SHIPS HAVE SAILED – Single Review: “Escape”

Ships Have Sailed

I’ve followed Los Angeles duo Ships Have Sailed on Twitter for a couple of years, but have somehow neglected featuring them on this blog. I’m now remedying that sad situation, as they’ve just released a beautiful and deeply moving new single “Escape“, and I love it. Ships Have Sailed is the brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Will Carpenter, and after collaborating with a number of fellow musicians starting around 2012, the lineup now permanently includes drummer Art Andranikyan. They play a pleasing and infectious style of pop-rock characterized by memorable melodies and thoughtful, uplifting lyrics. I had the pleasure of meeting Will last year in Los Angeles, and his gentle kindness comes through in his sublime vocals.

Ships Have Sailed released their debut EP Someday in 2013, and followed two years later with Moodswings. They also released a few EPs between 2015 and 2017 that featured remixes or acoustic versions of previously recorded songs. More recently, they dropped two stellar singles – “Up” in 2017 and “Let’s Just Dance” in 2018, along with some great remixes for both. Their latest effort is “Escape”, which dropped on February 22nd, and I think it’s one of their best songs yet.

From the moment we hear the opening guitar chords and delicate synths, we’re enveloped by a warm and heavenly soundscape. Then Will’s soft, comforting vocals enter the mix, and it’s pure bliss. He has a beautiful voice that melds perfectly with the gentle instrumentals. The music intensifies in the third verse as Art’s crashing cymbals and assertive drumbeats bring drama to the track. Will’s vocals rise to the occasion, becoming raw and impassioned, raising goosebumps on the back of my neck.

The song speaks to a person struggling with personal demons and addiction. About the inspiration behind the song, Will explains: “Everyone has struggled. Born as the stark expression of an especially trying year, ‘Escape’ represents a shift from what we’ve become best known for, exposing a more vulnerable angle. It represents musical honesty in its most raw form, and we truly hope it makes you feel something.

So you stumble through the world run against the grain…
There’s a demon in your mind with a boiling rage…
Screaming at the sky do you feel insane? Someone better hold you down.
Someone better figure you out…
Someone better hold you down…
Get off this ride…

If you look into the sky can you feel the rain?
Does the needle in your arm take away the pain?
Do you wonder if you’ll ever find a home again…
beyond this cheap escape…my friend.

The powerful and stunning video shows scenes of Will and Art performing the song, alternating with scenes of a young man experiencing emotional turmoil. Filmed in and around Los Angeles, it was directed by Michael Easterling & Jaala Ruffman of Talkboy TV, and produced by Ruffman. The cinematography was done by David Parks, and the actors are Caleb Thomas, Zarah Ruffman & Clarity Ruffman.

To learn more about Ships Have Sailed, check out their Website

Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes  / Google Play

GRAVITY CASTLE – Single Review: “I’ll Just Be Me”

I'll Just Be Me - Cover

Gravity Castle is the music project of Oliver Kersey and Gabriel Gledhill, and they just dropped a wonderful new single “I’ll Just Be Me“. The duo are seasoned musicians and multi-instrumentalists based in Provo, Utah. Prior to joining forces, each was independently involved in music for more than a decade, and between the two of them play more than 10 instruments.  Oliver, who’s originally from England and moved from London to Utah with his fiancé in 2012, met Gabriel while he was performing with another artist at a cafe in Provo one night, but nothing clicked between them.

A few years later they reconnected, and by that time, Oliver was performing as Oli K. Gabriel and two other musicians joined Oliver, and Oli K became a band. Unfortunately, people kept getting their name wrong, and the final straw came on the night of July 4, 2016 when the band was performing at a festival in Ogden. The PA announcement of the festival activities, which was on a continuous loop, kept referring to their band as “Oil K”. Almost immediately afterward, the band was rechristened Salt Valley. They released an excellent EP Roots in 2017, and had a successful run, but two years later Oliver and Gabriel decided to split off as a duo, whereupon Gravity Castle was born in September 2018.

The two share a versatility for writing, recording, and producing all their music in their own, self-built home studio. They released their debut EP Beginnings in December 2018, featuring five beautiful tracks, and in January 2019, they released their first music video for one of the tracks “I’m Sorry.” They also launched their YouTube vlog series Gravity Files, where they discuss their music, songwriting tips, their approach to the music business, and more. Check it out, as well as their music videos, on their YouTube Channel. “I’ll Just Be Me” was released on February 20th.

It’s an upbeat pop-rock song with a message that it’s okay to be yourself, and not allow others’ expectations define who you are: “Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit all the roles I’m paired with. I redefine, I walk a line. Know I’m going nowhere. Biding my time with questions. It doesn’t take much to keep me laughing. This could go forever to figure out why I know I’m doing just fine.

Musically, the track is a vibrant soundscape of sparkling and spacey synths, accompanied by beautiful chiming guitar, subtle bass and a spirited parade of skittering drumbeats. Oliver’s resonant vocals are heartfelt and charming, and I really like Gabriel’s backing falsetto harmonies. The distorted refrain of “I’ll Just Be Me” adds interest to the track. Throw in the catchy melody, and it all makes for a delightful feel-good anthem.

Connect with Gravity Castle on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

PHYSIA – EP Review: “Physia”

physia

I continue to be amazed and a little amused that I’ve gained a reputation as a music blogger who artists and bands reach out to in hopes I’ll listen to and write about their music, especially given the fact I play no instruments, cannot read music, have never written a song, and know zero about computer music programs or synthesizers. Hell, I only learned a few years ago that a bass guitar has only four strings as opposed to a standard six-string guitar! That said, I’m immensely impressed by people who can do all those things. I also try to keep an open mind about all kinds of music, and (almost always) know a good song when I hear it.

With that in mind, I’m pleased to feature a young, promising musician from Canada who goes by the artistic name PHYSIA. It’s the basement project of 19-year-old college student James Bings, who just released his self-titled debut EP Physia on the 25th of January. Now based in Victoria, James grew up in the small city of Williams Lake, deep in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, and learned to play guitar and bass at a young age. He developed his skills performing live with his late grandfather, mostly jig and waltz songs. Drawing inspiration from bands like Mac Demarco, HOMESHAKE and Mild High Club, he wrote the songs for Physia during his freshman year of university, and recorded, produced and mixed them by himself. He played guitar and bass, and used synthesizers for the percussion.

james bing

His songs are all instrumentals, characterized by his lush-sounding reverb-drenched guitars, subtle bass and gentle percussion. The first track “Cool Cat” is an aptly-named, pleasing song with jazz-infused jangly guitars and just a hint of percussion. The title track “Physia” is sublime, with a lovely melody and terrific jangly and chiming guitars. I especially like the watery guitars that appear later in the song that add a bit of funkiness to the track. “Beach Interlude” is a short track, only 1:16 minutes long, but it’s a beauty, with some fine guitar work that conveys images of a romantic night on the beach.

Nice Dog” is a mellow, happy tune with jazzy, reverb-heavy riffs, accompanied by a pleasant little percussive beat. The song seems to end at the 3-minute mark, then suddenly starts back up with a sped-up version of the same melody and guitar riff, ending on an exuberant note. “Floral” is another brief track, but James’ intricate guitar work is really beautiful.

My favorite is “Drag Queen” which has the most complex and fully-developed melody of all the tracks. The sweeping jangly and chiming guitars are gorgeous, and I love the effect of James’ soaring vocals that meld so beautifully with the guitars, creating a wonderful glittery soundscape. I asked James why he gave the track that title, and he said he was inspired by RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he and his girlfriend enjoy watching. The laughter of who I’m guessing is James and his girlfriend at the end is a fun touch.

Physia is a great little EP, and a very respectable debut effort that James should be proud of. He’s a fine guitarist and composer, and I really like his sound. I’m confident his skills will continue to grow and improve as he matures, and I’d like to see him use more complex melodies, guitar riffs and synths,  and perhaps even try writing lyrics and adding more vocals to his songs.

The cool artwork for the EP was created by graphic and digital artist, editor/motion designer and composer Harrison Ames Barrett  https://www.ames.digital/

Connect with Physia on Instagram / Facebook
Stream/purchase his music on Spotify / Bandcamp / Soundcloud / iTunes

WARMER – Album Review: “Anthropocene”

anthropocene

I always enjoy learning about talented artists who’ve been making really great, innovative music for years that somehow slipped under my radar, then making up for lost time by listening to their back catalog of songs. One of the more interesting artists I’ve discovered recently is Warmer, the solo project of singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Gunn. Based in the bucolic Western Oregon city of Eugene, Warmer fuses elements of Alternative, Metal, Industrial, Electronic and Art Rock to create singularly unique music that pushes boundaries, stirs our emotions and gives us a lot to think about. He cites as some of his influences the likes of Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Sigur Ros, The Black Heart’s Procession, David Bowie, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Interpol, Spanking Dynamite, Faith No More, Beck, Diffuse, 16 volt, Depeche Mode, The Cure, “and a bunch of bad pop I don’t want to admit to.” Hey, we all have our guilty pleasures!

warmer (jesse gunn)

Since releasing his debut self-titled EP in 2005, Warmer has been quite prolific, dropping seven albums – some containing between 15 and 22 tracks! – as well as writing several soundtrack scores for films and video games. His latest effort is Anthropocene, a brilliant and scathing diatribe on the current fucked-up climate situation on several fronts – political, social and environmental. His songs are filled with powerful and biting lyrics, set to often dense and complex soundscapes.

Before getting to the music, I thought I’d provide a little geology lesson to explain the album’s title. Though not yet an officially recognized geologic time period, the term “Anthropocene” has been proposed by earth scientists to define the current period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment as a new epoch in the Geologic Time Scale. The word combines the root “anthropo”, meaning “human” with the root “-cene”, the standard suffix for “epoch” in geologic time. Debate has raged for years as to when this epoch began, with some placing it as early as 12,000 years ago with the rise of agriculture (which would generally coincide with the current Holocene epoch), the late 1700s with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, or even as recent as 1945, with the detonation of the first nuclear bomb (though most dismiss this later date). But what is agreed upon is that the Anthropocene identifies Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now being significantly altered by humans.

The album opens with “Anthropocene Theme“, a somber and haunting piano instrumental that sets the tone for what’s to come. Then Warmer launches into an epic take down of humankind and the abuse we heap upon our planet with “Our Mother“. Starting off with a simple piano riff, moody synths and harsh percussion gradually enter the mix, creating a strong sense of foreboding. Warmer’s raw vocals are filled with anger as he lists the ways we are hurting our mother earth: “The earth our mother, she’s really sick, and its no wonder she’s got a hit on us. We drain her blood right from out of the ground. We drop our bombs and we leave our shit around.” He then shifts to a falsetto as he sings about how so many people are more concerned with their own personal appearance and well-being than the earth they live on: “I want to live forever. I want a real good health plan. I wanna stay looking so young with botox and collagen.” His vocals are backed by his own whispers, adding a menacing feel to the dirge-like track.

The brilliant and provocative video opens with American currency floating down, then scenes of nature, both beautiful and brutal, are shown until the song is abruptly interrupted by jarring images and a dire announcement of a possible attack from space – a nuclear attack perhaps? This is followed by the sound of a man screaming, then footage of President Trump calling global warming a hoax. As the song resumes, we’re shown images of man’s destruction and pollution, followed by scenes of space and a volcanic eruption. Once the song ends, we see a static-covered scene of an American flag, with the camera closing onto an expanding hole within it, accompanied by an increasingly distorted and harsh refrain of the song’s somber melody.

On “Pretty Bait Click Machine” Warmer addresses our manipulation by social media to the point of obsession (I’m sadly guilty as charged), and being perfectly complacent about staying in our own information bubbles “It’s so safe on the inside of this echo chamber that I hide. Cuz I will never see a different point of view other than me. It’s engineered algorithmically feeding the pretty click bait machine./We are just meat machines eating the programming. Notify me with dopamine. I’ll keep on posting endlessly.” This track is more guitar-driven, with light industrial synths and a rather upbeat melody that belies the serious lyrics. And by this point, I’m already hooked on Warmer’s rich and varied vocal style, which at times reminds me of Rufus Wainwright and Matt Berninger (of The National and EL VY).

Gimmie” speaks to man’s bottomless greed and willingness to destroy anything and everything in order to get more material things: “We’re just a bunch of animals raping the world we love. Don’t kind yourself, we’re not cultured and civil. Killing for the gods above. Gimmie precious oil and nicotine. Killing in the name of greed./Whatcha gonna do with all that stuff? When is enough really ever enough?” “Sugar” is about the conflicting feelings of employing a hooker: needing the sexual pleasures they provide, yet condemning the life choices they’ve made. Warmer’s vocals are seductive as he croons: “Be my vacation in this sea side hotel room. A skin destination I’m gonna crawl all over you. Please be my sugar baby. I need you so bad honey. Evolution is dead. It’s all about the money. Oh my sugar baby this is no way to live.” The track features gritty industrial and psychedelic synths and a low-key surf guitar. On “Lip Service” he ruminates on life choices and paths taken, wondering about different outcomes: “In times like these we analyze. we pick apart our very lives. Oh what could i have become if my fears had not won.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Orange Maniac“, a bitter renunciation of the vile cretin currently occupying the American White House, whom I despise with every fiber of my being. The song is dark, with a beautiful but mournful piano riff and an alternating mix of glittery (beautiful) and harsh (ugly) synths. Warmer’s vocals also vary, going from plaintive when he sings “Orange maniac he’s ruling me” to sneering: “You had better fall in line. You had better know your place. My world has become Anthropocene because my tiny handed president is an illiterate.” On the bleak and discordant “adaywhennothinggoeswrong“, he sings of wishing for a problem-free day. The track has a bit of a Nine Inch Nails vibe.

Channeling both Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode, Warmer delivers gnarly guitars, gravelly bass and ominous industrial synths on the dark instrumental track “This is Your Warning“. “The Great Dying” opens with sounds of his labored breathing, then he forlornly laments of the coming end of humanity: “Life used to be much more simple. I knew of less tragedies and friends were real people. Oh honey I’m not a rich man. I won’t be able to save you in the end. When they come to your home for your genome, crispr’s gonna take a piece out of you. We will draw the line that defines who survives the Great dying.” The music alternates between a gloomy piano-driven melody and a barrage of thrashing industrial synths and fierce percussion. It’s a hard-hitting and monumental track.

The video combines both tracks, first showing only explosive flashes against a black backround for “This is Your Warning”, then psychedelically distorted scenes from old TV shows and commercials for “The Great Dying”. Credit for both this video and the one for “Our Mother” goes to Jon Curry.

Warmer gives us a much-needed interlude with the hauntingly beautiful piano instrumental “Waltz for Bonnie“, which showcases yet another aspect of his impressive musicianship. He closes out the album on a jolt back to cruel reality with “House of Slaughter“, a very depressing song about the horrors of working in a slaughterhouse that really speaks to the larger issue that animals must die to satisfy mankind’s appetite for meat. Musically, the track is simple, featuring only Warmer’s strummed acoustic guitar and mournful vocals that convey a sense of numbness and sad resignation as he sings: “Damn the clang of the bell. Jolts me back into hell, my dreams my only escape. I try to wash off the stink from my face into sink. It hangs in the air like a mist. Off to another day, deaf to cries of helpless. Their calls heard for miles around. Yes this is, a house of slaughter. Yes this is hell on earth. It sticks inside my clothes. It’s always in my nose, the evidence of my cruel day. And if it comes down to it you know that i’d do it. Just know that i’ll eat you first. Cuz you are the sweetest meat, the sweetest I’ve ever seen.

OK, now I’m feeling pretty numb myself, yet also blown away by the sheer power of this dark and brilliant album. Warmer holds nothing back as he stirs our senses with incredible soundscapes, while punching us in the gut with his brutally honest and compelling lyrics. Anthropocene is an important album that needs to be heard by as many ears as possible.

Connect with Warmer on Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

Artist Spotlight/Review: DUNKIE

dunkie singles

Dunkie is the music project of Welsh singer/songwriter Anthony Price. Hailing from the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Anthony has written and recorded songs for several years, and more recently, has been working on his forthcoming debut album Working to Design. It’s a concept album of sorts, with all the songs partially inspired by the books and works of Richard Matheson.  It’s also an ambitious labor of love, as Anthony has toiled countless long hours getting each track perfect, as well as making imaginative videos for some of the songs.  He’s released four tracks thus far, beginning with “Can a Song Save Your Life?” in May 2018, and subsequently dropping another single every two to three months. The songs were all written by Anthony and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by Wayne Bassett at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales. Besides Anthony and Wayne, an assortment of other musicians and vocalists performed on each track, as will be noted below. Also, an interesting aspect of the creation of this album is the use of dramatic artwork by Welsh artist Michael Gustavius Payne for each single.

Can A Song Save Your Life?” is a lovely, optimistic song with a rich and eclectic mix of instruments that make for an interesting and enjoyable listen. For this track, dunkie consists of Anthony Price on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and keys, Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, EBow, electric guitar and percussion, Charlotte Jayne on violins and trumpets, and Lucy Athey and Mark Purnell on backing vocals. Anthony’s tenor vocals are heartfelt and pleasing.

Anthony describes the song’s meaning: “The concept behind this song is trying to find a little hope; when all really seems a little lost. When the deepest, darkest moment seems to smother over you, when it suffocates you. ‘You don’t know how IT began…’, but then the littlest gesture lifts, the smallest moment lifts, a piece of music, a film or song you love just lifts you. You step back that one little moment and look around. I hope this makes a little sense and someone understands. I hope you’ll find it in yourself as I thankfully have.”

About the fascinating and charming video, he explains: “Over some two years ago I had written a few video concepts for my songs. I knew I wanted people to be wearing masks. I loved the metaphor of hiding behind many a mask. Oscar Wilde once said ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth’. The ‘dunkie’ name and music is my mask. So I wanted to represent the mask in these videos. In particular I wanted to represent them by the use of Wintercroft Masks. Each mask is a downloadable PDF template, each mask has to be created individually, and each mask can take about 2-4 hours each to create (longer if you’re me!!). Added here was the decorative design I wanted to include by adding my own song lyrics, in multiple languages (and the entire pages of Crime and Punishment) upon each mask face.”

Sugar” is a sweet (no pun intended) love song of thanks to a partner who has stood by you through good times and bad, with unconditional love. Anthony’s gentle vocals and guitar work are sublime, and he’s assisted on this track by Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, percussion and programming, Dave Healey with additional electric guitar, and Lucy Athey, who provides lovely and ethereal backing vocals.

Thank you for whispering ‘I love you’ 
Thank you smiling when you are down 
Thank you for sharing your life with me 
I’m thankful dreams like these have come 
Thank you for today 
I’m thankful that you stayed 
I’m thankful sugar melts away

Rabbit Hole” is a poignant song that seems to be about coming to terms with loss. Anthony wistfully sings: “Tumble and fall, this rabbit-hole is funnel-webbed and soaring. I fear I’ll never reach this endless horror I fold upon myself…  Another pill dissolves; I’m crawling faster to the edge. To the edge for you.” The track has a serene, rather bittersweet melody with gentle guitar, synths and percussion, and the vocal harmonies are really nice. For this track, Anthony sang vocals and played acoustic guitar, Rob Lear sang backing vocals and played Moog, electric guitar and percussion, Dorian Richard Holmes played bass, and Jennifer Drew played drums.

The video shows an extended family coming together for a picnic to remember a loved one, a child perhaps? Anthony leaves the interpretation up to the listener: “I’d love to hear your thoughts on the concept/theme and what it evokes in you. Both lyrically and visually, ‘Rabbit Hole’ covers the same subject, so we’re not too far from the same page. I’ll leave it at that.”

(W.A.L.L.S.) Within a Little Love Song” is a beautiful love song with more of a rock feel than the other three tracks, thanks to a greater prominence of electric guitars. But it still has the pleasing qualities that all of dunkie’s songs possess, with rich instrumentation and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The lyrics are a reminder to a loved one that even though you may not say it as often as you used to, your love for them is as strong as ever:

(You know) yesterday I loved you 
(Don’t forget) I have and always will 
(But through) the years I spoke it lessened 
(Know this) my love’s never subdued 

So I’ve found these words to sing 
And they’re all for you, they’re all for you 
My need to show within a love song – within a love song

For this track, Anthony sang vocals, played acoustic and electric guitar, bass, harmonica and percussion, Wayne played electric guitar and synths, Paul Maskell played additional electric guitar, Karl James played drums, and Matt Williams sang backing choral vocals.

All four tracks are wonderful, and if the rest of them are even half as good, then Working to Design is going to be an incredible album. I love dunkie’s calm, lovely sound and could listen to their songs over and over.

Connect with dunkie on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google PlaySpotify / Soundcloud

BetaPSI – Single Review: “Psychosomatic”

betapsi psychosomatic

BetaPSI is the music project of Italian singer/songwriter/producer Barbara Benedetti. Based in Trieste, BetaPSI (also symbolized by the characters βψ) is a fascinating woman and artist who creates innovative alternative electronic rock music that’s thoroughly unique and unlike anything I’ve heard from any other musician. She provides a wonderful description of herself and her music in her bio that I can’t improve upon, so will just quote her words:

“I am β. an Italian songwriter. I grew up listening to all music genres, I love music itself. Suddenly, around March 2016, all the music I’ve listened to throughout my life, started pushing to get out… so here I am. I still don’t know how it works but my half neuron (I called it ‘Half’) started spiking music and lyrics. So I took my electric guitar and my bass, I bought a micro (micro, very micro) synth, and started torturing them. Then I learnt how Ableton works… it is a long story… the point is I’m a nut and weird so I started making songs. Due to the “features” above mentioned, all BetaPSI songs in some way are different from one another. They are all original songs, written, played with my beloved instruments, performed, recorded and mixed by BetaPSI aka me.”

betapsi2

She’s also a gracious and generous artist who actively supports other artists, and is always open to working with them to combine their creative talents and produce fresh and exciting music. In her short time making music, she’s already collaborated with several musicians from around the world, including GJART (Spain), thommo (UK) and Vizualye (USA). She has also produced an astonishing output of music in her own right. One of her latest singles is “Psychosomatic“, a darkly thrilling EDM track about mental illness that she released on January 4th.

The song blasts open with an onslaught of grinding industrial synths, then a hypnotic driving beat hooks us in as BetaPSI’s eerie, seductive vocals enter the mix like a siren’s call, pulling us willingly into a swirling vortex of ominous sounds from which we’re powerless to escape. As the track progresses, she adds layers pf pulsating spacey and psychedelic synths and her own spooky echoed backing vocals, further amplifying the already menacing, otherworldly vibe. The result is an impressive EDM track that skillfully conveys the sense of a mind tortured by dark thoughts: “Call the doctor, take a pill. There’s no cure, the mind is ill.”

Have a listen to this brilliant song as you watch the great video she made to go with it:

Connect with BetaPSI on FacebookTwitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Deezer

SPAZTIC ROBOT – Interview & Album Review: “Spaztic Robot & the Epileptic Moth”

Spaztic Robot album art2

As we bid farewell to 2018 and welcome in the new year, many of us make resolutions to accomplish this or that goal in the hope we’ll be a better person. I’ve just about given up on any chance of regaining the physique I had at 40, so will instead make a greater effort to expand my musical horizons. Though I’m proud of my song choices that make up my Top 100 of 2018, it was eye-opening to read the year-end lists of other music bloggers. Quite a few lists contained songs I’d never heard of, and as I listened to many of those songs, I realized my tastes, though eclectic, are still rather mainstream.

With that in mind, I’m thrilled to feature an artist who is most definitely non-mainstream. In fact, his music is highly unusual, profoundly unorthodox, and even a tad deranged, befitting his wickedly awesome moniker Spaztic Robot. In the words of the creative man behind the curtain, singer/songwriter/musician Robbie Sparks, “Spaztic Robot is a mongrel. It’s a mixed breed. It’s the bastard son of a thousand albums, hundreds of novels, and the little devil that hides within the darkest crevice of one’s mind.” After listening to his music, I’d say that’s a pretty fitting description.

Robbie Sparks

Based in Birmingham, England, Robbie Sparks was formerly with punk band Rebel City Radio, but after they broke up he started his own solo project Spaztic Robot. In 2016 he released his debut album Skip Rope Rhymes, which Vive Le Rock Magazine called ‘pleasantly unpleasant‘, The Ringmaster described as ‘invasive yet solemnly beauteous darkness‘, and Slap Magazine stated was ‘an album for those unafraid to embrace the unknown‘. On Halloween, 2018, he dropped his second album Spaztic Robot & The Epileptic Moth, released on independent label Killer Shark Records. Robbie reached out to me about a review, and I was so intrigued by his music that I wanted to also get some of his thoughts about his creative process and the album, to which he graciously agreed.

EML: Thank you for agreeing to discuss your music with me Robbie. I’ve listened to both of your albums several times and have to say your music is some of the most intriguing and distinctive I’ve heard. I hear similarities to such bands as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, and even traces of Frank Zappa, but your music is certainly unique. Where do you draw inspiration from?

Robbie Sparks: Firstly, thank you for your generous words and for taking the time to absorb the songs, and for inviting me to be part of this interview.

I think my main inspiration comes from a desire to remain relatively sane. I find the writing process crucial for digesting ‘life’ and making sense of the whole damn thing. Scraps of loose paper litter my home, all full of scribbled nonsense. Really, they’re everywhere! Musically speaking I just enjoy absorbing new sounds. That’s not to say I discard what I listened to previously, not at all. I treasure it all. I guess you could say that each record I enjoy is another brick in an ever-rising wall that builds around me, and like in the old Atari game Pong, I’m just some mad dot inside that bounces back and forth pulling inspiration randomly with each hit.

EML: The themes and lyrics for many of your songs are very provocative, calling out politicians, societal hypocrisy, sexual deviancy and such. Are you wanting to provoke with your music, merely venting, or both?

RS: More than “provoke” I think it’s important to reflect…no matter how ugly the result may be. I’m conscious not to be overly negative, which if I’m honest I’ve always had a tendency to be, and I hope that the songs are seen merely as reflections and not statements. There’s a sense of closure about a statement, and if there is a fragment of hope to be found I try to keep it in the mix. It’s what we’re all clinging to after all.

EML: Your songs and melodies are very complex, incorporating multiple genres and lots of textures and layers that make for an incredibly compelling and interesting listen. Tell me a bit about your creative process for writing songs and developing their structures.

RS:  Most of my songwriting begins with a simple melody or chord change. Once I have that, the lyrics take over and drive the song. The rhythm will change and the layers will flutter as and when the words dictate. You could say the lyrics take on the form of the conductor, and the textures of music rise and fall on its demand. It fascinates me that for us to understand ourselves, even at our most primitive, we rely on words. Like computer coding, our vocabulary offers our emotions and thoughts a body in which to exist, without which our minds would be nothing more than swamps’ farting gas. So it was important, right from the start, for the songs to develop in this way.

EML:  Your instrumentals are really fantastic. Do you play and/or program all the music on your songs by yourself?

RS:  Yes, everything I do is done in my home studio. Well, it’s more of a ‘space’ than a studio to be honest, in which a skeleton studio set up has been vaguely imitated. All the beats and most of the bass is programmed. Guitars, keys, and vocals are recorded live, although they do get manipulated as the parts start to intertwine.

EML:  You include quite a few spoken vocals from other sources in some of your songs. How do you go about finding and selecting them?

RS:  Most of the time I know roughly what I’m after, be it a quote from a writer, a sample from a philosopher, or a scene from an 80’s slasher movie, so I’m able to locate it relatively easily. I do however designate set evenings each week to the ‘creative process’. These evenings regularly drift into the early hours, and often little songwriting gets done, but these evenings take on a different form of productivity. It’s during these sessions that I will find myself reading manuscripts of obscure lectures or watching unworldly subtitled animations, and have no definitive recollection of the path I took to discover them, just a page in my notebook with loosely connected scribbles hinting that the journey has taken more than one detour.

EML:  Have you performed your music live? If not, do you have any plans to do so, or even tour?

RS:  Spaztic Robot has never been on the live circuit, and I don’t think it ever will be. There certainly aren’t any plans for it to happen. It’s not that there’s a lack of desire from myself to perform, in fact there have been times since my previous band Rebel City Radio broke-up that I’ve yearned for the adrenaline kick one gets from performing live.  It’s simply that, logistically, I don’t have the time, personnel, or resources to make it happen AND do the songs justice at the same time.

EML:  Completely understandable. Any plans for more music or album #3?

RS:  I continue to write, and there have been no offers to tempt me away from Spaztic Robot, so another release is likely. A handful of songs are spawning anyway.

EML:  Anything I forgot to ask that you’d like my readers and your fans to know?

RS:  I’d just like to thank them for reading. If they’ve got this far they must be at least mildly intrigued…and that’s all I can ask for.

EML:  And that’s all I can ask for too! Thanks so much for taking the time to so eloquently respond to my questions Robbie.

Robbie Sparks2

So let’s get to the album Spaztic Robot & the Epileptic Moth, definitely one of the best-titled releases of 2018. Robbie wastes no time in creeping us out with “Assholes“, a scathing attack on politicians and a brilliant track from a musical standpoint. Starting off with his echoed sing-song moaning, he lets out a devilish chuckle as the music expands with razor-sharp industrial synths that slice through the airwaves, accompanied by a sinister throbbing drumbeat. He ghoulishly sneers “Hey Mister, do I have your attention? See those two dogs sniffing each others’ assholes! “Lick it, lick it, lick it Mr. Fuckin’ Politician, whoo! /Word out on the street is you’d suck it for a couple of balloons.” As the song proceeds, Robbie adds tasty little sound effects like howling wolves, disquieting whispered vocals and snippets of sci-fi movie samples that serve to reinforce the creep factor as he continues to moan and/or wail. It all builds to an explosive climax at the end with a fusillade of screeching guitars and tortured screaming synths.

There’s no catching our breath as the punkish title track “Spaztic Robot” ensues with a barrage of staccato beats, frenzied psychedelic synths and furiously crashing cymbals that rain down like thunderbolts on steroids. Robbie cleverly weaves samples of vocals from horror films with his own fiendish utterances to create a vibe that’s wickedly fun, and befitting of the lyrics about a discarded tin can that transforms into a crazed robot. The delightful video is hilarious and campy, like some of the 50s sci-fi films it seems to parody.

We CU!” plays like a nightmarish nursery rhyme, opening with a mysterious xylophone-driven melody as Robbie softly croons “Walk around the pond and spit at the fishes. If you hit a frog you can make a wish.” His vocals take on a fiendish air as he sings in a rapid cadence, broken by occasional chants of “we see you hide” in a menacing tone. Ghostly layered synths abound until a child’s voice repeatedly chants “Everyone gets a chance to die” before the song abruptly transitions to an upbeat, bouncy tune at the end.

Robbie takes a softer approach on the languid “Blasphemous Rumours,” though the subject matter remains rather bleak. It starts off with an eerie synth, then beautiful chiming guitars enter the mix as Robbie sings in hushed vocals about a woman who attempted suicide by slashing her wrists. The music continues to swell as he gently croons “I don’t want to start blasphemous rumours but I think that god’s got a sick sense of humour.

Pond Scum” is one of the most disturbing, but interesting tracks on the album. It opens on a fairly pleasant note with a vintage movie soundtrack sample, but then takes a sharp turn with an sonic assault of hellish synths. Like a violent crime scene set to music, it’s repellent but we can’t seem to turn away. Robbie’s vocals sound downright diabolical as he snarls the lyrics that speak to sexual depravity: “The hungry little fuckers are horny little fuckers. They’re feral little mouths and nothing left to stop them. They’re horny and they’re fucking, and they’re fucking and they’re horny.

Many of his songs take sharp twists and turns, and the melodically complex “Shark Attack” is a perfect example of this. Magical synths convey an aura of fantasy like a Harry Potter movie, then gradually evolve to a mysterious deep bass-driven melody with Robbie chanting “shark attack” along with repetitive drawn-out psshh sounds. Though it has a bit of a creepy vibe, the song has an otherworldly beauty. “Back to Inferior Ways” hits us with barrages of bleak industrial noise that alternate with a rather lovely and sweeping beat-driven melody.  Robbie’s vocals are sinister as he snarls the lyrics that are interspersed with sampled vocals.

As each track unfolds, I’m increasingly impressed by Robbie’s creativity, originality and musicianship. He surprises us with the hauntingly beautiful piano-driven composition “Blisters.” Built around a brooding piano riff, the song slowly builds with added organ and horn synths into a deeply moving soundscape, before ending with just a tinkling piano riff. “Windmill” features a haunting guitar-driven melody, punctuated by unsettling staccato beats, mysterious synths and sampled children’s voices.

Demons” is a trippy song built around a hypnotic dubstep beat, with pulsating industrial synths. We immediately hear a young girl asking “Could you please help me find my dolly? I lost her, and really want her back.” It’s difficult to make out many of the lyrics Robbie is singing, but his eerie moans and wails lend a strong sense of unease. He throws in all kinds of samples, including a bit of Claude Rains’ dialogue from Casablanca, and a line from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s 1968 hit song “Fire”. Later on, a man’s voice says “Satan is all around you. Remember, one third of his angels were cast out of heaven into the earth. They’re here with us.” It sure helps explain the abundance of evil that exists in the world. Robbie closes the album with his psychedelic re-imagining of the Nirvana classic “Heart Shaped Box.” Using spacey industrial synths, deep bass, reverb-heavy guitar and only the sparest of vocals, he creates a mesmerizing and powerful instrumental track.

Spaztic Robot & the Epileptic Moth is a brilliant work of such incredible nuance and complexity, I found that it got better with each listen as I heard something new I’d missed previously. Robbie’s songwriting, arrangement and production skills are impressive, along with his outstanding musicianship. I love this album, and highly recommend it to anyone who likes music that’s outside the mainstream.

Connect with Spaztic Robot: Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on SpotifySoundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes 

NOVUS CANTUS – EP Review: “2018 Fall EP”

Novus Cantus

This past May, I featured the band Novus Cantus on this blog when I reviewed their beautiful song “In the City.” A unique act from Poughkeepsie, New York – who look and sound like they should be from a Mediterranean country – Novus Cantus (Latin for “new music”) is a collaboration of brothers Alexander (vocals and guitar), and Christian Herasimtschuk (drums and percussion), with assistance by Greg Hayden on bass. Their exotic, captivating sound draws from an eclectic mix of influences such as traditional ethnic music like flamenco and Hungarian folk, classical Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, and rock, particularly that of Jethro Tull, but also Gipsy Kings and even Metallica. They’ve been performing and recording together since 2010, and I encourage my readers to check them out on your favorite streaming service, some of which I’ve listed at the end of this review.

They’ve just released a new EP simply titled 2018 Fall EP, a collection of four songs including “In the City.” “Journey” kicks things off with the lush sounds of Alex’s strummed guitar and dreamy flute notes that give a feeling of being in a mist-filled South American rain forest. The track then settles into a captivating soundscape of Spanish guitar and fluttering flute as Christian bangs out the beat on his conga and bongo drums. Alex’s deep, rich vocals are sublime as he sings of his uncertainty as to which road to take on his life journey: “Why do I hesitate, why do I wait? The earth is here. How will I know? I want to know.

The aptly-titled “Storm” opens with the sound of falling rain, then our ears are greeted with sonic lightning bolts in the form of Alex’s energetic Spanish flamenco-inspired guitar riffs and Christian’s furious banging of his conga and bongos, while Greg keeps things grounded with his bass. Alex’s fervent vocals match the fiery passion of the music, and I could listen to this electrifying and bewitching song go on for an hour!

In the City” is an enchanting, optimistic song celebrating the dichotomies and drama of the city, and the diversity and resilience of it’s residents that allows them to flourish despite the odds. I’m guessing their lyrics extol the virtues of New York, but they could really apply to any large city anywhere in the world.  “In the city, on the sidewalk, a lengthy story unfolds.
As trees came down, buildings were born, the perfect angles of chiseled stone. The wilderness has long since been gone but the spirit remains in the form of people willing to transform City life into a vital storm.”

The song opens with sounds of a rushing subway train, then Alexander’s gorgeous and intricate Spanish guitar washes over us, accompanied by Christian’s robust beating of his conga and bongo drums, evoking the spirit and drama of the city and its people. In addition to Greg’s bass, the guys employ other instruments like flute and Maracas to add texture and dimension to the track. Alexander’s vocals have an exotic quality that, combined with the instrumentals, gives the song an international feel.

Everlasting” is yet another gorgeous track, and Alex never fails to dazzle with his skillful, intricate guitar work. The song has a slower, more relaxed Latin-inspired tempo than the other tracks, but retains the intensely passionate feels Novus Cantus injects into all of their music. Christian employs gentler, crisper percussion on this track, and the brothers’ vocal harmonies are marvelous. I love all four songs on 2018 Fall EP, and adore these guys, who are as gracious and kind as they are talented.

Novus Cantus is completely fan-supported, meaning they’re not beholden to a label, so please consider supporting them by following them on social media and purchasing their music. The more fans they have, the more they can compete for gigs in your area. Also consider donating to their music efforts via their Patreon site.

Connect with Novus Cantus:  Website / Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  cdbaby / Reverbnation / iTunes

FRED HILLS – Single Review: “Ketu”

Fred Hills is a creative and talented freelance drummer and composer from Brighton, UK, and he’s just released a captivating new instrumental single “Ketu.” A graduate of the British Institute of Modern Music in Brighton, Fred combines his love of jazz, rock, prog, electronica, folk and world music with inspiration from his favorite artists, as well as his travels, to create compositions filled with colorful rhythms and melodic ‘open-handed’ beats. Fred has collaborated and performed in the UK and Europe with a number of musicians and groups, including The Slytones, Hot Moth, Time for T, Ellie Ford, Michael Baker and Mara Simpson.

Fred told me that “Ketu” was inspired by his travels around India in late 2017. In their premier of the song’s video, the online music webzine Arctic Drones notes that the song was also inspired by “his experience with Hindu astrology, which sparked an interest in how lunar and solar energy systems may affect someone both mentally and physically. Fred stated that “Ketu” represents karmic collections – both good and bad – tangible and supernatural influences.” He adds that “Ketu” is an instrumental song built on an expansive emotional spectrum, mixing ambivalence and enchantment, hope and discovery.” The track was co-produced by Fred and Alex Barron, who also played bass and did the mixing and mastering.

The song opens with mysterious synths and a delicate guitar riff, then Fred’s intricate drums enter as the synths and guitar expand with the introduction of Alex’s bluesy bass notes. Fred’s arresting drum work, which the track is built around, has a quiet intensity that’s incredibly dynamic, yet never overpowering. The sparkling synths are gorgeous, and his jazzy guitar riffs are fantastic. In the video, Fred appears to be almost in a trance-like state as he plays the drums, which is the same feeling I get while listening to this gorgeous and mesmerizing song. Watch, listen, and see for yourself:

To learn more about Fred, check out his Website

Connect with him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Check out more of his music on Soundcloud
Purchase “Ketu” on Bandcamp

LOST IN THE CITY – Album Review: “Leaving Home”

Lost in the City Leaving Home art

More than two years ago, in June 2016, Kansas City, Missouri alternative rock band Lost in the City released their superb debut album Genesis. It’s a monumental work, with powerful, thoughtfully-written lyrics addressing the familiar subjects of love, relationships and break-ups, but also the travails of touring, anxiety and depression, delivered with blistering guitar riffs, thunderous drums and passionate vocals. (You can read my review of Genesis here.)  Later that year, in the fall of 2016, they began writing songs for their new album Leaving Home, which drops today, October 12. Two years in the making, Leaving Home reflects the band’s growth and maturity, and the many life changes individual band members experienced, including graduating from college, changing jobs, relationships, and literally leaving home by moving out of their parents’ house for the first time.

Lost in the City band pic

Lost in the City is Shane Radford (Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keys, Synths), Dustin Proctor (Guitar), Cullan Wiley (Bass) and Kyle Constant (Drums).  For Leaving Home, Bret Liber, who’s also a musician in his own right, with the rock band Young Medicine, played keyboards in addition to recording, mixing and mastering the album tracks.

The album opens with “The Battle of Schrute Farms,” arriving in a barrage of raging guitars, humming bass and hammering drumbeats. Shane is joined by Jordan Rebman on vocals, and together, they’re an emotional powerhouse as they belt out the biting lyrics about cowardice in a relationship: “I’m forgetting the way you play, but I don’t regret anything. You’ll move on and so will the sun. Just take me for granted. Despite your efforts, you can’t take this from me.” At least that’s my take on it after Googling the song’s title, and finding this definition: “Thought by many to be the Northernmost battle of the American Civil War, The Battle of Schrute farms was instead a code name for the refuge for cowards escaping the the drudgery and conflict of war.”

From the Floor of an Attic in Portland” is an interesting song, with unusual chord progressions and instrumentation. Loud, fuzzy guitars, buzzing bass, piercing synths and complex percussion are dominant musical elements on this arresting track. Shane almost screams the hopeful lyrics “Tonight is the night to save a life. And I do believe that we all can change.” The soaring vocal harmonies in the chorus are wonderful, and I love the delicate piano riff in the outro.

As I continue listening to the album, one of the things that stands out is the sheer power and exuberance of the song arrangements, instrumentals and vocals. “Daylight” essentially captures the essence of the album – that embracing the inevitable changes that come our way is the key to surviving this thing called life.  The jagged guitar riffs and thunderous percussion are a perfect match for the uplifting lyrics: “The biggest decisions, I’ve made without a plan. Growth is the key to finding your purpose. I feel like I’m wandering away from old notions. / Everything looks better in the daylight. I’m taking time to forget what I’m seeing. My life’s been changing for some time now.”  The heartwarming video shows intimate scenes of the band just being themselves, playing, rehearsing and performing.

You Stopped This Train” is a hard-hitting melodic rock song about someone who’s chosen to abandon a relationship the singer believed was strong and lasting. Musically, the track features Shane and Dustin’s gritty, shredded guitars and Kyle’s furious drums, all anchored by Cullan’s powerful bass. The screaming guitars at the end of the track are fantastic, and perfectly convey the pain Shane expresses in his wailing vocals “You stopped this train when everything was going great. You walked away as you let it all fall apart.

With a barrage of jagged riffs and sweeping piano-driven synths, “Bangarang!” seems to call out the futility of war and conflict: “The tales of war aren’t exaggerated. The infighting ranks fall away./ Revenge should be used in no situation. It brings no change, just cold isolation.” The raucous “Into the Dark” features tortured riffs of gritty, distorted guitars and industrial-strength drums pounding out an exhilarating beat. Shane fervently sings of an optimistic light at the end of the tunnel: “No matter the changes, we’ll push through. Lifting our heads as we move on by. We don’t have time to doubt. Time will tell if we made it.” This optimistic outlook continues with “The Light Inside My Head,” as Shane sings of moving forward and not letting past mistakes hold you back: “I’m taking time to take note of where I am. Progress is progress, no matter how hard. I’m holding my future in my own hands, Bright sides are a brand new cycle.

One of my favorite tracks is “Metro Apartments,” with its haunting melody and grandiose instrumentals. Bret Liber’s guest vocals nicely complement Shane’s, and I love their vocal harmonies in the chorus. The lush, sweeping synths, thunderous drums and shredded guitars are positively spine-tingling. “The Upside Down” is a 48-second long interlude with dramatic piano-driven synths, and Shane’s repeated line “I’m sorry I grew up. I’m sorry I failed.” The brief track serves as an intro to the final track “Monsters Are(n’t) Real Pt. 2,” which is actually a continuation of the final track on their first album Genesis, “Monsters Are(n’t) Real.”  It’s a very dark and hard-hitting song, with piercing, tortured synths, raging guitars and furious drums that seem to grab us by the throat. All the optimism expressed in many of the previous tracks has been replaced with a overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair, resulting from a realization that the world is in fact a very bad place, and our futures are bleak (sort of how I’m feeling under our current presidential administration and Congress).

The world is worse than I thought it would be.
Filled with hope, I ran to the sea.
A sea of wanderers? Who could they be?
Filled with anger, who are we?

I’m sorry I grew up. I’m sorry I failed.
The monsters in our heads are so very real.
The doubts that fill us are the truth.
We’re just expendable pieces of youth.
War cries are louder than we need.
We take time to be free and see.

I’m sorry I grew up. I’m sorry I failed.
The monsters in our heads are so very real.
The sky is filled with dashed hopes and dreams.
“If you work hard, you’ll be whatever you want to be.”
We all know the truth as we march along.
We’re a piece of the puzzle, alone not strong.

It’s interesting that Lost in the City would choose to end their album on such a somber note. Nevertheless, Leaving Home is a brilliant and provocative work – a coming-of-age of sorts for this talented and thoughtful group of guys. Their songwriting and musicianship is outstanding, and I’m happy to watch them grow and mature as a band.

Connect with Lost in the City: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes