Artist Spotlight: THE MAYAN FACTOR

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As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, one of the redeeming qualities of Twitter is the astounding number of musicians and bands I continue to discover, a great deal of whom are really talented. One such band I recently had the good fortune of learning about is The Mayan Factor, a five-piece alternative rock outfit based in Baltimore, Maryland. They’ve been around since 2002, and after listening to their music I was perplexed as to why I’d not previously heard of them, because they’re phenomenal.

Their first release, the 2003 EP In Lake’ Ch, is a veritable masterpiece, featuring the powerful and stunning tracks “Warflower” and “Beauty and the Beast”. They followed up two years later with an equally stellar album 44. Then tragedy struck a hammer blow in 2011 when the band’s lead singer Ray Schuler died suddenly, leaving a void that sent the band and their fans reeling. They’d been recording songs for a third album Yesterday’s Son, which they went ahead and released in 2012. I strongly urge my readers to check them all out, because they’re fucking fantastic, and you’ll literally be the poorer if you don’t!

Not quite sure what to do after Ray’s death, the band considered going their separate ways, but the love and dedication of their fans persuaded them to soldier on. They eventually found another musician to be the band’s lead vocalist in Lenny Cerzosie Jr. Besides Lenny, who also plays rhythm guitar, the band lineup consists of Brian Scott (guitar), Kevin Baker (bass), Dan Angermaier (drums), and Jason Sage (percussion, backing vocals). Dan told me that Lenny has worked out very well as the band’s lead singer, bringing his own style to the mix. “Ray was unique. Lenny doesn’t try to be him. I think that’s why he works so well. He makes Ray’s words work for him.

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With their re-invigorated lineup, the band began writing new songs and in 2016, they released an epic single “Ascension“. Wow, this 7:13 minute-long song is a religious experience! Layer upon layer of gorgeous intricate guitars are combined with a strong bassline, exotic percussive synths and pounding drums to form an intense and lush soundscape, evoking the drama and color of an ancient Mayan ritual. Then there’s Lenny’s raw, passionate vocals, soaring to the heavens and adding to the chills already covering my body.

In January 2018, they released “Whispers“, a deeply moving song that was inspired by Lenny’s mother’s struggles of living with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”, which my mother-in-law also died from). Once again, the guitar work is stunning, and the bass, drums and synths are perfection, making for a formidable powerhouse track. Lenny’s fervent vocals at first remind me of Michael Stipe’s, but as the track progresses they grow more impassioned as he wails of the pain of watching a loved one gradually slip away: “I thought we had another day. Another day just passed away. Azaleas grow along the way. I thought we’d have another day. I’ll meet you in the other place. Heaven couldn’t stay away, Angels wouldn’t sing that day.”

Their most recent single “hOpe” was also inspired by Lenny’s mother’s battle with ALS. About the song’s title, the band explains “The definition of the word HOPE is ‘to cherish a desire with anticipation’, but the word truly takes on different meanings to each of us as individuals. However different the meaning of the word is to us, it all connects us together with the promise of change and the promise of light after darkness. Even though friends and family may not be with us, they remain as long as they are in our hearts. They speak to us but without words. We created this song as an anthem to those traveling through darkness of illness, grief and any type of difficult time.”

It’s a lovely, bittersweet song with beautiful jangly guitars, anchored by a sturdy humming bassline and pounding drums. Lenny’s passionate vocals have a raw vulnerability as he sings the poignant lyrics:

I remember the sound. 
Not the words but the sound of her voice 
trembling, trembling 
I remember the things she said to me 
All this life is lost into the night, too soon 

Tonight… 
I remember her eyes, so sweet so sweet 
Lovingly, so lovely 
Don’t let me fall, don’t let her fade

The beautiful animated video shows scenes of a young boy moving through a colorful dream-like landscape with what appears to be his grandmother and, in one scene, his grandfather.

They released a beautifully moving alternative video for “hOpe” that was shot in Mexico as a symbolic tribute to Lenny’s mother. It shows us the faces of #hOpe, of survivors who didn’t give up hope to keep living.

And so, dear readers, my hope is that you’ll give these songs a listen, and end up loving The Mayan Factor as much as I do. Not only do they make incredible music, but their resiliency and strong sense of humanity are admirable. They’re true survivors, and I hope they’ll continue making more great music for years to come.

Connect with The Mayan Factor on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / cdbaby

SEPIA – Album Review: “Drop Dead, Gorgeous..”

Sepia Drop Dead Gorgeous

Sepia is a four-piece modern rock band from Baltimore, Maryland that I have the pleasure of reviewing today. Drawing from a myriad of influences ranging from rock, 90’s grunge and punk to folk and pop, they create exceptional songs with arresting melodies, intelligent lyrics and wicked riffs. Making all this great music are Ryan Beckelman (lead vocals, guitar), Derek Falzoi (drums, percussion),  Colleen Becker (bass), and Chris Gray (lead guitar).

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Following up on their 2014 debut album …break my heart, in March they released their sophomore effort Drop Dead, Gorgeous.. – one of the better albums I’ve heard this year, with the absolute best title. The band describes their intent behind the album’s creation: “This…album explores the edgy side of everyday life. Carefully telling a story of love, loss, and self deprecation…without taking ourselves too seriously.  The album embraces the cynical world of life, relationships, competition, success and failures. Conflict and duality are often found in shades of gray, or more notably, “sepia tones”, but now can be heard and felt through Sepia tunes!”

The album opens with the hard-hitting “Change For You,” an exhilarating guitar-driven rock song that sets the tone for things to come. The thunderous percussion, grimy riffs and fuzzy bass are fantastic, and really showcase the band’s impressive musicianship.  Ryan’s passionately sings the biting lyrics that speak to someone who’s been all take and no give in the relationship: ” You lie like a rug, but I’m the one who’s trampled. / Why can’t you change for me, when I’ve changed so much for you. I never spoke my mind, cause I thought you’d get the clue. I’m looking right at you girl, but it’s me you’re looking through.”

Cool” has a bit of a Nirvana vibe with grungy guitars and a strong driving beat. The distorted riffs in the bridge are terrific, as are Ryan’s vocals as he castigates someone who’s always putting him down “You’re so critical, when I stumble, when I fall. I hope you know, I hope you know this isn’t cool anymore.” One of the standout tracks that was also released as a single is “Marionette.” The song immediately hooks us with an enthralling little acoustic guitar riff, then heavier electric guitar, bass and percussion ensue. I love the song’s captivating melody, and the recurring guitar riff is marvelous.

Home” is a really nice soft-rock track with gently distorted riffs, tambourine, and lots of crashing cymbals. The optimistic lyrics are from someone essentially telling his better half how much she means to him: “Your laughter, your laughter is all that I’m after. You’re my home and my life.” “Better Out Than In” is an emotionally-charged rock song that speaks to the personal struggle with alcohol abuse. “My insides turn to outsides out on the curb. My sign says occupied and please don’t disturb. Better out than in. Where do we begin. The bottom of this bottle is calling my name. With no regard for health and no one to blame.”

In addition to awesome guitar-driven rock, Sepia also creates some very fine ballads. One is “Delaware,” a lovely, bittersweet folk rock song about the end of a relationship where one of them checked out emotionally long ago. “And if you’re looking for your crazy train. You are on the right track. So spend your last days in Delaware. Out of sight and out of mind. I am doing fine. Your excuses are tired. But there’ll be time to sleep when you are dead.” Ryan’s heartfelt vocals are really nice, and the acoustic and electric guitar work is terrific. Another is “Blindside,” a gorgeous ballad that reminds me of a few songs by The Script.

Born Yesterday” is a grunge-rock song that seems to be about how falling in love can sometimes make you lose all good sense and throw caution out the window: “You make me stupid. Like I was born yesterday. They said we couldn’t so we did it anyway.” “Hard to Tell” is a fast-paced rock song with a galloping drum beat and twangy guitars that impart of bit of a Western vibe. The band closes out the album with the powerful track “The Invincible.” Starting out with mysterious synths, the song erupts into a barrage of distorted guitars, buzzing bass and tumultuous percussion.  The lyrics speak of someone who’s shut themself off from emotional involvement, possibly from past hurts or the fear of being hurt again: “Figured out exactly who you’re supposed to be. Locked your chest and threw away the key. The invincible.”

Drop Dead, Gorgeous.. is a superb album from a band with a strong sense of who they are and what they want to express though their music. Their skill at writing engaging melodies and thoughtful lyrics, then expertly performing them, makes for an incredible listening experience. I hope we won’t have to wait another four years for Sepia to release their next album.

Connect with Sepia:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Reverbnation / Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp