POLARIZER – Album Review: “Love from the Underground”

Polarizer is a phenomenal five-piece band from Chicago who play a progressive style of alternative rock they appropriately describe as “loud, spacey epic rock”, earning them comparisons to bands like Muse, Rush and Jane’s Addiction. Formed in 2011, they’ve undergone a few changes in line-up over the years, and now consist of singer-songwriter Taylor Brennan, Stan Tencza (keyboards), Ian Palmer (guitars), Chris Shen (bass) and John Schiller (drums). (Brennan is also vocalist for Chicago rock band The Million Reasons, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog.)

Polarizer released their debut EP Lightscapes in 2013, followed by a superb full-length album The Fall and the Swell in 2016, after which they stayed fairly quiet over the next few years. They returned to the studio in late 2019 to begin recording their long-awaited second album Love from the Underground, but the pandemic interrupted their progress for several months. Finally, in August 2020, they released their single “One for One”, then followed six months later with a second single “Metronome”, which I reviewed. Both singles are included on Love from the Underground, which dropped November 11th.   

Two years in the making, the album is most definitely worth the wait. It’s a dark, beautiful, and utterly magnificent work that marks a triumphal return for Polarizer. While none of its 12 tracks can be described as “catchy”, they’re all incredibly melodic and meticulously-crafted. Overflowing with nuance, the songs are highlighted by deeply compelling lyrics, jaw-dropping instrumentation and Brennan’s arresting tenor vocals. It’s not often that I love every single song on an album, especially one as long as this, but that’s exactly the case with Love from the Underground. I’ve listened to it more than ten times, and still feel almost giddy at the arrival of each song. This has also been one of the more challenging album reviews I’ve ever written, as there’s a lot to unpack, both musically and lyrically.

Like a lot of albums, this one also features songs addressing such oft-covered topics as love, loss, familial relationships and even politics. Kicking off the album is “Sink into the Ghost“, an intense rock song that, along with closing track “Dead Can Sing“, as well as the hard-hitting gem “We’ll Meet Again“, speak of coming to terms with losing people that helped shaped you, who with their deaths took a piece of you with them, and leaving you wondering whether you could have done anything to change the outcome. On “Sink into the Ghost”, Brennan passionately implores “What if I sing aloud the right words? What if I sing aloud, could I really be heard? It won’t bring you back. It won’t make me whole. Until the dead can be, I will sing no more.”

One of the highlights on an album full of them is “Metronome“, a truly spectacular song calling out the divisive and destructive ways of many of our leaders, and urging newer generations to rise up against those forces to build a better future, with a lyric from which the album’s title comes: “The old way is divisive. It keeps us small. Make way for the new kids. They’re coming up. / The future belongs to those in love from the underground.” Everything about the song is perfection from start to finish, and when the music erupts into a monumental crescendo, bolstered by Brennan’s impassioned vocals that almost sound like another instrument in themselves, I’m left covered with goosebumps. I love the song so much that it spent 20 weeks on my Weekly Top 30, going all the way to #3. I love the video too, which shows the guys giving a socially-distanced yet electrifying performance in a Chicago studio.

Continuing on a similar theme, “One for One” is a scathing takedown of those who traffic in conspiracy theories, intolerance and extreme political views, nicely delivered with hard-driving rhythms, grungy riffs and psychedelic synths. Brennan’s vocals are almost chilling as he sings the biting lyrics: “I’m fluent in this psycho talk. I speak the party’s opinion. Last one in on the lie and the lie’s all yours. I am a nightmare in the dark. Turn on the lights I come to life. Melody never taught that you can’t catch falling stars. I’m all for one and one for one. The story ends. You’ve lost your friends to the party’s opinion. There’s a lot on the line. So where is your line crossed?” Man, those last three lines really resonate with me, as recent political trends have greatly strained or ended several friendships and familial relationships.

Polarizer ventures toward metal rock on “Eventually You Get Caught“, with an opening guitar riff that reminds me a bit of “Enter Sandman”, though the song sounds totally different, both melodically and structurally, than the Metallica classic. And the flourishes of distortion at the end are definitely metal-esque. The hard-driving “Everything is Mad” is heavy and intense, though Brennan told me it’s meant to be a joyful song about a parent feeling so stunned and humbled by bringing a new life into the world, but also left wondering what this responsibility and joy means when they aren’t living their own truth. Will the compromises they need to make in order to experience true happiness be reachable?

The band’s extraordinary musicianship is showcased on virtually every track, highlighted by Palmer’s virtuoso guitar work, Tencza’s colorful keyboards and the tight rhythmic grooves of Shen and Schiller not to mention Brennan’s gorgeous resonant vocals. Case in point is “Ever a Stranger“, with beautiful riffs layered over a galloping bassline, and featuring a thrilling guitar solo by Palmer in the bridge. The lyrics touch on the loss of innocence, and realizing you can no longer rely on a relationship when your partner refuses to meet you halfway. “Fear the attraction, harder to trust. You’re calling it love, but your love’s not returned. /And I need you now, how I knew you then, but strangers still have a way to go.”

The centerpiece of the album is “Le Drama Des Os” (The Drama of Bones), a stunning five-minute long celestial masterpiece that tells the romantic saga of Black Hole and Nova. Brennan explained the meaning behind their characters: “Black Hole is the more isolated loner, living day to day, not pushing himself to find happiness, just floating about, not taking chances. The ‘black hole’ title means that this character needs light and joy in his life he hasn’t seen before. Like a black hole when he receives this light, this energy, he can’t get enough of it, consuming it at all costs. And Nova is the opposite, an endless giver of light and energy, who meets Black Hole at the time when he needs her most, but the mutual need and attraction is almost unsustainable, its almost destructive. It’s like two magnets being pulled apart slowly but that attraction being too strong to break it apart. They get together at all costs, and it either is the most beautiful love ever on record, or it ends the world around them as they know it.

The song opens with Palmer’s glittery guitar riff, accompanied by Shen’s gentle bassline as Brennan softly introduces us to the two characters: “Black Hole was proud to be alone. He never had to give a piece away. Nova had pieces on her mantle, that never added up to anything. The Big Bang they felt was catastrophic challenged everything they thought they knew.” The music explodes like a supernova in the choruses with a riotous mix of raging and swirling guitars, thumping bass, otherworldly synths and thunderous drums, before calming back down in the verses as Brennan concludes the story: “Finally their eyes met from a distance. The bigger bang had stolen from their core. As the world around them faded into darkness, nothing of the pieces that they were. Traveling the path of least resistance. Compromise with the best intentions, still halfway to nowhere.”

The great songs keep on coming. “Phases of the Moon” is a full-blown rocker, loaded with a chugging barrage of gnarly riffs and explosive rhythms. Brennan’s vocals sound lower and more muscular on this track, and I love how they trail off to a low growl at the end. The darkly beautiful “Time of Death” has a strong Muse vibe, thanks to its eerie piano riffs and shredded guitars. Brennan passionately laments “Throw me a line, I feel insane. Does it seem that way to you? It falls away, it’s all the same. Another hour I’m making mirror deals selling out my future self. High hopes are put off until tomorrow.” And the marvelous Alice in Chains-esque “Glow”, with its fierce, jaw-dropping guitar work and explosive rhythms, speaks of being drawn to someone so intensely that you can barely function.

The dramatic album closer “Dead Can Sing” brings things full-circle with a blend of shimmery and gnarly guitars, sparkling keyboards, pummeling bass, tumultuous percussion and soaring vocals, giving the song a wonderful anthemic quality. In the final chorus Brennan plaintively sings the refrain “Until the dead can sing and be heard, where do I turn to? And in the end when it’s my turn, how will I find you?” as the song fades off in a trail of spooky synths and military drumbeats.

What more can I say about this spectacular record that I haven’t already gushed about? Love from the Underground is a marvelous, flawlessly-produced album, and one of the best of 2021 in my humble opinion. I love Polarizer’s music, and hope my readers will give this album a listen and enjoy it as much as I do.

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A MILLION RICH DAUGHTERS – Single Review: “Left Behind”

Hailing from Chicago, post-punk band a million rich daughters play a unique and fascinating style of, in their own words – “garage/industrial/horror inspired alternative post-punk – music that transcends the typical boundaries of the observable universe.” Founded by brothers Brett and Jake Grant, with Brett on vocals, guitars and synths, and Jake on drums, the four-piece now includes Matt Clepper on guitar and Dani Putrino on bass. (Brett also has a solo project under the moniker brett.grant.5.)  Exactly two years ago to the day – November 15th also happens to be Brett’s birthday – they released their brilliant debut EP Hidden Parents, which I reviewed. Now they’re back with a haunting new single “Left Behind“, their first new music release in two years. 

Brett was inspired to write “Left Behind” during a painful separation from his wife Ashlee (which thankfully was only temporary, as they’re both very special people who I’ve become quite fond of, albeit by long distance). He elaborates “In the broader sense, it’s about the helplessness of being left behind by someone who has outgrown you, and the feeling of betrayal that comes with that. One thing about this song is it’s all just AAA format. It’s a single verse repeated over and over as the music builds around it to the climax at the end. I intended for it to convey the whole concept of ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ When I was going through all that, I was literally just stewing in my emotions, self medicating with whatever I could get my hands on, and I felt unable to break out of the cycle. Add to this, this ALL happened right at the beginning of Covid. So I was going through all this, and suddenly I couldn’t leave the house or see anyone.

The song is darkly beautiful and melodic, with more of a dream pop sound than most of their previous songs. It opens with a simple, rather somber guitar riff as Brett forlornly laments “Well, I’ll swallow my pride and ‘ll eat my mistakes. And I’ll throw up the memory if that’s what it takes. Devour the regret, I’ll gorge on the shame. If it means in the end you’ll absolve me of blame. Your words when you left me been plaguing my mind. Now I’ve been vanquished, you’ve finally left me behind.”

Approximately 50 seconds into the track, Matt’s gorgeous swirling guitar enters, accompanied by Dani’s gently thumping bassline and Jake’s measured drumbeats, creating a dreamy but haunting backdrop for Brett’s increasingly impassioned vocals, backed by lovely soaring harmonies. Everything continues to build to a dramatic crescendo, replete with a blistering guitar solo in the final verse before trailing off in a outro of spooky synths as Brett sadly concludes “Your words when you left me been plaguing my mind. Now I’ve been vanquished, you’ve finally left me behind.” I love this song, and think it’s their best one yet.

The wonderful artwork for the single was created by Brett’s beautiful and creative wife Ashlee.

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Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes 

New Song of the Week – GUARDRAIL: “Social Meteor”

While Chicago-based rockers Guardrail don’t take themselves too seriously – they describe themselves as “the world’s first Diet Punk band, just a combination of ‘pop’ and ‘punk’ that uses Splenda instead of real sugar, and because of that, until you get used to us, we’re going to leave a bad taste in your mouth” – they’re quite serious about making the best music possible. Their hard-hitting, high-energy style of rock is a happy blend of punk, pop and metal, which on some songs reminds me of such acts as Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41 and even the Beastie Boys. Formed in 2014, the band has undergone several changes in lineup, and now consists of Kevin Andrew (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar, vocals), Alyssa Laessig (bass, vocals) and Doug Brand (drums). (Ken is also guitarist for Chicago bands The Million Reasons, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog, and Wild Gravity.)

They released their debut EP Wordswords in 2015, which they followed two years later with Par at Best. Since cementing their current lineup in 2018, they’ve released several singles and in September 2020, dropped their third EP Yikes. Now they’re back with a new single “Social Meteor“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. True to form, Guardrail delivers a relentless barrage of jagged riffs, chugging bass and explosive drums to drive home their timely message of our cultural addiction to social media, and its pernicious effect on our sense of identity and self-worth.

Kevin and Alyssa sing the biting lyrics with forceful intensity, powerfully expressing their exasperation with things and feelings of helplessness to do anything about it: “There’s real human contact beyond my fingertips, but I couldn’t give a shit. There’s an object unidentified approaching me (Oh wait!), it’s just my self-doubt and uncertainty. Why can’t I come back down? I’m stuck in the stratosphere. My lack of satisfaction left me stranded out here. How should I know what they expect from me? I’ll just write another paragraph and run away from my fear.”

“Social Meteor” is a rousing banger of a tune, and I think it’s one of Guardrail’s best songs yet. The fun video shows snippets of each bandmembers individually performing the song, as well as serving as judges of a low-budget talent show.

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POLARIZER – Single Review: “Metronome”

I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Polarizer, a phenomenal five-piece band from Chicago. They play a progressive style of alternative rock they call “loud, spacey epic rock” that’s earned them comparisons to bands like Muse, Rush and Jane’s Addiction. I learned about them last year through their front man and vocalist Taylor Brennan, who’s also vocalist for Chicago rock band The Million Reasons, one of my favorite bands who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. Formed in 2011 by Brennan and his childhood friend, keyboardist Stan Tencza, along with guitarist Ian Palmer and drummer Ben Ludwig, they released their debut EP Lightscapes in 2013. Ludwig subsequently departed in 2015, and was later replaced by drummer John Schiller, as well as bassist Chris Shen, who complete the current lineup. Polarizer released their superb full-length album The Fall and the Swell in 2016, after which they stayed fairly quiet over the next few years.

They returned to the studio in late 2019 to begin recording a new album, and in August 2020 released a single “One for One”, their first new music in four years. On February 14th, they dropped their latest single “Metronome“, a powerful and stunning feast for the ears that I loved at first listen. The song is magnificent, and though it lasts only four minutes and 22 seconds, it feels and sounds epic in scope, in confirmation of Polarizer’s own self-assessment of their music. Every single aspect of the track – its elaborate melody and dynamic arrangement, Ian’s killer guitar work, Stan’s intricate keyboards, John’s muscular drums, Chris’s incredible bass line (played on what appears to be a five-string bass), and Taylor’s gorgeous vocals – is perfection from start to finish. I love how the music erupts into a monumental crescendo, bolstered by Taylor’s jaw-dropping impassioned vocals that almost sound like another instrument in themselves. It’s truly spectacular!

The lyrics call out the divisiveness and self-destructive ways of many of our leaders, urging newer generations to rise up against those forces to build a better future: “The old way is divisive. It keeps us small. Make way for the new kids. They’re coming up. / The future belongs to those in love from the underground.” Then there’s the amazing video, which shows the guys at the top of their game, performing the song in a Chicago studio. I often prefer seeing artists and bands performing their songs on videos, rather than a scripted, acted-out storyline, unless it’s done really well. Their performance, even done socially distanced from each other, is electrifying.

I can confidently state that “Metronome” is one the best new songs I’ve heard in a very long while, and I’m thrilled to feature this brilliant band and their song on my blog. They deserve more acclaim and many more followers, so please check out their music and give them a follow on social media.

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BRETT.GRANT.5 – Single Review: “Burning Fire”

Brett Grant

One of the joys of having a music blog is being able to give independent and unsigned artists some free press and hopefully expose them and their music to a wider audience. An artist I’m particularly fond of is Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer Brett Grant, who goes by the artistic moniker brett.grant.5. Drawing from a wide range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to video game music and experimental progressive rock, his sound is edgy, unorthodox and fascinating. And his brutally-honest and personal lyrics explore some of the darker sides of life, society, and mental health.

Brett’s been making music for many years, both as a solo artist and as a member of several bands. He plays guitars & synths and sings vocals for A Million Rich Daughters, and previously pounded drums in Sleep For Dinner and TOOFUNCHILD. In addition to his work with the aforementioned bands, as well as earning a B.A. Degree in Music last year, he’s released two solo EPs – digital dirge in 2016 and disqui.etude in 2019 (read my review here). Now he returns with “Burning Fire“, his first new single in a year.

The song is a repudiation of the religious dogma that keeps people enslaved on so many different levels – mentally, socially, culturally and physically. Brett explained that the song “is about rejecting concepts we’ve been force-fed, and trying to unveil the truth through all the lies. The ‘burning fire’ [refers to] the self-righteous light that the hyper-religious shine upon the world, casting dark shadows that create monsters.” As someone who was raised Catholic but am now Atheist, the lyrics strongly resonate with me. I’m always suspect when people invoke god and religion to legitimize their oppression of others, or to further their hateful racist, homophobic or exclusionary agendas.

Musically, Brett uses a complex and dramatic mix of harsh, psychedelic and spooky industrial synths, along with a hypnotic drumbeat to create a dark, ominous soundscape befitting the scathing lyrics. His vocals are equally menacing as he practically snarls his verses, yet there are moments of haunting beauty too, especially in the bridge where he plaintively implores “the world ends with you / the world ends with me / the world ends with us / at least we’ll all be free.”

Like many electronic songs with experimental and progressive rock elements , I found that “Burning Fire” gets better with each listen, as I discovered more nuances in both its melodic structure and the array of instruments and sounds used in the song. Brett will be donating all proceeds from purchases of the song to Black Lives Matter Chicago.

in underlying tunnels in my head
disqualifying thoughts all painted red
creatures undying I can’t regulate
identifying efforts to castrate

your burning fire’s been oscillating
the shadows discharged are starting to take hold
your burning fire is suffocating
nightmarish monsters eroding self-control

emulsifying actions and my thoughts
i’m patronizing the stations of the cross
the underlying message won’t come clean
but I’ve been spying actions so obscene
yeah I’ve been trying to fight this dissonance
by qualifying the sacrifice I’ve spent
the mystifying stories I’ve been told
unsatisfying, removing my blindfold

your burning fire’s been oscillating
the shadows discharged are starting to take hold
your burning fire is suffocating
nightmarish monsters eroding self-control

the world ends with you
the world ends with me
the world ends with us
at least we’ll all be free
the world ends with you
the world ends with me
the world ends with us
at least we’ll all be free
the world ends with you
the world ends with me

your burning fire’s been oscillating
the shadows discharged are starting to take hold
your burning fire is suffocating
nightmarish monsters eroding self-control

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Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple MusicGoogle Play

THE MILLION REASONS – EP Review: “If Not for the Fire”

The Million Reasons If Not For the Fire

One of my favorite indie rock bands is Chicago-based The Million Reasons. I became a fan of theirs the instant I heard their magnificent song “Dizzy” in the summer of 2018 (I love it so much it ended up at #69 on my 100 Best Songs of the 2010s list). I’ve closely followed this talented group of guys ever since, and have featured them a number of times on this blog. (You can read my previous reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) Having five members, including two guitarists, their sound is dynamic, heavy and melodic, and consistently delivered with killer riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals. 

I was sad to learn their vocalist Scott Nadeau left the band last August but, fortunately, they quickly found a phenomenal replacement in Taylor Brennan, a close friend of band drummer Colin Dill. Brennan is also vocalist for Chicago alt-rock band Polarizer (they’re pretty terrific too, so do check out their music). In addition to Brennan and Dill, the other band members include guitarists Mike Nichols and Ken Ugel, and bassist Jason Cillo. Brennan brought not only his vocal talents, but also his great songwriting skills and years of experience, which have expanded The Million Reasons’ musical horizons quite nicely. Whereas their music has primarily been classic rock/rock’n’roll oriented, some of their new songs venture more into progressive rock territory. They’ve also employed additional instrumentation, including keyboards and cello, into some tracks, giving them a fuller and richer sound.

With that in mind, the band set to writing and composing a huge array of songs, four of which they’ve selected for their new EP If Not for the Fire, which dropped February 21st. The songs are rather dark, with brutally honest lyrics that the band describes as “a study of separation and self-discovery.” The EP was beautifully produced by band guitarist Ken Ugel, along with Nick Stetina and Noam Wallenberg, and flawlessly mixed and mastered by Stetina. The other band guitarist Mike Nichols designed the artwork.

They kick things off with the title track “If Not for the Fire”, a bombastic, high-energy rocker that clearly shows the band hasn’t lost their stride. The song opens with a brief flurry of fuzzy guitars and Dill’s power drums, then Cillo lays down a funky little bass solo before everything erupts into a barrage of thunderous musical mayhem, and we’re off to the races. The guys unleash their inner beasts, setting the airwaves aflame with fiery riffs, throbbing bass and explosive drumbeats. Brennan quickly dispels any doubts I may have held regarding the issue of a new vocalist, blowing me away with his incredible vocals. He literally raises goosebumps as he fervently wails the lyrics that speak of his need for an intense, almost obsessive kind of love that thrills and excites: “I came for the curse of / I came for the kiss of / A love divine that paralyzes / What did you come for / If not for the fire to light you up this way.”

The fantastic video, filmed and directed by Philip Goode, shows Brennan seated at a table, struggling to write (something I can identify with as a music blogger), juxtaposed with scenes of the band performing the song and working their magic with their respective instruments. Their energy and charisma are strongly evident.

“Pretty Ones” is a brilliant track, with a complex melodic structure and intricate, yet powerful  instrumentation that give it a monumental prog-rock feel. The dual guitars of Nichols and Ugel are really spectacular here. The lyrics explore the restlessness that exists in some of us – the internal struggle between putting down roots in one place or with one person vs. the desire for eternal freedom and believing the grass is greener somewhere else or with someone else, but also fearing that perhaps we’re just running away from ourselves: “Ever after chasing down the pretty ones / Right back to the place where I am running from / In motion, stuck in motion / I fear it’s just my nature.

The guys slow things down on “No North Star”, a gorgeous but melancholy ballad about a man at the end of his rope, ready to give up all vestiges of hope. The song starts off with a mournful cello and beautiful acoustic guitar, as Brennan forlornly laments about mistakes he’s made: “Four on the floor / As the shower head pours heat on me / Praying to the god of sorry / I’m sure she has questions for me.” Gradually, a lovely piano enters along with more guitar, drums and bass, all of which grow more expansive as the song progresses until reaching a dramatic crescendo at the end, at which point Brennan passionately implores: “Stare in the sunken-in eyes of a ghost of a shell of a half of a half of a man / Saying what good can I be if I couldn’t be better for you / I couldn’t lie when you asked me to lie / But I’ll die if you ask me tonight / I’m going to die anyway / I might as well do it for you.” Though I love all four tracks, “No North Star” is my favorite.

“All You Can Afford” is a dark and heavy kiss-off to a lover who’s pushed the relationship beyond the breaking point: “I’m taking the keys to my heart and your car / I’ll leave you behind / Hoping you’ll find all that you can’t afford / My love, anymore.” The guys deliver blistering riffs and a torrent of hard-driving grooves during the first two-thirds of the track while Brennan sings the lyrics. The music then transitions to an almost cinematic instrumental for the outro, finally ending with a harsh, increasingly loud static-like sound in the final 30 seconds that seems to symbolize a rather violent end – of the relationship perhaps?

If Not for the Fire is a wonderful little fireball of an EP (sorry for the bad pun, but hey, it perfectly describes the work) that packs quite a major punch in it’s 16-minute run time. I love The Million Reasons, and am thrilled to see them continue to grow and evolve through time and personnel changes, something not all bands are able to successfully navigate. Drummer Colin Dill told me they’ve written about 20 new songs, and I cannot wait to hear them!

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A MILLION RICH DAUGHTERS – Album Review: “Hidden Parents”

A Million Rich Daughters

Today I’m happy to introduce my readers to a terrific band with an equally terrific name: a million rich daughters. Hailing from Chicago, they play an interesting and totally unique style of, in their own words – “garage/industrial/horror inspired alternative post-punk – music that transcends the typical boundaries of the observable universe.” That sounds about right. The band was founded by brothers Brett and Jake Grant, with Brett on vocals, guitars and synths, and Jake on drums. They were later joined by Matt Clepper, Rene Gutierrez and Taylor Ford, and just released their new EP Hidden Parents, which dropped November 15. After recording the album, Gutierrez and Ford left the band, and were replaced by bassist Josh Victor. Brett also has a solo project under the moniker brett.grant.5, and released his own EP disqui.etude this past June (which I reviewed).

The first track “Hitting Backspace” is a reworking of a song that was originally featured on disqui.etude. This time the mesmerizing track has been expanded by more than a minute, and gets a heavier full-band treatment. Starting off with moody, throbbing synths and shadowy bass chords, the music gradually builds into a spine-tingling crescendo of swirling jangly and psychedelic guitars, accompanied by harsh industrial synths and a deep, thumping percussive beat. Brett has a quirky, distinctive singing voice, and here he sings in a kind of plaintive monotone that grows more dramatic as the music intensifies. His vocals perfectly express the desperate feelings of being buried alive by the staggering weight of one’s 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.”

The next track “Love Me After” is a feast for the ears, and possibly my favorite on the album. It begins with an enticing mix of plucked guitar strings, delicate snare and a delicious little bass riff that really does it for me. Then a thumping drumbeat ensues, punctuated by jarring jolts of what sound to me like intensely amplified guitar chords. As Brett’s vocals enter the proceedings, the music explodes with equal measures of heavier guitars, synths and percussion. Brett passionately laments of a relationship heavily damaged by a long history of hurt and verbal abuse, yet still holding out hope that perhaps it can be salvaged: “Just like you said, I’m as good as dead, yet you call my words slander. One day we’ll break these goddamn mistakes. Maybe you’ll love me after?” The wailing guitar solo after the final chorus is wonderful.

Melancholia” is a bit of a musical tour-de-force, as it takes us on a delightful four minute long sonic journey. The first part of the song features a frantic punk rock tempo, with rapid-fire riffs and pummeling drumbeats, all anchored by a killer bass line. At around 2:30, the song transitions to a languid, synth-driven melody, with crisp percussion and that lovely bass taking center stage. Eventually, the frantic punk vibe returns in the final chorus for a great, head-banging finish. The lyrics seem to be about not allowing yourself to be defeated by depression or the oppressive forces imposed upon us by others, and to instead speak up and fight for one’s rights: “If you feel like you’re captive in a boat with no captain, speak up! Well I can’t just forget it, and I’ll always regret it, come on. Melancholia’s passion is a pit of distraction, come on. Now we’ve lost all our assets and we can’t pay for access, speak up!

Truth Be Told” is another track from disqui.etude that’s given a fuller instrumental treatment here, with spooky synths, muscular thumping drumbeats and intricate layered guitars. The stabbing guitar chords add a dramatic touch to the mix to great effect. I think this remake nicely enhances the impact of the haunting lyrics that speak to feelings of misery and guilt over the death of a loved one. Brett’s heartfelt vocals are really moving as he sings “Truth be told, I never thought that you’d be dead. Truth be told, I just can’t get you out 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’ve been the one to go. Truth be told, this burden’s getting hard to hold.

A million rich daughters dial the energy back up with “Possibly a Problem“, delivering furious riffs of jangly guitars and hard-driving rhythms. My take on the song’s meaning is that it’s about how as more aspects of ourselves and our past are revealed in the early stages of a new relationship, we fear the other may lose interest in us, given our shortcomings. In this case, alcoholism appears to be the possible problem: “Lost so many to elixir, don’t you disappear. I just want to make sure, if I’m sick again, be my cure. Possibly a small problem, but I just want to be your man.

The title track “Hidden Parents” has a wonderful electro-psych rock groove, and I love the haunting lead melody. Once again, there’s a lot going on here musically speaking, with numerous tempo and melodic change-ups. At times the song has an 80s new wave vibe, only to later veer headlong into frenetic punk rock beats. Backed by dark, sweeping synths and aggressive rhythms, the intricate, multi-textured guitar work is fantastic. Brett’s distant, echoed vocals convey a vulnerable sense of desperation as he seems to be asking for forgiveness for the wrongs he’s done: “Oh things, have changed, the damage done. Oh look, at what, I have, become. Now I, am lame and most probably not sane. There is, no me, no in-between. There’s still, one thing, I want, to do. And what, I want is to get a little closer to you. Oh it’s always for you.”

I must admit that this was one of the most challenging reviews for me to write in my four years of doing this. Despite having only six tracks, there’s a whole lot to unpack in each song. Not being a musician, and having no music ability nor training of any kind, I sometimes have a difficult time articulating what I’m hearing. Hidden Parents is an experimental work, teeming with unconventional, ever-changing melodies, deep, often abstract lyrics, and loads of innovative, complex instrumentation that give it a compelling and fascinating sound. Indeed, Brett himself told me the album “is fucking weird; there’s a lot going on technique-wise in the music theory, as well as a lot of layers.” That’s for sure, and while it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think it’s brilliant.

Connect with AMRD:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

LAGPASS – EP Review: “Ostrich Approach”

Lagpass EP art

Lagpass is the new music project of a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Chicago who’s previously recorded under the name Draft Evader. I’ve featured Draft Evader’s music a number of times on this blog over the past two years, and have always been impressed by his deeply personal lyrics addressing his struggles with depression and self-doubt, then set to aggressive guitar-driven melodies, and backed with bass and drums. I’ve also enjoyed watching him grow and mature as a songwriter, musician and vocalist. Now, wanting his songs to feel even more honest and raw, he’s opting for an essentially guitar-only sound, recording under the new moniker Lagpass. When I asked how he came up with that name, he explained “Lagpass is a term my brother and I used to say when we would play National Hockey League video games. It’s basically just a missed pass after you hold down the pass button too long. It’s bound to happen at least once or twice a game and I catch myself saying “lagpass” all the time.”

He’s just released his first recording as Lagpass, a new EP titled Ostrich Approach, featuring four relatively short tracks that get right to the point with only his guitar and vocals providing the sounds we hear. First up is the title track, which seems to speak to solving your problems by eliminating the shit that’s complicating your life. His resonant, jangly guitar notes provide all the music needed to create a dramatic backdrop for his earnest, almost raspy vocals as he sings:

you can take your numbers
divide them by your clutter
then you should burn that old ski mask
you can take that platform
& add it to your ant farm
then you should dump it in the grass

so sick of hamsters, ghosts, zombies and vampires
I think it’s time that I light a match
but I’m allergic to sulfur
no need to sulk & suffer
here’s a lighter, it’s time to detach

On “Reassurance“, he ponders conflicted feelings of wondering if he’s going crazy, or just going through some difficult times, that everything’s basically okay, and you just got to deal with it. Musically, the track has a folk-rock sound, with fuzz-covered strummed electric guitars.

this constant stress and voices in my head
always talking questioning my sanity
something’s wrong with me
nothing’s wrong with me

replaced eating with dry heaving
two little devils resting on my shoulder blades
reacquainted with high maintenance
you gave your two cents
but you’ve still got hell to pay

i’m exhausted, still nauseous
just looking for a way to enjoy the day
reassurance is just a burden
can’t change nothin’ cept the way you handle fate

Old Ashes” speaks to the difficulties of maintaining a relationship, of the compromises we must often make to keep it alive, worrying about whether it can survive, and struggling with constant doubts. His clear, heavily-strummed electric guitar work here is wonderful.

I take up smoking again
just so I can be with you
I’m overthinking this mess
seems to be all I can do

do you love me?
she said prove that you love me

she got a new address
moved into her granny’s house
on an air mattress
with John Prine and Houdmouth
she said: “prove that you love me
do you love me?”

She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” addresses the sad reality that she’s moved out, leaving you to contemplate what went wrong, and realizing that perhaps it was doomed from the start, given each of your troubled pasts. Man, these lyrics are heavy, and so packed with meaning!

she doesn’t live here anymore
opened my mouth and held the door
scattered across the kitchen floor
she doesn’t live here anymore

don’t wanna live here anymore
too paranoid for close quarters
there’s silence down the corridor
she doesn’t live here anymore

two children both from broken homes
borrowing tape to mend their own

Once again, I’m really impressed by his intelligent and thoughtful songwriting and great guitar work, and look forward to following him on his latest musical journey as Lagpass.

New Song of the Week: THE MILLION REASONS – “Secrets”

The Million Reasons Secrets

Chicago rock outfit The Million Reasons has been a favorite indie band of mine ever since I first heard their magnificent song “Dizzy” almost exactly one year ago today. I featured the song on this blog, and loved it so much it ended up at #10 on my list of Top 100 Songs of 2018. They followed “Dizzy” with another fantastic single “Battle of Sound” in early November 2018, along with a humorously charming video. (I reviewed both singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.)

The guys now return with a brand new single “Secrets“, which finds them taking a somewhat darker tone than their previous songs. Drummer Colin Dill explained: “We wanted to surprise people with a darker, heavier song than expected. We are all a little angry about the current state of affairs and this song represents letting people into the frustration that can be hidden deep down.” Besides Dill, The Million Reasons is comprised of Scott Nadeau (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar), Mike Nichols (guitar), and Jason Cillo (bass). They’re all phenomenal musicians, consistently delivering arresting melodies, killer riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals. “Secrets” was produced by guitarist Ken Ugel along with Adam Beck, and mixed by Ugel and mastered by Nick Stetina.

The song starts off with a somber, bluesy guitar riff, moody bass line and pounding drum beat as Scott sings the first verse with his beautiful, understated vocals:

It’s hard to keep the days in line
And it’s hard to tell the time
When your mind is far away from here
When the light begins to fall
And your thoughts begin to stall
What do you do to entertain yourself?

Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets that I keep inside
Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets in this state of mind

Suddenly, Scott’s vocals erupt into an angry wail as the music intensifies with a barrage of gnarly and distorted guitars, chugging bass and tumultuous drums. He passionately rails against the current socioeconomic conditions in America (and elsewhere) that keep a sizable percentage of the population stuck in financial limbo:

Welcome to the modern age
Where there’s no jobs, no decent wage
But that’s OK
You can have some debt for free
All the problems of today
(They) never seem to go away
And the light
Is still so far from me

Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets that I keep inside
Follow me a little deeper, and I’ll show you all my secrets in this state of mind

The song ends on a bombastic note, driving home the frustration and anger the band feels about this subject with powerful ferocity. It’s another winning song from The Million Reasons, offering further evidence that they’re an immensely talented band who are skilled at producing exceptional music with compelling and relatable lyrics. I love these guys, and look forward to hearing more from them soon.

 

Catch The Million Reasons at one of these upcoming shows:

July 19 – Beat Kitchen, Chicago
August 3 – Wedgestock 2019, Middlebury, Indiana
August 9 – Cubby Bear Wrigleyville, Chicago

Connect with The Million Reasons:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

DRAFT EVADER – EP Review: “Cashed”

Draft Evader Cashed

Draft Evader is an earnest and talented young musician from Chicago who I’ve been following for a while, and it’s been gratifying to watch him grow and mature as an artist. An interesting name for the music project of singer/songwriter and guitarist Ryan Loree, Draft Evader aptly describes his independent and rebellious nature. I first featured him on this blog in December 2017 when I reviewed his single “The Devil’s Disguise”, and at the time he explained “the name ‘Draft Evader’ is kind of a middle finger to the whole system, like ‘you can’t tell me what to do.’ So in a sense it means freedom. Freedom to be who you are and do what you love, no matter what anyone says.

Draft Evader plays a dynamic and accessible style of what he calls “pessimistic punk rock”, with rock’n’roll and grunge overtones. He writes all his songs, plays guitar and sings all vocals, and his good friend Joe Scaletta plays bass and drums, as well as mixes and masters the tracks. His deeply personal lyrics are brutally honest and always relatable; he openly addresses his struggles with depression and self-doubt, something a fair number of musicians and others involved in the arts also experience (as does yours truly).

He released a great little EP Hound Dog in the fall of 2018, featuring four stellar tracks – one of which, “In My Mind” was particularly outstanding. I loved the song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 last December. On February 12, he dropped a new two-song EP Cashed – a double-sided single of sorts. Interestingly, both tracks are 2:36 minutes long. Cashed was inspired by Ryan’s involvement in a car accident: “Ever get into a car accident during an existential crisis only to lose your job right after? Me too, and I wrote a couple songs about it.”

On the hard-rocking title track “Cashed“, he candidly speaks of depression and self-destructive behavior that often leads to additional problems, contributing to a cycle of ever deeper depression. Yet he also yearns for comfort and reassurance from a older and wiser voice. Ryan’s an impressive guitarist, and he delivers an onslaught of gnarly riffs from the get-go, driving home the seriousness of the subject matter. His scorching little guitar solo in the bridge was written by fellow musician Martijn Frazer, and I love his soaring vocals in the chorus. In fact, Ryan’s vocals have really improved with time and experience, and here he beautifully conveys the frustration and anger expressed in the biting lyrics:

Cashed my check to fill my tank up
Slow down over one more speed bump
Blowing stop signs with no license
Crash my car then stepped in dog shit
Covered in shitty ink
What would my grandma think
Kill for an old-school opinion
Pickin’ up missing teeth until my knuckles bleed
Falling deeper into a depression

On “Sunnyside“, he addresses the self-doubt about his music that sometimes plagues him. He released an EP Heel Turn in April 2018 (a very respectable effort that I also reviewed) but being a perfectionist, Ryan wasn’t satisfied with the songs or EP artwork. He incorporates the EP and song titles in the opening verse of “Sunnyside”, describing his struggle with self-confidence and feelings of not belonging:

Heel turn, I’m on a warpath
If I stutter more, I’ll complain less
All I have are some petty songs
Trying to write out all my wrongs

And I think I died in the old world
Because here I just don’t belong
And I left my soul in the old world
Behind yellow bars and heineken

Once again, he lays down chugging riffs of gritty guitar, while Joe handles the rhythm section with skilled precision. Both tracks are excellent, with catchy melodies that immediately hook us in, and driving riffs to keep us in thrall while we enjoy the ride. It’s a testament to Draft Evader’s continuing growth and ability to put out terrific rock music. I admire this young man and am happy to help promote him and his music however I can.