MELISANDRE’S BEAVER – Double-Single Review: “Brother/Never Be That Cool 2019”

Melisandre's Beaver

Just from their name alone, it’s clear that any music coming from a band who call themselves Melisandre’s Beaver is guaranteed to take listeners on a wild ride. Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Green Day, Blink-182, AC/DC, Weezer, Reel Big Fish and Tenacious D, they play a rowdy style of music they refer to as ‘spicy punk’, which pretty much nails their frenetic, head-banging sound. Formed in 2016, the Dover, England-based band now consists of Daniel Drew (guitar, lead vocals), Sam ‘Mac’ MacNamara (bass, backing vocals) and James ‘Nesbo’ Nesbitt (drums, backing vocals). As for their provocative name, they explain it was chosen “after a lengthy ‘you had to be there at the time’ joke from our mate Tom.  Melisandre’s Beaver are three mates who decided that our friendships were so good, we needed to start a band to calm things down.”

Melisandre's Beaver single art

They released a terrific debut EP No Offence Meant, Plenty Taken in 2017, and followed a year later with their fireball of an album If Only We Were Serious, featuring 13 mind-blowing bundles of sonic dynamite. In late September, they returned with an outrageous new single “Brother” and its B-side “Never Be That Cool 2019”. “Brother” is a hilarious ode to Hulk Hogan, the retired pro wrestler and TV personality.

According to a great write-up about the band on The Sweet Distortion Blog, the idea of writing a song about Hogan was born from a trip to Oxford that Drew and MacNamara took with a few friends. They spent five days on a small boat, dressed as pro wrestlers who “beat the shit out of each other. Drew was dressed up as Mankind/Cactus Jack and MacNamara was dressed up as Hulk Hogan.” When they got home, they began watching Hulk Hogan videos online and laughing at how ridiculous his act was. “A massive orange leathery balding beefcake. He’s like a cartoon character. All show, Doesn’t give a fuck, he’s all about the people and the showmanshipThe song explores his nature of being a badass, unstoppable, torrent of showmanship along with some of his ridiculous well-known phrases thrown in.”

The track opens with a voiceover snippet from one of Hogan’s shows, then explodes with a bombastic onslaught of raging guitars, driving bass and smashing drums that never lets up for a second. Drew’s fiery riffs slice through the airwaves like a machete-wielding banshee, and Mac’s intricate bass line is a thing of wonder. The interplay between them is fucking incredible, and combined with Nesbo’s relentless, pummeling drumbeats, “Brother” delivers all the heavy punk rock goodness one could possibly hope for. Drew’s powerful vocals are aggressive and raw as he all but screams the lyrics, matching the music’s intensity note for note.

The bold, in-your-face lyrics, written by Mac, perfectly capture Hogan’s wildly exaggerated bravado and bluster:

Well let me tell you something
Brother I built myself from nothing
With the meanest as my witness
Its time we got right down to business

I fought with giants and the warriors in the glory days
Ill wipe that smile off your face
With a thirst for violence and a hunger for the winning ways
I’ll put you right back in your place

What ya gonna do?
What ya gonna do when I’m running wild, all over you?
What are you going to do?

Well let me tell you something
I straight up started out with nothing
Natural bravado
Force feed you if it’s tough to swallow

I stripped the flesh right off the dirtiest player in the game
Fought wars with savages and braves
I’ve broken hearts and smashed through boulders that were in my way
I’m an all you can eat showmanship buffet 

The zany video for “Brother” was shot by Mac’s sister Emily and edited by him, and showcases the band’s playful, high-energy live performances. Filmed in a car paint spray booth owned by Mac’s dad, which the guys filled with soft play equipment to create the feel of a wrestling ring, they dressed up in tight spandex, wigs, sunglasses and walrus mustaches to parody Hulk Hogan. The Sweet Distortion Blog article stated that after filming the video, the band “experienced what those in the removals business call ‘The Gray Lung’. The car spraying booth being covered in dust left the band hacking up their lungs afterwards.” Didn’t someone once write about suffering for the sake of one’s art, or something to that effect?

Never Be That Cool 2019” is a remake of a track that first appeared on their EP No Offence Meant, Plenty Taken. This version is 37 seconds shorter, which is achieved by a much faster tempo than the original, which to my ears had a Weezer/Blink-182 vibe. Thanks to the sped-up tempo and harder-driving music, the new version has a more of a punk rock feel, sounding like a song Green Day could have recorded. Also, Drew’s gruff vocals remind me a bit of Mick Jagger, giving the track an edgier feel. I like the original, but I like this remake even more.

The lyrics speak to feeling like a bit of a boring loser, who will never be cool enough:

Watchin MTV2 when I get home from school
Darling I’m obsessed with my cesspool
I’m probably not the greatest , I’m sure I’ll never make it
and I’ll definitely never be that cool

Connect with Melisandre’s Beaver: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase: Bandcamp / Google Play

SHIPS HAVE SAILED – Single Review: “Skin”

Ships Have Sailed 2

I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands I’ve featured earlier this year, as so many are dropping great new music. Another such band is Los Angeles-based duo Ships Have Sailed, whose beautiful and moving single “Escape” I reviewed this past February. I loved that song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30! They’ve just dropped a lovely new single “Skin“, which I’m thrilled to introduce to my readers today.

Formed in 2012 by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Will Carpenter, Ships Have Sailed has included a number of musicians over the years, but now consists of Will and drummer Art Andranikyan. They play a pleasing style of alternative pop-rock characterized by beautiful melodies, thoughtful, uplifting lyrics, and sublime arrangements and instrumentation. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Will twice now, including just last Friday, and his kindness and warmth shines through in his engaging vocals.

“Skin” is about pulling down our barriers and allowing ourselves to become vulnerable in order to more fully connect with others in deeper, more meaningful ways. Being vulnerable to uncomfortable emotions and pain in turn enables us to feel empathy and sympathy toward others. About the song, Will explains: “Has anyone ever told you that you need to grow a thicker skin? I can’t even count how many times people have told me that. But they’re essentially telling you to numb your feelings, and I think that our feelings and emotions are the essence of our humanity. The music I create wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t lean into my emotions when I’m writing, and so ‘Skin’ is my way of expressing that I’m content with feeling as much as I do…even if it hurts sometimes.”

Musically, “Skin” is more stripped down from their typical sound, with an incredibly pleasing folk/Americana vibe. The instrumentals consist primarily of lovely strummed guitars, including acoustic guitar by guest musician Steve Stout, accompanied by delicate, crystalline synths and Art’s gentle percussion. Will’s smooth, heartfelt vocals exude a tender vulnerability expressed by the poignant lyrics:

It may be thin, but I love it,
feel the pain, rise above it

We don’t have to wound each other,
you’re my sister, I’m your brother

Open heart, open eyes
let them in…this skin so thin

The beautiful, heartwarming video shows scenes of Will and Art walking various streets in Los Angeles, as well as Will getting a ship tattooed on his back at Golden Daggers tattoo studio, and several people in a range of emotional states posing for pictures at The Spot photo studio on Sunset Boulevard. It was directed and produced by Michael Easterling and Jaala Ruffman of Talkboy TV and filmed by David Parks.

Connect with Ships Have Sailed on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes  / Google Play / Amazon

New Song(s) of the Week – TWO METERS: “The Nightmare//Bike Ride”

Two Meters 3

This past May, I featured Florida artist Two Meters on this blog when I reviewed his The Blue Jay EP, a remarkable work that further explored the dark themes of loss and death he first introduced us to on his debut self-titled EP Two Meters. Two Meters is the music project of Fort Lauderdale-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Costolo. Starting off with powerful, often brutally honest lyrics – which he expresses through incredibly vulnerable, slightly off-kilter vocals that go from droning whispers to spine-tingling wails – he adds layers of intriguing guitar textures, harsh industrial synths, and other lo-fi ambient sounds to create deeply impactful songs.

Now he returns with a mind-blowing new double single “The Nightmare//Bike Ride“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song(s) of the Week. Once again, he delves into dark, introspective subjects, the first of which explores the paralyzing terror we’ve all experienced while having a nightmare, followed by an unsettling sense of relief when we wake up, realizing that awful thing we just went through was only a bad dream.

The song starts off with a somber little guitar riff and Two Meters singing in a hushed monotone “Alone gasping for air. Against the weight of the world.” Suddenly, we’re hit with an barrage of grungy guitar lasting around 25 seconds, then fading back to the somber riff and hypnotic drumbeat as he drones “Crushing down as shadows move. Faceless but with form. A mouth unable to cry out as the darkness comes.” The gnarly guitars return again, only this time accompanied by a distorted wail that conveys the terror of a nightmare. It all calms back down as he sings in just above a whisper “Just as fast life snaps back. The figure gone. The room is back in view. What was real is never clear.”

The second track “Bike Ride” is more experimental, epic and dark, with very gnarly guitar, fuzz-soaked bass and sharp percussive beats. His vocals heavily distorted, Two Meters screams the lyrics describing the sorry state of his bicycle, possibly a metaphor for a life hindered by physical or emotional pain and scars:

There’s a nail in my wheel
My pedals are broken
Left to grind
Into my heel

My helmets collecting dust
The brakes are out
I am
Crossing the street

With a pulsating spacey synth as a backdrop, the music eventually quiets down to a simple strummed guitar as he calmly sings “I make it to the other side, and I look back and wonder what could have been.” Wow, what a brilliant track this is, full of ever-changing sounds, volumes and textures taking us on an emotional roller coaster ride.

Connect with Two Meters: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

DVR – Album Review: “All Good Things”

DVR All Good Things - Copy

DVR is a studio music project by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olav Christensen. Originally from Denmark, Christensen is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and writes, records, produces and masters all his music. He’s been recording music for a number of years, sometimes as a solo act, but often collaborating with other musicians as well. His songs are very eclectic (I like that!), ranging from electronica to alternative rock to pop, and everything in between. He began releasing singles in 2015, and dropped his first full-length album California in 2016, then followed up with an EP Down in July 2018, which I reviewed, then an experimental all-instrumental album Instantiate in June 2019. Now he returns with an ambitious concept album All Good Things, in which he explores the state of the world today and imagines the possibility of a terrible outcome.  

Christensen explains: “All Good Things” is an imagined snapshot of the moment – of our collective realization – of the end of everything. We all knew it was coming at some point in the future but surely not in our lifetime or our children’s, right? It starts with our leaders failing to lead. Too busy enriching themselves, they march us all steadily towards our own inevitable annihilation. There is a moment of clarity, tangible around the world. It is a moment of precious truth when a single looming event on the horizon, threatens to end all of us. Now, when it is undeniable; we each react in our own way. Do we reflect on our lives? Do we find comfort in each other? Do we just have a party and go out dancing?”

The album opens with the instrumental “Prelude – The March Towards Inevitability“, a quirky, experimental-sounding track that sets a somewhat unsettling mood. While at times feeling discordant and chaotic, the song still has a melodic, almost contemporary classical structure that makes for an intriguing listen that’s actually rather soothing. This discordant, experimental vibe continues with the title track “All Good Things“, as DVR employs a rich mix of spacey, psychedelic synths and sounds, accompanied by a driving percussive beat and additional guitar by Bjørn Ginman. With a gentle soaring chorale sung by Rorie Kelly, Nico Z. Padden and Pauline Salotti as a backdrop, he sings: “So this is how things come to pass. All that remains is dust and gas. And all good things come to an end. Whatever you believe in, whatever you pretend. For what it’s worth, we had a good run right down to the end.”

Special Friends, Arrow of Time, Entropy” is an unusual track, actually three different songs strung together, and running ten and a half minutes long. It feels almost like a classical piece with three distinct but related movements. The first part, “Special Friends”, features more of those quirky, psychedelic synths, accompanied by Christensen’s daughter Hadley Rose’s baby-like electronically-altered vocals, which are mostly unintelligible. They’re kind of endearing, yet have an almost menacing feel when combined with the music. At around 3:30, the track changes to “Arrow of Time” with a transition to smoother, ethereal synths that give the track a dreamy, atmospheric vibe. Some lovely delicate guitar work is provided by David Rolo. At 6:50, the track abruptly shifts to “Entropy” with the entrance of a voice over by Alan Watts: “Memory, is a dynamic system. It’s a repetition of rhythms. Reality escapes all concepts. You, are just as much the dark space beyond death as you are the light interval called life.” From there the song takes a jazzy turn with some cool guitar work by Andy Pitcher and double bass by Dean Johnson. Later, Watts offers up a matter-of-fact conclusion: “Let go of the breath. You can’t hang on to yourself. This isn’t terrible. But it’s just going to be the end of you as a system of memories.”

Come Inside” has a Peter Gabriel vibe, both in terms of the song’s structure and melody and DVR’s plaintive vocals. His intricate jangly guitar work is terrific, and so is the smooth bass by guest musician Bobby McCullough. Additional female vocals by Rosie Bans provide a nice contrast to DVR’s.  One of the lovelier tracks is “Quiet Breakdown“, thanks to swirling synths, sublime guitar work and the enchanting sape, a traditional lute originating from Central Borneo played by guest musician Rayhan Sudrajat, who also played bass. DVR sings “I’ll come at you lightly, I’ll meet you halfway. I’m headed for a quiet breakdown. I think it won’t be long.”

We’ve now arrived at “Here We Are“, where we’ve made the decision to go out in style and just party.  My favorite track, it’s an upbeat dance pop song that contrasts with the rather morbid lyrics about going all-out to celebrate the end of humanity. “Here we are, at the apex of humanity. Standing tall before the fall. Falling over each other to witness the final act. The hottest show in town tonight. Everyone dresses sharp for the end of all mankind. It’s going to be out of sight.” Guest vocalist Courtney Hans sounds like a young Madonna, which is partly why I like this song so much. Additional guitar is by Justin Chamberlin, and Bobby McCullough returns on bass.

All Good Things – Reprise” is a different take on the title track. The song opens with the sound of a phone busy signal, then a mix of glittery and Polynesian synths enter, along with a voice over of Noam Chomsky talking about the existential threat of global warming and how the current U.S. administration has chosen to not only disregard that threat, but actually accelerate the problem. Once his voice over ends, we hear the lyrics now sung by guest vocalist Aradia. The music gradually swells into a rock feel, with a terrific guitar solo by TJ Dumser, and bass played by Michael Friis. The track finishes with the ominous beeps of the Early Warning System.

This is the Day” closes the album on a predictably dark note, but with a smooth, soft-rock groove that keeps things from being too maudlin. Guest musician Bjørn Ginman is back, laying down a hypnotic and haunting guitar solo that’s so good. DVR croons with a sad air of resignation “This is the end of the night. Your immaculate decay. And if you’ve ever wondered what that was like, what that would feel like, hey, this is the day. This is the end of the road. You’ve come a long way haven’t you?

All Good Things is a brilliant concept album that artfully shines a light on the precarious geopolitical situation we now face, while presenting it in an entertaining and enjoyable manner though compelling lyrics and intriguing soundscapes. I love that Christensen collaborated with such a wide range of musicians and vocalists to give his music an incredible variety of styles, textures and sounds.

Connect with DVR:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream on Spotify
Purchase on Bandcamp

CRAIG-RUSSELL HORNE – Single Review: “Sleepwalking”

Craig-Russell Horne is an independent electronic music artist and producer from Glasgow, Scotland. Formerly a member of Scottish alternative rock band The 21st State, he’s been called one of the most promising newcomers to the Scottish electronic scene and, after listening to his music I can fully understand why. He blends a wide array of dynamic synthesized sounds with samples of old films and classic songs to create fascinating soundscapes for his compelling lyrics and distinctive vocals. Following up on his brilliant 2018 debut album WITH THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT, he’s just released a captivating new single “Sleepwalking“.

Craig-Russell Horne2

“Sleepwalking” is about someone with insomnia. Horne explains: “It tells a romantic story of someone who is kept up at night by their past, which constantly runs over in their mind. They can only find solace and, ultimately rest, when with the person they love.  The first half of the track addresses the initial thoughts of regret and fear leading to the insomnia. The vocals are spaced and thin to represent internal thought while also panning from left to right to represent the thoughts spiraling around the head. In the second half, the conversation takes place between the two partners. It is open and honest while also dealing with the embarrassment of opening up. It symbolises love in the form of trust, humility and devotion.

The film samples [heard in the song] are from the 1955 film noir, ‘The Big Combo’, in which a police lieutenant who comes under pressure from a violent gang is helped by the gang leader’s wife to stop their reign over the city. As in ‘The Big Combo’, the two people represented in “Sleepwalking” are unexpected, perfect partners who have experienced very different lives but are brought together by a common bond.”

The track opens with a snippet of conversation between the aforementioned police lieutenant and the gangster’s wife, accompanied by an enchanting little keyboard riff. Once Horne’s vocals enter, the music swells with more of those glittery keyboards, along with somewhat grainy background percussive synths that creates an intriguing contrast in sound textures. Horne has a rather deep, emotive vocal style, but his delivery is understated on this track compared to many of the songs on WITH THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT. His vocals have a vulnerable yet seductive quality as he croons of his fervor:  “Sleepwalking is the only vibe. And you’re the only thing that keeps me up at night. I’ve tried every drug to get me back to sleep. And then I realize that you cut too deep.”

Connect with Craig-Russell:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play / Amazon

MISSIO – Album Review: “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man”

MISSIO

It’s not often that I love an entire album at first listen, but that was exactly the case with The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man by MISSIO.  I was literally stunned by this brilliant and totally original collection of songs the instant they hit my eardrums, and the last time I can remember that happening to me was four years ago with twenty one pilots’ Blurryface. As far as I’m concerned, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is a certifiable masterpiece, and hands down the best album of 2019. I can listen to it over and over, and it knocks me for a loop me every single time.  It was released this past April, and I’m finally getting around to sharing my adoration for it.

MISSIO’s unique and eclectic sound is a glorious mash-up of alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dream pop, drawing the best from all three and more to create some of the most exciting and meaningful music I’ve heard in a while. Based in Austin, Texas and comprised of singer-songwriter/producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler, MISSIO burst onto the music scene in 2017 with their outstanding debut album Loner. The album generated several singles, including “Middle Fingers” (my first introduction to the duo) and the mesmerizing “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea”.

Their name, originally chosen by Brue who first named his solo act MISSIO, comes from the Latin word for “mission.” It had special meaning for him, as it represented the period in his life when he was recovering from addiction, and he even had the word tattooed on his arm. Many of the tracks on the latest album deal with drugs, emotional pain, and the struggles of overcoming addiction in general. The songs were written by Brue and Butler, with assistance on most tracks by Dwight A. Baker, who produced and mixed the album. Several fellow Austin musicians also contributed to some of the tracks.

The album kicks off with “Underground“, a killer track that instantly hooked me with its irresistible hip hop beat, infectious melody and trippy vibes. The way MISSIO incorporates a rich array of synthesizers, instruments and textures to create a dense, sweeping soundscape is really impressive, and I absolutely love Brue’s distinctive vocal style that registers in the higher range, just below a falsetto. He earnestly croons of his frustration that success and money haven’t brought the happiness and peace of mind he expected: “I’m down. I should be on top, but I’m always underground. Things are lookin’ up, but I’m making myself drown. My anxiety and money just compounds. I’ll be right here, just waiting underground.

Next up is “Temple Priest“, a bombastic orgy of trap heaven. In the parlance of today’s youth, this song is fucking SICK! The track opens with Brue shrieking “That’s why they call me temple priest, muthafucka!“, then we’re hit upside the head by a volley of grinding industrial synths and crushing trap beats. Brue snarls the lyrics that (according to his tweets) speak to his feelings about “American religion and all the judgmental assholes out there. Find truth on your own terms. Don’t ever feel forced to believe something because of your upbringing. Don’t listen to artists/celebrities forcing shit down your throat either.” Amen to that! The track features some fine guest vocals by Austin rappers Paul Wall and Kota the Friend. It’s one of my favorites on an album filled with favorites!

Before I’m able to fully process the brilliance of “Temple Priest”, MISSIO unleashes “Rad Drugz” on my senses, and I’m now giddy from the sheer pleasure of listening to such sonic brilliance. Its exuberant, hard-driving EDM beat and infectious melody sharply contrast with the blunt lyrics about being hopelessly addicted to drugs and the highs they bring. Brue laments “Come on let’s be realistic ’cause I am not a role model. I’m just trying to get through my day. I take for granted the best that I’ve been handed. And not to make excuses, but what would help is my medicine./I can’t get enough. Too high to get up. I keep fucking up my life with rad drugz!” The dark and violent video shows the guys partaking in a brutal torture experience provided by the Rad Drugz Corporation, seemingly wanting to undergo pain and suffering as a form of sado-masochistic punishment for their addiction.

By the time “I See You” arrives, I’m helplessly in love with this magnificent album – and band! What a gorgeous song this is, at once sad yet hopeful, and brimming with emotional intensity. Lush, swirling synths and beautiful piano keys provide a dreamy backdrop for Brue’s stirring vocals. The heartwarming lyrics can be interpreted as being directed either to a loved one or to oneself, reassuring the intended that they are understood, supported and loved despite their shortcomings. “I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. What a mess you’ve made of everything. I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. And I’m hoping that you will see yourself. Like I see you./Even when you cry, and even when you’re shy, you mean everything to me. Even when you lie and even when you hide, you mean everything to me.” “I See You” is currently enjoying a long stay atop my Weekly Top 30, and is one of my favorite songs of the year.

MISSIO strikes a chord with me on the provocative “P.O.L.I.T.I.C.S.“, a denunciation of the divisive political climate in America today. To a rapid, head-banging beat, Brue sings “I don’t drink the Kool-Aid ’cause I’m out of my mind. /I don’t need your attitude, your tone is rude. Did your mama give you that mouth?/ This friendship is worse than P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S.” The breakdowns, deep bass beats and synth manipulations on this track are fantastic. “Dizzy” is a dark, trippy number, with distorted industrial synths, deep bass and pounding drumbeats. The lyrics speak to the irresistible seduction of substance addiction, no matter how bad it is for you: “I’ve been feeling self-destructive but I love it. I can’t help myself. Your taste is so seductive. I’m feeling dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy.

The great songs just keep on coming. “Misfit Lunatic” serves up heavy industrial synths and some deep-ass bass drops, and the seductive little Middle Eastern synth melody is a nice touch. Another favorite is “Audi A4“, a deliriously uptempo song about the joys of driving down the highway with the windows down and blasting your favorite tunes. “Music makes my heart beat on its own. Cancels out the issues back at home. I like to roll the windows down ’cause you know I wanna make a scene. Gotta press repeat of some Snoop D-O double G!

Keeping the vibe on an upbeat note, “Shimmy” is a sexy trap song about getting drunk and getting it on. “3 A.M., the room is spinnin’, we should do some sinnin’. You know I wanna, wanna. Make this feeling last forever, we should be together. You know we’re gonna, gonna.” The song was co-written by MISSIO and Austin hip hop duo Blackillac, who also provide some terrific vocals.

Things turn introspective on “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To?“, a beautiful but bittersweet song that touches on the struggle couples experience when they drift apart. Man, the lyrics are so fucking relatable, describing feelings I’ve certainly felt more than once myself: “I am lonely when you’re in the room. And I’m tired, too. It’s the distance that’s dragging us down. I’m not blaming you. It’s like we’re screaming with no sound.” The dreamy synths give the track an 80’s new wave vibe reminiscent of songs by The Psychedelic Furs, A-ha and Joy Division. It was co-written by MISSIO and Austin indie rock band The Wind and the Wave, who also provide lovely vocals that harmonize beautifully with Brue’s.

One of the darkest songs on the album is “Black Roses“, in which Brue delivers a scathing denunciation to an abusive mother and adulterous father: “I am your son, you are my mother. I’m on my own, you’re not my lover. Don’t tell me how to live. I am your son, you are my father. You led us like lambs on our way to the slaughter. Who do you think you are?/ I am your son, she’s not my mother. You think she’s perfect, to me, just another. Do you think it’s okay? But I am your son, for worse or for better. Despite the fact that you a homewrecker. I guess that’s who you are.” The menacing synths and thunderous percussion perfectly dramatize the anger and resentment expressed in the bitter lyrics.

The powerful title track “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man” was inspired by a time MISSIO were driving in a snowstorm in Washington state. Despite feeling exhausted and his voice sore, Brue marveled at the beauty of the landscape he saw from the window, and quickly became grateful for what they had achieved with their music. The words “the darker the weather, the better the man” came to mind as he thought about his introvertedness and tendency to self-sabotage. According to Butler (as quoted in an article by Substream Magazine), the message they wanted to convey in the song is “Sometimes the world might deal you a rough hand, but if you can find purpose in [dark] times, to make yourself a better person and come out all the better for it, then that’s pretty much the best place you can be in.”

The album closes with the hauntingly beautiful instrumental “Esperanza En La Oscuridad“, which is Spanish for “Hope In The Darkness.” It’s a dramatic and stunning composition that feels almost spiritual, with glittery synths that build to an explosive crescendo, bringing chills to my body and tears to my eyes, before calming down to a whisper at the end. It’s a spectacular conclusion to a spectacular album that I cannot gush about enough. As I stated at the beginning of this review, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is one of the finest albums I’ve heard in a very long while. MISSIO is one of the most innovative and creative music acts around today, and they’ve earned a spot among my favorite bands, quite possibly of all time.

Connect with MISSIO:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Google Play / Amazon

JIM HUDSON – EP Review: “Fallen”

Jim Hudson is a singer-songwriter from Wolverhampton, England, who this past May released his debut EP Fallen. It’s a lovely but dark work, featuring three guitar-driven tracks with deep, poetic lyrics that speak to man’s internal conflict between his good and evil sides, and struggles to make it in this life. Jim wrote and recorded the songs, and played or programmed all the instruments. The EP was mixed by Matt Pinfield and mastered by West West Side Music (yes, West is repeated in the studio’s name).

The first track “Shadow” is a poignant song with a somewhat melancholy air. Jim’s layered acoustic and twangy electric guitar work is really nice, lending the track a bit of a folk vibe, while the assertive percussion keeps it in rock territory. His vocals have a pleasing, understated quality, and work well on this track. The lyrics seem to speak of someone who’s become a mere shadow of their former self after years of excess, realizing they’ve wasted their life and now have nothing or nobody: “No one remembers when you left, who you are, what you came here for. Lost three more days in a state. Through the haze; gone too far.

The dark and mesmerizing title track “Fallen” opens with a thumping drumbeat and an acoustic guitar chord progression that calls to mind the classic James Bond theme, only in a slowed-down manner. With a sense of sad resignation, Jim croons the fatalistic lyrics spoken by a man to his son, telling him that he will be inheriting a darker, less hospitable world because of the destruction caused by mankind: “Grab your things and run, through the barbed wire fence. From the hands that feed us, we don’t stand a chance./ Re-wrote the rules, transcended evolution. All this son, will one day be yours. Turned our backs, as we fled the garden. All of this, all of this is ours. Got inside my head, can’t get up any more. Cut my world wide open, threw my heart to the floor. You don’t know, you don’t see. Cut me, I’m in bits. There’s a hole, in my head. Leaves me cold in plastic.” His combination of acoustic and electric guitars, accompanied by humming bass, sparkling synths and measured percussion make for an exceptional track.

“Papercuts” has a softer, more upbeat folk vibe. The acoustic riff that continues throughout the song is quite charming, punctuated with tasty electric guitar runs in the choruses. The lyrics, however, are bittersweet. Jim states that they’re basically about an artist (music, visual arts, or whatever) struggling to make his way and get noticed. Perhaps he’s wasting his time, his efforts are all in vain, and maybe he shouldn’t bother trying to continue on. “It’s hard enough to get you where you’re seen. Should never be there. You’re in a dream. Listen in. Massage my self esteem. Are paper cuts enough to get you seen? It’s never easy being fine.”

Despite it’s rather dark tone, Fallen is an enjoyable little EP, and a very respectable debut for Jim Hudson. His thoughtful and extensive lyrics are pure poetry, and he’s a fine guitarist and vocalist too.

On Saturday 6th July, Jim will be performing at The Chindit in Wolverhampton, one of the venues in the Junction Festival of Contemporary Arts.

Connect with Jim:  Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify
Purchase on Bandcamp

BRETT.GRANT.5 – EP Review: “disqui.etude”

Brett Grant

I’ve been following the young singer-songwriter and composer Brett Grant for a long while, and am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to feature him on this blog. The Chicago-based artist goes by the moniker brett.grant.5, and drops his second EP disqui.etude today. Brett’s been involved in music for many years, both as a solo artist and in several bands. He plays guitars & synths and sings for A Million Rich Daughters, and previously pounded drums in Sleep For Dinner and TOOFUNCHILD. He released his first solo EP digital dirge in 2016, and in addition to his work with the aforementioned bands, managed to earn a B.A. Degree in Music, graduating just last month.

Brett’s fascinating and eclectic sound draws from a wide range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to video game music and experimental progressive rock. He wrote all the songs and played all the music on disqui.etude, as well as recorded, performed, mixed, and mastered the entire project himself.

The EP opens with the eerily beautiful title track “disqui.etude“, an apt name as it’s essentially a disquieting etude. The song’s an instrumental, consisting of only a haunting piano riff, accompanied by rather menacing synths that build as the track progresses. It would make a great soundtrack for a horror film, and in fact reminds me of the music from the film Eyes Wide Shut. Brett states it and the album title are intended to represent the anxieties and unease he’s dealt with in his own life, which are expressed in the lyrics of the songs on the EP.

Next up is “Truth Be Told“, a moody track with spacey industrial synths set to a bouncy, stop-start bass-drum beat. Brett has an unusual but pleasant singing voice that’s strongly emotive as he sings of the misery and guilt he feels over the death of a loved one:

Truth be told, I never thought that you’d be dead
Truth be told, I just can’t get you out o’my head
Truth be told, I’ve been obsessing for so long
I’d give anything to write a different song
Truth be told, I should have been the one to go
Truth be told, this burden’s getting hard to hold

The poignant “Empty Bottles” features a beautiful but melancholy piano-driven melody, backed by delicate, sparkling synths. Brett’s vocals, which range from a low croon that seems to emanate from deep within his core, to just below a falsetto, are nicely displayed on this song. He sings of destructive and futile attempts to drown one’s troubles in alcohol: “You’ll see in the end this was the old me. And all my insincere apologies, like lobotomies, came off the top of me. Apostles of endless empty bottles. As we both drive full throttle to the bottom of my problems.”

Brett dives deep into electronica on “New Goner“, employing a rich mix of glittery and otherworldly droning synths to create a spellbinding track. On the apocalyptic, synth-driven “Might Make My Way“, he speaks to the downsides of the internet and social media, and the thought control we’ve allowed ourselves to become imprisoned by: “Alien intruder, watching from a computer. Alias abuser, flying fear producer./ The sci-fi officers playing cops and robbers. Have nothing to offer and keep us in coffers. You can’t run, you can’t scream, it’s all part of their dream. Bright lights and loud noises, foreign distorted voices. If they transport me safely, might make my way back maybe.”

The final track “Hitting Backspace“, which Brett released as a single in February (on Valentine’s Day), is the darkest and most intense track on the EP. The song starts off with an ominous throbbing synth, then 10 seconds in a loud piercing synth enters, sounding a bit like a slowed-down version of the shrieking music heard in the famous shower scene in the film Psycho. He wanted to create a similar disturbing backdrop for his gloomy lyrics about feeling like being buried alive by the weight of his problems:  “It wasn’t like I anticipated facing all this in the time since yesterday. Sands keep falling. Feels like I’m slipping away… And trapped hitting backspace./ It wasn’t like I could keep up pacing, keep up pacing through the sands of yesterday.” At the end of the first verse, the music intensifies with deeper synths and heavier percussion that continue until fading out at the of the song.

disqui.etude is a marvelous work that beautifully showcases brett.grant.5’s singularly unique songwriting, composing and production talents. One of the things I especially like about it is how every track sounds totally different, which makes for an interesting and surprising listening experience. If you like music that’s innovative and unlike anything else you’ve heard before, you’ll enjoy this brilliant EP.

Follow Brett: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple Music

AGENCY PANIC – Single Review: “The Middle”

Agency Panic3

Agency Panic is an Irish rock band who, over the past year, have been establishing themselves as one of the more exciting and innovative acts in the progressive metal scene. They seem to prefer maintaining a low profile, however, as the few photos they have on their social media accounts are dark, with their faces in shadow, and I know them only by their first names:  J.D.K. on vocals, Tubs on guitars, Lee on bass, and Revsy on drums. My sense is that they want their music to speak for itself, rather than the focus be on them personally.

In July 2018, they released their monumental debut single “Panic” (which I reviewed) as the first installment from what they’re calling their ‘drip feed’ EP, which is being released one song at a time. The incredibly intense song set a very high bar for the band, with face-melting riffs, explosive percussion and fierce, chill-inducing vocals. I loved it so much it ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2018 list.

They followed up that October with their second single “Lie”, a darkly beautiful banger featuring more of their signature scorching riffs and thunderous percussion. Now they’ve returned with their third installment “The Middle“, which dropped June 14. It’s another winning single, serving to further bolster Agency Panic’s flawless resume for putting out stellar progressive metal songs that challenge the listener. Unlike a typical song with a catchy melody that quickly bores into our brain, progressive metal (or any progressive form of other music genres for that matter) often requires a closer and/or repeated listens to fully absorb and appreciate the nuance of the unusual melodies, song structures, lyrics and instrumentals, all of which “The Middle” has in spades.

In keeping with their penchant for maintaining a bit of mystery, the poetic lyrics are somewhat abstract and open to interpretation. When I asked J.D.K. of the meaning of the song, all he would tell me is that “it all took place in the middle of Amsterdam.” The song opens with a twangy electric guitar riff and a whisper of ominous synth, then a somber drumbeat kicks in as J.D.K. speaks in a rather unsettling echoed voice about what seems to be a dream or possible acid trip:

Blinding blinding flicker
Sparks of light
Creeping dilations
Pupils rise
Abstract thoughts
Deceptively distort, shadows crawl to the sirens song
As it all dissolves the show has just begun.
Through to black
Beyond the veil
The oceans of chaos were about to sail…

The guitar suddenly explodes into gnarly riffs of shredded distortion as deep bass and heavier percussion are added, and J.D.K.’s vocals turn more impassioned as he sings:

Invasive influence
Hooked direct to the mainline.
Re con struct self
Time has melted design
Illusion slowly reveal
Spilling right into the dream…
Ahhhhhhhhhh
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh
In the loop again
In the loop again
In the loop again

By the third verse, everything ramps up to near-frenzy, with screaming guitars and speaker-blowing drums as he fervently wails the lyrics that seem to speak of being reborn into a new reality:

Erasing what you think is real
Ego peels
Stripped down to bone to which you’ll find
One mind’s eye
Seductively it reels us in
Hooks through the skin
Past present future on a plain
Reincarnate
Walking through the void
Entrance to the other side
Take take fear…

Step from the darkness into the light
As movement slowed and we bent time 

The song closes with a fadeout of reverb, leaving me awestruck by its magnificence. Agency Panic are proving themselves to be phenomenal songwriters and musicians worthy of notice, and I’m thrilled to be following them on their musical journey as they continue to release more songs.

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

GG FEARN – EP Review: “Black Mirror”

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Some of the more interesting and provocative songwriting these days is coming from young female artists such as Billie Eilish, Courtney Barnett and Jade Bird, as well as indie artists like Erin Incoherent (who I featured last December) and GG Fearn, a remarkable 18-year-old singer-songwriter from Carmarthen, Wales. With a singular talent and maturity beyond her years, GG (short for Georgia) first started writing songs at the age of nine, and has become quite the wordsmith, penning thoughtful and frank lyrics about life and the darker aspects inherent in many of us. She’s already become a seasoned performer, having played at many different venues, most notably the famous Cavern in Liverpool, and her songs have received airplay on BBC Wales, and other radio stations throughout the UK. She’s just released a terrific four-song EP Black Mirror, which dropped on May 28.

In the creation of her music, GG melds elements of folk, pop, alternative rock, jazz and hip hop into a unique sound stew that could best be described as ‘dark folk-pop.’ She also has a clear and lovely singing voice brimming with character and confidence, while still retaining a touch of vulnerability. When combined with her compelling lyrics, it gives her songs a worldliness and sophistication that’s very relatable.

She gets right down to business on the EP opener “Deal With the Devil“, an upbeat-sounding song that belies its dark theme. The lyrics address the subject’s awareness of her wicked nature, and her feeling perfectly okay about it: “Another day. Chaos parade. Domestic life comes hand in hand with a knife, to use on you, your partner too. I looked in the mirror one night. Suddenly my soul takes flight. I made a deal with the devil. I don’t know why he picked me. I guess that something clicked. But living without your soul, it ain’t so bad. I never really had one anyway.” Musically, the song features crisp, bouncy synths that have an almost industrial feel, punctuated by glittery keys and subtle bass kicks. GG’s layered vocals are backed by a gruff, barely audible male vocal in the chorus, sounding as if the devil himself is singing in unison with her.

The superb title track “Black Mirror” opens with a simple, almost dubstep beat, then settles into a catchy bass-driven tempo that has us bopping our heads and swaying our hips. I love the intricate funky guitars, and GG’s layered vocals are really quite marvelous as she croons about not being happy with the current state of things. The black mirror seems to reflect all the stuff that’s troubling her, and she’s not liking what she sees: “I think I’m going crazy. Vision’s going hazy.  I know. I hear the shotgun ring, but you don’t hear a thing. Harm can be a comfort when poison is your king. A necklace made of pearls, and artificial girls. I’m stuck in a black mirror.”

I love all the tracks on the EP, but my favorite is “Teen Queen“, an in-your-face declaration of “Attention: someone new is now in charge!” Or, as fellow blogger Lakisha Skinner so beautifully put it in her wonderful Klef Notes review, it’s the “I’m the girl who will wear black to the prom and nobody betta say one thing to me about it song!”

Starting off with a magical little xylophone riff, the song quickly bursts open with lush, glittery synths and thunderous percussion, as if symbolizing a fairy princess making her grand entrance. As GG defiantly proclaims, “Now the deed is done, done, done, done…” a strutting dance beat kicks in and I’m hooked! She continues making her newfound dominance clear: “I’ve traveled through hell and all of its towns. God only knows where I’ve been. I’m the only girl that can wear the crown. Yes, I’m your new teen queen. You can call me narcissistic, but please don’t forget sadistic. I, I am your new teen queen. Nothing that they’ve ever seen. Your time on stage is through. Make way for someone new, new, new, new…” 

The rather cynical “Famous Last Words” speaks to our impermanence, regardless of how important we think we are while we’re alive: “Legacies they can be cruel whether you wear rags or jewels. I want mine to beat them all, so that when I fall, I want to be remembered. I want to go down in history. I want to be the greatest. I want to be the best.” The cold reality, however, is that most of us will be forgotten: People won’t remember when you’re dead. All the brilliant things that you have said. You can be known all around, but that don’t mean you’ll keep your crown even if you stitch it to your head. /And her famous last words were…(what were they?)”  The song has a catchy hip hop/trap beat, with sharp synths and deep bass. It’s a good song, and sounds like one Taylor Swift could have done, only better.

Black Mirror is a great little EP, and GG Fearn is an immensely talented songwriter, composer and vocalist with a lot to say. Hopefully, she’ll continue expressing herself with more wonderful songs very soon!

Connect with GG: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase “Black Mirror” on Amazon / Google Play