Fresh New Tracks, Vol 12 – IAMWARFACE, Paul Iwan & Lines of Flight/The Ocean Beneath

It’s back to the UK for my latest edition of Fresh New Tracks, and today I’m featuring three powerful new singles by acts I’ve previously featured on this blog – IAMWARFACE, Paul Iwan and The Ocean Beneath, as well as Lines of Flight, an act I’ve not written about before, who collaborated with The Ocean Beneath on the track I’m including.

IAMWARFACE – “The Black Room”

British nu-rock band IAMWARFACE are one of my favorite acts, who I’ve happily featured on this blog many times. From the moment I first heard their explosive debut single “Say My Name” in 2016, I’ve been a devoted fan. Based in Brighton and London, and fronted by the immensely talented and flamboyant singer/songwriter and producer Matt Warneford, their aggressive name is a fitting metaphor for their bombastic groove-based style of electro-rock. Warneford has a commanding presence and powerhouse singing voice, with the ability to raise our adrenaline with his dramatic impassioned vocals. Since their debut, they’ve continued to deliver one incredible song after another. Three of their singles – “Say My Name”, “Closer” and “Fear the Future” – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart, with “Closer” ranking #58 on my Top 100 Songs of the 2010s.

With their latest release, “The Black Room“, IAMWARFACE deliver more of their signature incendiary rock we’ve come to love and expect. I love their massive sound, highlighted by searing riffs, grinding basslines, explosive percussion and moody industrial synths, all of which blend together in a combustible alchemy to create a darkly beautiful backdrop for Warneford’s fearsome vocals. The song was actually written a couple of years ago, and has been played by the band in their live set for a while. They decided it was time to have it fully mixed and mastered, and released to the world, and we fans are glad they did! It’s another sparkling gem in their unbroken string of superb singles.

Connect with IAMWARFACE:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

PAUL IWAN – “CONTROL”

Another long-time favorite of mine is singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paul Iwan, who’s based in Liverpool. We’ve been following one another on social media for nearly six years as well, and I’ve also written about him and his music numerous times. Paul’s an outstanding guitarist and songwriter, with a strong, resonant and emotive vocal style. His powerful single “Reward”, which was a cover of the song originally recorded by Liverpool new wave band The Teardrop Explodes, spent four months on my Weekly Top 30, and ranks #50 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020.

Paul has just released a powerful video for “CONTROL“, one of the songs from his forthcoming album PRESENT, due for release on April 8th. The video, filmed and directed by Scott Mealey in Waterloo Methodist Church in Liverpool, shows Paul performing the song against a backdrop of historic imagery of troubling events and strife, courtesy of TechNoir. Of special note is that Paul is playing his beautiful 1965 lime green Framus guitar, once owned by The Teardrop Explodes frontman Julian Cope, which he purchased in a broken state and lovingly restored. Paul, who has struggled with PTSD and addiction, states that the song is a confrontation of fear, and a reminder of the power within us all to overcome those fears. For the recording of the track, Paul played the blistering guitars, haunting piano keys and sweeping synths, Jim Duncan played additional guitar and Steven Burkert played drums.

Connect with Paul Iwan: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

THE OCEAN BENEATH & LINES OF FLIGHT – “Strands”

The Ocean Beneath is the electronic music project of Leeds-based musician, composer and producer Matt Burnside. Influenced by bands such as Gunship, HVOB and Talk Talk, he combines 80’s synthpop elements with modern recording techniques, analogue synthesis and huge melodic grooves to create music that sounds retro, yet fresh. Like many electronic artists, he often collaborates with other musicians and vocalists, and has released a sizable amount of terrific music, some of which I’ve reviewed previously. His enchanting collaborative single “Skin”, with Leeds-based singer-songwriter and electronic musician Fran Minney, earned a spot on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list.

Lines of Flight are a Leeds-based dreamwave/synthpop/electro-folk duo comprised of Matthew Henderson and Helen Whale. They started collaborating as strangers at the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020, recording songs using only iPhone handsets & headphones. Their sound is influenced by Depeche Mode, Joy Division, OMD, Gary Numan, The Cure, New Order and Eurythmics, all acts who are also strong influences for IAMWARFACE. In the two years since they began, they’ve released 10 singles. Their latest single “Strands“, a collaboration with The Ocean Beneath, is their eleventh.

The origin of “Strands” began as a series of 20 tweets written by Matthew starting around Christmas 2019 and continuing through 2020 and 2021, about his personal struggles, painful memories of the loss of his father that seemed to cast a pall over every Christmas, the fact he was about to be a father for the first time, and the value of music to help him get though it all. After publishing them as one coherent piece he named “Strands” in December 2021, The Ocean Beneath urged Matthew to record these tweets as a spoken word piece. Together, The Ocean Beneath and Lines of Flight then composed a hauntingly beautiful ambient instrumental to go with the written piece. There are two tracks, the first with Matthew’s spoken vocals, and the second an instrumental-only piece.

Connect with The Ocean Beneath: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Connect with Lines of Flight:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

KÅRP – EP Review: “KRIS”

KÅRP is a rather enigmatic band based in Gothenburg, Sweden who make fascinating electronic music they describe as “death disco”. Fronted by breathy-voiced singer Anna-Maria Lundberg, their dark, ethereal sound has been compared with fellow Swedish acts The Knife, Kite and Lykke Li. Their love for the paranormal, outer space and the apocalyptic state of current affairs are recurring themes in both their music and lyrics. They released their debut single “Therapist^2” in 2017, followed by several more singles that culminated in the release of their beautiful self-titled debut album KÅRP in 2019. They dropped the single “Left Handed” in 2020, then in December 2021, they released “It Looks Bad”, the first single from their planned triptych of EPs to be released throughout 2022. The first of the three EPs KRIS, released on January 27, is the subject of today’s review.

The triptych series are intended to represent the three stages of the apocalypse: Chaos, Silence and the New World Order. KRIS explores the downfall of society, with all it’s attendant chaos and disorientation, and thus sounds the darkest of the three. KÅRP elaborates: “The world is burning. The police are shooting innocent people to death. Natural disasters and wars are forcing families to flee for their lives. The barbed wire gets sharpened by the wealthy nations’ borders and a pandemic is closing our societies down in a way that’s never been seen before. We started working on this trilogy after the release of our debut album in 2019. At that time you could sense the downfall like a darkness at the end of the tunnel. We soon realized that the apocalypse was already here. That’s why the first leg of this triptych of EP’s is pretty dark sounding. The next one will be slightly more mellow. And on the last one, we’re allowing ourselves a few major chords and some hope.

The EP opens with the enchanting title track “Kris“, relatively brief piece that seems to serve as an introduction to this first installment of the triptych. KÅRP layers skittering eerie synths over a undulating synth bass groove to create a lovely but unsettling backdrop for Anna-Maria’s bewitching ethereal vocals. As its title suggests, things turn decidedly darker on the next track “It Looks Bad“. The harsh industrial synths are both spooky and beautiful, hovering over a powerful beat and heavy, pulsating rhythm, nicely conveying a sense of global upheaval. Anna-Maria laments to her child of the impending chaos and uncertainty that’s about to turn their world upside down: “Oh sweetheart, what to do with your pictures from school. The butterfly collection and your wild diaries, the family tree. Bring out the matches ‘cuz nobody will be here. No more grounds to stand on, nothing to grow here.”

I can’t quite make out the meaning of “Humdrum“, but it’s a sonically gorgeous track, with a colorful soundscape of intricate spacey synths, galloping beats and Anna-Maria’s fervent ethereal vocals. And on the marvelous “Honey Play“, KÅRP reaches deep into their sonic arsenal to produce a haunting, cinematic song befitting a soundtrack for an epic sci-fi or apocalyptic film. The sweeping industrial synths, powerful driving rhythms, and Anna-Maria’s soaring vocal harmonies are spectacular. The lyrics speak of standing up to dark forces trying to divide us: “I’ve already decided you can’t force me. You don’t understand all that matters. I’ve already decided you can’t force me. You want us to play under your division.”

I’m a big fan of electronic music, and KÅRP makes some of the most dramatically beautiful that I’ve heard in a while. KRIS is a stunning work, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the next two installments of their tryptich.

Connect with KÅRP:  FacebookTwitterInstagram 

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase:  BandcampAmazon

WINACHI – EP Review: “Parasitical Elimination EP”

British electro-funk collective WINACHI (formerly The Winachi Tribe) make some of the most deliciously catchy and dangerously sexy music of any band around today. Formed in 2015, and based in Warrington, which is situated roughly halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, the group has undergone a few line-up changes over the years, and now consists of founding members Liam Croker (lyrics and vocals) and Antony Egerton (keyboards, programming), Inder Goldfinger (percussion), Andy McKay (lead guitar),  Richard Ritchie (bass) and Paul Lawrence (drums). Inspired by such legendary acts as Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, Primal Scream, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Massive Attack, The Stone Roses, Talking Heads, D’angelo, Prince and Daft Punk, their infectious blend of funk-infused electro dance/pop serves up more grooves than a jukebox full of vintage 45s.

They’ve collaborated over the years with musicians and producers in both the UK and Southern California, and released several critically acclaimed singles and remixes, a number of which I’ve reviewed (you can read some of them by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). And while their songs touch on oft-covered topics like heartbreak, pain, mental health and even politics, their overriding message is always one of joy, positivity and love. WINACHI have built a growing fan base through their exciting live shows and touring with The Charlatans, Happy Mondays, The Sugarhill Gang & The Furious Five. They’ve also garnered airplay and press both at home and abroad on radio stations like BBC 6 Music and L.A. public ratio station KCRW, and publications such as The L.A Times, L.A Record, Manchester Evening News and Billboard China.

In anticipation of the upcoming release of their long awaited debut album, WINACHI have dropped “PARASITICAL ELIMINATION E.P.“, featuring four collaborative remixes of three of their previous songs by international artists and producers Howie B, Paolo Baldini, Jim Spencer, and Impey. Actually, some of the tracks should more accurately be considered as re-imaginings, rather than remixes, as they take on an entirely new vibe under the guidance of these producers.

First up is “PARASITES PARADISE ft. I Kong (Paolo Baldini Dubfiles Remix)“, the first of two re-imaginings of their 2019 single “Parasites Paradise featuring I Kong”. The original song, featuring guest vocals by legendary Jamaican reggae singer I Kong, is a bouncy electro-soul number about being true to yourself and living a life free from users and ‘parasites’ who want to suck the life out of you or try to dictate how you should live. For this remix, Italian dub producer Paolo Baldini gives the song a makeover by slowing things down a bit and adding a strong dubstep beat that actually enhances the reggae vibe. He then layers swirling industrial synths and funky guitar notes for a nice finish.

The second remix of the song, “PARASITES PARADISE REVISITED ft. I Kong (Impey Remix)” is a re-imagining by young London dub electronica/neo-soul producer Impey. Impey really slows down the original song’s tempo to a languid, almost sensual groove, which also lengthens the track by more than two minutes. He essentially deconstructs the original song and refashions it into something completely different and new, and unlike anything WINACHI has ever done before. I Kong’s vocals are still recognizable as his, but WINACHI lead singer Liam Croker’s electronically-altered vocals sound totally different. The song is darkly beautiful, trippy and mesmerizing.

A ROOM WITH A ZOO (Howie B Remix – Optimum Master)” was actually recorded and released in 2017, and is a remix of WINACHI’s very popular 2016 single “A Room With a Zoo”. I could be wrong, but my take on the song’s meaning is that it addresses the challenges of surviving as an artist in the crazy music business, and making music that’s honest and true. Liam croons “Give my soul back, give my soul back to me. I’ve been giving it up for too long, too long. Selling my heart and my soul.” Howie B is a renowned Scottish musician, producer and DJ who’s worked with a long list of artists, including Björk, U2, Tricky and Siouxsie and the Banshees, among others. On this optimum master of his remix, Howie B refashions the song into a pulsating trip hop extravaganza, with a strong, driving beat overlain with wobbly psychedelic synths and lots of sharp percussive textures and sounds, lending a dramatic new feel to the song.

The final track “SENSE OF DANGER (Spencers Revenge – Jim Spencer Edit)” is a re-imagining of WINACHI’s 2016 single “Sense of Danger”. As the title implies, the song is a dark, almost menacing track about obsessive love, and the original version has a trippy vibe, with a sort of dubstep beat, and highlighted by sinewy electronic synths, spooky organ and Liam’s rather menacing breathy vocals, backed with eerie choruses. The remix by Jim Spencer, a British producer and sound engineer who’s worked with such acts as New Order, Johnny Marr and The Charlatans, gives the song a more cinematic feel by greatly enhancing the dubstep beat, instrumentals and vocals. The dark synths and spooky organ now sound sharper and more well-defined, and the twangy guitar notes and piano are more pronounced as well, injecting added texture and drama into the track.

PARASITICAL ELIMINATION E.P.” is a marvelous little bundle of energy that makes for a very fun listen. It’s always fascinating to hear how producers reimagine others’ songs, and I love what these have done with some of WINACHI’s best songs. The EP will only be available through Bandcamp.

Connect with WINACHI:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampiTunes / Amazon

Paris Alexander featuring Eirene – Album Review: “Renaissance”

Paris Alexander is a creative and talented singer-songwriter, composer and electronic music producer based in Brighton, England. He’s been a long time collaborator with British singer-songwriter, producer and muse Tina Eirene (with whom he’s also romantically involved), as well as Norwegian coldwave/post-punk artist Antipole, with whom he co-wrote, sang vocals and played synths on, and produced three albums together (one of which, the 2017 release Northern Flux, I featured on this blog). Alexander and Antipole have also worked together on numerous projects with other artists, and Alexander has worked with fellow Brighton electro-rock band IAMWARFACE (one of my favorite British bands who I’ve also written about many times) and London electro-psych band Leg Puppy.

Tina Eirene and Paris Alexander enjoying themselves

In late 2019, Alexander released two excellent darkwave singles, “Tense” and “Druids”, both featuring vocals by Eirene. Then, this past February, he began releasing a series of new singles, “Renaissance”, “Devour”, and “Lost in the City” (the latter of which I also reviewed). All three of those singles are included on his wonderful debut album Renaissance, which dropped September 17th. The album was co-written and co-produced by Eirene, who also sings vocals on most tracks, and recorded, mixed and mastered at Alexander’s Blue Door Music Studios in Brighton.

About the album, Alexander explained to me that the title “Renaissance” is intended to symbolize “a positive change in life and an onward journey,” as well as the fact that this is his first solo album (albeit with Eirene). Delivering 38 minutes of shimmery darkwave grooves in ten outstanding tracks, Renaissance has a retro late 80s feel in the vein of bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode and New Order, yet sounds current and original. One of the characteristics I especially like about the album is that, similar to The Cure, many songs feature beautiful jangly and chiming guitars which lend great texture and drama to their overall sound.

The album opens with the title track “Renaissance“, a brooding song with a mesmerizing fast-paced driving beat that sets the tone for what’s to come. Alexander explained that the melodramatic lyrics are a metaphor for an internal crisis that’s producing an anxiety attack: “The mine exploding in my face was my first clue. Dreams shattered, burning pain. My hands are tied, my heart is cold. Burn down, the ashes, left with nothing. Nothing. My hands are tied, my heart is cold.” His rich baritone vocals sound like a glorious mash-up of David Bowie and ABC’s Martin Fry, while Eirene’s sultry, otherworldly croons lend added mystery to the proceedings.

From that point on, each track seems to flow seamlessly into the next, transporting me to a dark but dreamy place. The hauntingly beautiful second track, “Son Chemin“, is one of my favorites. Loosely translated, the song’s title means one’s way or path forward, which seems to signify an emergence from the personal hell first described in the opening track “Renaissance”. Against a backdrop of lush atmospheric synths, the interplay between the throbbing synth bass groove and the delicate mix of moody and chiming guitars is quite marvelous.

As noted above, I’ve previously written about “Lost in the City“, a darkly beautiful song about the cold and anonymous aspects of urban life, and how despite living amongst lots of people, we can sometimes feel very isolated and alone. I love the assertive stomping beat, hypnotic bassline, moody swirling synths and bold jangly guitars. The accompanying video, beautifully filmed in black and white by Eirene, features scenes along and around the Thames River in historic South East London. The black and white tones and brooding skies nicely capture the darkwave elements of the music and lyrics.

Frequent collaborator Antipole contributes some dazzling jangly guitar work on “The Void“, a song awash in dreamy psychedelic synths and moody vocal harmonies. Another favorite of mine is “Devour“, a dramatic and stunning track featuring a sharp, pulsating beat, luxurious cinematic synths, shimmery guitars and enchanting harmonic choruses. The lyrics are rather ambiguous, but seem to speak to searching for a way out of the depths of despair: “I kneel on this dusty floor. Look up through the pane. Light shimmers on my refrain. The dust splinters the light. The moon breaches the night. My arms extend to the stars. My back it holds the scars. Gotta find a way.”

The stellar tracks keep coming on strong, and I’m running out of descriptors and superlatives. “Siren” has a pulsating, almost dubstep-type beat, overlain with mysterious sweeping synths, handclaps, and a repetitive and hypnotic guitar riff, all creating a mesmerizing soundscape. In her best siren-like voice, Eirene breathily croons “You’re the one that always draws the best of me. Hold on to the words that go unspoken. I want the sun to shine through the trees, and the warmth develop my sanity.” The dark and dramatic “Floating Cities” features strong, driving beats, otherworldly synths and the combined vocals of Alexander, Eirene and guest vocalist UIU aka Grey Blatsa, who also played synths.

On the lively “Sound of Vision“, Alexander layers fuzz-coated gnarly synths and chiming guitar notes over a strong, throbbing EDM beat and deep, almost funky bassline. The result is a mesmerizing dance track guaranteed to have you swaying your hips within seconds. Eirene’s bewitching siren-like vocals make a welcome return engagement on this terrific track as well. The charming video they produced for the song features vintage footage of women dancing and doing light striptease, courtesy of Prelinger Risque Archives.

The final two tracks, “Revival” and “Desire“, deliver more hypnotic grooves, darkwave synths and stellar guitar work. “Revival” has a rapid, driving beat and spacey synths, punctuated by beautiful jangly guitars and Alexander and Eirene’s somber vocal harmonies, while the more languid “Desire” features a sultry dance vibe with jangly guitars, swirling atmospheric synths and Eirene’s breathy vocals.

Before I know it, the album’s over, and the first thing I want to do is hit repeat so I can hear it all again. Renaissance is a beautiful, masterfully-crafted work, and one of the finest electronic music albums I’ve written about in a long while. If you’re a fan of darkwave electronic music, or bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode, you will enjoy this album.

Follow Paris:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp

ALEX SOUTHEY – EP Review: “My Nights On the Island”

Alex Southey is a Canadian singer-songwriter and musician who makes outstanding music that can generally be described as alternative indie folk, but it’s so much more than that. Originally from Vancouver and currently based in Toronto, the busy artist has released quite a bit of music over the past few years, including three albums: Christmastown in 2019, You’re Not Just a Body to Me in 2020 and, most recently …And the Country Stirred this past February. Prior to that album’s release, I featured one of its singles “Rosie” – a deeply personal and haunting love song to his erstwhile hometown of Vancouver – on a Fresh New Tracks post.

Now he’s back with an exquisite new EP My Nights On the Island, which dropped September 17th. All the songs were written, performed, and produced by Alex, and mastered by Aaron Hutchinson. The beautiful cover artwork was designed and created by Felicia Wetterlin. The EP is a departure from his more typical indie folk sound, though truth be told, his music style is rather eclectic and hard to pin down, genre-wise. Like all creative artists, he’s not afraid to explore and experiment with his music, and as a result, each of his albums sound different from one another.

In an interview with Spill Magazine, Alex explained his creative process behind “My Nights On the Island: “I was trying to make an EP that would please my 17-year-old self. So, there is a little bit of Hip Hop and beats; I am not rapping, but in terms of beats. There are a bunch of acoustic guitars, and electric guitars and there is a theme, which is breaking up.” In a later Instagram post, he further elaborated “The EP encompasses a lot of things I wanted to do, and to not do the same thing again. Instead of starting with folk songs and dressing them up with an arrangement, I tried to go backwards, starting with what might be considered secondary or accent instruments (at least for my taste) as the main instrument. It forced me to write in a slightly different way. Of course, there are some pretty simply structured songs on here, like ‘As Close As You’ll Ever Be’, but there are also plenty of moments where it’s totally abstract in a way that at least absorbed ME and continued to pique my interest enough that I followed through with them.”

Well, the result is a fascinating and sonically complex work that’s pure delight for the senses. I’ve now listened to the EP six times, and discover new atmospheric sounds, instrumental textures and vocal nuances with each successive play. While there are common threads running through all the tracks, each one sounds uniquely different, surprising and thrilling us at every turn. Using nature sounds of water, waves and birds, he takes us right to that island.

The darkly beautiful opening track “The Gods Are Fighting” starts off with sounds of a boat slowly moving through what I’m imagining to be nighttime waters, accompanied by far-off ominous synths. At around 45 seconds, the song abruptly transitions to a lovely acoustic guitar-driven melody, highlighted by gorgeous strings and what sounds like a Mellotron, soaring to a dramatic crescendo. The track calms back down at the end with gentle sounds of breaking waves. About the track, Alex told Spill Magazine“I wrote the song around the time my last significant relationship ended. That also happened to be when it felt as though Toronto and its relationship with many of its citizens was at an all-time low. The song describes the dual positions of a relationship that has soured – where even dreams are muted and the agreed upon etiquette is out the window.” His richly layered vocals are captivating, with a melancholy quality that nicely conveys the sadness and pain of his break-up.

On the moody, atmospheric “Evergreen“, which sounds a bit like a song Bon Iver could have recorded, Alex experiments with lush, otherworldly synths and sounds, over which he layers delicate notes of what sounds like a mandolin or possibly a ukelele. The lyrics are spare, but he wistfully laments of how his feelings of love have died: “I don’t, I don’t, I don’t love you. I turned yesterday into stone.” And as its title suggests, the instrumental piece “Mellotron and Juliet” features a stunning Mellotron and his enchanting falsetto croon, creating a dreamy, yet melancholy soundscape.

My Nights On the Island / Rich In Experience” is an interesting track, as it’s actually two distinct, but related mostly instrumental tracks that Alex has fashioned into a couplet. The first half, which is the title track, starts off with Alex’s charming strummed acoustic guitar, then deeply resonant brass sounds from what I’m guessing is his Mellotron wash over us as he sings in almost exotic-sounding ethereal vocals, accompanied by somber piano keys and a languid hip hop beat. The song appears to end at 2:30, and after a 10-second lull, we hear sounds of birds chirping along with a return of the beautiful Mellotron. Eventually, horns enter as the music swells into a lush, idyllic soundscape befitting its “Rich in Experience” title.

Perhaps the most unusual song is the dramatic and trippy “As Close As You’ll Ever Be”, which Alex first released as a single in July. The song opens and closes with sounds of a large crowd cheering, as if at a rock concert. He explained this technique to Spill Magazine: “On this song, there is kind of a crowd atmosphere which is influenced from listening to albums by Hip Hop artists and bands like Pink Floyd who would use crowd noises, and weirdly also influenced by Oasis. On their best albums they kind of do this tiny little intro and tiny little outro leading into songs.” Musically, the song features blaring, almost tortured synths and sounds, with acoustic guitar during quieter moments. The lyrics seem to speak to his partner’s lack of appreciation for his worth as a musician: “I’m the hit in your head / I’m all on your bedspread / But that’s as close as you’ll ever be. And it’s true I earn half of what the next dance gets, but I’ve got a heart of gold you’ll pay to see.” I love his vocals, which sound radically different on each track.

On the bittersweet closing track “There’s Anneko, Down the Fire Escape“, Alex comes to terms with the fact that the relationship is over for good, and that they must each let go and move on. The song has a wonderful dominant bassline throughout, overlain with mournful cinematic synths and acoustic guitar notes. His vocals are filled with sadness and regret as he laments “There’s a neat trick, that I taught myself. To let go. Let go. / I can never love you how you want. So let go. Let go.” It’s a fine, albeit dark, finish to this beautiful EP. My Nights On the Island is an impressive, masterfully-crafted work that should make Alex feel quite proud.

Follow Alex Southey:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

ZEN BASEBALLBAT – Album Review: “Better Ways To Love & Offend”

When I last visited British ska-punk collective Zen Baseballbat this past January, I wrote about their brilliant album Rations, which I described as wild, zany, fun, and as thoroughly eclectic as any record could possibly be (you can read my review here). Now they’re back with a delightful new album, which they’ve cheekily titled Better Ways To Love & Offend, calling it “a slap in the face, a wake-up call to rip us from the stasis we’ve ghosted into since recession and Brexit took hold. Can’t go forward, can’t go back, so we might as well just sit and watch the bombs fall.” They deliver their message with hilarious yet biting lyrics and a delicious blend of ska (itself an eclectic mash-up of Caribbean mento and calypso, American jazz and R&B), electro, punk, new wave, reggae, zydeco and dub.

Based in Widnes, England, a mid-sized city bookended by Liverpool and Manchester, Zen Baseballbat was originally formed in the early 1990s by twin brothers Gary and Carl Gleavey, along with several other musicians. Over the next 10 years or so, they released an EP and two albums, but eventually disbanded in the late 2000s. Fast forward another 10 years, the Gleavey twins reformed the band with a new lineup and a newfound burst of creativity. Zen Baseballbat now includes Gary G. on guitar & vocals, Carl G. on bass & backing vocals, Jordan Donaldson on keyboards & backing vocals, Mike Wilkinson on drums, Jonathan ‘Jogga’ Parker on guitar & backing vocals, as well as Anoushka Wittram-Gleavey and Colin Mackay, who produced Better Ways To Love & Offend. Additionally, several other vocalists and musicians contributed to the album, including Jane Anderson, Ayshea Elfer, Jessica Wilkinson, Isabelle Wilkinson and Tony Nipper.

All 14 tracks are solid, but I’ll touch on my favorites, as well as those I feel are integral to the album’s overall narrative. The album opens with a man speaking the words “We don’t want to do anything to scare your children. We don’t want to scare anybody“, but then the band quickly informs us “There’s gonna be trouble“, which they repeatedly affirm throughout the bouncy reggae tune simply titled “Trouble“. Now that we’re suitably alarmed, they launch into “Retaliation” a terrific ska number with bits of punk, psychedelic and new wave, giving it a sort of lively B-52s vibe. The lyrics speak to standing up, speaking out, and fighting back against oppression and injustice: “This ain’t no place for sweet-tempered voices. Don’t hold back, don’t go with the punches. After a good old kick in the feelings, my heart still beats like a militant drum. Give a little bit of retaliation.”

Zen Baseballbat’s skill for using all sorts of fascinating instruments, textures and sounds is showcased on the cool, psychedelia-tinged gem “Over The Wall“. I love the skittering beat, exotic Caribbean sounds and delightful female vocal trills, punctuated with some marvelous guitar work. The lyrics seem to address income inequality: “Parties of the rich over the wall. The world won’t give me back my ball. Unsympathetic wealth is stinging. Despite Rock’n’roll right-wingers are singing.”

They also have a penchant for combining fun, upbeat melodies with darker lyrics. On “A Place Like This“, they rattle off a litany of bad behavioral choices to a lively zydeco soundtrack. And on “You Won’t Get Paid“, the bouncy ska groove contrasts with the caustic lyrics addressing the drudgery of dead-end jobs with little pay: “I’ve been shovelling shit for far too long. My body aches but my head is strong. I haven’t got a pot to piss in, yet you want me for next to nothing. You won’t get paid no, you won’t get paid.”

Rumble” is a fascinating reggae track with soulful and jazzy cinematic overtones, thanks to a colorful mix of brassy horns, flutes, organ, and funky bass. In spots, the melody sounds like a slowed-down version of the 70s disco hit “T.S.O.P.” by MFSB, which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite songs. The song’s only lyric, which is sporadically repeated throughout the track, is “I zigged when I shoulda zagged.” The delicious ska tune “Quivering On A Rope” seems to touch on the soul-crushing aspects of casual sex and one-night stands: “Rummaging for love on a Tuesday night. On the shirttails of bachelors putting up a fight. Fannies flashing like neon signs, a stained glass view of their behinds. Quivering on a rope between the beginning and the end. Forgive me my lost soul rendition. My heart sings at any proposition. Are there better ways to love and offend? Basic desires start to bend.

On “Reasons” the band takes on the political establishment and incompetent leaders who dither while the public suffers: “We have reason to believe that you have been living. We have several pictures to prove it. The mistakes you made were beautiful. Disguising your man for the television. We know who you are. We know where you’ve been.” “Don’t Oppress Me, Love” is a cheeky punk song about the perils of being romantically involved with a woman employed as an ‘adult’ entertainer – i.e. a stripper.

A stylistic departure for Zen Baseballbat, the atmospheric and contemplative “Elsa Dorfman” is a kind of ode to the American portrait photographer, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 83. The lyrics speak of seeking solace from life’s unpleasantries through her camera lens: “Tomorrow I’ll stick the job up its arse. A working-class kid will fly to Mars. Place me in front of the open lens Of Elsa Dorfman.” The album comes full circle with “Double Trouble“, a brief reprise of the opening track, this time sung by Jessica and Isabelle, daughters of band drummer Mike Wilkinson. The song’s whimsical feel gently reassures us that things really aren’t all that horrible after all.

Better Ways To Love & Offend is another fine and immensely enjoyable offering by Zen Baseballbat. Anyone who likes reggae and ska music, combined with humorous, witty and thought-provoking lyricism, will enjoy this album.

Follow Zen Baseballbat:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music

Purchase on Bandcamp 

GRANFALLOON – Single Review: “Working On Your Own”

Granfalloon is the music project of Manchester, England-based singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax. Using acoustic guitars, synthesizers and unusual instruments such as vintage Omnichords and drum loops, he creates his own unique and pleasing style of music that’s a hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. His warm, soothing vocals are wonderful, reminding me at times of U2 front man Bono. We’ve followed each other on Twitter for several years, but I’ve been remiss by never having featured him on this blog. I’m now remedying that sorry situation on the occasion of the release of his new single “Working On Your Own“.

According to bio info provided on his website, Lomax became a musician later than most, and when he did, in 2003, it felt, in his words “like opening a door from a world of black and white to a universe bathed in a spectrum of mesmerising colour.” He took an avant-garde music course, and after honing his skills fronting surf rock bands and the psychedelic folk-pop collective Johnny5thWheel&thecowards, he relocated to Manchester in 2013. Granfalloon was born in 2017 after an operation temporarily left him with limited mobility. While in recovery, he recorded his debut album Down There For Dancing. He performed most of the music using his acoustic guitar, Omnichord and lo-fi drum machines, although he was assisted by a few musicians on added guitar, bass and percussion on some tracks. It’s a lovely work, and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out on one of the music platforms listed at the end of this post.

He released his beautiful second album RGB in 2019, this time with assistance from a greater number of musicians to help him produce larger, more fully-realized soundscapes. He also began touring the UK and Europe as a full band, as well as performing at Bluedot Festival. RGB‘s singles garnered airplay on BBC Introducing and BBC 6 Music.

He’s now set to release this third album Positive Songs in August, featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, which was launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. He invited songwriters to create new music, challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings. Lomax elaborates: “The idea formed from a conversation I was having with Lobelia Lawson, the co-founder of PSP, about how a lot of inspiration for our songs comes from a place of introspection or melancholia, anger or pain. We thought we would challenge ourselves & other musicians to focus on positive songwriting. Maybe it began as a way of managing anxiety or as a refusal to let the cancellation of gigs completely take music away but it soon become this weird positive energy… this propulsive force which grew into something very special.” Thus far, the project has resulted in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world.

“Working On Your Own” is the second single from Positive Songs, following the first single “Who You Are”, which was released in June. Lomax states the song “had such a strange journey, starting off as an intensely personal one about the loneliness of shift work, and then when Lockdown started it became perversely relatable.” For the recording of the track, Lomax played guitar and sang vocals, Daz Woodcock played bass, synths and sang backing vocals, Thirds played guitar, piano and sang backing vocals, Richard Jupp played drums, Andy Lyth played percussion and Maya McCourt played cello.

The song has a mellow, easy listening vibe, with touches of folk and jazz that make for a calm, yet compelling groove. Each of the instruments are allowed to shine, from the gentle acoustic guitar notes, subtle bassline and jazzy drums to the charming baby piano keys, cool percussion and lovely cello. Lomax’s smooth vocals are sublime, with a sophisticated air that’s still accessible and comforting as he earnestly sings about our human need for connection, and the loneliness of working the late shift where there’s no one to talk to or engage with. Woodcock’s and Thirds’ backing harmonies are really nice too.

Shift workers of the world unite
And bathe yourself in Picadilly's multicolored lights
When the human touch that means so much
Is a phantom limb on social crutches
Keep a little kind in your heart

When you're working on your own
On the edge, on the edges of civilization
Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week

If you download the song on Bandcamp, you’ll also receive an exclusive free bonus download of Granfalloon’s cover of the Zombies’ song “Care Of Cell 44”. 

Catch Granfalloon at one of these upcoming shows:

Aug 27 – The Yard Manchester, Manchester, UK

Aug 29 – EBGBS. Liverpool, UK

Aug 30 – Bolton Food & Drink Festival, Bolton, UK

Follow Granfalloon:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp 

REVERSELS – Album Review: “LaSabre”

As EclecticMusicLover, I’m always on the lookout for artists who push boundaries and venture outside the mainstream in the creation of their music and/or identity. Furthermore, as a gay man, it warms my heart to discover LGBTQ+ artists who not only have the courage and fortitude to put themselves out there, but also make music that’s really good. With that in mind, I was pleased to learn about queer doom pop band Reversels when their publicist reached out to me about them and their new album LaSabre, which dropped July 23rd.

Based in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina, Reversels consists of Frankie ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd (vocals, keys and synths) and Story (vocals and guitar). Frankie is a classically trained pianist who previously toured as part of the rock band The Winter Sounds, as well as performing in churches, burlesque shows and on children’s programs. Story has performed in a variety of genres with numerous bands, including dark western with Death & the Reverend, post rock with From the North, and art punk with Minge. As Reversels, the two create dramatic, genre-bending electronica music awash with alternative, goth, darkwave, psychedelic, industrial, pop and rock’n’roll elements. Frankie identifies as transmasc (they/him), and Story identifies as non-binary (they/them). The two met at a burlesque after-party in late 2017, and bonded over their love of music and shared experiences of having both been raised in different cults.

Frankie grew up in a fundamentalist religious cult that glorified limitless procreation, and pressured fathers to have vasectomy reversals. The children born after these procedures were reversed became singers in the leader’s “Reversal Choir,” and were told they owed their existence to him. Frankie elaborates: “Homemade dresses, homeschooling, the exclusion of all music but classical and hymns, and glorification of the patriarchy are some of [the cult’s] defining features. Also, the teaching that it’s a sin to *not* have as many children as one can possibly have. The cult leader, Bill Gothard, taught that anyone who had had a vasectomy was called by God to have it surgically reversed and bear more children into infinity. This led to many large families with a dozen or more similarly-named and dressed children. This also led to my little sister, seven years younger than I, and now one of my best friends. During the cult’s annual gathering, cult families amassed in their matching navy and white homemade clothes to hear the cult leader spout misogynistic, authoritarian rhetoric. We also all took our seats in that large stadium, once a year, to hear the Reversal Choir: an eerie choir of children who existed because Bill Gothard had convinced their parents to get vasectomy reversals.”

Seeking to undo and overcome the harmful predatory, misogynistic, homophobic, and authoritarian teachings of their youth, Pretty Boy Floyd and Story named their act ‘Reversels’ to signify their mission of fomenting change toward an opposite direction and course of action, spelling it with an ‘e’ “to keep it cute”. Through their colorful music and bold, in-your-face lyrics, they aim to poke us out of our complacency by pushing back on constraints of gender, power dynamics and sexual taboos. Their hope is to “sing-into-being a world of gender diversity, sexual positivity, individual growth, and healing” as they “advocate for the underdog and the demonized, rejecting oppression and celebrating life & death in all of their majesty.” 

The duo released their debut album Galaxie in November 2018, and followed in June 2019 with Crane, Breed. Now they’re back with LaSabre, their most ambitious work yet, with 13 tracks exploring their ongoing themes of queer love and loss. The album opens strong with “Gravitron“, a dramatic and powerful celebration of love and lust, and one of my favorite tracks. Starting off with a mix of swirling synths and guitar notes, the song quickly explodes into a maelstrom of pulsating psychedelic synths, thunderous percussion and gritty riffs, dramatically conveying the intense euphoria of unbridled sexual desire. I love the contrast between Pretty Boy Floyd’s beautiful lilting falsetto and Story’s deeper, commanding vocals as they sing “Lay your magic body heavy down upon me, In my ready arms, protecting you from harm. Tell me that you want me.”

The colorful, trippy and sexy video produced for the track shows Reversels performing the song, interspersed with scenes of two men, played by trans actors, passionately kissing and exploring each others bodies.

Azael” quickly follows, a darkly beautiful cinematic feast for the ears featuring a complex array of both spooky and magical psychedelic synths, overlain with heavy, fuzz-coated guitars. Pretty Boy Floyd’s lovely, ethereal vocals contrast nicely with the harsher instrumentals, softly crooning the lyrics that speak to a character named Azael’s sexual yin and yang: “You put on your makeup, both a warrior and a queen. Mastering the magic that we’ve all been kept from seeing. Are you male or female, are you somewhere in between? Make me filthy also make me clean.”

It’s Story’s turn to shine on the darkwave gem “Relentless“, their deep, sensual, and almost menacing vocals conveying a strong sense of foreboding. Another favorite of mine, “Absurdity” has a dark, goth rock vibe with symphonic overtones, thanks to Reversels’ rich blend of otherworldly industrial and orchestral instrumentals and their gorgeous choral harmonies. The lyrics address the absurdities and mysteries of life that often defy reason or logic: “No sense in trying to understand the point of all of our lives. Lie down, take in the mystery. Unknown absurdity thrives.”

Torch Song” is a smoldering song of carnal desire sung with raw, animal-like ferocity by Story that brings chills. Sung from the perspective of a drag queen, the lyrics speak to the promise of satisfying another man’s sexual fantasies: “I’ll be your toy. I got what you need. I’m just a boy. You’re just like me. I’ll help you burn.” In the video, which was filmed by Marquana Michael Burgess, directed by Story, edited by Danny Boyer and produced by Jennifer Love Lee, the drag queen singing the song is played by Natasha Noir Nightly, and the dancers are Clara Zander and Rebecca Miller. Story and Pretty Boy Floyd portray two men watching the proceedings.

The Real Pretty Boy Floyd” is an ode to the famous bank robber Charles Arthur Floyd. Born into poverty in Oklahoma in 1904, he led a life of crime starting in his late teens, and is believed to have killed at least 10 people before being shot and killed by federal agents in 1934. Over the years, he’s endured in American popular culture as both a notorious gangster and as a tragic and altruistic figure. While he did indeed rob many banks and killed in the process, he also reportedly provided food to at least a dozen families who would have otherwise starved during the depression. And when he robbed banks, he allegedly destroyed mortgage documents, making it impossible for those banks to foreclose on poor farmers and homeowners. He was often protected by people across many states who referred to him as “Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills” or “Sagebrush Robin Hood”, because he stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He’s been immortalized in song by Woody Guthrie, and referred to positively by John Steinbeck in his seminal novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The great tracks keep on coming. On the brooding goth rocker “SoftBoy Rabbithole“, they touch on the good and bad aspects inherent in each of us. Along a similar vein, the dreamy, atmospheric “Wonderland” is a celebration of queer and trans love: “Queen inside a king. She’s inside all things. We’re inside a dream Infinitely possible ways to love another being. All that’s wanted is allowed, Trading organs, feel new things.” Another favorite of mine is “Cupcake“, featuring terrific guest vocals by Asheville rapper/emcee Vvitchboy, and trumpets by Jay Widenhouse. The song has a delicious trap beat, overlain with ominous industrial synths, wonderful blaring trumpets and soaring vocal harmonies that give the track a dark, cinematic vibe. Though somewhat ambiguous to me, the lyrics seem to speak to finding respite from life’s problems by indulging in carnal desires: “Drown in my madness, but I can’t contain it. Refrain from engaging with haters, and faithless. Don’t make me a martyr, I’m tryna live greater. We making out- banging these dryads and Satyrs. Worship at the altar of decadence. We’re having dessert, what did you make? We have offerings of sweetest debauchery. We got swords, cunnilingus, and cupcakes.”

Reversels channels a bit of Marilyn Manson on the gothic shock rock-esque “Boom Kitty“. With its intense and spooky industrial synths and blaring horns, this would make a great soundtrack for a horror film. Story and Pretty Boy Floyd’s dual growling vocals sound downright diabolical. “Skin” features a mesmerizing repetitive piano chord, overlain with dramatic gnarly guitars that sound fucking spectacular. Story’s raw, impassioned vocals are pretty terrific too. One of the more melodic tracks on LaSabre, “Dissolve/Resolve” has a more upbeat tempo, highlighted by beautiful strings and the duo’s lovely vocal harmonies. The closing track “My My” touches on the subject of sadomasochism, namely, how far two people are willing to go in order to fulfill their sexual fantasies: “If you wanted more of me it could be a tragedy. It would be the death of me to keep you satisfied. But if you must have more I guess you could put me to the test.” The song has a brooding, atmospheric vibe that turns more intense in the bridge, courtesy of Story’s blistering guitar solo.

What more can I say about this amazing album? While the subject matter may turn off some listeners, there’s no denying that Pretty Boy Floyd and Story are very good at what they do. Their songwriting, musicianship and vocals are outstanding, and I applaud their boldness and courage to explore provocative topics head-on with unflinching honesty and candor.

Follow Reversels:  FacebookInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase:  BandcampAmazon

BUEL – Single Review: “Small Talk”

When I first featured the beautiful and talented Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter BUEL exactly four months ago, I fawned over her brilliant reimagining of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (read my review here). With her distinctive and beguiling vocals that range from smoky purrs to sultry vulnerability, combined with a sophisticated pop-rock style, she’s captured the attention of music critics and fans alike, garnering airplay on radio stations across the U.S. and in the UK. Her video for “Lemon Smile” won an award at the 2021 London Music Video Festival. 

Now BUEL is back with a another marvelous single “Small Talk“, along with a stylish and entertaining video. The song addresses the superficiality of small talk people often make to fill the time and airspace when there’s no meaningful connection between them. She elaborates “Small Talk is about the ingenuine daily conversations between people. Even though it’s pretty common and seen as an innocent aspect of our daily lives, I observed that oftentimes it tends to make people feel uncomfortable because talking to someone without giving any depth and sharing words to pass the moment can only be kind but not real.”

I love how the song opens with BUEL’s breathy gasp, accompanied by airy, otherworldly synths, setting a sultry tone for what’s to come. Soon, she croons “Some are scared of silence, when I need it so bad. And I’m calculated nihilist for the questions you ask to evaluate my life. Innocently creeping in, just to say ‘Hi, I’m alive, are you too?’ The way you look has left me blind. Are you too? I like you. Small talk, can find you anywhere.” Musically, the song features a slow, seductive dance beat, with a wonderful pulsating bassline creating a sultry smoldering groove that aims straight for the hips. The instrumentals are punctuated with exquisite keyboards, percussive synths and guitar notes, resulting in a beautiful and compelling soundscape for her enchanting vocals.

“Small Talk” is another winning single by BUEL, and if she continues turning out music this good, her star can only continue to soar.

Follow BUEL:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase her music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Amazon

EMMA YOUNG Releases Video for “All You’ll Ever Need”

Emma Young is a versatile and talented singer-songwriter, actress, model and producer based in Westport, Massachusetts. I first learned about her in April when I wrote about the song “Reanimate” by brett.grant.5 that she was featured on. Emma and Brett met as students at Columbia College Chicago, and played together in the band Sleep For Dinner, who released their self-titled EP in 2019. Over the past few years, she’s also released several singles as a solo artist, along with her debut EP Rise, which dropped a year ago in June 2020. On June 25th, Emma released a dark and provocative new video for one of the tracks on the EP “All You’ll Ever Need“.

The song and video explore the relationship between an artist and her fans. Emma explains: “People get a narrow, highly edited view of an artist. The artist’s job is to convince their audience they desperately need them. The next release is ‘always the best music to ever have been written’ and the next image is ‘always a flawless yet candid’ portrait of what the artist is selling. As I describe in my lyrics ‘This is how it works, parts of life are all you’ll ever see’. The artist singing the song knows their role is to tempt new listeners and get them addicted to their sound. So I play a siren of sorts, luring my follower (played by Wes Kader) through screens and song to the point of obsession. At the same time, I am watching myself through that dusty tv set, always judging the persona I have created, yet detached from her, as if all those photos and videos are just an ideal that I will never truly reach. I sit clawing at the tv set, lonely, viewing the alternate reality I created. I play both the artist and a fan because the artist must both create and be an observer of themselves to calculate the best plan of attack. When I see the fan start to follow me I am satisfied with the result. It’s a dark and multi angled view of music. I am also into horror movies and wanted to play off of some classic scenes!

Musically, “All You Ever Need” is darkly beautiful and mesmerizing too. Emma has done a masterful job creating a moody, yet sensual soundscape to perfectly express the double-edged aspects of artistry and celebrity. The song opens with discordant sounds and a rather ominous, droning synth lasting around 30 seconds, then transitions to an enchanting dance beat, accompanied by spooky ethereal synths and hauntingly beautiful piano chords. Her breathy vocals are captivating, with an almost ghostly feel as she sings to an imaginary fan who’s quickly becoming obsessed with her. The result is an outstanding song that brilliantly evokes her siren persona.

Here I am again, waiting for you in the dark
Here I am again, I know exactly what you want from me, what you want from me
See you through the lens, staring at me through the cracks
See you through the lens, you are waiting for a chance to see, you are waiting for a chance to see me

You don't blame me for, all the things that I've done
I left you wanting more, you left me with a new history, you left me with a new history
This is how it works, nights with you out on the streets
This is how it works, parts of life are all you'll ever see, they're all you'll ever need

Whoa whoa whoa
Oh I'm all you'll ever need
Whoa whoa whoa
Oh I'm all you'll ever need
I'm all you'll ever need
All you'll ever need
I'm All

The video was beautifully filmed by Bob Klein, who co-produced it with Andrew Bernard.

Follow Emma:  Facebook / Instagram

Stream her music: SpotifyApple MusicYouTube