DENSE – Single Review: “Displaced Face”

DENSE Displaced Face

DENSE is an awesomely talented psychedelic garage rock band hailing from Leeds, England, who combine thick, fuzzy grooves with fiery riffs and intricate melodies to create a unique and heavy sound that’s at once retro and futuristic. Despite their youthful, boy-next-door image, their music is incredibly intense and badass, with an impressive maturity, complexity and density – as their name would imply. The best description I can think of for their sound would be ‘industrial surf-metal psychedelic rock’. Making this phenomenal music are Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals),  Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums).

DENSE2

I’ve previously featured them several times on this blog over the past two years, most recently last May (2018) when I reviewed their explosive single “The Smoke”. (You can check out those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the bottom of this page.) Now they return with another mind-blowing new single “Displaced Face“. The song is aptly-named, cause it’s positively face-melting!

The track opens strong, with an ominous, gnarly mix of deep, throbbing bass, distorted psychedelic guitar sounds and spacey background synths lasting approximately 40 seconds. Suddenly, everything erupts into a maelstrom of tortured, reverb-heavy riffs, heavy, thunderous bass and explosive percussion – all seemingly hell-bent on blowing out our eardrums and throwing us against the wall. Charlie screams lyrics I can’t quite make out, but who cares, as the music is fucking on fire! These guys are literal beasts on their respective instruments, and Charlie is a freaking madman when he opens his mouth!

I’ve loved every single one of their songs, and “Displaced Face” is no exception, delivering four minutes of intense, psychedelic ear candy. The marvelously creepy artwork for the single was designed by band friend Elle Penketh.

Connect with DENSE:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Displaced Face” on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunesBandcamp

DRAFT EVADER – EP Review: “Cashed”

Draft Evader Cashed

Draft Evader is an earnest and talented young musician from Chicago who I’ve been following for a while, and it’s been gratifying to watch him grow and mature as an artist. An interesting name for the music project of singer/songwriter and guitarist Ryan Loree, Draft Evader aptly describes his independent and rebellious nature. I first featured him on this blog in December 2017 when I reviewed his single “The Devil’s Disguise”, and at the time he explained “the name ‘Draft Evader’ is kind of a middle finger to the whole system, like ‘you can’t tell me what to do.’ So in a sense it means freedom. Freedom to be who you are and do what you love, no matter what anyone says.

Draft Evader plays a dynamic and accessible style of what he calls “pessimistic punk rock”, with rock’n’roll and grunge overtones. He writes all his songs, plays guitar and sings all vocals, and his good friend Joe Scaletta plays bass and drums, as well as mixes and masters the tracks. His deeply personal lyrics are brutally honest and always relatable; he openly addresses his struggles with depression and self-doubt, something a fair number of musicians and others involved in the arts also experience (as does yours truly).

He released a great little EP Hound Dog in the fall of 2018, featuring four stellar tracks – one of which, “In My Mind” was particularly outstanding. I loved the song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 last December. On February 12, he dropped a new two-song EP Cashed – a double-sided single of sorts. Interestingly, both tracks are 2:36 minutes long. Cashed was inspired by Ryan’s involvement in a car accident: “Ever get into a car accident during an existential crisis only to lose your job right after? Me too, and I wrote a couple songs about it.”

On the hard-rocking title track “Cashed“, he candidly speaks of depression and self-destructive behavior that often leads to additional problems, contributing to a cycle of ever deeper depression. Yet he also yearns for comfort and reassurance from a older and wiser voice. Ryan’s an impressive guitarist, and he delivers an onslaught of gnarly riffs from the get-go, driving home the seriousness of the subject matter. His scorching little guitar solo in the bridge was written by fellow musician Martijn Frazer, and I love his soaring vocals in the chorus. In fact, Ryan’s vocals have really improved with time and experience, and here he beautifully conveys the frustration and anger expressed in the biting lyrics:

Cashed my check to fill my tank up
Slow down over one more speed bump
Blowing stop signs with no license
Crash my car then stepped in dog shit
Covered in shitty ink
What would my grandma think
Kill for an old-school opinion
Pickin’ up missing teeth until my knuckles bleed
Falling deeper into a depression

On “Sunnyside“, he addresses the self-doubt about his music that sometimes plagues him. He released an EP Heel Turn in April 2018 (a very respectable effort that I also reviewed) but being a perfectionist, Ryan wasn’t satisfied with the songs or EP artwork. He incorporates the EP and song titles in the opening verse of “Sunnyside”, describing his struggle with self-confidence and feelings of not belonging:

Heel turn, I’m on a warpath
If I stutter more, I’ll complain less
All I have are some petty songs
Trying to write out all my wrongs

And I think I died in the old world
Because here I just don’t belong
And I left my soul in the old world
Behind yellow bars and heineken

Once again, he lays down chugging riffs of gritty guitar, while Joe handles the rhythm section with skilled precision. Both tracks are excellent, with catchy melodies that immediately hook us in, and driving riffs to keep us in thrall while we enjoy the ride. It’s a testament to Draft Evader’s continuing growth and ability to put out terrific rock music. I admire this young man and am happy to help promote him and his music however I can.

Connect with Draft Evader on Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on Spotify and Bandcamp

DARKSOFT – Album Review: “Brain”

Darksoft Brain

Darksoft is the music project of Bill Darksoft, a smart and creative young artist from Seattle, Washington who’s produced one of the most interesting and brilliant concept albums I’ve heard in some time. Brain, which dropped in November 2018, is named after the very first computer virus to attack the internet back in 1986, with each track named after infamous viruses that followed.

He operates his own label and website Look Up Records (for which he also writes some pretty awesome reviews), and in addition to his music project, has played with many Seattle acts over the years. About his inspiration behind the creation of Brain, he explains: “Distanced through haunted screens, we rely on spooky contact that we don’t fully understand. At times, dark forces lurk on the other end, with a motive to con. Always a silhouetted hooded presence, the hacker has become our modern portrayal of Death; captor to the mind and its web of memories. As we stare deeper and deeper into the glowing comfort of this synthetic deception, trust has become the challenge of our modern paradigm, and the cyberscape the new Great Unknown. At its core, Brain is a story not only of the brain, but of the heart, as both confront trust and deception, the real and the synthetic, the mind and the motherboard, and the dark web connecting it all where the matter of our endless identities can be created as quickly as it can be erased, infected, encrypted…or simply revealed for what it truly is, beneath the hood.”

Brain opens with “Mydoom” a pleasant track with gauzy riffs of jangly guitars, subtle bass and gentle percussion. The lyrics speak to the seemingly harmless but insidious virus that keeps a watchful eye on one’s internet dealings: “I’ll just pop up in your window to see how it’s going. From time to time I will drain your battery life… Track you close, I’ll watch your move. Mydoom A has put a bug on you to stayIt’s ok to be vulnerable if you’ve got nothing to lose.” Darksoft has a velvety smooth vocal style that’s incredibly pleasing, giving the track a rather dreamy vibe. On “Elk Cloner“, he first warns about a virus that works to take over our thoughts: “They will enter your world. They can infiltrate microchips. They will stick like glue. They will modify you.” But then it’s as if the virus itself tells us not to worry and just remain calm: “No cause. No cause for alarm. No harm. We just occupy thought. No cause for alarm. No cause, just be calm.” The track has a lovely, mesmerizing melody and his vocals are really soothing, belying the rather menacing message.

Darksoft quickens the pace on the bouncy “Conficker“, though it still has a somewhat moody undertone with a mix of fuzzy and jangly guitars, shimmery synths and a determined drumbeat. The lyrics allude to the algorithms that control what we’re fed on social media, shaping our world view in the process: “We choose what you feel. No view into reality. Your life is ours… permanently.

With gnarly guitars and spooky synths propelled by a strutting bass line, “Lamex” speaks to how easy it is to escape into an artificial online world: “If you want a lame existence. They will send you a virus or two. Lamerism is the name of the tool I use”, yet yearning to break free and think clearly and independently: “I need to get out…To free my mind…To quit this code and leave the app I knew behind. If you look away you’ll open your eyes.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Heartbleed“, with its enthralling melody, irresistible drumbeat and gentle psychedelic groove, thanks to deliciously eerie synths. The jangly guitars are marvelous, the bass line’s sublime, and I absolutely love Darksoft’s warm, captivating vocals. I honestly think I would be perfectly happy listening to him sing the yellow pages!  My take on the song’s meaning is it seems to compare the feelings of someone who’s emotionally dead inside to that of a computer – a machine who only does what it’s programmed and directed to do: “Matter is a thing. You focus it’ll bring you life and pleasure. Just wait and see. Let your lead heart bleed.  Silicon and hardware respond.  Nothing really matters when you’re a machine… You live to be used by others.”

Another favorite is “Cryptolocker“, a darkly gorgeous song with dreamy and sometimes eerie synths that create a lush atmospheric soundscape. The gently-strummed chiming guitars are exquisite, as are Darksoft’s ethereal vocals that are seductive, yet menacing, as he coldly warns another not to fuck with him: “You don’t know who you’re dealing with. You don’t understand who you’re messing with. Lock me away and I will pull the plug from under you.”

I distinctly remember the virus for which “ILOVEYOU” is named. Darksoft uses it as an allegory for the emptiness and futility that can result from using online dating websites: “Every fuckin day is the same. Can’t look up from the screen. Crushes breakin over the phone. Guess that I’ll be alone. Til I see your message titled ‘love confession’. Feeling’ tempted by a lie; it’s a misdirection. You were nothing more than spam. My little love connection. Engineered to phish my soul. Been spoofed again by a false confession.” The song has an infectious drumbeat and some fine, intricate guitar work.

Code Red” is a beautiful, languid song featuring Darksoft’s resonant, pulsating guitars and sublime vocals, backed by his own harmonic choruses.  The lyrics seem to speak of clearing one’s mind of self-destructive thoughts and behaviors: “Everyone has a code. Some write them, others they follow a worm. Everyday, take a chance. Decrypt all the bullshit and break from the trance.” The final track “NightShade” is a mellow, anthemic rock song with jangly guitars and humming bass, accompanied by snappy drumbeats. NightShade seems to be a metaphor for drugs taken to numb the pains of life: “Where you’re from, how you came as I take it all away with NightShade. / If I can survive maybe then so can you. Aren’t we all playing role games? Infect the database with NightShade.”

Brain is a great album, and I love pretty much everything about it – Darksoft’s clever lyrics inspired by each of the computer viruses, his beautiful melodies, outstanding guitar work, first-rate production values, and stunning vocals. He’s an amazing talent, and I eagerly look forward to hearing what he comes up with for his next music project.

Connect with Darksoft on Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Google Play
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / cdbaby

LOUD HOUND – Single Review: “Youthful Stranger”

Loud Hound Youthful Stranger

I’ve featured hundreds of artists and bands on this blog over the past three-plus years, and it seems half of them have released new music since the first of the year! Today I’m writing about LOUD HOUND, the music project of Tommy Florio, a talented young singer/songwriter from Ventnor City, New Jersey. The self-described “beachy boi extraordinaire” fuses elements of garage, surf and psych rock to create wonderful songs filled with catchy melodies, honest lyrics and irresistible guitar grooves.

In early 2018, he released his debut single “Fine By Me” – a lo-fi, high-energy, surf rock gem, then followed that May with the outstanding introspective single “Runnin’,” which I reviewed. Now he’s back with a great new single  “Youthful Stranger“, delivering a somewhat moodier dream pop vibe than his two previous singles. It really showcases his skill at writing songs with diverse melodies and instrumentation, and keeping his music sounding fresh.

Starting with a mix of strummed acoustic and jangly electric guitars as the primary drivers, LOUD HOUND adds some distortion, fuzzy bass and low-key percussion to create an intriguing backdrop for his slightly seductive echoed vocals. The music and vocals build as the song progresses, with some nice riffage in the chorus, then slows back down toward the end, with an interesting watery reverb effect on the guitars.

The lyrics seem somewhat ambiguous, but my take is that they speak to depression in a young adult who takes drugs to make it through life, feeling invincible once they take effect:

Youthful stranger watch as your dreams fall apart
Little blue pills keeps your friend up at night
The lonely dreamer survives the night
The lonely dreamer survives the night

Youthful stranger watch as your dreams come to life
Let’s pretend and play God
My life ready to stand tall
The lonely dreamer survives the night
The lonely dreamer survives the night

Connect with LOUD HOUND:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp

BOOGIE BOARD – EP Review: “Rippers Only”

boogie board ep art

Last year, I wrote about Chicago-based surf/garage rock artist Boogie Board and his album Ferric Tape Noir, along with two extra singles (which you can read here). Boogie Board is the music project of guitarist and composer Stephen Denning, who describes his music as “fuzzy midwestern garage/ psych/ surf rock.” He writes, performs, records and masters all his music directly onto a 4-track tape machine in order to achieve a gritty lo-fi sound. I’m a big fan of surf guitar and all it’s permutations, so am pleased to feature him once again, with his latest release Rippers Only.

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He’s produced quite a lot of music the past couple of years, starting with his debut 12-track album Surf N Turf in May 2017, followed by a five-track EP Dream Telepathy that September, then Ferric Tape Noir in late January 2018, and a double single Portal Window & Infinity Stairs two months later. On January 19, he dropped a new EP Rippers Only, delivering four new pieces of grungy surf rock candy for our listening enjoyment.

Most of Boogie Board’s tracks are on the short side, generally running approximately two minutes, give or take. At a total of only seven minutes, the EP comes and goes in a flash, but it’s a fun ride! The first track “Slow Roller” is catchy as hell, with a peppy drumbeat and a deep, gravelly riff that feels like bass, except it’s not. Denning likes to occasionally run his guitar through a bass amp to achieve a heavier sound. His vocals are as heavily distorted as the guitars as he chants “Slow roller. Go slow gonna take a drive. Slow roller. Gonna take my time.” Next up is “Keep It In Line“, with dense, grungy riffs set to a driving beat. Once again, Denning chants lyrics in heavily distorted vocals, however these I can’t make out. The track closes with lots of reverb.

Play It Cool” features very gnarly guitars over a repetitive frantic beat. Denning adds tasty little guitar flourishes to the mix as he shouts “I’m feeling good! Got to slow it down. I’m playing it cool!” The track leaves us feeling pretty good too. He closes things out with the title track “Rippers Only“. It’s very brief, running only 45 seconds, but it’s a gritty little banger overflowing with pulsating distortion. I really like it, but wish he’d made it into a more substantial track, as there’s a lot going on for him to work with.

Connect with Boogie Board:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify
Purchase on Bandcamp

THUNDERIAN SUMMER – EP Review: “Misdirection of Self-Control”

thunderian summer ep art

Thunderian Summer is a five-piece band from the British Midlands who play honest, guitar-driven, blues-infused rock’n’roll, the kind you love hearing at the hottest club in town on a Saturday night. They don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, but are quite serious when it comes to crafting great music. The band members are DT (Dave Thomas) on vocals, Alex on lead guitar, Tim on rhythm guitar, Nic on bass, and Pabs on drums.  When I last featured them on this blog nearly a year ago, they had just released their debut EP By The Gun (check out that review). Now they’re back with Misdirection of Self-Control, a new EP that dropped January 4th, featuring six tracks they describe as “A Story of Excess and Reflection.”

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Getting right to down to business with the ‘excess’ part of the story, they kick things off with “Wind It Down” a ribald rock’n’roll ditty about getting it on with your hot babe. With his rough, seductive vocals, DT sounds downright lascivious as he croons the pretty explicit lyrics: “Wind it down, wind it slow, I took her out, I brought her home. She’s coming next, she’s getting wet. Wind it down, wind it slow. I took her high when I went low. Back and forth. Pretty little thing, she wants some more. / She’s my girl.”  Whew!

Things take a more serious turn with “Listen for the Shot“, a song that seems to be about coming to terms with a death of sorts – of a relationship perhaps? The guys deliver hard-driving riffs of fuzzy and jangly guitars set to fast-paced drums and deep, buzzing bass. The bluesy and deeply moving “Dark Times” recounts many tough moments in the singer’s troubled life, knowing those adversities have made him stronger, and holding onto faith that he’ll survive with enough love and support. The intricate guitar work is superb, but it’s DT’s raw, emotionally wrought vocals that are the highlight of this song, ripping at our heartstrings as he plaintively laments “They were dark times, dark times, darkest times of my life. / Shine your light on me. Your light is the only light I want to see.”

Next up is “Shake Your Sins“, a plea to someone on a downward spiral of drug abuse to change their self-destructive habits before it’s too late: “It looks like the drugs have taken their toll. Some misdirection self-control. Can’t you hear the ticking of the clock? Well don’t let it take your soul. / Your times are changing, they’re changing my friend. You better shake your sins.” Mournful jangly guitars and DT’s urgent vocals emphasize the powerful sentiments expressed in the lyrics.

Around the Sun” is an optimistic message that everything will be alright, delivered with hard-hitting, reverb-drenched jangly guitars and a high-energy rhythm section. DT passionately implores “Please hold my hand so tight. You won’t feel this pain much longer now. I know I can make it right. How much time do we have? When all is said and done, we’ve only got so many trips around the sun.” Everything builds to a crescendo of raging guitars and crashing cymbals as DT repeatedly wails “Hold my hand so damn tight!

Closing out the EP is the delightful “Pretty Pants“, a new studio version of the same song that was featured as an acoustic track on their previous EP By The Gun. This version is more melodic and fully-developed, with heavier instrumentation and stronger vocals. The song samples the Counting Crows classic “Mr. Jones” – using the great lines “And we will stare at beautiful women. Are they looking at you? No girl, they must be looking at me.”  It’s a wonderful track, and a fine finish to another terrific effort from Thunderian Summer. I really enjoy their style of rock that feels genuine, without gimmicks or overreach. Their straightforward lyrics are by turns entertaining, compelling and/or moving, delivered by some of the rawest, most passionate vocals I’ve heard in a while.

thunderian summer shows

Connect with the band: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes cdbaby

FEATHER WEIGHT – Single Review: “Volcano”

feather weight

Feather Weight is a fairly new band from Toronto, Canada who play music that incorporates elements of Garage Rock, Dream Pop and Psych. They’ve released only two singles thus far – their debut “Just Take the Pill” in May 2018, and “Volcano”, which dropped in late November – and I can unequivocally state I’m already a big fan of theirs. When their drummer Raymond Cara (who I know from his also being part of Toronto bands The Autumn Stones and Andrew LaTona & the Nightshades, both of which I’ve featured on this blog) shared “Volcano” with me the other day, it was love at first listen. In addition to Raymond on drums, the other band members include Alistair Bundale on lead vocals & guitar, Neil Culbert on guitar and backing vocals, and Jordan Quinn on bass and backing vocals. All are accomplished musicians who’ve been involved with other bands in the thriving Toronto music scene.

The song starts off with a subtle but intriguing little guitar riff, then a pounding drumbeat enters, leaving us anticipating what’s coming next. Suddenly, a gorgeous chiming guitar arrives, immediately engulfing our eardrums in a shimmering soundscape. The tempo adjusts to a gentle driving beat as more guitar is layered over the primary riff that continues throughout the song. Alistair’s passionate echoed vocals enter the mix and the result is a song so sublime it brings goosebumps. Given the perfection of this and their first single, I expect we’ll be hearing more fantastic songs from Feather Weight – and soon, I hope!

I asked Raymond about the song’s meaning and how they chose the vintage footage for the wonderful video. He told me it was actually from an old GM promo from the early 1960s for an electronics and car showcase. About the song’s meaning, he explained: “I would say a lot of the basis of this song deals with the pressure of human repression building up underneath and the process of liberating ourselves from that pressure. The way we framed the video is in a way to show a woman finding her liberation at a time when women’s roles were strongly defined by positions occupied in the home. I would think of this more though as an analogy for the meaning of the song rather than the actual point of the song. [But] even though we may find a sense of liberation, that doesn’t mean we are free. The human condition in the cultures and societies we have created foster isolation and alienation and cause many mental health issues, so at some level she is running a fool’s errand, so to speak.” Watch, listen, and prepare to be blown away by this marvelous song.

Connect with Feather Weight:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their songs on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

BRAIN APE to Release Live DVD “Brain Ape: Live at the Unicorn”

One of the joys of being a music blogger is being exposed to all kinds of music across a wide range of genres. More recently, it seems an increasing number of artists and bands are fusing together multiple influences and creating music that spans across numerous genres, rather than sticking to only one, which is making for some really unique and interesting sounds (I even heard a discussion of this the other day on my local National Public Radio station). A band who’s done this quite nicely is Brain Ape, a talented, inventive and slightly crazy London-based outfit who skillfully fuse punk, stoner rock, grunge, noise rock and shoegaze to create their unique sound they’ve dubbed “Scratch Rock.” As the band state in a recent YouTube interview: “Scratch Rock is an anti-genre. If you’re a punk band, then for your next record you’re not allowed to make a heavy metal record. It’s stupid that you’re not allowed to decide what you want to make if you’ve been labeled something. So why not label yourselves something that means nothing. And therefore, your next record could be jazz. It gives us freedom.

A self-described “Scratch Rock, spot popping, guitar smashing, headache inducing band from London, England,” Brain Ape was formed on New Year’s Day 2012 by front-man/guitarist Minky Très-vain and bassist Sol Alex Albret. They’d been friends since meeting in middle school when they both lived in Belgium. They soon released their first single “Cipramil,” and in 2014 released their debut album Dara O’. About that album, the band states they “established themselves as a group unafraid of releasing material very unsuited for mainstream radio. The record, with its lo-fi production, received no critical acclaim and went unnoticed by the world, much to the band’s delight.” Didn’t I say they were slightly crazy?

Brain Ape2
Photo by Nuri Moseinco

The band eventually added drummer Jacob Powell, and in August 2017, dropped their second album Auslander, which was released through Schlimbum Records, an independent record label started by Tres-vain and Dydy Haynes. Auslander is an ambitious work, containing 12 brilliant tracks with some of the best titles I’ve heard, and running nearly 55 minutes in length. You can read my review here. Powell eventually left the band due to other commitments, and Jamie Steenbergen joined the lineup in early 2018 as the new drummer. He quickly got up to speed learning to play the band’s repertoire of songs, as they embarked on a tour to promote Auslander, playing throughout Southern England and in Europe.

It was one of these concerts – at The Unicorn in Camden, England on the night of July 21st – that turned out to be an especially fateful show. They were opening for the band Ethyrfield, and excited to be performing at one of their favorite venues. Unbeknown to them, footage of the show was being simultaneously filmed by Galina Rin, Nuri Moseinco, and The Unicorn venue itself. Brain Ape played their set that night as they do every other, giving it their absolute all. After the show, they were approached by the promoter who told them they had footage of their performance, and it just so happened that a few videographers had filmed it too. So they obtained the footage, spliced the best pieces together to record their entire performance, and once they saw the edited version, they thought it was far too good just be used as a YouTube “throwaway.” It was then they decided to make it into an actual DVD release – “Brain Ape: Live at the Unicorn.”

Brain Ape Live at The Unicorn [Front Cover]

Brain Ape Live at The Unicorn [Back Cover]

The live video showcases the entirety of Brain Ape’s July 21, 2018 performance at The Unicorn. Both the sound and visual quality of the video are pretty outstanding, considering the footage was filmed by three different people. Furthermore, the video editing is seamless and near-perfect, and every bit as good as any other concert video I’ve seen. Brain Ape’s performance is tight and flawlessly executed, and they’re a joy to watch. Their live performances bring their songs to life, and it’s clear the guys greatly enjoy playing them for us. The physical DVD is scheduled to be released on the 13th of December, where the band will be performing a release show at The Dublin Castle in Camden. The DVD may be pre-ordered at http://www.schlimbumrecords.com/shop

Track-listing:
Information in square brackets indicate the timestamp where the relevant track can be found within the live video. Information in round brackets indicate which album the relevant track was originally released on.

1. Meanwhile    [00:00]   (Dara O’)
2. Blood Blister    [02:04]   (Auslander)
3. The Quick Brown Dog Jumps Over The Lazy Fox    [05:43]   (Auslander)
4. Respect Your Icons    [10:19]   (Auslander)
5. Give Me My P45    [13:43]   (Auslander)
6. Stop Sulking    [17:02]   (Auslander)
7. Das Krokodil Will Barfuß Sein    [21:04]   (Auslander)
8. Rig It    [23:13]   (Dara O’)

Here is a video clip from the DVD of the final song performed in their set – “Rig It,” which is the first track on Dara O’.


Interview with Brain Ape

I recently asked the band some questions to learn a bit more about their sound, creative process and love of performing, and all three happily provided some thorough and very entertaining responses. Enjoy:

EclecticMusicLover:  Hi guys. Thanks for wanting to discuss your music and new concert DVD. We’ve followed each other on social media for more than a year now, and I know a bit about you and how you formed as a band. But before we get started, I do have one question for you Minky. I love your name, and am wondering if Minky Très-vain is your actual given name, or is it your artistic name?

Minky: A bit of both, really. ‘Très-vain’ is my actual surname, but ’Minky’ has been my nickname since I first saw the light of day, so it’s almost my given name by this point. Nobody ever really calls me by the name on my birth certificate, so there’s no real point going by it.

Jamie: I didn’t even know his ‘real’ name until about six months ago.

Nuri Moseinco Photography - Minky Très-vain [Live in Luxembourg 11.18] (2)
Minky Très-vain – photo by Nuri Moseinco

EML:  You guys have a unique sound that really sets you apart from most other bands I’ve heard, partly due to your use of unorthodox melodies and song structures, but also because of your wonderful, distinctive voice Minky that sounds like no other singer. That’s a good thing, as it makes your songs instantly recognizable as Brain Ape, unlike some bands who, while putting out good music, can sound indistinguishable from a lot of other bands. Any thoughts about your uniqueness?

Minky: Sol and I have very, very similar voices when we sing, the only difference being that he impersonates Eddie Vedder, whereas I impersonate my inner turmoil. All jokes aside, whenever Sol does any backing vocals on Brain Ape material, or I’ve done backing vocals on A Twisted Carnival tracks, it’s very difficult to mix them in a way that they don’t blend in with each other to the point where we’re unsure of who’s singing what. It’s a really strange thing; when they’re soloed, they sound completely different and Sol’s quite recognisable in his own right. But for whatever reason, when we track them and lay them on top of each other they blend quite nicely.

Sol: When it comes down to “unorthodox melodies and song structures”, I think it’s because Minky and I never came from a formal music background. I’m shit. I dropped out of Music GCSE.

Minky: We get bored of ‘Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, End’. So we make our material interesting for us to play, and it just so happens that a lot of the time that means that the structure follows its own path.

Jamie: At first it did take me a while to get my head around the songs, but that’s perfectly normal when you join any new project and you’re filling in for someone else. You’ve got to do the other musician’s parts justice, but make them your own. Now all of the structures are second nature. I don’t really need to think, anymore.

Sol: We’ve kind of clicked together.

Jamie: Yeah, we’ve got good chemistry. The song structures make perfect sense now.

Minky: We never force our writing to be unorthodox. We write whatever comes naturally. It’s not as if we set out to write a tune, and we say “right, we’re going to do a verse, a chorus, and then change the key, and then upset the tempo, and then trick the listener into going somewhere completely different”. In fact some of our tunes, like ‘Give Me My P45’, have a far more conventional structure.

Sol: But even that tune switches it up slightly at the end, because as we were writing it felt right to have the outro change up the entire feel of the song.

Minky: We’re not completely against orthodoxy. But if we were to do a whole album of that, we’d get kind of bored. It would kind of feel like going from ‘Rubber Soul’ to ‘Beatles For Sale’. Not to say that dumbing down music is inherently a bad thing, because the whole reason things like the early Ramones kicked off was because the tunes were simple enough that they were relatable, but… I dunno… We don’t really think about it, in all honesty. We just kind of do what happens. And what happens we kind of stick to.

Jamie: You want to be different, but there’s a difference between wanting to be different and –

Minky: Forcing that difference.

Jamie: Yeah. “I have to create something new”. We’re not reinventing the wheel of music. We’re just taking our influences and putting them together.

Minky: We think our material sounds well-worn. We haven’t explored any new territory, I don’t think.

Jamie: The sound is kind of familiar.

Minky: We kind of feel like we’re just paying homage to sounds that came out twenty years ago, but people seem to think that it sounds…

Jamie: Fresh.

Minky: Yeah. Well we feel like we’re adding at least something to it, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. And people seem to think that we sound distinctive, which I guess is a good thing. If only we could market that, you know. We might have been millionaires by now.

Julian Newton Photography - Sol Alex Albret [Live at The Unicorn] (1)
Sol Alex Albret – photo by Julian Newton

EML:  You released your most recent album “Auslander” in August 2017. Tell me a little about your creative process for that album. Specifically, where did your inspiration come from for the creation of your songs, and how long did you spend writing and recording the album?

Sol: Recording the album, that’s the easy bit to answer. In studio time, it took us about two weeks to record. But we had to space that out because of various commitments we had.

Minky: Conflicts of calendars.

Sol: Exactly. But we were able to record it quickly because we rehearsed the material so much that we could literally go into the studio and bash it out.

Minky: We rehearsed incessantly. Every track, except ‘Blood Blister’, was either caught in one or two takes. In fact there were tracks that surprised us because we thought we were going to have to really work on them. ‘P45’ was one of those. We got that down in one take. ‘Blood Blister’ was the only one that, for whatever reason, we had to do eight or nine takes of. We just had a day in the studio where we got very frustrated and felt like we weren’t delivering. But then when listening back days later we ended up using take three or four, so it ended up not being that big of a deal and wasn’t that catastrophic. We just weren’t feeling it on the day of recording.

Sol: The feel of that song had to be done right.

Minky: But it wouldn’t be on the record if we’d felt like we hadn’t delivered the take that we actually wanted to etch into a CD.

Sol: The writing however… Minky writes the material at first, and then my process comes in a little bit later. It takes us a long time to write material that we want to put out.

Minky: We took a step back after our first album because we didn’t want to write the same record twice. So I went on to produce Sol’s record with his band A Twisted Carnival, which was a nice change of pace and kept things interesting for us. There were some strong similarities between that album and the first Brain Ape record, but it was different enough that we felt like we were still moving forwards rather than regressing. And then the year after that, I ended up doing an album with a duo I’m in called the oRaNGUtaNZ which was a complete change of scenery. It leans a lot closer to electronic music, which was really good fun to write. And at the same time I was also working on my sister’s first EP, which blends all sorts of genres. So by the time I’d started writing new Brain Ape material, I’d done so much different work that I felt comfortable that the material wasn’t just going to be a rehash of ‘Dara O’’. During that time, Sol had been travelling around the world and when he came back to England I was ready to show him what I’d come up with. So he moved in with me, and once you’re living under the same roof it’s a very easy and natural process to write music together. So we did that for about a year, and then we turned our attention to finding the right drummer for the job. Luckily for us it was around about that time that we were introduced to Jacob Powell. Once he’d joined the process it took maybe a further six months to just go over it again and again, which we did over one long summer in 2016. After that, we went up to Scotland and we recorded the album. There’s a ‘documentary’ about that bit, which you can watch here on YouTube.

EML:  I read in another interview you did with Teri Morris for her Music Matters blog that you guys have spent a good deal of this past year touring around Southern England and in Europe. I know that touring is important for bands to get their music heard and try to connect with fans, but it can also be a stressful experience. How was it for you guys? And did the connection with and reaction from fans make it worth your while?

Sol: Fuck yes.

Minky: I don’t think we’d be doing it again if it wasn’t worth our while. We’ve just been back out to Europe for the third time this year, which was hugely successful. A good friend of ours runs a booking agency out there called UphillBookings, so if you’re looking to play Europe hit him up. Nice bloke, treats bands well.

Sol: The connections and reactions from the fans this past year… For me at least I love just getting on stage and playing loud music, and having people enjoy that is one of the best experiences.

Jamie: You can play music for yourself, but it’s more important to do it for other people.

Sol: It adds a new level to it.

Jamie: Obviously, it’s good fun for us. We have good laughs going out on the road, but performing and sharing the music is the most important bit. People connect to that, and they enjoy the tunes. It’s great for us to see new places too, and that’s all part of the fun and games for us. But we wouldn’t do it if it weren’t for the people who enjoy our music.

Minky: It’s unanimous in this band that music did so much for us when we were growing up. It’s really, really lovely to be able to offer that same service to other kids.

Jamie: We’ll never know the true effect, really.

Minky: I’m going to repeat myself between interviews here, but it’s not just kids either. It’s people of all ages, and if we can help anybody through tough parts of life… I’m not going to go into specifics, but in this band we’ve had a rough couple of weeks and playing music has helped us through it. So if we can help other people through rough times then it’s worth it.

EML:  In addition to seeing and hearing you play your songs live, the thing I like most about your performance on the DVD is how you guys really get into your ‘zone’ and seem to have fun, not to mention your on-stage charisma. Do you find you get more energized performing your songs on stage as opposed to in a studio setting?

Sol: I like to try and make a studio setting feel like an on-stage performance. It helps translate the studio work to a live environment later on.

Minky: When we recorded our first album, I refused to let anybody sit down while they were tracking. You can hear the difference, especially with vocals, when someone’s going through the motions without particularly paying attention to it, compared to when they’re completely committing to what they’re doing. Posture changes how you play. We weren’t quite like that on ‘Auslander’, though, because we approached that album very differently than we did ‘Dara O’’. For our first record, we’d written it and rehearsed it and then went into the studio and only did one take for virtually everything. We had an ethos of “even if you make a mistake, that’s what happened at that point in time”. We treated that album almost like a photograph. It was supposed to be very spontaneous, regardless of ugly faults and flaws. But we didn’t have that approach at all for ‘Auslander’. We wanted to capture exactly what we thought we were about. Rather than take a picture of the band, we wanted to paint a painting. Which is why some of the song titles and lyrics reflect that.

Sol: To be more specific to your question, though, while we make both environments similar I definitely get more energised performing on stage. It’s a blast. You get feedback from an actual audience, and you get feedback from your fellow musicians. I’ll look over and I’ll see Minky going crazy and that makes me lose it, too. Then I’ll look over at Jamie and he’s not even looking at anything in particular because he’s lost in the music. It’s great.

Minky: When you’re playing with what the crowd are giving you, it makes a huge difference. It doesn’t matter if it’s thirty people or thirty-thousand people. Having someone lose themselves in the music, the moment, owning that. It’s fantastic. Life’s too short not to. You’ve got to never let that go, because you’ve only got one shot.

Sol: Do not miss your chance.

Minky: Spaghetti.

Jamie: But I think we’ve got good chemistry. Even in the rehearsal studio, we bounce off each other. That’s just what we do. It comes from playing together a lot, and rehearsing a bunch. There’re little things that Minky will do live that Sol and I have to deal with –

Sol: But we keep eye-contact and it works.

Minky: I must give you guys credit, to be fair, because I can sometimes be quite predictably unpredictable –

Jamie: We know.

Sol: Yes, we do.

Minky: But you guys keep the foundations rock solid. I couldn’t do it without you. It would just all fall apart.

Nuri Moseinco Photography - Jamie Steenbergen [Live in Luxembourg 11.18] (3)
Jamie Steenbergen – photo by Nuri Moseinco

EML:  Are there any challenges in getting your songs to sound their best when played live?

Jamie: Getting a good sound-man.

Sol: People shutting down our show for being too loud. It’s tough to get our songs sounding their best when people are turning down our music.

Minky: I’m enjoying playing stuff from the first album at the moment because we’re having to reappropriate four-piece material into a three-piece setting, so I’m having to take what two guitarists had written and make some sort of hybrid out of it. To me, it’s new and almost like rewriting material. Our first album turns five years old next year, so we’re so far removed from who we were as people when we wrote it that I’m really enjoying revisiting and rearranging stuff so that it’s still contextually relevant for us as musicians. But it’s a bit of a struggle sometimes. Some of the tracks from the first album, we still haven’t worked out how to do with our current line-up. But the more we get to play with Jamie, the easier that’ll become. The setlist that we’re taking on the road at the moment –

Jamie: Is a mystery.

Sol: Wrapped in an enigma.

Minky: But we’re playing quite a few old tunes which we haven’t visited for years. We’re opening our sets with one of them and it’s been a lovely surprise to breathe new life into that track. A track that means a lot to us, as well.

Jamie: Having a decent drum kit helps me play live, too. And it also helps to hear myself. The hilarious thing at The Unicorn was that you guys came up to me after the show and were like “That was sick”, and it was but I couldn’t really hear during the show. It wasn’t the ideal sound for me. I was struggling to hear during the show. When that happens you kind of just pretend like you can hear the band. You just go for it, but it’s tough sometimes. Sound at a venue plays a big factor as to how a show goes.

Minky: Gear surviving tours is also a huge challenge.

Jamie: Especially when you smash guitars.

Sol: That is a challenge. Keeping gear intact is very difficult for some.

Jamie: Especially if you’re a Mustang.

Sol: Those things are so fragile. You have to be very careful.

Jamie: Expensive as well.

Sol: Very.

Minky: I feel like this has turned into something quite focused in my direction. And to be fair to me, there’s stuff I can’t help breaking as well. Like my bloody gate pedal not working anymore, so now I have to play slightly differently in order to –

Jamie: Guitar straps?

Minky: Yeah, okay. Fine. My gear breaks… But regardless, I think if you watch the DVD it’s clear that we wouldn’t get up on stage if we didn’t feel like we were translating our studio material properly. When you watch the show on that shiny purple disc, you’ll see that the material sounds very close to how it sounded on record. In fact we played ‘Blood Blister’ as the second track during the set, and during the credits at the end of the DVD I think ‘Blood Blister’ was used as well. Yes they sound different obviously, because one’s a studio recording and the other is from a live environment, but it’s so close that it made me quite happy the first time I saw it. I think it just highlights how well the songs translate from recording to stage.

EML:  What dream band would you most like to open for or tour with?

Jamie: Queens of the Stone Age.

Sol: Foo Fighters.

Minky: You guys are shooting pretty high.

Sol: Massively.

Jamie: I would have loved to open for Soundgarden.

Sol: I love the old, golden grunge scene.

Jamie: Same.

Sol: But there’s a revival coming around that I’m loving, too. Mantra are great for example.

Minky: Yeah, I’d love to go on tour with mates of ours like Mantra. Or Sundrifter. They’re a band from Massachusetts and they’re fucking sick. I’d love to play with them.

Jamie: Black Stone Cherry. They’re pretty sweet.

Minky: You wanna tour with Black Stone Cherry? Again, you’re shooting pretty high.

Jamie: Yeah, mate. Why not?

Sol: We do have dreams to go on tour with the big bands of our generation, but that’s not to discount any of the smaller bands that we’re at the same level with.

Minky: There’s quite a few good bands around at the moment.

Sol: There’s a Belgian band called Raketkanon, for instance, who are awesome.

Minky: Going on tour with Raketkanon would be wicked. On a complete tangent, I caught a really good band the other day called Mice on Mars. They’re from Britain and they’re cracking. I don’t think we could ever share the stage just because we’re very different types of music, unless it was a festival setting or something, but they’re a great band. I really enjoyed their set. Fiende Fatale are another one. If you get a chance to catch them, they’re quite good.

EML:  Are you now working on new music for a possible future album? And are you contemplating any directional or stylistic changes for your music or sound?

Sol: As we’ve said in every single interview, there’s stuff bubbling but we’re not at the stage where we can start talking about it.

Minky: “We’re keeping the top on the pot”.

Sol: We’re keeping the top of the pops.

Jamie: Top of the pops brewing.

Sol: We’re still touring with our previous album.

Minky: There’s no point making any false promises. We’re not going to be ready to tell people until we think the material is ready.

Jamie: It doesn’t really happen until you have something worth having.

Minky: No matter what we do, though, it’s not going to sound like ‘Auslander’ because we’ve done that already and we don’t want to do the same thing twice. It won’t sound like the first album, either. It’s going to sound like its own thing.

Jamie: It’s going to be different.

Sol: Stay in the present. The future’s for another day.

EML:  Anything else you’d like your fans and followers to know that I’ve neglected to ask?

Jamie: We now have badges and stickers. Put a sticker on your skateboard, kids.

Minky: Fucking sick nosegrab, dude.

Sol: In all seriousness, thanks for your time and we hope you enjoyed the DVD.

EML: Thank you Minky, Sol and Jamie, and I surely did!

Minky: Cheers, Jeff.

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

THE MILLION REASONS – Single Review: “Battle of Sound”

The Million Reasons New Lineup

I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands lately on this blog, and today I’m featuring another one for the second time – the incredible Chicago rock band The Million Reasons. The band is comprised of Scott Nadeau (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar), Mike Nichols (guitar), Colin Dill (drums) and their newest member Jason Cillo (bass). Following up on their outstanding 2017 debut EP The Runaround, they released their gorgeous single “Dizzy” in July, a magnificent song that went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 (you can read my review here). Today they return with another fantastic single “Battle of Sound,” which I’m pleased to review.

The song has a hard-hitting old-school rock vibe, starting off with punchy riffs of gnarly guitar that provide the driving force for the track. The song expands as layers of guitar are added, accompanied by a solid bass line and power drums, then suddenly erupts into a furious maelstrom in the bridge as the guys let loose on their respective instruments. It all makes for an exhilarating and highly enjoyable rock song.

Scott has a wonderful singing voice, with a raw power that’s perfectly suited to the music and biting lyrics that speak of a relationship that’s irreparably broken to the point that further communication is now impossible.

I didn’t know that we were fighting
I didn’t know that the lines were drawn
But here we are with our weapons at the ready
And the sides have been decided upon

If it’s a battle of silence, I’m winning
Never see me come around again
If it’s a battle of sound, I’ll take the crown
You’ll never see me come around again

You didn’t come prepared for battle 
You didn’t expect me to react 
You didn’t know that I own moments like this 
Where the lights go out and the power blows 
You’re in the black 

Who do you think kicks the power back on? 

The humorously charming video opens with the guys pulling up in a van, where they pick up a guy waiting by the curb who’s the new band member Jason Cillo. They hand him a bass guitar, whereupon he immediately gets into the groove as they all begin to play the song, heads furiously bobbing to the beat. As the video progresses, they’re shown alternating their seating positions and instruments, while the poor drummer Colin Dill gets tossed around a bit in the back as he tries to play his drums. The guys clearly had fun making this video.

Connect with The Million Reasons:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

CHIO – EP Review: “Unlearned Lessons”

Chio EP

Chio is the artistic name of singer/songwriter Anthony Chiofalo, and this is his debut EP Unlearned Lessons, which dropped in August. The New York City-based artist plays rock music influenced by a whole assortment of alternative, grunge and garage bands, but with a style all his own. He recently had this to say regarding his sound: “People continue to ask specifically what artists my music sounds like. Fair enough, but I’m usually at a loss with that question. I had come up with some answers, but nothing that felt accurate. I also didn’t like to try to fit what I did into some other artist’s slot. That’s missing the whole point of writing original music. I have influences. Tons of them. But I never want to imitate, replicate or steer too close towards someone else’s creations. Otherwise I might as well just play their songs.

Well, to these old ears of mine, I hear bits of the Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows (specifically the vocals of Adam Duritz), and Tom Petty – all great bands I really like, so it would follow I’d like Chio’s music. He wrote all the lyrics and music, arranged all the songs, and played guitar, keyboards and sang on Unlearned Lessons. Jerome Giancola played bass and Justin Hofmann played drums, and both guys produced, recorded and engineered the songs.

About the EP’s title Unlearned Lessons, Chio explains that it comes from a lyric in one of the tracks called “Into the Waves“: “We all still feel it, subtle heat. Unlearned lessons, always repeat.” It’s the final track on the EP, but I’ll discuss it first. He goes on to state: “The song… is about growing up and feeling the pressure of so many different aspects of life, and getting fed up to where you just want to get away from it all. In the chorus, I use surfing as a metaphor for escape, singing ‘I just want to jump into the waves.’  Surfing’s my metaphor, but the line itself represents anything that helps you get away from the seemingly endless challenges we all have to deal with. It seems that until we figure out how to remove ourselves from whatever cycle we’re playing out, and find a way to move past the continuous and familiar problems we face time and time again, there is only temporary escape in whatever you do to get through it. Until you understand why you’re going through the same patterns and what’s at the root of it, your ‘unlearned lessons’ will always repeat.

Using layers of fuzzy and jangly electric guitars, Chio creates a palpable sense of tension, made even stronger with the addition of his own eerie electronically altered backing vocals.

The opening track “The Rebel Inside” touches on his self-image as a badass, at least while he was coming of age, but also that he has a vulnerable side, and his loved one’s hurtful actions may turn him away: “So maybe I’m not as hard as I thought I was at age 15 when I caught my first real buzz. But that don’t mean my mind won’t break when you put my pride at stake. But you seem to see right through me. You’re all that I’ve got and it’s gonna consume me. But I know it’s good to be choosy. Watch out maybe you’re about to lose me.” The track starts off with a gritty, reverb-heavy guitar riff and Chio’s earnest vocals setting a rather dark mood, then the music breaks open with gnarly guitars, humming bass and heavy drums and loads of crashing cymbals. It’s a great rock song.

Out of My Head” is a hard-driving kiss-off song, and Chio’s terrific guitar work is on full display. With bitter resignation, he tells is ex he’s done with her: “I think I’ll take it easy on myself and keep you out of my head. We threw so many words upon each other. Petty things better left unsaid. Now I only feel peace in myself. This moment’s my only future, and there’s no time left for you.” And speaking of kiss-off, he really goes for the jugular on “Haunted“: “There’s a special place in hell for people like you. The ones that take my heart, but don’t see it through. And I’m just vulnerable if you look too close. A sheet in a dark room, but you think that I’m a ghost. Now I’m haunted. I’m haunted by your ghost.” It’s an interesting track, beginning with a funereal organ synth that seems to represent the feelings of being haunted by the death of the relationship. The song then blasts wide open with shredded guitars and heavy drums, intensifying the emotions expressed in the lyrics. I especially like the catchy little guitar riff Chio plays in the choruses.

Chio tackles obsessive, unrequited love on “Long Distance,” where he addresses someone who’s obsessed with a guy she’s never even met: “You know you love him, but you won’t say a word. And if you love him well, why hasn’t he heard. Know the reason why you keep your feelings inside. When you see him, you run and you hide.” I love the Tom Petty-like guitar work on this track.

Unlearned Lessons is a great little EP and an impressive debut effort from Chio that should make him proud. His honest, thoughtful lyrics are written from the heart, and his ability to set them to dynamic melodies and bring them to life with his skillful guitar playing make for some very solid rock songs.

To learn more about Chio, check out his Website/Blog

Connect with him on Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon