LAGPASS – EP Review: “Ostrich Approach”

Lagpass EP art

Lagpass is the new music project of a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Chicago who’s previously recorded under the name Draft Evader. I’ve featured Draft Evader’s music a number of times on this blog over the past two years, and have always been impressed by his deeply personal lyrics addressing his struggles with depression and self-doubt, then set to aggressive guitar-driven melodies, and backed with bass and drums. I’ve also enjoyed watching him grow and mature as a songwriter, musician and vocalist. Now, wanting his songs to feel even more honest and raw, he’s opting for an essentially guitar-only sound, recording under the new moniker Lagpass. When I asked how he came up with that name, he explained “Lagpass is a term my brother and I used to say when we would play National Hockey League video games. It’s basically just a missed pass after you hold down the pass button too long. It’s bound to happen at least once or twice a game and I catch myself saying “lagpass” all the time.”

He’s just released his first recording as Lagpass, a new EP titled Ostrich Approach, featuring four relatively short tracks that get right to the point with only his guitar and vocals providing the sounds we hear. First up is the title track, which seems to speak to solving your problems by eliminating the shit that’s complicating your life. His resonant, jangly guitar notes provide all the music needed to create a dramatic backdrop for his earnest, almost raspy vocals as he sings:

you can take your numbers
divide them by your clutter
then you should burn that old ski mask
you can take that platform
& add it to your ant farm
then you should dump it in the grass

so sick of hamsters, ghosts, zombies and vampires
I think it’s time that I light a match
but I’m allergic to sulfur
no need to sulk & suffer
here’s a lighter, it’s time to detach

On “Reassurance“, he ponders conflicted feelings of wondering if he’s going crazy, or just going through some difficult times, that everything’s basically okay, and you just got to deal with it. Musically, the track has a folk-rock sound, with fuzz-covered strummed electric guitars.

this constant stress and voices in my head
always talking questioning my sanity
something’s wrong with me
nothing’s wrong with me

replaced eating with dry heaving
two little devils resting on my shoulder blades
reacquainted with high maintenance
you gave your two cents
but you’ve still got hell to pay

i’m exhausted, still nauseous
just looking for a way to enjoy the day
reassurance is just a burden
can’t change nothin’ cept the way you handle fate

Old Ashes” speaks to the difficulties of maintaining a relationship, of the compromises we must often make to keep it alive, worrying about whether it can survive, and struggling with constant doubts. His clear, heavily-strummed electric guitar work here is wonderful.

I take up smoking again
just so I can be with you
I’m overthinking this mess
seems to be all I can do

do you love me?
she said prove that you love me

she got a new address
moved into her granny’s house
on an air mattress
with John Prine and Houdmouth
she said: “prove that you love me
do you love me?”

She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” addresses the sad reality that she’s moved out, leaving you to contemplate what went wrong, and realizing that perhaps it was doomed from the start, given each of your troubled pasts. Man, these lyrics are heavy, and so packed with meaning!

she doesn’t live here anymore
opened my mouth and held the door
scattered across the kitchen floor
she doesn’t live here anymore

don’t wanna live here anymore
too paranoid for close quarters
there’s silence down the corridor
she doesn’t live here anymore

two children both from broken homes
borrowing tape to mend their own

Once again, I’m really impressed by his intelligent and thoughtful songwriting and great guitar work, and look forward to following him on his latest musical journey as Lagpass.

DUNES – Album Review: “Take Me to the Nasties”

Dunes Take Me to the Nasties

I’m back in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England (having recently written about folk singer-songwriter Holly Rees), this time to feature another act from that city, a stoner rock band called Dunes. Formed in late 2016, the trio consists of John Davies (guitar, vocals), Ade Huggins (bass, vocals) and Nikky Watson (drums). In their own words, they play “desert-riff-blues-tinted-disco-tinged-rock, which draws on influences such as Queens of the Stone Age, Torche, Death From Above 1979 and Clutch.” During their first 18 months as a band, they recorded and released two 5-track EPs, then began releasing singles in advance of their wonderfully-titled debut album Take Me to the Nasties, which dropped September 6th.  The album was recorded at the Sandcastle in Newcastle under the guidance of Graham Thompson, who also worked on the band’s previous EPs, and mastered by Dave Draper. It was released via Sapien Records (We Are Knuckle Dragger, Big Lad, Tank Engine, Scott Michael Cavagan).

The album blasts open with the rousing title track “Take Me to the Nasties“, and from this point forward, Dunes never let up on their relentless onslaught of head-banging stoner-punk rock’n’roll grooves. Here, their barrage of jagged riffs, crushing bass and pummeling drums leave us little choice but to pogo about like crazed banshees. I can’t quite make out all the lyrics, but as the title implies, Davies sings about sexual frustration, telling someone they can keep their tinder and grinder, and he’s going to the nasties.

Without skipping a beat, they launch headlong into “SOS“, a bombastic tune with a chugging guitar riff that reminds me a bit of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, though overall, the song sounds very different. Besides the great guitar work, I also really like Davies and Huggins’ vocal harmonies as they implore “I’ll tell you what we all need. This shit to stop happening!” “Been Expecting You“, “Release the Clowns” and “Danger Mouth” keep the heavy, guitar-driven vibes coming on strong with thunderous riffs and speaker-blowing rhythms. I’m a sucker for hard-driving rock grooves, and gotta say I’m loving every track on this beast of an album!

And one of my favorites is “Phantom Head“, a moody, near-epic grunge song that ventures into progressive/hard rock territory with its melodic change-ups, tortured gnarly riffs, intense, reverb-heavy bassline and explosive percussion. The fierce guitar solo in the bridge is fucking spectacular, covering me head to toe with chills. On “Shakamoto’s Revenge“, “Lantern” and “Denim Casket“, Dunes seem to channel the early Foo Fighters with frantic, grungy riffs and powerful, driving rhythms. In fact, Davies’ vocals even sound a bit like Dave Grohl’s at times, including his scream at the end of “Shakamoto’s Revenge.”

Everything is Blue” closes the album on a high note with some mighty tasty psychedelic reverb-soaked guitar work that’s freakin’ fantastic! The song also has a somewhat progressive rock vibe, with interesting time and melodic changes and intense instrumentation, giving the track a complex, fuller sound that makes for a riveting listen.

Take Me to the Nasties is a solid album filled to the brim with hard-hitting rock tunes, all of them superb. There’s not a single throwaway or filler track to be found here, as every track could be a hit single. Davies, Huggins and Watson are three incredible musicians at the top of their game who should be very proud of their latest creation. I love it!

Connect with Dunes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

STEREOHAZE – Single Review: “Drifting Away”

Stereohaze

Stereohaze is an alternative rock band from Manchester, England who I first featured on this blog this past May when I reviewed their excellent debut EP Fight For Your Future. Now they’re back with a terrific new single “Drifting Away“, which dropped on September 7th. Formed in 2017, the band consists of Charlie Whittaker (guitar/vocals), Ryan Webb (guitar), Harry Wilcock (bass) and Diesel Evans (drums). Despite their relatively young ages, they play some wicked guitar-driven rock laden with hooks, intelligent lyrics and electrifying instrumentals.

The song opens with Diesel’s pounding drumbeats and Harry’s throbbing bass, then we’re suddenly hit with an explosion of grimy riffs and the song is off and running. Charlie’s commanding vocals enter the mix as he fervently sings of a troubled relationship that’s driving him crazy, but he hopes can still be salvaged: “I just can’t shake the infection of your poisonous affection. Indecisions, contradictions are part of my condition. We’re drifting away, so come a little closer. And we’re falling apart, so let’s come together.” Charlie and Ryan’s dual guitars are fantastic as they blast through the airwaves with intricate layers of gnarly fuzz and blistering distortion, making for an exhilarating rock tune.

It bears repeating that I really love Charlie’s vocal style. I’ve found that weak vocals are often one of the biggest liabilities for an artist or band, but his vocals are wonderful, and an integral part of Stereohaze’s great overall sound.  The guys are all skilled musicians, and I’m so happy they’ve delivered another outstanding song. “Drifting Away” is further proof that Stereohaze is most definitely a band on the rise.

Connect with Stereohaze:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase their music on iTunesAmazon / Google Play

New Song of the Week: A VOID – “No Rest”

It may be 2019, but the enduring legacies of grunge – especially that of Nirvana – and punk continue to have a significant influence on music. I’ve reviewed a lot of artists and bands who’ve drawn their influences from those two groundbreaking genres, and am pleased to feature another today – a young band called A VOID. With members from both France and the UK, and currently based in London, the attractive female-fronted trio refer to their wild, unorthodox sound as “sonic grunge.”

They claim as their inspiration a decidedly eclectic mix of artists and bands, including the aforementioned Nirvana, as well as Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Kaaris, Babes In Toyland, Patrick Sébastien, Deftones, Silverchair, Björk, Tokio Hotel, Lady Gaga, Céline Dion and even Charles Aznavour! Making the music are Camille Alexander (guitar, lead vocals), Aaron Hartmann (bass) and Marie Niemec (drums, backing vocals).

A VOID2

A VOID released their debut EP Roses As Insides in 2016, when they consisted of Camille and two previous band members. The current lineup released an excellent full-length album Awkward And Devastated in 2018. One of the tracks on that album is “No Rest“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week, as the band just dropped a hilarious and wildly entertaining new video for the song.

Camille’s a terrific guitarist, dazzling us with intricate, melodic riffs of jangly and grimy guitars. Early in the track, her riff calls to mind Nirvana’s “All Apologies” as well as Silversun Pickups’ “Lazy Eye”, but picks up the pace later on when her playing turns more aggressive. Aaron and Marie keep a tight rhythm with their resonant bassline and snappy drumbeats, respectively. Camille’s vocals are really wonderful, with a deep vibrancy that’s youthful, yet worldly, and I love how her French accent shines through. She shrieks “No rest” quite nicely in the frantic punk rock-like final chorus, matching the wailing guitars note for note.

The lyrics speak to the stress and anxieties that stem from relationships, being in a band, and the myriad responsibilities of young adulthood:

Bullshit over bullshit
I’ve lost my drive again
I’m all over the place… ace
Addicted to your sweet words and your belonging
I can’t replace

No Rest
No Rest
No Rest for me x2

Utterly broken
Keeping fading away
Completely wasted
I can’t believe myself

Unstable and insecure I try
Creating like the only way to survive
Holding on to everything as if you died today
All these lines I didn’t write
Now they come chasing me

No Rest
No Rest
No Rest for me x2

The music was so loud
So loud that I can’t hear the thoughts inside my head
The whispering voices
Silence violated

Can’t risk to deny
Responsibilities lie for you to take
Caught up into choices
It’s not my place to make

I wish I was more like you
Disregard and pass on through
I wish I had a clue
Of what I’d get myself into

No Rest
No Rest
No Rest for me

Connect with A VOID:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

WHALE HOUSE – Album Review: “Clowder”

Whale House Clowder art

Whale House is a psychedelic rock band that got its start in 2007 when Caleb Price and Clayton Brice met while students at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. Sharing a love of both classic 60s counter-culture rock and the 90s alternative/grunge rock of their youth, they quickly bonded and began writing and producing songs together in Clayton’s apartment. Their music combines these two rock influences, while experimenting with structure and timbre to create their own unique modern rock sound. Wanting to take their music to the next level, they moved to the recording studio, where they could benefit from the expertise of a professional production team.

Whale House 2

Between 2009 and 2015 they released three EPs, and in 2016 dropped two singles, “Freeway” and “Think of Me”. That November, they released awesome videos of live performances of “Think of Me” and another of their tracks “Red Sun”. I reviewed those videos, which you can read here. Now, nearly three years later, Caleb and Clayton return with their first full-length album Clowder, which will be available on all streaming platforms September 7th, with CDs and vinyl shipping now.

The songs for Clowder were constructed over the course of a year from (in their own words) “sound bytes flung back and forth through the ether across the 300 miles that now separate Caleb and Clayton.” The album was recorded direct to tape at Drum Farm Studios, a re-purposed organic farm in northwest Wisconsin. With the help of drummer John Richardson, they recorded most of the tracks live as a three-piece to recreate the spontaneity of a live show. Veteran producer Tom Herbers produced and mixed the songs, and John Golden did the mastering.

Into the Bluffs” kicks off Clowder in a big way with a burst of Richardson’s pummeling drumbeats accompanied by melodic piano keys. Layers of fuzzy guitars, bass and more keyboards are soon added as Caleb and Clayton sing with a harmony as near-perfect as any I’ve heard in a while. The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, but seem to speak to tapping into one’s spiritual being: “Give me a sign. Search yourself and follow me in. Look into the bluffs. Ghosts are gathering in the upper atmosphere. Spirits calmly watch me yeah.

Next up is “Doll“, a dark song inspired by Caleb’s experience spending time in the hospital with his mother while she was in a carbon monoxide poisoning induced coma. “And I know it’s over. I’ll pull the plug and let her go. After it’s over, I’ll start the engine, shut the door.” The song’s melody and structure give off a Nirvana vibe, with an ever-changing tempo that goes from chugging riffs of gnarly guitars to aggressive stop-start chords. Caleb’s plaintive vocals are wonderful, and I like how they rise with emotion along with the guitar notes. It all makes for a fascinating listen, and is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

A Great Fire” beautifully showcases the guys’ skill at writing complex melodies and using rich instrumentation to create an interesting soundscape that continually evolves and surprises our senses. The track opens with a strong thumping drumbeat and ominous synths, creating a mesmerizing backdrop for Clayton’s rather mournful vocals as he sings of far-off cosmic storms, possibly symbolizing unrest or even the end of the world. Gradually, guitar, bass and piano enter the mix, then everything ramps up in the chorus with jagged riffs and crashing cymbals as Clayton launches into an impassioned wail: “The pores of my skin are dripping acid. The dogs are fighting, the snakes are biting. The back of my eyelids explode with lightning!” It’s a fantastic song.

The lead single “Milk” was released on August 15th, along with a surreal and vividly colorful video. It’s a terrific grunge song, featuring a torrent of gnarly riffs set to a powerful driving beat. Caleb explained that the lyrics speak of someone bogged down in a sea of ego-driven minutiae while the the rest of the world keeps on moving forward: “Near the belly digesting away. Far away, and deep inside, visions of hell. Paralyzed from the food that has yet to metabolize. And it’s been so long. And the world moved on.

The guys take a melodic turn on the captivating “Elephant“, my absolute favorite track on the album. The lush mix of chiming and twangy guitars are drop-dead gorgeous, as are Clayton’s heartfelt vocals that express a deep vulnerability. At 2:22 minutes, a beguiling flute enters, giving the song a momentary Celtic vibe. “Spine” veers into folk-rock territory, but still retains a grunge sensibility thanks to the strong guitar work, and once again the guys’ vocal harmonies are really impressive. And speaking of strong guitar work, the guys dazzle us with their mind-blowing guitar skills on the trippy psychedelic gem “Shapeshifter“. We’ve barely had a chance to catch our breath before they return to hammer us with exuberant jangly riffs, deep, buzzing bass and frantic beats on the hard-driving banger “Papercuts“.

The title track “Clowder“is an intriguing song with fuzzy, reverb-soaked guitars and tumultuous percussion. Caleb explained the song’s meaning: “The song ‘Clowder’ is based on an old children’s book called ‘Millions of Cats’. It’s about a guy who goes out looking for a single cat and ends up being followed home by billions of them. We enjoy simple surreal imagery like that. The story ends up being about the destructive power of pride and the importance of being humble. That kind of suppression of ego is something Clayton and I aspire to and I think its a theme that pops up in a lot of our writing.” The song opens with sounds of Caleb whispering “Don’t bother me, and I won’t bother you“, then the music intensifies as Clayton’s vocals take a more insistent tone. In time, with guitars wailing and cymbals crashing in the chorus, Clayton emphatically repeats the line “Hundreds. Millions. Thousands. Billions.

Twilight Sleep” is an enchanting track, highlighted by a pleasing acoustic guitar and wonderful sweeping orchestral instrumentation that imparts an almost ethereal quality. The little piano riff in the chorus is especially good, and nicely complements Caleb and Clayton’s fervent vocal harmonies. Guest musicians on this track included violinist Ryan Young of Trampled By Turtles and cellist Hilary James of We Are The Willows. At the very end of the track, we hear Ryan Young state “I played one wrong note”, though it all sounded pretty damn perfect to my ears. The album closes with “Asleep On A Plane“, a brief but sweet love song. The music consists only of a resonant jangly guitar and bass, but combined with Caleb’s earnest vocals, the song packs quite an emotional punch.

I must admit that many of these songs took a couple of listens for me to fully connect with them, but once I did, I came to realize that Clowder is a brilliant and stunning album. Unlike a lot of pop and classic rock, with their catchy hooks and melodies that quickly bore into our brains, modern and experimental rock music requires us to really listen to hear and appreciate all the little nuances of the more complex melodies, innovative instrumentation, and somewhat abstract lyrics that Whale House have so cleverly written. If you’re willing to expend the time and effort to dig deep into their music, you will find a lot to enjoy on Clowder.

Their Record Release Party will take place Saturday SEP 14 at Brewery Nønic, Menomonie, Wisconsin

Connect with Whale House:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

New Song of the Week: RUSTY SHIPP – Breaking Waves”

Rusty Shipp BW Single

I’ve been following Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp for two years, since the release of their highly-acclaimed monumental album Mortal Ghost in June 2017. Over the year following the album’s debut, the band produced a series of superb and fascinating videos for several tracks off the album, two of which (“Treading Water” and “SS Naronic”) I featured on this blog. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) They now return with a fantastic new single “Breaking Waves“, the first release from their forthcoming album Liquid Exorcist, a concept work about sea mine terrorism due out later this year.

Rusty Shipp calls itself a “Nautical Rock’n’Roll” band, with a sound influenced by the melodic chord progressions of The Beatles, the surf guitar of Dick Dale, the grunge rock of Nirvana, and the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin, among others. Their music is highlighted by a dark, immersive sound, heavy riffs and haunting vocals. Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in lineup since forming in 2014, and now consist of singer/songwriter and front man Russ T. Shipp (literally his birth name) on guitar and vocals, Elijah Apperson on lead guitar, AJ Newton on drums and Andrew “Speedy” Speed on bass.

Rusty Shipp2

“Breaking Waves” is a grunge-surf-rock song in keeping with the band’s nautical theme and, as explained by front man Russ T. Shipp, “was meticulously crafted to get stuck in a human being’s brain. The song sounds like Nirvana trying to play a Beach Boys song right after hearing ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. Shipp adds “‘Breaking Waves’ is the catchiest song we’ve ever made. Lyrically, it’s more philosophical and describes the battle between technology and nature in a tortoise-and-the-hare-like metaphor where mankind’s mightiest technology won’t stand a chance in the long run against the simple, steady erosion of the ocean’s immortal waves (i.e, nature) breaking it down. I think that’s for the best, and humanity is better off not waiting for centuries of erosion before it’s returned to what’s immaterial and most important – its soul.

The powerful track features the band’s signature heavily-textured guitar work, with layered riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, all combining to produce an intense, dynamic soundscape for Shipp’s resonant vocals. Newton and Speedy keep a solid rhythm with pounding drumbeats and a humming bassline, while Apperson and Shipp deliver scorching-hot riffage. He was right about crafting a catchy melody, as this one remained stuck in my head long after hearing the song. It’s a great song, and is accompanied by a wonderful music video shot on an actual submarine. The video was produced by Ashley Henry, directed by Aaron Scott, filmed by Jason Hassell, and edited by Jonathan Terry. It features scenes of the band performing the song, interspersed with scenes of them trying to stem water leaks that imperil their safety.

Breakers on the sea, advancing steadily
Little by little taking territory
The armies will erode till Pangaea’s covered over
And the Earth is once again formless and void

Breaking waves crashing on your accolades
Break you down, water torture down the drain
One by one till your soul is what remains
Break you out, breaking from the breaking waves
Break it down and wash it away
Breaking from the breaking waves

Simple H2O crushing your machines
Ships and submarines breaking down to smithereens
The breakers won’t desist clinging to your wrist like exorcists
Feeling for the pulse of a human being

Connect with Rusty Shipp: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / YouTube
Purchase: iTunes / cdbaby / Bandcamp

SABOTEURS – Album Review: “Dance With the Hunted”

Saboteurs album art

Saboteurs is a rock band from Lincoln, England who (in their own words) “play trans-genre songs about badgers, constellations and other things which creep into our lives during the night.” Fusing elements of alt-rock, grunge, post-punk, metal and folk, they create hard-hitting music that thrills and surprises our ears and minds.  Like many a band, they’ve experienced some personnel changes since forming, and now consist of Ben Ellis (lead vocals/guitar), Rick Whitehead (lead guitar/vocals), Kirsty Marlog (backing vocals), Geoff Standeven (bass), and Pete Botterill (drums), although for the album Dance With the Hunted, drums and percussion were performed by Hamish Dickinson, who also handled production, mixing and mastering.

The band released their self-titled debut EP Saboteurs in 2018, immediately attracting a growing base of fans and recognition by BBC Introducing, as well as being named Richer Sound’s Artist of the Week and finalists in Radio Wigwam’s Rock Act of the Year. But shoulder surgery for lead guitarist Whitehead led to unrest in the band and, ultimately, a violent split with the rhythm section. This caused the band’s songwriters Ellis and Whitehead to sink into a dark place, which actually provided them with needed impetus for an explosion of new material that would become their first full album Dance With the Hunted, which dropped on May 4th.

The opening track “Splintered” reveals the intensity of their feelings while writing the songs for the album. The biting lyrics speak to a bitter breakup of a relationship, delivered by Ellis’ fiery vocals: “The pain – I dedicate our loss to you. The shame will never end but I’m coping on my own. The ones I left behind – they just fade out. If I fall down, I won’t stay down. If you fall down, you will stay down.” The roiling riffs of grungy guitars, pulsating bass and thunderous drums are fantastic.

Next up is “Over and Doubt“, a moody but gorgeous track that leaves no doubt that these guys know a thing or two about crafting superb songs with the power to inspire and move the listener. And I’ll state right here how much I love Ellis’ vocals, which in addition to his and Whitehead’s spectacular guitar work, are one of the strong points of Saboteurs’ overall sound. He’s one of the best rock vocalists around today, in my opinion, with an incredible tone and range that give him the ability to comfort us one moment, then chill us to the bone the next. When he plaintively wails “Please stay with me, over and over again!“, we really believe him. On this track he sounds a lot like Steve Kilbey of The Church. Musically, the song features a complex, ever-changing melody that keeps us enthralled from start to finish, and the guitar work is outstanding. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

The dark and moody vibe continues with “Believe Nothing Hurts“, but presented here with an exhilarating fast-paced rhythm and chugging riffs of gnarly guitars. Ellis angrily snarls the searing lyrics condemning someone for their duplicity: “This time, believe nothing hurts. Oh, your lies. As they come in they’re drowning now in your own sweet precious melody of lies.” “Break Down” is a lovely, incredibly melodic song with a 1990s vibe that, to my ears, calls to mind songs by the Goo Goo Dolls, Gin Blossoms and Deep Blue Something. The strummed guitar is a great addition, providing a wonderful added texture of sound. The backing vocal choruses by Miles Kent and Kirsty Marlog are especially nice.

Marooned” is a big, arena-worthy track, with lush, layered guitars and a torrent of bombastic percussion. But it’s the deep, pulsating bass that plays a starring role here, giving the song a massive U2 vibe. In fact, Ellis’ vocals sound a bit like Bono on this and a few other tracks. He passionately sings of emotional hurt that can never be undone: “Broken red skies are endless. The reason I guess why you left me here. They look like the old wounds you can’t suture. They are the scars of time.” On the poignant, hard-rocking “I Think My Face Hates Me“, Ellis sings of his feelings of hopelessness: “I’ve been lying on the floor just eating time. Pretending there’s no light behind my eyes. I’m going home or I’m going down. Every day I am reborn in the skin I’ve had before.

The guys keep delivering compelling lyrics and killer riffs with “One Track Mind“. The protagonist acknowledges his need to change his ways: “What would it take to be the better man? To say, ‘Yes, I can – I’ll never let you down’. Constant mistakes – pathetic apologies. Want to effect a change and make it alright.” But then he bitterly resigns himself to the fact that while he’s the one who must change “I kill the doubt inside and learn to play your game.“, others will not: “You all stay the same.

The title track “Dance With the Hunted” is about a rock star whose fame has not brought the happiness and contentment he’d hoped for. Instead, he lives a miserable, self-destructive life: “The spotlight I always craved keeps pulling me back but there’s no light behind these eyes./  Is art ever worth the pain? To watch you die on centre stage for fifteen minutes of shame.The disappointment never ends.

Traces” is one the darkest tracks on the album, with trace elements (no pun intended) of metal, giving it a heavier vibe. The song opens with a mesmerizing guitar riff, then expands with a powerful melange of intricate guitars, throbbing bass and hammering drums. The lyrics speak of someone tortured by their past and possible mental illness, desperate to escape their surroundings in the hope of starting over fresh: “There are traces of the old times. Like battle scars in my mind. Only the world to me. Turn the lights out – leave this home. Wherever the white lines take us.” Backing metalcore growls by guest vocalist Jamie Armstrong add an extra layer of gritty texture to Ellis’ raw vocals, to great effect.

The final track “Willows” closes out the album on a gloomy note, speaking of a couple whose relationship is so damaged by hurt and pain, it may be beyond salvation. In vocals that really seem to channel Bono, Ellis passionately wails “Skin so thin, so thin it bleeds right through you. And we blame ourselves, don’t you blame yourself too? Walking wounded – in a black wind. Take me to the place where the willows grow. Write down everything that hurt us so. Everything we never said.” As always, the instrumentals are hard-hitting, with furious riffs, crushing bass and tumultuous drums.

Dance With the Hunted is a heavy, emotionally-wrought album to be sure – there are no upbeat love songs here! But it’s a beautifully-crafted work, with deeply compelling, heartfelt lyrics, gorgeous rock melodies, and magnificent instrumentals. Every track is superb, with no filler or throwaways. If you like some of the aforementioned bands I discussed, you will enjoy the music of Saboteurs.

The beautiful original album artwork was designed by Anita Inverarity.

Catch Saboteurs at one of these upcoming shows:

Saboteurs concerts

Follow Saboteurs:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google Play

STEREOHAZE – EP Review: “Fight For Your Future”

Stereohaze EP art

Stereohaze is a band from Manchester, England who, despite their youth, play some wicked guitar-driven rock. Formed in 2017, the lineup includes Charlie Whittaker (guitar/vocals), Ryan Webb (guitar), Harry Wilcock (bass) and Diesel Evans (drums).  They released a top-notch first single “Nowhere to Go” in 2018, and this April (2019) they dropped their debut EP Fight For Your Future, which I’m reviewing today.  

The EP starts off on a high note with “Infliction”, and once those chugging riffs of jangly guitars kick in, backed by Harry’s deep, humming bass line and Diesel’s explosive percussion, it’s clear this band knows how to rock out! I really like Charlie’s commanding vocals that soar in all the right spots, and what I’m guessing is his or Ryan’s scorching guitar solo in the bridge is so good.

“Contain Yourself” was released as a lead single in advance of the EP, and it’s a superb song with a terrific, infectiously catchy hook. It opens with a funky bass riff that continues throughout the song, punctuated by roiling guitars and tumultuous drums in the choruses. The lyrics seem to speak of a guy who’s life has spun out of control: “He tries and he tries to commend himself to fears of what he used to be.  He falls apart as he begins to choke. If love was money, he’d be broke. So much potential. So little time. So incidental. But you’re not the kind.

“Nothing Seems to Change” is a brooding rock song about a relationship in which, despite his best efforts, his partner isn’t willing to meet him halfway: “I tried so hard to figure it out. I lost myself in your shadow of doubt. For what it’s worth, there’s a smile upon your face, but nothing seems to change.” Musically, the song features a strong, thumping drumbeat and fine guitar work that includes lots of shredding and elements of psychedelia and grunge. In fact, the recurring riff seems to sample the two-note guitar line of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  On this and some other tracks, Charlie’s vocals remind me a bit of Alex Turner.

The aptly-named “Light the Fuse” is the most electrifying track from a musical standpoint. I love its rapid, hard-driving beat and intricate mix of fuzzy, chiming and distorted guitars. The vocal harmonies are marvelous, and the guitar solo in the bridge is absolute fire. “Don’t Think Twice” is yet another stellar tune, with strutting riffs of gnarly guitars, pulsating bass and pounding drums. The song seems to be about someone who’s lost and in denial about what’s wrong in their life: “I don’t want to be the one to follow you out into the sun. I know what you’re thinking, it’s alright. I know it seems so hard, but don’t think twice.

While Stereohaze doesn’t break any new ground here, they nevertheless deliver outstanding, hard-hitting rock music that makes for an exciting and enjoyable listen. Fight for Your Future is a first-rate EP full of solid tracks that showcase the guys’ talent for writing melodic rock songs laden with hooks and thoughtful lyrics, and bringing them to life with their skillful musicianship. I highly recommend this EP for anyone who likes great, guitar-driven rock.

Connect with Stereohaze:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase their music on iTunes / Amazon

GUIDE DOG – Single Review: “Generation Y”

Guide Dog Generation Y

Guide Dog is an alternative rock band from Cardiff, Wales I recently learned about when I received a submission for a review of their new single “Generation Y“. I instantly fell in love with their music, which they refer to as “sponge grunge”. Fusing elements of alt-rock, grunge, punk, and electronica, they create songs that are fast, fun, irreverent and in-your-face. They’ve also got a wicked sense of humor.

Comprising Guide Dog are Peter Roberts (Guitar, Vocals), John Maloney (Drums) and Ian Russell (Bass), who describe themselves as “a bunch of wankers who can’t sing and can’t play our instruments. Like the Spice Girls with moustaches. All or some or one were formerly members of Robots In The Sky, Tetra Splendour, People In Planes and Cold Specks.” Well, I’m here to say that, not only can they sing and play the hell out of their instruments, they’re way better than the Spice Girls!

In July 2017 they released their fantastic debut album Lovely Domestic Bliss, a collection of 10 banger tunes. I highly recommend my readers give it a listen, and trust me when I say you’ll be glad you did! They’re now working on a second album Generation Y, to be released later this year on Roberts’ label Hi-Vis Records. It will be accompanied by a book of poems entitled Thou Shalt Stare Into Space. In December 2018, they released the first single “Dead Beat” from the forthcoming album, and now follow up with a second single “Generation Y”, a protest song of sorts against the current fucked-up state of affairs in both the UK and USA. If these two tracks are any indication, Generation Y is going to be a phenomenal record.

About the new single, the band explains: “‘Generation Y’ comes at a time when children are bunking off school to protest outside Parliament about Westminster’s flimsy and inadequate response to climate change – prompting a swift and aggressive backlash by the politicians who dismissed the adolescents and ridiculed their irresponsibility; and the American president staging an imaginary state of emergency in a vein attempt to bludgeon Capitol Hill into funding a giant border wall whilst triumphantly filling his house with branded cheeseburgers to feed his unpaid staff and denying climate change is even happening… so it’s probably an appropriate juncture for a protest song!

“Generation Y” is a tasty little slice of sonic confection, featuring an irresistible bouncy drumbeat, and presented with a lo-fi vibe that keeps the song from bouncing too high. It starts off with a gnarly guitar riff, accompanied by quirky synths, fuzzy bass and very snappy drums. All of the aforementioned instruments explode into bigger, louder and heavier versions of themselves in the choruses, along with an injection of furiously crashing cymbals that turn the track into a real belter. I love Roberts’ wonderful fervent vocals, which sound like a cross between Dave Matthews and Adam Duritz. And the point in the song at 2:29 minutes where he goes “wooh” is a special highlight for me in what is overall a perfect track.

Like all their songs, the lyrics are refreshingly direct and colorful, pulling no punches in calling out bullshit as warranted:

Why did we get up to die generation,
I got a toupee on my mind generation,
Suck it ’til it all runs dry generation,
Why why why…?

When you get so high but you don’t know what it means,
Like a vandalised slush puppy machine,
Like the fashionable rips appearing in my jeans,
Wave a plastic flag at a golden carriage.
I’m a psychopath with a bunch of keys,
I’m a paper jam with 2.9% APR,
I’m an ass licker,
I’m a soul sucker,
I’m oozing out of a sausage and bean melt,
Waving my plastic flag…

Why did we get up to die generation,
I got a toupee on my mind generation,
Suck it ’til it all runs dry generation,
Why why why…?

I don’t drink and drive or have the odd line once in a while,
I don’t dress up like a lady in secret,
I never think about blowing up the White House,
I got hope for salvation but I don’t know why.
I felt sick so I took an anti sickness pill,
I felt disconnected so I bought a new telephone,
Got a payment plan and a fake sun tan,
Some health and safety regulations,
But I just can’t relax…

Why did we get up to die generation,
I got a toupee on my mind generation,
Suck it ’til it all runs dry generation,
Why why why…?

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

PHANTOM SUNS – Album Review: “Caldera”

Phantom Suns album

Based in the bucolic New England city of Burlington, Vermont, Phantom Suns is an indie band who play alternative rock heavily influenced by grunge elements, with traces of metal and progressive rock to create their distinctive raw sound. The band consists of Seth Gunderson (guitar & vocals), Chris Knauer (bass & backing vocals) and Chris Mathieu (drums, percussion & backing vocals). Ryan Cohen previously played bass but was recently replaced by Chris Knauer, however, Cohen will continue to provide production and engineering assistance to the band. 

I’ll admit up-front that I’m not the biggest fan of grunge rock, and didn’t care for it when it became popular in the early 1990s. I generally prefer rock music that’s highly melodic, with fuller, more polished arrangements, and just couldn’t get into the dissonant, sludgy and rather depressing sound of grunge. In time, however, I came to recognize and appreciate its groundbreaking influence in reshaping the sound of rock, and music in general, and learned to like some of it. I also get why its honest lyrics and darker themes addressing social issues like alienation, disillusionment, substance abuse and depression, along with its lack of flash, pretense and overt sentimentality, made grunge so popular and accessible, especially to young people who more closely identified with the messages expressed in the songs. Like rap, grunge music reflected what many of them were feeling.

That said, it was with a bit of trepidation that I agreed to review Phantom Suns’ album Caldera after their drummer Chris Mathieu reached out to me. Though I am EclecticMusicLover, and try to always keep an open mind about all kinds and styles of music, I feared I may not be the right person to judge their music. But I gave the album several listens and am happy to report that not only do I really like it, I’m also blown away by their skilled songwriting and musicianship. And as much as I like their raw, gritty sound, it’s their intelligent and compelling song lyrics, written by Gunderson, that most impressed me. I’m glad they included them with the songs on their Bandcamp page, and I encourage my readers to check them out.

Caldera was released in November 2018, and follows the band’s 2014 debut EP Parhelia. The album features 12 tracks, the first of which, “Forget“, starts off slowly with a moody strummed guitar, then erupts into a barrage of gnarly riffs, buzzing bass and hammering drums. Gunderson’s raw vocals match the grittiness of the music as he advises us to not overthink things: “Searching for the key to unlock all your potential when you don’t know what you think. But what you think you know is only your opinion. Soon as I make up my mind, I’ll be all set. Maybe start chipping away at all this debt. Stop regretting things that haven’t happened yet ’cause you never know.

It’s a good song, but the guys really hit their stride on the hard-driving, melodically complex “Lazuli“. The track storms out of the gate with dark, sludgy riffs loaded with raw power and grit. Two-thirds of the way through, a furiously distorted guitar solo announces an abrupt change in the melody. With his grimy guitar ablaze, Gunderson snarls “You don’t have a clue but you fake it so well.

One of the standout tracks for me is “Disposable“, both in terms of it’s more melodic, progressive rock vibe, and it’s scathing lyrics attacking man’s greedy, wasteful ways that imperil our future: “Watch your castle crumble all around you. Just because you want more than you can handle. Disposable culture. Blatant disregard for the future. You’re disposable.” The video they made for the track is fantastic too, a psychedelic trip of colorful imagery superimposed over footage of the band performing the song that nicely complements the rough textures of the instrumentals.

As I continued diving deeper into Caldera, some of the tracks sound similar to one another, which is to be expected on an album with 12 tracks. Nevertheless, there are many more gems to be found here. I really dig the metaphor of “Knotweed“, symbolizing someone the singer just can’t rid himself of: “You just keep sprouting up. You return even though I dug you right up by the roots. Invasive foliage. I wage an all-out war. You’ve clearly overstepped the boundary. Can’t eradicate you. You’re so damn resilient.” And the heavy chugging guitar riffs, fuzzy bassline and boisterous drums are as dirty as the soil from which the knotweed’s been pulled. “Probably Wrong” ventures into rock’n’roll territory, with moments where Gunderson’s raging guitar and Mathieu’s frantic drumbeats propel the song into the sonic stratosphere.

Another standout is the face-melting “Trial By Stone“, an homage to Jim Henson’s classic film The Dark Crystal. As is befitting the film, the song is heavy and dark, with dense, gritty riffs teeming with distortion and reverb, deep, crushing bass and thunderous drums. Gunderson’s guitar work is fucking incredible, and Mathieu is a veritable beast on his drum kit. Gunderson’s vocals are chilling as he sneers “A dying world. A dying race imprisoned within themselves.” The video superimposes scenes from The Dark Crystal over footage of the band performing the song.

Perpetual Motion Holder“, “Hush Money” and “Brontoscorpio” deliver more gnarly riffs, fuzzy basslines and speaker-blowing drums. “It Won’t Stop” is a serious head-banger, opening with Gunderson shrieking words I can’t quite make out, followed by an explosion of raging guitars, heavy buzzing bass and furious drums. Gunderson all but screams the lyrics advising us to just accept our fates: “Your best bet is to just accept it. A warm welcome as it explodes. There’s no hope of getting out of the way. The kind of fury that can never be tamed. It will envelop, it will engulf, entirely. No! It won’t stop!

The album closes on a high note with the mostly instrumental “Olympus Mons“, an epic track that offers definitive proof that these guys are supremely talented musicians. The track starts off with a somber guitar riff, then a simple drumbeat kicks in as the guys sing in harmony: “One of these days I’ll write some words.” With that, a very gritty, reverb-drenched riff ensues before calming back down for the second harmonic vocal: “I was so bummed out. Another Olympus Mons.” The gritty guitar and bass return, only this time distorted into a maelstrom of tortured riffs, accompanied by an abundance of crashing cymbals that add to the drama. Eventually, a wailing guitar solo is layered over the stormy distortion, blowing our minds and speakers before it all spirals downward into oblivion at the close. Wow, what a masterpiece this song is, and a fitting conclusion to this superb album by Phantom Suns. If you’re a fan of grunge-infused alternative rock, then you will enjoy Caldera.

Phantom Suns has a show coming up on on April 19 at Monkey House in Winooski, VT.

Connect with Phantom Suns on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify 
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play