9fm – EP Review: “Little House”

9fm - Jarrod Pedone

I recently learned about an outstanding musician who goes by the artistic name 9fm – short for Ninth Floor Mannequin – after he posted his music on my friend Roy’s music sharing website Chatsong. 9fm is the moniker for the solo music project of New Jersey-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone, and I was instantly moved by his arresting sound the moment I heard it. He melds folk with alternative rock, injecting bits of synth pop here and there to create incredibly pleasing music that seems to draw influences from such artists as Fleet Foxes, Paul Simon and Sufjan Stevens. And not only is his music brilliant and captivating, his poetic lyrics are so deeply compelling and filled with meaning that they seem almost Shakespearean. He’s just released a five-track EP Little House, and it’s marvelous.

Before getting into the EP, a bit of background about Jarrod to provide some context for his music, in his own words:

Before 9/2/12, I was a full-time musician, recording engineer and composer. On that evening while out for a run, I was struck by an intoxicated driver. I suffered a laundry list of injuries, the most concerning of which was the traumatic brain injury. When I eventually woke up, I learned that outpatient physical and mental therapy understandably left something to be desired in regard to musician’s skills recovery. I naturally resumed my career path. Little did I know that creating music was now going to be by far the most significant source of therapy that I’d experience.”

9fm2

9fm writes, performs, records, mixes and masters all this own original music, and to my ears, I’d say he’s recovered from his injuries quite admirably. He released his debut album Green & Blue for Blackness in 2016, and followed in late 2017 with the EP 5 Characters (In Search of an Exit), both of which are superb. Little House dropped on September 3.

The title track “Little House” kicks off the EP with layers of shimmering synths and fuzzy guitars set to a galloping drumbeat, gently transporting us into to a dreamy soundscape. Jarrod’s warm vocals are lovely, and even more so when backed by his own soaring harmonies as he plaintively sings of letting down his guard and being honest with his true feelings – that he wants to settle down and be married to the one he’s loved for a long while: “To say it all aloud. The things that I had thought for years. I wouldn’t want a change. I wouldn’t change. I want a little house & rings.”

Tin God” sees him coming to the realization that his lifelong quest to be the best, to be on top, to win, has come at a price, and in the end, did not bring the happiness he’d expected: “The goal was clear from day one. Perfect the game, sharing first place with no one./ Sleep in the hall. No time at all for love now. A legend or a tin god. I risked my life for just one try to dethrone. Well in the end, I did win best of all time. Not worth my time, you keep it, you can keep it.” The track has a progressive rock feel, with reverb-heavy chiming guitars, industrial sounding synths, assertive percussion and echoed vocals. I love the rather haunting melody that weaves throughout the song.

And speaking of melodies, “Allow Me” has one that’s absolutely captivating, in stark contrast to the song’s dark theme. The track opens with glittery, pulsating synths, then expands into a gorgeous soundscape of delicate guitar chords and sparkling keyboards, led by a gentle, driving beat. Jarrod’s layered harmonic vocals are beautiful, bringing chills as they soar. The biting lyrics speak to the facades people create to mask their fears, phoniness and uglier sides, and that doing so only diminishes them: “Lies & smiles are all we are. I think that I can’t keep up. Allow me to let loose, to scream it all. It feels so good to yell out all the truth & the hate that we hold.

Good People Bad” was inspired by a Twilight Zone episode called “The Shelter.” In a nutshell, a group of neighbors are at a dinner party at the home of the only family to have installed a bomb shelter (nuclear war hysteria was rampant in the late 50s-early 60s). After hearing a news bulletin warning of an impending nuclear attack, the neighbors panic and turn against the family that installed the shelter and, eventually, each other. (Quite frankly, this episode should be required viewing for everyone right now.)  Once again, the song’s hauntingly beautiful melody and music contrast with the dark lyrics. “The radio sent us all a noose. We pass it around ’til it’s right. The power of numbers can drive good people bad. Left no choice but to fight.”

The meaning of the final track “Absences V2.0” was a bit ambiguous to me, with my best guess being that it’s about how we identify ourselves and others through the prism of all the factors that comprise our belief systems and biases. But 9fm told me it relates to his accident, specifically about getting blood transfusions and how he lost some of his senses that were damaged: “We exaggerate the loves we lost on the way. Missing less each day, the pain, smell, touch & taste. The times that we had seems like they were fine. The saying isn’t true. Absences & hearts go fine.” Musically, the song is the most experimental of the five tracks, with mesmerizing chord progressions, otherworldly synths, and interesting guitar work.

To sum up, I can’t gush enough over this beautiful little EP. I love everything about 9fm’s songs; his lyrics, melodies, instrumentals, vocals, track arrangements and overall production values are all exceptional. I am a dedicated fan!

Connect with 9fm:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloud / iTunes
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

ANDREW LA TONA – Album Review: “Human”

The great city of Toronto, Canada has a thriving music scene, and I’ve featured a number of artists and bands based there, most recently The Autumn Stones and their stunning album Emperor Twilight. After seeing that review, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Andrew La Tona reached out to me for consideration of his latest album Human for a review, and I’m so glad he did because it’s fantastic! I can say without equivocation that I love his extraordinary album. Andrew’s a creative and gifted composer, songwriter and musician who employs all sorts of experimental and unique instrumentation, melodies and time signature and chord changes that make for incredibly interesting songs that always deliver unexpected surprises for the listener.

Andrew has had a lifelong love affair with music. As he explains in his bio:

“It seems as if music has been my life since the day I was born.  My mother always reminds me that as a toddler, she signed me up for a Mother and Tot music class. A fond memory of mine is that for as long as I remember, there has always been a piano in my home.  At the age of seven, I began formal lessons in piano and classical theory through the Royal Conservatory of Music for seven years. By fourteen I made a commitment to myself that music was to become my life.  I discovered my father’s old guitar hidden in the basement.  I took it upon myself to learn by ear, listening to records and reading guitar magazines.  When I entered high-school I was proficient on Piano, Guitar, Bass and Drums.  I made the band room my home, where I played in all the school ensembles, refined my sight reading and theory, and learned Trumpet, Euphonium and Flugelhorn as a personal project.”

He went on to study Radio Broadcasting and Journalism at Seneca College and School of Communication Arts, and from 1999 to 2006, he played with various groups with long-time collaborator Edward Kramer, with whom he founded the bands Odd Man Out and Yesterday’s Gone.  They recorded four albums together, and Andrew personally completed three solo albums which went on to be the foundation for his and Ed’s band Big Stereo, to which he devoted his full attention from 2006 to 2009. Since 2010, Andrew has continued to work on his own music, and Human is his latest album, which dropped in June.

Andrew La Tona

Human is a commentary of sorts on the current state of things, in which Andrew expresses his antipathy for today’s leaders, our growing obsession with gadgets, and ponders our place within the vastness of the universe. His lyrics are so well-written and compelling that I’ll be quoting a lot of them. The powerful opening track “Leader” speaks of how humankind’s ignorance and greed is wrecking our planet, yet we’re hungry for leadership to help us solve our problems, but our leader (Trump) is a fraud:

Here, we find ourselves trapped inside a fate so paramount 
And we live for ourselves with no regard for other animals 
Our mother earth is threatening with disaster 
We’re blind, we are condemned to live upon the soiled earth 
How could we figure out how to reverse our plight, our misfortune, our ignorance 
Total genocide 

You’re not the leader we want 
Leave or we’ll never have peace 
The way you speak is absurd 
It warps the minds of our young

Musically, the track starts off with a distorted spacey synth, then expands to a rolling drumbeat as Andrew begins singing in his silky, yet vulnerable voice. His layered jangly and chiming guitars are marvelous, and he uses a variety of synths to great effect in creating a very intriguing song.

Borderlines” is a feast for the ears. Andrew employs guitar, bass, organ, horns, cymbals, drums and glittery synths to weave a rich tapestry of sound that unfolds throughout the length of the enthralling track. The song is about breaking free from mind control and expectations placed upon us by oppressive societal norms.

I want to be free. Free from your borderlines
I need to break the mold you’ve always cast for me
And in my mind, there’s a place like this
Without your rules, your greed

Andrew takes on people who feel success is having more money and stuff than everyone else on “At the Top.” The delightful song has a Latin vibe thanks to a peppy Samba beat and instrumentation that beautifully softens the bite of the lyrics:

Boast among your rich yuppy friends 
‘Bout how you trample on all those around you 
All just to end up at the top 
And what’s left for you? 
Is there more than just the cars – the yacht? 
Honestly, I’m not impressed 
Baby, nothings cooler than you, my friend

Power and Prowess” is an incredibly satisfying ‘fuck you’ to Donald Trump, which automatically makes this a winning song in my book! The track has a fast-paced galloping drumbeat, with wonderful intricate guitar work and crisp layered percussion.  Andrew vocals get downright raw as he snarls the scathing lyrics:

“Be the champion”, that’s what you tell yourself 
I guess in your mind you are 
It’s true you shit on johns of gold 
You’re at least champion of that 
So how can you lead the people of today 
Forward to tomorrow? 

I doubt you know the gravity of your post 
I’d say no 
There are people out there who want to love 
There are people out there who don’t want to die 
You’re not one of us 
We should be blessed with human rights 
No one should be groped by you 
No one should be owned by you 
You’re in charge of you, big boy 
And that’s all (And that’s all) 

Weald that sword in battle, head up to the front line 
Bring yourself to ‘fess-up to one crime 
Let us know who’s running the show 
You’re not the man for the job 
Move over, asshole 
We can save the world 

One of my favorite tracks is “The Walls,” a beautiful declaration of love to someone to whom you are beholden. This song is so utterly captivating it gives me chills. It’s as if Andrew has gone out of his way to make the guitars and synths sparkle like jewels of sunlight strewn across the sea. His fervent vocals, which occasionally soar to a smooth falsetto, are positively sublime.

Another favorite is the bouncy “Laniakea Supercluster,” a fascinating track that has a strong Talking Heads vibe. Along with his echoed vocals, Andrew uses lots of otherworldly synths to create a sci-fi feel to go with the lyrics that speak to the fact that, on the one hand, Earth is but an insignificant speck in the overall massiveness of the universe, but on the other hand, it’s our home and so very significant to our survival and well-being.

So Long to the Human Race” is an apocalyptic clarion call after a nuclear war for those who survive and repopulate the world to try and co-exist in peace and be one with the earth. The gritty guitars, heavy buzzing bass,  organ, and spacey synths lend a somber mood.

It makes me sick to look upon all we’ve done
And the little we’ve done to help
And if I could, I’d eat up all the terrible things we’ve done
And shit it down your throat 

Can’t you see that our kind is a warning 
From the first flame, to the first rocket 
So little is left of what we blew all our cash on 
And burned up all the oil 
And killed who we loved 
So long to the human race 

Time Goes Ever By” touches on our obsession with our mobile devices, addicted to the siren song of staying connected on all our social media accounts, at the expense of many other facets of our lives. I know I’m sometimes guilty of this behavior myself. Musically, the track has a lovely melody, with some terrific guitar and organ. And have I mentioned that I love Andrews’ vocals?

Everyone around me seems to be gripped by the same illness 
Never putting down their device 
Never looking up from their trance 
Never have the time to sow seeds 
Never stepping past the bar 
Of this jail we’re put in by ourselves and our will 
Can we find the strength to let drop the rock upon the screen 
And our friends logged on the web

Human is a brilliant album on every level I can think of – composition, melodies, lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and production. Andrew has done a masterful job with all aspects of the album production, and should be very proud of this outstanding work. And if all that weren’t enough, he even did the amazing cover art!

He’s now in the process of forming an ensemble of musicians to perform with him live, and is excited to have them add some amazing character and flavor to the songs from Human, as well as some of his songs from his back catalogue.

Check out Andrew’s Website and connect with him on  Facebook 
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

Interview with UK Musician David Oakes

David Oakes

David Oakes is a fine (he hates when I say ‘talented’) musician and composer of electronic alternative rock music based in Wales, UK. In the early 2000’s, he was drummer with the British rock band Kotow, and since 2012 he’s produced a tremendous output of instrumental music as a solo artist, ranging from gentle synth-driven compositions to aggressive guitar-driven hard rock, and everything in between. In early May, he released his latest album TheMENACE, which I reviewed and you can read here. It’s a brilliant work that’s actually a double album, with the first containing 11 tracks, most with vocals, and the second being an instrumental-only version, plus two bonus tracks not found on the first.

I recently had a chat with David about his music background, influences and creative process.

1. Hello David. Thank you for wanting to talk with me about your music. You and I have spoken a bit in the past about your background, but for the sake of our readers, let’s touch on that again. You now live in Wales, but were born in England, then spent part of your childhood and early teen years in the Middle East. Living in Dubai must have been interesting, or at least an unusual experience I would think. What positive or negative things did you come away with?

Yes! I moved there when I was two so obviously I don’t remember relocating there. I remember a couple of the houses we lived in – mostly the 3rd one which is very strong in my memory. I can recall it in detail. We lived very near the sea and would go camping in the desert at the weekend. I had a little 50cc PW50 motorcycle that I drove everywhere :). It took me a very very long time to get over moving to the UK.

2.  Why is that?

Hot 365 and living by the beach, etc. to … Wales… Camping in the desert at the weekend, dune bashing to … oh, nothing.

3. At what age did you start playing guitar, or other instruments? I remember you saying you attended a music institute in England after you moved back there with your family. What did you study there?

We had an electric piano in the house from around 1988 and I taught myself stuff on that. Eventually I got my own keyboard and I was off. I played it every day and wrote my own albums onto cassettes. I don’t have any of them anymore. They wouldn’t have sounded very professional. I even bought card from the newsagent and printed out artwork onto them and chopped them into cassette sleeve size. You can see the lineage all the way back . The only difference to what I do now is I don’t print out my own artwork. Everything else is the same – the tech has just improved. I went to ACM (Academy of Contemporary Music) in Guildford in 2009 for 3 years to study guitar and music theory. I passed all my exams but I never attempted my dissertation so I never got the qualification.

4. You formed a rock band called Kotow with your brother and another friend, and released a pretty decent album “Demise of the Monsters.” How or why did you guys choose that band name, and how long was Kotow an active band? 

Rich wanted a Japanese name and so looked in a Japanese dictionary and found “Kotow” meaning to bow or acquiesce… We all liked the name. We formed around February 2002, whilst I was going back and forth to the city (Cardiff) to study music production on a “New Deal” course under the Labour Gov which lasted from 1997 until around 2004. Anyway – since Dad had re-married – they moved out of the house and the whole band lived in our big farmhouse so we could write and rehearse all day every day. After moving to the London area in 2004 or so, we realised that nobody really cared and got fed up with it and we split in 2006. 

5. I believe you played drums for Kotow. Tell me about your experiences playing in a band – both good and bad if you care to go there. Why did the band eventually split up?

You know me, I have no ego but I did believe we were the best band in south Wales. When we moved to London, nobody gave us the time of day and we all got tired of it. Plus I wasn’t happy with the direction our music was taking. My main thing was to write catchy riffs in odd time signatures and do my best to come up with complimentary drum parts. I’d get annoyed if I couldn’t play for the song and could only think of something ordinary. We liked being unconventional. We lost two guitarists for one reason or another and we got a new guy who was great, but he and Rich wanted us to sound more like the tech bands at the time and I really wanted to stick to our original ethos of being unlike anyone else. Oh well.

6. You obviously wanted to continue making music after Kotow ended. I know some of your favourite bands are Dream Theater, Mastodon, Green Day and Metallica, so am guessing your sound is greatly influenced by their music? 

I expect so. Not directly or deliberately. I just write music and what comes out, comes out. Exactly the same process as Kotow. I like making albums of different genres and styles since I listen to a lot of different genres and styles. I couldn’t imagine being in one of those metal bands who sound exactly like everyone else and only listen to that music. Boring.

7. When did you record your first solo album?

“The Juggernaut” in 2012. It was originally supposed to be the follow up to “Demise Of The Monsters” and Rich would play bass and sing and I’d produce since he’d done almost all the work on DOTM. I merely played guitar on that album. Since I’d never attempted a “proper” professional sounding album before and had only limited experience with Logic – I worked on it every day for about 6 – 8 months. I still enjoy it to this day but I think I’ve done better and I learn something new with each album I do.

8. You’ve been fairly prolific, recording and releasing quite a few albums and compilations over the past few years, several of which I’ve purchased. What inspires you to create a new album with a specific theme and sound?

I don’t like to create the same album twice in a row…So if I do a hard rock album I definitely won’t do one again as it kinda wears me out when working on an album. “Transmissions” was songs I wrote when I was learning guitar and some of those songs had been fully formed in my head for many many years until I could finally record them properly. “Transmission Part 1 & 2” was completely written and I had it all worked out in my head and even recorded a version of it way back in 1997 or so on my Dad’s 2-track reel-to-reel machine.

Every time I start an album I have to come up with something great first. That’s the springboard. If I like an idea – that’ll be the blueprint for the album. I could never just write 8 -10 random songs and that’ll do. None of my albums are fully fledged concept albums but I try to imagine they are. . . As I’ve said in the past – I like albums to sound/feel like *albums* and not just Here’s 10 tracks I wrote in any order…

Even if the idea doesn’t end up lasting the whole album – the initial idea is usually enough impetus. With “Strum Und Drang” I’d been listening to the 21st Anniversary of Leftfield’s “Leftism” pretty much on repeat and wanted to do something inspired by that. I pretty much listened to nothing but Leftfield’s three albums for the summer of 2017 and wrote at the same time. “The Menace” seemed to be the next logical step.

9. Your latest effort “The Menace” is one of your finest. Some of your previous works contained a few dark tracks, but most of the songs were more melodic, almost orchestral rock like that of Dream Theater. Also, for the first time you added lyrics and vocals. You told me it’s a loose concept album, and that you kept the lyrics intentionally vague, but what was your inspiration behind “The Menace” and it’s dark theme? Also, what made you decide to add a vocal component?

Thank You. I had so much fun making “Sturm Und Drang” that I wanted to do another in that style but – as I said at the time – I wanted it “tougher and harder sounding.“ One of the few times that the album has pretty much turned out exactly how I envisioned from the beginning. Once I had “ The Slammer “ – I knew I was onto something. Loose concept album in that…I didn’t intentionally write lyrics to mean anything – I just had my microphone there – played the track and improvised some stuff until I found something I liked.

After a while I realised all the improvs could be about a few things. Notably the “MeToo” movement, #45… all of these things that were going on in the news at the time. Completely subconsciously. Only the final two tracks “Finale Part I and II” I wrote to tie up this theme. All other lyrics are improvised. And yeah I kept it intentionally vague as I’ve never wanted to align myself with any party or politics or anything and I was not a fan of Kotow’s Anti-President Bush EP. I never wanted to be a political band – one of the other factors that led to our break up. As for vocals – people kept pestering me to include them and I thought if I do it, I’m gonna distort the crap out of them… Which I did on “The Slammer”. But as the album went on, I got more confident and I turned the distortion further and further down. I think I’ll do vocals again should I do another album at some point… Probably same style too.

10.  Besides my glowing review, what has been the response to The Menace?

Thank you! Well – same as ever. A few RTs from music accounts and a few more people saying they like it but nothing amazing really. About the same as it was for “Sturm Und Drang” or “The Dawn And The Dusk.” *shrug*

11. That leads me to the next question. You and I have shared our own frustrations over the lack of support from a majority of our so-called ‘followers’ on social media, who rarely if ever engage with our tweets, postings, etc. But in today’s music industry, an artist or band (or just about any other creative person) is all but forced to use social media to get people to learn about their music, unless they’re willing or able to hire an expensive publicist. Any thoughts about this?

Interesting subject since my degree course dissertation was basically gonna be all about this. “Do we need big recording studios now that people are making pro albums in their bedrooms“ etc etc… I THINK that the Internet has ruined a lot of music. Shops are closing because people are buying everything online, and it’s so hard to stand out when everyone and their dog has a band and a Bandcamp and a Soundcloud. It’s like whispering in a hurricane… And I’m not smart enough to think of some cool promo gimmick. And whenever I think I have something, it never works so…

12. Do you have any plans for a future album, or will you take a long break?

Ya know it speaks for itself – when I was putting out albums every month that I’d recorded in a week – the quality was dipping. You know how I feel about “Imaginary film soundtrack .“ I was so disappointed with it, I actually paid to have it taken down. I know I rushed it and it shows. I still cannot listen to it. Starting with “Juggernaut III” and then continuing with “Sturm Und Drang” and now “The Menace,” I’ve taken my time to craft an album over many months. Take a break..come back…listen to it….fix/adjust anything…etc. And as a result, those three albums I mentioned have a little extra going for them. I’m actually a huge fan of “The Dawn & The Dusk”. Its one of my favourite things I’ve done. And I seem to remember taking my time with that one too so… “The Menace” is still very fresh to me. It was released on May 4 – eight months after “Sturm Und Drang.” I’m not even thinking about another album and probably won’t until winter. I mentioned to someone once that i’d like to take a year to release an album at some point. Maybe I will for the next one. It won’t be a double though. I’d like to get down to doing only one album a year.

13. Anything else you’d like to share that I’ve neglected to ask?

I think that the “Sturm Und Drang” and “The Menace” “style” will be my default setting from now on. They were both really fun to create and I actually plan on buying a midi keyboard to make composing a lot easier.

I know James Lauters (a very supportive mutual friend of David’s and mine) likes the what I call the X&Y series. And I may do another one eventually but it would have to be really chilled out. Like “Dawn And The Dusk” but even more chilled. Lots more acoustic. Basically the exact opposite of “The Menace.”

Cheers !

Enjoy this guitar play-through by David of “The Monster,” one of many great tracks from The Menace.

Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes

DAVID OAKES – Album Review: “TheMENACE”

David Oakes is a talented musician and composer of electronic alternative rock music based in Wales, UK. In the early 2000’s, he was a guitarist with the British rock band Kotow, for who he also played drums when they performed live shows. Over the past five years or so, he’s produced a tremendous output of instrumental music as a solo artist, ranging from gentle synth-driven compositions to aggressive guitar-driven hard rock, and everything in between. His latest effort, which officially drops today, is TheMENACE, a brilliant album that’s easily his best work yet.

David Oakes

I’ve gotten to know David over the past couple of years, and featured him on this blog in 2016. He’s a huge fan of Dream Theater, Mastodon, Metallica and Green Day, all of whom have been major influences on his music. He’s also a perfectionist and his own biggest critic, and reworks his tracks until he feels they’re just right. It’s been fun watching his creative process unfold and albums take shape as he shared his demos with me and a small group of friends who follow him on Twitter, asking us for feedback as they were being recorded. We’ve all enjoyed the songs he’s created the past few years, but were collectively blown away by the tracks that are included on TheMENACE. He really poured everything he had into this album, and it shows.

David explained his intention in creating this album: “The Menace is a very loose concept. I kept it intentionally vague and a lot of the guitar parts are very similar on purpose. As you know I like an album to feel like an ALBUM and not ‘Here’s 10 random songs in no particular order.‘” The tracks are darker and more aggressive than many of his previous compositions, which is appropriate given the album’s title, and for the first time he’s added distorted vocals, giving the songs even greater impact and depth. Regarding the lyrics, David stated: “Weirdly – none of the lyrics were planned out. But, as time went on I realised that nearly all of the lyrics could be about #45 (our awful President Trump – my words). Purely by accident. I guess it got in there subconsciously. But the lyrics are so vague that they could be about a lot of things.”

The Slammer (Intro)” kicks off TheMENACE with ominous synths that immediately set the album’s dark tone. A lone guitar riff ensues, then a powerful hypnotic drumbeat takes over as the synths and guitars gradually build to a crescendo before calming back down. Then it’s a quick segue to “The Slammer“, a hard-driving track that lives up to its title. The frenetic drumbeat, raw synths and barrage of fuzzy guitars are fantastic, and I love David’s heavily distorted gravelly vocals as he drones “Hey what do you see? Is this how it’s going to be? Is this what you want?

The awesome title track “The Menace” has everything I love in electronic rock – layers of multi-textured synths, scorching guitar riffs, and a colossal driving beat that aims straight for the hips. I seriously defy anyone to sit still for this track! David’s heavily distorted vocals have a…well…menacing otherworldly vibe as he chants “You’ve got to go. You’re a menace to society. You’re a menace to everyone.” Though five minutes long, it’s so good that it seems over in an instant

The Monster” has a thumping EDM beat, with loads of gritty synths and intricate gnarly riffs. David employs some pretty impressive vocal gymnastics on this track as he sings “You’ve got a monster in your sights. You gotta make it through the night.” “The Distant Horizon” is one of the darker tracks on the album, with ominous drawn-out synths, very gritty guitars and dirty bass. His distorted vocals have an almost treacherous, seductive quality as he urges self-gratification” “If there’s anywhere you wanna go, just go. If there’s anything you wanna do, just do.” The track would be perfect for a sci-fi movie soundtrack.

David dials it up to full speed on “The Event Horizon.” The song is like a shot of adrenaline, with a frantic, head-bobbing EDM beat, The mysterious synths give the track a bit of an 80’s new wave/techno Depeche Mode vibe, and the guitar work is outstanding. Things get a little funky on the aptly named “Funkotron.” The melody and arrangement on this track are phenomenal, as are the synths and intricate guitar work. And it goes without saying that David’s vocals are terrific. It’s an awesome song, and one of my favorites on the album.

The Resistance” is a hard-driving track with a fast-paced EDM beat that had me doing a lap dance in my chair. The guitars and instrumentals are amazing, as always. With echoed vocals, David defiantly sings “We won’t go down without a fight. / We will keep fighting for our lives.” The Revolution” opens with industrial-sounding synths, then expands into a breathtaking soundscape of brooding, soaring synths and gorgeous chiming and wailing guitars. This instrumental track is a little slice of auditory heaven, and gives me chills every time.

As we near the end of the album, each new track is a new revelation. “The Finale Part 1” opens with gorgeous sweeping synths and jangly guitar that remind me of early Coldplay, then explodes into a rousing fusillade of layered guitars, synths and percussion. David proclaims the end of any emotional commitment: “I don’t need, I don’t need you anymore. I don’t want you, want you anymore. Everything you thought you had is gone. Everything you thought you knew is wrong.”  “The Finale Part 2” is a different interpretation of the song, with more of a new wave/punk vibe, sort of how it might sound if played by A Flock of Seagulls or The Cure.

TheMENACE is a genuine masterpiece from start to finish, and as I stated at the beginning of this review, David’s finest work yet in my opinion. He’s an amazing guitarist, and his skill for using synthesizers to create such incredible melodies and arrangements is impressive. This album is a must-have for anyone who’s a fan of guitar-driven electronic rock music.

TheMENACE is actually a double album, with the second being an instrumental-only version, plus two bonus tracks not found on the first. It’s also available on the streaming and purchase sites listed below. The Kotow album Demise of the Monsters is also available on Spotify.

Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes 

DAVID GERGEN – Album Review: “The Golden Light”

David Gergen2

David Gergen is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. He’s been making music for over two decades, and just released his 7th self-produced album The Golden Light in early February. He seems to drop a new album every four years – previous efforts being The Dreaming in 2014, The Nearer It Was…The Farther It Became in 2010, and Haunting Whirlwinds in 2006 (although he did release a five-song EP Odyssey in 2012).

Incorporating elements of alternative, indie and experimental rock with Americana and easy-listening, he writes beautiful piano and guitar-driven melodies to accompany his thoughtful lyrics about love, loss and renewal. He explains his writing process on his website: “I write songs faster than I can record them….lyrics are important to me. I change direction with each piece of work and rather than submit to any trends, I create music that I like first and foremost. Music that keeps me interested, that is the secret to longevity I think.”

As I listened to The Golden Light, I was struck by David’s exceptional piano playing and skill at writing melodic piano compositions, both of which are well represented on the lovely album opener “Closer to the Light.” The main piano riff is serene and hauntingly beautiful, and backed by a second layer of piano, as well as a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, mandolin and strings. The track has a spiritual feel, with lyrics that seem to be about hitting rock bottom and seeking a way out of the hole you’re in through love and redemption. David’s smooth vocals have a quiet intensity as he implores “I’m falling, fallingFalling, I’m falling…down. Down, worn and busted. Can love save me again? The only must have is light coming in? Closer, closer, closer to the light.” The song is one of the album highlights for me.

Talking About Love” is an uptempo song with more of a progressive rock sound, thanks to the predominance of electric guitar and a more aggressive drumbeat. The layered guitars on this track are really good. The brooding “Here and There” ventures toward an Americana vibe, and features some awesome moody guitars and piano keys that convey the sentiments expressed in the lyrics: “Slowly, the twinkle is leaving those eyes. Somber days the overture of the times. The moment you notice it’s already gone. I’m afraid to notice who’s driving this train. I know I’m falling in love with this feeling that’s here and there.

Another beautiful piano-driven track is “Looking Glass,” a poignant song that seems to be about facing your own truths with honesty and an open mind. David’s piano playing is exquisite, and the accompanying acoustic guitar and soaring string synths make for a really gorgeous song. His vocals are comforting as he sings: “Don’t run away there’s a price to be paid, it’ll come back to find you again. So many of us running in circles to find out what’s lying within. Life is so pretty like a beautiful city with its lights climbing up to the moon. High rising wild fire burns what it needs to renew. It passed through the looking glass….it’s gone, gone, gone, gone.

Sirens” is an interesting track with rather unusual melody progressions that keep us just a bit off balance, but in a good way. David employs otherworldly synths and a funky distorted guitar riff to create dissonance and a sense of uncertainty that complement the lyrics: “The sweet singing on the red sea leads you right to the edge. The sirens watching are breaking us in. How many signs does it take.

Another unconventional track is “Mountain,” which has two distinct parts. The first 50 seconds of the song consists of eerie, discordant synths and an echoed pounding drum that impart a sense of foreboding. That disturbing part ends with an abrupt shift to a melodic and pleasing Americana song with strummed and chiming guitars, lovely synths and piano. David croons “Can anybody see through the mountain? Can anybody see what’s there? If you only see, what you want to see. It’s an easy way to get lost.” The track closes out the last 10 seconds with a repeat of the discordant sounds, perhaps symbolizing the feeling of being lost?

David goes off in an experimental rock direction on the fascinating “Coffee in Bed.” He uses layers of differently-textured strummed guitars that are sometimes discordant, backed with spooky, ethereal synths to create a hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizing soundscape. David’s soothing vocals are almost seductive as he sings about the ardor of love’s desires: “Calm breeze, sun on her face. I bring her some coffee, she wants me to stay. Not in a long time has anyone said, you must be waiting for coffee in bed.

He follows up with “Big River,” a pleasing Americana ballad about making it home to be with his loved one, and closes the album with “Clouds and Lightning.” Piano is the only instrument on this lovely track about what appears to be death and rebirth, whether in the literal or figurative sense: “It’s easy now, when it comes. Separate the heroes from the villains. Higher than the clouds. The offering to guide you on the way out.  Talk slow, it’s me you’re looking for. Why are you trying to be so strong? Resting clouds, resting angel. There’s a story she’s trying to tell. And then they’re gone, crimson angels.”

I must concede that The Golden Light is a remarkable work that requires at least a couple of listens to fully appreciate the nuance and complexity of the music and poetic lyrics, though the songs still sound wonderful to the casual listener. I discovered new sounds and meanings with each additional listen, and grew to like the songs more and more, to the point where I now think the album is brilliant. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys piano rooted alternative and experimental rock music that’s just a bit out of the ordinary.

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

REDRAM – Album Review: “Perception”

Redram band

Not long ago, I read somewhere that the album is a dying format in music. Reasons given had mostly to due with the overwhelming popularity of streaming, as well as the availability of millions of songs on streaming services that allow people to make their own personal “mixtapes” of songs they like, without having to buy an entire album. Another reason offered was the decline of concept albums, or albums with an overall theme.

Well, I have to say that, based on the huge number of albums that continue to be produced, the album format is not only still alive, it’s thriving. A fine example of that is the brilliant debut album Perception by indie alt-rock band Redram. The Los Angeles, California-based duo have crafted an amazing collection of provocative and compelling songs addressing the deception foisted upon us by the media, and the acceptance of corruption in our society.

Redram is Chaz Gravez (Charles Graves) and Modiso Mike (Michael Coddington), both multi-instrumentalists who refer to their music as “shamanic trip-rock chillwave” – a pretty apt description. They employ unusual and complex melodies, a wide array of instruments and electronica, and lots of different vocal styles and sounds to express their deeply contemplative lyrics with powerful impact.

Regarding their name, in conversations via Twitter messaging, Chaz explained that Redram “is a combination of symbols in one title. First we used a software called Redrum for a lot of our drum parts. Also, we are both big fans of The Shining and the metaphysical meaning behind that film (redrum). And then also, I’m an Aries/fire sign and we love good ol’ satanic rock and roll imagery.”

Chaz also stated that the nine tracks on Perception are arranged to flow as one coherent piece of music, and he kindly explained the meaning behind each song. Beginning with “Electra,” a psychedelic trip of gnashing, distorted guitars, eerie synths and discordant tinkling piano keys, the overall theme is established for the album. The song’s about a young woman trying to define her identity and role in an increasingly technological world of changing archetypes and symbols – something we all must face to some degree or another if we’re going to survive in a tech-based society.

Next up is the mesmerizing “The Program,” with weird synths, acoustic guitars, and a mix of falsetto and echoed spacey vocals chanting “The Program, the program” and “Perception is all my love / What you see is what you believe.” Chaz explained that the musical concept of “The Program” is the use of Mantra, or repetition of theme, to describe the theory suggested by a scientific study conducted a few years ago that there is a 49% chance that this realty we live in is just a computer program.

The hard-hitting “Press” alternates between frenetic riffs of jangly guitars and a slow, hypnotic beat, filled with all kinds of synths and gritty guitars. The lyrics speak of a press that’s manipulative and owned, and we have the power to change it but we’re too divided and distracted to make it happen. “We’re walking around with dollar bill eyes. We can stop the press. We can stop the mess. We move to the sound that pays for our time. We can stop the press, but it’s a full court press.

Sheriff” is another Mantra with the repeated phrase “I want to make you sweat,” delivered by an odd, almost disturbing electronically-altered voice. It’s intended to represent a duality of the archetypal character of a ‘Sheriff’ who wants to make you sweat in more ways than one. Musically, like several of Redram’s songs, the track has a powerful hypnotic beat, with guitars and dark synths used to great effect to create a sense of tension. Despite the disturbing vocal sounds, some of the instrumentals are hauntingly beautiful.

One of my favorite tracks is “Chillmilton,” with a fantastic trip-hop beat, rapping and shamanic chant-like vocals. As Chaz explained, the song “is about a young guy at his first music festival (Coachella) trying to decide between positive and negative choices in the devil’s den.” They sing “One pill two pill three pill four. What you gonna do when you hit the floor? It’s not lyrical, we’re hysterical. What will you find on a stage of miracles?Chill Milton, chill.”

70 Versions” employs trippy synths and layers of reverb-heavy and mildly distorted guitars to create dissonance. The lyrics speak to religious dogma vs. spirituality: Is the true value of life material or spiritual? “Speak the truth. You’re personal truth. Your spiritual truth. A miracle. My god.” The title phrase “70 Versions” seems to be a double entendre, as it sounds like they’re singing “70 virgins.” Mysterious, spacey synths and otherworldly vocals lend a sci-fi vibe on “To Space,” a song about depression and disconnection from others.

More spacey synths, accompanied by a continuous mournful organ, deliver “Fake News,” a biting attack on media and politics. Chaz stated that, specifically, the song was inspired by the lies of the media with regard to the Syrian conflict. “Western mediaThat’s old news. That’s fake news. Which side are the real good guys on? Which lie is the moral lie?

The powerful video features scenes of conflict in Syria and Iraq, as well as several U.S. Presidents, leaders of Middle Eastern countries, and other media figures.

Album closer “The Machines” is an homage to Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” (Chaz and Modiso are both big fans of Pink Floyd.) The song represents the complete evolution of a technological society, in which the people have been transformed into machines, with all of their behavior and responses pre-programmed. The track has some great bass and guitars, along with dark, eerie synths that perfectly convey the creepy situation.

Perception is a work of musical art, both conceptually and in its execution. The creativity and musicianship of the two men of Redram is impressive, as is their ability to transmit powerful messages into music that’s incredibly complex yet accessible, and an amazing listen to boot.

Connect with Redram:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Reverbnation / Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp

WATERGOD – Album Review: “Watergod”

As I’ve stated before, one of the things I love about Twitter is finding out about new indie artists and bands; in two years I’ve discovered over 5,000! I’ve also made friends with more music lovers and bloggers than I can count, who’ve turned me on to even more musicians and bands. So it was my lucky day when Robert Horvat, who has an excellent blog called Rearview Mirror, contacted me about the indie band Watergod.

Based in Austin, Texas – a city with a thriving music scene that’s produced scores of country, blues and rock artists and bands – Watergod rose from the ashes of their previous psychedelic space rock band Psychonaut. They developed a fresh sound, but retained a bit of their psychedelic sensibility. Comprised of Ethan Schrupp (guitar, vocals), Justin Wilson (bass) and Nicholas Key (drums), Watergod takes an organic, highly collaborative approach to their songwriting and the development of the sound for each track. They’re essentially DIY, but enlisted the help of friend Sean Lochridge in the recording and mixing of their self-titled debut album Watergod, which dropped on the 1st of August.

Watergod 2

In an interview with Robert Horvat of Rearview Mirror, which you can read here, Ethan explained the inspiration and/or meaning behind the band’s name, album title, and each of the tracks:

“To me [Watergod] represents renewal and rebirth. We had taken some time off after our last band [Psychonaut] dissolved, so when we came back together we wanted a fresh start. The inspiration [for the album] was what was going on in my life at the time. Amygdala is about a breakup,  Whaler and Causality were about a girl I was hooking up with after that,  Helios is about being burned by someone you’re trying to help, Motion is about being ostracized for being yourself, Vectors is about succumbing to temptation, and Spirals is about dealing with anger.”

Interestingly, all the song titles consist of a single word. Their music is unconventional, delivering unexpected melodic shifts, guitar change ups and quirky vocals. All this works beautifully to capture and hold our attention, not only within a song but throughout the whole album. We’re compelled to really listen to each nuanced sound and vocal twist and turn, keeping us in a continual state of surprise and wonder. Not one thing about their songs are predictable, and Ethan’s vocals seem to sound different on every track.

Watergod performing

Ethan’s falsetto crooning introduces us to the opening track “Amygdala” then some really lovely guitar work enters, accompanied by snare drums and a light touch of cymbals. All instrumentals ramp up as the track progresses. The guys inject just a touch of jazz on “Causality,” featuring some really fine nimble guitar work, a smooth subtle bass line and lots of gently crashing cymbals. There’s something about Ethan’s vocals that are so beguiling as they go from smooth and comforting to soaring falsetto and back again. The little guitar solo in the last 30 seconds is pure delight. “Vectors” borders on psychedelic with an underlying funky groove, making for an unusual and fascinating track. Ethan’s fuzzy vocals occasionally become echoed with vibrato, adding an otherworldly aura.

Helios” is a perfect example of how Watergod delivers the unexpected. Starting off with a gorgeous, delicate and somewhat melancholy riff, the track has a bit of the psychedelic feel of The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship.” Ethan sings of seeing a deceitful person’s true self in the light of day: “With you nearer, I see you clearer. I see you for what you really are. In the sun.” Halfway through, the guitars become heavier and grittier, as Ethan shrieks his vocals, some of which are distorted. It’s an epic track.

So too with “Whaler,” which flows back and forth from a languid beat with a dreamy atmospheric vibe to a faster tempo with bluesy guitar and heavier percussion. “Motion” is the most psychedelic-sounding track on the album, with heavier bass overlain with shredded, distorted and reverb-heavy guitars. And just as we’ve gotten used to the slow tempo that predominates, the guys dial it up at the close.

Album closer “Spirals” is more melodic, starting off with jangly guitars over a pleasing steady beat. The lyrics speak of letting go of anger: “It will hurt you so much more before you finally learn to let it go. / It’s hard to see the change when it’s so slow.” Ethan’s vocals rise in emotional impact as the guitars become grittier and the percussion more aggressive, until he literally shouts the lyrics later in the song.

If you like music that’s experimental and unconventional, Watergod delivers it in heaping quantities on this stellar album. It has some of the most unusual and intellectually stimulating music I’ve heard in a while, yet it’s still accessible and incredibly satisfying.

Connect with Watergod on Facebook and purchase their music on Bandcamp

GHOST COLOR – EP Review: “American Book of the Dead”

Ghost Color is a band that likes to make music their way, without following convention or what anyone else seems to be doing. No catchy hooks for them, but rather complex, nuanced melodies that always deliver the unexpected, compelling you to lean in and really listen. The band’s music can generally be described as Post-alternative or Progressive Rock, but one can hear strong influences of hard rock, shoegaze, post-punk, psychedelia and even jazz in their arresting sound.

Based in the California state capital of Sacramento (where I happened to live from 1989-94), Ghost Color consists of Chris Winstead (Drums/Lead Vocals), Eric Davis (Guitar) and Bryan Harty (Bass/backing Vocals). They released a pretty solid debut self-titled EP in 2015 with a decidedly experimental rock sensibility, and are now set to release a new EP American Book of the Dead on May 30th. The EP features four tracks that draw inspiration from the band members’ personal experiences with life and relationship challenges, making for a darker and more lyric-driven EP than their previous effort.

Ghost Color
Photo by Damion Hellstrom

To my ears, Ghost Color’s music style is reminiscent of Incubus, who’ve long been one of my favorite bands. Aggressive shredded and gnashing riffs layered with beautiful jangly guitar, and driven by buzz saw bass lines, are a defining characteristic of their music. Furthermore, Winstead’s superb vocals at times bear a striking resemblance to Incubus lead singer Brandon Boyd.

The first track “In Other Words” launches with a powerful riff, then jangly quitars enter the scene, aided and abetted by crashing cymbals, pounding drums and Harty’s weighty bass. Davis’ intricate guitar work is jaw-dropping as he coaxes forth sounds ranging from gritty to gorgeous. Winstead’s earnest vocals soar as he sings “Tortured and beaten, according to life. You can’t run.”

Endeavour” seems to address the differing emotional reactions of each partner in the aftermath of a breakup, with the singer still in pain while the one being sung to appears to have already moved on:  “Pour out your heart, you almost shed a tear. A bridge between our hearts. You blew me away, all away.”

More stellar guitar work is on display on “Stay Asleep,” with Davis shredding his guitar nearly to the breaking point. So too with “Grieves,” teeming with psychedelic riffs and wailing guitars making sounds like human screams. The heavy bass has a noticeable jazz vibe at the beginning of each chorus, as Winstead moans “So I grieve again, feeling nothing normal now.

American Book of the Dead is a brilliant EP, and my only criticism is that it’s over too quickly, leaving me wanting more. But that’s not a bad thing, really, as it never overstays its welcome.

Follow Ghost Color:  Website /  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram

Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Reverbnation / YouTube

Purchase:  Bandcamp /  iTunes

Featured Videos: WHALE HOUSE – “Red Sun/Think of Me”

As I’ve stated before on this blog, there is so much great rock music being made by so many talented artists and bands today, that I’m sometimes overwhelmed by it all. And every once in a while, I discover a band that stands out from the crowd by virtue of their incredible musicianship and sound. Whale House is such a band. Hailing from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, they describe their sound as ” a sublime blend of Noise & Melody.” More accurately, their dynamic sound has elements of experimental, grunge and psychedelic alternative rock.

Whale House was formed in 2009 by Clayton Brice and Caleb Price, both on vocals, guitar and bass. The duo released a 3-track EP From the Traps in 2011.  Drummer Chris Dunn joined the band in 2013, and they subsequently released Stand Out. They followed up with their superb highly experimental 5-track EP The Negative Space in 2015, and dropped the excellent single “Freeway” earlier this year. Now they’ve released two new videos for their awesome songs “Red Sun” and “Think of Me.”

The electrifying videos were produced by SCOSH Films as Collaborate Forever Live Sessions filmed at Ambient Inks print shop in Eau Claire. Involved with production were videographer Scott Kunkel, photographer Kyle Lehman, sound engineer Steve Norwick and Bryan Hanna on mastering.  The videos were filmed using movable walls and lots of fluorescent lighting, creating an otherworldly vibe. The guys all wearing sunglasses adds an edgy sense of mystery.  I really like the videos for several reasons, one of which being that I enjoy seeing the band actually performing their songs, rather than act out some odd story line like in a lot of videos.

“Red Sun” starts off with a thumping bass line, then explodes with a barrage of shredded and swirling guitars and Dunn’s thunderous drums that instantly brought chills.  Brice and Price coax scorching hot riffs from their guitars, their commanding, intertwining vocals in perfect harmony. This is one gorgeous rock song!

“Think of Me” is more experimental and psychedelic, and everything about it is jaw-dropping amazing. Clocking in at 6 1/2 minutes, the song is a tour de force that astonishes from start to finish. First off, the buzzing bass line is monumental – seemingly powerful enough to slam you against the wall. Then come the hard-hitting, staccato guitar riffs that practically tear your face off, followed by more snarling guitars and pummeling drums that make your heart race. The guys’ vocals alternately smolder and scream, sounding a bit like Kurt Cobain, and guaranteed to raise the hair on the back of your neck.  By song’s end, I had to catch my breath. Wow, just wow!

Support these amazing musicians by by following them on Twitter,  Facebook  and  Instagram. Subscribe to their YouTube channel, and stream their music on Spotify, or purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes.