FICTION PEAKS – Album Review: “Citizen”

Every now and then we all come across an artist or band whose music instantly touches us in a powerful way.  Fiction Peaks is such a band, and I knew they were something special the very first time I heard their music. Incorporating elements of alternative rock, shoegaze, dream pop and electronica, the Dublin, Ireland five-piece combine beguiling melodies and a cornucopia of instruments to create songs of exceptional beauty and complexity. I featured them on this blog a year ago, then again in March when I reviewed two new songs – “Before the End” and “Jinx,” – which you can read here. Those songs are included on their stunning debut album Citizen, which dropped in late April (and I’m finally reviewing at long last).

Citizen

Fiction Peaks is comprised of five remarkable musicians: Joey Doyle (Lead vocals, Guitar, Sampler), Cillian Kenny (Bass, Trumpet), Barry Lyons (Backing Vocals,Synths),  Joáo Francisco (Drums) and Brian Giles (Guitar, Loops).  To say that they’re all masters of their craft is an understatement; their instrumentals are perfection from start to finish, and Doyle’s vocals are sublime. Citizen delivers ten tracks that vary in style and length (from two and a half to over seven minutes), but all feature the band’s exceptional guitar work that’s a primary characteristic of their phenomenal sound.

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Raincheck,” kicks things off with Francisco’s nimble percussion, Giles’ looping guitar and Doyle’s soaring vocals. The layered, multi-textured guitars are fantastic, and Kenny lays down a bass line just heavy enough to keep things grounded. It all builds to a crescendo in the bridge before calming back down, guitars swirling beautifully. The track is nearly six minutes long but feels over in an instant.  The exhilarating, hard-driving “Jinx” arrives on a wave of hammering drums, heavy buzzing bass and frenetic jangly and shredded guitars, proving the guys know how to rock.

And rock they do on the seven minute-long “Shimmer.” The first half of the track offers up awesome crunchy riffs, a mesmerizing bass line, and a head-bobbing drumbeat. At the halfway point, exuberant jangly guitars enter the scene, accompanied by delicate synths, while Doyle sings “The world is yours, this time.” The gentle guitar solo at the outro is wonderful.

As much as I love their rock-oriented songs, it’s on their slower compositions that the beauty of their sound really shines. “Before The End” is a standout and one of my favorites, with a lovely piano movement and Lyons’ warm synths that create an ethereal soundscape. Strings and percussion are added along with acoustic and electric guitars, increasing the song’s power but not diminishing it’s dreamlike quality. The poignant lyrics are beautifully sung by Doyle:

Before the end, before the credits, before the curtain’s drawn on a worn-out day. You shrugged it off. You rolled with the punches. All torn and battle-scarred as night gave way. /You could have walked, ran for the exits. A testament to strength is why we’re here. You have the words, you are the reason, the reason we stand tall in our finest hour. With nothing ventured, there is nothing gained. Tried teaching me to let go. Your stubborn student, your own flesh and blood. It’s only understanding.

The provocative and visually powerful video for “Before The End” was directed by local artist Colm Giles (brother of band member Brian).  According to a write up featured on the website Nialler, Giles explained “My take on ‘Before The End’ was to make an artistic observation of the times we are living in. I did this by looking at elements of the Spanish Civil War – showing ordinary people fighting against fascism. With the current subtle rise of the far right, and populist politics, mistakes of the past can be repeated if we don’t all pay attention.

Another gorgeous track is “Spring’s in Bloom,” with sweeping violins, stunning guitars, gentle percussion and Doyle’s earnest vocals singing the hopeful lyrics about what I’m guessing is a couple awaiting the birth of their first child and trying to make their relationship work out: “We’ll be right, we’ll be fine, until the start of life.”

The band shows its folkish side on the lovely “In for a Penny,” and the title track “Citizen,” a short song with a languid melody, acoustic guitar and beautiful synths. The xylophone at the end is especially nice. The lyrics speak to escaping the cruel burdens society heaps upon us: “Society chisels at the weakest part of us. The chink in our armour is amusement for the rest. But if I had my way, I’d be leaving here today. From my rear view mirror, I’d bid farewell to the fray.”

As its name suggests, “Synesthesia” is an epic synth-heavy track over seven minutes in length. Starting off with a hypnotic repeating synth beat and Doyle’s earnest vocals, at 2:37 the drumbeat quickens, and with his charming Irish brogue, Doyle speaks the words: “We too are only dust, the same substance. Distance is apparent in a not so perfect world. Where we dreamed of living in space. Floating happily as cosmic debris. / Breaking free of industrial zombieland, and the chain of misery. We will open our ears to the whistling of the wind. / The planet is alive, so reach out to the visionary.” As the song progresses, the drumbeat becomes heavier, now accompanied by more powerful synths, soaring strings and exquisite jangly guitars that continue to the end.

Album closer “Electric Galleria” is a phantasmagoria of luxurious, dreamlike synths that float and soar through the airwaves and into our senses. The track is the perfect ending to a magnificent album that is unquestionably one of the best of 2017.

Follow Fiction Peaks:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud

Purchase it:  BandcampiTunes

VOX EAGLE – EP Review: “Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1”

Australian-American indie electro-psych pop duo Vox Eagle exploded onto the music scene in 2017 with some of the most enjoyable tunes of the year. Since joining forces in 2015, Andy Crosby and Luke Hamel, who make up Vox Eagle, spent time traveling throughout the U.S., writing and recording songs for their debut EP Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1., which drops on July 24. They’ve released three of the tracks as singles thus far, the first of which, “No Sleep” I reviewed in May.

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They humorously refer to their style of music as ‘jungle disco,’ but other descriptors could well include tropical pop, dance pop or dream pop – or a melding of all of them. But whatever you call it, their catchy sound is deliriously upbeat, and just makes you feel good. It washes over you in a gorgeous soundscape, like being under a waterfall on a tropical island.

The lead single “No Sleep” offers up bouncy grooves, with swirling synths floating over an irresistible bass-heavy dance beat. Jangly guitar and drums round out the instrumentals, while Andy’s smooth vocals occasionally rise to a stirring falsetto as he croons: “Is it any wonder? The current pulls us under. No sleep no sleep for the wicked no./ I keep on counting sheep. Days into nights, nights into weeks. Out of sight, out of mind, never mind.

The guys seem to channel Tame Impala on the atmospheric dream pop gem “Come Over.” Otherworldly synths and a powerful thumping bass kick things off, then a seductive dance beat takes over, compelling you to get those hips swaying. Echoed, reverb-heavy synths and Andy’s wonderful vocals add an exotic vibe to the track that really does sound like ‘jungle disco.’

Summer Now” is a breezy, upbeat track about longing for a return of those sun-kissed days on the beach, and that romantic summer fling you had. Andy sings “Take us back down to the summertime by the seaside. Where the city girls got the wildflowers in their hair. Never told you it was gonna last forever anyhow. So we keep waiting, we keep waiting for these clocks to start winding down.” The warm synths and guitars, along with soaring harmonic choruses that remind me of early Beach Boys, are perfectly appropriate for the song’s theme.

The guys get a little funky on “Sweet Temptations” while maintaining their signature infectious beats, heavy bass and sweeping choruses. There’s a terrific bass-heavy break down in the bridge, and the guitar riffs are incredibly satisfying. Fun, eerie synths abound on the quirky joyful romp “Jungle Song,” It’s the most experimental track on the EP, with dynamic African beats, electronically altered echoed vocals and lots of interesting synthesized animal sounds.

The EP closes with “Plastic People,” a somewhat mellower track with a languid beat and dreamy synths. There’s a hint of a Calypso vibe that immediately conjures up images of a tropical island. The mix of instrumentals are perfect, and the guys’ harmonic choruses are sublime as always. In fact, their gorgeous vocals are one of the primary components of their incredible sound. The song lyrics speak to getting in touch with nature and avoiding fake people.

Though I don’t usually grade albums or EPs, I have to give Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1 a solid 10. There isn’t a standout track, as every one of them is outstanding and meticulously crafted. Vox Eagle’s attention to detail is strongly evident on every level, yet the tracks never feel overproduced. I love their music, and can’t wait to hear what they have in store for Part 2!

Follow Vox Eagle:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloud

Purchase it:  iTunesAmazon

KAZE – EP Review: “No Filter”

Being the EclecticMusicLover, it goes without saying that I’m fond of artists and bands whose music style is – well, eclectic. The Manchester, UK band KAZE certainly fits that description. Their sound is so varied and interesting that it’s pointless to try and categorize it into any particular genre. When listening to their debut EP No Filter, I hear elements of pop, folk, jazz, shoegaze, and even alternative rock – sometimes all in one song. They list Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, The Cardigans and Amy Winehouse as some of their main influences, but I also hear a bit of classic, old-school torch song vibe that gives their music a unique quality that makes for an incredibly pleasing and compelling listen.

KAZE

Formed by Graham McCusker and Amy Webber in February 2016, they chose the name KAZE because it means “wind” in Japanese – the interpretation of which they leave to their listeners. In addition to Amy on vocals and Graham on keyboards and backing vocals, the band line-up includes Thomas Fripp on guitar, Dan Peate on bass and Jonathan Needham on drums.

KAZE Band

They released No Filter in March 2017 with a sold out gig at The Castle in Manchester. The EP was produced by Colin Towns (Ivor Novello songwriting judge/BAFTA nominated composer), engineered by Toby Wood (Lord Of The Rings/associate EMMY Award winner) and mixed by Adriano Buffone (Kubb/Avicii/Jessie Ware).

The jazz-infused first single from the EP “Pinned On You” opens with a discordant mix of instruments, perfectly conveying the feelings expressed in the lyrics about having your life turned upside down by the realization that the person you love just doesn’t feel the same about you: “I pinned all my hopes on you, but just as I fell, you told me you’re not into me too. I pictured a life with you, but bright as you were, you just couldn’t come into me too.” Amy’s strong, impassioned vocals are backed by sharp percussion and a sturdy bass line that add power to the song’s message. The complex, nuanced instrumentals bring new surprises with each listen, and the jazzy piano riff and tasty electric guitar solo in the bridge are terrific.

Feel” sets a contrasting tone, with a lovely, contemplative piano melody and smooth instrumentals. Amy’s vocals are sublime, at one point sounding a bit like Barbra Streisand when her voice soars in the bridge. I especially love the backing chorus on this track. The band employs only an acoustic guitar on the poignant ballad “Unfamiliar Room.” With a hint of melancholy in her voice, Amy sings about the anxiety of undergoing potentially life-changing medical procedures: “Knowing looks and a brief smile. Waiting for news that won’t beguile. All shapes and sizes, some sad too soon, in this unfamiliar waiting room. Pressure digging in, jazz chords and they sing, while my body’s being screwed.” The song was inspired by Graham’s own experience with chemotherapy treatments.

Things turn upbeat on “Come Away,” a breezy song about leaving one’s problems behind and starting on a new life adventure with someone special: “Quit your job, pack your bag, are you ready for a life you’ve never had?  Grab your stuff and lock the door, we’re going somewhere you’ve never been before. Come away, come away, run away with me.”  KAZE expertly fuses pop, rock and jazz elements, all building to a fantastic crescendo at the end.

No Filter is a stellar debut effort, and I suspect we’ll be hearing more great music from KAZE in the near future.

Connect with KAZE:  Website /  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify /  Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp

THE CLEAR – Single Review: “Sunlight”

The Clear is an exceptionally talented band from Sheffield, UK (from which a lot of great music artists and bands originate, a number of whom I’ve recently featured on this blog). Consisting of Chris Damms, Jules Buffey and Bryan Day, The Clear plays a sophisticated and pleasing style of what can best be called “West Coast Dream Pop” – which they describe as being ‘in the tradition of Jimmy Webb, Neil Diamond and Burt Bacharach.’ Among the many positive attributes of their music, the thing that really stands out for me are their sublime harmonizing vocals.

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The band released their outstanding debut album Patchwork in 2016, and this past April, I reviewed a single from that album, the spellbinding “The Planets,” which you can read here. Now, in conjunction with the release of Patchwork on vinyl, planned for August, the band has released another brilliant single from the album called “Sunlight.” Regarding the single, the band states “‘Sunlight’ is a song for summer, but lyrically it is also about those ‘bright’ and ‘light’ days we have when we find ‘hope and meaning’ in our lives. ‘Sunlight’ is about that feeling we have when we feel ‘at home’ in ourselves, and when we feel that there is ‘light’ again in our lives.”

The song has a mellow folk-rock vibe, evoking a sun-kissed summer day when the cares of daily life are momentarily forgotten. “I’ve seen sunlight through the dark clouds, and it won’t turn to rain now you’re here. I hear the call of distant thunder, suddenly I’m under your spell.” Gentle strummed guitar and beautiful piano are accompanied by just the right amount of percussion to keep the toe-tapping beat without overpowering the other instruments or smooth vocals that are in such perfect harmony they take my breath away.  Their vocals on this track call to mind the The Mamas and Papas or Peter, Paul and Mary, surely two of the greatest harmonizing bands of all time. “Sunlight” is a gorgeous song, magnificent in its simplicity.

To learn more about The Clear, check out their website.

Connect with them:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  YouTube
Purchase it:  Bandcamp /  iTunes /  Amazon

Single Review: MIDDAY SWIM – “Hold On Tight”

Toronto, Ontario, Canada has a thriving music scene, and I’ve featured a good number of artists and bands based there on this blog. Indie dream pop-rock band Midday Swim is my most recent find, and I’m happy to feature their gorgeous new single “Hold on Tight.” The band combines exceptional, multi-layered guitar work, smooth keyboards, superb percussion and lush vocals to create music that’s both dynamic and sublime.

Midday Swim consists of five seasoned musicians: David Mitchell (lead vocals, guitars), Stephan Ermel (keyboards, vocals), Sebastian Shinwell (guitar, vocals), Craig Saltz (bass, vocals) and Max Trefler (drums). Several were previously involved with other bands, while Saltz has scored music for over 30 films, and Ermel is a classically-trained pianist who’s performed a number of one man shows. They formed as a band in 2014 and a year later released their self-titled debut EP Midday Swim, which is excellent and I highly recommend my readers check it out. 

They’ve now recorded new music for their follow-up EP Climbing Out of Caves, due out later this year. “Hold on Tight,” recently released on May 4, is the first single from that EP.

Midday Swim

The bittersweet song is a plea for a loved one not to give up on a relationship by recalling poignant memories of their youth. With heartfelt vulnerability in his lovely vocals, Mitchell sings: “Hold on tight to me, can you reach before our boat goes down? All that time while we were sinking, I thought of what you meant when you said lets behave like we were those bear cubs climbing out of caves like we were made for this./ You better find your way home.”

Musically, the song features beautiful jangly guitars, backed by warm synths and lots of crashing cymbals. Delicate keyboards can be heard throughout, and at the bridge, we’re treated to a brief but tasty shredded guitar solo. Mitchell’s soothing vocals are backed up by sweet harmonic choruses.

For the clever, beautifully-filmed video, the band and director Pedja Milosavlijevic found inspiration from films like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Pulp Fiction, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, with their intrigue and crazy plot twists. Both the song and video aim to capture the spirit of childhood, with the main character on an adventure into the mountains, carrying his red suitcase and escaping a bear. He ultimately ends up back with his other band mates, whereupon they all jump into the opened suitcase.

To learn more about Midday Swim, check out their website.

Follow them on Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify /  Soundcloud /  YouTube
Purchase:  iTunes /  Amazon

Featured Song & Video: VOX EAGLE – “No Sleep”

 

Australian indie electro-psych pop duo Vox Eagle have been busy guys since forming in 2015. Andy Crosby and Luke Hamel, who make up Vox Eagle, spent time traveling throughout the U.S., writing and recording songs for their upcoming EP, scheduled to drop this summer (which I’ll be reviewing just prior to its release). They’ve released two amazing songs thus far, “No Sleep” and “Come Over,” along with a video for “No Sleep” that I’m featuring now.

The infectiously catchy song is steeped in lush atmospheric dream-pop grooves, with swirling synths floating over an irresistible bass-heavy dance beat. Andy’s smooth vocals occasionally rise to a stirring falsetto as he croons: “Is it any wonder? The current pulls us under. No sleep no sleep for the wicked no./ I keep on counting sheep. Days into nights, nights into weeks. Out of sight, out of mind, never mind.

The beautifully-filmed and entertaining video shows the guys performing the song in the Mojave Desert (just an hour or so from my home in the Coachella Valley), driving to Las Vegas and cavorting about the Strip at night, not getting any sleep!

Connect with Vox Eagle:  Facebook /  Twitter
Stream their music:  Soundcloud / Spotify
Purchase it:  iTunes

Interview & Album Review: THE PUSS PUSS BAND – “Echoes Across the Cruel Sea”

Although I call myself “Eclectic Music Lover”, frequent readers of my blog know I’m particularly fond of alternative and hard rock. That being said, I truly appreciate great music in any genre or form, and every now and then an artist or band comes along whose music deeply touches me. Such is the feeling I get when listening to The Puss Puss Band. Their jazz and folk-infused pop rock sound envelops me like a warm blanket, transporting me to a place where all is good with the world – and wouldn’t that be a nice place to land! As I stated in a review of their self-titled EP last November on this blog (which you can read here), “their easy-going instrumentals and smooth vocals make for an incredibly pleasing listening experience – sort of a Style Council meets England Dan & John Ford Coley with just a touch of Dan Fogelberg.”

Hailing from Wales, The Puss Puss Band consists of multi instrumentalists Asa Galeozzie and Lee Pugh. Both have worked with numerous artists and bands in the UK and the Welsh music industry over the last ten years as writers & session musicians. They perform every aspect of their music: songwriting, instrumentals, vocals, arranging, engineering, producing and mixing. Asa plays guitar, bass, percussion, piano and melodica, while Lee plays lead guitar, bass and piano, as well as sings lead vocals. Now, with significant contribution from seasoned musician John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, the guys have produced their first full-length album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea, which dropped on April 10. It’s a collection of 12 gorgeous tracks that range from dreamy ballads to catchy, upbeat songs.

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Before launching into my review of the Echoes Across the Cruel Sea, I asked the band some questions about how they came to be, as well as their inspiration for the album. Lee graciously provided these responses:

1.  First off, how and when did you both meet and decide to collaborate?

We met studying sound engineering & production about thirteen years ago, and have worked together ever since with our own bands and as session musicians.

2.  What’s the origin of your name “The Puss Puss Band”?

When we first started planning this album it was purely intended as a studio project. We’d meet a few times a week at Asa’s to run through ideas and songs, and his cat would sit on a stool and just watch us play. It dawned on us after a few months of this that we were essentially a ‘house band’….for an audience of one cat. Her nickname was Puss Puss.

3.  Do you both share songwriting duties on both lyrics and music?

Yes. We share lyric/song duties and bounce them between us. Sometimes the lyrics come from one of us fully formed, but often we’ll fettle those a little between us, then trial a quick scratch demo to work through the arrangement, and once we’re happy we fire up the mic’s and amps and start passing instruments back and forth. We’ll often capture an essentially live stripped down performance, then we build up from there. “Thinking Of You” is a good example of that. We recorded the acoustic guitar, piano and vocal live in one or two takes, and then the rest of the track was completed with a few over dubbed guitars.

4.  Is there a back story regarding the album title Echoes Across the Cruel Sea? It’s a lovely album, and most of the songs on the album are really pleasing, Are they meant to stand in contrast with the word “cruel” in the album title, almost like an antidote to cruelty in the world?

The album is intended as an upfront honest journal of the last ten years of our personal lives. There’s no artistic license being used in the lyrics…we set out to be fearless and honest in that regard. It’s essentially a sneaky concept album although we resisted the urge to make the songs flow too obviously from one to the next. The “cruel sea” represents life, love and all it’s uncertainty and the songs themselves are the echoes of our thoughts, feelings and reflections over that period of our lives.

We set out to be as transparent and laid bare as we could make it, lyrically, musically and production wise….no studio trickery, no bullshit, no ego talk, just an honest account of our lives which we hope we’ve managed to present in a somewhat universal manner which anyone hopefully can relate to in some capacity?

5.  How did John Rabbit Bundrick come to collaborate with you on the album? Were you specifically looking for someone else to provide music input?

Asa is a massive The Who fan and heard that Rabbit was back doing session work after finishing with The Who a few years ago. We sent “Feline Fine” over to see if he’d be interested. Rabbit said he loved the track and was more than happy to play in it…and without fee which was incredibly generous given his insanely huge CV and standing in the industry. We mixed it and sent it over to him, and he asked to hear some other tracks from the album. He said he was really digging what we were doing so his joining us for the rest of the album just took off from there.

We were adamant after years of working with others and all the creative compromise that comes with that, that this album was only going to be the two of us so we could maintain and hopefully achieve our shared vision of what this album would be. But the chance to work with a session musician of Rabbit’s calibre made it a no-brainer obviously.  His piano work is beautiful and his mastery of the Hammond organ is pretty much unparalleled by anyone else. Rabbit contributed something very special that we couldn’t provide ourselves and is so humble, professional and generous that it wasn’t just a thrill but a pleasure and privilege throughout.

6.  Do you guys have plans to do more live performances or even tour a bit?

Yes, hopefully we’ll start putting together a hand-picked session backline later this year from our contacts, and look at taking the album out. This was intended purely as a studio album, but the response we’ve had the last few months kind of makes it inevitable that we will once again take to the road in the very near future.

7.  If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be? 

Lee: David Bowie/Burt Bacharach
Asa: Brian Wilson/Roger Waters

Rabbit has already played with almost everyone already! If you haven’t seen his discography you should check it out…it is mind blowing how much he has contributed to music in the last 40 odd years!!

8.  Perhaps a bit premature to ask, given you’ve just released a new album, but any plans for more music in the future?

Not premature at all 🙂 We’ve already started writing the second album and Rabbit is on board to join us again. Don’t want to give too much away too soon but the theme for that album and it’s content are already taking shape. All we’ll say is the first album was more introverted and personal. In the next one we’d like to reach out a bit more to touch on the state of the world we all find ourselves in right now, and the growing distance between us all as we try to make sense of the world we are struggling to maintain our roles in it, and try to hold a mirror up to that rather than just preach about it.

9. Anything additional you’d like people to know about Puss Puss Band. or things I neglected to touch on?

We are just two fiercely and proudly independent musicians. We’ve pretty much now achieved our goal of becoming creatively self sufficient. We write, arrange, perform, engineer, produce, mix, master everything ourselves from our very very modest and basic studio. We’ve thrown the rule book out production-wise, and harked back to the old fashioned recording approach to create ‘our sound.’ I guess we just hope that people respond to that and hopefully hear something in it that you don’t get from modern production, with all it’s close, dry, sterile mic’ing, separation and heavy compression throughout. But above all else I guess we just hope that people find something in our music they can relate to and enjoy because that means more to us than anything else.

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OK, so let’s dig into the album. First off, as I alluded to earlier, Echoes Across the Sea is gorgeous, overflowing with lush soundscapes of multi-textured instrumentation and smooth harmonizing vocals. The songs deal mostly with the vagaries of love and relationships. The terrific “Bucko’s Lullaby” kicks things off, setting the tone for the entire album. We’re greeted by gentle xylophone before layers of guitar, percussion, organ and beautiful strings enter the proceedings. With a hint of sadness in his seductive voice, Lee sings to a loved one who’s slipping away emotionally: “Something in that smile says you’ve changed. Those big brown eyes look further away. What happens when love goes lame? You screw it all up and start over again. You box it all up and you throw it away.

Next up is “Alone,” an upbeat track which was originally featured on their previous EP, but gets revisited on this album. As I’d mentioned on the EP review, this song has a discernible Style Council vibe. It’s a great song, with some really fine guitar and piano. Things turn mellow on the lovely “Fall Back Down.” Lee’s vocals are so seductive on this track (and many others) they could lure a turtle out of its shell! The guys rock out a bit on “Cliff Song,” which features some tasty guitar riffage.

The remainder of the album stays on the mellower side, starting with the moving track “Inwake.” To a gentle guitar riff, Lee sings: “Can we help it, this changing season, or are you just like me? The things that we feel seem less than real, like faded memories. The twilight hours keep you safe and warm as I creep out of the room. In the blink of an eye to you and to I, every wave between you and me, the change we feel, just echoes across the cruel sea.”

The beguiling “Beeswax” is a standout track, with marvelous instrumentals featuring chiming synths, Rabbit’s lovely piano and organ, and the guys’ deft guitar work. Lee’s vocals are utterly sublime, as they also are on the enchanting tracks “Say it First,” “Thinking of You” and “Feline Fine” – the latter of which is probably my favorite of all their songs. It was also included on their debut EP, but this new version features beautiful piano work by Rabbit, which makes the already great tune sound even better. And no pun intended – well, just a little – Lee purrs “You got me working double time, you got me clocking overtime, you got me feline fine. And I know I can’t show you the things that I see, but sometimes I wish I could. Because you got something that makes me feel glad at night. And you got everything because you know you’re right.”

The tracks “End of June” and “Perfect World” have a pleasant folk-rock feel with lovely strummed guitar, set to a languid beat, though “End of June” has the added bonus of some spiffy electric guitar. The album ends on a bittersweet note with “Not Just You,” a compelling ballad that speaks to the despair of living in a depressed industrial town, with little hope of things getting better. “No one talks, your mom’s depressed, your dad went empty in his chest. There’s nothing left. And everybody wants to be anywhere else it seems. Not just you.

Echoes Across the Cruel Sea is a well-crafted album, with outstanding production values. The Puss Puss Band’s lyrics, music and vocals are all stellar, making this an album I can listen to on repeat – which I have done!

Connect with The Puss Puss Band: Facebook /  Twitter

Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Spotify

Purchase it:  Bandcamp /  iTunes

Song Review: THE CLEAR – “The Planets”

I recently had the pleasure of discovering the terrific UK band The Clear when they contacted me about their new single “The Planets.” The Sheffield three-piece plays an incredibly pleasing style of what can best be called “West Coast Dream Pop” (‘West Coast’ referring to my home state of California, thank you very much).  Their utterly beguiling sound is like no other artist or band I know of. Among the many positive attributes of their music, the thing that really stands out for me are their sublime harmonizing vocals.

Formed in 2013, The Clear consists of Chris Damms, Jules Buffey and Bryan Day.  “The Planets” is taken from their outstanding debut album Patchwork, which they actually released in 2016. In preparing to write this review, I listened to the entire album and found myself enveloped by a dreamy soundscape that’s at once beautiful and spellbinding. Patchwork is honestly one of the best albums of 2016, and I’m sorry I didn’t learn of it until 2017.

The Clear

In describing “The Planets,” the band states it’s “a quirky analogy of dying love, with stars burning out, and satellites fading and crashing to earth. We like to describe the song’s style, as Nancy Sinatra in 1950’s space!” Indeed it is! The song has a distinct James Bond movie theme feel and, to my ears, sounds most like “The World is Not Enough” by Garbage. It’s a captivating song with a retro 60s vibe that whisks you back in time to an imaginary party at a mid-Century modern home in the Hollywood Hills. With a hint of a Latin beat, the song features lush, soaring orchestration and mesmerizing electric guitar, accompanied by Buffey’s incredibly seductive vocals.  She croons:

“Tears in my eyes once again. Torment and lies spell the end.
Planets they turn, mine collide. Look to the stars , they burned out long ago.
Love is a flame but quick to burn. When satellites fade they fall to earth.
Planets they turn, mine collide. Look to the stars , they burned out long ago.”

The brilliant video combines scenes from old science fiction films and TV shows, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek, with actual footage of early space exploration as well as an orchestra performing. Check it out:

To learn more about The Clear, take a look at their website.

Connect with them:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  YouTube
Purchase it:  Bandcamp /  iTunes /  Amazon

Song Review: RESTLESS NATIVES – “Endless Possibilities”

I recently discovered the UK duo Restless Natives, and instantly loved their beautiful new song “Endless Possibilities.” Referring to themselves as ‘Renegade Audio Guerillas – a shadowy musical splinter cell created to enhance your mind with musical and visual splendour,’ Restless Natives are Dave Hubbard and Sam Simmons. Hailing from Lincolnshire, they play a distinctive style of music that melds electronica with alternative folk rock. In addition to their joint efforts in forming Restless Natives, they’re both accomplished solo musicians who also collaborate on different projects with other musicians. Dave is one half of funky electronic house music producers Peach Trees, while Sam plays in his alt-rock/shoegaze band The Loving Memory and is also a member of folk/punk band The Finest Hour. These are two busy guys!

endless-possibilities

With their latest song “Endless Possibilities,” the guys paint a dreamy ambient soundscape with lush, intricate synths, accentuated by a mesmerizing guitar riff. A strong drumbeat introduces us to the song, then a steady bass line takes over, providing depth and weight but never overpowering. A highlight is the delicate, beguiling flute that seemingly floats throughout the track, lending a bit of an ethereal vibe. The guys’ enchanting harmonizing vocals complete the package, making for a lovely, intensely satisfying song. Have a listen:

Support Restless Natives by following them on  Twitter and  Facebook, and subscribe to their  YouTube channel.  Their music is currently only available for streaming on Soundcloud and YouTube, but they plan to distribute their music more widely in the near future. Be sure to check out their other music projects too.

Album Review: The Autumn Stones – “Escapists”

I stumbled upon the Canadian band The Autumn Stones a while back on Twitter, so had to check out their music. I was immediately struck by their amazingly compelling sound that’s retro, yet fresh, with an 80’s vibe. Perhaps it’s the lively sax that’s heavily featured in their songs, or the fact that they seem to channel The Smiths or Blow Monkeys a bit in their style, but their music is definitely current.

Formed in 2010, The Autumn Stones have been though several personnel changes – not uncommon with bands – and are now comprised of Ciaran Megahey (vocals, lead guitar), Gary Butler (saxophones, guitar) and Marcus Tamm (bass). Their sophomore album Escapists dropped in July 2015, four years after their excellent debut album Companions of the Flame.  (Michael Newton played bass and Matthew McLaughlin hit the drums on Escapists, but have since left the band.)

According to Megahey in an interview for the website Pop Matters, “Lyrically, Escapists is a celebration of life, love and liberty. It’s also a flick to the nose of naughty faith-based ideologies.  Although that may sound super-heavy and serious, we aren’t delivering sermons—just trying to give people a compelling listening experience.”  He added that the addition of saxophonist Butler gives their songs on Escapists more character and nuance.

Regarding that amazing sax, Butler explained to The Quietus, “Our sound is the sum of many parts. We’re very early-alt rock influenced but at the same time we keep our feet firmly planted in modern subgenres, especially dream pop.”

Three singles included on the album were released in 2014, prior to the album’s launch a year later. The first, “End of Faith,” is brilliant. The subtle yet topically relevant lyrics – “This is the end of faith/the poisonous talk enslaved/freedom at last/chains of the past/what took so long to write this song,” – are expressed through Megahey’s smoldering vocals, and empowered by gorgeous, throbbing guitars reminiscent of Johnny Marr’s jangly riffs in “How Soon is Now?”, plus Butler’s assertive, wailing saxophone.


Their most recently-released single “Endless War” has a catchy, uptempo melody. The combination of both shredded and gentle guitars, punctuated by rapid-paced sax, contrast with the song’s darker lyrics “Gotta endless war on our hands.”

One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Time Is a River,” has a mellower, jazzy vibe, with nimble guitar riffs and funky sax that still manage to keep the energy level high.

“In With the Out Crowd” and “Dark Age” keep the jazzy energy flowing, while the track “Sweet Libertine” slows things down to a languid pace with acoustic guitar and mellow sax. The beguiling “Ooh La La,” another of my favorites, seems to channel early 80’s Smokey Robinson, as does “Creatures,” with their gentle, jangly guitar and wobbly sax.
You can learn more about the Autumn Stones on their website. Follow them on Twitter and listen to their music on Soundcloud or Spotify, or purchase on itunes.
A special thanks to Alison Waddell for the use of her photo.