SOLAR EYES – EP Review: “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship”

I first learned about British psychedelic pop/rock collective Solar Eyes in the summer of 2021 when they initially released their fantastic single “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship”. I loved it at first listen, happily featuring the song on this blog. They subsequently dropped an even better single “I See the Sun”, which I loved so much, it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ended up ranking #18 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.

The Birmingham-based trio is comprised of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Glenn Smyth, drummer Sebastian Maynard-Francis and guitarist Tom Ford (who still records with the band, but moved away so no longer performs live with them). Their music is an arresting style of pop/rock awash in dramatic psychedelic grooves, twangy Western-style surf guitars and dreamy cinematic synths, giving them a distinctly unique sound. Their music has been featured in numerous televised sporting events, including Sky Sports, BT Sport, BBC Match Of The Day and Birmingham City Football Club, as well as traditional alt-rock radio channels such as BBC Introducing Hereford, BBC 6 Music and The Guardian.

In February 2022, Solar Eyes signed to Fierce Panda Records, and as is common with many labels and management companies, they had the band take down, then gradually re-release, their previously released material under the new label. Solar Eyes released their debut EP Dreaming of the Moon in April 2022, which I also reviewed. They re-released “I See the Sun” that September, then followed in October with a second EP Alcatraz, which featured “I See the Sun” along with five new tracks. Now they’re back with their third EP Naked Monkey on a Spaceship, featuring four new songs plus the title track that first introduced me to the band. 

Glenn was inspired to write “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship” after hearing a friend proclaim “life is like being a naked monkey on a spaceship, with no control.” The song is darkly beautiful and mesmerizing, with a Depeche Mode-esque vibe, highlighted by a pulsating bass groove, and featuring lush, eerie synths, propulsive drums and swirling riffs of psychedelic guitars. I love Glenn’s gentle droning vocals that have an almost sensual, otherworldly quality.

The cool animated video for the song was created by Birmingham-based videographer, lighting and visual design producer Matt Watkins, who’s also created videos and produced visual design & lighting for live performances by numerous acts, most notably Gorillaz.

Their signature twangy Western-style guitars make an appearance on “Lucifer’s Child” a dark cinematic gem about a devil woman who spreads evil and darkness wherever she goes. Glenn calls out her evil nature: “They schooled you well in the art of deceit. It’s second nature to your evil dreams. She sends the light, the light away“, then warns “But don’t you mess with me again.” The track ends in a discordant flurry of fading distortion in the outro.

Next up is the hauntingly beautiful “Someone Else“, a departure from their usual harder-driven style, and an instant favorite of mine. The multi-textured guitars and dreamy synths are gorgeous, as are Glenn’s melancholic but lovely vocals. About the song, he explained “I’ve been tinkering around with ‘Someone Else’ for years. Initially I wrote it after reading the book ‘Marching Powder’ – I’m sure Brad Pitt bought the rights to it and was going to do a film about it, so I was ready to jump in with it if needed, haha. But as time went on it sort of took on a life of its own, with that feeling that you’re turning into someone else, someone you’re not… going down a dark path. The path of least resistance. Blaming others and then a realisation it’s all on you.”

After the relative calm of “Someone Else”, we’re launched headlong into “Roll The Dice“, which the band calls a “tub-thumping call to arms in the midst of these troubled, rubbled times, top loaded with that Chemical Brothers/Primal Scream mashed-up sound, with the drive and swagger of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as well as a sly nod to the sonic mysteries of Messrs Morricone and Pizzorno.” The video, created by Tom Wagstaff, features surreal black and white kaleidoscopic images interspersed with scenes of a young woman dancing in a bucolic park setting.

The final track “Rabbit Hole” is a psychedelic trip of ominous swirling synths, distorted guitars and spacey sound effects layered over an almost sinister stomping beat. Glenn’s echoed vocals have a menacing, otherworldly feel, perfectly complementing the songs overall spooky vibe as he drones “I’m going down rabbit holes. Looking for what, I don’t know. To know the answers. I’ll keep on searching, I’ll find a cure. I’ll find a lover, won’t that be cool./ I’m on a trip to a different world.

When I first wrote about their music more than a year and a half ago, Glenn told me he’d written lots of songs he was eager to get out into the world. With Naked Monkey on a Spaceship, Solar Eyes now has a total of 16 songs to their credit, all of them superb. I can’t wait to hear what they still have up their musical sleeves!

Glenn and Sebastian are currently in Austin, Texas, where they’ll be performing their songs at the legendary South By Southwest music festival.

Connect with Solar Eyes: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find their music on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

SOLAR EYES – EP Review: “Dreaming of the Moon”

One of my best new finds in 2021 was British psychedelic pop/rock collective Solar Eyes. Based in Birmingham and formed little more than a year ago, the trio is comprised of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Glenn Smyth, Tom Ford and Sebastian Maynard-Francis, who together play an arresting style of pop/rock awash in colorful psychedelic grooves, twangy surf guitars and dreamy cinematic synths. The moment I heard their music I became a fan, and happily reviewed their fantastic singles “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship” and “I See the Sun” (you can read those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post), both of which included B-side tracks. I loved them all, and “I See the Sun” recently spent four months on my Weekly Top 30, two of them at #1. In February, Solar Eyes signed to Fierce Panda Records, through which they’re now releasing their debut EP Dreaming of the Moon, which drops today.

The EP features five tracks addressing a variety of topics, including love, loss, betrayal and the cost of fame. It opens with the title track “Dreaming of the Moon“, a haunting song with some of those gorgeous and cinematic Spaghetti Western vibes I love so much in “I See the Sun”, only slowed down and with greater emotional intensity. A mix of twangy and grungy guitars are layered over a galloping rhythmic beat and a backdrop of moody psychedelic synths, creating a sense of urgency and longing. Glenn has a pleasing voice, and here his vocals have an almost ethereal quality, which he uses to great effect to share his dreams with a loved one for a better life away from the world: “I been dreaming of the moon, I’m gonna get there soon and build a house for us two loons. I’m gonna drive us there, in my own spaceship, and let the world know that I got out. I been dreaming of the moon, how am I gonna make you see that I, really love you?

Here’s a cool 360° video of the band performing the song:

Nothing’s for Free” is a rousing stomper that seems to touch on the perils of being a rock star: “Make some money, girls will find you funny. The bright lights–they make you see, ahhh – nothing’s for free.” I love the song’s exuberant New Order-esque sound, with its lush, cinematic synths, swirling guitars and buoyant driving rhythms. On “Russian Roulette“, Glenn laments of a woman who stole his love and soul, leaving him alone and miserable: “In so much pain, but I’m not to blame. Can you put me out of my misery. The end is here, it’s all coming clear, my sense of freedom has gone.” The music is appropriately dark, with more of those wonderful twangy guitars and moody synths. But the highlight for me are the gorgeous notes from what sounds like a mandolin or balalaika, which combined with the mournful vocal chorus, give the song an almost funereal Russian feel.

Nobody Knows” is a full-blown rocker, with screaming psychedelic riffs, driving bass and thunderous drums that really get our blood pumping. The biting lyrics take issue with self-appointed people who make decisions that have a major impact on society, but are they right or do they even know what they’re doing? “Ooh burn the witches, ooh they’re just bitches. What did it solve? Nobody cares. / Ooh they’re the rulers, ooh they’re the soldiers, who is in charge? Nobody knows.” The music calms to a lovely interlude as it slowly fades out in the final 40 seconds or so.

The final track “Sitting Here on My own Again” reminds me of the music of another band, but I can’t quite put my finger on who it is. At any rate, it’s a wonderful, upbeat-sounding song, but with bittersweet lyrics about preferring to be alone and unhappy: “I gotta let you go, cos this was too far good. I don’t wanna be happy. I wanna sit on my own and play my guitar to myself and no one can hear what I sing, cos I am on my own. / Crying myself to sleep, and that is just my dream, and don’t you be so sad. It’sjust what we had la, la, la, la, la.” I really like the bouncy melody, and the chiming guitars are particularly enchanting.

Dreaming of the Moon is a fine little EP that nicely showcases Solar Eyes’ impressive creativity, imagination and musicianship. As noted by a fellow music blogger, each song sounds completely different, a good indication of the variety in their sound. I hope they’ll continue making great music together for a very long time.

To coincide with the release of their EP, they’re also giving their first ever live performance as a band tonight at a sold out show at Muthers Studio in Birmingham.

Connect with Solar Eyes: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube

SOLAR EYES – Single Review: “I See the Sun”

This past August, I featured the marvelously trippy single “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship” by British psychedelic pop/rock band Solar Eyes, which you can read here. Now the Birmingham trio, who are comprised of Glenn Smyth, Tom Ford and Sebastian Maynard-Francis, are back with a fantastic new single “I See the Sun“. “I See the Sun” is their third release in six months, with many more to come.

“I See the Sun” was born from a conversation Glenn had with the band’s mixing engineer Jeff Knowler. After Glenn mentioned to Jeff that he’d written a cool ’60s-sounding Tarantino-esque track on his newly acquired 12 string guitar, Jeff suggested that he watch Tarantino’s film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood before recording the track. Glenn took Jeff’s advice, and went up to his sweltering attic studio, where he found inspiration in the resounding reverb and echo chambers of late 60s music. He presented his recording to Jeff, who then put Once Upon A Time In Hollywood on loop in the background while he mixed Glenn’s track. The result is a gorgeous, cinematic song, highlighted by twangy western-style guitars that would make Ennio Morricone proud.

Everything about this song is perfect, beginning with that jolting opening guitar note to the infectious, galloping drumbeat, the swirling cinematic synths, castanet-like percussive sounds, soaring harmonies and, most of all, those fabulous spaghetti-western guitars. Then there are Glenn’s beautiful, reverb-drenched vocals as he sings of his eternal love for another: “I see the sun. The light shines on you and me. And that’s the way it’s meant to be, for eternity.” What a great song this is, and I’m loving this band.

As with their previous videos, the colorful animated video for “I See the Sun” was created by Matt Watkins, a videographer, lighting and visual design producer who’s a frequent collaborator with Gorillaz.

Connect with Solar Eyes: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube