100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #85: “Cleopatra” by The Lumineers

The song at #85 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the beautiful “Cleopatra” by American folk rock band The Lumineers. The Denver, Colorado based trio, consisting of Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek, first made a splash in 2012 with their massive breakthrough single “Ho Hey”. (Pekarek has since left the band in 2018, so The Lumineers are currently a duo).

“Cleopatra” is the title track and second single from their sophomore album Cleopatra, and my personal favorite of all their songs. I love songs that tell a compelling story, and “Cleopatra” certainly fills the bill. Schultz explained his inspiration for the song in a 2017 Facebook post: “It’s inspired by a true story about a female taxi driver who, when she was younger, was proposed to. But her father had just passed away, so she didn’t give her boyfriend an answer. So he left the village broken-hearted and rejected and never returned again. He was her great love and she wouldn’t wash the footprints off the floor after he had left.

The toe-tapping rhythms, jangly strummed guitars and rousing piano are really wonderful and upbeat, providing a contrast to the rather bittersweet lyrics:

I was Cleopatra, I was young and an actress
When you knelt by my mattress, and asked for my hand
But I was sad you asked it, as I laid in a black dress
With my father in a casket, I had no plans, yeah

And I left the footprints, the mud stained on the carpet
And it hardened like my heart did when you left town
But I must admit it, that I would marry you in an instant
Damn your wife, I’d be your mistress just to have you around

But I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time

While the church discouraged, any lust that burned within me
Yes my flesh, it was my currency, but I held true
So I drive a taxi, and the traffic distracts me
From the strangers in my backseat, they remind me of you

But I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time

And the only gifts from my Lord were a birth and a divorce
But I’ve read this script and the costume fits, so I’ll play my part

I was Cleopatra, I was taller than the rafters
But that’s all in the past love, gone with the wind
Now a nurse in white shoes leads me back to my guestroom
It’s a bed and a bathroom
And a place for the end

I won’t be late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time

BEATING HEARTS CLUB – Album Review: “Freedom & Rebellion”

One of the benefits (and challenges) of being a music blogger is discovering lots of music by an ever-expanding number of indie and up and coming artists, more than I could possibly ever write about, let alone listen to it all! There’s a surprising amount of real talent out there, and I’ve had the pleasure of writing about quite a few artists and bands who are making some truly great music. And every now and then, one comes along that stands out among the crowd, such as Australian folk-rock band Beating Hearts Club. Since learning about them this past April, they’ve become one of my favorite indie bands. I’ve already featured them twice on this blog earlier this year, when I reviewed their singles “Black & White Love” and “Round the Bend” (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post). I’m now pleased to review their stunning debut album Freedom & Rebellion, which drops today, September 18th.

Based in Sydney, Beating Hearts Club is comprised of Duncan Welsh (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Ciaran Loughran (lead guitar/backing vocals), Lukas Thurner (bass) and Trent Miller (drums), who joined the band a few months ago after their previous drummer left. With their shared love of rock, folk, country and blues, the talented foursome create exceptional music characterized by beautiful melodies, stellar arrangements and intelligent lyrics, and delivered with superb instrumentation and Duncan’s sublime vocals.

As suggested by the title, the album’s theme seems to be about the ups and downs of love and relationships, and the eternal struggle between wanting freedom and wanting to belong to someone. The album opens with “Heroin“, the very first single the band released back in April 2019. It starts off as a gentle ballad, with Duncan’s earnest vocals accompanied by strummed and chiming electric guitars as he sings to a loved one who’s saving him from falling into a downward spiral: “You are my heroin, a shot to the veins / You’re my therapy, you’re the cure.” Then the song expands into a full-blown rocker, with rapid-fire riffs of reverb-soaked guitars, humming bass and thumping drums. Duncan’s vocals rise to the occasion, become more impassioned in their urgency, and Ciaran’s blistering guitar solo in the bridge is fantastic.

Next up is “Black & White Love“, a gorgeous love song that instantly became one of my favorites of the year. I love it so much it’s spent the past four months on my Weekly Top 30, recently going all the way to #1. The instrumentals are stunning, with some of the most achingly beautiful guitar work I’ve heard in a long while. Duncan’s plaintive vocals are lovely and heartfelt, and when the music builds to an anthemic crescendo in the final chorus, I’m covered with goosebumps. The moving lyrics speak of how finding true love in the right person can be a force for healing in our sometimes broken lives: “Could you be the reason? You know I need you, Seen my last chance die but I’m still breathing / Do you feel what I’m feeling? You know I need you shook me upside down and I saw meaning.”

When I didn’t think the guys could top “Black & White Love”, along comes “Crying Wolf” and I’m quickly blown away. What a magnificent song this is, with lush, intricate guitar work and beautiful layered vocals. I also love the mournful organ riff in the outro that gives the song a country rock vibe. The lyrics are about being stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with a partner who constantly complains and threatens to leave, but never does: “Thought I’ve heard, heard it all before / You got me shook, shaking to the core / Why am I the subject, why am I the cries? / Well everybody knows you’re the one who made you cry.

Beating Hearts Club are adept at making both hard-rocking bangers and gentle ballads. A great example of the former is “First Sight of the Rain“, a dark rock’n’roll song about a romantic partner who’s afraid of commitment and wants to bolt from the relationship at the slightest hint of a problem: “You’re running from yourself, it’s you who won’t make a change and no one else / You gave it all to me, then turned and ran away.” The exuberant, hard-driving rhythms and fuzz-coated guitars that break into a scorching solo in the bridge are sensational. Likewise, “Homemade” and “Round the Bend” are rousing folk-rock tunes with resonant jangly guitars and galloping drum beats, punctuated by terrific guitar solos, pummeling drumbeats and ample flourishes of wildly crashing cymbals that make for a lively and highly satisfying listen.

Turning to the ballads, one of my favorite tracks is “Freedom Pt. 2“, a lovely Americana song with strummed acoustic guitar, beautiful piano and strings, and is that a didgeridoo I hear in the background? I may be way off, but the lyrics seem to speak of a man who’s been released from prison, and facing his newly-found freedom with some apprehension: “Heaven knows that I’ve paid my dues / Bring back a feeling, I forgot to use / And from here we’re going wherever I might choose / I know, it’s gonna take a lifetime.” “Olivia” is an equally beautiful song of love and devotion, highlighted by gorgeous strummed guitars and sparkling piano keys.

As the album continues to unfold, it’s clear these guys can do no wrong, as every track is perfect. I’m sounding like a broken record, but on “The Reaper“, the intricate guitar work is spectacular, and when combined with the organ at the beginning and the mournful piano later in the song, the results are breathtaking. Special mention must also be given to Lukas for his wonderful bass line that gives the song such incredible depth. Album closer “Stockholm” is a hard-rocking song about being in an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship similar to Stockholm Syndrome. I love the frantic riffs of grimy guitars and strong, driving beats that nicely convey a sense of tension expressed in the lyrics: “Stockholm Syndrome’s got a hold of me / She takes me down and she won’t let me breathe / I don’t believe in anything I see.”

What more can I possibly say to gush any further about this beautiful work of musical art? Freedom & Rebellion is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and I love every one of its tracks – something that doesn’t happen very often. It’s an impressive debut from this extremely talented band, and they should be very proud of their magnificent accomplishment.

Follow Beating Hearts Club: Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: Google Play / Amazon

VICIOUS ROOSTER – Single Review: “The Moon is Dancing”

Vicious Rooster is the music project of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Juan Abella. Born and raised in Argentina, Juan began learning to play guitar at the age of ten, and played in bands and wrote songs while in high school. In college, he juggled his business studies with guitar lessons and playing in bands, then after graduation he temporarily set aside his music dreams to focus on his business career and long-term relationship. After the relationship ended, and experiencing stress over some family issues, he made the decision to quit his job and pursue his dream of becoming a musician. He adopted the moniker Vicious Rooster, and relocated to Los Angeles in 2016 to study music business at the renowned Musicians Institute in Hollywood.

Drawing inspiration from such bands as The Beatles, The Black Crowes, Guns’n’Roses and Alice in Chains, among others, Vicious Rooster melds elements of classic rock with Southern rock, folk and a bit of grunge to create his own unique style. He writes, sings and produces his songs, and plays guitar and harmonica. Using songs he’d previously written as well as new compositions, he released his excellent debut album The Darkest Light in 2017. It’s an ambitious and impressive work, featuring 12 tracks and running over an hour in length. Nine of the songs are more than five minutes long! Many of the song lyrics address moments where he felt lost during the transition from his past life and what became his present one.

After a three year long hiatus, he returned in August with his latest single “The Moon is Dancing“, a dark and powerful song with roots firmly planted in Southern rock. The song opens with a melancholy harmonica riff accompanied by a gently strummed guitar, evoking images of the Old West. As the song progresses, Vicious Rooster adds layers of chiming, gnarly and wobbly distorted guitars, along with heavier percussion, all of which build to a thrilling crescendo. He has an arresting and resonant singing voice, and his heartfelt vocals rise along with the intensifying music to impassioned screams that bring goosebumps.

The lyrics speak to feeling overwhelmed by worries, anxiety and loneliness: “The tension’s rising / My mind is going insane / And my defenses slowly crumble down / The moon is dancing / My thoughts are rolling to nowhere bound“; and searching for peace of mind and a sense of purpose in life: “I hope to find some peace along the way / I’m gonna rest my soul / I’m gonna keep on living life like there is somewhere I belong.” It’s a fantastic song.

To learn more about Vicious Rooster, check out his website

Follow him on FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  BandcampAmazonGoogle Play

MOONLIGHT BROADCAST – Single Review: “Amoebas in Glass Houses”

Moonlight Broadcast is an alternative rock band hailing from beautiful Melbourne, Australia. Influenced by such greats as Crowded House, The National and Death Cab for Cutie, they write songs with memorable guitar-driven melodies and poignant lyrics about (in their own words) “the winding, bumpy road we’re all travelling on.” The band is comprised of Cameron (lead vocals), Adi (guitar), Craig (bass, backing vocals) and Ash (drums & mojo). They released their excellent debut EP A Cynic’s Guide to Dying Happy in February 2018 (you can read my review here), and after a two and a half year break, the guys are back at last with a terrific new single “Amoebas in Glass Houses“.

The song has a bouncy melody and lively mix of jangly guitars, humming bass and punchy drumbeats, creating a pleasing, upbeat vibe that contrasts with the rather depressing and brutally honest lyrics. Cameron says the song is basically about procrastination and living in a prison of one’s own making, not moving forward or achieving anything. The lyrics speak to turning inward and wanting to hide away from the world and just be left alone, yet something’s missing and you’re still feeling restless and unhappy as outside pressures build: “I’m floating around the lounge room, red-eyed and my cock in my hand / another Friday night and the walls are closing in / Cracks creeping up my window / I can’t stay here and I can’t go.”

Feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness are further compounded by seeing a beautiful and unattainable young starlett on TV: “Her physical beauty makes me want to curl up and die where I sit.” All these negative feelings have him pondering suicide as the only possible way out, though he doesn’t really want that: “There’s a tree I can see from my lounge room / limbs spread like an invitation late on Friday night and I probably need a friend.

“Amoebas in Glass Houses” is a great song, and I’m so glad Moonlight Broadcast have graced our ears with new music.

Connect with Moonlight Broadcast:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampAmazonGoogle Play

THE PUSS PUSS BAND – Album Review: “Life Cycles”

Puss Puss Band Life Cycles

There’s a lot of musical talent in Wales, and I’ve written about several artists and bands from that fair British Isles nation: David Oakes, Dying Habit, Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, GG Fearn, Dunkie, Head Noise and, most recently, Kidsmoke. Another Welsh act I’m especially fond of is The Puss Puss Band, who I’ve featured a few times on this blog over the past four years. Based in Cardiff, they started out as a duo consisting of multi-instrumentalists Asa Galeozzie and Lee Pugh (the band is named for Asa’s cat Puss Puss). Both are accomplished musicians who’ve worked with numerous artists and bands in the UK and Welsh music industry for nearly 15 years as writers & session musicians. Asa plays guitar, bass, percussion, piano and melodica, while Lee plays lead guitar, bass and piano, as well as sings lead vocals. Their relaxed music style is a pleasing mix of jazz and folk-infused indie pop that just makes you feel good.

In April 2017, with help from seasoned musician and producer John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick (who’s best known for his work with The Who, as well as on the soundtracks for the films The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Almost Famous), the guys released their beautiful debut album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea. (I reviewed that album along with an interview with Lee, which you can read here.) On July 3rd, they dropped their second album Life Cycles, featuring ten wonderful tracks addressing the subjects of life, love, loss and the passage of time. Once again, the recordings were all written, arranged, performed and engineered by Asa, Lee and Rabbit. Post-production, mixing and mastering was done by Richard Digby Smith at TQ1 Studios. The Puss Puss Band has now expanded to include six members, including Asa, Lee, Steven Stanley, Joel Rees, Luke Moore, and Nigel Hodge. Only Nigel is featured on the new album, as he played flute and alto sax on the track “Losing The Rain”.

The opening track “We Should Be” is a bittersweet song about missing someone you’d had a love affair with who now seems to have lost her feelings for you, and wishing she was back in love with you so you could be together. Gently strummed guitars, crisp percussion and delicate synths create a warm backdrop for Lee’s soothing, breathy vocals that convey a sense of sad resignation as he sings the poignant lyrics “The way you see the world is just the same. It’s just the way you feel about me that’s changed. But we should be…. We should be in love.”

The delightful video shows a man in a cat suit (played by Lee) standing in downtown Cardiff, holding a large flip chart printed with words that are directed at his love interest. In various scenes, he’s shown chasing pigeons, riding the merry-go-round, and sitting on the bench offering some of his food to a man who politely turns him down, then proceeding to eat it out of the bowl. By and by, he walks past a busking musician (played by Asa) and throws a few pieces of dry cat food into his guitar case. At the end, the busker sees him sitting forlornly on the ground next to the merry-go-round, offers his hand, and they walk off together down the street holding hands.

Many tracks have a gentle folk-rock vibe, such as “About Time“, which touches on how a relationship built on love and respect endures over time: “It’s about time. It’s about all we got left. It’s about the way you walk. And the way that you still care about me.” The song has a mellow vibe and catchy melody, with a lovely mix of jangly and chiming guitars accompanied by snappy drums, and some nice keyboards and organ. I love Lee’s breathy vocals that hover in a sweet spot between raw and comforting, with an almost seductive quality. Another is “Holding Its Own“, a pretty but poignant song about the daily struggles of keeping one’s sanity in this crazy world: “Hopeful yet empty, Following rules. Blind to the life of a mind. Just holding its own.” The instrumentals are sublime, with what sounds like a mellotron being the highlight for me. The guitars, bass, keyboards and organ are all pretty terrific as well.

The Puss Puss Band channel their rock side on “Thank You“, thanks to a harder-driving beat, heavier electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The lyrics seem to acknowledge a friend who saved the singer through tough love, brutal honesty and perseverance: “But thank you so much for saving me from me. Thank you so much. For friends who never sleep.” One of my favorite tracks is “Pretty Games“, as I love the horns, funky guitars and mellow instrumentals that give it a cool, jazzy vibe. The lyrics speak to the games we play at one time or another, unable to be honest to ourselves or others about how we feel, which keeps us treading water so to speak. I like how they give a nod to their previous album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea: “It’s all a pretty game. Another year and still the same. But I still hear echoes of that sea. Parts we play. Wasted days. Still the same. Pretty games.”

On The Common” is an exquisite song, with beautiful acoustic and delicate chiming electric guitar notes, accompanied by the gentlest of synths, all creating a glittery, ethereal backdrop for Lee’s soft vocals. “Losing the Rain” is another favorite, with its sophisticated, jazzy feel thanks to Nigel’s wonderful flute and saxophone. The lyrics seem to be about trying to make a relationship work despite the many obstacles: “I’m losing the rain. These broken thoughts that roll around inside my brain. Maybe I’m too blind to see? I wasn’t meant for you and you were never meant for me.”

The guys deliver more stellar guitar work on “Junkie“, a song about trying and failing to save someone from addiction and the realization some people just can’t be saved. A standout track is the marvelous Pink Floyd-esque “Time and Tide“. The song starts off slowly, with only gentle acoustic guitars, but gradually builds into a dramatic rock song with electric guitars, piano, sweeping synths and heavy percussion. The lyrics were inspired by the passing of Asa’s uncle, with whom he was close; his uncle took him to gigs and got him into music when he was young. “For all the glitter and gold. We all grow old. As the lights fade down. We still hold for applause. And the show moves on. But the feeling… Lingers on and on.”

They close out the album with “Missed“, a beautiful and very poignant song that nicely encapsulates the album’s overall theme of the cycles of life – how relationships and friendships come and go over time. The piano melody was written a while back by Rabbit, and the lyrics later written by Lee to address the loss of a loved one: “I’m losing you tonight. But I’m here by your side. There’s no more need to fight. / But time shows no kind of nostalgia for goodbyes.” Musically, the song is different from all the other songs, as it features only a haunting piano and Lee’s raw, yet comforting vocals.

Life Cycles is a really lovely album and a pleasurable listen from start to finish, without a single weak or throwaway track. The song arrangements and production values are flawless, and the guys’ musicianship is outstanding on every level. I love this band!

Connect with The Puss Puss Band:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on BandcampGoogle Play

BEATING HEARTS CLUB – Single Review: “Round the Bend”

I first learned about Sydney, Australia-based indie rock band Beating Hearts Club two months ago when they reached out to me about their gorgeous single “Black & White Love“. Comprising the band are Duncan Welsh (vocals/rhythm guitar), Ciaran Loughran (lead guitar/backing vocals), Peter Holt (drums) and Lukas Thurner (bass).  Even though they’ve released only two songs, I was impressed by their beautiful sound, intelligent songwriting and outstanding musicianship, and became an instant fan. “Black & White Love” is a stunning love ballad (you can read my review here) that’s currently enjoying a long residency on my Weekly Top 30.

Now Beating Hearts Club return with their third single “Round the Bend“, which along with “Heroin” and “Black & White Love”, will be included on their forthcoming debut album, due out later this year. With its rousing melody and catchy, toe-tapping beat, the song has more of a folk-rock feel than their two previous songs. The fuzz-coated jangly guitars are terrific, and I really like the subtle organ work that gives the track a bit of a folk vibe. Thurner’s solid bass line and Holt’s pounding drumbeats keep the driving rhythm, ensuring that the song stays firmly in rock territory, and the guitar solo in the bridge is so good. As always, Welsh’s vibrant vocals are wonderful as he plaintively sings the lyrics that seem to me to be about difficulties with commitment “Chase me round the bend. Thought I’d never see the end.”

“Round the Bend” is a great song, keeping Beating Hearts Club’s perfect score for delivering superb singles fully intact. I love every one of their singles, and look forward to hearing more from this exceptional band.

Follow Beating Hearts Club: Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: Google Play / Amazon

NATH JACKSON – EP Review: “Dreamers & Deceivers”

Nath Jackson

June 5th was a popular day for new music releases, and I’ve been writing about a fair amount of it over the past few days. My latest entry is the new EP Dreamers & Deceivers by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Nath Jackson. I first learned about the talented Leeds-based artist last summer when I reviewed an EP by electronic music project The Ocean Beneath that he collaborated on. He co-wrote and sang the lyrics on two of the tracks on that EP, and I was really impressed with his beautiful vocals.

Nath has now released a collection of songs with his own debut EP. Once again, he collaborated with The Ocean Beneath, who produced the EP. Backing vocals were sung by his brother Aaron Jackson, with drums performed by Karl Rigby. The EP contains four tracks, the first of which, “Oncoming Storm“, was released as a single last December (you can read my review here). It’s a hauntingly beautiful number, highlighted by Nath’s gorgeous strummed acoustic guitar, melancholy but lovely piano keys, and gentle cymbals evoking waves crashing on the shore in advance of an oncoming storm. His smooth, clear vocals are urgent yet comforting as he sings to someone afraid of committing themselves to love or even to life, for fear of being hurt: “But it’s all too little too late. If life’s a game then you better play. From the upside to the down. The lost and the found. You better move soon before you hit the ground. And they’ve all got something to say. Waiting for those better days. From the love that you choose. There spreading out the news. Where do you go when you got nothing to lose? Nothing to lose.”

Setting Sun” was one of the songs he co-wrote and sang for The Ocean Beneath’s EP. Their version had a lush and mesmerizing synthwave approach in the style of Giorgio Moroder, whereas Nath’s version is more stripped-down, with stunning layered acoustic and electric guitars, drums and gentle orchestral synths. Both are wonderful and I love them equally. I love the sound of his vocals as sings of someone trying their damnedest to avoid committing to love: “Well you may be the last one standing. The devil’s on your tail but you keep on graspin’. Sail your dreams out to the sea. Pulling on the line and bring them home to me. The love light and watch it shine. And I won’t stop until you are mine. You don’t know what you’ve become. And you can’t hide behind the setting sun.”

The Beatles-esque “Blink of an Eye” starts off with just Nath’s piano keys and plaintive vocals, then the music gradually builds with added percussion, strings and guitar to become a beautiful, uplifting anthem. With his brother Aaron’s soaring chorus in the background, Nath entreats a loved one about what I’m guessing is an attempt to try and get their relationship back on the right track: “Maybe there ain’t time to look back. Trying to keep peace of mind. Staying on the right track. Well I guess no one’s to blame. Or in other words, stop sliding away, before it hurts. You keep on coming in and out of my head. Wanna say the things the things that are better left unsaid. We can dance under the moon. I’ll be your fool. Make up our own rules. Staring deep into space. And we’ll watch the world go by. Within the blink of an eye.

The title track “Dreamers & Deceivers” has an edgier folk-rock vibe, with a lively guitar-driven melody. I like the mix of acoustic and swirling electric guitars, and the organ adds a nice textural sound to the proceedings. The lyrics speak of both parties coming to the realization that their relationship is broken beyond repair, and it’s time to end things and move on: “Fingertips away but oceans apart. An exit to an overplayed part. As you stand, you dream and deceive your way to the end of the line. Hit the road always the first to say, it’s time now baby, bye, bye, bye. The air that you breathe, the money you need, it feels like you’re gonna explode. Hold on to one last look. It’s high time I gotta go, go, go, go go.”

Dreamers & Deceivers is a terrific little EP, and my only criticism is that I wish it had more than just four tracks. Nath is a fine songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, and I could listen to his pleasing music for hours. For now, I’ll just have to play his EP on repeat until he releases more music.

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

LIAM SULLIVAN – Single Review: “When This is Over”

Liam Sullivan When This is Over

I’ve been featuring a lot of British artists on this blog lately, and singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan is now the seventh in a row. The engaging musician from Leeds reached out to me a few days ago about his latest single “When This is Over“. He’s a fine songwriter and guitarist, and has a lovely and vibrant singing voice that’s quite pleasing. His music can generally be classified as alternative rock with strong folk overtones, and I’ve been listening to and really enjoying his back catalog of songs, which I strongly urge my readers to check out on one of the music platforms listed at the end of this review.

Liam Sullivan3

Liam has been writing and performing music for well over a decade, and released his first solo EP Restless in June 2017, featuring four stunning tracks. More recently, he teamed up with a group of musicians to form his own back up band, and released an equally beautiful second EP The News I Needed in December 2019. On May 1st, he released “Wasted Days”, a poignant single about depression and feelings of uselessness, and now follows with “When This is Over”, which dropped on May 25th. Written and recorded during the COVID-19 quarantine, the song is a hopeful look ahead toward happier times.

Like “Wasted Days”, “When This is Over” has a gentler folk vibe, with just Liam’s beautifully-strummed acoustic guitar, accompanied by soft percussion. His vocals are heartfelt yet comforting as he laments of the many things we’ve been unable to do socially with others during this unprecedented quarantine, while remaining optimistic that we will do them all again one day. He also admonishes us to take a look at ourselves, and not place blame or remain divisive about something that many have suffered from. It’s a wonderful song.

Maybe someday when this is over
We can sit out in the sun
Maybe someday when this is over
We will embrace everyone
Maybe someday when this is all over
We will share a beer
Maybe someday when this is all over
We will see what happened here

What’s in your heart, and your mind?
This is not the time for choosing sides
What’s in your heart, your mind?

Maybe someday when this is over
I can shake your hand
Maybe someday when this is over
We will understand more
Maybe someday when this is over
We can start again
Maybe someday when this is all over
It’s over, it’s over

What’s in your heart, and your mind?
This is not the time for choosing sides
What’s in your heart, your mind?

Here’s a sweet acoustic performance of the song by Liam at home:

Follow Liam:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / Bandcamp

CHANTY TRÈS-VAIN – Album Review: “AUTREFOIS”

Chanty Tres-Vain Autrefois

Chanty Très-Vain is a creative, hard-working and super-talented young English singer-songwriter and guitarist now living in Berlin, Germany. Her pleasing, accessible style of music draws upon an eclectic mix of folk, Country, alternative rock and art pop, and her honest, poetic lyrics express sentiments and situations we can all relate to. She released her debut EP Daffodils in 2016, which was produced by her brother Minky Très-Vain, front man of the London scratch rock band Brain Ape (who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog). In 2018, Chanty began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Home” and following up with three more – “Miss My Friend”, “Cup of Tea” and “From Hello”.

On May 8th, she dropped her wonderful debut album Autrefois via her brother Minky’s label Scratch Rock Records. The album was once again produced by Minky, who also played some of the instruments on many tracks, and the drums and percussion were performed by The Siberian Alien (who was drummer for Brain Ape from 2013-15). The album features the four previously-released singles noted above, along with seven new tracks, all exploring such themes as platonic and romantic relationships, cultural identity, heartbreak, and mental health. Chanty states that the album was inspired in part by “times gone by” and her own past: “Each song on ‘Autrefois’ is a moment that changed me in some way. To have these mementos is very important to me, and I’m so glad to have them to remind me of the lessons. They also remind me of the good moments that might otherwise have got lost among the bad.” Autrefois is a French word meaning “once upon a time”.

The first track “Shine” has a rather quirky intro consisting of clicks and what sounds like a kitten or some other baby animal cooing, accompanied by a muffled lo-fi recording of Chanty singing and playing acoustic guitar. After 55 seconds, the song bursts open with fuzzy electric guitars, thumping drumbeats and her clear, fervent vocals singing of a relationship that has survived its ups and downs to become stronger than ever: “Don’t give up, carry on, feel the beauty in the air. Hold my hand, keep me close and I know that I’ll be fine. I know we’ll survive. Cause you and I are stronger than before. You and I shine.”

The moving song “Undone” is a fine example of Chanty’s excellent songwriting and vocal abilities. Over a haunting melody, she’s layered a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, including delicate chiming guitar notes that give the track an enchanting feel during its quieter moments. Her vocals are lovely, going from tender croons to impassioned pleas as she sings to someone struggling with mental health issues: “I know I’m one to talk, I’ve been there, I’m still there… but please, stop blaming the weather. Stop blaming the alcohol. Cause I know you better and your smile is coming undone.”

The delightful “Cup of Tea” speaks to cherishing the little things, both good and bad, about a loved one and feeling really in tune with who they are: “The day you don’t want your morning cup of tea is the day I’ll start to worry. The day you decide to stay inside is the day I’ll drag you out. The little things that annoy me about you, make up who you are. And given the choice, I would not change a thing, flawed as we are.” The song features sweetly-strummed guitars, delicate keyboards and gentle percussion that make for a pleasing listen. Chanty’s produced videos for several of her songs, and one of my favorites is the one for “Cup of Tea”. She designed and created the figures and wonderful dollhouse set for the charming stop motion video:

And here’s a cute behind the scenes video showing her painstaking creative process:

Home” is a poignant song that strongly resonates with me for a couple of reasons. First, I too have lived in several cities I felt close connections with, yet still felt restless while living in each of them. Secondly, I believe that only through people and nations working together in cooperation can we have lasting peace and make progress toward solving some of the major problems facing humanity and the world. I personally mourned both the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. OK, enough of my soapbox.

About her inspiration for the song, in an interview with Music Interview Magazine, Chanty explained: “I am a ‘third culture kid’. I grew up in a culture that is different from my family’s culture. I feel loyalty to both while finding it difficult to answer the question, ‘Where are you from?’ I went through a bit of an identity crisis a few years ago, but found comfort in the fact that no matter what happened, I was still connected to both of them through the European Union. However, in June of 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the union. This inspired ‘Home,’ because the only safety net I had in terms of belonging and the one thing I found comfort in, would soon be gone. The song is me trying to figure out where my loyalties lie, where I should live and where to call home.” She beautifully articulates these sentiments in her lyrics:  “Torn between my family tree and where to find my friends / It’s a country I come back to time and time again / It’s divided, yet united, it’s more than I can say for a place called ‘United’ that tears itself away / Should I go back to the country I never called home? / Go back to the heart of where I feel like I belong?

The video for the song opens with scenes of Chanty feeling restless in her apartment, then transitions to frenetic scenes of six cities she has either lived in or felt a deep connection with: London, Brussels, Brighton, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Berlin.

The bittersweet “Miss my Friend” is one of loveliest tracks on the album, and also one of my favorites. Another deeply personal song for her, Chanty said it describes a very specific evening when she was stuck in a spiral of sadness, anguish, and loneliness. She was missing someone dear to her, but unable to tell them at the time, so wrote a song to express her feelings. The song has a gentle, languid  melody with strummed guitars and restrained drumbeats, forming a somber backdrop for her emotionally-charged vocals that reveal a deep sense of sadness, even breaking at times as she sings “I’d like to think you’re alright now. That you’re healing fine. But there’s one last thing I want you to know. I never wanted to be the source of all that pain. But I tried to do what was right when both of my hands were tied. I hope that you will see that someday, and I just want you to be OK. But I miss my friend sometimes.”

Chanty dials things up a notch on “From Hello“, which has more of a rock feel thanks to a harder-driving beat, more electric guitars, and heavier bass and drums. The faster tempo and her impassioned vocals convey the pain and heartache of realizing a relationship that started out with such promise is now in tatters: “Oh how easy is was to just dive head first. Oh how easy it was to fall for you. Then we woke up and realized that life’s greatest gift is battle lines. To hurry to survive being torn apart, and with one just blow everything fell to dust. Now we see the end of us. We’re drowning at the deep end.”

Promise” is a tender ballad about making a commitment to another to stay with them no matter what, while “Cambre” is a languid, bittersweet song with lyrics reminiscing about happier times. Both songs consist only of Chanty’s lovely strummed guitar and plaintive vocals, though “Cambre” features what sounds like a mellotron later in the track.

It’s back to a harder-edge vibe on “Silence” and “To Goodbye“, both musically and lyrically. Both tracks feature Minky’s gnarly guitar riffs and The Siberian Alien’s frenetic drumbeats, and both speak to problems with commitment and communication that sadly doom far too many relationships. On “Silence”, Chanty laments “You say you never wanna hurt me. But then you just disappear. All those words that you said to me, about how we can make it work. Were those lies, or were you sincere?” “To Goodbye” sees her at the end of her rope, and giving her lover the heave-ho: “I won’t wait around for you to decide when you want to stay and when you want to hide. I won’t stand by and watch you create walls to my heart and tears on my face. I deserve more than the silence you gave. You walked all over the trust that we made. I won’t stick around for you anymore. So take this goodbye. I’ll show you the door.”

Album closer “With You” is an unusual track, with a harsh and reverby lo-fi quality that gives it an unfinished demo feel. Chanty’s echoed vocals sound quite different, and are accompanied by strummed guitar and what sounds like a sharply-plucked string instrument, probably another guitar. I don’t understand why she and Minky chose to record the track in this manner, unless they intended the sound to go full-circle to the album’s beginnings, or simply wanted a more unorthodox sound. Whatever the reason, it pains me to say that I don’t care for it. Otherwise, the rest of Autrefois is outstanding, and a beautifully-crafted album. Chanty Très-Vain is an extremely talented and imaginative musician, lyricist and vocalist, and listening to her songs is a real pleasure.

Follow Chanty:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple Music 
Purchase AUTREFOIS at  Scratch Rock Records

YOU’RE AMONG FRIENDS – Album Review: “Start Making Sense”

You're Among Friends Start Making Sense

Cleveland, Ohio-based band You’re Among Friends are most definitely among friends at this blog. Their laid back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock seems to channel Steely Dan, The Grateful Dead and even a bit of Elvis Costello, and always makes for a pleasurable listen. That comforting low-key vibe, combined with their thoughtful, down-to-earth lyrics about this crazy thing we call life, has a way of making me feel that everything’s gonna be alright. And boy, we can all use more of that right now!

I’ve had the pleasure of featuring them twice on this blog, first in June 2017, when I reviewed their 2016 album As We Watch the Years Go…, and again in January 2018 when I reviewed their EP One Day You’ll Look Back. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) They’ve just released their latest album Start Making Sense, which dropped May 8.  It’s their first release in two and a half years, and they sound better than ever.

You’re Among Friends was born in 2007 when guitarist and vocalist Anthony Doran and bassist Kevin Trask – who’d both played together in another band – rechristened it with a new name and began reworking songs from the previous band’s repertoire. They released their debut self-titled album in 2007, then soon followed up with an EP and double single. As the demands of life, work and starting a family took more of their time, however, the band went on a hiatus in 2011 that lasted four years. Once they reconnected in 2015, they began working on the album As We Watch the Years Go…, with songs inspired by their life experiences as well as the passage of time and how it affected friendships, relationships, and the band itself. Their follow-up EP One Day You’ll Look Back continued to explore some of the themes first addressed by the album.

Like more than a few bands, You’re Among Friends has struggled since their beginnings to find and keep drummers. They’re now on their seventh drummer in the person of Mike Janowitz, who appears to be a perfect fit. In a recent interview with Jeff Niesel of Cleveland Scene, Anthony commented “Mike is great. We have had some drummers who are great technical drummers and skilled, but they often treat us like we’re a stepping stone to the next gig. And then, we’ve had some cool, nice guy drummers, who aren’t that great at drumming. Mike is the best of both worlds. He’s the best drummer we’ve ever played with.”

You're Among Friends composite

Anthony wrote the music and lyrics for most of the songs, and all three members worked out the arrangements together. They began recording songs together for Start Making Sense this past January and early February at Kevin’s house prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Anthony later overdubbed his guitar parts and vocals at his home from late February through early April, then Kevin mixed the recordings from late April through early May at his home. Anthony noted: “We haven’t been in the same room since February. It’s really weird, but we kept going with the album and let it happen naturally.” Mike came up with the album title, and Kevin designed the artwork using a photograph he took during one of their sessions.

Opening track “Trying to Take It All In” speaks to the pressures of trying to keep up with the constant flood of information that can be downright overwhelming these days, and coming to the conclusion that’s it’s really not all that important in the end: “Things move fast these days. And folks who try to say if you’re not keeping up the pace, you’re in the wane. But I’m beginning to think that I could handle the shame. Getting kicked out of the race might be okay. But if I ever move too slow, you should probably know I’m trying to take it all in. It doesn’t matter who’s the fastest, when there’s this much information to process. The avalanche rolling down the mountain is gonna bury us all just the same.

Their song titles let us know exactly what the songs are about, and I really enjoy the almost conversational flow of their lyrics, which are easy to understand and relate to. On the toe-tapping “Waiting For Life to Start Making Sense” they tell us to lighten up a bit and not take everything so seriously: “Take life as it comes. Don’t get uptight. Just keep moving on. Never know about what’s coming next. Seems like the worst could turn out to be the best.” I like Anthony’s guitar noodling on the track as he lays down a catchy little riff, as well as his endearing vocals that remind me of Randy Newman.

The short and sweet “Once the Toothpaste is Out of its Tube” uses a simple but brilliant metaphor to describe how our words and actions can sometimes have more impact than we might realize: “Stuff you put out into the world, might come back around to you. So don’t forget what happens once the toothpaste comes out of its tube.” “Why Do I Dwell on Things?” asks why some of us (me included) focus on the negative rather than all the good things in our lives. “Why do I dwell on things that I can’t change? What good does it do, it just winds me up, and life has to go on anyway.” The funky guitars and bass on this track are really good.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Hills You’re Willing to Die On“, not only for Kevin’s wonderful bass-driven groove and Mike’s jazzy drums, but also its message about how so many people today choose to blindly cling to their political beliefs: “Carefully choose the hills you’re willing to die on. Those coattails you ride on get more torn and frayed by the day.” About the song, Anthony explained to Cleveland Scene: “It was during the impeachment hearings that the lyrics came to me. We’re all divided, and we can’t communicate any more because we’re all set in our ways.”

The first thing we hear on “Just Keep Being Nice” are the faint spoken words “That does not count against me. This is the one.” Whether intentional or not, it reveals, to me at least, how funny and real these guys are. They also serve up more funky guitars and jazzy rhythms as Anthony advises us to not let the blowhards and assholes get to us:  “Life is too short to give anything they say a second thought. Smile and pretend you agree that their message has value and meaning as it goes in one ear and out the other. Just keep being nice. And pretend to play the game. Act like you want to win, although none of this means anything.”

On the sweet “On Again, Off Again“, they touch on how some friendships and even love affairs can wax and wane, yet endure through time: “We go from the closest of friends  to the coldest of strangers. But whenever we find our way back here again it seems like no time has passed and nothing’s changed between us.” From a musical standpoint, “String a Few Nice Words Together” is one of my favorites, as I love Anthony’s funky guitars and Kevin & Mike’s cool, jazzy rhythms. The lyrics, however, speak to the singer’s shortcomings with regard to his actions not living up to his words: “Talk is cheap, but that’s always been good enough for me. I understand when you say that my apologies don’t mean anything because things never change. They always go right back to the way they were before.”

Kevin wrote the lyrics for the final track “My Best Friend Is Never Coming Home“. It’s a poignant song about remembering a best friend who’s gone: “So much has changed since you left us. I’ve got kids now. You would have loved them. They would have loved you too. But now you’re gone. I’m all alone. My best friend is never coming home.” It has a languid melody that suits the wistful lyrics quite well, without sounding maudlin or depressing.

With Start Making Sense, You’re Among Friends have delivered yet another thoughtful and pleasing album for us to enjoy. As their name implies, it’s like the return of an old friend with whom we’re able to pick right back up from where we left off. And that, my friends, is a mighty good thing indeed.

Connect with You’re Among Friends:  Blog / Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Napster / Google Play / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon