who love intense, guitar-driven melodic rock. Lee lays down a solid bedrock of heavy bass, while Revsy pounds his drum kit like a man possessed. J.D.K.’s strong, passionate vocals are chilling as he snarls the dark lyrics, becoming downright feral in the song’s finale when he screams the words alongside the raging guitars, sending shivers up and down my spine.

It’s an incredible song that leaves me wanting to hear more from this amazing group of musicians, and I cannot wait for their next single! The intense black and white video shows the band performing the song in a darkened room with ominous-looking shadows, alternating with scenes of a man stealing, then destroying, medical records and cutting off his fingerprints in what appears to be an attempt to hide his very existence. Later in the video are scenes of civil unrest and other disturbing images, juxtaposed with the band’s performance of the now almost violent music and vocals. Have a look and prepare to be blown away:

Connect with Agency Panic:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Panic” on  Spotify /  Apple Music
Purchase on  Bandcamp /  iTunes