British electro-funk/soul collective WINACHI call their sound a blend of “swaggering Mancunian tenacity spliced with smooth Californian G Funk soul”, a perfect description for their delectable music stew of infectious sexy grooves. Based in Warrington, situated roughly halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, WINACHI consists of Liam Croker (lyrics and vocals) and Antony Egerton (keyboards, programming), Inder Goldfinger (percussion), Andy McKay (lead guitar), Richard Ritchie (bass) and Paul Lawrence (drums), all accomplished musicians with diverse musical backgrounds.
They formed in 2015, but I first learned about them in Spring of 2018, around the time they released their funky dance single “Transition”. I instantly loved it, as well as all their subsequent releases, and have featured them numerous times on this blog, most recently last November when I reviewed their PARASITICAL ELIMINATION E.P. (You can find links to some of those reviews under “Related” at the end of this post.) That EP included four great collaborative remixes of three of their previous songs by international artists and producers Howie B, Paolo Baldini, Jim Spencer, and Impey. Now WINACHI are back with a marvelous new single “CHARACTERS“, the first of a long line of singles they plan to release in 2022.
The track, which features additional keyboards by Lee ‘Latch’ Parker, was engineered and mixed by Jim Spencer and mastered by Ben Booker. About the song, front man Liam Croker explains: “CHARACTERS is about how we’re all living together in this extremely beautiful yet completely fucked up world, and how once you get past all the prejudice, hate and judgmental bullshit, we’re all just the same, living under the same sky…we’re human beings and without each other we’re nothing. When writing and producing this track we wanted to make something that sounded like a cross between Beck, George Clinton and a Looney Tunes cartoon, I think we succeeded with that. The world’s such a dark, insane place at the moment that we wanted to put out our own little slice of madness…except exchanging the darkness for a bit of a colour. CHARACTERS is exactly that, a funked-up Bugs Bunny cartoon.”
I’m not sure I can improve on Liam’s description of the song, so I’ll just elaborate on what I love about it. Firstly, there’s that seductive and funky bass-driven trip hop groove that grabs you by the hips and shoulders, compelling you to move! Then there’s the colorful mix of magical glittery and darker industrial synths, punctuated with flourishes of sci-fi and cartoonish sound effects, hand claps and wonderful jangly guitar chords, all of which come together to create a trippy, enchanting soundscape.
Liam’s distinctive vocals are smooth, but with a seductive, slightly raspy undercurrent that conveys an air of mystery as he croons “The people that we meet, will paint the pictures of our lives. Some make a fortune, some shoot to get by. Some walk on the moon, while some just shoot to get high. We’re all just faces in the crowd./ We’re characters of the world.”
WINACHI never disappoints, and with “CHARACTERS” they deliver another stellar track for our listening enjoyment. I’m certain we’ll continue to hear more great songs from them in the coming months.
Aptly-named Cleveland, Ohio-based indie band You’re Among Friends want us to feel welcome when hearing their music or watching them perform. With their laid-back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock reminiscent of the music of Steely Dan and The Grateful Dead, with touches of Randy Newman and Elvis Costello, listening to their music is like spending time with a good friend. That comforting, low-key vibe, combined with relatable lyrics touching on everyday aspects of life in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours, has a way of making us feel that everything’s gonna be alright at the end of the day.
The band was formed in 2007 by founding members and long-time friends Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars) and Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals). And like too many bands, they’ve struggled to find and keep drummers, but their current (and seventh) drummer Mike Janowitz, who came on board in late 2019, has turned out to be a perfect fit.
You’re Among Friends released their debut self-titled album in 2007, followed by an EP and double single, but the demands of life, work and starting families took so much of their time, they went on a hiatus in 2011 lasting four years. They reconnected in 2015, and the following year, released their second album As We Watch the Years Go…, with songs inspired by their life experiences, as well as the passage of time and how it affects friendships and relationships. They followed in late 2017 with an EP One Day You’ll Look Back, then dropped their third album Start Making Sense in May 2020. (I’ve reviewed their last three releases, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) Now the guys are back with their fourth album, Good Enough Sometimes, which dropped January 10th.
One of the many things I like about their songs is that the titles let us know exactly what they’re about, as well as the conversational flow of their down-to-earth lyrics that make us feel like we’re speaking with a friend. Kicking things off is “Don’t Borrow Trouble“, a mellow, upbeat song advising us to not overthink or worry over things we can’t change or that haven’t even happened yet: “Don’t borrow trouble, why worry about something before it’s here. By the time the dust settles, and the moving parts stop, don’t you know it may not be as bad as you fear.” These simple but wise words could be directed at me, as I’m frequently guilty of obsessing over a lot of shit.
Several tracks address the theme set forth in the album’s title, starting with “Here in the Middle of the Pack“. The lyrics advise us that it’s okay to be average, so long as we do our best and feel contentment with ourselves: “Don’t have to be the best. Just strive to be consistent./ It all works out eventually.” I like Anthony’s guitar noodling and endearing vocals that remind me of Randy Newman. On a similar vein, “Okay is Good Enough Sometimes” urges us not to expect everything in life to be perfect or the way we want them to be: “Got to let some things go, to preserve your mind and soul. Not everything is worth your peace, try not to lose too much sleep, because okay is good enough sometimes.” Anthony’s bluesy guitars and Kevin’s funky bassline are terrific.
The guys take a somewhat different tack on “You Know What You Want“, with lyrics about not giving up on your dreams and aspirations, “When you set your mind on something, you don’t stop til you’re done. It’s one of those things that I love about you. Someday your chance will come. Cause you know what you want.” I like the quirky and cool instrumental flourish in the bridge. And on the sweet “Accompanied“, Anthony sings his praises to a loved one who’s always there for him: “Sometimes life brings me down. That’s when I’m glad you’re around to pull me through. It’s tried and true.”
But sometimes, even friends need a bit of tough love. On the catchy “Toxic Positivity“, with its bluesy Grateful Dead vibe, Anthony calls out those who spout meaningless positive adages like “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”: “Spare me your toxic positivity. When the world’s pissing in my face, I don’t have to pretend it’s refreshing rain.” On “Learn to Leave Well Enough Alone“, he admonishes someone to get off his back and mind their own business: “You’ll be the first to know when I want to hear opinions from folks who don’t understand a thing about my business.” The song has an interesting sound, with a repetitive bluesy groove, and delightful jazzy organ and percussion at the end.
Though You’re Among Friends don’t get political very often, there are times you just need to call out corporations, politicians and the media for their duplicitous actions too. The dark “Bad Karma and a Special Place inHell” decries those who promote fear to keep the masses fired up and their profits soaring, while “This is Unsustainable” speaks to corporate greed and income inequality: “Don’t expect them to understand, how they’re living off our backs.”
With a breezy, upbeat groove that hovers in a sweet spot between Steely Dan and the Grateful Dead, album closer “Plan Cancellation Chicken” is one of my favorite tracks from a musical standpoint. Anthony’s guitar riffs are really wonderful, nicely layered over Kevin and Mike’s jazzy, thumping rhythm. The song circles back to the album’s overall theme of just calming down and going with the flow, with lighthearted lyrics that describe a romance in a cheeky, backhanded way: “It’s all a big game of plan cancellation chicken. I’m so glad you caved and canceled before I did. It’s looks like I won this round. Let’s keep each other around, so we’ll have someone to cancel plans with.”
With Good Enough Sometimes, You’re Among Friends serves up 30 minutes of pleasing songs – with a few edgier ones thrown in for variety – we’ve come to expect and enjoy from them. Like I’ve mentioned previously, it’s like the return of an old friend with whom we’re able to pick right back up from where we left off.
Jamie Alimorad is a talented, charismatic and congenial singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles. Music has been a big part of his life since his early teens, and by the time he was a college student at Northeastern University in Boston, he released his first EP Cornerstone (in 2010), then followed up two years later with his critically-acclaimed full-length album Words Left Unsaid, winning several music and songwriting awards. His very first video, for the song “Beautiful” from that album, has been viewed over 2 million times. Jamie then experienced a creative slump lasting several years, during which he became filled with crippling self-doubt, wondering if he’d ever be successful again.
He eventually decided to take a few classes with famed singer-songwriter, musician and producer Gino Vannelli, who offers small Art of Song & Voice Master Class sessions at his music studio outside Portland, Oregon. The two hit it off, and Gino eventually became his mentor. The two began working together writing and recording songs for what would become Jamie’s outstanding second album This is Tomorrow Calling, which was released in September 2019. (You can read my review of the album here.)
Now Jamie is back with a great new single “Give a Little Lovin’“, his first release in more than two years. The song was co-written by Jamie and composer, songwriter and producer Ross Vannelli (Gino’s brother), who also produced and arranged the track. The duo spent several months last year writing, arranging, recording, and mixing lots of new songs that Jamie plans on releasing in 2022. “Give a Little Lovin'” is the first of them. Drawing inspiration from the music of Prince, Morris Day & The Time and Bruno Mars, the two have fashioned an infectious and upbeat pop gem imbued with sexy swagger and funky grooves. From the wonderful opening guitar strums to the swirling synths, sultry strings, funky bass and lively drumbeats, the song is a master class in arrangement and instrumentation. Everything about the song is flawless and fresh-sounding, without ever feeling over-produced.
Jamie told me the song is “essentially about the chase; man sees woman, falls in love/lust with woman. Will she let him in?” As always, his strong, emotive vocals are exquisite, perfectly capturing his feelings of being intensely besotted with a beautiful woman:
Cross my heart and hope to die I want you and that’s no lie Never been so captivated Don’t wanna make it complicated I hope that I can make it clear tonight
From the moment that I saw you I couldn’t live my life without you I wanna make it all about you Oh oh oh oh oh
Give a little lovin’
“Give a Little Lovin'” is marvelous, and if Jamie’s upcoming songs are half this good, we’re in for a treat!
I’ve commented more times than I can remember on this blog about the staggering amount of musical talent that continues to emanate from the United Kingdom. One of the many British acts I’ve been following for more than four years is the charismatic young rock band Wild Horse. Based in Heathfield, East Sussex, the talented trio consists of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin, and their long-time friend Ed Barnes. Now in their early 20s, the guys are already seasoned musicians who’ve been writing and recording songs since forming in 2013 when they were barely teenagers. Both Henry and Jack are multi-instrumentalists who play guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as sing vocals, while Ed plays drums and percussion, sings backing vocals and plays guitar on a few tracks.
While presenting a fun, lighthearted image with their high-energy and eclectic punk-infused style of blues rock, the guys take their music very seriously. Their dedication and drive, fortified with thoughtful lyricism, ace musicianship and a mature approach towards the music business, have taken them far and brought them both critical acclaim and a loyal and growing fan base. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters who’ve penned hundreds of songs over the years, and now have five albums to their credit.
Their debut album It’s Begun, featuring songs recorded when their average age was only 14, was released in January 2016 by a New York-based record label they were signed with at the time. (Henry sang lead vocals on that album, where he sounded alarmingly like a young Mick Jagger.) Working independently since 2017, the guys subsequently released three EPs from late 2017 to early 2018, then followed that June with their second album Songs About Last Night. They’ve continued to drop a new album every year since then. In April 2019, they released their third album DANCE!! Like An Animal, which I reviewed, then followed up in July 2020 with their fourth album WE ARE IN AN IDENTITY CRISES…BUT WE LOVE IT, featuring 16 tracks. Now they’re back with their fifth album When The Pool Is Occupied, which dropped November 18th. Their most ambitious work yet, the album contains a whopping 18 tracks!
Before I get to my review, I want to include a few thoughts about the album the guys shared in an interview for Brighton and Hove webzine BN1. “The album name ‘When the Pool is Occupied’ is actually a metaphor for self-love. We realised that this was the theme of the album quite late into the making of it. When we started writing the album, we were not in the best place personally, with lockdown giving us anxieties about the future and the direction we were going in our lives. As we neared the end of making the album we were in a much better place, as the whole process actually taught us a lot about ourselves, and we decided to make it our most honest record. So the album has become a musical imprint of our journey to self-love and happiness, which we hope everyone who listens will be able to relate to!
This album is definitely more mellow and that is down to a few things. Firstly, we didn’t want to be perceived as just a rock band anymore, and wanted to push the boundaries as much as we possibly could. We wanted our first record back after covid to be one that would make people dance, hence the strong disco and 80’s influence. Also, we took a new approach to writing and creating music in not only taking the reins on production, but also because Jack (our main songwriter) taught himself piano over lockdown and began writing songs on [piano], which gave us a whole new feel. From there, synths became a much more integral part of our sound, and we became really obsessed with creating an atmosphere in our music. Our previous albums were all recorded quite quickly, whereas this one took us over a year. The main difference is that every single tiny note and lyric on this album had so much thought put into it, which is why we’re so proud of it.”
Well, let me say that Wild Horse has created a near-epic album running just over an hour in length, and featuring 18 wonderful tracks that span across genres from rousing post-punk bangers to angst-filled piano ballads to bouncy dance-pop gems. The songs explore issues related to growing up in the modern world, relationships, struggles with addiction and mental health, and the long journey towards self-acceptance and self-love.
Opening track “Happy Love Songs” is a short and bittersweet piano-driven tune that sets the tone for the album. In his quirky endearing vocals, Jack plaintively laments “Why are there never happy love songs anymore? It takes two to fall in love, but it only takes one to fall apart. And then there’s never.” The song immediately segues into “Freaky Together“, a catchy, lighthearted earworm celebrating the liberating freedom of a no-strings-attached approach to relationships and life (ah, the joys of youth). The guys layer jangly guitars and woozy synths over a delightfully funky bassline and thumping drumbeats to create a fun and sexy dance beat that aims straight for the hips. Jack croons “Baby, I know that you could never need me. But come on let’s get down and dirty. Oh yeah, Oh, give it to me.” The sweet video nicely showcases the guys’ youthful charm and charisma.
The guys keep the lively vibes going with the delectable “Pornstar Martini“, an irresistibly bouncy mashup of punk, disco and funk, then later slow things down with “Coffee In The Morning“, the first of several romantic piano ballads. Jack’s heartfelt vocals are raspy and vulnerable as he sings of his ardor and desire to a potential romantic partner: “I’m sitting in my dirty University room. Haven’t slept for days now. And I was hoping that you could come around and stay, for 17 days.” But once they’ve become a couple, cracks appear in their relationship, which are explored on the lovely but bittersweet “Feel“: “I wanna talk to you about last night. You know I hate it how we always fight. But if you saw the world through my eyes, then you would understand about the way I feel.” And on “Symphony of Broken Hearts“, Jack sings of the pain he’s feeling over a broken relationship: “You said forever, and then you couldn’t stay. You said forever, until you walked away. And now I’m lying on my own, feeling sorry for myself.“
One of my favorites on the album is “Anxiety“, a joyful, upbeat song about the emotional roller-coaster ride we willingly take when attraction for another hits us like a ton of bricks, rendering us helpless in the throes of passionate longing. I love the exuberant synths, funky dance grooves and the guys’ beautiful vocal harmonies. Jack’s plaintive vocals sing of emotions we’ve all felt at some point in our lives, fearful we’ll make a fool of ourselves: “Petrified by the things you say (petrified). I only met you yesterday (yesterday). But really I’m fine. I’m just going with the groove. Only been preparing for like 24 hours through.”
Another favorite is the ebullient and sexy “Pray 89“, in which the guys sing the praises of a seemingly more innocent time (although those of us who were already adults in 1989 know it really wasn’t) and the freedom of living a life where self-love without emotional attachments is prioritized, but with an appreciation of the beauty in other people. The lyrics include the album’s title: “You bring the fire and sexy eyes. I bring the smoke to stay alight. When we go party we’ll do it right, like we belong in ‘89.Dance on the table to New Order’s new song. And we’ll be feeling alright when the pool is occupied.”
The guys’ willingness to venture out of their musical comfort zone is exemplified by the bluesy hip hop track “Confidence“, on which Henry’s backing vocals are more prominent. On the poignant “Just About Enough”, they turn tinkling piano keys into a true percussive instrument as they combine them with assertive strummed guitar notes and pounding drumbeats to become a powerful driving force, before finishing things off with gorgeous bluesy guitars, accompanied by Jack’s fervent vocals. And on “OneNight Robbery“, Jack does a decent job rapping some of the verses letting a former girlfriend know he doesn’t appreciate how she used him and only wanted his money after all the nice things he did for her.
Hands down the most charming track on the album is “Record Collection“, a delightful pop-rock song with a retro 60s power pop vibe. The sweet lyrics speak of connecting with someone you meet on a night out and taking them home, not because you want to have sex with them, but because you like their taste in music and want to share your record collection with them: “I don’t wanna be your lover. I just wanna show you my record collection. I don’t wanna get under the covers. I just wanna know if you like Mott the Hoople. I don’t wanna touch your hand. Just tell me your favourite band. Oh, the only thing I’m turning on is the record player.” I love the jangly guitars on this song.
“Kelsie” is a shining example of how a kiss-off song can still sound sweet. “Kelsie, you’re much happier on Twitter. But you want me back on tinder. And I just laugh and smile ‘cause I’m finally over you. Have you noticed I don’t care what you do? When you tell me you’re getting drinks bought for you. Shit, me too.” The track has a mellow, head-bopping melody with subtle hip hop elements, making for a really pleasing tune. The guys close the album on a positive note with “Thank You (It’s Gonna Be Alright)“, a minute-long piece with a church-like organ riff accompanied by Jack’s echoed vocal repeating the words “It’s gonna be alright“, followed by “The pool is occupied.” As the music abruptly ends, he says “And that was the album, thank you very much. Woo!”
Woo indeed! What a fun, delightful and brilliant album this is! With WhenThe Pool is Occupied, Wild Horse pushed themselves into expanding their songwriting and sound in the hopes of making their most honest record yet, and I think they’ve succeeded quite nicely. It showcases their continued growth and maturity as songwriters and musicians, while their sense of humor and playfulness remains fully intact.
One of the most uniquely wonderful bands on the planet is Thunder Fox, a wickedly funny, intensely creative, and outrageously talented five-piece based in Sydney, Australia. Drawing on elements of funk, soul, jazz, blues rock, hip hop, reggae and pop, they skillfully channel the sexy funk of Prince, the soulful croons of 70s-era R&B artists like Al Green, Ronald Isley and Teddy Pendergrass, and the brassy exuberance of Earth, Wind & Fire into their delectable music stew. And while their sometimes bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they could all still pass for teenagers – their music has a stylish, jazzy sophistication, thanks to their exceptional songwriting and musicianship, as well as having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup. Finally, though they’re all straight men, they’re not afraid to be playful and affectionate with one another, as well as tear down gender barriers by sometimes showing a more feminine side. As a gay man, it makes me admire, love and respect them all the more.
Thunder Fox has been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their wonderful debut full-length album Love at First Sniff. It was most definitely love at first sniff for me, and I loved the album so much I wrote a review about it. Over the past two years, they’ve experienced a few lineup changes, and now consist of the dangerously charismatic Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass). They followed with several more singles, a few of which I also reviewed (that you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post). Now they’re back with a second album Sanctuary, which dropped November 18th, and it’s every bit as delightful as Love at First Sniff.
Sam has written a marvelous background piece about their inspiration and creative process behind the album, and rather than try to paraphrase, I thought I’d simply share his eloquent words verbatim:
“‘Sanctuary’ is our second full length album, which marks the dawning of a new era for Thunder Fox in many ways. After having a couple of members leave the band and experiencing a few other obvious set backs during 2020/21, we needed a second wind. As an artist it’s really easy to lose motivation and focus when faced with challenges that draw you away from your art such as band member turnaround and, say, a global pandemic. As such, I think we all really felt the need to pick up where we’d left off somehow and find some momentum by creating again. With the addition of Casey the Bass Ace to the crew, it was a great chance to dig into some new and improved sounds and try to reshape our art in a way we had yet to explore.
We had the idea to stay in a far-off Air BnB during one of lockdown’s rare lulls, and managed to snag a spot at a beachside bungalow in Nambucca Heads in order to get away from the bullshit and just create. It was a week of literal bliss, at least for me, where we could all engage in art fully and be immersed in the creation of a project again. In all honesty, we didn’t have much of a plan for the album’s concept or soundscapes; we’ve always got so many ideas spinning from all the unique inspirations of the different members that half the battle is just taming the flaming bird’s nest of ideas into a nice, silky coif. What we did have, though, was a bunch of time on our hands, a cathedral-esque living room with high, echoing ceilings and a glistening sun to spill across the verandah as we sat and flicked through old recordings of rehearsal jams.
Now and then, we’d land on a groove that tasted sweet enough to revive and try to mould into a full blown banger. Once the songs started shaping up and I began to feverishly type lyrics into mynotes app, the mood of the record began to take shape. Turns out I was feeling all kinds of put out by the doomsday that was the year past and my lyrics would tumble out of my brain like multi-coloured, cynical snowballs, building in size and scope as they rolled. If I were to describe the sentiment of the record in one word it would be “cynical”. More broadly, though, I think I’ve always weaponised cynicism as a way of attempting to understand the world around me. I felt cynical about the political climate, about love, about my day job and how I felt I’d never leave. It felt good to write it out.”
The album opens with sounds of a plane flying overhead, then the guys break into a gospel choir on the joyously upbeat “Head in the Clouds” as they sing “Something pulling me up out of my seat. Rather be anywhere than where I’ve just been. Smile but stay silent. Don’t want no one to see. Head in the clouds. It’s a glorious thing.” And a glorious thing it is, chock full of funky grooves, sunny instrumentation and uplifting harmonies, highlighted by Sam’s gorgeous silky vocals which often rise to an angelic falsetto.
He’s provided wonderful background notes for each song that are more colorful and interesting than anything I could possibly write, so I’m just gonna share them all. It’ll likely make this review too damn long, but fuck it, it’s my blog and I’m going to include them! Here’s what he has to say about this track: “If Thunder Fox are known for anything, it’s being able to avoid taking things too seriously. ‘Head in the Clouds’ came to me in a blue dream on one of those hot nights where your brain feels sticky. We wanted to open the album with some fun and familiarity before shit got real.”
The album includes four brief interludes that serve as intros or connectors, the first of which, “A Party“, leads us into the funky gem “Good Time“. Sam sets the stage: “Early twenties, share house, undesirable shindigs with desirable chemicals. This night I wasn’t so much pissed off as I was hammered and concussed after having hit my head on the pavement following a few libations too many at the bar. I returned home to my lovable city dirt shed to find hundreds of people swarming. As I stumbled through the crowd, blood still tacky on my forehead, I thought to myself, ‘this is a great idea for a song.’ Luckily when we got to nutting it out at our makeshift writing space up the coast, Max had the perfect drum groove he’d been wanting to try for ages. It came together in a flash.”
Each of the guys shine on this track. Sam starts things off with a funky little guitar riff as Sam and Casey lay down a soulful rhythm on drums and bass. Amid flourishes of Jesse’s jazzy trumpet notes and Traver’s cool sax, Sam cheekily complains “Why is no one acting like I’m the man of the house? No one at this party seems to know my name, and that ain’t right. Yeah, I’m pissed off coz I got here, and nobody offered me a good time.” Good times indeed!
The guys dial up the energy on “Not For Sale“, a bouncy, funk-infused take on the old adage that money can’t buy you love: “I know you got more money than me, but money is just temporary. Cash ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, when money can’t buy my heart, heart, heart.” The song has an irresistible Earth, Wind & Fire vibe, highlighted by the band’s signature horn section and Casey’s funky bass groove. Sam explains: “Casey, being a relatively new addition to the band at the time, brought with him a synth bass and a set of fingers carved by the gods. Man, he had such a groove on that pile of plastic, the rest of us were floored. We wanted to write something dark, but funky (duh) and bad boy Casey had just the stuff. I know I’m not the only one who had it etched into my brain early on by social media among other sources that success and happiness is defined by finance, followers and fame. Damn we were wrong. Sometimes we lose ourselves so immensely to the pursuit of materialistic ends, we forget how ridiculous it all is. I know I did.”
The second interlude “A Circus“, featuring carnival music, unnatural-sounding neighing horses, and Travers’ quirky vocals, leads us into “Fruitcake“, a delightfully silly song with nonsensical lyrics like: “Moose ate my tooth paste. Said his tooth aches. Ate a few too many half baked fruit cakes, more than he could take. Now he’s a on a diet, trying to shift the weight lifting rakes by the lake.” Sam elaborates: “I don’t even know if Travers knows what this song is about – more millennial existentialism, I’d say – but it’s gotta be one of the most fun, hilarious and groovy tracks on the record. Full Travers, as we say. We came up with the groove and guitar vamp at a soundcheck in Townsville. We were just fucking around at the time but it resurfaced months later at the Sanctuary shack. We jam packed it full to the brim with Thunder Fox-isms and fuckery ‘til it made us laugh our asses off and we knew it was a banger. Fruitcake was one of the many opportunities we all got to try and flex our production chops and collaborate using DAWs and samples, you know, like modern shit.“
The guys tap into their R&B side on “Love You 2“, a sultry, heartfelt song about apologizing to a loved one for having fallen short, and reaffirming that you still love and cherish them. Sam explains: “Drawing from the same existential angst of the previous tracks, there came a time in the months following the writing of ‘Sanctuary’ that I noticed I’d let my material pursuits get in the way of the most important thing imaginable – delicious, unadulterated, full throttle, hyper-vulnerable romance, baby. ‘Love You 2’ is an apology, in a way. Apologising for allowing myself to become so distracted by desire, work and anxiety that I almost forgot to tell someone how much I fucking love their sweet ass. Heed my advice, friends, tell whoever it is you love them. Every. Chance. You. Get.” Accompanied by a languid, soulful and jazzy groove, Sam softly croons “Trying to sort out my life. I know we’ve been here like one million times. I love you too by the way. I’m sorry it took so long to say.“
The 55 second-long instrumental track “A Dream” has more of an alt-rock feel than most of their songs, and serves as a fascinating lead-in to the reggae/ska/goth rock beauty “Blue Light Blindness“. Deliciously dark and melodically complex, the song calls out our mobile phone addiction. Sam elaborates: “‘Blue Light Blindness’ has a serious ring to it if you ask me. You know, us millennials and our god damn phones, right?! Seriously though, I couldn’t name a more potent drug than a smartphone packed with social media apps. We know it’s bad, it distracts us from the importance of self-worth among other things but, we can’t stop. I was listening to Kanye’s ‘Black Skinhead’ and Marilyn (fuck you) Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People’ and I wanted that hardcore triplet groove so bad, I wanted the darkness. Luckily everyone was on the same page with that one. This one started as another off-the-cuff jam we happened to have recorded on one of our iphones (good for something after all) and it was pieced together intensely on the first day of writing. When we added in the horns we realised we had some James Bond shit on our hands.”
There’s so much going on musically, from a bouncy reggae beat one minute, to a psychedelic gospel-like interlude the next, only to be broken by an explosion of goth rock distortion and mayhem before circling back to the reggae/ska groove. God damn, I love this song!
I love “The Weekend” too, on which Thunder Fox give us their delightful take on the drudgery of soul-sucking dead-end jobs that leave us in a continual state of living for the weekends. Sam opines on the subject: “More angst, more day job, more bullshit. Until it stops being the norm, I won’t stop writing about it. I mean, can any of us really imagine a bearable life that entails 5 days of working our asses off to afford 2 days of drinking away the stress? Not me. But, it be like that sometimes. We thought it was pretty funny to put the little kids voices (not real kids, just us, we’re not made of money) in there because it became apparent that this way of being was built into our psyches from the youngest possible age. Work, party, work, party, die. No thanks! The irony is, we made this song a party anyway, the screaming, the South American street festival dirty sax interlude is one of the best moments on the album hands down.”
The song is another melodically complex track, starting off with swirling guitar notes and quirky otherworldly childlike sounds, followed by a few seconds of children’s – that is, the band’s – sing-song voices. The song quickly transitions to a lovely melody with Sam’s beautiful smooth vocals, which are abruptly broken when he wails “I don’t wanna wait for the weekend! No!” The song returns to it’s melodic groove, as Sam laments “I feel like crying when I clock in. Feel my soul dying for a few cents. A hundred hours to cover rent. All this shit just makes me sick. The clock it ticks from nine til six. I don’t wanna wait for the weekend! No!” Man, can I relate! At around 2:20, we’re treated to a jazzy trumpet and sax-fueled burst of energy as the melody briefly turns into an exhilarating Latin-esque dance beat. These guys just keep blowing me away with their inventiveness and musicality.
“A Lapse” is a minute and a half long instrumental featuring super-gnarly, funky grooves that would make Grandmaster Flash proud. This lead us to “All the Stars“, a sexy and soulful song that sort of continues with the theme introduced on “The Weekend”, namely, what is the point of all this disorder and uncertainty in life? Sam elaborates: “Ah, sweet entropy, the cause of, and solution to all of life’s entropy. I wrote this as a poem in another one of my moments of existential disaster, still reeling from a day of working a call-centre job of all things. Believe me when I tell you there’s no stronger vacuum to suck the soul right out of the holes in your face than a fucking call-centre job. Anyway, ‘All the Stars’ is the epiphany that this happens to all of us at some point in our lives, maybe even forever. We’re all stars really, but we sure as hell don’t act like it. We run in circles trying to make sense of this chaos. All of us. One of my favourite elements of this one is the longing, weeping horns after the chorus. When Jesse and Travers get together to dream up a perfect horn line, they never miss.”
The first part of the song is gorgeous, with shimmery guitars, glittery synths, and those weeping horns layered over Casey’s sensuous bassline and Max’s restrained percussion, creating a dreamy, enchanting soundscape for Sam’s resonant falsetto. Two-thirds of the way in, the song abruptly shifts into high gear to become a rousing punk-rock banger, with blaring horns and frantic rhythms. It’s simply perfect!
The album closes with “The Stew“, a wild and funky ride with more grooves than a box full of vinyl records. I love the soulful James Brown-like vibe, driven by a funky bassline and stuttering drumbeats, and highlighted by fluttering horns and Sam’s rapid-fire vocals. Sam sez “This track is a band favourite from way back. We wrote it in 2017 and played it at a few shows but it never really saw the light of day and faded away eventually. When it came to putting together a track listing for ‘Sanctuary’, we listened to an old live recording of “The Stew” and all agreed we’d be crazy not to show this off. To me, ‘The Stew’ is Thunder Fox’s anthem. It perfectly sums up our chaotic mixture of anything and everything that brings us joy. It’s more than the sum of its parts, to say the least. When I wrote the lyrics, I was riding high on a wave of rockstar ego that feels so real when it hits but, when you wake up to jackhammers in your brain, you remember you’re so full of shit and you’re going to work hung over. I really wanted to just take the piss out of myself in a song, try bring myself back down to the ground. Here, I get in touch with my sarcastic, self-depreciating British roots. When all is said and done, I’m fully aware that I’m not God’s gift… Thunder Fox is.”
I wholeheartedly second that, as I adore this band, and adore this brilliant album. With Sanctuary, Thunder Fox has one of the best albums of the year on their hands, and it should also be in yours.
British electro-funk collective WINACHI (formerly The Winachi Tribe) make some of the most deliciously catchy and dangerously sexy music of any band around today. Formed in 2015, and based in Warrington, which is situated roughly halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, the group has undergone a few line-up changes over the years, and now consists of founding members Liam Croker (lyrics and vocals) and Antony Egerton (keyboards, programming), Inder Goldfinger (percussion), Andy McKay (lead guitar), Richard Ritchie (bass) and Paul Lawrence (drums). Inspired by such legendary acts as Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, Primal Scream, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Massive Attack, The Stone Roses, Talking Heads, D’angelo, Prince and Daft Punk, their infectious blend of funk-infused electro dance/pop serves up more grooves than a jukebox full of vintage 45s.
They’ve collaborated over the years with musicians and producers in both the UK and Southern California, and released several critically acclaimed singles and remixes, a number of which I’ve reviewed (you can read some of them by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). And while their songs touch on oft-covered topics like heartbreak, pain, mental health and even politics, their overriding message is always one of joy, positivity and love. WINACHI have built a growing fan base through their exciting live shows and touring with The Charlatans, Happy Mondays, The Sugarhill Gang & The Furious Five. They’ve also garnered airplay and press both at home and abroad on radio stations like BBC 6 Music and L.A. public ratio station KCRW, and publications such as The L.A Times, L.A Record, Manchester Evening News and Billboard China.
In anticipation of the upcoming release of their long awaited debut album, WINACHI have dropped “PARASITICAL ELIMINATION E.P.“, featuring four collaborative remixes of three of their previous songs by international artists and producers Howie B, Paolo Baldini, Jim Spencer, and Impey. Actually, some of the tracks should more accurately be considered as re-imaginings, rather than remixes, as they take on an entirely new vibe under the guidance of these producers.
First up is “PARASITES PARADISE ft. I Kong (Paolo Baldini Dubfiles Remix)“, the first of two re-imaginings of their 2019 single “Parasites Paradise featuring I Kong”. The original song, featuring guest vocals by legendary Jamaican reggae singer I Kong, is a bouncy electro-soul number about being true to yourself and living a life free from users and ‘parasites’ who want to suck the life out of you or try to dictate how you should live. For this remix, Italian dub producer Paolo Baldini gives the song a makeover by slowing things down a bit and adding a strong dubstep beat that actually enhances the reggae vibe. He then layers swirling industrial synths and funky guitar notes for a nice finish.
The second remix of the song, “PARASITES PARADISE REVISITED ft. I Kong (Impey Remix)” is a re-imagining by young London dub electronica/neo-soul producer Impey. Impey really slows down the original song’s tempo to a languid, almost sensual groove, which also lengthens the track by more than two minutes. He essentially deconstructs the original song and refashions it into something completely different and new, and unlike anything WINACHI has ever done before. I Kong’s vocals are still recognizable as his, but WINACHI lead singer Liam Croker’s electronically-altered vocals sound totally different. The song is darkly beautiful, trippy and mesmerizing.
“A ROOM WITH A ZOO (Howie B Remix – Optimum Master)” was actually recorded and released in 2017, and is a remix of WINACHI’s very popular 2016 single “A Room With a Zoo”. I could be wrong, but my take on the song’s meaning is that it addresses the challenges of surviving as an artist in the crazy music business, and making music that’s honest and true. Liam croons “Give my soul back, give my soul back to me. I’ve been giving it up for too long, too long. Selling my heart and my soul.” Howie B is a renowned Scottish musician, producer and DJ who’s worked with a long list of artists, including Björk, U2, Tricky and Siouxsie and the Banshees, among others. On this optimum master of his remix, Howie B refashions the song into a pulsating trip hop extravaganza, with a strong, driving beat overlain with wobbly psychedelic synths and lots of sharp percussive textures and sounds, lending a dramatic new feel to the song.
The final track “SENSE OF DANGER (Spencers Revenge – Jim Spencer Edit)” is a re-imagining of WINACHI’s 2016 single “Sense of Danger”. As the title implies, the song is a dark, almost menacing track about obsessive love, and the original version has a trippy vibe, with a sort of dubstep beat, and highlighted by sinewy electronic synths, spooky organ and Liam’s rather menacing breathy vocals, backed with eerie choruses. The remix by Jim Spencer, a British producer and sound engineer who’s worked with such acts as New Order, Johnny Marr and The Charlatans, gives the song a more cinematic feel by greatly enhancing the dubstep beat, instrumentals and vocals. The dark synths and spooky organ now sound sharper and more well-defined, and the twangy guitar notes and piano are more pronounced as well, injecting added texture and drama into the track.
“PARASITICAL ELIMINATION E.P.” is a marvelous little bundle of energy that makes for a very fun listen. It’s always fascinating to hear how producers reimagine others’ songs, and I love what these have done with some of WINACHI’s best songs. The EP will only be available through Bandcamp.
One of my favorite songs of the 1970s is the enchanting and soulful “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind & Fire. The song was the title track from their magnificent sixth studio album That’s the Way of the World, released in March 1975. I loved the entire album, and had it on repeat that summer when I also experienced my first significant love affair.
Named for band founder and front man Maurice White’s astrological sign of Sagittarius (which has a primary elemental quality of fire and seasonal qualities of earth and air), Earth, Wind & Fire was formed in Chicago in 1969. White had formerly been a session drummer for Chess Records, as well as a member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio. He eventually moved the band to Los Angeles, where it grew to include as many as nine members.
Their extensive lineup underwent numerous changes over the years, but some of the notable members have included Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Larry Dunn, Al McKay, Roland Bautista, Robert Brookins, Sonny Emory, Fred Ravel, Ronnie Laws, Sheldon Reynolds and Andrew Woolfolk. They’re known for their exotic kalimba sound (characterized by the Mbira, a family of traditional musical instruments of the Shona people of Zimbabwe), exuberant horn section, elaborate stage shows, and the dynamic contrast between Philip Bailey’s falsetto and Maurice White’s baritone vocals.
Their first five albums each met with successively greater success, and two of the singles, “Mighty Mighty” and “Devotion”, from their fifth album Open Our Eyes cracked the Billboard Top 40. But it was “Shining Star”, the lead single from That’s the Way of the World, that would be their breakout hit, going all the way to #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts. The song also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, but I digress…
“That’s the Way of the World” was the second track from the album to be released as a single, in June 1975. It reached #5 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart, but only #12 on the Hot 100, which I always thought was a travesty, as the song is so phenomenal. I used to compile my own Weekly Top 10 back then, and it was a #1 hit as far as I was concerned. To this day, it remains my favorite of Earth, Wind & Fire’s many great songs.
It’s a beautiful and uplifting song of love, hope and optimism, but with a darker undercurrent touching on how racism and intolerance can corrupt an innocent child. The serene R&B melody is sublime, and I love the jazzy horns, lovely keyboards and funky guitars. And, as always, the dual vocal harmonies of Maurice White and Philip Bailey are fabulous.
Hearts of fire creates love desire
Take you high and higher to the world you belong
Hearts of fire creates love desire
High and higher to your place on the throne
We've come together on this special day
To sing our message loud and clear
Looking back we've touched on sorrowful days
Future, past, they disappear
You will find (you will find) peace of mind (yeah yeah)
If you look way down in your heart and soul
I don't hesitate 'cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart 'cause you're never old at heart
That's the way of the world
Plant your flower and you grow a pearl
Child is born with a heart of gold
The way of the world makes his heart so cold
On their 2004 version of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Rolling Stone ranked “That’s the Way of the World” at #329, however, the song was dropped altogether on their revised list that just came out on the 15th of this month (a list with which I have many issues). Surprisingly, the inferior (to me) and grossly overplayed “September” ranks at #65 on the more recent list. But it’s their most popular and most-streamed song by far, so what do I know?
One thing I learned in researching for this write-up is that the album That’s the Way of the World was initially written as a soundtrack for a film of the same name that was produced and directed by Sig Shore, who also produced the 1972 film Super Fly. The film starred Harvey Keitel, Ed Nelson, and Earth, Wind & Fire as “The Group”. Keitel played a record producer who hears The Group performing and is impressed by their act. The band was convinced the film would be a flop (which it was), and decided to release the soundtrack prior to the film’s premier. It turned out to be a smart move, as while the film bombed, the album became a huge hit.
Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative band of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who artfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. While their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they all still look like teenagers – their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication, thanks to their great songwriting and musicianship, including having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup.
They’ve been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their devilishly entertaining debut album Love at First Sniff. I became an instant fan and loved the album so much I wrote a review. Since the release of that album, the band experienced a few lineup changes, and now consists of the very talented Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass).
Thunder Fox has been working on a new album, and have dropped three singles thus far – “Communicate” and “Smokin’ on Loosies” (which I also reviewed) in 2020 – and their latest “Sunday” on March 4th. It’s a sweet song of love and devotion to someone who makes you happy to be alive. Lead vocalist and songwriter Sam Dawes explained: “I was inspired to write the song on one of those sunny Sunday mornings when you wake up next to someone you love and the birds seem to sing even sweeter than ever before. It’s about having the whole day to spend with the one you love, doing whatever you want.” The song features many of the band’s signature music touches we’ve come to love – a deliciously sultry vibe, funky laid-back grooves, and bold flourishes of jazzy brass, all coming together to create a warm, sexy backdrop for Sam’s silky and seductive vocals that hover between a come-hither croon and saucy falsetto. I love the song and I love this band!
The sweet video, which was produced by band member Jesse Tachibana, who also directed it along with Lewis Clark, stars Sam as a man walking the streets and alleys of Sydney, gradually removing articles of clothing as he sings. A young woman, played by Natalia Hutchen, starts to follow him, eventually picking up and putting on his discarded white shirt, at which point she walks alongside him as he offers her one of his earbuds.
British electropop/funk band The Winachi Tribe make some of the most deliciously catchy and cool music of any artists around today, and I love them! Formed in 2015 and based in and around Manchester and Leeds, the group is comprised of Liam Croker (vocals), Antony Egerton (keyboards, programming), Inder Goldfinger (percussion), Jamie McGregor (lead guitar), Ritchie Rich (bass) and Mr. Whommit (drums). Drawing from an array of legendary influences such as Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, Primal Scream, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Massive Attack, The Stone Roses, Talking Heads, D’angelo, Prince and Daft Punk, they create their own infectious style of funk-infused electro/dance pop.
I first featured them in 2018 when I reviewed their fantastic dance song “Transition”, and then again this past March when I reviewed their single “Funky But Chic“, a delightful song released as a marketing collaboration with iconic Italian fashion brand Pantofola d’Oro. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) Now, to celebrate the 5th year anniversary of their debut single “Time For Love”, they’ve released a new remix by Grammy nominated producer David Tolan, who’s produced records for Tears For Fears and Primal Scream, among others. The single is being released today, December 4th, via British independent label A1MRecords.
The original song has a wonderful, hip-swaying Kool & the Gang-Chic vibe, but on the new remix, David Tolan dials up the energy with a heavier dance groove, lots of swirling spacey synths, and more pronounced Nile Rodgers-style guitar riffs that take the song to the next level. Liam’s raspy vocals are low key, yet overflowing with a sexy swagger that’s just too damn irresistible. I also like that the backing female vocals and jazzy trumpet flourishes are still prominent on the remix. It’s a superb track all the way around, and guaranteed to get even the most stubborn wallflower onto the dance floor.
The great cover artwork for the single was created by Pete Phythian.
Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative group of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who skillfully blend generous helpings of funk, blues rock, soul, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. In their own words, they serve “gooey hot horntastic shreddage, the best sauce for your ears ‘n eyes, causing sonic copulation worldwide“, which pretty much describes their devilishly entertaining sound. While their sometimes bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness, their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication that reveals what skilled songwriters and musicians these guys really are.
They’ve been making music since around 2015, but I first learned about Thunder Fox when they reached out to me exactly one year ago today with their hilarious single “Been Busy”. They released their album Love at First Sniff a week later on Halloween and I loved it so much I wrote a review. The title was certainly apropos, as it was ‘love at first sniff’ for me! Since the release of that album, the band has undergone some changes in lineup, and now consists of Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and newest member Casey Allan (Bass).
They followed up this past August with their single “Communicate”, and now return with yet another brilliant single “Smokin’ on Loosies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The track was self-produced by Thunder Fox, mixed by long time mixing partner Daniel Willington, (Battlesnake, Good Lekker, Florian) and mastered by Steve Smart (Ocean Alley, Midnight Oil, Alex the Astronaut) at Studios 301 in Sydney. With their signature soulful and bluesy funk-infused grooves, the band delivers a powerful condemnation of greed and misinformation.
Lead vocalist Sam Dawes elaborates on the song’s meaning and intent: “‘Smokin’ on Loosies’ represents a shared disgust at western society’s unaddressed flaws that are leading to widening class division, planetary destruction and a failure to address the ongoing systemic persecution of marginalised groups within our communities. Mostly, the song is about being able to see clear as day what is causing these issues – be it the greedy elite, susceptible conspiracists or casual, misinformed hatred – and feeling powerless against it because it just keeps happening, all the time. It’s not exactly a happy song – it’s not supposed to be – but it’s full of honest grit and angry words that help me deal with some of the more fucked up problems that our world faces on a day-to-day basis.”
Over Casey’s deliciously funky bass line, the band layers a colorful mix of grimy guitars, tinkling piano keys, and crisp percussion, highlighted by Jesse’s soulful trumpet blasts that really make this a great song. I love Sam’s silky vocals that go from sultry croon one moment to cheeky falsetto the next as he sings “Money, power, keeping us blind / Everybody steppin’ in line / I think about it all the time / The cash cow that you worship got a shriveled-up teat / Pass the wealth through generations, but forgot to pass the heart.” The song seems to end at around 2:50, then starts back up with a terrific 30-second-long bluesy guitar solo that fades out with distorted reverb. I love it!