SKAR DE LINE – Single Review: “Satisfied”

Skar de Line is the solo music project of singer-songwriter and composer Oskar Abrahamsson, a talented, charismatic and creative young artist born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England. He’s also front man and lead vocalist for London electronic rock band Heist At Five, who I just featured two weeks ago when I reviewed their latest single “Faceless”.

Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, Skar de Line explores them through the creation of his dark and unconventional music. Drawing on his love for cinematic soundtracks by composers such as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi, he fuses those stylistic elements with hip-hop, rock and electronic metal to create his own unique sound that excites, pushes boundaries and gives us a lot to think about.

In October 2019, he released his superb debut single “In Charge”, which I also reviewed. Now he returns with his latest single “Satisfied“, which drops today, November 27. It’s a darker, more intense song than “In Charge”, while still featuring many of his signature cinematic and electronic elements and complex melodic song structures that I love. He uses a swirling mix of dramatic industrial synths and ominous sounds, set to powerful dubstep-style beats, to create an intense, almost menacing soundscape. As always, his deeply emotive vocals are wonderful, going from sultry croons that seduce us one moment to impassioned cries that bring chills the next, and all delivered in his charming Swedish accent.

Lyrically, Skar de Line ponders what is it that satisfies us, specifically, do we get satisfaction from being right, or merely by the act of searching for what we think we want? He elaborates: “‘Satisfied’ deals with the power we have over our own perception of ourselves, and on the contrary, the alienation we feel around people we don’t understand, the loss of control we have over someone that doesn’t have anything left to lose. It’s about the disorientation we get when we accomplish what we set out to do, when we no longer have a purpose.” Taking this idea further, it would seem that those who generally get most or all of everything they desire – like super-wealthy people for instance – would never be totally satisfied.

 
 
 Satisfied, feeding a legend, feeding the myth 
 Feeling safe, staring down into my own abyss
 Can you push, a man who has lost the sense of his gravity?
 Please try, and tell me now, now tell me how
  
 I’m not really human to you
 I don’t feel people as you do
 I have a fucked-up way of seeing the world I’m living in
  
 And you know, what if you were right?
 And people like you they are making me feel alive
 Keeps me satisfied
 Then how does it feel to know you’re completely right?
 Does it satisfy?
 
 You believe that I still can be saved
 That I’m too profane for this place, you're a god, 
 Come to save, the human race, from my blood 
 As a fulltime martyr now
 It’s a fascinating religion you’ve come to give your whole life for 
 Come on and tell us how
 
 I’m not really human to you
 I don’t feel people as you do
 I have a fucked-up way of seeing the world I’m living in
 
 And you know, what if you were right?
 And people like you they are making me feel alive
 Keeps me satisfied
 Then how does it feel to know you’re completely right?
 Does it satisfy?
  
 I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself
 I’m your bat, you’re a dog, you’re my fuel, I can’t stop
 And it touches my heart that you run for me
 Cause I’m the splinter embedded deep inside of your mind
 What itch would you scratch when you got me out?
 I don’t wanna stay alive, I wanna feel alive
 Will it satisfy when you’re satisfied?

Skar de Line premiered a new cinematic music video for “Satisfied” on December 4th. Filmed in London, and directed and edited by himself, it’s his most ambitious film yet.

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New Song of the Week – HEIST AT FIVE: “Faceless”

Ever since I first learned about the wickedly talented and undeniably charismatic electro-rock band Heist At Five, they’ve been one of my favorite indie acts. Based in London, the band has an international pedigree: front man and lead vocalist Oskar Abrahamsson is from Sweden, guitarist Jozef Veselsky is from Slovakia, bassist Marco Paone hails from Italy, and drummer Josh Needham is from England. Together, they play an aggressive, innovative style of alternative rock that borders on experimental, with complex melodies, intricate chord progressions, spine-tingling electronic and guitar-heavy instrumentation, and electrifying vocals.

I’ve featured Heist At Five a number of times on this blog, most recently this past August when I reviewed their single “Friday Night”. (You can read some of those reviews by clicking the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) With its jubilant Latin-flavored dance-pop vibe, the song is a bit of a departure from their typical edgy and harder rock sound, though it still features many of the stylistic elements and complex instrumentation that make their music so brilliant. The terrific song has spent the past 10 weeks on my Weekly Top 30. Now the guys return with an dark and explosive new single “Faceless“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

About the song, the band explains: “‘Faceless’ deals with an individual who struggles to form an identity, and tries to do so by piecing together scraps
of different characters. To capture the essence of this inner conflict, we invited people of different backgrounds and upbringings to collaborate, and create several layers of vocal overdubs that interpret the lyrics with contrasting emotions. The claustrophobic cluster of voices ultimately explodes in a bombastic chorus, which blends rock and metal with elements of industrial, hip hop and dubstep
.”

“Faceless” is the band’s most experimental and intense song yet, incorporating the aforementioned elements of rock, metal, industrial, hip hop and dubstep to create a volcanic eruption of sound. The song blasts open with Jozef’s distorted guitar, punctuated by an explosive torrent of staccato riffs, firing through the airwaves like a rogue machine gun. Marco lays down a pummeling bass line while Josh smashes his drums with all the power he can muster, driving the relentless crushing rhythm forward. All of this is accompanied by a swirling maelstrom of tortured and spooky industrial synths, adding even greater drama to the sonic mayhem unfolding before our ears. The exquisite production, mixing and mastering of the track was done by Simon Jackman.

I always love Oskar’s highly emotive vocals, and he nicely delivers here with a mix of menacing drones and impassioned wails that are downright chilling. Additional vocals contributed by Oskar’s sister Elin Abrahamsson, SERENA, ANGIE, Sean Frost and Peter Gentry serve to heighten the levels of tension and uncertainty.

“Faceless” is a brilliant song, and a testament to Heist At Five’s ongoing growth and maturity as a band. They continue to push the envelope through their fearlessness, superior songwriting and outstanding musicianship, and I eagerly await their next musical creations.

Follow Heist at Five: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #58: “Closer” by IAMWARFACE

The song at #58 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Closer” by British electro-rock band IAMWARFACE. The London & Brighton-based act are among my favorite indie bands making music today, and I’ve featured them on this blog many times over the past four-plus years. Their aggressive name is a fitting metaphor for their bombastic, groove-based sound, and I love every single one of their songs, beginning with their explosive debut single “Say My Name” in 2016. But my favorite is their monumental song “Closer” which literally stunned me the first time I heard it in 2018.

The fiercely beautiful track opens with ominous throbbing synths that slowly build into a dramatic otherworldly soundscape, enveloping us as band vocalist Matt Warneford wearily implores to someone with whom he seems to have an obsessive and destructive relationship: “Who, who am I? I’m just living to die. This old night, when it comes, I’ll be free of these old bones.” With that, the music erupts into a maelstrom of grinding synths, fuzzy guitars, buzz-saw bass, and thunderous percussion, punctuated by almost violently crashing cymbals that emphasize the intense feelings of abject desolation expressed in the bitter lyrics. Warneford’s intense vocals are filled with despair and resignation over a love affair that now lies in tatters. “Feel I’m walking on shattered glass. This romance just has to end, to reset, erase, begin again.” The song is incredible, and leaves me covered with chills every time I hear it.

The dark video, which was filmed in stark black and white in a decrepit, abandoned warehouse, has a gothic quality that’s at once disturbing and breathtaking. Warneford is shown singing the song while a ghostly Simona Martini, dressed in a torn and dirty gossamer gown, does a stylized, almost tortured modern ballet dance. It’s absolutely brilliant.

CALLING ALL ASTRONAUTS – Single Review: “Divided States of America”

British electronic goth punk rock band Calling All Astronauts have never shied away from writing provocative lyrics about the dark underbelly of politics, culture and society, and calling out authoritarians, fascists and racists as often and as loudly as possible. Drawing from an eclectic mix of genres and influences ranging from electro, alternative rock, goth, punk, metal, rap and dub step, the London-based trio create music that’s exhilarating, melodic, compelling and often in-your-face. Making this musical mayhem are vocalist/songwriter/programmer and producer David Bury, guitarist J Browning and bassist/keyboardist Paul McCrudden.

Since forming nearly a decade ago, Calling All Astronauts have released numerous singles and EPs, as well as three excellent albums – Post Modern Conspiracy in 2013, Anti-Social Network in 2016, and #Resist, which dropped this past June. (It’s hard to believe that nearly four years have passed since I reviewed their single “Life As We Know It”!) They’re now set to release one of the tracks from #Resist – “Divided States of America” – as their 19th single on September 18th. The single, being released via Supersonic Media, is a scathing attack on the current political situation in the U.S. As someone who loathes President Donald Trump and what’s become of the Republican Party that’s enabled him (not to mention the millions of delusional Americans who still support him), this song strongly resonates with me.

Musically, the song features a powerful punk-style dance beat that gets our blood pumping and emotions appropriately riled up. Paul McCrudden’s throbbing bass line is deliciously heavy and deep, pummeling our senses as he drives the rhythm forward like a battering ram, while J Browning lays down a swirling deluge of grungy guitars, punctuated by some nicely-placed stabbing chords. With his characteristically gruff vocals, David snarls the blistering lyrics with a venom that reflects my own sense of outrage and despair.

Society falling in a downward cycle
We checked it’s pulse, it’s signs ain’t vital
Decay. Decline. Sodom and Gomorrah
No matter what they tell you, there’s no tomorrow

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Two percent looking down at the rest
And the guy in the store wears a bulletproof vest
White folks offended by “Black Lives Matter”
But it ain’t their kids, whose blood is getting splattered

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Men in suits, above the law
Another refugee pushed against the wall
“The country’s fantastic, we’re doing great”
The President declares a De facto State

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

For the single version used in the video, David’s three-year-old daughter Daisy is heard talking at the end. Engineer Alan Branch (NIN, Depeche Mode, U2) was mixing the track and asked David to record a straight version of the chorus for the end. As Daisy heard her daddy doing the lines over and over, she proceeded to run round the studio singing the chorus, whereupon a mic was quickly handed to her and she happily contributed a few words.

Here’s the slightly longer album version of the song:

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HEIST AT FIVE – Single Review: “Friday Night”

Heist at Five Friday Night

London-based electro-rock band Heist At Five is a wickedly talented and undeniably charismatic foursome with an international pedigree. Band front man and lead vocalist Oskar Abrahamsson is from Sweden, guitarist Jozef Veselsky is from Slovakia, bassist Marco “Fuzz” Paone hails from Italy, and drummer Josh Needham is from England. Together, they play an aggressive, innovative style of alternative rock that borders on experimental, with complex melodies, intricate chord progressions, spine-tingling electronic and guitar-heavy instrumentation, and electrifying vocals. And the icing on the cake is that every one of them is as gracious and kind as they are handsome.

Since first learning about them in early 2018, they’ve become one of my favorite British bands, and I’ve featured them a number of times on this blog, most recently in May 2019 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Falling With Style”. I loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 and ranked #20 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. Now, after keeping their fans eagerly awaiting new music from them for more than a year, Heist At Five are back with their new single “Friday Night“. Having been prevented from touring or performing live over the past six months due to the pandemic, the band has instead focused their creative energies into recording new music. They plan to release two more singles in the coming months, and hope to return to performing live again in 2021.

“Friday Night” is a bit of a departure from their typical edgy and harder experimental rock sound. Here, the band introduces an intoxicating Latin-flavored dance-pop element to their usual blend of guitar and electronic arrangements, along with the sultry croons of guest vocalist Francesca Confortini, to create a jubilant feel good summer anthem. Despite its more accessible, radio-friendly vibe, the song still features many of the stylistic elements and complex instrumentation that make their music so brilliant. I love the interplay between Jozef’s intricate and funky guitar riffs and that gorgeous swirling melodic synth that just grabs hold and sticks in our mind. Then there’s Marco’s distinctive bassline and Josh’s galloping drumbeats keeping the song’s sexy rhythmic grooves.

The song’s lyrics speak to celebrating good times and better days, and not wanting them to end. The band states that “the song focuses on the concept of not wanting to return to a state of normality when you are at your highest and everything is going your way.” Oskar is a great singer, and I love how his Swedish accent shines through in his fervent vocals as he sings about a women who lifts him up: “Dressed in gold/ She don’t need luck, she’s bringing her own/ When the light is gone look into my eyes and tell me I’m wrong/ When you’re aflame/ The morning sky is never the same/ We’ll bring you back to another fabulous Friday Night.” Francesca seductively croons her reassuring response: “Reset the sunset, let us start again/ To live a life that never ends/ Like gold in the black/ Gold in the black (like a Friday Night).

The song is so damn infectious, and I love it more with each listen!

The colorful psychedelic and surreal video was produced, directed and edited by Oskar. It features him and I’m guessing his sister Elin represented as dancing gold figures, as well as his mouth colored gold and blue singing the song (similar to the famous Rocky Horror Picture Show scene for the song “Science Fiction Double Feature”) set against a background of instruments and a kaleidoscope of patters and colors. It’s fantastic, so do watch and listen:

Follow Heist at Five: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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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

Follow Brett: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
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Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple MusicGoogle Play

CROSSFLOW & IAMWARFACE – Single Review: “Take the Shot”

British electro-rock group IAMWARFACE is one of my favorite indie bands, with an aggressive name that’s a perfect descriptor for their bombastic and edgy groove-based sound. I’ve written about the Brighton & London-based band numerous time on this blog over the past four years, most recently last August (2019) when I reviewed their magnificent album Year of the Dragon. Their creative and charismatic front man Matt Warneford recently teamed up with Bedfordshire-based musician/producer Crossflow (aka Karl Morey) to collaborate on a spectacular new song “Take the Shot“, which drops today. Crossflow co-produced, mixed and mastered Year of the Dragon, and was eager to work with Warneford again: “Been working with these guys for a while in a production capacity so it was only a matter of time until Matt and I got writing, both being filthy electronic shouty guitar bastards.

Matt Warneford
Matt Warneford

Crossflow composed the music and arrangement for “Take the Shot”, then sent it on to Warneford, who wrote and sang the lyrics. The song features the explosive dynamics, darkly beautiful melodies and always-lurking sense of danger typically found on many IAMWARFACE songs, but Crossflow injects layers of harsh industrial synths into the mix, giving the track an even more ominous Nine Inch Nails feel. Underlying the whole thing is a crushing dubstep-style beat that would make The Prodigy proud. The result is a bombastic and spooky soundscape for Warneford’s electrifying vocal gymnastics. He’s an amazing vocalist, with the ability to sooth us with a beautiful croon one moment, then chill us to the bone with a feral rawness the next as he snarls “Take the shot, suck it up!

I’m not certain, but the very dark lyrics seem to be from the perspective of a vampire, or possibly a zombie, stuck in an afterlife filled with regret:

I cannot breathe, I cannot feel
Just waiting here in the afterlife
These wounds won’t heal
My lips are sealed
Face up against the cage
Like you and everybody else
(Alright)

I’ve loved every single song by IAMWARFACE, and “Take the Shot” is no exception. So crank up the volume and have a listen for yourself!

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SKAR DE LINE – Single Review: “In Charge”

Skar de Line In Charge Artwork

Completely by happenstance, I seem to be featuring a lot of new solo acts lately (three just in the past week), and am now pleased to introduce a fourth to my readers: Skar de Line. Born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England, Skar de Line is the music project of singer-songwriter Oskar Abrahamsson, who’s also frontman and lead vocalist for London alternative rock band Heist At Five (a band I’ve featured on this blog several times). Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, Skar de Line fuses his love for cinematic soundtracks by such composers as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi with hip-hop, rock and electronic metal to create dark, unconventional music that takes the listener on a sonic adventure.

Skar de Line close up

With that in mind, Skar de Line has just released his debut single “In Charge“, along with a fascinating video. About the song, he explains: “‘In Charge’ is about the human need to understand and control its surroundings. Even if you can predict your own future, you can’t predict everyone else’s chaotic and unpredictable choices, and therefore the world you know and got worked out in your head is no longer the world you live in.”

The first thing that struck me when I listened to “In Charge” was its big, cinematic sound, with lush, sweeping orchestral instrumentals, so it was gratifying to learn that that’s exactly the vibe Skar de Line was after in writing and arranging the music for the track. He uses dramatic stop-start breaks and melodic change-ups throughout the song, creating tension to symbolize the many twists and turns in life, and our inability to predict or even control our environment, the people around us, and to some extent even ourselves.

Waiting for that day when everything will fall in place
And only by then realise that everything has changed
Because simply no one understand what the fuck is going on
That’s the worlds dirtiest secret you’ve stumbled upon

Devoting all this time
(To make sure no-one would bring you down)

Getting everything in line
(To make sure no-one would bring you down)

But when the bullet pierces your heart
(To make sure that you’re hitting the ground)

Tell me, do you feel in charge?

I love Skar de Line’s deeply emotive vocals that run the gamut from earnest vulnerability to seductive croons to impassioned cries, all with his charming Swedish accent shining through. Assisting him in bringing his gorgeous song to life were David Marvelly on additional production and sound design, Jules Gulon on mastering, and SERENA and Angelica Munkvall with their mesmerizing backing vocals.

The spellbinding video was written and directed by Skar de Line, and filmed by his sister Elin Abrahamsson, who also appears briefly in the video. He explains that the dark and dirty room is a metaphor for the unknown in our lives and things outside of our control. As he breaths in and touches things around him, he understands and starts to shape the world around him, making him the one in control. The influence of others over his life vanishes as his surroundings fall under his control, so that by the end he is everywhere, fully in control, and cutting connection with the rest of the world.

Ultimately, he addresses the viewer directly, breaking the 4th wall. He states “We realise everything we have seen until that point have been going backwards, and as we see everything happening again in its right timeline, we now instead see the progression from control to total chaos, with the viewers themselves being left in the mud in the end, just as how we started. This shows the loss of control from the viewers perspective, and a loss of trust as even our own point-of-view perspective can’t be trusted.”

Connect with Skar de Line: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Google Play / Amazon

New Song of the Week – PAUL IWAN: “Reward”

Paul Iwan Reward

Paul Iwan is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Liverpool, England who’s been involved in music since his early teens, playing and touring with numerous bands and, over the past few years, writing and recording his own songs. He released his debut album Reveal in September 2016, which I reviewed, and followed up in early 2019 with his second album RESISTER, an autobiographical work addressing his newfound sobriety. In October 2018, I reviewed the first single “Parasite” from that album. Now Paul returns with a wonderful new single “Reward“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

“Reward” is actually a cover of a song originally recorded by Liverpool new wave band The Teardrop Explodes. Written by band members Julian Cope and Alan Gill, the song was a big hit in the UK in 1981. About the song, Paul explains: “Reward is one of the greatest songs to ever come out of Merseyside. Musically incessant and lyrically off kilter, I’ve adored this song all my life – I wanted to pull the lyrics out and expose their darkness. I always felt it was about loss of control, shame and regret which really resonates with my experiences with addiction. Music wise, I focussed on that bass line which drastically changes the atmosphere from parpy stomper to rumbling impending doom.”

What makes the song even more special is that Paul bought Julian Cope’s iconic (but broken) 1965 Lime Green Framus guitar, which he lovingly restored and used to record this track at Studio 45 in Liverpool. Paul elaborates: “It’s a really weird story: Bill Drummond was a big believer in what he called interstellar ley lines. He said Liverpool had this direct line into the energy of the universe and you could feel it if you stood on a certain manhole cover in Matthew Street (under the bust of Carl Jung). He’d send the Teardrops and Bunnymen off on tour and stand on this manhole cover soaking up this cosmic energy as they performed. Now, I’m not one to believe that sort of stuff but when I got the message about Julian’s Lime Green Framus guitar, I was stood on Matthew Street….under Carl Jung’s bust…. on that manhole cover! To say I was a bit freaked out is an understatement.”

Paul Iwan guitar

Well, Paul does great justice to both Cope’s guitar and song, blowing our minds with his gorgeous, resonant guitar notes. Based on his previous songs, I’ve always considered Paul a skilled guitarist, but on “Reward” his guitar-playing rises to a whole new level. And about that rumbling bass line; It’s so deep, intense and melodic, cutting straight to our cores! Add in the dark, almost psychedelic synths and thunderous percussion, and the song has been transformed into a dramatic, almost grandiose production that soars straight to the heavens. It’s a magnificent song, and Paul’s finest work yet.

I also love his clear, powerful vocal style that registers in the higher octaves. He belts out the lyrics with a fervent passion that elicits chills.

Prisoner, stand accused, I stand accused
Live in solitude like Howard Hughes
All wrapped up the same
All wrapped up the same
Silence has it, arrogance has it
I can’t have it until I learn to accept my reward

For context, here’s the original recording of “Reward” by The Teardrop Explodes, which is a faster-paced new wave/punk style song:

Connect with Paul Iwan: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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STONED PIRATES – Album Review: “Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll”

Stoned Pirates album art

Stoned Pirates is the music project of Algerian-born Khaled Sahour, a creative and highly imaginative musician, visual artist and filmmaker. Growing up in a home where he was exposed to lots of music and art, he early on developed a love of rock, pop and disco, and taught himself to play music on a broken two string guitar. He started a band and sung his heart out to young Algerian audiences that seemed to connect very well, but eventually relocated to Los Angeles to further his career in music and film. On August 9th, he released his debut album Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll, which I’m pleased to be reviewing today.

Stoned Pirates’ unusual and eclectic music style comes from a wide array of influences ranging from classic rock acts such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses, to the funk of Sly & the Family Stone, the dance grooves of Chic and Nile Rodgers, and the soulful pop of Michael Jackson – all spiced with an Algerian flavor. Not only does Khaled write, perform, record and produce all his music, he also creates his own visuals for his Stoned Pirates project. The album was mixed and mastered by Thomas Juth, and opens with “Turmoil (Intro)“, a brief track that sets the tone for the album. With a backdrop of otherworldly industrial synths and a hypnotic beat, Stoned Pirates chants “I’ve been waiting for the wind to blow. I guess it’s time to rock’n’roll.

Next up is “Nothing“, a dark, trippy song about feeling overwhelmed by loneliness and hopelessness, like one is powerless to change the sorry state of things. Stoned Pirates weaves a mesmerizing soundscape out of a fascinating kaleidoscope of synth instruments and exotic sounds. I love the xylophone, spooky keyboards, deep bass and guitar, accompanied by a cool, carnival-like synth riff. Khaled has a quirky vocal style in which he sometimes sings in a baby-like falsetto that I suppose could be off-putting to some, but once I got into his music I found it sort of charming. Using that falsetto, he sings: “Throw me a bone. Hit me with a stone, I just wanna feel something real.” But then, he sings in a deeper, almost menacing tone: “Nothing, absolutely nothing has changed today. Same old, same old sins and heartbreaks coming in new ways.

The surreal video he made for the song shows an astronaut floating aimlessly through dark space along with various objects like an old TV playing static, boxing gloves and pieces of furniture.

One of my favorite tracks is “The Devil in You“, a great kiss-off song to someone who’s deceived and caused hurt. The song has a sensual beat, with jazzy synths, funky bass, swirling guitar and some really terrific sax. Stoned Pirates bitterly sings “I didn’t see fully the devil in you. What are you truly, if not a foe? Don’t come back crying, knocking on my door.” Keeping with a similar theme, “Mr. Nice Guy” addresses someone who keeps taking advantage of a guy whenever she screws up: “If you cry for help, he will come to you. Convenient nice guy is always at your rescue.” Once again, Stoned Pirates employs a rich assortment of sparkling synths, along with a hypnotic dance beat to create a captivating backdrop for his colorful vocals.

On the bittersweet “In Time“, he laments of his regret about having broken up with a lover: “If I could I would go back in time, I would change the way we drew the lines. If I could I would go back in time. I would try harder to change your mind. Love will come to you in time. Just be patient, don’t cry.” The soulful track has a Michael Jackson vibe, featuring deep, sensual synths, highlighted by funky guitar and brass, all set to a strong, hip-swaying beat. The soulful, funky “Rebound” has him calling out someone who’s using him to get over another guy:  “Oh girl, who you think you’re trying to fool? Oh girl, who you think you’re playing here? Cause all the signs are clear. I’m talking about the rebound.”

Stoned Pirates uses a vampire metaphor on “Midnight Lover“, a sexy song about a seductress who preys on men to get what she wants. I love this lyric: “I saw her on the dance floor still trying to get more. Staring at me in the eyes while biting another guy.” Funky grooves abound on “Where I Belong“, another sultry tune with marvelous swirling synths and a beat so damn infectious it had me doing a lap dance in my chair! The aptly-titled album closer “The End” features a sultry Latin beat and jangly guitars drenched in reverb, accompanied by some tasty exuberant horns. Khaled employs his deeper vocals here, as he sings in an almost menacing whisper: “Sit back, relax, nobody is going anywhere. You think the end, but it’s only just the beginning.”

I’ve got to say that Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll is a marvelous album and a very impressive debut from Stoned Pirates. His innovative music is totally original, sounding like no one else I’m aware of. I love how he’s taken an eclectic mix of influences to create his own unique, fascinating sound. His beautiful, seductive melodies, compelling lyrics and use of a wide array of lush instruments and synths make for some really captivating songs that are pure joy to hear.

Connect with Stoned Pirates:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play