New Song of the Week – SECRET AMERICAN: “Here Comes A Man”

Secret American4

Secret American is a delightfully unique band I’ve grown to love over the past year or so, ever since being introduced to them and their music by another blogger. They’re a bi-coastal band, born from the collaboration of singer/songwriter and guitarist Derek Krzywicki, who lives in the small town of Carpinteria on the California coast east of Santa Barbara, and his long-time friend Todd Mecaughey, a producer/engineer and musician from Philadelphia. Despite their distance, they began working together on music fairly regularly for over a year in Philadelphia, as well as collaborating through the internet from their home studios, and eventually formed Secret American. Using songs Derek had written previously, the two created their debut 2018 album Warmth & Shelter (which I reviewed in March 2019). The band was gradually expanded to a seven-member lineup with the addition of Katie Frank, Tony Unander, Alex Baranowski, Rory Geoghegan and Jon McNally.

Their refreshing, laid-back sound is at once retro yet contemporary, eccentric yet familiar. While their song lyrics often address serious subjects that make us think, they’re presented with sunny melodies, breezy instrumentation and pleasing vocals that make for happy listening experience. Since the release of Warmth & Shelter, Secret American has been recording and releasing new singles that will eventually be included on their second album. Their latest is “Here Comes a Man“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The song opens with a rather pensive trumpet, then settles into a languid tempo, highlighted by a strong, thumping drumbeat and wonderful twangy guitar notes. With seven musicians contributing to the music, we hear all sorts of instruments and sounds, including horns, snare drums, keyboard synths, guitar and bass. But perhaps the most striking of them all are the occasional reverb-heavy distorted guitar chords that punctuate the proceedings from time to time, adding a touch of danger to the otherwise sunny upbeat vibe.

I love Derek’s smooth singing voice, which registers in the higher octaves just below a falsetto. He sounds appropriately seductive as he sings the great come-on lyrics to a woman he finds attractive, urging her to ditch the man she’s with and give him a chance instead:

Hello, I’ve seen your face before, I don’t recall your name
You’re looking at me too long through a glass of champagne
I’m a greyhound headin’ at ya, making all the stops
I’m a loosening my collar, I’m a drinking on the rocks
But the man right next to you, who is that man?
Is he making you happy, doesn’t look like he can
So I’m a walk right to ya, gonna pass that man
My eyes wide open

Here comes a man (x3)
Here I come

“Here Comes a Man” is another terrific song from this incredibly talented group of musicians. Their superb songwriting and musicianship never fail to amaze me, and so long as they continue to produce such great songs, I shall remain a devoted fan.

Connect with Secret American on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

YOU’RE AMONG FRIENDS – Album Review: “Start Making Sense”

You're Among Friends Start Making Sense

Cleveland, Ohio-based band You’re Among Friends are most definitely among friends at this blog. Their laid back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock seems to channel Steely Dan, The Grateful Dead and even a bit of Elvis Costello, and always makes for a pleasurable listen. That comforting low-key vibe, combined with their thoughtful, down-to-earth lyrics about this crazy thing we call life, has a way of making me feel that everything’s gonna be alright. And boy, we can all use more of that right now!

I’ve had the pleasure of featuring them twice on this blog, first in June 2017, when I reviewed their 2016 album As We Watch the Years Go…, and again in January 2018 when I reviewed their EP One Day You’ll Look Back. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) They’ve just released their latest album Start Making Sense, which dropped May 8.  It’s their first release in two and a half years, and they sound better than ever.

You’re Among Friends was born in 2007 when guitarist and vocalist Anthony Doran and bassist Kevin Trask – who’d both played together in another band – rechristened it with a new name and began reworking songs from the previous band’s repertoire. They released their debut self-titled album in 2007, then soon followed up with an EP and double single. As the demands of life, work and starting a family took more of their time, however, the band went on a hiatus in 2011 that lasted four years. Once they reconnected in 2015, they began working on the album As We Watch the Years Go…, with songs inspired by their life experiences as well as the passage of time and how it affected friendships, relationships, and the band itself. Their follow-up EP One Day You’ll Look Back continued to explore some of the themes first addressed by the album.

Like more than a few bands, You’re Among Friends has struggled since their beginnings to find and keep drummers. They’re now on their seventh drummer in the person of Mike Janowitz, who appears to be a perfect fit. In a recent interview with Jeff Niesel of Cleveland Scene, Anthony commented “Mike is great. We have had some drummers who are great technical drummers and skilled, but they often treat us like we’re a stepping stone to the next gig. And then, we’ve had some cool, nice guy drummers, who aren’t that great at drumming. Mike is the best of both worlds. He’s the best drummer we’ve ever played with.”

You're Among Friends composite

Anthony wrote the music and lyrics for most of the songs, and all three members worked out the arrangements together. They began recording songs together for Start Making Sense this past January and early February at Kevin’s house prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Anthony later overdubbed his guitar parts and vocals at his home from late February through early April, then Kevin mixed the recordings from late April through early May at his home. Anthony noted: “We haven’t been in the same room since February. It’s really weird, but we kept going with the album and let it happen naturally.” Mike came up with the album title, and Kevin designed the artwork using a photograph he took during one of their sessions.

Opening track “Trying to Take It All In” speaks to the pressures of trying to keep up with the constant flood of information that can be downright overwhelming these days, and coming to the conclusion that’s it’s really not all that important in the end: “Things move fast these days. And folks who try to say if you’re not keeping up the pace, you’re in the wane. But I’m beginning to think that I could handle the shame. Getting kicked out of the race might be okay. But if I ever move too slow, you should probably know I’m trying to take it all in. It doesn’t matter who’s the fastest, when there’s this much information to process. The avalanche rolling down the mountain is gonna bury us all just the same.

Their song titles let us know exactly what the songs are about, and I really enjoy the almost conversational flow of their lyrics, which are easy to understand and relate to. On the toe-tapping “Waiting For Life to Start Making Sense” they tell us to lighten up a bit and not take everything so seriously: “Take life as it comes. Don’t get uptight. Just keep moving on. Never know about what’s coming next. Seems like the worst could turn out to be the best.” I like Anthony’s guitar noodling on the track as he lays down a catchy little riff, as well as his endearing vocals that remind me of Randy Newman.

The short and sweet “Once the Toothpaste is Out of its Tube” uses a simple but brilliant metaphor to describe how our words and actions can sometimes have more impact than we might realize: “Stuff you put out into the world, might come back around to you. So don’t forget what happens once the toothpaste comes out of its tube.” “Why Do I Dwell on Things?” asks why some of us (me included) focus on the negative rather than all the good things in our lives. “Why do I dwell on things that I can’t change? What good does it do, it just winds me up, and life has to go on anyway.” The funky guitars and bass on this track are really good.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Hills You’re Willing to Die On“, not only for Kevin’s wonderful bass-driven groove and Mike’s jazzy drums, but also its message about how so many people today choose to blindly cling to their political beliefs: “Carefully choose the hills you’re willing to die on. Those coattails you ride on get more torn and frayed by the day.” About the song, Anthony explained to Cleveland Scene: “It was during the impeachment hearings that the lyrics came to me. We’re all divided, and we can’t communicate any more because we’re all set in our ways.”

The first thing we hear on “Just Keep Being Nice” are the faint spoken words “That does not count against me. This is the one.” Whether intentional or not, it reveals, to me at least, how funny and real these guys are. They also serve up more funky guitars and jazzy rhythms as Anthony advises us to not let the blowhards and assholes get to us:  “Life is too short to give anything they say a second thought. Smile and pretend you agree that their message has value and meaning as it goes in one ear and out the other. Just keep being nice. And pretend to play the game. Act like you want to win, although none of this means anything.”

On the sweet “On Again, Off Again“, they touch on how some friendships and even love affairs can wax and wane, yet endure through time: “We go from the closest of friends  to the coldest of strangers. But whenever we find our way back here again it seems like no time has passed and nothing’s changed between us.” From a musical standpoint, “String a Few Nice Words Together” is one of my favorites, as I love Anthony’s funky guitars and Kevin & Mike’s cool, jazzy rhythms. The lyrics, however, speak to the singer’s shortcomings with regard to his actions not living up to his words: “Talk is cheap, but that’s always been good enough for me. I understand when you say that my apologies don’t mean anything because things never change. They always go right back to the way they were before.”

Kevin wrote the lyrics for the final track “My Best Friend Is Never Coming Home“. It’s a poignant song about remembering a best friend who’s gone: “So much has changed since you left us. I’ve got kids now. You would have loved them. They would have loved you too. But now you’re gone. I’m all alone. My best friend is never coming home.” It has a languid melody that suits the wistful lyrics quite well, without sounding maudlin or depressing.

With Start Making Sense, You’re Among Friends have delivered yet another thoughtful and pleasing album for us to enjoy. As their name implies, it’s like the return of an old friend with whom we’re able to pick right back up from where we left off. And that, my friends, is a mighty good thing indeed.

Connect with You’re Among Friends:  Blog / Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Napster / Google Play / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 14: SHIPS HAVE SAILED – “Rise”

Song A Day Challenge

Sadly, all good things must eventually come to an end, and today is the 14th and final installment of the Song of the Day Challenge I’ve been doing over the past two weeks. The final day’s theme is “Your song of the day”, and my pick is the new single “Rise” by Ships Have Sailed. The Los Angeles-based duo consists of songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Will Carpenter and drummer Art Andranikyan, and I featured them twice on this blog last year when I reviewed their beautiful singles “Escape” and “Skin”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.)

Like many of their songs, “Rise” is an uplifting song of resilience and hope. The song’s lyrics are particularly relevant given the current state of things as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, which has essentially upended everyone’s life. This past March, after much planning and preparation, Ships Have Sailed embarked on what was to be a 10-show tour across the Southwest with fellow L.A. band Quitting Whitney. After playing only the first show in Las Vegas, their tour came to an abrupt halt the next day as the COVID-19 outbreak suddenly began spiraling out of control. They were forced to turn around and head back to L.A., their tour and dreams in ashes. I had purchased tickets to see them at the legendary Troubadour on March 22, and needless to say was terribly disappointed.

Like all musicians and bands, Will and Art were forced to reassess their plans for the months ahead, and decided to release “Rise” as a single. About the song, Will explained: “In the midst of all the chaos that was happening around us, I felt oddly calm. I can remember realizing that our touring plans were likely done at least for six months and quite possibly longer, and knowing we needed to adjust. I’d had this song “Rise” finished for a minute, but it hadn’t really showed me where it belonged yet. I just sort of realized that it was here in this situation we’re all living through where it belongs…in the middle of this chaos, reminding us all that we can, and will, weather this storm.”

The song has more of an alt-rock feel than many of their recent songs, with gnarly synth bass grooves and more aggressive percussion. Will’s vocals are as sublime as ever though. Take a listen:

Follow Ships Have Sailed: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  iTunes  / Google Play / Amazon

PETER KLEINHANS Releases New Video for “Something’s Not Right”

Something's Not Right cover

Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer and announcer, decided to turn his love of music into writing and recording songs. His music is a pleasing mix of pop, folk and rock, with thoughtful lyrics and catchy melodies. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice, but his distinctive vocals are warm and comforting. In February 2018 he released his debut album Something’s Not Right to critical acclaim. LA Music Critic hailed it “one of the best debut albums we have reviewed“, while Neufutur Magazine called it “an album that blends together Dave Matthews with the protest tradition of performers like Neil Young and Phil Ochs.”

Last October, Peter wrote a fascinating guest article for this blog about his song “91st Street”, which you can read here. Now I’m happy to feature him again for the release of his brilliant and compelling new video for the title track from his album “Something’s Not Right“. The song speaks to the general sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seem to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. His video, produced by Peter and directed by filmmaker Harrison Kraft, brings his powerful lyrics to life with an entertaining, yet at times troubling, narrative. Peter explains his inspiration behind the song, as well as the making of the video.

“Something’s Not Right” was one of my first songs, and ended up being the title of my first album. I wrote it in 2013, and it reflected the sense of unease I was getting from many of the previously-comfortable friends I had made during my years of announcing horse races in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. I’d taken the couple of years beforehand trying to understand the forces underlying the economy, and became convinced that although the economy was officially ‘in recovery,’ things were not improving for average Americans. This was confirmed for me by the universal sense I was receiving from everyone I knew that there was a deep unease and lack of security brewing from a thinning sense of stability and sustainability.

This song was written three years before the election — it’s not a political song. What interested me was that feeling of unease, the sense of something-not-being-right, and how it emanated not just from economic forces but also from the impersonal face of what the nation was presenting its citizens. The song begins by invoking Applebee’s and Lowe’s as the workplaces of the protagonist, and ends with a desperate appeal to Walmart as the only viable destination for the drive he takes (ostensibly to escape the mundanity of his experience) in the middle of the night.

I am very happy and lucky to have connected with Harrison Kraft and his brilliant and young set of filmmakers, who completely got the idea and brought it to life in this music video. They used the conceit of a July 4 celebration — a party that has lost its true feeling of celebration, and even the reason for celebrating — to convey this overall all-consuming sense of disillusion. It was Kraft’s vision to use mannequins to convey characters playing their roles in life but without really ‘being there’. The protagonist’s girlfriend oscillates from real to a simulation and so do many of the background characters. Reality starts to take on a disturbing turn in a number of ways: the hand flipping the burger suddenly turns to plastic, the son’s firecracker goes the opposite way- it’s supposed to be fake, but it becomes a real explosive. These ideas were all in the hands of the video production team; I’d discussed what I thought the central themes of the song were, and then I gave them free rein to take it wherever they wanted to go. They took the ball and ran with it, and I’m thrilled with the result. Sometimes you have to know when to give up control, but you’ve really got to have trust in your team when you’re doing that. I hope you enjoy the result, and be on the lookout for more music videos forthcoming from Harrison Kraft and his team!”

Peter Kleinhans – Something’s Not Right from Harrison Kraft on Vimeo.

Peter is currently finishing up his second album, due for release in early 2020. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Facebook /  Twitter  / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunesGoogle Play

MMIV – Single Review: “Room for Requirement”

MMIV 2

MMIV is a fairly new band from Leeds, England, comprised of Max Rawdon (vocals, guitar), Charlie Adshead (bass) and Jasper Exley (drums). They formed in mid 2018 when Charlie noticed some lo-fi tracks that Max had posted on the University of Leeds Band Society online pages, and reached out to him. The two immediately hit it off, and started working together on acoustic demos and performing as a duo at open mics around Leeds. They tried out a few drummers, eventually settling on Jasper, who had previously been in the local band Turn Stones with Charlie, and is also currently keyboardist for funk band Everyday People. For their debut single, they recorded one of Max’s original songs “Room for Requirement“, which was released on October 17.

In an interview with the webzine Lippy, Max said that “Room for Requirement” is “indebted” to his life at the university. Written during his first semester of first year, the song speaks to his period of transition coming from a small rural area to the overwhelming big city. The song celebrates the life of a student, even those times when it can all seem bewildering. You feel torn between missing the comforting familiarity of home, and the excitement of experiencing new things and meeting new people in a completely different environment. It’s against this backdrop that the roller coaster highs and lows of a budding romance can feel so intense.

The song has a pleasing lo-fi quality, with a catchy melody that slowly builds to a jubilant tempo in the chorus. Max lays down some very fine guitar work, letting loose with a terrific solo in the bridge. Charlie’s prominent bass line is particularly good, giving the track a solid depth, which is accentuated by Jasper’s lively drumbeats. Max’s low-key vocals are really nice, and being a sucker for British accents, I like how his shines through on this track. It’s a great debut from MMIV, and I look forward to hearing more from this promising band.

I just hope there’s nothing left required
And I’ve admired you from afar
I might lean my head above the island
And try to find it by a star
Do you feel like a bursting into life
Alright

Cause I don’t need nothing now, maybe a home
I think I’m better off dancing alone
Up down, turned around
Up down, turned around

All of the lights are shining very brightly
My head feels like it’s tingling slightly
The touch of your hand is enough to make me think it might be love again

Connect with MMIV:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play

ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Freak”

Andrew Neil Freak art

Of the hundreds of artists and bands I’ve featured on this blog over the past four years, perhaps the most uniquely compelling life story would have to be that of Andrew Neil. The Virginia-based singer-songwriter is considered an “outsider” music artist along the lines of Daniel Johnston, and in fact, he now ranks as the #1 Best Outside Artist on Ranker, just above the late Johnston. The 31-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.

After growing up as a fairly typical kid and a high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

His sentence was changed to not guilty by reason of insanity, whereupon he was released from jail and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d already written prior to his hospitalization. Andrew writes songs entirely by ear, creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar. He would record songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would then upload to the home computer. To date, he’s written over 400 songs!

Andrew Neil

Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville, where he still resides. Upon his release, he decided to produce an album of some of his songs, many of which were melancholy yet optimistic. Andrew hoped that perhaps his songs might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The result was his debut album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 of the 70 songs he’d written while in the hospital. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them. The art work for the album cover was done by his brother Kyle (the one he stabbed in the arm).

In 2018, he entered a studio to record his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. Some of those musicians included Andy Waldeck, who also produced the album, on bass & guitar, Nathan Brown on drums, Gina Sobel on flute, and  and Jack Sheehan on sax for one track.

While it would seem that Andrew had already faced more than his fair share of challenges in his young life, in June 2019, while wrapping up the recording of his third album Freak, he was hit with yet another health crisis when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected.

Freak was released digitally for streaming on October 15th. It’s also now available on CD, and will soon be available for download, as well as a limited number of vinyl pressings. For the recording of Freak, Andrew was joined once again by Andy Waldeck on bass and Nathan Brown on drums, with additional musicians Matty Metcalfe on lead guitar, baritone electric guitar and marxophone, Nick Berkin on piano, and Andrew’s dad Ray on acoustic guitar and backing vocals on two tracks. His brother Kyle also did the arresting painting for the album cover, which was designed by Daniel Benayun.

The album is an ambitious work, with 14 unique tracks that address topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity. It opens with the marvelous title track “Freak“, and the first thing that struck me is its strong Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe. In fact, Andrew’s unusual, quirky vocals at times sound a lot like Anthony Kiedis. The intricate guitar work is terrific, and I love the track’s funky psychedelic grooves. Andrew’s simple lyrics speak of being a ‘freak’ as a badge of honor, something that sets him apart as a unique individual, rather than simply strange: “In every way, every day of the week, I’m a freak, freak, freak. I got a feeling, like a ceiling leak. And if I could, I probably would grow a beak, beak, beak./ What can I say? I’m so unique, I’m a freak, freak, freak.”

Next up is “Kentucky Whiskey“, a languid and lovely song about throwing caution to the wind and giving into temptation and vices. With a wistful tone in his voice, Andrew croons “Goodbye teacher, goodbye teacher, gonna learn rock’n’roll. Goodbye preacher, goodbye preacher, I’ve already sold my soul. Killing myself, killing myself, with a cigarette. Girl I know, yes I know that we just met. But I’m gonna, yeah I’m gonna make you miss me. Killing myself, killing myself, Kentucky whiskey.” He’s written a captivating melody here, and Matty Metcalfe’s marxophone lends an enchanting addition to the gorgeous guitar work. “Hope” is a pleasing ballad about a girl named Hope who lifts him up with her love and support. The interplay between the guitars and Nick Berkin’s tinkling piano keys is delightful.

By the time we get to the fourth track “Overdose“, it’s clear that Andrew has a real knack for creating compelling and memorable melodies. Each of the songs sound completely different, with an eclectic mix of styles that keeps his music fresh and surprising. This song has a wickedly seductive melody with fuzz-soaked driving riffs, and Nathan Brown’s sexy drumbeats that nicely complement Andrew’s lyrics about submitting to love’s ardor:  “Cause I’m about to overdose. Let my spirit soar. Become a ghost. Walk through your heaven’s door. Overdose.” It’s a great song, one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Help” sees Andrew crying out for support and understanding: “If you only knew all of the bullshit I’ve been through. Then you could give me no blame when I give the blunt a flame.” The jangly guitars and piano keys are sublime. “All Over” is a pleasant love song that starts off with Andrew rapping to a hip hop beat, then 20 seconds in it transitions to an upbeat pop-rock duet, with guest vocalist Savannah Weaver singing with Andrew. Their vocal harmonies are delightful. Here’s a snippet of lyric that provides a great example of his honest, straightforward songwriting that’s so relatable: “Because of you my heart beats. Because of you I got to wash my sheets.”

Awesome bluesy guitars are a highlight of the poignant “Put Me Back Together“, a plea for love and support to heal his broken soul. Andrew references nursery rhymes to make his case: “Mary had a little lamb. So will you love me as I am? / I’m a bloody humpty dumpty. And babe I need your company. Or else.” Another favorite track of mine, mainly due to the lyrics, is “American Dream“, a candid critique of the rat race. Andrew laments “I’m living the American dream, but things aren’t what they seem. I’m living the American dream, and it makes me want to scream. Wake up and go to work. Thank god my boss isn’t a jerk. People really aren’t so bad. But every now and then I get sad. So my doctor gives me pills They make me happy so I pay my bills. What would I do without my wine?

The optimistic “Drum Song” has an Americana vibe, with rousing folk-rock guitars, lively piano keys, and Appalachian dulcimer played by guest musician Roxanne McDaniel. Andrew sings of how the world would be a better place if people were more kind and loving to each other: “Love is in your heart, so find it and play your part./ This life would never be such a bummer, if we collectively loved one another.” Those wonderful bluesy guitars make a welcome return on “Beautiful Dancer“, a song about a woman who could be his savior or his undoing (romance can often be like that): “The birds are flying, or maybe they’re spying, or maybe they’re trying to let me know. That you are my answer, or maybe a cancer. Beautiful dancer. I’m at your show.” I really like the song’s rather sensuous melody, and Andrew’s vocals sound particularly good here.

Andrew takes a bit of an experimental turn on the trippy “Thirty-Two“, with more of those great bluesy grooves, accompanied by Andy Waldeck’s throbbing bass and some fine drumming by Nathan Brown. I love the lyrics “Take a shower, I feel dirty. In an hour, I’ll turn thirty. Life’s so fast and rough. I think I’ve had enough. Then I saw her walk back, and I knew I could make it to thirty-two.” The final track “Disappear” is a bluesy foot-stomper with an infectious country-rock vibe. I’m not sure, but the lyrics seem to speak of the mind-controlling aspects of blind faith: “Fork in the road. Choice is clear, do what you’re told, have no fear./We are free, when we do what it is that gods do. Disappear.

Freak is a wonderful album, made all the more special given Andrew’s remarkable talents, despite the many adversities he’s had to face throughout his adult life. His intriguing melodies, simple, honest lyrics, beautiful instrumentals and endearing vocal style have a way of burrowing into our brain and capturing our soul. I’m genuinely impressed by his imaginative songwriting and sincere musicality, and he’s a true inspiration for all who have experienced challenges, both large and small.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / cdbaby / Google Play

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.

SHIPS HAVE SAILED – Single Review: “Skin”

Ships Have Sailed 2

I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands I’ve featured earlier this year, as so many are dropping great new music. Another such band is Los Angeles-based duo Ships Have Sailed, whose beautiful and moving single “Escape” I reviewed this past February. I loved that song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30! They’ve just dropped a lovely new single “Skin“, which I’m thrilled to introduce to my readers today.

Formed in 2012 by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Will Carpenter, Ships Have Sailed has included a number of musicians over the years, but now consists of Will and drummer Art Andranikyan. They play a pleasing style of alternative pop-rock characterized by beautiful melodies, thoughtful, uplifting lyrics, and sublime arrangements and instrumentation. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Will twice now, including just last Friday, and his kindness and warmth shines through in his engaging vocals.

“Skin” is about pulling down our barriers and allowing ourselves to become vulnerable in order to more fully connect with others in deeper, more meaningful ways. Being vulnerable to uncomfortable emotions and pain in turn enables us to feel empathy and sympathy toward others. About the song, Will explains: “Has anyone ever told you that you need to grow a thicker skin? I can’t even count how many times people have told me that. But they’re essentially telling you to numb your feelings, and I think that our feelings and emotions are the essence of our humanity. The music I create wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t lean into my emotions when I’m writing, and so ‘Skin’ is my way of expressing that I’m content with feeling as much as I do…even if it hurts sometimes.”

Musically, “Skin” is more stripped down from their typical sound, with an incredibly pleasing folk/Americana vibe. The instrumentals consist primarily of lovely strummed guitars, including acoustic guitar by guest musician Steve Stout, accompanied by delicate, crystalline synths and Art’s gentle percussion. Will’s smooth, heartfelt vocals exude a tender vulnerability expressed by the poignant lyrics:

It may be thin, but I love it,
feel the pain, rise above it

We don’t have to wound each other,
you’re my sister, I’m your brother

Open heart, open eyes
let them in…this skin so thin

The beautiful, heartwarming video shows scenes of Will and Art walking various streets in Los Angeles, as well as Will getting a ship tattooed on his back at Golden Daggers tattoo studio, and several people in a range of emotional states posing for pictures at The Spot photo studio on Sunset Boulevard. It was directed and produced by Michael Easterling and Jaala Ruffman of Talkboy TV and filmed by David Parks.

Connect with Ships Have Sailed on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes  / Google Play / Amazon

New Song(s) of the Week – TWO METERS: “The Nightmare//Bike Ride”

Two Meters 3

This past May, I featured Florida artist Two Meters on this blog when I reviewed his The Blue Jay EP, a remarkable work that further explored the dark themes of loss and death he first introduced us to on his debut self-titled EP Two Meters. Two Meters is the music project of Fort Lauderdale-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Costolo. Starting off with powerful, often brutally honest lyrics – which he expresses through incredibly vulnerable, slightly off-kilter vocals that go from droning whispers to spine-tingling wails – he adds layers of intriguing guitar textures, harsh industrial synths, and other lo-fi ambient sounds to create deeply impactful songs.

Now he returns with a mind-blowing new double single “The Nightmare//Bike Ride“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song(s) of the Week. Once again, he delves into dark, introspective subjects, the first of which explores the paralyzing terror we’ve all experienced while having a nightmare, followed by an unsettling sense of relief when we wake up, realizing that awful thing we just went through was only a bad dream.

The song starts off with a somber little guitar riff and Two Meters singing in a hushed monotone “Alone gasping for air. Against the weight of the world.” Suddenly, we’re hit with an barrage of grungy guitar lasting around 25 seconds, then fading back to the somber riff and hypnotic drumbeat as he drones “Crushing down as shadows move. Faceless but with form. A mouth unable to cry out as the darkness comes.” The gnarly guitars return again, only this time accompanied by a distorted wail that conveys the terror of a nightmare. It all calms back down as he sings in just above a whisper “Just as fast life snaps back. The figure gone. The room is back in view. What was real is never clear.”

The second track “Bike Ride” is more experimental, epic and dark, with very gnarly guitar, fuzz-soaked bass and sharp percussive beats. His vocals heavily distorted, Two Meters screams the lyrics describing the sorry state of his bicycle, possibly a metaphor for a life hindered by physical or emotional pain and scars:

There’s a nail in my wheel
My pedals are broken
Left to grind
Into my heel

My helmets collecting dust
The brakes are out
I am
Crossing the street

With a pulsating spacey synth as a backdrop, the music eventually quiets down to a simple strummed guitar as he calmly sings “I make it to the other side, and I look back and wonder what could have been.” Wow, what a brilliant track this is, full of ever-changing sounds, volumes and textures taking us on an emotional roller coaster ride.

Connect with Two Meters: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

COLD WEATHER COMPANY – Single Review: “Way Up”

Cold Weather Company

I recently learned about Cold Weather Company when they followed me on Twitter and shared their latest single “Way Up“, and I was instantly enchanted with their music. Since then, I’ve been binge listening to their substantial back catalog (they’ve released three albums over the past four years). Based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the alternative folk band formed in 2013, and consists of Brian Curry, Steve Shimchick and Jeff Petescia. All share songwriting and singing duties, with Curry and Petescia playing guitar and Shimchick on piano.

Influenced by the music of such bands as Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes, Dave Matthews, Chad Stokes, Tallest Man on Earth, Coldplay, Keane and The Decemberists, their richly melodic sound is both guitar and piano-driven, with all three of them singing in perfect harmony. They released their lovely debut album Somewhere New in 2015, which had a pure, acoustic sensibility that allowed the guitars and piano to really shine. A year later, they dropped A Folded Letter, another album containing 13 tracks that delivered more of their sublime acoustic guitar/piano compositions. All of the songs are beautiful, but two of the highlights are “Wide-Eyed” and “Gettysburg”. They followed up in 2017 with an all-instrumental version of A Folded Letter, then early this year they released their gorgeous third album Find Light, an ambitious work featuring 16 tracks in which they expanded upon their sound with the addition of more orchestral instrumentation. That album received widespread and very well-deserved acclaim.

In August, they released their latest single “Way Up”, and it’s a real stunner of a tune. The song opens with the tinkling of piano keys, then expands into a breathtaking soundscape of strummed guitars, gentle bass and some of the most enthralling piano I’ve heard recently. I’m not sure which band member is singing the lead vocals, but they’re positively captivating. And as always, the guys’ vocal harmonies are exquisite. I love this song.

The band states that “Way Up” “is about finding a new perspective, and seeking hope when things are looking bleak. We could all use a little bit of that sometime.” We sure can!

Soon I’ll find my peace with time and break this (Break this hold, break this hold, from sea)
Cause I’m not foolish, I was made to shake this
No more breathless fights adrift in missteps
Oh, I’ll rise
All I ever needed is the current to survive

I found my way up, I saw the ocean meeting the sky
I found my way up, I saw the ocean meeting the sky

No more restless nights of drifting listless in my mind
Cause all I ever needed is the current to survive
I found my way up

Follow Cold Weather Company:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play