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:

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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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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.”

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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:

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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.

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IAMWARFACE – Album Review: “Year of the Dragon”

I’ve stated it before, and will say it again – British electro-rock band IAMWARFACE can do no wrong when it comes to making music. From the moment I first heard their debut single “Say My Name” in 2016 – which I likened to being hit by an atomic blast – I’ve been a huge fan. Their aggressive name is a fitting metaphor for their bombastic, groove-based sound, and in the three years since their debut, they’ve continued to deliver one incredible song after another. Three of their four singles: “Say My Name”, “Closer” and “Fear the Future” (all of which I’ve reviewed) have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart, with “Closer” finishing in the top 10 of my Top 100 Songs of 2018. Now, they’re set to finally unleash their first album Year of the Dragon, which drops September 6th. The album contains their first four singles, as well as six new tracks and four remixes.

IAMWARFACE new
Photo by Caitlin Stokes

Based in London and Brighton, England, IAMWARFACE consists of founder and frontman Matt Warneford (songwriting, vocals), Lou Matthews (guitars), Tom Howe (DJ synth), Mike Smith (bass) and Adam Stanley (drums). Influenced by some of their favorite bands and artists such as Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Kasabian, Muse, Big Black Delta, Nero, Queens of the Stone Age, Tears For Fears, MGMT and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, IAMWARFACE creates music that’s aggressive, melodically complex and always exciting.

The opening track on Year of the DragonSay My Name” certainly embodies those qualities, with an explosive barrage of gnarly guitars, screaming synths and thunderous percussion, driven by a deep, buzzing bassline. Warneford’s fierce, mind-blowing vocals are almost frightening as he wails and shrieks the lyrics. This incredible song still gives me chills three years later!

Next up is the gloriously bombastic kiss-off song “You Don’t Love Me Anymore“, which was their second single. Once again, they live up to their name by delivering a furious onslaught of jangly guitars, heavy bass and smashing drumbeats. It’s loud, in-your-face, and melodically beautiful, and the hard-driving guitar work is fantastic. Warneford’s impassioned vocals are positively chilling as he wails “Whoa oh oh, you were right, you don’t love me anymore!” The cool video shows the band performing the song wearing fluorescent body paint.

To Die For” is one of the new tracks, and I love it! The song immediately hooks us in with an assault of crashing drumbeats and a deep, wobbly bassline, then a mesmerizing spacey synth riff kicks in, creating a mysterious soundscape for Warneford’s marvelous vocals. The music intensifies with tortured guitars and piercing synths in the chorus as he laments “Seems like I’m alive for, something I could die for.

Fear the Future” was their most recent single, released this past February, and one of their best songs. The biting lyrics speak to the banal music and entertainment, bullshit and fear-mongering being fed to the masses in a pernicious attempt to dumb-down and divide us. Musically, the song features the band’s signature aggressive instrumentation and massive, driving rhythms, making for a incredibly powerful and exhilarating song that slams us against the wall. The disturbing video brilliantly brings the dark lyrics to life.

Now we get to what I consider to be their greatest song, the monumental and gorgeous “Closer“. Wow, this song is a masterpiece! It opens with a mysterious throbbing synth chord that slowly builds into a stunning and dramatic soundscape that envelops us as Warneford laments of an obsessive and destructive relationship. The song then erupts into a maelstrom of tortured wailing synths, grimy guitars, buzz-saw bass, and explosive percussion, punctuated by almost violently crashing cymbals that emphasize the feelings of desolation expressed in the bitter lyrics. But then, Warneford fervently sings that their love affair that now lies in tatters might still be salvageable: “Feel I’m walking on shattered glass. This romance just has to end, to reset, erase, begin again. And I’ll move, move closer. Yes I’ll move closer to you.” The spooky, strangely beautiful video shows a woman in a shabby gossamer dress dancing in a filthy abandoned warehouse as Warneford sings the song.

From this point on, all the tracks are new to us, and all of them superb. The rousing “Get So High” seems to channel a bit of MGMT with its trippy and melodic synth-driven grooves and chugging riffs of gnarly guitars. “Atomic White Gold” brings a pulsating mix of chiming and reverb-drenched fuzzy guitars, swirling synths and blasting drumbeats, wrapped in a dark, captivating melody. Smith’s deep, throbbing bass is a highlight here, giving the track incredible depth. Warneford’s vocals soar as he sings “Atomic white gold. Just like the real thing.” The extended wailing guitar run in the outro is awesome, sounding like a cross between an air-raid siren and incoming bombs.

Bleed Out” starts off with heavy, distorted reverb, then a driving punk rock beat kicks in, compelling us to take to the dance floor. Matthew’s furious riffs and Stanley’s pummeling drumbeats are so fucking good! I really love songs with this kind of hard-driving beat. At the three-minute mark, the tempo slows as Howe’s throbbing industrial synths take over, giving the song a dark, intense vibe that sounds like something Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails could have cooked up together. The track ends with the same heavy, distorted reverb it began with.

IAMWARFACE continue delivering the goods with the hard-hitting “Red Queen“. With a nod to Queens of the Stone Age, the chugging riffs of grimy guitars and massive driving rhythms really get our blood pumping. Matthews is an amazing guitarist, and his work here is nothing short of phenomenal. Warneford laments about his low status in the eyes and heart of the woman he desires: “You are the red queen. I am the lone dog. I would do anything to win back your heart. You are something, I am nothing to you.

Trigons” is a long (7:13 minutes) mostly instrumental track that really showcases this band’s impressive musicianship. Each member is allowed to shine, as the guitars, bass, synths and percussion are distinct, yet meld together beautifully to create a mesmerizing psychedelic fantasia. Warneford’s soaring vocals are sparse, entering only in the latter part of the track, but are powerfully compelling as always.

The Paris Alexander remix of “Closer” is particularly stunning, giving a the song a different, somewhat lighter feel through a captivating dance beat and dreamy, ethereal synths. Alexander is a music producer and composer, and has collaborated with Antipole, a Norwegian post punk band I’ve previously written about on this blog.

Year of the Dragon is a phenomenal album that feels almost like a greatest hits compilation, as every single track is outstanding. I loved IAMWARFACE before, and love them even more after hearing this album. Year of the Dragon drops September 6th, but you can pre-order it here.

Track Listing:
1. SAY MY NAME
2. YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE
3. TO DIE FOR
4. FEAR THE FUTURE
5. CLOSER
6. GET SO HIGH
7. ATOMIC WHITE GOLD
8. BLEED OUT
9. RED QUEEN
10. TRIGONS
11. SAY MY NAME (PAUL PARSONS REMIX)
12. CLOSER (PARIS ALEXANDER REMIX)
13. YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE (CROSSFLOW REMIX)
14. CLOSER (CONTROL FREAK REMIX)

Catch IAMWARFACE at one of these upcoming shows:

30 August 2019 – Bournemouth, UK (with The Kut, HAWXX, Black Tree Vultures)
7 September 2019- Twickenham, UK (with How To Live, Nick Swettenham)
26 September 2019- London, UK (with The Insect, Graves)
17 November 2019 – Brighton, UK (with Legpuppy, Androids In The Mist)

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

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

MISSIO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brett Grant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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