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

LOUD HOUND – Single Review: “Runnin'”

I continue to learn about so many really talented young artists, and another recent find is LOUD HOUND, a musician from Ventnor City, New Jersey. LOUD HOUND is the artistic moniker of singer/songwriter Tommy Florio, who released a wonderful – and aptly named – debut single “Fine By Me” earlier this year (I say aptly named because it’s the kind of lo-fi surf rock I love), and now follows up with another fine new single “Runnin’.” The track has a slightly more polished sound than “Fine By Me,” bit still retains that great surf/garage rock vibe.

According to webzine Born Music, Tommy wrote the song one summer a few years ago when going through a spell of bad luck. “He had watched both his dog and grandmother pass away. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he discovered his girlfriend was cheating on him with her ex. Oh, and he broke his foot. You’d think this would be a summer he’d rather forget, however Tommy did everything he could to turn the summer into a positive and productively used his housebound time to record music.” Tommy explains that “Runnin’ is a song about love. Fighting for it, losing it, feeling it for the first time, watching it fade away, or even the melancholy feeling that exists with being in love.” 

The song opens with jangly surf guitar and a pleasing drumbeat that evoke a sun-kissed afternoon at the beach. At around 1:20, the guitars turn grittier, the drums more intense, and LOUD HOUND’s smooth vocals more impassioned as he sings of fleeing from painful experiences, yet running toward things that are unattainable:

runnin’ as far as we go
runnin’ is all i know, alright now
runnin’ for the poor man’s soul
runnin’ for all your gold, alright now

He lays down some pretty tasty distorted guitar in the bridge, then around 3:45 the track shifts to a languid tempo with gentle jangly guitar and cool, faraway-sounding synths. LOUD HOUND’s echoed vocals turn a bit melancholy as he wistfully sings the poignant lyrics about the love he lost:

there was so much i had to say 
she’s so far away
she was my gold, my lady
my baby, the summer rain

It’s a long track, running nearly six minutes, but is so good I didn’t notice it’s length one bit. Take a listen:

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

DENSE – Single Review: “The Smoke”

DENSE The Smoke

Despite seemingly continuous reports announcing its demise, rock music seems to be alive and well, especially in the UK where it’s thriving. One of the more innovative rock bands I’ve been following is DENSE, a young and immensely talented trio from Leeds, England, whose unique sound could best be described as ‘industrial psychedelic surfer garage rock.’ Sounds a bit complex, but when you hear their music you’ll understand what I mean. DENSE consists of Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums). Charlie also produces, mixes and masters their music. Despite their youth, their intense music style exhibits an impressive maturity, complexity and density – implied by their name, perhaps?

I’ve previously featured them twice on this blog, first in 2017 when I reviewed their mind-blowing debut EP Third Eye, then again this past January when I reviewed their monumental single “Irreversible Knot.” Now they’ve dropped another new single “The Smoke,” and it’s a real banger!

An opening spacey synth and little surf guitar riff give way to an explosion of gritty guitars, crushing bass and tumultuous percussion. As the track progresses, the intensity of the music ebbs and flows, allowing each instrument to dominate. One moment there’s a cacophony of raging psychedelic guitar, then an interlude of relative calm with the sounds of Dylan’s heavy throbbing bass and Sam’s simple drumbeat, only to be suddenly broken by a thunderbolt of Charlie’s distorted guitar. It all serves to create a continuous sense of tension that’s a signature component of their dynamic and complex sound. Charlie’s echoed, distorted vocals rise and fall in tandem with the instrumentals, adding to the song’s drama. It’s interesting that his wailing refrain of the title lyric “the smoke” sounds a lot like “bang bang” – at least to my ears.

Give this amazing song a listen and decide for yourself.

Connect with DENSE:  FacebookTwitter / Instagram

BOOGIE BOARD – Album Review: “Ferric Tape Noir”

Ferric Tape Noir

I’m a sucker for surf guitar grooves, and am really enjoying what seems to be a resurgence of surf rock in all its variations, whether it be garage, psychedelic, punk or even grunge. So I was pleased when the musician Stephen Denning reached out to me about his music project Boogie Board, and his latest album Ferric Tape Noir, which dropped at the end of January. Denning is a solo artist from Chicago 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 lo-fi sound, and I after listening to the album, I’d say he succeeds quite nicely.

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Before getting into the music itself, I’ll provide a bit of background about music tape. Curious about the words “Ferric Tape” in the album title, I Googled it and learned “ferric” refers to ferric oxide, one of the oxides of iron that happens to be magnetic. That quality makes it an ideal coating for tape that allows both the recording and removal of sound. The tape coating on most cassettes sold today as either “normal” or “chrome” consists of ferric oxide and cobalt mixed in varying ratios. According to the website Cassetro, “ferric tape offers deep booming bass, warm mid-range and excellent high frequencies up to 16 kHz (the upper end of most people’s hearing range).” Now I understand why Boogie Board would choose ferric tape to record his music.

He’s been a busy guy the past year, releasing his debut 12-track album Surf N Turf in May 2017, then following up with a five-track EP Dream Telepathy in September. He dropped Ferric Tape Noir at the end of January 2018, then two months later released a double single Portal Window & Infinity Stairs.

Most of the tracks on Ferric Tape Noir are brief, generally running one and a half to just over two minutes, with the exception of “Moon Waves,” which is three minutes long. Also, many are simple instrumental compositions, beginning with album opener and title track “Ferric Tape Noir,” where Boogie Board delivers a repetitive gritty bass-like riff to a rat-a-tat drum beat. I say ‘bass-like’ because though the heavy, gravelly riffs on his songs sound like they come from a bass guitar, he told me they’re all actually only guitar. He added that one track is guitar run through an amp and another features guitar through a bass amp, with the remaining tracks dedicated to drum machine and vocals.

Moon Waves” is more fully-developed, with an intricate little surf guitar riff flitting over another sustained gravelly riff and frantic drum beat. His extremely distorted vocals add an interesting, rather spooky dimension to the song. The psychedelic “Flying Shadow” is a lively romp, with jangly and fuzzy guitars following a bouncy punk dance beat. We can hear Boogie Board’s distorted repeating chants of “flying shadow” in the background. One of my favorite tracks is “Magic Swamp,” with dense, gritty riffs and a hypnotic beat. I love the bluesy guitar riff in the song’s second half.

Cowabunga” and “Abyss With Me” are straight-up lo-fi surf rock at its best. The latter track has more distorted vocals of him repeatedly wailing the song’s title. “Night Walk” is very short, basically consisting of a repetitive riff over a gentle tapping drumbeat. Another favorite of mine is album closer “Spectral Glide.” It’s one of the more melodic tracks, with an intriguing guitar riff floating above what sounds like a very gritty bass line and muffled drumbeat.

I thought I’d also touch on his latest two tracks. “Portal Window” has a great little riff along with his highly distorted vocals that are basically unintelligible, but highly effective in giving off a mysterious vibe he seems to want to achieve in his songs. “Infinity Stairs” delivers a fast-paced tempo with rapid thumping drums and more of his awesome fuzzy guitars, along with some tasty added side riffs. I can hear him sing “infinity stairs” but can’t quite make out the rest of the lyrics.

Overall, I like Boogie Board’s interesting style of lo-fi surf/garage rock, and the roughness of his sound. I think he’s a talented guitarist, and would like to see him try some more fully developed melodies and guitar riffs that would make his songs even more intriguing.

Stephen is also a talented graphic artist. You can check out some of his work on his Instagram page.

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

DENSE – Single Review: “Irreversible Knot”

Dense cover art

DENSE is an awesomely talented psychedelic garage rock band hailing from Leeds, England. In March 2017 they released a mind-blowing debut EP Third Eye, which I reviewed and you can read here. They’ve now returned with a new single “Irreversible Knot,” and it’s fantastic.

Their unique psychedelic garage rock sound is at once retro and futuristic. They claim as their inspiration such bands as Wand, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard and Queens of the Stone Age, but I also detect hints of 60’s Yardbirds and early 80’s Billy Idol. If I had to put a label on their music style, it would be ‘industrial surfer metal rock.’ DENSE consists of Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals),  Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums). Charlie also produces, mixes and masters their music. Despite their youth, their intense music style exhibits an impressive maturity and density – implied by their name, perhaps? – that would be expected from a more seasoned band. Of course, based on the photo below, they still retain a playful sense of humor that would be expected from a group of young guys.

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“Irreversible Knot” opens with a grainy echoed synth chord, then an ominous rapid surf guitar riff and buzzing bass line enter the scene, propelled by a tapping drumbeat. Just as we’re becoming mesmerized by the hypnotic beat, we’re hit with a thunderous barrage of fuzzy distorted guitars steeped in reverb, Sam’s wildly crashing cymbals, and Dylan’s heavy throbbing bass. Charlie’s echoed, distorted vocals go from sultry drones to savage wails, while he shreds and distorts his guitar even further, creating a trippy, psychedelic wall of sound.

Halfway through the track, things calm down to just echoed synths and throbbing bass, then with a scream from Charlie, a cacophony of distortion comes crashing back like a tsunami wave. A second lull occurs three quarters of the way through, with a final return of heavy chaotic sounds. This back and forth ramps up the song’s tension to the breaking point, clearly with the aim of tying us into irreversible knots. The track is so delicious that, even at over four minutes long it seems over in an instant, leaving me craving more.

Connect with DENSE:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify 

DRUIDS – EP Review: “Pink Aliens”

Pink Aliens

Druids are an indie psychedelic punk rock band from New Orleans, and I’m completely smitten with their music! I can’t remember the last time I’ve had as much fun listening to a band as I do with their terrific debut EP Pink Aliens. Released back in February, it’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish, and I was hooked the moment I heard it.

All longtime friends with roots in the Crescent City, Druids consists of Brandon on guitar and lead vocals, Eric on bass, and Jeff on drums. Their hyper-kinetic lo-fi sound is built on elements of punk, psychedelic, surf, garage and doom rock, and influenced by some of their favorite bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Thee Oh Sees, Wand, Black Sabbath, Ty Segall, The Doors and Black Flag. These guys are beyond high-energy, and with their charisma and sense of humor – just look at those silver pants! – I’m sure they’re a blast on stage.

Druids

Cult of the Pink Aliens” kicks things off with buzzing guitars, crashing cymbals and hazy echoed vocals. At the two-minute mark it abruptly erupts into a driving punk beat with surf-rock guitar riffs that occasionally venture into distortion, aided and abetted by pounding drums and an onslaught of crashing cymbals. But hold on ’cause things really ramp up a notch on “Black Magic,” a frantic head-bopping punk-soaked romp that’ll have you thrashing about the room with abandon. Brandon’s skillful guitar and Jeff’s pulse-pounding drums keep the energy flowing at full throttle, making this my favorite track on the EP.

Not skipping a beat, “Endless Maze” offers up over five minutes of punk rock goodness, with an infectious stop-start beat and killer guitar work. Brandon’s extended guitar riff will leave you breathless. A throwback to late 60’s psychedelia, but with a late 70’s punk vibe, “Lightning Bolt” will have you yearning for pink sunglasses and striped bell bottoms. Once again, the guys amaze with their awesome guitar work.

Ty Dye Rain” is a psychedelic beach party on steroids, with exhilarating stop-start guitar riffs and lively percussion. Two-thirds of the way through, the tempo slows a bit and we’re treated to more extended riffs of shredded and distorted guitars. Opening with a cacophony of distorted guitars and sharp cymbals, “The Hex” continues the slower bass-heavy tempo, but the guys seem to like surprising their listeners by changing things up to a frenetic punk beat halfway through, and it sure makes for an exciting listen.

The song’s about an evil temptress who casts her evil spell on men:

So I see you’ve learned some tricks
Dabbled dark arts, became the witch
I can see you’re planning something causing trouble whats comes next
I can see you contemplating planning evil, pass the hex

There are numerous bands out there playing psychedelic and retro punk rock, but Druids take it to another level, and deserve greater recognition. I hope they’ll keep making more music, because I can’t wait to hear it. Those in the Kansas City, Missouri area can catch them in concert on October 13 at the Riot Room, where they’ll be performing with The Crystal Method and other bands.

Connect with the Druids on Facebook and stream or purchase Pink Aliens on Bandcamp

DENSE – EP Review: “Third Eye”

I continue to be astounded by the sheer number of talented young bands today that are making some really great music. Another recent find is DENSE, a psychedelic garage rock band hailing from Leeds, England. Their music is unlike any other band I’ve heard lately, with a sound that’s at once retro and futuristic. They claim as their inspiration such bands as Wand, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard and Queens of the Stone Age, and though it may be entirely unintentional, I also detect hints of 60s Yardbirds and early 80s Billy Idol. But whatever their influences, their sound has what I would describe as an ‘industrial surfer metal rock’ vibe, and I love it.

DENSE

Making this awesome music are Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums).  Despite their youth, their intense music style exhibits an impressive maturity and complexity that would be expected from a more seasoned band. In March, DENSE released their debut EP Third Eye, which according to their bio “was crafted by Charlie Fossick in his bedroom one summer.” And while it may be lo-fi, it certainly makes up for it with a thunderous wall of sound.

DENSE2

The title track “Third Eye” kicks things off with a barrage of gritty, distorted guitars and throbbing bass steeped in reverb, while Heffer hammers out an aggressive beat on his drum kit. Fossick’s electronically enhanced, otherworldly vocals are mesmerizing, and hold their own with the power and intensity of the music note for note. This is one hell of a song!

The video is awesome, with clever psychedelic visuals that perfectly complement the song and its theme.

Distorted buzz saw guitars are in full force on the scorching psychedelic instrumental track “Glutton Free.”  At times, the guitars wail and scream like a raging elephant. Metcalf’s pulsating bass gives the song incredible strength, with added help from Heffer’s pounding drums and crashing cymbals.

Stone” starts off with what sounds like small explosions or basketballs hitting the court on heavy reverb, then a nifty little bass line ensues, followed by an eruption of frantic shredded guitars. At roughly the two minute mark, we’re treated to a catchy guitar riff before the onslaught of shredded, gnashing guitars return to close out the track, which immediately segues into “Shade.” Almost as if DENSE didn’t want “Stone” to end, “Shade” sounds like a continuation of it, but with a slight change up in the melody, and minimal vocals. It’s OK by me, as I didn’t want “Stone” to end either.

Connect with DENSE:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram /  Website

Stream their music:  Spotify /  Soundcloud

 

Single Review: LITTLE TRIGGERS – “Silly Cigarettes”

Liverpool-based indie rock band Little Triggers is on an upward trajectory of late. Following up on their exuberant punk romp “When the Lights Are Going Out,” they’ve recently dropped a terrific new single “Silly Cigarettes.”  The delightful but emotionally wrenching song further cements the quartet’s status as one of Liverpool’s most exciting bands.

Little Triggers is Thomas Hamilton-Hughes (lead guitar & vocals), Chris Carragher (bass), Sam Gallacher (drums) and James Crawford (keyboards, backing vocals).  Their music is a happy mix of garage rock, punk and new wave influences, giving it a retro, yet freshly current sound that’s candy for the eardrums.

Little Triggers

Photo by John Latham Photography

Silly Cigarettes” opens with a strummed guitar solo and Hamilton-Hughes’ melancholy vocals expressing the heartache of knowing his girlfriend is cheating on him: “Everybody knows, you’re wearing last night’s clothes, and that you’re probably acting up again. And I know where you’ve been, no you thought I hadn’t seen you’d been ’round again.” The intensity of the music rises as the song progresses, with lots of cymbal-heavy percussion, thumping keyboards and jangly guitars. Hamilton-Hughes’ vocals become more emotionally wrought as he sings the chorus: “Cause I’ve heard everyone is taking off your party dress, while I’m sad on the outside smoking silly cigarettes. Oh don’t you know?”   The guitar solo in the bridge is wonderful, and the powerful backing vocals in the chorus call to mind those of a classic ELO song.

Have a listen to this great tune:

Here’s a video of a great acoustic version of the song that’s less intense, but still emotionally poignant.

Connect with Little Triggers: Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  YouTube
Purchase:  iTunes