FROZEN FACTORY – EP Review: “The First Liquidation”

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 Alternative 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.

Here’s the EP on YouTube:

And Spotify:

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Krosst Out featuring Melotika – Single Review: “Runaway”

I’ve been following Canadian artists Krosst Out and Melotika for more than four years, and it’s been gratifying to watch them grow both artistically and professionally. Krosst Out is the musical alter-ego of singer-songwriter and rapper Aaron Siebenga,, who grew up in a small town not far from Toronto, and melds hip hop with grunge, alt-rock and punk to create his own unique contemporary sound. Melotika is the alter-ego of Mel Yelle, a Montreal-born sultry-voiced singer-songwriter who makes intriguing electro-pop.

The hard-working and creative duo met in Toronto, but are now living in Montreal. They’re both successful artists in their own right, as well as a delightfully charming and hilarious couple I’ve grown quite fond of over the years, and have featured them both numerous times on this blog. Last October, I reviewed Krosst Out’s debut album Phone Calls With Ghosts, a deeply personal work addressing youthful mistakes, broken relationships, and the reality that nothing will ever again be what it once was. (You can read that review here.) And just last month, I chose Melotika’s latest single “Beautiful Disguise” as my New Song of the Week, which you can read about here

Now the two are back with a hot new collaborative single “Runaway“. The song was recorded at Phase One studio in Toronto under the guidance of long-time collaborators Jor’Del Downz and Sean Savage. Drums were played by Spencer “Taabu” Heaslip, who also mixed and mastered the track. With “Runaway”, Krosst Out and Melotika wanted to create a dynamic, punk influenced hip hop ballad reminiscent of the late 1970’s London punk scene. Krosst Out explains “I’ve been calling it 1977 punk meets rap, or Sid and Nancy meet hip hop. I wrote this at the same time I was writing my album Phone Calls With Ghosts, [but] in the end, I just felt like this song deserved to be a stand alone track. ‘Runaway’’s message is one that all can relate to, especially during these times; it’s one of escapism, running away from a place you no longer want to be in. There’s times where we do just need to pick up and run away from everything. If you find yourself in a place you don’t want to be in, pick yourself and run away from that spot, put yourself someplace better. It’s meant to be this cross between both happy and melancholy. The beat was an anthem type feel that gets you amped up, but my chanting of ‘I don’t want to be here’ gives you the feeling of hopping on the next train to anywhere, running away.”  

The song opens with a flurry of spritely skittering synths, then expands with a layer of brooding synths as Melotika croons her lyrics followed by Krosst Out, who raps his lines as a deep trip hop beat kicks in. Soon the melody ramps up into a frantic punk beat at they both shout “I wanna run away, I gotta run away, I’m gonna run away!” This back and forth continues throughout the song, providing alternating moments of frenzied tension with calmer interludes of introspection that convey a cool sense of self-awareness and humor. 

The two have made a crazy-fun video that nicely showcases their strong charisma and zany playfulness.

Connect with Krosst Out:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp 

DUDERAMA – Album Review: “New Views:

Duderama is the instrumental music project of Melbourne, Australia-based Liam Stack and Pierce Brown. The two met in the 1990s while both part of the alt-rock music scene in the capital city of Canberra, and played together in the alt-rock band Narco Wendy and lounge-rock act Coocoo Fondoo. Their collaboration as Duderama began in 2015 when Pierce was living in Melbourne and Liam in Ethiopia. Back in those days, the two created their musical collaborations remotely through phone apps and compressed files that, in their words, “were barely able to squeeze their way through the intermittent (or non-existent) internet of the authoritarian regime at the time.”

Their first release, in July 2015, was the EP The Mask, followed by a couple of double singles and their debut album Peace Fire that November. The duo continued with their prolific music output over the next two years, releasing four more albums by the end of 2017, as well as a couple more double singles and an EP, just for good measure. In July 2019 they released their excellent sixth album Quiet Life, and on January 22nd, they returned with their latest album New View, which they describe as “an elixir for these dark and strange times, where deftly executed and inventive guitar rock interplay can provide a simple joy amidst an era of mass anxiety. A lesson in the joyousness of lo-fi indie rock made with passion.” The guys’ skills for remote collaboration came in handy once again, as the album was recorded and produced during the Covid-19 lockdown. Liam mastered the album, while Pierce designed the art work.

New View features 11 guitar-driven instrumental tracks drawing upon numerous elements of rock, including alternative, progressive, grunge, electronic, psychedelic, and experimental, as well as jazz and funk. They kick things off with “Progtronic Man“, a moody lo-fi track dominated by a super-gnarly droning guitar riff and pulsating bass, punctuated here and there with more melodic guitar notes that add a bit of color to the proceedings. “Deepening Sky” features a funky head-bopping bass line overlain with wonderful jazzy guitar notes, accompanied by the perfect amount of percussion that make it one of my favorites on the album.

The title track “New Views” has a greater sense of urgency, with heavier rhythms, more pronounced synths, and multiple guitar textures, all blending to create palpable tension while still keeping things on an optimistic note. The mood shifts with “No Looking” to a languid, dreamy vibe that conjures up images of a romantic interlude on a sun-drenched tropical island. The warm synths and mix of shimmery and gnarly guitars are all exquisite. “Collapse Away” picks up the pace with an irresistible thumping groove that had me doing a lap dance on my chair! This song has it all: a terrific funky bass line, dynamic percussion, glittery atmospheric synths, and superb intricate guitar work. And speaking of superb guitars, the interplay between the guys’ shimmery and grungy guitars on “Entanglement” is positively mind-blowing.

As it’s title suggests, “Space Yacht” features spacey synths and gnarly psychedelic guitars set to a mid-tempo groove. Those super-grungy, buzzing guitars are back on “Light of a Billion Suns“, heavy, meandering lo-fi track that still manages to sound hopeful, thanks to well-placed melodic guitar notes. “High Life” is a fascinating track, with sort of a low-key Nirvana-esque grunge vibe as its foundation (at least to my ears), and embellished with a mix of late 60s psychedelic guitar notes along with some progressive elements. “Hollow Point” is rather pretty and melodic, with more of the guys’ marvelous intertwining guitar work and some really nice piano keys adding warmth to the track.

The album closes on a high note with “Liquid Beret“, a wonderfully mesmerizing track that’s another of my favorites. I love that powerful walking bass line that gives the song its deep, pulsating groove, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, once again I must gush about the brilliance of the guys’ intricate, multi-textured guitar work. I’m not even sure how to describe it, but that persistent undulating riff is fantastic.

I’ve written about many instrumental albums, a lot of them heavy on synthesized electronic music, which is perfectly fine as I really like that kind of music. But what I especially love about Duderama’s music is how they put their guitars front and center, then build the rest of the music around them. New Views is an outstanding and expertly-crafted work, filled with instrumentally-complex tracks that captivate and surprise with every listen.

Pierce also writes a terrific music blog The Press Music Reviews, so do check it out.

New Song of the Week – “Undone” by Tough on Fridays

In early October, I wrote a review of the outstanding debut album A Fantastic Way to Kill Some Time by Texas grunge pop-rock band Tough on Fridays. I knew the talented female-fronted band had a loyal and growing fan base, but I had no idea just how large and passionate it was. In just two and a half months, the review has received nearly 1,000 views, the most of any post I’ve written in 2020! Now the trio, consisting of Caleigh on vocals & guitar, Carly on bass & vocals, and Chris on drums, are back with a great new single “Undone“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The song opens strong with Carly’s intricate moody bass riff and Caleigh’s cold, matter-of-fact vocals that perfectly convey the sadness and pain expressed in the biting lyrics addressing a selfish and miserable friend of her disappointment with them: “I wish you were special / I really wish you were special / No one was miserable like you.” Suddenly, we’re hit with a blast of her raging gnarly guitars and Chris’s smashing drumbeats as the song ramps up to a fast-paced punk-like tempo. Caleigh’s vocals turn more impassioned as she bitterly informs her friend that their relationship is broken beyond repair and finally come ‘undone’. It’s a banger, and I think it’s their best song yet.

 I wish you were special
 I really wish you were special
 No one was miserable like you
 No, no one had it as bad as you
 Oh lately
 You’ll always be temporary
 
 So point blank and in your face
 Maybe you’ll learn someday
 Make sure I’m not a necessity
 Right before you dispose of me
 Hate yourself and that’s ok
 I want out of your fucked-up game
 
 You’re in misery
 Stay far from me
 I want out of your fucked-up game
 
 You never had anyone
 You never liked to have fun
 I wasn’t just anyone
 Made me come all undone
 I was never really done
 Lie to me,
 Use me
 Stay far away
 Can’t use me up anymore

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Stream:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / Reverbnation

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New Song of the Week – “Shame” by Saboteurs

Saboteurs is a terrific rock band from Lincoln, England who I first featured on this blog in June 2019 when I reviewed their superb debut album Dance With the Hunted. Now they’re back with a dark and hard-hitting new single “Shame“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Consisting of Ben Ellis (lead vocals/guitar), Rick Whitehead (lead guitar/vocals), Geoff Standeven (bass), and Pete Botterill (drums), they combine elements of alt-rock, grunge, post-punk, metal and folk with driving rhythms, intricate melodies, powerful instrumentation and intelligent lyrics to create music that excites and surprises us at every turn.  

As with Dance With the Hunted, “Shame” was produced, mixed and mastered by Hamish Dickinson at Phoenix Sound Studio, Notts UK. Angered by the failed libertarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and inspired by influences of bands like New Model Army, Biffy Clyro and Thrice, Saboteurs has created their most intense and brooding track yet. The song has a harder rock feel, with more pronounced elements of nu-metal and grunge than their previous songs. The band explains that the song “comments on the struggle within liberal democracies to reconcile the tension between civil liberties and the protection of society. And asks whether in fact, we are facing a Malthusian catastrophe as nature fights back against human population growth.”

The guys drive home their withering message with a furious onslaught of grungy riffs, crushing bass and thunderous percussion. The song opens ominously with spooky synths and distorted guitar chords, then we’re hit with a blast of buzz saw riffs and smashing drumbeats as Ellis angrily snarls “You sit around and say it’s a shame but you’re not us and we’re not them.” The dual raging guitars of Ellis and Whitehead set the airwaves aflame while Standeven’s powerful bass line drives the relentless rhythm forward, accompanied by Botterill’s speaker-blowing attack on his drum kit. By song’s end, I’m breathless. “Shame” is a blockbuster rock song, and it’s good to see Saboteurs back and in fine form.

Follow Saboteurs:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
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Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple Music

ERIN INCOHERENT – Album Review: “Déjà Vu”

I’ve featured scores of artists on this blog over the past five years, and one of the more interesting and unique among them is singer-songwriter Erin Cookman, who goes by the wonderful artistic moniker Erin Incoherent. Originally from Fort Collins, Colorado and now based in Philadelphia since late 2017, the self-described “singer, musician, poet, writer, mental health advocate, model, artist, makeup junkie, loudmouth and strong woman” is a hyper-talented songwriter, vocalist and guitarist. She’s also a fiercely passionate and outspoken champion for mental health and issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse, topics that often appear in her powerful songs. Erin’s music style tends mostly toward folk/indie rock with strong punk and grunge elements.

I last wrote about Erin two years ago, in December 2018, when I reviewed her album Medusa, a brilliant 11-song manifesto addressing anxiety, trauma and pain. Now she returns with her new album Déjà Vu, which dropped November 30th. The album was co-produced by Erin and Bill Nobes, and recorded and mixed by Nobes at The House of Robot studio in Wrightstown, New Jersey with assistance from Vincent Troyani. Erin sang all vocals and played guitar and bass, with help from a number of musicians, including Chris Olsen on drums and additional percussion, Nikki Nailbomb on cello for “Of Roaches & Roommates” and bass on “25” and “The Fog”, Skelly on upright bass for “Harvestman”, and Joe Falcey on drums for “Of Roaches & Roomates”. The album was mastered by Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room in Fort Collins. Bill Nobes also did the photography and cover art for the album.

With Déjà Vu, Erin continues to explore themes of disillusionment and pain stemming from emotional trauma, the loss of loved ones, and relationships gone bad. She’s a very fine singer and acoustic guitarist, but it’s her unflinching and profound lyrics that impress me the most. Each song is laid out like a deeply personal story told though a lengthy poem, and her lyrics are so good I’d like to quote them all for every song, but will control myself. The opening title track “Déjà Vu is a shining example of how she skillfully uses tempo and melodic changeups to reflect the different moods expressed by her lyrics. The song starts off with Erin’s gently-strummed acoustic guitar and soft breathy vocals, then both turn more aggressive and harsh as she coldly proclaims that she’s done with the relationship: “I never wanted all of this / Neglect is cold as snow / And now I don’t care where you went because I’d rather be alone.” 

On the bluesy “The Fog“, Erin bitterly laments to a lover whose drug addiction has destroyed their relationship. I like how she uses the words ‘heroine’ and ‘heroin’ in the song to great effect. In one stanza, she sings “And I will never be your heroine / Not for my lack of, lack of trying / You left me, I was broken / No longer, your trophy / Why would I wanna be the habit you’re always kicking?“, then in another almost identical stanza, she sings “And I will never be your heroin…” “The Storm” is a great kiss-off song, with Erin telling the man who broke her heart that he’ll be facing dark times ahead: “And I hope that when the rain comes for you, you’re a little too late, just a little too late to find your way back home / And away you are swept with the hurt, and the pain, and the grief, and the shame that you left me.

25“, with it’s chugging guitar-driven melody and Erin’s gentle, heartfelt vocals, has a haunting Americana vibe. The introspective lyrics seem to speak of being overwhelmed by anxiety and self-doubt: “I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew / I’m scared of dying but I’m scared of living too / I’ve never really felt like I belonged / I don’t feel like people listen, or ever really wanna talk / So now I’m always dreaming of a life that feels like home / Somehow I must make it on my own.” She drastically changes the mood with “Aculeus (The Sting)” a provocative and sensual song that speaks to pansexual desires. First she seductively croons ” Hey, oh yeah, alright boy you’re looking like you want it. Cause I like it hot, I like it cold. Unpredictable and bold / And I think that part of who I am is part of what’s driving you mad.” But then she later sings “…alright girl you know I fucking want you. Cause I like it hot, I like it cold. Unpredictable and bold / My favorite part of who I am.

Perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Of Roaches & Roommates“, a heartfelt tribute originally written for her friend Bonnie who died of a drug overdose, but now dedicated to friends Erin has lost to addiction-related struggles, as well as those fighting to remain clean in recovery. “So now we’re smoking in the basement drinking Old Crow / And we tuned up the Ibanez so we could sing every song we know / Cause Bonnie didn’t have to die man but she shot up / Slug said he didn’t have the narcan but we can’t trust that fuck no, we can’t trust him.” With the help of videographer Shad Rhoades, Erin has produced a deeply moving video featuring interviews of people who’ve lost friends or loved ones to drugs, interspersed with footage of her and her fellow musicians Joe Falcey and Nikki Nailbomb performing the song.

The next several songs deal with emotional pain and the struggle to heal and feel ‘normal’. On “The Plan“, Erin resolves to learn to love herself, warts and all: “One day I’m gonna wake up in my someday / Cause if I don’t, I’d rather not wake up at all / The hardest thing that I’ve learned is to love me even though it hurts / Cause not being able to love me just seems worse.” Continuing on a similar vein, the rousing “The End of the World (again)” sees her feeling overwhelmed by self-doubt and wallowing in her emotional pain: “I can’t seem to live my life with consistency, no matter how hard I try, and I don’t know which is worse – Feeling like ‘I shouldn’t hurt’ or living so comfortably with pain, that it’s all I feel, and all I look for.” But then she resolves to not let it defeat her: “No, it’s my turn, give me time / Piss off, I’m gonna be fine Yeah, it’s my turn.” And on the hopeful and comforting “The Edge of September“, she vows to emerge from her mental breakdown as a stronger person: “I’m pinning my hope on the edge of September and praying the payoff’s not too far away / I’m trying to focus and change for the better / Breakdown’s cause breakthroughs, I’m reminded each day.”

The Coal” seems to speak to the pain each partner in a dysfunctional relationship is going through, with each of them trying to heal without also hurting the other in the process. Erin sings “Maybe it’s your time. Time to fight, time to feel. To do not just what’s right, but what will help you heal / Cause now that the storm has lifted, it’s left you with this view / What the hell will you do?” But then she points out that their actions are detrimental to her own well-being: “And I think you try to make your words hurt. Yeah, I think you like knocking me down. You’re daft if you think that it’s working. You’re not an anchor, I’m not gonna drown. No, nobody ever held me back.

The track “Harvestman” is a bit of an outlier on the album, both musically and lyrically. The song has more of an ethnic folk vibe, with a jaunty Latin guitar-driven melody and lyrics in both English and Spanish. I’m not certain as to the meaning of the spiritual lyrics, but I’m guessing that the harvestmen is a metaphor for death: “The harvestman comes now for me, as fire greets the stars / And I could not grieve, for silently, I knew just where we’d go.” The forest sounds and chirping birds at the beginning and end of the song are a nice touch. The album closes with “Déjà Vu (Reprise)“, a brief track featuring Erin’s lilting and rather haunting a cappella vocals pondering what it all means: “No, you’ll never get it back / Where you’ve been keeps what you’ve lost / Yeah, there is no real conclusion Are we memories, or thought?” To me, it serves to end things on a somewhat upbeat and optimistic tone, while acknowledging there’s not necessarily a ‘happily ever after’.

I’ll admit that it took me a couple of listens to fully grasp and appreciate this rather intense album, as the melodies aren’t immediately catchy, nor are the lyrics the kind you can quickly sing along to. But once I delved more deeply into those meaningful lyrics, as well as discovered the many nuances contained in the music and Erin’s emotive, wide-ranging vocals, I’ve come to realize that Déjà Vu is another brilliant work of musical art by this amazing storyteller.

Follow Erin on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

DYING HABIT – Album Review: “Until the Air Runs Out”

From the picturesque Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales hails alt-rock band Dying Habit, who in mid-October released their debut album Until the Air Runs Out. Officially formed in 2016 after a few years of informally playing together, the band now consists of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and Alan Hart (guitar). Influenced by some of their favorite bands such as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock with progressive undertones.

I’ve previously written about Dying Habit a few times on this blog, first in July 2018 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Unrealities”, then again this past May when I reviewed their single “Solutions”, one of the tracks featured on Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) About the album, which dropped October 16th, band front man Nathan Jones explains: “Almost a year in the making, this album portrays our passion for music, grunge, and a 90s feel which has been given a contemporary makeover. It also explores the difficulties of how our world changed in 2020, as well as mental health, loneliness and how even in the darkest of times there is always hope.”

It’s an ambitious work, featuring 13 tracks and running a total of 46 minutes. There are quite a few gems here, and I’ll touch on the ones that most resonated with me. Kicking things off on an ominous note is “The Prey“, a dark track with heavy stab-like riffs of grungy guitars, spooky synths and a grinding, wobbly bass line, all of which succeed quite nicely in creating a menacing vibe. I really like the instrumentals a lot, and my only criticism is that Nathan’s vocals are sometimes overpowered by the music, making it difficult for me to understand much of what he’s singing.

Lost On You” is a great example of Dying Habit’s superb songwriting and musicianship. I love the meandering melody that goes from a moody, Nirvana-esque groove to a dramatic crescendo, highlighted by a torrent of fiery buzz-saw riffs. I cannot gush enough over Alan’s phenomenal guitar work, and Nathan does a great job on both bass and vocals here as he sings of his frustration to a partner who doesn’t value or appreciate him: “I will never burn these bridges / What are we hurting for? All my reasons, all my conscience, must be lost on you.” The beautiful track “Solutions” speaks to feelings of regret over past mistakes and hurts inflicted toward others, and yearning to make things right but not fully knowing how: “Whatever my mistakes were / Whichever lies I told / The heat is overwhelming but my skin’s remaining cold / This serenity engulfs me yet the world keeps passing by / I long to find solutions.”

I like when bands leave unintended sounds at the beginning or end of their songs, so the belch heard at the beginning “The World’s Too Big For Us” is perfectly fine by me. That said, it’s a terrific progressive grunge rock song, with a chugging start-stop groove, highlighted by a cacophonous mix of super-gnarly and distorted guitars, heavy throbbing bass and spacey synths. Along that same vein, “Red Lines” delivers a wonderful fantasia of grungy as hell riffs, accompanied by pummeling bass, Mark’s crashing percussion and wild psychedelic synths that make for a dramatic and fascinating track.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Out of My Hands“, an enchanting song where the band shows their softer side. The chiming guitars are simply gorgeous, and accompanied by a subtle bass line and just the right amount of percussion that allow the guitars to shine. Once again, it’s hard to make out many of the lyrics Nathan sings, but the exquisite instrumentals more than make up for it.

The title track “Until the Air Runs Out” is another great track that’s heavy on progressive grunge vibes. The song starts off with dark, ominous sounds that conjure up images of an impending battle in a sci-fi movie, then a driving, bass-heavy rhythm ensues along with wailing buzz-saw riffs as Nathan begins to sing. As the song progresses, Alan introduces an upbeat melodic riff that ends things on slightly more optimistic note. “Scared of the People We Love” is a moody six-minute-long tour de force, with an extended instrumental segment that nicely showcases Dying Habit’s outstanding musicianship and skill at playing as a tight unit. And the mesmerizing melody, stunning guitar work, and hypnotic drum beats on album closer “Nowhere to Run” are fantastic.

I must admit that I’m generally more a fan of melodic and dream rock than heavier grunge or progressive-style rock. Nevertheless, I still have a great deal of respect and appreciation for those genres, and do enjoy a fair amount of it. Dying Habit have packed quite a lot of complexity and nuance into their songs, and it took a couple of listens for me to fully get into Until the Air Runs Out. But once I did, I fell head over heels in love with this excellent album. I’ve been following this band pretty much since their beginning and I’m so proud of them. I know they worked hard on this album, and their skill and dedication for producing quality music really shows.

Nathan is also a talented visual artist, with a number of remarkable paintings to his credit. Inspired by their lyrics, album, lockdowns, and anxiety, he created this wonderful abstract oil painting titled ‘Until The Air Runs Out’:

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YARD OF BLONDES – Single Review: “Do You Need More?”

From humble beginnings in France as a folk pop duo making mostly acoustic music, Yard of Blondes have faced some of the same challenges and struggles as many young artists and bands experience since relocating to Los Angeles in 2014. Now a four-piece, they’re finally on an upward trajectory and making a name for themselves with their exciting and edgy style of alternative rock. The band is comprised of the hard-working French-born singer/songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Vincent Walter Jacob and bassist/vocalist Fanny Hulard, guitarist Burak Yerebakan, originally from Turkey, and Northern California native Forrest Mitchell on drums.

I’ve previously featured Yard of Blondes twice on this blog, first in July 2019 when I reviewed their marvelous bilingual single “Je veux danser tout l’été”, along with two alternative versions, then again this past February when I reviewed their single “Lowland”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) Now they’re back with “Do You Need More?“, the third single from their forthcoming debut album Feed the Moon, due for release early next year. The single and album were produced by Billy Graziadei (Biohazard, Powerflo), mixed by Michael Patterson (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and mastered by Maor Applebaum (Faith No More).

In a recent interview with music blog TrueStyleMusic, Vincent provided some background on “Do You Need More?”: “It was one of the first songs we wrote for our upcoming album, and it’s the song we always play first at our shows. It’s a song that seems very straight forward, but it evolves into a more complicated piece as Fanny is adding more and more layers of vocals, and as we end up breaking the installed routine with some surprisingly heavy bridge. Regarding the lyrics, it’s also a tricky song. It feels like a love song at the beginning, but it’s actually a toxic love story where one gaslights another, and it ends up with kind of a Stockholm syndrome situation.

The song is a rampaging beast, storming through the gates like a bat out of hell with furious riffs of grimy guitars and a thunderous barrage of explosive rhythms. Fanny’s throbbing bass line propels the song forward while Forrest keeps pace with his pummeling drumbeats. Meanwhile, Vincent and Burak are busy laying to the airwaves with their aggressive, intertwining guitars, delivering chugging riffs of shredded distortion that threaten to blow out the speakers. Vincent and Fanny’s expressive vocals rise to the occasion, becoming downright feral in the chorus as they wail “Do you need more? Do you really need more? Gimme, gimme, gimme some more! I want it all!” Finally, everyone spent, the song fades out in a hum of reverb.

If the three singles released thus far – “You and I & I”, “Lowland” and “Do You Need More?” are any indication, Feed the Moon is guaranteed to be a terrific album.

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TOUGH ON FRIDAYS – Album Review: “A Fantastic Way To Kill Some Time”

Tough On Fridays is a female-fronted grunge-pop rock band based in Georgetown, Texas, a mid-sized city 30 miles north of Austin. Since forming in 2017, they’ve built an ever-growing fan base through their infectious music, relatable lyrics and high-energy live shows. Blending the best of indie, alt-rock, pop and grunge, they create their own unique style of edgy rock ‘n roll . Making the music are Caleigh on vocals & guitar, Carly on bass & vocals, and Chris on drums.

Since 2017, they’ve released numerous singles and EPs, and beginning this past March, they dropped a series of three double-singles – “Simplicity I”, “Simplicity II” and “Simplicity III” – every two months. On September 4th, they released their long-awaited debut album A Fantastic Way to Kill Some Time, featuring the six previously-released singles along with two new tracks. Showcasing their most mature and refined sound yet, the album was recorded at Empire Sound in Carrollton, TX under the direction of Matt Kennedy, who engineered and mixed the tracks. The album was produced by Eric Nielsen, and mastered by Justin Perkins at Mystery Room Mastering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The album touches on the myriad challenges of young adulthood like self-identity, mental health, and the perilous minefield of relationships and dating. Opening track “Party Scene” sets the tone from both a musical and lyrical standpoint, with urgent riffs of grungy guitars, driving bass and pummeling drums creating an angst-filled vibe for the lyrics decrying the downsides of the party scene. Caleigh bemoans of her general distaste for parties, and how going to them makes her feel more lonely than when she’s alone: “I don’t know why I go all on my own where no one really knows you. Everyone acts drunk too. I just wanna go home all alone / The Party Scene it’s so obscene. The Party Scene it’s not for me.”

Pleased to Meet You” speaks to the anxieties that often occur when meeting new people, that perhaps they won’t like us. At the listening party for the album, Caleigh said “Pleased to Meet You” is a callback to their previous song “Summer” about being a burden, and is a sort of warning to people you meet that they may not want to know you because of your faults and shortcomings: “Maybe I’m different. Maybe I’ve changed. Maybe I’m just a little sad and deranged.” The gnarly guitars on this track are really good.

On “Out of the Blue (The Deep End)“, Tough on Fridays addresses body dysmorphia, a mental condition in which a person obsesses about a perceived flaw or defect in their appearance that’s either non-existent or so minor that others can’t see it. In a late night phone call, the singer expresses her insecurities to a friend: “Dear friend, are you up tonight? I just don’t feel quite alright. I know it’s out of the blue, but I got another shit tattoo. Haven’t slept since god knows when, and I think I’m going off the deep end. / You know it’s hard to stay beautiful.”

Problematic relationships are the subject of several tracks on the album, starting with “My Favorite Mistake“. The song was written and sung by the band’s previous bassist Kelly, who was a senior in high school at the time. (She has since graduated and is now in college at Belmont in Nashville.) To a rousing beat and heavily-strummed grungy guitars, she wistfully sings to a former boyfriend of her conflicted feelings: “You were my favorite mistake. You were the feeling that I love and that I hate. Still think about you, but I still feel you in these walls.”

On “Last Chance to Lose Your Keys“, Caleigh gives her undependable boyfriend the kiss-off: “I shoulda seen it all along. It’s guys like you that make me think I’m better off home on a Saturday night with all my doors locked up tight. I won’t be thinkin’ about you, baby.” The song was originally written by the now defunct band Brand New; Tough on Fridays bought the rights to the song so they could record it and Caleigh spun the lyrics. And on “Patches“, she laments of a boy she’s crazy about, but doesn’t think he feels the same toward her: “All he seems to be, a fucking mystery. Do I mean anything? ‘Cause to me you are everything. / You know you have me. You’ll always be my mystery You look so good to me.” The gentle jangly guitar gives this song more of a folk-rock feel.

Lonely Eyes/Pines” is a low-key grunge song with reverb-soaked fuzzy guitars and restrained percussion that create a somber backdrop for Caleigh’s melancholy vocals. The poignant lyrics speak of regrets over past mistakes and wanting to find a little peace of mind, yet knowing that she’ll keep fucking up: “The sins I repent I will commit all over again. And these pines I will frame. I know it’s seen better days.” “Bad Memories and Wishful Thinking” is a grungy little tune that perfectly encapsulates those times when you feel like everything sucks and you just want to wallow in your misery and self-pity: “If it would rain all day I would be happy just for one day. And I will change my name. For one day if only it’ll rain.”

A Fantastic Way To Kill Some Time is a fine debut album from this hard-working and earnest young band. I like the honesty that shines through in both their relatable lyrics and down-to-earth style of grunge. Plus, it’s always gratifying to see women making great rock music.

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FACE OF STONE – EP Review: “Sex, Guns, Race and Money”

Face of Stone3
Marc Palmer & Brad Schecter

Face of Stone is a Los Angeles-based collaborative music project of songwriter, guitarist and producer Marc Palmer and singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brad Schecter. Each has years of professional experience both as solo artists and with other bands. Marc has been a musician for over 30 years, also serving as lead guitarist for venerable Grammy-nominated L.A. band The Busboys. Brad was previously in Scarred and Blue Embrace, and has also released music as a solo artist, including his acclaimed debut album Live Your Dreams in 2015 (read my review here). With Face of Stone, they combine Marc’s talent for writing hard-hitting guitar-driven melodies and bringing them to life with his prowess on the six-string, and Brad’s talent for penning compelling lyrics, vocal melodies and harmonies, as well as his strong vocals and musicianship. Their mission is to produce their own unique brand of metallic hard rock.

After years of hard work and a few setbacks along the way, Face of Stone has at last dropped their long-awaited EP Sex, Guns, Race and Money, released on the 4th of July via their label Black Grunge Records. The EP is not only hard-hitting and dark, but also socially and politically relevant, exploring subjects like political unrest, sexism, the struggles and mental abuse of love gone wrong, as well as larger themes of biblical significance, and the illusion and slow death of the American Dream.

Kicking off the EP is “Hurry Up and Wait“, an interesting track with a long, musically complex and dramatic intro that borders on progressive rock. After a minute or so, a darkly beautiful melody settles in, highlighted by Marc’s intricate layered guitars and a relentless onslaught of crashing cymbals. Brad’s powerful, resonant vocals express a sense of exasperation as he laments about what seems to be our overall lack of control over the external forces that affect our lives: “Shiny objects don’t just mesmerize. more times they often lie. Too bad it doesn’t matter what we give or if we try. We find out what’s important, hopefully before we die. Through all the pain and sorrow, hurry up and wait.” I especially like the soaring vocal harmonies in the final chorus.

Continuing on a similar theme, “United Shutdown (Sex, Guns, Race and Money)” is a scathing attack on the political and economic forces that have gained power by dividing us and force-feeding us an endless stream of lies and hate. The song is kind of a metal rock answer to Public Enemy’s classic “Fight the Power”, with lyrics strongly advocating us to take back the power: “See what pawns we have become. Surrendered our power, must be undone. Only you can seek the truth. Fight back now or forever be used.” Once again, Marc dazzles us with blistering guitar work as Brad’s commanding impassioned vocals drive home the urgency of the lyrics.

Dark Rocker” is a hard-driving kiss-off song to an old flame he’s fallen out of love with. Brad stated that he wanted the choruses to sound like a Trump tweet: “But something happened to you, I guess you just got old. You never left me, but you’re a dark rocker, not anymore. Sad!” Musically, the song features a frantic, pummeling rhythm that hits a sweet spot between punk, metal and rock’n’roll. Marc’s reverb-heavy distorted guitars are fantastic, and Brad’s colorful, spirited vocals are terrific as always.

Red Moon Sky” was the very first single released by Face of Stone back in April 2018 and it’s a belter. (You can read my review here.) The song blasts open with a barrage of raging riffs, chugging bass and pummeling drums, punctuated by tasty bits of distorted guitar that give the song added punch. Marc’s electrifying riff in the bridge is fire, and Brad’s raw, impassioned vocals bring chills as he snarls the lyrics that touch on the thin line between love and hate that can occur in a tempestuous relationship plagued by bad feelings and distrust: “Not one to deny what you need to feel fulfilled. Just not the one to do it. You’re not someone who is capable of change. No matter what, you stay the same.” The song spent more than four months on my Weekly Top 30 over the summer of 2018, and ended up at #50 on my Top 100 Songs of 2018 list.

The gorgeous “Through the Wildnerness” touches on the story of the Jews’ escape from Egypt. At first glance, it seems like a rather odd song choice in the EPs lineup, but the more I thought about it, I believe it fits in with the overall theme of seeking freedom from oppression. It’s a grandiose song of near-epic scale, with dramatic instrumentation highlighted by a haunting jangly guitar riff, and accompanied by a thunderous mix of chugging gnarly and distorted guitars, heavy buzzing bass and explosive percussion that make for an electrifying listen. Brad’s plaintive vocals are chilling as he sings “Hand of god, delivered us. He will guide the way home today. He brought us out of Pharoah’s land. Destroyed him with his hand.”

Sex, Guns, Race and Money is a great little EP that nicely showcases the immense talents of the two musicians of Face of Stone. There’s a lot of power and intensity packed into the EPs 20-minute run time, and if you like great guitar work and expressive vocals combined with exquisite songwriting, you will enjoy this record.

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