As I’ve noted numerous times on this blog, there’s a tremendous amount of music talent in the UK, and one of the more creative and imaginative artists among them all is singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis. The London East Ender boldly experiments with a wide array of genres and influences, ranging from alternative rock, blues, garage rock and folk to R&B and EDM, in the creation of his exciting and eclectic style of blues-soaked rock that nicely suits his distinctive raspy vocals. And he isn’t afraid to address the darker side of humanity and the emotional wreckage of failed relationships, love gone bad and our sometimes self-destructive ways, while also offering glimmers of hope and redemption. His unique sound is instantly identifiable, as he sounds like no one else I know of.
He’s released a fair amount of music over the past decade, including his debut EP Karma Comedown in 2016, followed a year later by his brilliant album Grief Harbour, which I reviewed. In the years since, he’s dropped a number of singles, two of which – “Blowtorched Dreams” and “Rock That City” – I also featured on this blog (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now Philip returns with another great new single “Come Find Me Back“, along with a terrific video which I’m happy to premier. Released via label Tx2 Records, the single was written, produced, performed and mixed by Philip, and mastered by legendary mastering engineer Pete Maher. The backing vocals were sung by Annick.
“Come Find Me Back” is a heartfelt song that speaks to someone’s fall from grace and the break up of a family. Philip elaborates “The song is about the breaking up of families and single parenting in an era where it’s simply easier to separate than to fight for your love and try to do everything you can to mend relationships. And someone trying to find his grace back in the spiritual sense, in a way to become stronger, accept past errors, and try and reunite and fix things.”
Philip brings his poignant lyrics to life with mournful piano keys, intricate guitar work and gently soaring horns, all working together brilliantly to create a beautiful and haunting soundscape. A close listen reveals how he skillfully layers multiple guitar textures to create both nuance and depth of sound, with subtle bass and percussion nicely transitioning to bolder rhythms in the anthemic choruses. His plaintive, blues-soaked vocals are powerfully emotive, conveying his despair and pleas for forgiveness and acceptance back into the fold with a heart-wrenching rawness.
Love it's just just a couple of lines
To let you know I miss you babe
And it's just just a couple of bars
To let you know I messed things upAll that is left inside of me
Is the thought of our crazy little family
And it feels so warm
But time keeps on passing us by
And I wanna hold you both so tight
Until that one fine day
Until I find my wayHope is all I have
Grace come find me back
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way
I can't make you feel like I do
Though I wish you could see me now
Now I know that you couldn't love me
Like the man that I used to beAll that is left inside of me
Is the wrong that I did and a mystery
How to learn to forgive myself
What a mess
Time keeps on passing us by
And I wanna hold you both so tight
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way
Hope is all I have
Grace come find me back
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way
Hope is all I have
Love don't count me out
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way back to you
The beautiful video, which Philip directed and edited, was filmed in London’s East End, and shows scenes of mostly empty streets, parks and playgrounds, as well him in what appears to be an empty house. All serve to represent his feelings of isolation and loneliness, both at home and within the larger context of a big city that should be teeming with life. The child’s drawing of a family of three, shown blowing around on the sidewalk, is a particularly touching element.
BUEL is a bewitching, smoky-voiced singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, who’s released a number of marvelous singles over the past four years or so. Her recent single “Lemon Smile”, released last October, is a gentle but powerful take-down of phony, duplicitous people, with a mesmerizing, sophisticated synth-pop melody that, to my ears at least, calls to mind some of Madonna’s early songs (not in terms of vocals, but rather in their style and feel). The YouTube video for the song has been streamed over half a million times. Now BUEL returns with a surprising new single – a thoroughly captivating reimagining of the Nirvana classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit“. The song was recorded at Wakeful Studios in Los Angeles, and produced by Burak Yerebakan (who plays guitar for L.A. band Yard of Blondes), who also played the theremin, an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact.
It’s an audacious undertaking to try and cover such an iconic and beloved classic, but she and Yerebakan pull it off with finesse. The song opens with otherworldly, siren-like sounds produced by the theremin, creating a decidedly portentous vibe. Then BUEL’S languid vocals enter along with a deep synth bass-driven trip hop beat, followed by delicate fluttering keyboards and accompanied by an enchanting mix of glittery synths, chiming guitar notes and the spacey warbling of the theremin. Her sultry vocals are gorgeous, with a haunting vulnerability that results in a completely different, but equally compelling, interpretation of Cobain’s provocative and sometimes impenetrable lyrics. Their treatment of the song is more melodic and dreamy, yet still manages to capture the dark rebelliousness of the Nirvana original.
The fascinating video was conceived and directed by BUEL, and shows her and Yerebakan performing the song in what appears to be a vacant derelict meeting hall of some kind, interspersed with scenes of an alien (also played by BUEL) and another shadowy man trying to solve a Rubik’s cube type of puzzle, but ultimately giving up. Watch and listen:
Here’s the original 4:18-minute long version of the song:
Dunkie is the whimsically-named music project of Welsh singer/songwriter and musician Anthony Price. Based in the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Price has written and recorded songs for many years, and in late December 2019 he gifted the world with his exquisite debut album Working to Design. An ambitious and monumental work, the album is a stunning, meticulously-crafted labor of love featuring 17 tracks. Partially inspired by the books and works of author Richard Matheson, Working to Design is a concept album, filled with heartfelt songs exploring the oft-covered subjects of life, love, the passage of time, death and loss, but also healing, hope and rebirth. (You can read my review here.) It was also a collaborative effort, involving contributions by more than 30 other musicians and vocalists who performed on various tracks, most notably Wayne Bassett, a fellow Welsh musician and producer, who played numerous instruments on several tracks, and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album.
Now Dunkie returns with a lovely five-track EP The Vanishing and Other Stories, another wonderful collaborative effort featuring an eclectic mix of stylistic elements ranging from rock, folk and pop to electronic and alt-country. For this work, Price co-wrote, arranged, produced and mixed the songs with Wayne Bassett. As with the recording of Working to Design, he once again enlisted a dozen other musicians and vocalists to add their talents to various songs. And the album artwork was again created by their friend, Welsh Figurative Artist Michael Gustavius Payne. Recorded at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales, The Vanishing and Other Stories is being released on Friday, March 19 through South Wales music label Dirty Carrot Records, and is available for purchase on Dunkie’s Bandcampprofile.
Having different musicians and vocalists performing on various tracks gives the EP more of a compilation feel, although the common thread running through the entire work is Price and Bassett’s superb songwriting. The songs address various aspects of loneliness, isolation and fear – emotions many of us have experienced or grappled with over the past year. About the EP, Dunkie explains: “Reminiscent of 1950’s & 1960’s short story anthologies, collected together in the world of Corgi and Penguin paperbacks, we’ve aimed to create a similar aesthetic with this EP. These songs/stories are grounded in the mundane yet heightened by a haunting, terrifying and sometimes surreal reality that surrounds us, present with despair for human lives, searching for hope in humanity and our own existence within it. Standalone stories, that exist in the same storytelling world we write.” He’s also provided a line or two of commentary for each song.
The beautiful opening track “The Vanishing” touches on feelings of emptiness that often stem from isolation, and ponders whether love can be a healing force. Dunkie elaborates “When lives begin to pull and push away from gravity and humanity, can one collective last breath of society prevail? Maybe only love can fill the hole within the soul…” The song is absolutely stunning, with lush, sweeping instrumentals highlighted by glittery synths, marvelous guitar work by Price, Bassett and Adam Price, and shimmery mellotron played by John Barnes. Anthony Price has a gentle and distinctive singing voice that sounds like a blend of Thom Yorke and Neil Young, and his vocals are deeply moving as he croons “I could disappear and leave without a trace from this world. I’ve left the human race. Nobody sees me, nobody sees me, sees me anymore / You’ll miss me when I’m gone / Only love can fill the holes within your soul.”
“Shadows On The Sun” is an incredibly pleasing folk-rock song with a catchy and upbeat toe-tapping melody, and featuring more of the gorgeous guitar work played by the same three who also dazzled us on “The Vanishing”. Dunkie explains the song’s message: “How long can a surface hold its form before cracking? In a world where darkness rises and lights dim, one earthly, broken figure can no longer take it anymore…“
Dunkie takes us off in a different direction with the haunting and contemplative “Choke“. Seven musicians play instruments on this mesmerizing track, highlighted by Terry Payne’s bewitching flute and Jennifer Drew’s inventive percussive textures. Mali Davies sings the captivating lead vocals, supported by gentle backing vocals by Anthony Price and Rob Lear. The lyrics seem to address the fear and desolation of facing one’s impending death, yet the music is ethereal and soothing, conveying a sense of peaceful resignation: “A fading lifecycle.. Visions searing the skin.. and the figure screams as the silent walls close within a room.. Choking the tears begin, again.” The song seems to end at around 4:42 with sounds of a person drawing their final breath, accompanied by a monitor indicting no heartbeat. But then the music abruptly returns, as if to signify the release and rebirth of the person’s soul into another dimension.
“Deep Dark Heart” is a bittersweet song about a relationship in which both parties have drifted apart, becoming almost like strangers and afraid to be honest with each other: “Blinded by inner demons a mute couple attempt to feel what one each feels, but this comes with a price and begins to pull them from underneath… and slowly takes seed.” The song was co-written by Price and Bassett, along with contributions by Mark Purnell on music and Joanne Jones on lyrics. Purnell also played acoustic and electric guitars and sings vocals along with Sarah Birch. Another reviewer, Grayson Jones, compared their vocals to those of Cat Stevens and Stevie Nicks, and I have to agree. Their wonderful vocals are tender and heartfelt as they sing of doubts and unease toward each other: “Is it in my head? Or is it in my heart? Questions go unanswered through the tether of your bark.” Musically, the song has a haunting alt-Country vibe, thanks to the twangy guitars and Terry Payne’s mournful violin.
On “The Vanishing Shadow“, we have the pleasure of hearing lovely vocals by a third female singer, Lauren Coates. The song has a peaceful, atmospheric soundscape, thanks to shimmery synths, delicate strings and gentle percussion. Coates’ soft, captivating vocals perfectly fit the ethereal vibe, which is broken only by the piercing synth sounds at the end. The lyrics seem to speak to people losing touch with each other through fear or indifference, leaving us to wonder if our lives have any meaning at all: “When lifeforms fall out of reach from one another, into an endless pit of fear, the emptiness in space appears… and they question if they are really… gone.” Coates’ sings “The hardest thing to do, is to prove you exist. With every single coat that you paint erased…and I’m gone.”
Those who purchase the EP will get a sixth bonus track, an alternative version of “The Vanishing”, recorded at an Abertawe Road Studio session. This version is somewhat stripped-down, with richly-layered guitars, magical synths, and Price’s sweet vocals the only sounds we hear. But what sounds they are! The jangly and shimmery guitars are deeply resonant, with a fullness of sound that’s incredibly impactful.
To sum up, I must say that Dunkie has gone and done it again, creating another work of musical art that’s as perfect as it could possibly be. The Vanishing and Other Stories is a gorgeous, expertly-crafted little EP, and a testament to the impressive talents of Price, Bassett, and everyone else involved in its production.
New music continues to gush forth from the creative juices of too many artists and bands to mention, and here are three great new tunes, all released on March 12th, by (in alphabetical order) French dance/rock band DeStijl, featuring British singer Liam Croker, British singer-songwriter Flo Gallop, and Florida alternative pop-rock band Infinite Eights.
“F.O.S. (Howie B Remix)” by DeStijl featuring Liam Croker
DeStijl is a dance-rock band originally from Montpellier, France, but now split between Montpellier and Manchester, England, where their new lead singer and drummer reside. Their music is strongly influenced by such bands as New Order, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Editors, Primal Scream, Doves, Kasabian and Massive Attack, and they’ve released six albums over the past 25 years (with a 10-year break lasting roughly from 2000-2010). Liam Croker is frontman and lead singer for Manchester-based electro/dance-pop/funk bandThe Winachi Tribe, whose terrific music I’ve written about several times on this blog. Howie B is a legendary Scottish composer, producer and DJ who’s worked with artists such as Björk, U2, Tricky, Massive Attack, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Soul II Soul an Robbie Robertson.
De Stijl and Liam Croker collaborated on the electro/dance-pop track “F.O.S.” (along with a few other songs released in 2020), and have now released an exciting new remix by Howie B. The single will be included on a forthcoming collaborative EP by DeStijl and Liam, due for release later this year. The track was produced by Howie B and mastered by famed mastering engineer Peter Maher.
“F.O.S.” (full of shit) is a cheeky take-down of the egotistical blowhards Liam’s met over the years who are full of themselves – essentially full of shit. The original version is a great song, with an infectious and strong pulsating dance groove, punctuated by spacey synths and shimmery guitars. For the remix, Howie B shaves 47 seconds off the song, and modifies the dance beat with trip hop elements. He also emphasizes the spacey aspects, adding subtle industrial synths that give the track a darker, somewhat more menacing vibe. Liam’s saucy croons have a bit more echo, adding to the track’s overall air of mystery.
London-based singer-songwriter & self proclaimed comedian Flo Gallop was raised around music. Her father was a songwriter, so she grew up learning to emulate him, scribbling words into her diary that she would eventually translate into songs. Drawing influences from some of her favorite artists like Oasis, The 1975, Bastille, and Tom Odell, she writes honest lyrics set to catchy, upbeat melodies. A natural-born artist and sociable soul, she loves to perform – something that’s been impossible over the past year of lockdowns and such. Like all musicians, it’s driven her crazy, but that hasn’t stopped her from writing and recording songs.
She’s previously collaborated with the likes of Tom Fuller and Will Thompson, but in late January, Flo released her debut single “21”, then followed a month later with a Rob Savage-produced remix of the song. Now she’s back with her new single “Can’t Be Friends“, a fun and flirtatious track about falling for the wrong person, and blithely ignoring the consequences. In an interview with the webzine PopDust, Flo confided: “The song was written when I was in that headspace of just not being able to cut someone out who was no good for me. It’s also about making the excuse of ‘being friends’ when you know that’s just never gonna happen with that particular person, but you use it as your defense to keep seeing them.” I can attest to the folly of this approach, as I’ve ‘been there, done that’!
The song has an infectious, trap beat-driven groove, highlighted by a great little guitar riff, and accompanied by shimmery synths, a tasty thumping bassline and snappy drums, all of which build to an exuberant crescendo in the chorus. Flo has a distinctive and lilting vocal style, which she uses to great effect in expressing a playful sense of both resignation and exasperation over her inability to quit the guy who’s never gonna be right for her: “We always played this game, until we’re fighting fires again. It’s how we know we’re both to blame. This is why we can’t be friends. You always blurred the lines and I can never cut these ties.”
Formed back in 2012 while young teenagers, Infinite Eights is a charming and talented indie alternative pop/rock band based in Tampa, Florida. They were one of the very first bands to follow me on Twitter back in the fall of 2015, when I was just starting out as a music blogger and still a complete unknown. At the time, two of the band members, Parker Wilkson (guitar, keyboards & vocals) and Tyler Hanks (drums & percussion) were still in high school, and Davin Norman (bass) was in college. I was impressed by the excellence of their songwriting and musicianship, as well as their kindness, professionalism and gracious humility, rare qualities in musicians that young.
In addition to their studies, they’ve released numerous singles over the years, as well as a six-track EP Unfound in 2015. They’ve performed in several music festivals alongside some of the biggest names in music, and have opened for Kaleo, AJR, In the Valley Below, and The Relationship. I’ve featured them twice on this blog, the first time in April 2016 (which you can read here). It’s been a pleasure watching them grow and mature as musicians, and their music keeps getting better and better.
Infinite Eights have just dropped their latest single “Nausea“, delivering more of their signature gorgeous melodies and dreamy instrumentation we’ve come to love and expect from them. Parker has become a programming wizard, producing a lush, swirling soundscape of glittery synths, over which he layers intricate guitar notes, while Davin and Tyler drive the pulsating rhythm forward with their commanding bass and drums, respectfully. Parker’s warm vocals have also matured quite nicely too, and he’s never sounded better. His plaintive soaring falsetto in the choruses is beautiful and deeply moving. Though I cannot make them all out, the lyrics seem to speak to the stomach-churning emotional roller coaster aspects of love and relationships. Parker told me he drew inspiration from Jean Paul-Sartre’s novel of the same name: “The song is an exploration of the feelings that arise when a period of existential dread is punctuated by an encounter with a potential romantic partner. Those feelings may be best summed up as ‘parasitic’ – attaching yourself to someone as a means of finding direction and escaping a sense of purposelessness.”
Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative band of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who artfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. While their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they all still look like teenagers – their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication, thanks to their great songwriting and musicianship, including having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup.
They’ve been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their devilishly entertaining debut album Love at First Sniff. I became an instant fan and loved the album so much I wrote a review. Since the release of that album, the band experienced a few lineup changes, and now consists of the very talented Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass).
Thunder Fox has been working on a new album, and have dropped three singles thus far – “Communicate” and “Smokin’ on Loosies” (which I also reviewed) in 2020 – and their latest “Sunday” on March 4th. It’s a sweet song of love and devotion to someone who makes you happy to be alive. Lead vocalist and songwriter Sam Dawes explained: “I was inspired to write the song on one of those sunny Sunday mornings when you wake up next to someone you love and the birds seem to sing even sweeter than ever before. It’s about having the whole day to spend with the one you love, doing whatever you want.” The song features many of the band’s signature music touches we’ve come to love – a deliciously sultry vibe, funky laid-back grooves, and bold flourishes of jazzy brass, all coming together to create a warm, sexy backdrop for Sam’s silky and seductive vocals that hover between a come-hither croon and saucy falsetto. I love the song and I love this band!
The sweet video, which was produced by band member Jesse Tachibana, who also directed it along with Lewis Clark, stars Sam as a man walking the streets and alleys of Sydney, gradually removing articles of clothing as he sings. A young woman, played by Natalia Hutchen, starts to follow him, eventually picking up and putting on his discarded white shirt, at which point she walks alongside him as he offers her one of his earbuds.
I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Polarizer, a phenomenal five-piece band from Chicago. They play a progressive style of alternative rock they call “loud, spacey epic rock” that’s earned them comparisons to bands like Muse, Rush and Jane’s Addiction. I learned about them last year through their front man and vocalist Taylor Brennan, who’s also vocalist for Chicago rock band The Million Reasons, one of my favorite bands who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. Formed in 2011 by Brennan and his childhood friend, keyboardist Stan Tencza, along with guitarist Ian Palmer and drummer Ben Ludwig, they released their debut EP Lightscapes in 2013. Ludwig subsequently departed in 2015, and was later replaced by drummer John Schiller, as well as bassist Chris Shen, who complete the current lineup. Polarizer released their superb full-length album The Fall and the Swell in 2016, after which they stayed fairly quiet over the next few years.
They returned to the studio in late 2019 to begin recording a new album, and in August 2020 released a single “One for One”, their first new music in four years. On February 14th, they dropped their latest single “Metronome“, a powerful and stunning feast for the ears that I loved at first listen. The song is magnificent, and though it lasts only four minutes and 22 seconds, it feels and sounds epic in scope, in confirmation of Polarizer’s own self-assessment of their music. Every single aspect of the track – its elaborate melody and dynamic arrangement, Ian’s killer guitar work, Stan’s intricate keyboards, John’s muscular drums, Chris’s incredible bass line (played on what appears to be a five-string bass), and Taylor’s gorgeous vocals – is perfection from start to finish. I love how the music erupts into a monumental crescendo, bolstered by Taylor’s jaw-dropping impassioned vocals that almost sound like another instrument in themselves. It’s truly spectacular!
The lyrics call out the divisiveness and self-destructive ways of many of our leaders, urging newer generations to rise up against those forces to build a better future: “The old way is divisive. It keeps us small. Make way for the new kids. They’re coming up. / The future belongs to those in love from the underground.” Then there’s the amazing video, which shows the guys at the top of their game, performing the song in a Chicago studio. I often prefer seeing artists and bands performing their songs on videos, rather than a scripted, acted-out storyline, unless it’s done really well. Their performance, even done socially distanced from each other, is electrifying.
I can confidently state that “Metronome” is one the best new songs I’ve heard in a very long while, and I’m thrilled to feature this brilliant band and their song on my blog. They deserve more acclaim and many more followers, so please check out their music and give them a follow on social media.
It’s time for another installment of fresh new releases, and today I’m featuring three songs by (in alphabetical order) Ronnie the Bear, Tarraska and The Orphan The Poet.
“Moon Eyes” by Ronnie the Bear
Ronnie the Bear is the music project of Joshua Rukas, a charismatic and silky-voiced singer/songwriter from Grand Rapids, Michigan. A talented and versatile musician, he’s also drummer for punk/emo rock band MUSCLEMAN, as well as a former member of alt-rock band Dancing On Pluto, who I reviewed a couple times prior to their splitting up in August 2018. Last September, he released his stunning debut single “Do You Feel That?“, which I love so much that it ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list. He followed up at the end of October with his wonderful EP Lucid Dreams, and on February 14th he dropped his latest single “Moon Eyes“, a sweet song of young love that’s the perfect tune for Valentine’s Day.
Josh’s music is a pleasing blend of lo-fi alternative pop-rock, hip hop, psychedelic, synth pop and emo that he describes as ‘bedroom pop’, as he composes, performs, produces, mixes and masters all his own music at home. Over a lovely humming synth that sounds like a mellotron, he layers a colorful mix of swirling keyboard synths, crisp percussion, guitar and xylophone to create an enchanting backdrop for his soft, comforting vocals as he tells a lover of his strong feelings of devotion for her: “I want to melt into your arms / Your eyes are bigger than the moon / I’ve got a blanket built for two / I know I’ll find some warmth in you.”
Tarraska is a rock band based in Bournemouth, England. Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Alter Bridge, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Foo Fighters, Van Halen, Tremonti, Five Finger Death Punch and Guns N Roses, their music is a blend of classic and modern hard rock, characterized by heavy riffs, hard-driving rhythms and aggressive vocals. Originally formed in 2014 by lifelong friends Jack Lande and Ben Parker as a primarily acoustic cover band, the duo began writing their own songs in 2016, incorporating more electric guitars and heavier bass into their sound. They started touring around the UK, performing their own songs, and by the end of 2019, they had played more than 300 gigs in all manner of venues – pubs, clubs, restaurants, festivals and at private events. Jack plays rhythm and acoustic guitar and sings vocals, Ben plays lead, rhythm and bass guitar. Shaun Brown assists the duo on drums.
The guys released their excellent debut single “Trailblazer” in May 2020, and followed up in December with their second single “Renegade“. The two singles will be included on their forthcoming debut album, due out later this year. Both songs were recorded and mixed at Absolute Studios and GMMix in Bournemouth by Gareth Matthews, and mastered by Grant Berry at Fader Mastering in Manchester. Like a rampaging beast, “Renegade” storms through the gates with a barrage of fiery riffs and thunderous rhythms. Jack and Ben dazzle our senses with their strong musicianship as they unleash an unrelenting arsenal of guitar power, while Shaun shatters the airwaves with his powerful drum fills. Jack’s commanding vocals hold their own throughout the track with the hard-hitting instrumentals.
Jack told webzine Rock Regeneration that the song “deals with the emotions felt for a forbidden love and serves as a warning against lowering your guard in the face of real but ephemeral desires”. He further elaborates on the song’s press release: “For me, ‘Renegade’ is our most ambitious and musically expansive track to date, incorporating so much of the music we love and outlining what we want the band to become in the future. As for the song itself, the lyric tries to capture the intense and confusing emotions felt when caught up in a whirlwind love that, whilst genuine, may have or lead to destructive consequences.”
The Orphan The Poet is an alternative rock two-piece from Columbus, Ohio consisting of vocalist and guitarist David Eselgroth and bassist Jake Floyd. Though we follow each other on Twitter and Instagram, I don’t know a whole lot about them, other than that they’ve been putting out great music for around five years, and seem to have a hell of a good time doing it. They released their debut EP Terrible Things in 2016, and have followed up with number of singles and a second EP in the years since. Two of their singles have garnered more than a million streams on Spotify: “Terrible Things” with over 1.8 million and “Queen Cobra” with over 1.1 million.
Their latest single “The Moxie” was released on February 12th. The song was written and produced by David and Jake, with the help of frequent collaborator and music producer Matt Squire, mixed by Joe Costable, and mastered by Mike Kalijian. According to a feature article I found in Earmilk, the guys wrote the song over Zoom during the early days of quarantine. The lyrics were inspired by their feelings, their positive outlook on life, and determination and self confidence that are the very essence of the word “moxie”. David confided “There were times when growing up I very much identified as a nerd to be honest. At the same time, I was a confident nerd. Looking back at the song now I’m like ‘oh, that’s what it’s about. This is what it means to me. These are the times that I’ve known I was a big dork but that didn’t change the strut in the step or whatever it was. I could see so much of myself in the lyrics just from my own experiences of being the nerdy kid. He wasn’t in the cool crowd, but he thought he was cool.”
The song is a tasty slice of exuberant alt-pop, highlighted by swirling synths, thumping bass, bold hand claps, and a riotous cacophony of fuzz-coated wailing guitars. David’s intense, spirited vocals are every bit as fun as the music. The lyrics are basically nonsensical, but speak to having a joyous, unabashed confidence: “Crash my car just to cause a scene / I’m gonna flip my spliff like I’m Steve McQueen / Soak my shoes in gasoline, I got these Motown moves from a magazine / (And all I wanna do is) Two step, marmalade, fever shake / I’m like a juiced up, tidal wave, every day (I got it) The Moxie.”
Alternative rock band COUNCIL have come a long way over the past five years, and have been a favorite of mine since I first learned about them back in 2016. The three-piece is comprised of twin brothers Patrick (bass, lead vocals) and Doug (drums) Reeves, and their younger brother Andy (guitar). Raised on a farm in rural upstate New York, they now split their time between tending the family farm and working on their music in New York City.
Their dynamic sound – which they describe as ‘dark optimism’ – is characterized by dramatic, sweeping melodies, bold instrumentation and anthemic choruses that have seen them favorably compared to Imagine Dragons. Their magnificent debut single “Rust to Gold” received worldwide acclaim, including being played at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, as well as on American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, World Of Dance and Premier League. The life-affirming song has been streamed more than 11.7 million times on Spotify, and ended up on my list of 100 Best Songs of 2017.
I’ve featured them numerous times on this blog, most recently in March 2020 when I wrote about their single “Savages”. (You can check out some of those reviews under “Related” at the bottom of this post.) Now they return with their latest single “Faded Purple White Trash Royal“, a powerful, socially-relevant song that addresses the self-destructive aspect of pursuing success and/or material things at all costs and how it often leads to always wanting more, yet never feeling satisfied. In an interview with webzine StarryMag, the brothers elaborated about their inspiration for writing the song: “We had been talking about what ambition had cost us personally and what it can cost people trying to always get ahead. It can be a never-ending cycle. Oftentimes, leading to a dark side of ambition which we address. In the chorus we talk about ‘guns, money, sex, drugs’ and how ‘we want it all till the darkside breaks us.’ Ambition can be full of lies, excuses, highs and lows and certainly can be feeding your hidden addictions. At the end of the day, we realized that this blind ambition can leave you alone despite everything you achieve.”
The song starts off with Andy’s urgent acoustic guitar riff, then Patrick plaintively laments at a rapid pace “Even on my very best I’m faded purple white trash royal. I needed you to fill me up and keep me on the dotted line. Now every word is murder and I’m stuck here feeling dead inside.” The music builds to become a stirring anthem in the choruses, thanks in large part to Doug’s forceful drumming and the guys’ soaring harmonies as they all sing “Guns, money, sex, drugs…We want it all. Dirty hearts are dangerous. We want it all till the dark side breaks us.” It’s another terrific song by these talented brothers.
Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer, trainer 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, but it’s his skill for telling engrossing stories through thoughtful, intelligent lyrics that makes his songs so compelling in a Harry Chapin kind of way. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice – his vocal style is more of a talk-singing – but it’s warm and comforting, and perfect for storytelling.
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.” He later released, in November 2019, an excellent video for album’s title track “Something’s Not Right”, a song about the sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seemed to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. You can read my feature about the song and video here.
In December (2020), Peter returned with his second album I Was Alive Enough, featuring 12 tracks he states are “very specific to this very strange moment we are all living in, with songs about our fear of missing out (“FOMO”) and greed (“Race to the Bottom”), as well as mistrust of the media (“Fake News”). But it’s also hopeful and spirited, about appreciation for NYC graffiti (“91st Street”), a love of horse-racing (“W1775”) and the power and joy of solitude (“Table for One”). What binds many of the tracks together for me is the significance of each song’s characters despite their powerlessness. The befuddled news-watcher in “Fake News” is as real as the story of the horse W1775, the farmer in “Malagasy Uprising”, the homeless man in “Homeless” as much as the hapless narrator walking past, or even the corporate stooges in “Race To The Bottom”, who have more actual power and influence but who are ultimately prisoners of the soulless world they inhabit. One of the main things I was driving at in this album was the significance of every life.“
The 12 songs run the stylistic gamut from gentle folk ballads and bouncy pop to pleasing Southern rock and world music. Peter’s lyrics are so good that I’ll be quoting a lot of them, so bear with me as you read on. The album kicks off with “FOMO“, a breezy pop tune highlighted by some nice jazzy piano keys, along with gnarly guitars and jaunty organ that contrast with the matter-of-fact lyrics addressing his, and everyone else’s, shortcomings and how there must be a pill to deal with all our myriad anxieties: “I’m looking for a doctor just to tell me I’m crazy. My girl says I’m older, vain, stupid and lazy. But no one says what everyone knows to be true, that I’m totally crazy and so are you. / Yes, keep me medicated, keep those bottles full. Cause I’ve got FOMO, can’t handle missing out. You know I’m all about regret and doubt.”
“Race to the Bottom” has a heavier pop-rock treatment, with rousing, multi-layered guitars, thumping drums and tasty psychedelia-tinged organ, all set to a strong foot-stomping beat. Peter sings the cynical lyrics spoken from the perspective of corporations hoping to cash in on a brain-dead public: “We got a fractured nation, a distracted population. Got to take advantage just the best that we can. But we better hurry ‘fore they get their pitchforks in motion, cause they’re getting pretty tired of being taken by the man. So, come with me on a race to the bottom, where the pickins are easy and there’s plenty of prey.”
Continuing on a similar theme, he addresses how we all seek out the kind of news that feeds our own world views on “Fake News“: “So go ahead and play me some fake news, and I’ll just change the channel if want to change my views“, and how some want nothing to do with those holding opinions different from theirs: “Woke up to find someone’s unfriended me today. Doesn’t like the way I see the world. It could be we never were such good friends anyway, but I’m still stinging from the epithets he hurled.” The song starts off as a gentle piano ballad, then expands into a lively melody with guitars, bold percussion and what sounds like clarinet, which adds a nice but slightly unsettling vibe. The song has a bit of a Harry Chapin feel, and is one of my favorites on the album.
“91st St.” is a wonderful ode to the graffiti-covered and abandoned 91st Street subway station in New York City. The station was deemed superfluous by the subway authority and closed in 1954, and later came to be known by New Yorkers as the “Ghost Station”. Peter wrote a marvelous article about the station and the song in October 2018, which I featured on this blog and can be read here. The song has a progressive/jazzy vibe, with a cool drumbeat, funky bass line and fuzzy guitar riff. Toward the end of the track, Peter injects a quirky little psychedelic synth that makes for a great finish.
Peter addresses the oft-covered and eternally relatable subjects of love and relationships on a few tracks, with lyrics that are painfully honest and real. On the bittersweet Americana-tinged “Our Journeys“, he sings of how he let his partner down, but is thankful for the good things they enjoyed together: “Now this song isn’t one of mistake or regret. I chose what I chose, and I’ll take what I’ll get, but when push comes to shove, it still hurts to hurt someone you love. And you were willing to spend your whole journey on me, and the value of that, maybe I just wouldn’t see. So please let me take the time to thank you now.” On the lovely “Table For One“, he sings his praises of being alone: “All I watched as a child, replayed the same scene. Go find a fair princess, make her a fair queen. But repeating the playbook has cost me a lot. Maybe you find who you are when you find who you’re not.” And on “Palpitations“, he sings of traveling the country with his new bride, not caring where they end up so long as he’s with her: “These palpitations inspired by you are invented by me. Palpitations are my body’s way of telling me I’m finally free.”
“Homeless” is a poignant song about how those of us living in big cities co-exist with homeless people as we go about our days, intersecting with each other, yet living in completely separate worlds and fearful of becoming too involved: “There a man I see almost every day. He’s got a black dog with a collar. It used to be ‘could you spare a dime’ now it’s ‘could you spare a dollar?’ Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t, depends what’s in my pocket. But he’s a man locked inside an invisible cage, and my dollar won’t unlock it. There’s no future, there’s no joy. He once was an adorable boy. Once he started to fall, he found no safe place to land. Walk right by that ghost of a man. It’s the crime I commit almost everyday. It’s the violence of looking away.”
On “Malagasy Uprising“, Peter sings from the perspective of a farmer recalling the horrors of the nationalist rebellion against French colonial rule in Madagascar that lasted from March 1947 to February 1949, and now trying to eke out a living in peace. He uses African elements and instruments, along with a lilting chorus by female singers, to give the song an exotic flavor that works quite well. He channels a bit of Tom Petty on “Beneath Two Moons“, a song that speaks to the love of personal freedom over romantic entanglements. And he sings of being with the one he loves in of the Land of Enchantment on the appropriately enchanting “New Mexico“, “where the people think we’re pretty, and there’s turquoise everywhere.”
One of his best ‘story’ songs is “W1775“, a poignant saga about a horse who started his career as an award-winning race horse, then spent time pulling a carriage in New York, and eventually living out his final years in a pasture. Peter elaborates on the song’s inspiration: “I trained racehorses for many years and I earned a deep respect for the animals. One of the things about horse racing that you just don’t find when following other animals, is the story within every horse’s career, all of which is documented and is occasionally remembered but more often forgotten.”
I Was Alive Enough is a delightful album, not only because it’s a pleasing listen, but also due to its great storytelling. As I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Peter is a masterful lyricist and storyteller, not to mention a fine musician. Each song is a gem, with no two sounding alike, keeping the album sounding fresh and surprising from start to finish.
Ewan Patrick is a singer-songwriter from Edinburgh, Scotland who’s long been dedicated to the study and making of music. He studied contemporary classical composition at Napier University in Edinburgh, then earned a graduate degree in Music Production at Leeds College of Music. He’s also played in many bands over the years, with whom he performed extensively across the UK, including at a number of major music festivals. Some of his songs have garnered airplay on national BBC Radio 1, as well as various BBC regional stations and on commercial radio. More recently, Ewan has begun recording some of the songs he’s written over the years that, in his own words, “never quite found their place in any of the bands I’ve played in.“
Last October (2020), he released his first double A-side single “Retrospect/Hurricane”. Both are very good anthemic pop-rock songs that beautifully showcase his songwriting, performance and production talents, as he records, mixes and masters all his music himself. Now he returns with a new double A-side single “Feels Good To Be Alive/Two Hearts“, which dropped February 1st. All four tracks will be included on his forthcoming debut album, due out later this year.
“Feels Good To Be Alive” speaks to how we can become complacent about life, and sometimes bitter that things didn’t turn out quite like we’d hoped or imagined. The song starts off low-key, with Ewan’s acoustic guitar accompanied by gentle percussion as he plaintively sings “How did this happen and when did I grow cold? I’m feeling insignificant as I’m reaching the end of the road. I won’t let my life disappear and slowly fade. It’s time for me to reframe and make the change.” The song then explodes with a torrent of electric guitar and crashing cymbals as he passionately sings with a strong sense of optimism and hope, and a belief that life is still worth living: “The rain keeps falling but it washes over me. Nothing’s working but I’m feeling carefree. I’m still hurting, yet it doesn’t bother me. Why? Because I’m still alive. It feels good to be alive.” It’s a beautifully-crafted and uplifting song.
“Two Hearts” is a deeply personal song that came to Ewan while writing his own wedding speech. He states that he was “not for a minute trying to contrive a love song for my future wife but it just kind of happened.” The song is appropriately beautiful and moving, starting off with Ewan’s acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals as he sings of his love and devotion, and how his bride has made him a better man: “You took my hand. Made me a man. You’ve made me better than I’ve ever been. Come walk with me through hopes and dreams, and together we’ll take the world head on. Two hearts will beat as one.” The song gradually expands into a sublime ballad as he layers gorgeous chiming electric guitar notes, piano and heavier percussion, along with some beautiful cello performed by his good friend Rebecca Rowe.
Both songs are outstanding, and I must say I’m very impressed by Ewan’s strong songwriting, singing and musicianship skills. Not only are his songs finely-crafted from a technical standpoint, they also have a lot of those less tangible qualities of heart and soul that allow them to speak to us on a more personal and meaningful level. I see a bright future for this young artist, and look forward to hearing more music from him.