STONED PIRATES – Album Review: “Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll”

Stoned Pirates album art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. My anxiety and 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 music excellence. 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.

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

HARROLAND – Single Review: “Brothers”

Harroland

I first featured British alternative indie-rock band Harroland this past February upon the release of their single “Home” (read my review here), the first in a series of releases planned for 2019. The single received airplay on BBC Radio’s Introducing program, and the band is quickly gaining a large following, already being dubbed the ‘Best New Band’ in the Reading area. They’re now back with a wonderful new single “Brothers“, which officially dropped on June 21st.

Based in Reading, England, Harroland is comprised of siblings Michael (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Kate Kennedy (synths, keyboards, backing vocals), Steve Tabor (lead guitar), and drummer Stu Roberts, who joined the band in March. “Brothers” is the band’s first release under the current lineup. They express their social and political consciousness through compelling, relevant lyrics, and package them with gorgeous soundscapes that make for a pleasing listening experience.

Whereas “Home” addressed those intent on holding onto their own power while disregarding the hopes and dreams of others, “Brothers” explores the concept of people choosing to live their lives under invisible power structures that offer a false sense of freedom. Michael Kennedy explains: “It’s this idea that maybe we forgo our own desires for the safety of working within a corporate environment – that we are unlikely to take risks or take command of our own lives. What would happen if we did the opposite? Is such a life, for the average person, sustainable, or even possible?

“Brothers” is a stunning track, with an irresistibly catchy tempo and glorious instrumentals. The band plays as a tight unit, each member performing their part with perfection to create a song of exceptional quality. Steve’s guitar work is fantastic, and Stu does a stellar job pounding out the captivating beat. Kate’s dreamy keyboards are a thing of beauty, and I love how they interplay with Steve’s chiming guitar. Michael deftly keeps the rhythm with his strummed guitar, but a highlight for me are his distinctive vocals, which I find utterly enchanting. I love this song, and have listened to it at least 20 times already!

We can fantasize about everything we do
Take it back, take it back right now
Don’t tell me it ain’t true
And hold it straight
Line it up and let it loose
Lap it up, lap it up right now
There’s nothing else to choose

We can compromise
Change our jobs and trade our lives
No matter what I think, someone’s in charge of mine
I can calculate
That even if I was to leave
I’d have a freedom
That lacks security

Maybe we’re like brothers rolling across this land or
Maybe we’re like someone else in somebody else’s hands

The video for the song is a live performance by Harroland at Pyramid Studios in Reading, which they won in a competition run by the studio. It was filmed by local photographer Victoria Holt and edited by Kate Kennedy. The track was mixed and mastered by sound engineer Jack Twiner, who’s a co-owner of Pyramid Studios.

Connect with Harroland on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Apple Music

HEIST AT FIVE – Single Review: “Falling With Style”

Heist at Five Falling With Style2

When I last featured the wickedly talented and undeniably charismatic UK band Heist at Five on this blog in October 2018, they had released their fantastic single “Finish What You Started”. I reviewed the song and also interviewed the band, which you can read here.  Based in London, but with an international pedigree, the electro/hard rock collective plays an aggressive, innovative style of alternative rock that borders on experimental, with complex melodies, intricate chord progressions and brilliant electronic and guitar-heavy instrumentation. Making the music are Oskar Abrahamsson (vocals), Jozef Veselsky (guitar), Marco “Fuzz” Paone (bass) and Josh Needham (drums), with assistance from production guru Kim Björnram. They released their impressive debut EP The Blacklist in early 2018 (which I also reviewed), and now return with an exciting and introspective new single “Falling With Style“, and it’s one of their best songs yet.

The band states “the song is about fully embracing the idea of failure and finding comfort in it”, and it’s message is delivered with a glorious soundscape of elaborate instrumentation and sounds. Jozef is an amazing guitarist, dazzling our senses with incredibly intricate riffs and spine-tingling power chords. Marco and Josh keep the rhythm with a deep, throbbing bass line and powerful drums, backed by swirling moody synths and otherworldly but beautiful electronically-enhanced soaring choruses.

Oskar’s fervent vocals are spectacular, raising goosebumps as they go from sultry purr to tender falsetto to emotionally wrought wails as he sings:

Now we’re fighting for our life just to get our balance back
How we see the world shakes, under attack
The sky is caving as its weighing down these skinny legs
We’re slowly getting close to the edge

It’s all been shattered, torn apart
Burnt to pieces, right from the start
It all falls
But does it matter, for us at all
When all you need is, to fall with style

The song has been translated into a brilliant and surreal video that tells the story of a young woman who sees moments of her life in flashbacks, which ends up changing her perspective about life, and in the process breaks her old pattern of decision making. The video was written, directed and edited by Oskar, and filmed by James Kiberu at IPuzzle Digital Media Video. The woman was played by Anoushka Rava, and the lead girl by Julie Rabesahala.

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

THE DIOMEDES – EP Review: “Rabbit”

The Diomedes Rabbit

As I continue to revisit artists I’ve previously featured on this blog, today I’m happy to discuss the exciting new EP Rabbit by alternative electronic rock duo The Diomedes. Based in London, England, The Diomedes is the studio project of friends Mark Champion (guitars and vocals) and David Myers (drums and synths). Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a review of their phenomenal debut album Traps. I was so impressed by it, I was inspired to write what I consider to be one of my finest reviews, and you can read it here.

For Rabbit, which was recorded at Narcissus Studios in North West London, the guys teamed up with John Catlin (who’s produced albums for the likes of Led Zeppelin, Nine Inch Nails, Foals and The Killers) and Drew Smith. The influence of NIN is strongly evident, as all three tracks are intense, gnarly and loud, with rather bleak lyrics that speak to feeling used, unloved or losing one’s mind. It’s music that raises the adrenaline, and I felt my heart race every time I listened to the songs.

The title track “Rabbit” sets the overall tone for the EP, with a barrage of Mark’s gravelly riffs and David’s tumultuous percussion that build and build to an ear-splitting crescendo. Along the way, piercing industrial synths add to the sonic cyclone that evokes images of swirling down a rabbit hole. Mark practically shrieks the lyrics that seem to address the feelings of someone under siege by everyone and everything, and the only thing worth living for – that which will plunge him down the rabbit hole – is the love he needs and desires from a certain woman.

I’m taking punches
Pressures building stack up the bricks
I’m feeling hammers
Sculpting a hole in what was me
Tear me up
Tear me up into bits
Tear me up, up, up into pieces
The only thing I need they can’t take from me

Eyes that turn my world
Something that’s worth fighting for
So they can tear me up
I’m taking shots, blows
Bruised to my core
But I only need her glance to fall down the hole

The Diomedes really show what they’re capable of with “Con Debris”, a magnificent slice of melodically complex, industrial noise rock. Things start off gently with some jangly guitar chords and reverb, then the song explodes into a thunderous maelstrom of grungy riffs, swirling synths and hammering drums. Mark’s intricate guitar work and David’s powerful drumming are impressive, and I love Mark’s resonant, quirky vocals and strong British accent as he sings the lyrics:

Come in from the cold
Rest your feet, warm your bones
Build a fire, take my chair
Put my kettle on
Make yourself at home

We’ll pretend like we’re old friends until you’re OK
Until you move on again
Because I think that you just need a little help and a day or two won’t hurt
In any case, you’ll help yourself to everything I’ve left
It’ll always be this way

With nary a second to catch our breath, we’re instantly bombarded with sounds of pummeling drums and very grimy guitars announcing the arrival of the hard-hitting “Bring Out Your Dead”. The guys deliver roiling riffs of fuzzy, distorted guitars, blustery percussion and pulsating industrial synths, punctuated by occasional melodic flourishes, all making for an electrifying listen. The song seems to address the eternal struggle to maintain one’s sanity in this crazy thing called life:

And in the end crazy makes sense
So just kiss goodbye to shattering up inside
All heart and soul and head
All you’ve left is bring out your dead

While short in length, Rabbit packs an enormous punch in its 12 1/2 minutes. Mark and David are creative and talented songwriters and musicians, and their work continues to impress me. If you like alternative electronic rock that’s intense and out of the ordinary, you will enjoy this EP.

To learn more about The Diomedes, check out their website.
Connect with them on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Subscribe to their YouTube channel 
Stream their music on Soundcloud and  Spotify
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

GUIDE DOG – Single Review: “Generation Y”

Guide Dog Generation Y

Guide Dog is an alternative rock band from Cardiff, Wales I recently learned about when I received a submission for a review of their new single “Generation Y“. I instantly fell in love with their music, which they refer to as “sponge grunge”. Fusing elements of alt-rock, grunge, punk, and electronica, they create songs that are fast, fun, irreverent and in-your-face. They’ve also got a wicked sense of humor.

Comprising Guide Dog are Peter Roberts (Guitar, Vocals), John Maloney (Drums) and Ian Russell (Bass), who describe themselves as “a bunch of wankers who can’t sing and can’t play our instruments. Like the Spice Girls with moustaches. All or some or one were formerly members of Robots In The Sky, Tetra Splendour, People In Planes and Cold Specks.” Well, I’m here to say that, not only can they sing and play the hell out of their instruments, they’re way better than the Spice Girls!

In July 2017 they released their fantastic debut album Lovely Domestic Bliss, a collection of 10 banger tunes. I highly recommend my readers give it a listen, and trust me when I say you’ll be glad you did! They’re now working on a second album Generation Y, to be released later this year on Roberts’ label Hi-Vis Records. It will be accompanied by a book of poems entitled Thou Shalt Stare Into Space. In December 2018, they released the first single “Dead Beat” from the forthcoming album, and now follow up with a second single “Generation Y”, a protest song of sorts against the current fucked-up state of affairs in both the UK and USA. If these two tracks are any indication, Generation Y is going to be a phenomenal record.

About the new single, the band explains: “‘Generation Y’ comes at a time when children are bunking off school to protest outside Parliament about Westminster’s flimsy and inadequate response to climate change – prompting a swift and aggressive backlash by the politicians who dismissed the adolescents and ridiculed their irresponsibility; and the American president staging an imaginary state of emergency in a vein attempt to bludgeon Capitol Hill into funding a giant border wall whilst triumphantly filling his house with branded cheeseburgers to feed his unpaid staff and denying climate change is even happening… so it’s probably an appropriate juncture for a protest song!

“Generation Y” is a tasty little slice of sonic confection, featuring an irresistible bouncy drumbeat, and presented with a lo-fi vibe that keeps the song from bouncing too high. It starts off with a gnarly guitar riff, accompanied by quirky synths, fuzzy bass and very snappy drums. All of the aforementioned instruments explode into bigger, louder and heavier versions of themselves in the choruses, along with an injection of furiously crashing cymbals that turn the track into a real belter. I love Roberts’ wonderful fervent vocals, which sound like a cross between Dave Matthews and Adam Duritz. And the point in the song at 2:29 minutes where he goes “wooh” is a special highlight for me in what is overall a perfect track.

Like all their songs, the lyrics are refreshingly direct and colorful, pulling no punches in calling out bullshit as warranted:

Why did we get up to die generation,
I got a toupee on my mind generation,
Suck it ’til it all runs dry generation,
Why why why…?

When you get so high but you don’t know what it means,
Like a vandalised slush puppy machine,
Like the fashionable rips appearing in my jeans,
Wave a plastic flag at a golden carriage.
I’m a psychopath with a bunch of keys,
I’m a paper jam with 2.9% APR,
I’m an ass licker,
I’m a soul sucker,
I’m oozing out of a sausage and bean melt,
Waving my plastic flag…

Why did we get up to die generation,
I got a toupee on my mind generation,
Suck it ’til it all runs dry generation,
Why why why…?

I don’t drink and drive or have the odd line once in a while,
I don’t dress up like a lady in secret,
I never think about blowing up the White House,
I got hope for salvation but I don’t know why.
I felt sick so I took an anti sickness pill,
I felt disconnected so I bought a new telephone,
Got a payment plan and a fake sun tan,
Some health and safety regulations,
But I just can’t relax…

Why did we get up to die generation,
I got a toupee on my mind generation,
Suck it ’til it all runs dry generation,
Why why why…?

Connect with Guide Dog:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

IAMWARFACE Release a Ghoulish & Brilliant Video for “Fear the Future”

IAMWARFACE new

Two weeks ago, one of my favorite British bands IAMWARFACE released their latest single “Fear the Future“, an outstanding song that speaks to the general dumbing down of society by media and our politicians, and the mind-controlling enslavement we allow them to foist upon us. The hard-hitting track delivers the signature bombastic instrumentals and electrifying vocals of front man Matt Warneford we’ve come to love from this amazing band. In addition Warneford, the band includes Lou Matthews (guitars), Tom Howe (DJ synth), Mike Smith (bass) and Adam Stanley (drums). You can read my review here.

Now they release a very dark and provocative video for the song that’s one of the more chilling I’ve seen in a long while, playing out like a scene from a horror film. The graphic and disturbing imagery is brilliantly filmed and executed, with some great computer-generated effects, and the creepy make-up of the demon figure is perfect. The video was written and produced by Warneford, and filmed by Yohan Forbes of Kumo Films, who co-directed it with Warneford. Editing was done by Forbes and Tom Howe, and the two actors are Dean Rose and Nick Foster.

The action takes place in a TV show played on an old portable television set, and portrays a man (Nick) coming home to his apartment from work, then creating yet another in a series of drawings he’s made of geometric shapes with colored felt pens. After he pins it to the wall, he goes to the bathroom to wash his face and hands, at which point a ghoulish demon appears behind him, though Nick cannot see him. Warneford explained the intended meaning he attempts to capture in the video:

So, you have Deanmon and Nick. They are both the same person, but Deanmon is the frustrated artistic part of Nick’s psyche, almost like he’s trying to warn Nick about all the shit he’s watching on the TV, the lifestyle he’s living, the general British yob* culture type stuff, beer drinking oik, etc. It’s also about mental health as well, as you could say that Deanmon is the sane part of Nick’s mind, and Nick has basically lost the plot. It’s kind of left up to the viewer to decide so it’s kind of ambiguous. Deanmon is getting more and more frustrated until he purges and gives up. Then the door knocks and it’s me standing there with an axe coming to finish the job. Also, that could be a metaphor for me coming along to take an axe to the banal music industry as it currently stands, but that’s a bit pretentious lol.”

Watch this incredible video and heed the warning at the beginning!

* ‘Yob culture’ is a slang term used in the UK, Australia and New Zealand to refer to a loutish, uncultured person, while ‘oik’ is a derogatory term for an uncouth person.

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

IAMWARFACE – Single Review: “Fear the Future”

British electro-rock band IAMWARFACE can do no wrong when it comes to making music as far as I’m concerned. Based in Brighton and London, their aggressive name is a fitting metaphor for their bombastic high-energy, groove-based sound, and they rank high among my favorite UK bands. In addition to founder and frontman Matt Warneford, the band members include Lou Matthews (guitars), Tom Howe (DJ synth), Mike Smith (bass) and Adam Stanley (drums).

IAMWARFACE new
Photo by Caitlin Stokes

I first featured them on this blog in 2016 when they released their face-melting debut single “Say My Name”, then again in July 2018 with the release of the magnificent “Closer“. I loved both tracks so much that they peaked at #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and “Say My Name” placed at #14 on my Top 100 Songs of 2016, and “Closer” at #8 on my Top 100 Songs of 2018. They now return with another incredible, hard-hitting single “Fear the Future“, providing further proof (as if any is needed) that these guys are phenomenal musicians.

The song launches with Adam’s smashing drumbeats, Tom’s grinding synths and Lou’s jagged riffs, all hallmarks of the band’s signature electrifying sound. As the track progresses, layers of sparkling industrial synths and jangly guitar are added to the mix while Mike lays down a pulsating bass line that drives the song forward. Matt has a powerful, resonant singing voice, and he raises adrenaline levels here with his arresting, passionate vocals that soar to the heavens in the chorus as the instrumentals reach a spine-tingling crescendo.

The biting lyrics seem to address the bullshit and fear-mongering being fed to the masses in a pernicious attempt to dumb-down and divide us, thereby allowing us to be controlled.

It’s all in the news 
The act is done
They’ve got us all and alone
Praise the lord
Cheat us all
Its televised
Another fear

Its all i hear
It gives me the creeps

I fear the Future
Wont you take me with ya
Aw come on come on now

High five
Where are we now
Cheap seats the end of the world
And free lies
The Bubblegum shit
Closes eyes dreams of England

IAMWARFACE have another massive hit on their hands with “Fear the Future”. While they may fear the future with regard to the current fucked-up sociopolitical state of things, they needn’t fear for their future as a band on an straight upward trajectory.

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