VAZUM is a deathgaze duo from Detroit, Michigan, consisting of Zach Pliska (vocals/guitar/drums) and Emily Sturm (vocals/bass). Combining elements of deathrock, goth, post-punk and shoegaze, they create their signature dark, haunting and melodic sound that sounds vaguely familiar, yet totally unlike anyone else I’ve heard. Since forming in 2017, the highly imaginative and prolific duo have released an impressive four albums, three EPs and nearly a dozen singles, all of which they produce, record, engineer and mix independently at their own Light Echo Studios.
I’ve followed VAZUM for over a year, and am finally featuring them on this blog on the occasion of the release of their latest single “Double Stellium“. Stellium is an astrological term that refers to when someone has at least three planets in one zodiac sign or house in their birth chart. Having a double stellium can be very intense with a lot of energy focused in specific areas. Both Zach and Emily have double stelliums in their astrological charts, hence the song’s theme and title.
The song blasts open with a jarring onslaught of shredded psychedelic guitars and explosive pummeling percussion, then settles into an eerily beautiful and melodic soundscape of industrial synths, those shredded guitars ever-present in the background. Halfway through, the music returns to the same intensity we heard at the beginning, before quickly calming back down, only to rev back up at the end for a final bombastic flourish. Zach and Emily’s echoed droning vocal harmonies are perfectly suited to the goth-flavored instrumentals, nicely enhancing the song’s overall haunting feel.
The lyrics are probably open to interpretation, but my take is that they speak to loving those close to us and living life to the fullest in the here and now, given the eventual certainty of death.
Soon it will claim us all Drained, pale porcelain dolls Swept in a sanguine pulse Dark dreams, nothing else Doesn’t really matter who we were All that really matters
I’ll lie here with you till nightfall I’ll bleed here in you till nightfall I’ll lie here with you There’s no end I’ll bleed here in you There’s no end
VAZUM also created and produced the trippy video for the track.
pMad is the solo music project of Irish singer-songwriter Paul Dillon, a lifelong lover of music who’s been involved in songwriting and performing for years. Based in County Galway, Paul was previously a member of the bands Starve the Barber and The Suicidal Dufflecoats, and currently a member of The Greeting, as well as his project pMad. His eclectic sound, which is a dramatic and fascinating blend of darkwave, post-punk, alternative and goth rock, is heavily influenced by some of his favorite acts like The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, Sonic Youth, Suicidal Tendencies, The The and Tom Waits.
When the pandemic lockdowns impacted his and just about every other artists’ ability to make and perform music, Paul created a “The Best of Irish Indie” page on Facebook, in which he ran a series of ‘Best of Irish’ polls. The response was so positive, he was newly energized and inspired to rework and record some of his previously-written songs, along with some newly-written ones. Without ever being in the same room together, he took advantage of modern recording technologies to create a number of singles remotely in collaboration with Zedakube Recording (Ireland), Protonaut Studio (Germany) and Elith Mastering Labs (Mexico). He released his debut single “Who Am I” last December, then followed in February with “Medicine”, and “Broken” in April (which I reviewed in a Fresh New Tracks post). He subsequently dropped a six-track EP Broken in May, featuring four songs and two remixes, then another single “Horror” in June, and today returns with his latest single “Sisters“.
Like most of pMad’s songs, it’s dark, brooding and intense, but I loved “Sisters” upon my first listen. Even my husband, who’s not much into goth or alternative rock, liked it the moment he heard it. What a magnificent song it is, driven by a deep, chugging bassline, and awash in ominous darkwave synths, layered guitars and pulsating drums. There are so many brilliant instrumental textures and elements, such as the contrasting shimmery and gnarly, reverb-soaked guitars and dramatic swirling synths, all creating a darkly beautiful cinematic soundscape for pMad’s arresting monotone vocals that come across as simultaneously menacing and hopeful.
About “Sisters”, pMad says it speaks of “those we love gone too soon. They don’t go away very far, they walk beside us every day… having left such an impression on us! They are still loved, still missed and a very important influence on our lives.” He elaborated further in an interview for the NenesButler Presents Music blog: “The inspiration for ‘Sisters’ was my youngest sister Keira who just dropped dead one day! Too young and too good to die, yet she did. We mourned, but the world will spin with you or without you. So, life goes on but she left an indelible mark in my life, like my father and relations and friends that have died. She was a cool, calm character and had some great sayings and thoughts on life. Of course, like me and any of us, she was not perfect, and had a few of her own demons to conquer too. She always saw the good in people, [and] the one great thing she always said, if someone was mean to her or anyone, was ‘be kind to them, you don’t know what they are going through right now’.
“Sisters” is fantastic, and I think it’s the best single released yet by pMad! He plans on dropping more singles in the coming months, and his album Who Why Where What is scheduled for release in November.
The fabulous artwork for the single was created by Little Bird Design.
Ava Vox is the music project of Irish singer-songwriter Elaine Hannon, a fascinating and seasoned artist who’s been involved with music for much of her life. Originally from Dublin and now based in County Meath, she started her music career at the age of 17 as vocalist for a band, then in 1986 she formed alternative goth rock/post-punk band The Seventh Veil. Their music garnered airplay on Irish radio and earned positive reviews in local press, and they even won a Battle of the Bands competition. They lasted five years until disbanding in 1991. Hannon spent the next few decades involved with various other music projects, and was in the early stages of forming another band when the Covid pandemic brought everything to a halt (as it did for just about every other artist and band) in early 2020. Unable to perform live or record together, she eventually made the decision that September to create her own solo act under the moniker Ava Vox.
With her distinctive deep vocal timbre and commanding delivery, not to mention her arresting goth persona, Ava Vox is a dynamic and compelling performer. Her music style is similar to that of her previous band The Seventh Veil, namely alternative rock imbued with goth rock and post-punk elements, and steeped in strong 80s sensibilities. She began recording songs remotely with a talented group of musicians from Dublin, Scotland, Brazil and Italy, for what would become her debut album Immortalised, which she released on March 25th. Specifically, piano/keyboards and Hammond organ were played by Ray McLoughlin, who also arranged the strings and co-produced the album, electric guitar by Enda Dempsey, bass by James Blennerhassett, and drums Robbie Casserly.
The album features eight marvelous tracks, five of which were previously written and performed by Hannon and her The Seventh Veil bandmates, along with three covers of iconic songs by The Cure, David Bowie and Soft Cell. She elaborates: “I revisited some songs that were written collectively by me and my previous band. I wanted to give these songs new life again, for the world to hear them. Then these songs would be preserved for evermore” – i.e. ‘immortalised’. As for the three covers, she stated that each of those artists and songs were inspirational for her, and hold a special place in her heart.
The album bursts open with “Crash” a darkly beautiful cinematic rocker and standout track. I love the aggressive, pulse-pounding beat, fortified with gothic industrial synths, powerful galloping rhythms and – most appropriately – a torrent of crashing cymbals. Ava’s commanding vocals raise goosebumps as she issues dire warnings of impending doom. The dramatic video, produced by Isaac Burke, is intended to bring attention to the devastation caused by climate change/global warming. Ava portrays the white witch goddess, symbolizing mother nature, who loves the earth and all its species, and provides us with a glimpse of the present and what the future could be, the potential end of the world/extinction of species and the human race.
All of the tracks on Immortalised are strong. “Silent Tear” and “Alone Again” are beautiful synth and guitar-driven rock songs, with compelling melodies that stuck with me long after hearing them. The latter song describes an abusive relationship, wherein the victim eventually finds the courage to escape from their abuser, but sadly falls prey to the abuser’s false charms and promises to change, returning for more: “It’s here again, in rings of garland. Opened eyes and telling hearts. Punch me, hard against the wall. Kick me, trip me, hush me til I fall.”
Another favorite of mine is “One Sweet Goodbye“, a haunting piano ballad about the searing pain that results from the end of a relationship. Ray McLoughlin’s gorgeous piano and string arrangement create a stunning cinematic backdrop for Ana’s heart-wrenching vocals as she laments “Goodbye, goodbye, I feel as though I will die.” “Heart of Good Intention” is great too, with it’s exuberant organ-based groove that calls to mind the music of early 80s The Kinks.
Ava does a fine justice to the three cover songs: “Tainted Love“, originally written by Ed Cobb and recorded by American singer Gloria Jones in 1964, and later covered in 1981 by British duo Soft Cell, “Life on Mars” by David Bowie, and “Love Song” by The Cure. “Tainted Love” is given a full-band treatment, with piano and Hammond organ played by Ray McLoughlin, electric guitar by Daniel Martin and drums by Jonathan Owens, whereas “Life on Mars” and “Love Song” are more stripped down, with mainly piano by Ray McLoughlin (as well as Hammond organ on “Life on Mars” and a bit of drums at the end of “Love Song”) accompanying Ava’s arresting vocals. “Love Song” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and has been covered by many acts, most notably 311, Adele, Good Charlotte, Tori Amos, Death Cab for Cutie and Nina Sky. Ava’s slowed-down interpretation is quite lovely, and her heartfelt vocals are particularly moving, beautifully expressing the intense enduring love described in The Cure’s lyrics.
I’m glad Ava Vox decided to immortalize her songs with this album, and she and her crew have done an outstanding job in its production and execution. Listening to Immortalised is 26 and a half minutes well spent.
I’ve recently featured more international acts on this blog than ever (in the past few months I’ve written about artists & bands from South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, England, Wales, Germany, Italy and Denmark, as well as a compilation album featuring artists from across Europe), and today I’m pleased to introduce my first ever act from Finland, a wonderful band called Frozen Factory. I learned about them when band vocalist Stephen Baker reached out to me about their new EP The First Liquidation, which dropped May 28th.
Formed rather spontaneously at the end of 2018, the Helsinki-based group has undergone numerous personnel changes, and now consists of founding member Tomi Hassinen on bass, Stephen Baker (who’s originally from England) on vocals, Mici Ehnqvist on lead guitar, and Marianne Heikkinen on drums. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Alice In Chains, Iron Maiden, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine, they create moody, complex and melodic alternative rock with strong undercurrents of progressive, grunge, symphonic, metal and dream rock. This seemingly contradictory and eclectic combination of stylistic elements makes for some incredibly compelling and darkly beautiful music that’s a joy to listen to.
They released their marvelous debut album Planted Feet in June 2020, then followed with a series of singles from December 2020 to May 2021, which culminated in the release of The First Liquidation. Interestingly, the EP almost never got made, as Frozen Factory originally planned to drop a few one-off singles before moving on to focus on their already-written second album, to be released later this year. But they were having so much fun creating these new songs that ‘a few singles’ eventually grew into to a five-track EP, which then ballooned to become what the band describes as “an EP with a suspiciously high number of tracks.” It now features eight tracks, six of which are fully fledged songs, with the other two serving as intro and outro. Because it runs less than 30 minutes in length, the band feels it doesn’t quite qualify as an album, hence their insistence in calling it an EP. The songs were co-written by Stephen and Tomi, with Tomi also flawlessly producing the EP.
About the EP, Stephen explains: “We’re extremely proud to present this record to you. In between our main records we wanted to spend some time practising our craft using some strong songs that didn’t match the theme of our previous or upcoming albums. It’s been even more rewarding than we imagined in terms of fun and from how much we’ve learned making these songs. This record takes a brief look at human-to-human relationships, expressing some thoughts on empathy or lack of, and telling a couple of true stories.We think you’ll enjoy the emotive true-to-life direction of the record and the expanded use of sound design. We’re active with talking to those who follow us, especially on Instagram, so please come and say hi and join our mailing list on http://www.frozenfactorymusic.com.”
In listening to the EP, what first strikes me is that, despite its relatively short run time, it feels almost like a rock opera or an epic musical in the vein of Les Misérables. This is partly due to the music’s complex and cinematic arrangements, but also the sounds and interludes used between songs that work to tie them together. Also, Stephen’s gorgeous vocals have a rich and commanding timbre that make them perfectly suited for the more grandiose orchestration. (As a side note, he recorded his vocals in a tiny home sauna that he converted into a sound booth, so as not to disturb his family and neighbors. Because it heated up very quickly within the enclosed space, he recorded vocals in his underwear.)
The opening track “The Alternate Missed” starts off rather ominously, with dark, cinematic synths and distant choral vocals, followed by sounds of footsteps in snow and a door opening and closing as someone enters a building. The ominous music returns along with Stephen’s vocals earnestly singing the profound lyrics that seem to speak of a fallen leader, and setting the tone for the EP: “And once his head’s spun with truth and fiction. The wise lament lest they ignore his final diction. And languish their judgement or vanquish indeed. His theatre has vanished and with it his heed. And we all miss the man that he could have been.”
The song immediately segues into “Au Contraire“, a lovely, melodic song with lyrics in both English and French. The song continues with the theme introduced in the previous track, namely what seems to me to be the duplicity of a hubris-afflicted leader who disregards the suffering of his/her citizens: “Fait accompli. The value of the public’s clear. Raison d’être, to earn for you through their blood, sweat, and tears. Objet d’art, the walls of that cathedral stand, Vis à vis, now aligned with your contempt for those who truly need.” Stephen beautifully sings the English and French lyrics with ease, accompanied by guest vocals by French singer Madeleen singing the choruses. The whistling at the beginning of the song, as well as the warm organ and accordion notes and gently-strummed guitars give the song an intriguing French flair.
One of my favorite tracks on the EP is the anthemic “Hour of Need“, with its stirring piano-driven melody and dramatic soaring choruses. The song’s arrangement and execution are first-rate, nicely showcasing the exceptional musicianship of all four band members. I don’t know who plays piano here, but it’s stunning, and I love Stephen’s plaintive vocals, backed by Marianne’s hauntingly beautiful harmonies. The poetic lyrics are somewhat ambiguous to me, but my guess is that they speak to the current fears and strife facing many of us, urging us to remain focused on the big picture, and make the best of this one life we’re given: “In our hour of need, we’re adrift endlessly / Always remember this journey’s but once. Don’t cast it away. A sound destination sits on the horizon. Keep above the waves.”
Frozen Factory taps into their metal sensibilities on “Old Money“, which has a frantic, almost punkish vibe, both musically and lyrically. Mici rips through the airwaves with his blistering guitar work, while Tomi and Marianne keep the pummeling rhythms moving forward at full throttle. Stephen’s rapid-fire vocals sound fiercer than ever as he launches into a diatribe against the wealthy elite and how they keep the rest of us financially enslaved: “Some are born in, with every way out they could wish for. Others are born out, with no way in. Yet many search endlessly for an open door./ Their old money. Their old kings and queens. Their bloody tricks. They’ve had us on our knees.”
I have a special fondness for female drummers, and this video shows Marianne working her magic.
They then show their softer, more introspective side on the poignant ballad “Two Dads“. The touching song is about a man on his way to work who encounters a homeless man begging for a handout. He fumbles through his pockets, only to discover he has no change to give him, and thinks about the fact that they both have children who they’d give their life for, and how fate and luck have put them in such differing life circumstances: “His face says that he knows, my growing dread has been shown. He’s sensed me thinking of my son. We’d both die to save a cherished one. I can’t begin to comprehend gifts only received by the few lucky kids. Ought’a run to my job, can’t be late, no I won’t miss my stop. After leaving I ponder my time. Could have gone to get cash, my career would survive.”
“When You’ve Grown” is equally poignant, with lyrics spoken internally from a father to his child who’s growing up so fast, thinking out loud about how he will miss them as they are now, yet looking forward to knowing them as an adult too: “I feel I will miss you when you’ve grown. That child you are today, it’s sad that we won’t meet again./ I’d never hold you back. Never hope for that. I’ll be proud to see the grown-up that you will be.” The song starts off slowly, with eerie synths and a far-off gently pounding drumbeat that’s soon replaced by somber piano chords as Stephen wistfully sings. Halfway through, the music and Stephen’s vocals turn more dramatic and impassioned, with heavier metal-rock guitar and percussion, before calming back down at the end.
The powerful and haunting rock anthem “You” is another strong track, with outstanding guitar work, sweeping keyboards and thunderous percussion. Mici’s fiery guitar solo and Stephen’s impassioned vocals are fantastic, leaving me covered with goosebumps. The lyrics seem to speak to a leader of some kind who’s waging a valiant but continuously threatened effort against tyranny: “You build us up, and you’re torn down. We suck the gun aimed at you. Target of the noose. You call injustice by its name. And you won’t stop until it’s better. Though you’re sick of the lies. You give yourself for our lives. Enduring the pressure.”
The EP ends on a somewhat optimistic note with “An Improbable Flame“, a brief, rather dark-sounding track that opens with harsh sounds of radio static, eerie thumping drumbeats, ill winds and breaking glass, which are eventually replaced with a somber piano movement. Stephen speaks the hopeful lyrics that perhaps we’ll do better next time: “A flame is improbable in a storm that’s unstoppable. Yet it is not the storm but the greed that tips the candlestick. To light for one a second wick, only to snuff their blessing out. Yet when gifted another time and place, perhaps this soul won’t make the same mistake. But share instead that flame around, til’ the winds blow not amongst the circled crowd.”
In another review of The First Liquidation for Finnish webzine Kaaos, a writer criticized the eclectic nature of the music and songs, commenting that “the listening experience leaves you wondering what the band really wants to be: serene, flexible British pop, gloomy Gothic rock, or post-grunge world pain?” He couldn’t be more wrong, as I think the variety of styles and sounds of the songs are a real strength, keeping the EP sounding fresh and surprising, rather than boring and predictable. Every track is superb, and I found that I grew to love each song with repeated listens, as the music is so complex and rich, and Stephen’s arresting vocals such a joy to hear. The First Liquidation is an exceptional work on every level, and I’m now a committed fan of Frozen Factory.
British electronic goth punk rock band Calling All Astronauts have never shied away from writing provocative lyrics about the dark underbelly of politics, culture and society, and calling out authoritarians, fascists and racists as often and as loudly as possible. Drawing from an eclectic mix of genres and influences ranging from electro, alternative rock, goth, punk, metal, rap and dub step, the London-based trio create music that’s exhilarating, melodic, compelling and often in-your-face. Making this musical mayhem are vocalist/songwriter/programmer and producer David Bury, guitarist J Browning and bassist/keyboardist Paul McCrudden.
Since forming nearly a decade ago, Calling All Astronauts have released numerous singles and EPs, as well as three excellent albums – Post Modern Conspiracy in 2013, Anti-Social Network in 2016, and #Resist, which dropped this past June. (It’s hard to believe that nearly four years have passed since I reviewed their single “Life As We Know It”!) They’re now set to release one of the tracks from #Resist – “Divided States of America” – as their 19th single on September 18th. The single, being released via Supersonic Media, is a scathing attack on the current political situation in the U.S. As someone who loathes President Donald Trump and what’s become of the Republican Party that’s enabled him (not to mention the millions of delusional Americans who still support him), this song strongly resonates with me.
Musically, the song features a powerful punk-style dance beat that gets our blood pumping and emotions appropriately riled up. Paul McCrudden’s throbbing bass line is deliciously heavy and deep, pummeling our senses as he drives the rhythm forward like a battering ram, while J Browning lays down a swirling deluge of grungy guitars, punctuated by some nicely-placed stabbing chords. With his characteristically gruff vocals, David snarls the blistering lyrics with a venom that reflects my own sense of outrage and despair.
Society falling in a downward cycle
We checked it’s pulse, it’s signs ain’t vital
Decay. Decline. Sodom and Gomorrah
No matter what they tell you, there’s no tomorrow
Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door
Two percent looking down at the rest
And the guy in the store wears a bulletproof vest
White folks offended by “Black Lives Matter”
But it ain’t their kids, whose blood is getting splattered
Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the doorMen in suits, above the law
Another refugee pushed against the wall
“The country’s fantastic, we’re doing great”
The President declares a De facto State
Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door
For the single version used in the video, David’s three-year-old daughter Daisy is heard talking at the end. Engineer Alan Branch (NIN, Depeche Mode, U2) was mixing the track and asked David to record a straight version of the chorus for the end. As Daisy heard her daddy doing the lines over and over, she proceeded to run round the studio singing the chorus, whereupon a mic was quickly handed to her and she happily contributed a few words.
Here’s the slightly longer album version of the song:
I’m starting a new blog feature “EML’s Favorite Songs”, in which I post an old classic that’s an all-time favorite of mine. A few weeks ago, I wrote about “Nature Boy” by Nat “King” Cole, and today my pick is the brilliant “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure. The song is from their 7th studio album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, and along with “Lovesong” is my favorite among their scores of great songs. It was released in October 1987, and was the band’s first song to break the top 40 in the U.S. though, shockingly, only peaked at #40 on the Billboard Hot 100! Over time, the song has come to be recognized as one of The Cure’s finest, and Pitchfork ranked it as the 12th best song of the 1980s. It certainly ranks among my favorites of the 1980s.
Band frontman Robert Smith was inspired to write “Just Like Heaven” after a trip to the seashore with his girlfriend and future wife Mary Poole, who he met in high school and to whom he’s been married for over 30 years. The song immediately grabs hold with Boris Williams’ fantastic opening drumroll, then Smith’s jangly descending guitar line enters, chiming its way through waves of glittery synths, tinkling piano keys and crashing cymbals, sweeping us headlong into a gorgeous and dreamy soundscape. Simon Gallup’s pulsating bass line and Williams’ powerful thumping drumbeat provide a solid rhythmic vibe, propelling the song into the sonic stratosphere. It’s a masterpiece!
Smith’s distinctive vocals, which occasionally sound off-kilter on some of their songs, are perfection here as he sings of the dizzying love and lust two people feel for each other:
‘Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick The one that makes me scream’ she said ‘The one that makes me laugh’ she said And threw her arms around my neck ‘Show me how you do it and I promise you I promise that I’ll run away with you I’ll run away with you’
Spinning on that dizzy edge I kissed her face and kissed her head And dreamed of all the different ways I had to make her glow ‘Why are you so far away?’ she said ‘Why won’t you ever know that I’m in love with you? That I’m in love with you?’
You, soft and only You, lost and lonely You, strange as angels Dancing in the deepest oceans Twisting in the water You’re just like a dream…
Daylight licked me into shape I must have been asleep for days And moving lips to breathe her name I opened up my eyes And found myself alone, alone, alone above a raging sea That stole the only girl I loved And drowned her deep inside of me
You, soft and only You, lost and lonely You, just like heaven
The Cure are finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today, March 29, 2019.
The Silence Kit is a Philadelphia-based band that plays dark indie alternative rock inspired in equal parts by post punk, shoegaze, neo-psychedelia, goth rock and avant-garde. Formed in 2002 by singer/guitarist Patrick McCay, the current lineup also includes Justin Dushkewich on bass, Darren O’Toole on drums & percussion, James Gross on guitar, and Bryan Streitfeld on synths. The band has released a number of albums, EPs and singles over the years, and in late October, they dropped their fifth album Fall Protection, which follows their acclaimed 2014 album Watershed.
Their music has been compared to bands like The Cure, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, Nick Cave, and Television, but they’ve forged their own signature sound over the years, and Fall Protection sees the band continuing to grow and evolve, fusing together the atmosphere and intensity of early 80s post-punk and goth rock with the spirit of early 90s grunge and indie rock. In the recording of the album, the band had assistance from guest musician Kristin Kita, who played guitar on tracks #1, 7, 9, 10 and synths on #3, 5, 6, 8. The album was recorded and mixed by band front man Patrick McCay and mastered by Dave Downham.
“Supermarket” kicks off the album with dark, almost psychedelic synths and grungy guitars propelled by a strutting bass line and infectiously melodic drumbeat. McCay’s vocals are wonderful, with a vulnerable urgency as he croons “In the glow of the supermarket. I wanna feel like I’m in my own dream…again. I miss the kiss of your first attraction. I want to be in deep and sleepless love…again. Time and time again, I will find you. / Lucky me, you found me too.” “New Year’s Eve” speaks to the random nature of our lives year in and year out: “There’s no such thing as karma, or what other’s like to call fate. What you give is irrelevant, and what you get is random…” The music features exuberant layers of fuzzy and jangly guitars and powerful drums.
“This Time” serves up a deep, thumping bass line, delicious jangly guitars and the kind of strong, pummeling drumbeat that I love in songs. McCay’s emotionally wrought vocals seem to channel The Cure’s Robert Smith on this track. And the stunning chiming guitar work and sweeping melody on “Can We Skip This?” really showcase The Silence Kit’s strong musicianship. By the fifth track, the stellar, hard-hitting “Everything You Feel Good About,” I’m pretty well hooked on this band’s arresting music style and McCay’s slightly off-kilter but always captivating vocals.
The phenomenal “Wound” is another great example of what I’m talking about. The dark song starts off with a melancholy piano riff, accompanied by ominous synths, a deep, buzzing bass line and chugging guitars as McCay sings with a low, almost menacing voice. “I got this one thing on my mind. I’ve got to keep from losing you. / I wear this like it’s my own, a fine wound, so much to lose.” Two thirds of the way in, the tempo speeds up to a frantic pace as guitars rage and McCay screams “Don’t say a word” several times, then the music slows back down through to song’s end.
One of my favorite tracks is the brooding “Worry,” with its reverb-heavy layered guitars, sweeping psychedelic synths and tumultuous percussion that create an immense backdrop for McCay’s intensely passionate vocals. Another standout is the monumental six and a half minute-long “Never Say Goodbye.” Its haunting melody, lush, soaring instrumentals, and intricate guitar work are all positively breathtaking. The band keeps dazing our senses with raging riffs, dark synths, thunderous drums and raw vocals on “How Does it Feel?” and “Tablecloth.” McCay’s vocals sound decidedly British on the former track as he wails “How does it feel when you’re down and you find out everyone loves your best friend now? How does it feel when you’re gone?”
They seem to pull together all the elements of their signature sound and put them on full display on the gorgeous album closer “Discard.” The stunning reverb-heavy jangly guitars that open the epic track and continue throughout are fantastic, serving as the foundation for this magnificent song. Waves of sparkling, psychedelic synths wash over the guitars, aided by a deep bassline and layer upon layer of crashing cymbals and turbulent drums. It’s a massive song and the perfect ending to an equally massive album that leaves me awestruck.
I’ve been revisiting a number of artists that I previously featured on this blog, and my latest is the Bradford, UK dark wave/psychedelic/electro-pop band They Called Him Zone. Formed in early 2016, they quickly released their debut EP Miami, then followed up with a stellar mini-album Crow Swan Wolf in February 2017, which I reviewed. Now they return with a double single “Death Drive / I Like Noise,” released today, the 25th of August, through their label Ambicon Records.
They Called Him Zone consists of Mik Davis (lead vocals, drones and production), Steve Maloney (guitar, backing vocals and production), and John Bradford (keyboards and percussion). For these songs, they were joined by Cat McLaughlan who provided backing vocals. In describing their sound, sometimes the band’s own words offer the best explanation: [Our music] “combines sultry electronica with chewed-up, modulated guitars, evoking rain-drenched, neon-daubed streets, proscribed chemicals, and black-clad malcontents wearing mirror shades after dark. And it’s always dark where they come from…“
Both songs seem to address our darker sides. Lead track “Death Drive” evokes a shadowy netherworld of lust and danger with its hypnotic beat and harsh industrial synths. Maloney’s gritty and sometimes wailing guitars amplify the sense of foreboding, while in a rather menacing monotone, Davis sings the lyrics that seem to speak to an addiction – whether it be drugs, sex or some other obsession:
We’ve become so cold, playing out in the rain, Waiting out for June, you make me cold sweat… My body shakes when I’m with you, I feel no pain… The death drive.
The equally dark video for the song was produced by Bradford-based Twenty Twenty Films, and features alternative models Zombie Cat Girl and Miss Gerrish, and method actor Mark Morris.
The B-side “I Like Noise” is a short track with a fast, repetitive beat and pulsating synths that deliver a post-punk psychedelic feel. Like the music, the lyrics are minimalist, and my guess is that they’re about numbing one’s pain by engaging in pleasurable but dangerous or taboo activities:
I like pills, I like noise, I like thrills, I like toys… I like girls, I like boys, I like machines that make noise… I like noise, I like, noise, I like machines, that make noise… I tried love, I tried hate, I tried pain…
Both songs are brilliant, further demonstrating that They Called Him Zone is a cutting-edge band who pushes boundaries to create music that’s distinctive, mesmerizing and always provocative.
It might seem to my readers that I’m obsessed with UK artists, but there’s just so much really fine music coming out of the British Isles that I’m compelled to feature their music time and time again. Another UK act I recently stumbled upon is a duo that goes by the intriguing name They Called Him Zone. Their music is hard to classify because it draws from many stylistic elements, but a good label might be ‘Dark-wave Gothic Alternative Psychedelic Electro-pop.’
Barely a year old, They Called Him Zone formed in early 2016, and consists of Mik Davis (lead vocals, programming) and Steve Maloney (guitar, programming, backing vocals). They are joined by John Bradford on keyboards and percussion for live performances (coincidentally, the band is from Bradford, England). As their bio states, ‘Their approach combines a love of post-punk abrasiveness and electronic experimentation with a pop sensibility, albeit one at the darker end of the spectrum.’ Hallmarks of their sound are mesmerizing synth chords, heavy bass, shredded guitars and Davis’s seductive, breathy vocals.
They released their debut EP Miami in early 2016 to wide acclaim, receiving airplay both globally and on BBC Introducing. They’ve now produced a new six track mini-album titled Crow Swan Wolf that’s due for general release through Ambicon Music in February 2017, although they’ve made two of the songs available for purchase on Bandcamp, as well as released two videos on YouTube.
The first cut on the album, and also one that’s already available for purchase, is the spellbinding “Just Fall.” A hypnotic EDM beat is overlain with lush synths that alternate between soothing and raw, a warm guitar riff keeping pace. Davis’s seductive vocals lend a mysterious, almost menacing vibe to the song, although the lyrics seem to be about plunging into a romantic relationship: ‘There will be a place where we can settle down. Watch ourselves in the sun, reaching up to clouds. Waking up from dreams. Holding out for love.‘ The song’s gorgeous video features stunning computer-generated imagery.
The second released track, and a real standout, is “Devil Dying.” A delicate synth movement begins the song, then scratchy guitars are introduced, along with a heavy bass line. Halfway through, the music ramps up with a guitar riff that would make The Cure proud, and our ears are treated to more of Davis’s sultry vocals.
More dark synths and scratchy shredded guitars are featured on the ethereal “Oh Well Nevermind” and “Wish You Were Here.” The band channels Depeche Mode in “Only You,” with a catchy EDM beat and echoed synths and guitars that create a compelling, otherworldly vibe. The darkest track on the album is “Waste You.” To a languid, repetitive bass line, distorted synth chords and a mournful guitar riff, Davis menacingly sings “I’ll waste you, I’ll take you. Even in my dreams I like to hate you.” The song closes with a computer-altered voice-over of a portion of the moving speech Robert Kennedy gave in Indianapolis after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., that tragically foreshadowed his own assassination two months later.
This is a great, well-crafted album that explores man’s darker sensibilities with imaginative use of electronic synthesizers and artful instrumentation. Support They Called Him Zone by following them on Twitter and Facebook. Stream their music on Soundcloud and purchase it on Bandcamp.