BRENNAN DYLAN – EP Review: “Walking Through Fire”

As a music blogger, I follow thousands of artists and bands on social media, and have written about several hundred of them on this blog. Many are extremely talented musicians, songwriters, composers and/or performers, and one of the guitarists who really stands out in the crowd is Brennan Dylan. Originally from Canada and now based in Nashville, he’s a beast on his six-string, and has been compared to Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Jeff Beck. Today I’m shining my spotlight on his 2016 EP Walking Through Fire, a fantastic work featuring six guitar-driven instrumental tracks.

Born in Vancouver, B.C., raised in Ottawa and then Toronto, Dylan has had a love and aptitude for music since early childhood. He began playing sax and composing music at the age of 10. He told me that, by playing sax, he learned how to play individual note melodies and to improvise. His parents encouraged him to think outside the box and explore music by writing his own creations. In his bio, he recalls: “When I was 14, I picked up a guitar for the first time; it was like I’d inherited freedom. My high school music teacher told me that guitar wasn’t an instrument. I ignored him and studied rock/metal guitar for the first year.

Brennan D as boy

In high school, he started writing rock and metal songs, and performed classical, jazz and swing in school stage bands. He also performed jazz, rock and blues improv guitar at a local club 2-3 times a week with local/touring acts. He studied classical guitar, delving into everything from Motorhead to Dick Dale to Bach. He was in a surf band one summer, then moved into electronic music, which he incorporated into hard rock and metal songs he wrote. He beautifully articulates his passion and inspiration for rock and metal:

“Pure rippin’ metal has been coursing through my veins since I first picked up a guitar. My adventures to incorporate every genre that has a beat into my metal compositions was very necessary and still is. I want to study it all but most of all I want to become a better guitar player and composer. By straying from the herd I think that I can accomplish that…no one has a monopoly on anything, even a flat tire kicks off a beat. I may not like all music genres but I’ve always been able to find great guitar players and/or composers in all I’ve studied.

He eventually relocated to Boston to study Performance Guitar at Berklee College of Music, then headed west to LA where he played the Sunset Strip as a solo artist, performing with some major acts, including Michael Angelo Batio, DeathRiders and Gorillaz at the Whisky a GoGo. In 2010, Dylan released his first self-produced CD Bullet Ride, followed two years later by Broken Glass, which received positive reviews and radio play, including a CBS Radio interview and press in Performer Magazine, NME & Guitar World. In 2013, he dropped his third CD Raining in Berlin. Still restless, he relocated to New York City that same year, where he formed his band Men Without Armies. They released a self-titled EP Men Without Armies in 2014, but then Dylan literally became a ‘man without an army’ after the band’s drummer and bassist/vocalist abruptly quit to follow other pursuits.

Men Without Armies Walking Through Fire

He had written a number of new songs and wanted to record some of them for a second EP, but with his drummer and bassist/vocalist gone, Dylan decided to release six of the songs as instrumental-only tracks. For the recording of what would become Walking Through Fire, he played all instruments, including guitar, bass, keyboards and synths, and hired a sound engineer to program the drums. He also produced all his own songs.

An imaginative and creative songwriter, Dylan told me he composes in his head, mentally hearing all the melodies, instruments and sounds, then laying them down in the studio. “I go into the studio with ideas only. I compose as Mozart composed. ‘Falling Through Skies’ is a perfect example. On my final day [of working on] Walking Through Fire, I created ‘Falling Through Skies’ on the way to the studio.”

Each of the six tracks are fairly similar, melodically speaking, starting with a foundation of sweeping synths, and highlighted by spectacular extended guitar solos that serve to showcase Dylan’s extraordinary guitar-playing skills. The first track “Drowning Tide” is a great example, with jaw-dropping shredded riffs of swirling and distorted guitars. As someone who cannot play a single instrument, watching Dylan play his guitar in the video is a religious experience for me. He literally owns his instrument, his fingers running up and down the fretboard like a true jedi master as he makes it wail and sing. No lyrics or vocals are necessary here, as the explosive riffs and melodic keyboard synths more than speak for themselves.

On “Conquer the Emperor” he delivers staccato machine-gun riffs that bring chills, backed by beautiful, haunting piano keys. “Breaking Away” opens with lovely melodic synths, then expands with a dramatic and intricate guitar solo, accompanied by a deep, buzzing bass line that continues throughout the track, finally calming back down to the synths we heard at the open. “Courage Before Glory” and “Resistance” are gorgeous extravaganzas of wailing guitars, staccato riffs and inspiring piano keys, all evoking a strong sense of courage as inferred by the song titles.

The final track “Falling Through Skies” is fantastic, with breathtaking guitar work that truly boggles my mind and ears! He coaxes sounds from his six-string that somehow manage to musically capture the adrenaline rush fighter pilots must feel as they zoom through the air at top speed, aiming their fire at opposing targets while trying to evade incoming fire. Holy shit, this man can play the guitar! He created the perfect video for the track using dramatic World War II film footage of fighter pilots conducting bombing raids and engaging in aerial battles.

Track listing:
1. Drowning Tide
2. Conquer the Emperor
3. Break Away
4. Courage Before Glory
5. Resistance
6. Falling Through Skies

Walking Through Fire is outstanding, and if you love intense, guitar-driven metal rock, you will enjoy this EP. Dylan will soon be heading back into the studio to record songs with Men Without Armies for an upcoming EP.

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Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Reverbnation
Purchase:  Reverbnation

PHYSIA – EP Review: “Physia”

physia

I continue to be amazed and a little amused that I’ve gained a reputation as a music blogger who artists and bands reach out to in hopes I’ll listen to and write about their music, especially given the fact I play no instruments, cannot read music, have never written a song, and know zero about computer music programs or synthesizers. Hell, I only learned a few years ago that a bass guitar has only four strings as opposed to a standard six-string guitar! That said, I’m immensely impressed by people who can do all those things. I also try to keep an open mind about all kinds of music, and (almost always) know a good song when I hear it.

With that in mind, I’m pleased to feature a young, promising musician from Canada who goes by the artistic name PHYSIA. It’s the basement project of 19-year-old college student James Bings, who just released his self-titled debut EP Physia on the 25th of January. Now based in Victoria, James grew up in the small city of Williams Lake, deep in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, and learned to play guitar and bass at a young age. He developed his skills performing live with his late grandfather, mostly jig and waltz songs. Drawing inspiration from bands like Mac Demarco, HOMESHAKE and Mild High Club, he wrote the songs for Physia during his freshman year of university, and recorded, produced and mixed them by himself. He played guitar and bass, and used synthesizers for the percussion.

james bing

His songs are all instrumentals, characterized by his lush-sounding reverb-drenched guitars, subtle bass and gentle percussion. The first track “Cool Cat” is an aptly-named, pleasing song with jazz-infused jangly guitars and just a hint of percussion. The title track “Physia” is sublime, with a lovely melody and terrific jangly and chiming guitars. I especially like the watery guitars that appear later in the song that add a bit of funkiness to the track. “Beach Interlude” is a short track, only 1:16 minutes long, but it’s a beauty, with some fine guitar work that conveys images of a romantic night on the beach.

Nice Dog” is a mellow, happy tune with jazzy, reverb-heavy riffs, accompanied by a pleasant little percussive beat. The song seems to end at the 3-minute mark, then suddenly starts back up with a sped-up version of the same melody and guitar riff, ending on an exuberant note. “Floral” is another brief track, but James’ intricate guitar work is really beautiful.

My favorite is “Drag Queen” which has the most complex and fully-developed melody of all the tracks. The sweeping jangly and chiming guitars are gorgeous, and I love the effect of James’ soaring vocals that meld so beautifully with the guitars, creating a wonderful glittery soundscape. I asked James why he gave the track that title, and he said he was inspired by RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he and his girlfriend enjoy watching. The laughter of who I’m guessing is James and his girlfriend at the end is a fun touch.

Physia is a great little EP, and a very respectable debut effort that James should be proud of. He’s a fine guitarist and composer, and I really like his sound. I’m confident his skills will continue to grow and improve as he matures, and I’d like to see him use more complex melodies, guitar riffs and synths,  and perhaps even try writing lyrics and adding more vocals to his songs.

The cool artwork for the EP was created by graphic and digital artist, editor/motion designer and composer Harrison Ames Barrett  https://www.ames.digital/

Connect with Physia on Instagram / Facebook
Stream/purchase his music on Spotify / Bandcamp / Soundcloud / iTunes

DVR – EP Review: “Down”

DVR pic

DVR is a studio project by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olav Christensen. Originally from Denmark, Olav is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and writes, records, produces and masters all his music. He’s been recording music for a number of years, and began releasing singles in 2015, and dropped his first full-length album California in 2016. That work was inspired by memories collected by Olav when he lived in Santa Monica, and was a collaborative effort with bassist/synth musician Ancelmo James.

In late July, he released a new EP Down, which he describes as “five depressing songs for the kids, guaranteed to make you feel better.” While the songs’ themes do address the down sides of love and relationships, his wonderful music is generally upbeat, having the effect of softening the raw emotions expressed in his dark, poetic lyrics.

The first track “Precious Little Time” is a lovely pop-rock ballad that seems to be about regret over past transgressions that resulted in the loss of a loving relationship. The instrumentals are a pleasing mix of acoustic, electric and slide guitars, accompanied by gentle percussion, that perfectly complement the wistful lyrics:

Precious little time makes me lose my head
It’s not that you did wrong, I’m just hanging by a thread
Running out of time and I keep slowing down
Beat and broken down, knees to the ground
I’ll send you love from the great beyond
To take the edge off breaking my bond

Low” has an edgier rock sound, with fuzzy and psychedelic guitars, heavy bass and industrial synths set to a driving beat. DVR’s electronically distorted vocals give the track a bit of a Peter Gabriel vibe. It’s a brilliant song, and probably my favorite on the EP. “Another Year” is a soulful pop-rock track with some fine, intricate electric guitar and a strong thumping drumbeat.  His smooth vocals are really nice, as are his own backing harmonies, which he very effectively uses on other tracks as well. He sings about his shortcomings and how he always fails to live up to his best intentions: “I won’t make no resolutions. There really is no point. Cause when it comes to execution I just disappoint.”

He speeds things up on “Your Shoes,” a peppy, upbeat-sounding rock song with great guitar work and decidedly dark lyrics. Spoken from the point of view of someone who’s completely cynical and emotionally dead, his words offer a bit of empathy to another who’s suffering, though from what we’re not told. His earnest, emotionally-charged vocals almost reach a falsetto level at times.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow 
But I’ve been dead for a while 
My spirit’s dull and hollow 
My soul is dark and vile
But here 
Close to the ground 
Flat on my back 
Nothing to lose 
Here 
I realize what it’s like 
To be in your shoes

On “Undetected,” DVR employs a wide assortment of rich guitar textures, and layers them over a thumping bass line and strutting drumbeat to create an uptempo backdrop for his heartfelt vocals. With a sense of sad resignation, he laments about how the object of his desire doesn’t seem to care about him:

I’d like to be on your radar
It’s my favorite place to be
But all the while, here you are
Not looking for me
I’m always undetected
As I drift across your scope
I’ll always be neglected
Here at the end of my rope

Down is a great little EP that left me wanting more from this versatile artist. Though he refers to himself as a “shitty” guitarist in his Twitter bio, I’d say he’s a pretty good one! And given his rather prolific output over the past few years, I’m sure we’ll be hearing new music from DVR soon.

Connect with DVR:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify
Purchase Down on Bandcamp

BRETT VOGEL – Single Review: “Superwoman Sway”

Brett Vogel is an immensely talented and hard-working singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. We’ve followed each other on social media for nearly three years, and I find Brett to be a warm, kind and gracious guy. He was one of the very first artists I featured on this blog, way back in January 2016, and you can read that post here. Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, he grew up listening to his father’s records and became a fan of music at a very young age – something that I closely identify with, as I was listening to my parents’ Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Elvis Presley records as soon as I was able to walk.

Brett describes his passion for music: “Music is within every fiber of my being! I sincerely believe without music I’d be doomed. Music has kept me alive. Music, I believe, has saved my life. Music is love to me. Music helps people heal. It’s what connects people, and for that I’m grateful!” Blessed with a large vocal range and beautiful tone, Brett showcases his sweet and soaring falsetto in many of the wonderful songs he writes.

Brett Vogel

Brett released his first album Lonely Traveler in 2004, and subsequently moved to LA. He eventually became discouraged about the music industry and returned to Illinois, but after three years he decided to move back to L.A. and give music another go, and has never looked back. In 2015 he released his second album Never Giving Up, a superb effort featuring 11 beautiful tracks that are a celebration of his passion for – and dedication to – his dream of making music. Since then, he’s released several singles and remixes, the latest of which is his delightful new single “Superwoman Sway,” which dropped July 20th.

It’s an upbeat, happy tune with an infectious reggae/dance beat that aims straight for the hips.  The carefree guitars, lively synths and snappy drums transport us to a sun-kissed tropical beach, making it a perfect song for summer. Brett’s earnest vocals are lovely as he sings of his devotion for a loved one who brings so much joy to his life:

There you go brightening up my day 
You wouldn’t know it but it’s true
What you’ve got is that Superwoman Sway
I wouldn’t have any other

Through the thick and thin when I’m dashed upon the rocks
You stay close to me and give me all you’ve got
Through the lightning clouds
The sorrow and the rain
You take away my blue, brighten up my sky
To see the light again

Every little thing you do is so so you
I couldn’t have it any better no
Every little thing you do is so so you
I couldn’t have it any better

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

MATT DUPUY – Single Review: “More Than I’ve Ever Known”

Matt DuPuy

Matt DuPuy is a singer/songwriter, music producer and recording artist based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s thrilled to release his very first single “More Than I’ve Ever Known,” which dropped May 15th, and I’m happy to review it. Matt had assistance from Andie Sandoval and Antonio Brum, who provided backing vocals, and the track was mixed by Jeremy Hatcher and mastered by Nathan Dantzler.

The track opens strong, with a strutting electric guitar riff and thumping drumbeat that quickly hook us in. An assortment of kick-ass bluesy, funky and distorted guitar licks are gradually layered over the continuous strutting riff, accompanied by aggressive drums, loudly crashing cymbals, and organ that dial up the heat as Matt sings about a steamy romantic encounter: “I want her and she wants me. Can’t fight the pull of gravity. I think I’ve found my place. She was hiding in the smoke. Can you take me higher baby. More than I’ve ever known.” Matt’s smooth earnest vocals are terrific, and I love the calm interlude in the bridge, where keyboards and strings share the spotlight, and Andie and Antonio’s beautiful harmonizing background vocals really shine.

“More Than I’ve Ever Known” is a fine, well-crafted song, and a promising debut effort from this talented young musician. Not only are Matt’s guitar-playing skills impressive, his songwriting and vocal abilities are also first-rate.

Connect with Matt on Facebook
Stream “More Than I’ve Ever Known” on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

MEN WITHOUT ARMIES – EP Review: “Strapped & Loaded”

Men Without Armies is a hard rocking, guitar-driven metal band based in Nashville, Tennessee. The band was formed in 2013 by Canadian guitarist/composer/producer Brennan Dylan, and now includes lyricist Dude Diablo and drummer Derek Bachtold. The band is set to release their new EP Strapped & Loaded on July 20, 2017.

Before I get into my review of their EP, I want to provide a little background on the band and its founding member Brennan Dylan. Born in Vancouver, B.C., raised in Ottawa and then Toronto, he’s had a love and aptitude for music since early childhood. He began playing sax and composing music at the age of 10, and performed classical, jazz & swing in school stage bands. In his bio, Dylan states “When I was 14 I picked up a guitar for the first time; it was like I’d inherited freedom. My high school music teacher told me that guitar wasn’t an instrument. I ignored him and studied rock/metal guitar for the first year.

Brennan D as boy

He wrote rock and metal songs and, while still in high school, performed jazz, rock & blues improv guitar at a local club. He branched out and studied everything from Motorhead to Dick Dale to Bach. He was in a surf band one summer, then moved into electronic music, which he incorporated into hard rock/metal compositions. He eventually moved to Boston to study Performance Guitar at Berklee College of Music, then headed west to LA where he played the Sunset Strip as a solo artist, performing with some major acts, including Michael Angelo Batio, DeathRiders and Gorillaz at the Whisky a GoGo.

In 2010, Dylan released his first self-produced CD Bullet Ride, followed two years later by Broken Glass, which received positive reviews and radio play, including a CBS Radio interview and press in Performer Magazine, NME & Guitar World. In 2013, he dropped his third CD Raining in Berlin. Still restless, he relocated to New York City that same year, where he formed Men Without Armies, about which he explained:

That simple 3 man band was the formula I’d been searching for in the trees rather than the forest. Pure rippin’ metal has been coursing through my veins since I first picked up a guitar. My adventures to incorporate every genre that has a beat into my metal compositions was very necessary and still is. I want to study it all but most of all I want to become a better guitar player and composer. By straying from the herd I think that I can accomplish that…no one has a monopoly on anything, even a flat tire kicks off a beat. I may not like all music genres but I’ve always been able to find great guitar players and/or composers in all I’ve studied.

brennan dylan

Men Without Armies released their debut self-titled EP in 2014, and followed up in 2016 with Walking Through Fire. The band won the prestigious IMEA (International Music and Entertainment Association) award for Best Metal Group in October 2016. They’re now based in Nashville, and ready to drop their third EP Strapped & Loaded next month.

Dylan states that the songs on Strapped & Loaded took more than a year to create and, in the process, he literally became a ‘man without an army’ after the band’s original drummer and bass player/vocalist abruptly quit to follow other pursuits. He had written 53 new songs, which he whittled down to 20 and finally 12 that he fully developed into complete works. With his drummer and bassist now departed, Dylan played all instruments but drums (guitar, bass, keyboards and synths) and hired a session drummer for recording of the songs, as their time at Vibe Studio had already been booked. The vocals were sung by Vibe Studio owner Johnny Burke.

Dylan and Diablo eventually landed Derek Bachtold as their new drummer, and they’re currently recruiting for a new bassist/vocalist. They decided that Strapped & Loaded will now be a six-song EP instead of a 12 song album. But they also recorded the remaining six songs without vocals. Those six instrumentals have been amped with searing guitar solos which have become their trademark and something their fans have come to expect, so they will also be released as a follow up EP to be called Strapped & ReLoaded once they have a new vocalist on board to sing the lyrics.

About the new EP, Dylan explains: “Strapped & Loaded speaks about our times, and three of the songs have a military theme. The song “Strapped & Loaded” is the single and has a double meaning. Dude also wrote it to help give my mom strength and courage to battle her cancer. “Crash ‘n Burn” is all about Vegas. The title for “Fast Life in Hollywood” says it all. “The Gun Show” was written to help bring more awareness of living life inside of our inner cities, to those living the great life in places like Man Hat Tan – grab a coat, got a plane to catch, see ya man.”

Track listing:
1. The Desert Haunts Me
2. The Gun Show
3. Strapped & Loaded
4. Crash ‘n Burn
5. Fast Life in Hollywood
6. A Day in The Life

The Desert Haunts Me” kicks things off with a rousing, hard-driving beat and killer riffs. “It’s the trigger that sets me free. The trigger that sets me free. Bang bang bang bang. Brings the bullets right out of me. The bullets right out of me. Bang bang bang bang. Forced to kill. Enough to thrill. The desert haunts me.” “The Gun Show” ramps up the energy with a frantic beat and awesome rapid-fire riffs that really show off Dylan’s amazing guitar playing skills. The in-your-face lyrics speak to the endless bloodshed of gang violence: “Welcome to the gun show baby, with bullets flying. We’re all locked and loaded, spilling blood with people dying. Welcome to the gun show, and no one’s keeping count. It keeps rising, and rising and rising and rising.

Dylan unleashes his sonic weaponry on the title track “Strapped & Loaded,” with scorching hot riffs that do justice to the intense lyrics that describe the band’s mission and also Dylan’s mother’s battle with cancer. In his gritty vocals, Burke snarls: “Crashing through the gates, a burning hell. Never quit, always with horns up, never ring the bell. Punching stars, we’re rippin’ metal. This is our story for us to tell. Strapped & loaded we will go. There is silence in screaming. There is violence in dreaming. Bullets riddle my mind.

Crash ‘n Burn” offers up more hot, bass-heavy riffs and thunderous percussion, before all hell breaks loose on “Fast Life in Hollywood.” Frenetic guitar riffs, crushing bass and hammering drums make this track a real head-banger that gets the blood pumping, and Dylan’s guitar solo at the finale is jaw-droppingly fantastic!

My favorite track is “A Day in the Life,” a complex song with two distinct melodies. The track opens with a mysterious atmospheric synth chord, then explodes with snarling guitars, crashing drums and Burke’s gruff vocals singing the defiant lyrics: “Fearless we live, yeah, fearless we fight. Fearless we live, yeah, fearless we die.” The tempo abruptly changes to a beautiful melody, with gentler guitars, snare drums, and softer vocals, before the gruff, hard-driving melody returns for two more cycles, making this a musically exciting and compelling song. Dylan lays down one of his signature blistering guitar solos in the bridge.

If you’re a fan of heavy, guitar-driven metal rock, Strapped & Loaded needs to be part of your collection. Show Men Without Armies some love and support by following them on:

Facebook /  Twitter /  YouTube

Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Reverbnation

Purchase it:  Reverbnation

Featured Videos: WHALE HOUSE – “Red Sun/Think of Me”

As I’ve stated before on this blog, there is so much great rock music being made by so many talented artists and bands today, that I’m sometimes overwhelmed by it all. And every once in a while, I discover a band that stands out from the crowd by virtue of their incredible musicianship and sound. Whale House is such a band. Hailing from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, they describe their sound as ” a sublime blend of Noise & Melody.” More accurately, their dynamic sound has elements of experimental, grunge and psychedelic alternative rock.

Whale House was formed in 2009 by Clayton Brice and Caleb Price, both on vocals, guitar and bass. The duo released a 3-track EP From the Traps in 2011.  Drummer Chris Dunn joined the band in 2013, and they subsequently released Stand Out. They followed up with their superb highly experimental 5-track EP The Negative Space in 2015, and dropped the excellent single “Freeway” earlier this year. Now they’ve released two new videos for their awesome songs “Red Sun” and “Think of Me.”

The electrifying videos were produced by SCOSH Films as Collaborate Forever Live Sessions filmed at Ambient Inks print shop in Eau Claire. Involved with production were videographer Scott Kunkel, photographer Kyle Lehman, sound engineer Steve Norwick and Bryan Hanna on mastering.  The videos were filmed using movable walls and lots of fluorescent lighting, creating an otherworldly vibe. The guys all wearing sunglasses adds an edgy sense of mystery.  I really like the videos for several reasons, one of which being that I enjoy seeing the band actually performing their songs, rather than act out some odd story line like in a lot of videos.

“Red Sun” starts off with a thumping bass line, then explodes with a barrage of shredded and swirling guitars and Dunn’s thunderous drums that instantly brought chills.  Brice and Price coax scorching hot riffs from their guitars, their commanding, intertwining vocals in perfect harmony. This is one gorgeous rock song!

“Think of Me” is more experimental and psychedelic, and everything about it is jaw-dropping amazing. Clocking in at 6 1/2 minutes, the song is a tour de force that astonishes from start to finish. First off, the buzzing bass line is monumental – seemingly powerful enough to slam you against the wall. Then come the hard-hitting, staccato guitar riffs that practically tear your face off, followed by more snarling guitars and pummeling drums that make your heart race. The guys’ vocals alternately smolder and scream, sounding a bit like Kurt Cobain, and guaranteed to raise the hair on the back of your neck.  By song’s end, I had to catch my breath. Wow, just wow!

Support these amazing musicians by by following them on Twitter,  Facebook  and  Instagram. Subscribe to their YouTube channel, and stream their music on Spotify, or purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes.