PAUL IWAN – Single Review: “Parasite”

Paul Iwan

Paul Iwan is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in the music mecca of Liverpool, England. He’s been involved in music since his early teens, playing and touring with numerous bands and, more recently, writing and recording his own songs. In 2008 he was mentored and championed by Ray Davies of The Kinks, and continues to collaborate with other artists and friends across the UK. He released his debut album Reveal in September 2016, an impressive tour-de-force that I reviewed, and encourage my readers to check out. Now, Paul is back with a powerful new track “Parasite.” It’s the first single off his forthcoming second album RESISTER, a autobiographical work of sorts that will address his newfound sobriety.

Paul told me that not long after the release of Reveal, “I was involved in a motorcycle accident, just as I was preparing to gig, which set me back quite a bit. In the following 18 months, I got clean and now I’m in recovery… I didn’t realise I had an issue, until I did! ‘Parasite’ is a warning, a lesson and a true story. Like all of the songs on RESISTER, this song is a fragment of my life prior to getting clean. It’s a song about addiction becoming a permanent fixture to solve issues, to erase memories and repress feelings.

“Parasite” was written, performed and produced by Paul, with Steven Burkert on drums. It was recorded at Studio 45 and SPACE in Liverpool, mixed by Andy Fernihough and beautifully mastered by Pete Maher (U2, Rolling Stones, Depeche Mode). The song opens strong with a gnarly guitar riff and Burkert’s pummeling drumbeat, accompanied by an echoed backing chorus repeating ‘OH!’ as Paul sings in his urgent tenor vocals of his internal struggles: “My head begins to spin, my double vision taking me. My soul, my body, my mind, I wish I could control it all again.” The music builds with heavier guitar and bass, hammering drums and glittery piano synths, ultimately exploding with Paul’s frantic riffs of jagged guitar in the chorus as he fervently agonizes: “I’m a pulsar. I’m paralyzed. Pulled apart by the parasite. A stranger in my own skin.

Eventually, a male voice over speaks of the pathology of alcohol addiction:  “Nobody quite knows which drink it is that takes him over the edge of being a merely social, hearty, laughing drinker into a morose and hungover wretched creature.” Paul laments of his inability to shake off his addiction: “The shame I feel is all too real. I know that I’m addicted. I’m too weak to stay in the fight. I’m down.” The guitars and power drums continue to rage and roil through to the end, making for a dramatic finish to a spectacular and deeply moving song. The lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and production are all superb, and I look forward to hearing RESISTER upon it’s completion.

Connect with Paul Iwan: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase on  Amazon

LOUIE JAMES – Single Review: “Real Friends”

Louie James3

Louie James is an outstanding young singer/songwriter from Wakefield, England who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite artists. I featured him on this blog only a month ago, when I reviewed his lovely acoustic single “Yellow Doors” (which you can read here). Now this prolific artist is back with a moving new single “Real Friends,” along with a brilliant companion video. On “Real Friends,” Louie departs from his usual mellow acoustic style, employing layers of glittery synths to create a beautiful and haunting track.

In the verses, Louie sings in his gentle vocal style, accompanied by delicate electronic synths that convey a sense of sadness amid the lovely sounds. His vocals become more impassioned in the choruses as the synths swell into a lush soundscape brimming with emotional intensity.

The mournful lyrics speak to a bitter realization that the friends you thought you had don’t really care about or support you:

Who needs enemies with friends like these?
Talk all the shit you want
They’re out for blood and…
A lonely life when you trust no one.

Walk around with a chip up on your shoulder
21 but I don’t feel any older
Run me off, take another stab shot
Tear it all down, this is everything that I’ve got

Real friends are with me til the end but…
Woke again to another fatal head shot
Don’t forget me, this thing you’re making
Real friends but I know you’re only snaking

The video opens with Louie staring into a mirror, crossing out the eyes of his forlorn reflection with lipstick. As the video continues, he’s shown singing while soaking in a bathtub or standing in front of the mirror, where he writes “Real Friends” on the glass with lipstick, eventually crossing out the words. I love the song and video!

Connect with Louie:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

ITHACA BOTTOM BOYS – Album Review: “Ithaca Bottom Boys”

Ithaca Bottom Boys album

Being EclecticMusicLover, I love discovering interesting new music, so it was my lucky day when I was contacted by Leo Maniscalco, a member of the band Ithaca Bottom Boys, about reviewing their album. Hailing from the bucolic college town of Ithaca, New York, the five-piece formed seven years ago while still in high school, and ever since have been honing their craft by playing together and writing songs. On September 1st, they dropped their eponymous debut album Ithaca Bottom Boys, and what a delight it is! Their infectious eclectic sound is refreshing, surprising and lots of fun as they weave stories about the travails of life, love, substance abuse and relationship hell.

Comprising the Ithaca Bottom Boys are Tenor Caso (drums, vocals, aux percussion, acoustic guitar), Tristan Ross (guitar, vocals, aux percussion, piano ), Leo Maniscalco (guitar), Joe Hayward (banjo, vocals) and Abel Bradshaw (bass). In introducing his band, Leo had this to say about their music:  “Its difficult for me to describe our sound in a concise way, and no one song fully gives a representation of it, but here’s a go: we have four singers and songwriters, do a lot of vocal harmonies, and the songs are very dynamic with many changing parts and moods. They are also highly textural, featuring five musicians (two guitars, banjo, bass, and drums) each with unique yet congruous playing styles. It’s kind of folk and country meets rock and punk meets funk and soul, with splashes of other things thrown in, like hip-hop, jazz, psych, and prog.”

After listening to the album, I’d say his description pretty well nails it, and I love their eclectic music. I always try to include a few lyrics in my reviews, but the Ithaca Bottom Boys’ lyrics are so colorful and hilarious that I’ll be quoting them a lot.

Ithaca Bottom Boys 2

The album kicks off with “Blues in a Bottle,” a bluesy Rockabilly romp that sets a light-hearted tone and plants a big smile on my face, even though the lyrics address the guy’s messed-up woman who’s into some bad shit: “Blues in a bottle, blues in a bottle. Where do you think you’re at pretty mama. You went and kicked my dog, and now you drown my cat.Goin’ to silly-putty, goin’ to silly-putty. Sorry I can’t take you pretty mama. I don’t abide no woman, who goes round sniffin’ glue.” The song immediately segues into “Gasoline n’ Kerosene,” a very catchy tune with very morbid lyrics about how he killed the woman who double-crossed him, burned down her house, and was hung for his crime: “When I went to that house you said that you’d be, you took one look into my eyes, and you began to flee. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene you owe me money for. You bad ol’ broad you shot me down, and now you’ll be no more. / Well… Just before that lever did let my gallows swing, I saw my aged mother a weepin’ after me. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene I can’t believe my sin, My soul shall burn as you have done and never…Will I see your sweet face again.”

Winter Biking” sees the singer riding his bike into town on icy roads, taking a spill, and wishing he’d listened to his momma about taking the bus instead – all metaphors for the risks we take in life. “Thirty bellow but I’m still sweatin’. The devil only knows what I am gettin’ into. Well up a hill down a hill the struggles that I’ve been through. The thing about life is the road always continues.” The guys’ vocal harmonies on this track are especially wonderful. The guys change gears (pun intended) to an R&B vibe with the delightfully soulful love song “Baby.” The opening bass riff that continues throughout the track reminds me a bit of The Temptations’ classic “My Girl.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Hail to Dale,” which humorously takes on the perils of heavy drinking with a rowdy mix of music styles ranging from blues to bluegrass to funk. The lyrics are both funny and poignant: “Well… if I don’t dale a beer tonight, I might as well start a rowdy bar fight. Cause I hate myself and I hate my life. Pain and pleasure’s the same to me, and that all started when I was three, ’cause my daddy switched the bottle.

Continuing with the theme of substance abuse, the guys veer off into psychedelic madness on the marvelously trippy “Salvia Apple.” The zany track sounds like what we’d expect from the bastard children of Frank Zappa and Dr. Demento, with all sorts of melodic change-ups, quirky instrumentals and crazed vocals. The lyrics are hilarious yet deeply poetic, as if from a fractured Shakespearean comedy: “Salvia apple and a bottle of jack. All I’ve had to eat or drink and that is a fact. Don’t care if I go hungry I’m just lookin’ to get smacked. Pass out in the jungle by the railroad tracks./ I’m a derelict, no one cares if I’m recked or sober. Grown colder, shouldered at the might of a globe wide society. So deprived of life yet so maniacally living. My state be so squalor I take whatever I’m given.”

Flip That Record Jhonny” is a rousing Bluegrass/Rockabilly mostly instrumental tune that makes you want to kick up your heels. The guitar work and vocal harmonies are really terrific. And speaking of Dr. Demento, the guys get downright scandalous on “Demented Family.” The highly provocative lyrics seem to poke fun of a certain demographic, calling out incest and religious fanaticism: “Well my family tree’s got lotsa knots, and I get a lot o’tention from the cops, Cause incest on the ranch is plain to see. Pappy loved his sister and that made my daddy. And my daddy loved his sister too and that made little ol’ me. Well I never had no sister so I just loved my niece. I lessend my genealogy by stickin’ my D in her crease.” Oh my! They turn mellow as they sing the virtues of toking up on “Reefer Makes Everything Better,” a funny ditty with an early Lovin’ Spoonful vibe.

Perhaps the wildest track is “Summer Beavers,” the title being a play on the leading lyrics “Some are beavers, some are people…and most don’t really understand.” This long track is a real tour de force, with a mix of genres that go from blues to punk to country to funk to rap – sometimes all in the same stanza, kinda like The Red Hot Chili Peppers have done on some of their songs. The guys go crazy with bizarre lyrics that sound like being on an acid trip: “Rippin’ and a skippin’ like a minnow in the river. Susquehanna wit’ yo mama, catchin’ tuna on a canoe. Hock at me I’ll lock you in a rock up in Chautauqua. Yo hablo con Jorgito, necesito mucha agua. Pappy’s down the road in a jalopy popin’ poppy seeds, cruisin’ past the stoppers, coppers crackin’ down on acid droppers. Baller all are things, some are beavers. Tall like cedars, small like skeevers. We be eaters, feeders, bleeders, breeders, breathers, and beasts like golden retrievers, whaddap? ha-ha-ha.”

The guys seem to channel The Red Hot Chili Peppers again on the languid “No Regrets,” with jangly guitars, funky bass and vocals that sound a bit like Anthony Kiedis. They then abruptly change things up again on “Surfer NY,” an exuberant tune with awesome surf-rock guitars and a frantic punk beat. The explicit lyrics speak for themselves: “Surfin’ New York, yes I’m surfin’ New York. Havin’ sex on the rocky beaches. I’ve got lotsa rocks in my breeches. No I don’t know how they got in the laundry. No I’m not doin’ the nasty momma. No mama no mama no mama no. No those aren’t crack rocks don’t be silly. That’s just some crusty jizz from my willy. No mama no I’m not abusin’ myself. No mama no don’t kick me outa the house.” It’s an insanely wild trip from start to finish!

I must say that Ithaca Bottom Boys is unquestionably one of the most unusual and enjoyable albums I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and I love this crazy band! If you like unique, eclectic and unorthodox music, then this album should be in your collection!

Connect with the Ithaca Bottom Boys:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

Guest Post: ‘The Ghost of Graffiti Past and The Allure of the 91st Street Subway Station’ by Peter Kleinhans

Peter Kleinhans

This is a guest post by Peter Kleinhans, a musician based in New York City who this past February released his debut album Something’s Not Right. After spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer and announcer, at the age of 50 he decided to turn his love of music into writing and recording songs. He explains a few thoughts about his new-found music career:

“I wish I’d begun writing music at an earlier age, because as a father of two who also drives harness racehorses, bets thoroughbred horses professionally, raises organic beef, chicken, and lamb, and is engaged to be married for the third time, I find that the music often gets squeezed to the sidelines. But I’m happy with what I have had the time to create, and I hope that listeners will find something to enjoy here.

Although I’ve only started with music over the past couple of years, I credit the years of racing horses, often in the Midwest, hanging out with the Runyonesque characters of that business, and sharing their daily travails, for much of what I’ve written. I was born and raised in New York City, left it for twenty years, and am now back. It’s an amazing city, full of amazing people, but New Yorkers are just as often oblivious to the daily existential struggles of a family in Indiana as the other way around. The horses aren’t my full-time business anymore, but I still drive occasionally.”

In his thoughtfully-written article, Peter discusses his inspiration behind a new song he’s recorded called “91st Street,” in which he describes the storied past of the former 91st Street subway station.

The Ghost of Graffiti Past and The Allure of the 91st Street Subway Station

At the time of writing, I have a gig in six weeks, and three unfinished songs to get done for it.  If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you might be familiar with the fact that it’s easier to write about what you’re working on instead of working on it.  It’s a variation on that disastrous first-line-of-a-poem that goes something like “I sit here, waiting for ideas to enter my failed brain.” But the song I’m currently writing, about the abandoned subway station on 91st street and Broadway, begs for context.  It’s written for those people who know about the history of New York’s subway system and graffiti’s place in it. But I realize that those people are becoming further and further between, so for those who don’t know much about that history, here’s some context, here’s something of what I’m trying to get at.

Kleinhans 91st St Platform
The view of the 91st street platform recalls a different New York.

If you ride the 1 train in New York regularly, there’s a good chance you’ve been riding past an iconic piece of the city’s ever-changing history without ever noticing it.  Between the 86th and 96th street station is what some New Yorkers call the “Ghost Station.”  When the subway was built in 1904, trains were shorter, and stations were built at 86th, 91st, and 96th.  With longer cars entering the scene in the 1950s and no real justification for three stops within such a close proximity, the IRT company, who then ran the 1 train, made the decision to close the station in 1954. The station has remained dormant since.  However, its relatively easy access combined with a healthy dose of  spookiness, intrigue, and mystery, have made it a magnet for subway connoisseurs, especially those with a hankering to remember what New York looked like just a few short decades ago.

In 2002, Henry Chalfant, along with co-conspirators Tony Silver and Martha Cooper, released the twentieth-anniversary edition of Style Wars, regarded by many as the iconic documentary piece on the emergence of hip-hop, most specifically the then-emergent phenomenon of subway graffiti.  The anniversary edition contained a treasure trove of new material, most excitingly a seemingly never-ending montage of Chalfant’s photographs of the city’s most creatively-bombed subway cars.

But 16 years have passed, even since the twentieth anniversary of Style Wars. Nevertheless, a fascination continues with the work and culture from the 70s and 80s, and one of the few places to actually feel a bit of that old texture is the 91st street station. I haven’t had the guts to jump down onto the tracks from 86th street and run along them for five blocks to visit the station, at least not yet. I don’t have a bucket list, but that would be on it.  Although it doesn’t take much to find graffiti, it’s increasingly hard to remember that graffiti and subways used to be inseparable as medium and message.

But the trains are now gone as the artists’ primary canvases, ever since the MTA claimed victory over subway graffiti in 1989. The subways, once seen by some as “masterpiece art galleries” and which tourists had once come New York to witness, were now clean and cool – a huge quality-of-life improvement from the point-of-view of most New Yorkers. For some, nostalgia lingers.  I grew up riding the subway in New York and I miss the graffiti deeply.  The subways may have had a bad last couple of years as far as ‘signal problems,’ but anyone who remembers the subways in the 70s would be quick to point out that they encompassed an entirely other level of dysfunction.  Graffiti grew out of these difficult and dangerous times in a city on fire, and to completely glamorize it as an art, while glossing over its flipside of danger and violence is to sanitize it in a way completely counter to its original intentions.

As a New York Times review of the 20th anniversary edition of “Style Wars” put it back in 2003, Absent the urine-soaked subway platforms and pervasive sense of danger that accompanied the rise of graffiti art in New York in the 70’s and 80’s, viewers can happily sit back in their parlors and decipher the green and brown polka-dotted caterpillar scheme that unites ‘’Seen’ and ‘Doze,’’ or Quik’s inventive letter-ending arrows pointing sideways, outward and upward to a seemingly endless universe of graffiti.

Klenihans Pic 2
Dondi’s legendary “Children of the Grave”, 1980; it ran two days before being painted over.

Kleinhans pic 3
The “white elephant” car used as one of the first in a series of graffiti-control measures that started in New York City under Mayor Ed Koch, circa 1981.

The subway train cars were quite literally whitewashed in the 1980s, marking the beginning of the end of subway graffiti. The closure of 5 Pointz in Queens in 2013 – a graffiti landmark substantial enough to  draw crowds – marked another dramatic victory of the corporate over the merely creative. 5 Pointz is now being developed into a 40-story luxury residential building in Long Island City.

5 Pointz was painted over — with no advance notice to the artists whose work had been displayed there for years — over the course of one night.

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5 Pointz, in its glory, April, 2013

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5 Pointz, whitewashed, November, 2013

My inspiration for writing the song “91st Street” was to honor this fading culture.  Although graffiti is everywhere now, the culture has been commodified, made clever, palatable, and digestible like everything else.  You can create a masterpiece on your computer using only your brains and your fingers; once you had to straddle a parked train and decorate it from top to bottom, with paint you had stolen, in the middle of the night, the police or a rival gang around a curve and ready to pounce.  And you knew that even if you succeeded, your work had no permanence — it would be painted over within days.

What makes the 91st street station important is that it’s one of those weird lost-in-time places that, from simple benign neglect, has become a repository for a fertile period in the history of New York art.  Taggers continue to make the short pilgrimage to view and perhaps to tag one spot in the one place in the New York subway system that is more like a shrine to the past here than just about anything else.  After all, cleaning it up wouldn’t make anybody any money, and therein lies its durability. Like a root cellar where one can imagine all manner of unnameable fungi finding a foothold, it maintains its spirit of dankness and chaos in a world that would love to be done with such inconveniences. It holds a special place in my heart and some day I hope to stand on its platform like the anachronism I suppose I am.

“91st Street” has a progressive/jazzy vibe, with a simple but cool drumbeat, funky bass line and fuzzy guitar riff. Toward the end of the track, Peter injects a quirky psychedelic synth that makes for a great finish. You can listen to “91st Street” by clicking the link below:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzMXix1s0HGeZk9meVBoRExwcVN1YU1rcGg2SDlVeEFmWVo0/view?usp=sharing

To learn more about Peter, check out his website and connect with him on Facebook /  Twitter  / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes

JENNIFER DOLL – EP Review: “With Everything”

Jennifer Doll is a young singer-songwriter from New Jersey who, in her own words, strives “to make music that makes me feel how my favorite songs make me feel.” She released her debut EP The Crystal Hours last November (2017),  and was recently featured on a remix of electronic music composer Manipulant’s “What Good are the Stars” (which I reviewed). Now she returns with a brand new EP With Everything, which dropped on September 21 via WEATNU Records. On her Instagram page she posted her feelings about its release: “I am so excited – and slightly melancholy – to finally be releasing this EP. These songs were written between graduation and starting life, but most of those days are now behind me. They are now yours. Take care of them.”

Jennifer Doll

And what powerful and emotionally compelling songs they are. Jennifer has a fascinating sound and vocal styling that, to my ears at least, sounds like the product of a collaboration between Phantogram, Lana Del Rey and Lorde. She uses intriguing chord progressions and melodies and complex synths to create songs that are fresh and uniquely original. She wrote, produced, mixed and mastered most of the tracks, with the exception of the two remixes, and “Siren Song,” which was mixed by electronic music composer and engineer Almark, who’s vocals are also featured on the track “Cosmo.”

First up is the mesmerizing “Siren Song,” a hauntingly beautiful track about a woman desperately trying to escape her demons. The track opens with sounds of waves washing onto the shore and church bells ringing in the distance, then pulsating synths and a thumping drum beat ensue as Jennifer sings “She had to find a way to get away from the horrors of herself. She had to find a way to keep away darkness as it fell.” Her ethereal vocals start off gentle and breathy, but gradually become more impassioned along with the arresting synths and horns as the track progresses, soaring to spine-tingling heights in the chorus.
 

Jennifer injects a bit of dubstep into the mix on “Secrets for the Dance Floor, ” employing industrial-sounding synths, deep bass and echoed vocals to create a trippy, otherworldly vibe. She sings about the emotional emptiness of being stuck on the endless merry-go-round of partying: “One more drink for some clarity, then throw it back at me, but do we really even care?  One more party, do it all again. Forget as much as we can. All we crave is the end. Can anybody hear it? All the broken dreams and hollow lies?

The gorgeous “Cosmo” features dazzling synths and guitar work that are a lush, glittery soundscape for Jennifer’s beautiful, fervent vocals. Additional vocals are provided by electronic music composer and producer Almark. And “Heavy” is a brooding, yet beautiful track, with deep bass and dark, sweeping synths, punctuated by an enchanting piano trill, xylophone, and an occasionally recurring beat that sounds like a gentle foot march.  Her vocals are dreamy as she croons “Let me go, trust I’m better on my own.

The EP features three bonus tracks, the first of which is “glitter tits,” which speaks to the aftermath of the excessive partying that Jennifer sang about on “Secrets for the Dance Floor.” Accompanied by sparkling synths set to a slow dance beat, and backed by her own vocal harmonies, she laments: “Now there’s glitter on the floor, our remembrance of the night before. Tonight all we have is glitter tits.” Next up is “glitter tits (OneManStanding R3M1X),” a remix by electronic music composer/producer OneManStanding. He takes the same song, but significantly slows down the tempo, drawing it out to more than twice its original length. His synths are more spacey, and Jennifer’s vocals make the lyrics seem all the more compelling at this speed.

The third bonus track is “Cosmo The Little Girl Found (Jigsaw Sequence Remix),” a loose and greatly extended remix of “Cosmo” by Scottish synthpop musician and composer Jigsaw Sequence. At nearly six minutes, this track is the longest and most complex on the EP. Jigsaw Sequence seems to channel the 80’s with his glorious sparkling and pulsating synths, and hypnotic dance beats. Jennifer’s amazing vocal gymnastics are on full display here, breathy and gentle one moment, then piercing and powerful the next, raising goosebumps. It’s a marvelous tour de force.

With Everything is a beautiful, expertly-crafted EP, delivering music that’s innovative yet accessible, with lyrics we can all relate to. Jennifer and everyone involved in its production should be very proud.

Connect with Jennifer on Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase With Everything on Bandcamp / iTunes

LOUIE JAMES – Single Review: “Yellow Doors”

Louie James single

I recently stumbled upon a talented young singer/songwriter from Wakefield, England named Louie James, and was immediately struck by his fresh and honest take on folk rock. He started making a name for himself last year with the release of two stellar singles “Different World” and “Tonight,” and has now returned to grace our eardrums with his heartwarming new single “Yellow Doors.”

The track opens with a tender acoustic guitar riff that quickly drew me in, and once Louie’s soothing vocals entered I was totally hooked. It always amazes me when such a simple guitar riff can have the ability to move us so deeply. Louie’s earnest vocals have a breathy quality that’s pleasing and calming, yet at the same time so powerful. The recurring deep piano chord and whistled chorus are especially nice, adding lovely textures to the track.

The song lyrics speak to his feelings for his new love and how she’s made his life better.  “We’re chasing yellow doors, dreaming of the days. Keeping track the score of when our dark times slipped away. Before she came along, there was a shadow in my life. And I’m glad she stuck around. Made something right.” Take a listen to this beautiful song:

Connect with Louie:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

FIE! FIE! FIE! – Album Review: “No Light For Lies”

Fie! Fie! Fie! album art

Fie! Fie! Fie! is a gloriously-named alternative rock band who make glorious music. Based in West Yorkshire, England, the band was formed in 2013 by seasoned musicians Daniel Varley and Pete Long, both of whom play some pretty mean guitar. Later joining the band were bassist Avon Blyth and multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Matt Burnside. (Burnside recently departed the band, though he’s played on all their recordings, and Marcus Ambler is a new addition to the lineup.) Daniel sings lead vocals, and the other band members provide backing vocals.

Fie Fie Fie

They’ve released a number of tracks and albums, including Can You Hear This? in 2015, and Live at St. Mary’s and a terrific single “Hit the Spanish Main” a year later. In August 2017, they released a double A-side single “Edge of Space/Everything I Told You”, which I reviewed, then followed with another single “Famous Liars.” This August (2018) they dropped a new album No Light For Lies, which includes all four of the aforementioned singles.

The guys describe the album as being about “Courage, Truth & Love – that there is no light for lies – yet there is light for the truth.” It opens with “Intro Venus,” a brief but captivating instrumental that immediately draws us in with a haunting guitar riff paired with dark synths. Having gotten our rapt attention, Fie! Fie! Fie! proceeds to blow our minds with the stunningly beautiful “Edge of Space.” Oh man, this song has one of the most arresting guitar-driven melodies I’ve ever heard. What sounds like lush synths is actually an effect that Pete put down on one of his guitar tracks, along with an achingly beautiful guitar riff that burns itself into your mind. It stayed with me long afterward, leaving me humming the melody and wanting to hear the song again and again.

Using metaphors of space exploration, Daniel fervently sings about finding enough forgiveness to salvage a damaged relationship, or possibly a damaged world: “Could you find a way, a way to see past this. Past the mess that we both left, could you see through it. Gliding through the stratosphere, could fall off, float away. There’s bigger fears alone up here as we try to find our way.” The song ends with snippets of what sound like old recordings of astronauts speaking from their spaceships, and a final dramatic flourish of distorted guitar.  It’s fantastic, and my favorite track on the album.

Another highlight for me is the fun and bouncy “Hit the Spanish Main.” As it’s title suggests, the song features lots of tasty Latin guitars, but the guys spice things up with jolts of gritty and distorted guitars in the choruses that have the effect of Tequila shots on a beer buzz. Daniel sings about leaving their troubles behind when they reach Panamanian shores: “Got red-faced about everything. Still it all gets better when we hit the Spanish main.” The guys change up the tempo again with the mellow folk-like ballad “Everything I Told You.” The silky layered acoustic guitars floating above a smooth bass line and gentle percussion are sublime, and I really like Daniel’s earnest vocals, backed by a dreamlike harmonizing chorus. Here’s a lovely live performance of the song:

Famous Liars” is a fascinating tune, with sweet acoustic guitars, gentle snare drums and an enthralling background whistle set to a delightful galloping drumbeat. The delicate whispered vocals add a nice bit of mystery to the track. “From the Wreck” speaks to overcoming adversity and moving on with your life, becoming a stronger person for it: “Come on, you’re that long lost mother’s son. Her unwanted Caesarean. Who’s skull she loved to smash against the paisley walls in the living room. / And after all that, and after all this, hearts still beat. Could care less.” The pleasing acoustic guitars seem to give a feeling of reassurance.

The guys shed light on hypocrites and phonies on the Americana folk songs “Bullet Points for the Bullet Proof“: “Your sped-up lines just don’t rhyme, so unctuous and overrated. If you could see past your nose, you’d be better off castrated.So declare your manifesto, then we’ll decide if we’ll abide you or throw you over the side”, and “Bleeding Obvious“: “Who do you think you are telling us not to go far. With your snide remarks and your half-assed retorts. Is it stating the bleeding obvious you made such a stink and a fuss? About whether we have the right. Well our needs are a must.”

The hard-driving “Bloody Lane” is a moving protest song against the senseless jingoism and profiteering that lead to war: “bunkers filled with bankers playing with remote controls. Squares count lives in dollars...”  They close out the album with “Outrospective,” a biting but optimistic clarion call for us to rise up against the tyranny and bullshit being foisted upon us by our so-called leaders and big corporate interests: “They bankrupt and bleed you more. Disrupt their aims, move to settle the score. / You pay your dues, they burn your soul. You’ll run them out, run into the light. Become free, become one. You can’t submit. Cast out the bullshit. / Come out, come on. We are so strong! Get it together, you’re not alone. Morning coming, we are the light!”

No Light For Lies is a wonderful album from start to finish, and every track is stellar, with not a single filler. I’ve had a few conversations with Daniel by internet, and I found him to be generous, thoughtful and kind. I admire this band’s philosophy and dedication to their craft, and love their music and lyrics, so they’ve got a huge fan in me!

To learn more about Fie! Fie! Fie!, check out their website

Connect with them on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase their music on  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon / cdbaby

FROM THE CAVE – EP Review: “Medieval”

Medieval EP Art

London-based From the Cave is one of the most distinctive and special bands I’ve come across, and I know a lot of bands! Their very eclectic style of alternative rock covers a broad range of influences, incorporating punk, pop, shoegaze, blues, funk and ethnic folk elements into their exuberant mix. They debuted with their self-titled EP From the Cave in 2016, and in 2017 began releasing a series of singles, some of which are now included on their new EP Medieval, which dropped on September 10. I’ve previously featured two of the tracks – Halloween and “Cavalier” – on this blog, and am now reviewing the EP.

Band front man Kristian Møller-Munar says the EP is “a big hug to all their influences and puts them in one place where they can express themselves.” As such, each track is totally unique and completely different from every other track on the EP, making for a fresh and surprising listen. In addition to Kristian, who plays guitar and sings most lead vocals, the other band members are Mikaela Lindgren on vocals, keys and percussion, and Josh Scriven on guitar and vocals. Johan Crondahl (bass, percussion and backing vocals) and Anton Vysotsky (drums) also played on the EP, but recently left the band to return to their home countries, so From the Cave is now a three-piece. The bass and guitars for “Medieval”, “Halloween” and “Wasting Time” were recorded by Jules Gulon.

The EP kicks off with the rousing title track “Medieval (Pánico)” a delightful high-energy Latin-rock tune. Fast-paced riffs of scratchy guitars are paired with Anton’s assertive drums and swirling synths to create a powerful backdrop for Kristian’s commanding vocals, which are sung in Spanish, one of his two native languages (he was born in Copenhagen and partially raised in Majorca). The word Pánico signifies that there’s no reason to panic. The guitar work on the track is electrifying, and I love the harmonic backing vocals. It’s a fantastic song, and Kristian said it’s one of the tracks he’s most proud of.

Cavalier” was inspired by a London cabaret bar the band members have frequented, and basically tells a saga of falling in love with one of the waitresses there. The band employs all kinds of exotic synths and strings, including guitar and violin but also possibly zither or mandolin, to create an intriguing Eastern European sound that’s incredibly catchy and marvelous. Kristian’s vocals are captivating as he expresses his frustration that the object of his desire keeps rebuffing his romantic intentions. “I could be your cavalier if you like me. I’m sitting by the cabaret but you don’t mind me. / But angel, I’ve been waiting for long. Still I’m writing you songs.” I love it!

Next up is “Joshstafari,” a reggae-infused rock song inspired by an encounter Kristian had with a homeless man on the street while living in Hammersmith. The track opens with strange synth noises and a frantic guitar riff, then a rising choral yell signals a change in tempo to a languid reggae beat as Kristian begins to tell the tale of Joshstafari. I love his vocals, which sound so different on each song. Here, he seems to channel a bit of Sting, consciously or not, as if in homage to the early Police reggae tunes. The guitar work on this track is fantastic, speeding up then slowing down as the track progresses. In the bridge, Josh lets loose with a scorching punk-like guitar solo, then everything slows back down to a relaxed reggae beat in the outro.

Kristian has produced brilliant, imaginative videos for five of the six tracks on the EP, which I strongly recommend my readers check out on the band’s YouTube channel. Here’s the one he made for “Joshstafari”:

The hauntingly beautiful “Halloween” was actually my first introduction to From the Cave’s music, and I loved it at first listen. The song was written by Mikaela, and addresses the theme of death in a general sense, as in the death of a relationship or friendship. The track starts off with quiet, mysterious synths and plucky guitar accompanied by gentle percussion and a soft chorus that set a lovely tone. Mikaela’s beguiling vocals enter as the music swells with shimmering synths and layered chiming guitars, and Kristian’s vocals join in, harmonizing beautifully with Mikaela’s. The guitars, bass and drums become more intense as the song progresses, making for a dramatically sweeping soundscape that raises goosebumps. Be sure to watch this magical video:

Maybe Not Today” is a straightforward but upbeat pop-rock anthem about putting off an inevitable breakup of a relationship for another day: “The energy when we’re combined, always leaves me magnetized. So how could we still give it up. Maybe not today oh.” The final track “Wasting Time” is a sunny and carefree-sounding pop song with somewhat darker lyrics about remaining stuck in a less than optimal situation. “There’s a million voices telling me that I’ve got to get away from this empty space.” It’s catchy as hell though, with sparkling synths and jangly guitars, and the lovely harmonizing vocals of Josh and Mikaela are oh so pleasing, a word that perfectly describes the entire EP. It’s absolutely sublime, and a testament to the band’s fearlessness in creating music that strays beyond the alternative rock box. I adore From the Cave.

Connect with From the Cave:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

HANNAH CLIVE – Single Review: “Remember to Breathe”

Hannah Clive2

Hannah Clive is a lovely and charming singer/songwriter based in London, UK, and I’ve been meaning to feature her on this blog for a while. Influenced by such legendary ladies of song as Adele, Carole King, Kate Bush and Janis Ian, Hannah writes heartfelt songs that cross many genres, including indie rock, folk, pop, alt-country, blues and even a bit of jazz. She released a gorgeous single “Remember to Breathe” in November 2017, and I’m finally getting around to reviewing this wonderful song.

The track opens with an ominous synth chord that draws us in, then Hannah’s exquisite piano riff enters and we’re instantly hooked. Wow, this is stunning! A delicious assortment of sparkling synths are added along with subtle guitar and gentle percussion, courtesy of producer Brian Tench, creating a dreamy soundscape that’s the perfect backdrop for Hannah’s captivating vocals. I’m blown away by her ability to seduce us one moment, then nearly move us to tears the next. It’s all incredibly breathtaking, so her admonition for us to ‘remember to breathe’ is entirely apropos! The song is so utterly mesmerizing that I keep hitting replay.

The lyrics speak to the concept of having faith and believing in yourself, casting aside obstacles that try to stand in your way, and finding your own truth and path in life:

And when the power of love is greater than the love of power
So it’s said, then my friends we might find some peace
And though it sounds naive –
It’s a direction in which I could set my feet…but just
Remember to breathe

Connect with Hannah:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  Bandcamp / iTunes

ANDREW LA TONA – Album Review: “Human”

The great city of Toronto, Canada has a thriving music scene, and I’ve featured a number of artists and bands based there, most recently The Autumn Stones and their stunning album Emperor Twilight. After seeing that review, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Andrew La Tona reached out to me for consideration of his latest album Human for a review, and I’m so glad he did because it’s fantastic! I can say without equivocation that I love his extraordinary album. Andrew’s a creative and gifted composer, songwriter and musician who employs all sorts of experimental and unique instrumentation, melodies and time signature and chord changes that make for incredibly interesting songs that always deliver unexpected surprises for the listener.

Andrew has had a lifelong love affair with music. As he explains in his bio:

“It seems as if music has been my life since the day I was born.  My mother always reminds me that as a toddler, she signed me up for a Mother and Tot music class. A fond memory of mine is that for as long as I remember, there has always been a piano in my home.  At the age of seven, I began formal lessons in piano and classical theory through the Royal Conservatory of Music for seven years. By fourteen I made a commitment to myself that music was to become my life.  I discovered my father’s old guitar hidden in the basement.  I took it upon myself to learn by ear, listening to records and reading guitar magazines.  When I entered high-school I was proficient on Piano, Guitar, Bass and Drums.  I made the band room my home, where I played in all the school ensembles, refined my sight reading and theory, and learned Trumpet, Euphonium and Flugelhorn as a personal project.”

He went on to study Radio Broadcasting and Journalism at Seneca College and School of Communication Arts, and from 1999 to 2006, he played with various groups with long-time collaborator Edward Kramer, with whom he founded the bands Odd Man Out and Yesterday’s Gone.  They recorded four albums together, and Andrew personally completed three solo albums which went on to be the foundation for his and Ed’s band Big Stereo, to which he devoted his full attention from 2006 to 2009. Since 2010, Andrew has continued to work on his own music, and Human is his latest album, which dropped in June.

Andrew La Tona

Human is a commentary of sorts on the current state of things, in which Andrew expresses his antipathy for today’s leaders, our growing obsession with gadgets, and ponders our place within the vastness of the universe. His lyrics are so well-written and compelling that I’ll be quoting a lot of them. The powerful opening track “Leader” speaks of how humankind’s ignorance and greed is wrecking our planet, yet we’re hungry for leadership to help us solve our problems, but our leader (Trump) is a fraud:

Here, we find ourselves trapped inside a fate so paramount 
And we live for ourselves with no regard for other animals 
Our mother earth is threatening with disaster 
We’re blind, we are condemned to live upon the soiled earth 
How could we figure out how to reverse our plight, our misfortune, our ignorance 
Total genocide 

You’re not the leader we want 
Leave or we’ll never have peace 
The way you speak is absurd 
It warps the minds of our young

Musically, the track starts off with a distorted spacey synth, then expands to a rolling drumbeat as Andrew begins singing in his silky, yet vulnerable voice. His layered jangly and chiming guitars are marvelous, and he uses a variety of synths to great effect in creating a very intriguing song.

Borderlines” is a feast for the ears. Andrew employs guitar, bass, organ, horns, cymbals, drums and glittery synths to weave a rich tapestry of sound that unfolds throughout the length of the enthralling track. The song is about breaking free from mind control and expectations placed upon us by oppressive societal norms.

I want to be free. Free from your borderlines
I need to break the mold you’ve always cast for me
And in my mind, there’s a place like this
Without your rules, your greed

Andrew takes on people who feel success is having more money and stuff than everyone else on “At the Top.” The delightful song has a Latin vibe thanks to a peppy Samba beat and instrumentation that beautifully softens the bite of the lyrics:

Boast among your rich yuppy friends 
‘Bout how you trample on all those around you 
All just to end up at the top 
And what’s left for you? 
Is there more than just the cars – the yacht? 
Honestly, I’m not impressed 
Baby, nothings cooler than you, my friend

Power and Prowess” is an incredibly satisfying ‘fuck you’ to Donald Trump, which automatically makes this a winning song in my book! The track has a fast-paced galloping drumbeat, with wonderful intricate guitar work and crisp layered percussion.  Andrew vocals get downright raw as he snarls the scathing lyrics:

“Be the champion”, that’s what you tell yourself 
I guess in your mind you are 
It’s true you shit on johns of gold 
You’re at least champion of that 
So how can you lead the people of today 
Forward to tomorrow? 

I doubt you know the gravity of your post 
I’d say no 
There are people out there who want to love 
There are people out there who don’t want to die 
You’re not one of us 
We should be blessed with human rights 
No one should be groped by you 
No one should be owned by you 
You’re in charge of you, big boy 
And that’s all (And that’s all) 

Weald that sword in battle, head up to the front line 
Bring yourself to ‘fess-up to one crime 
Let us know who’s running the show 
You’re not the man for the job 
Move over, asshole 
We can save the world 

One of my favorite tracks is “The Walls,” a beautiful declaration of love to someone to whom you are beholden. This song is so utterly captivating it gives me chills. It’s as if Andrew has gone out of his way to make the guitars and synths sparkle like jewels of sunlight strewn across the sea. His fervent vocals, which occasionally soar to a smooth falsetto, are positively sublime.

Another favorite is the bouncy “Laniakea Supercluster,” a fascinating track that has a strong Talking Heads vibe. Along with his echoed vocals, Andrew uses lots of otherworldly synths to create a sci-fi feel to go with the lyrics that speak to the fact that, on the one hand, Earth is but an insignificant speck in the overall massiveness of the universe, but on the other hand, it’s our home and so very significant to our survival and well-being.

So Long to the Human Race” is an apocalyptic clarion call after a nuclear war for those who survive and repopulate the world to try and co-exist in peace and be one with the earth. The gritty guitars, heavy buzzing bass,  organ, and spacey synths lend a somber mood.

It makes me sick to look upon all we’ve done
And the little we’ve done to help
And if I could, I’d eat up all the terrible things we’ve done
And shit it down your throat 

Can’t you see that our kind is a warning 
From the first flame, to the first rocket 
So little is left of what we blew all our cash on 
And burned up all the oil 
And killed who we loved 
So long to the human race 

Time Goes Ever By” touches on our obsession with our mobile devices, addicted to the siren song of staying connected on all our social media accounts, at the expense of many other facets of our lives. I know I’m sometimes guilty of this behavior myself. Musically, the track has a lovely melody, with some terrific guitar and organ. And have I mentioned that I love Andrews’ vocals?

Everyone around me seems to be gripped by the same illness 
Never putting down their device 
Never looking up from their trance 
Never have the time to sow seeds 
Never stepping past the bar 
Of this jail we’re put in by ourselves and our will 
Can we find the strength to let drop the rock upon the screen 
And our friends logged on the web

Human is a brilliant album on every level I can think of – composition, melodies, lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and production. Andrew has done a masterful job with all aspects of the album production, and should be very proud of this outstanding work. And if all that weren’t enough, he even did the amazing cover art!

He’s now in the process of forming an ensemble of musicians to perform with him live, and is excited to have them add some amazing character and flavor to the songs from Human, as well as some of his songs from his back catalogue.

Check out Andrew’s Website and connect with him on  Facebook 
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes