Album Review: “Head RUSH”

This is perhaps the most ambitious and unusual album I’ve reviewed yet, as it’s an extensive compilation work consisting of 15 tracks by different artists contained in three vinyl LPs (or two CDs), plus a bonus CD featuring another seven tracks, for a grand total of 22 songs! All of them are electronic instrumentals in various styles, but all essentially influenced by early 70s krautrock and motorik beat music made famous by such German acts as Can, NEU!, Kraftwerk and Harmonia. The collection, entitled Head RUSH, is being released by British independent label Fruits de Mer Records on May 17th.

First off, I must state that I’m astonished by the huge number of artists still producing electronic music, particularly krautrock and all its variations. Many artists featured on Head RUSH are accomplished acts with sizable discographies and followings, while some are relative newcomers. It’s truly an international compilation; represented are acts from England, Wales, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, Russia, Peru and California. All were carefully selected for inclusion by Fruits de Mer Records head Keith Jones based on their quality and appropriateness for the overall theme. Because there are so many tracks – nearly all of which are over five minutes long, with one running over 30 minutes! – I won’t be boring my readers or making myself crazy by discussing all of them in detail. I’ll try to touch on as many as possible, albeit briefly, and include samples of songs for which the artists have made audio videos.

The album kicks off with “Sunrise, Part 7“, a shimmery homage to the music of NEU! by Giacomo & Carolina, the collaborative music project of California-born and now Berlin-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Anton Barbeau, and California-based singer Julia Boorinakis Harper. German electronic artist Das Blaue Palais dazzles with a mesmerizing “Dusseldorf Motorik” remix of his 2016 single “Zeitfeld”. The otherworldly synths, plucked strings and colorful guitar notes are exquisite and haunting.

Welsh-based English composer and multi-instrumentalist David Oakes, a long-time favorite of mine who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog, is represented here by his brooding track “The Sahara (2020 Remix)“. David layers a thrilling mix of exotic and gritty, reverb-laden guitar riffs over Nine Inch Nail-esque industrial synths and a pulsating groove to create a cinematic soundscape that beautifully conveys the vast and often terrifying expanse of the Sahara Desert.

Another terrific offering is “Getaway” by English space rock band Sonic Trip Project, who layer haunting spacy synths over a hypnotic EDM beat, creating a gorgeous sweeping soundscape.

Opening the second LP is Welsh psych space rock outfit Moon Goose with their trippy song “Shiny Man“, followed by the deliciously captivating “Obsession is the Mother of All” by Italian avant-rock trio Oslo Tapes. I said I wasn’t going to discuss every track, but the next one – “Ecstatic Engines” by California composer, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Jay Tausig is so good that I must give it mention too. I also realize I’m overusing the words “mesmerizing” and “cinematic”, but both words strongly apply to many tracks. I wish I had a sample of “Ecstatic Engines” I could share on this post, as it’s incredible. I love the strong, driving beat, spacy synths and otherworldly sound textures he employs. In preparation for reviewing this album, I researched every artist and found that Tausig is especially prolific, releasing a full album and two EPs in February and March alone!

Netherlands is well-represented by “Telefunken Baby!“, a nearly 13-minute-long tour de force by electronic composer Son of Ohm. The track was originally featured on his 2019 album Zeitgeist. His psychedelic guitar work is fantastic.

Next up is the wonderfully spacy “Martine à la Plage” by French experimental psych-rock duo Alber Jupiter, the music project of Nicolas Terroitin and Jonathan Sonney. The song was also originally included on their excellent 2019 album We Are Just Floating in Space.

Wales is once again represented, this time by Fruits de Mer favorite The Lost Stoned Pandas and their sprawling psychedelic extravaganza “Motorik Wah Nine“. The reverb-soaked psychedelic guitars would make Jimi Hendrix proud, and the wobbly synths and undulating rhythmic grooves are pretty amazing too. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a video or link to the song. I do have one for the phenomenal “MOTOR!K” by Belgian krautrock trio Tyrants, however. The hypnotic song features a relentless driving motorik beat, a 4/4 beat originally pioneered by Jaki Liebezeit, drummer for the German experimental rock band Can.

From Lima, Peru hail space rock trio Culto al Qondor, with their trippy and dark “E1“, an epic 12-minute-long track originally featured on their 2019 album Electricidad. The spooky synths, wailing psychedelic guitars, pummeling rhythms and explosive percussion are pretty spectacular.

London krautrock trio (many of these acts seem to consist of three members) Psychic Lemon dazzle our senses with “Jam 7“, one of a series of studio jams they’ve recorded, in which all instruments were recorded live into a single microphone. Band guitarist Andy Briston lays down a barrage of super-gnarly distortion drenched in reverb, while his bandmates keep the track grounded with a powerful thumping rhythm. The face-melting track closes out the three LP set.

The Bonus CD serves up over 76 minutes of additional music contained in seven tracks, including “Vuh Parts 1 and 2” by British electronic outfit Taras Bulba, another terrific Jam by Psychic Lemon, the wonderfully psychedelic “69 Wheeler” by prolific British artist and guitarist Vince Cory, and the delightfully trippy “Grobmotorik” by Hungary-based Audio Cologne Project (a krautrock inspired music collaboration between Uwe Cremer (Level π) on guitars and keyboards, British musician Dave Pearson (aka computerchemist) on bass, keyboards and sequencers, and Zsolt Galántai on drums).

Closing out the Bonus CD are the two longest tracks of this entire project, the meandering and beautiful 14:14 minute-long “der Wald” by British composer and guitarist Icarus Peel, and the 30:25 minute-long live version of Harmonia’s 1974 motorik classic “Watussi” by Russian electronic band The Legendary Flower Punk. They’ve taken the original six-minute-long song and refashioned it into a magnificent and epic fantasia of atmospheric soundscapes, highlighted by psychedelic riffs, eerie synths and colorful sonic textures, all darting in and out like sprites over pulsating EDM rhythms. It’s a fitting end to this ambitious compilation of extraordinary compositions, and a testament to the enduring legacy and popularity of krautrock. If you like getting lost in spacy electronic vibes, then you will really enjoy Head RUSH.

Track List:

LP1:
1. Giacomo & Carolina – Sunrise, Part 7 (5:05)
2. Silver Vials – Follow The Sun (6:05)
3. Das Blaue Palais – Zeitfeld (Dusseldorf Motorik Mix) (8:11)
4. The Love Explosion – Anarchy! (3:58)
5. David Oakes – The Sahara (2020 Remix) (5:04)
6. Sonic Trip Project – Getaway (11:10)

LP2:
1. Moon Goose – Shiny Man (5:41)
2. Oslo Tapes – Obsession Is The Mother Of All (5:54)
3. Jay Tausig – Ecstatic Engines (8:42)
4. Son Of Ohm – Telefunken Baby (12:52)
5. Alber Jupiter – Martine A La Plage (7:15)

LP3:
1. The Lost Stoned Pandas – Motorik Wah Nine (10:16)
2. Motor!k – Tyrants (10:28)
3. Culto Al Qondor – Ei (12:19)
4. Psychic Lemon – Jam 7 (7:01)

Bonus CD:
1. Taras Bulba – Vuh Part 1 (3:56)
2. Vince Cory – 69 Wheeler (7:53)
3. Psychic Lemon – Jam 5 (8:26)
4. Audio Cologne Project – Grobmotorik (6:51)
5. Taras Bulba – Vuh Part 2 (5:15)
6. Icarus Peel – Der Wald (14:14)
7. The Legendary Flower Punk – Watussi Live (30:25)

Head RUSH may be purchased on the Fruits de Mer website: https://www.fruitsdemerrecords.com/

MISSIO – EP Review: “Skeletons: Part III”

In case it hasn’t been apparent to frequent readers of this blog, I’m a massive fan of MISSIO. On the strength of their phenomenal music catalog, as well as their honesty and openness with their fans and followers, in the space of a few years the Austin, Texas based duo have earned a place among my favorite music acts of all time. With the combined talents of singer-songwriter and producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler, their edgy, thoroughly original sound is an eclectic mix of gritty alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dreamy emo vibes. Then there’s Matthew’s beautiful vocals that register in the higher octaves just below a falsetto, giving them a distinctive sound unlike any other singer, and making their music instantly identifiable as only MISSIO’s.

They exploded onto the music scene in 2017 with their outstanding debut album Loner, featuring the great singles “Middle Fingers”, “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea” and “Everybody Gets High”. They quickly followed with two EPs, Skeletons: Part I and Skeletons: Part II, both featuring stripped-down, more meditative versions of tracks from Loner, plus a few new songs. In April 2019, they released their magnificent second album The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man, which I called a masterpiece and the best album of 2019 in my review. The album includes my favorite MISSIO song “I See You” (which I also named my #1 song of 2019), as well as “Rad Drugz”, “Temple Priest” and “Underground”. Since then, the duo have continued to put out a tremendous amount of new music. In March 2020, they released a beautiful and cinematic mostly instrumental soundtrack album for their documentary film Love Me Whole, a collaboration with videographer Jeff Ray about their struggles of what it means to be artists in America. That October, they followed with their brilliant fourth album Can You Feel The Sun. The gorgeous title track spent several weeks atop my Weekly Top 30 earlier this year.

On April 23, they returned with Skeletons: Part III, the third in their series of stripped-down versions of previously released tracks. Only this time, they decided to give them a more classical feel through the addition of strings and other orchestral instrumental touches. The guys explained their approach on their social media: “It’s been a dream of ours to be able to create music alongside a real string quartet, and we finally had the chance on this project. These re-imagined versions of our songs speak a bit more direct to the soul. It won’t be as good as sex however, with the right headphones/speakers it will get you close.”

Well, I have to say they’re absolutely right, because Skeletons: Part III is a 15-minute-long eargasm. Listening to its five tracks is an immersive experience, transporting you to a dreamy faraway place through breathtaking atmospheric soundscapes. Four of the tracks are from Can You Feel The Sun, along with one new track “Do You Realize??” The guys produced and arranged these re-imagined versions with the assistance of composer/arranger Fiona Brice, and with lush strings performed by the Tosca String Quartet. I love classical music and luxurious orchestral arrangements, so it’s no surprise that I’d love this EP. The tracks were mixed by their long-time collaborator Dwight Baker, and flawlessly mastered by Dave McNair.

They also produced stunning, artful videos for each of the tracks with footage filmed in and around Joshua Tree National Park, which is located about an hour from where I live in the Coachella Valley, in the Southern California desert. With its starkly beautiful landscapes and spiritual aura, Joshua Tree has long been a popular location for shooting music videos.

Vagabond (Stripped)” is probably the most-changed of the four re-imagined tracks from its original version, which features a hard-driving dubstep beat, grungy and distorted industrial synths, and verses sung by rapper Esoteric of the hip hop group Czarface. The stripped-down version is darkly beautiful and contemplative, with eerie, echoed synths coupled with mournful strings, strummed guitar, and exquisite keyboards that gradually soar to a dramatic crescendo. Matthew’s strongly emotive vocals keep pace with the intensity of the music as he sings the lyrics that were inspired by David and his wife Amanda’s relationship, specifically, his feeling like he’d disappointed her by failing to live up to his promises due to the excessive time he spent touring with MISSIO, which kept him away from her: “I once made you a simple promise, that I would share my dreams with you. Maybe this all became a big mess when everything I dreamed came true. Hurting people, hurt people, it’s hard to understand. There’s a million ways to fix us, screaming like a broken man. Vagabond, is that what you want? I’m a vagabond, is that what you want?

The second track “Losing My Mind (Stripped)” shaves a minute off the original, which features a bold, beat-driven melody and dramatic otherworldly synths. The new stripped-down version is more atmospheric and dreamy, with lovely plucked guitar notes and strings. Yet it still retains some of the dark overtones of the original, this time beautifully expressed through cinematic synth bass and melancholy piano keys. The spare lyrics speak from the viewpoint of someone losing their grip on reality, thinking back on happier times: “On dreary days, I like to think about the joy that I had as a young and reckless kid. On dreary days, I used to drown it out. A sociopath ’cause I had nothing left to give.” Matthew’s vocals in the chorus are electronically altered to the point where they sound like horns, making the lyrics barely recognizable: “I’m losing, I’m losing, I’m losing my mind. I’m fighting, I’m fighting, I’m fighting for more time.”

My favorite track on the EP is “Roman Empire (Stripped)“, both for its stunning arrangement and biting lyrics. The somber piano and strings are utterly captivating, accompanied by throbbing ethereal synths, all of which create a hauntingly beautiful soundscape. The lyrics are a scathing denunciation of powerful corporate interests and corrupt government leaders with authoritarian tendencies (Trump administration anyone?), equating them with the ill-fated Roman Empire: “You’re building cities on the backs of all the people working hard to build a home with memories. This moral ground you think you own is frankly dangerous when you’re ripping kids away from what they need. Roman Empire is what you are, Roman Empire is who you are. You’re an empire, Darkest of empires, The Roman Empire.” Two thirds of the way into the song, the music and mood turn more introspective, with Matthew questioning God’s existence: “What if God’s not real and everything we are is just a moment here where we’re only growing older? What if God is real and everything I’ve done pushed me down this path, and it’s only growing colder?

I adore the original album version of “Can You Feel The Sun“, with its lush and bold sweeping orchestration, but the stripped down version is equally beautiful. The gorgeous instrumentals are highlighted by strummed acoustic guitar, warm piano keys and blissful strings, all melding together to produce a thoroughly enchanting backdrop for Matthew’s sublime ethereal vocals. I realize I’m overusing the words ‘gorgeous’, ‘stunning’ and ‘beautiful’, but damn it, they bear repeating for every track! The introspective lyrics speak to reassessing one’s prejudices and shortcomings, and trying to be more open-minded and accepting: “Below the willow tree is where I hide the darkest parts of me. They’re hiding underneath the broken lies that I just still believe. Below the willow tree is where I sit and hate on my enemies. I drown ’em in my dreams, I think it’s me who needs some humility.”

The fifth track “Do You Realize??” is a stripped-down reworking of the beloved original by American psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips, using only four verses from the beginning of the song. But truth be told, it doesn’t really feel stripped at all, as it builds to a cinematic orchestral crescendo in the middle, before calming down to only a somber piano note as the song fades out. In his breathy vocals, Matthew softly asks seemingly simple questions that are actually filled with deep meaning: “Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face? Do you realize we’re floating in space? Do you realize that happiness makes you cry? Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?

What more can I add, except to say that Skeletons: Part III is a bewitching little slice of sonic heaven. I love MISSIO, and hope at least some of my readers will love and appreciate their music even half as much as I do.

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Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  Amazon

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.

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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:

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Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
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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
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud
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!

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

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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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Stream on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Google Play / Amazon