CLINT SLATE – Album Review: “Dragons”

Clint Slate is the music project of French singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gregg Michel. Based in Paris, the versatile musician has been involved in numerous projects over the years, and wanting to further explore and experiment with his art, Michel created Clint Slate in 2015. The moniker is a variation of ‘clean slate’. That same year, he released his debut solo album Before the Dark, a beguiling work featuring 12 tracks he described as “a trip between sonic landscapes and electro-organic sounds, a travel in my mind, a snapshot of life between light and darkness.” The album was an exploration of his feelings of grief and loss after the death of his father. He followed up in 2017 with his exquisite second album Woodn Bones, which he premiered in a live performance on the internet with a full band plus choir in a theatre. It was an album recorded live and in a single take.

At the start of 2020, Clint was preparing to release his third album, a progressive concept work titled The Last Man, but then the Covid-19 pandemic swept across Europe, resulting in a lockdown in France and many countries. He decided to postpone the album’s release until the time comes that he can give it a proper release in front of an audience. He had also been involved with several collaborative projects, including becoming a metal singer for the former drummer of Skakin’ Street, a crooner for Alexandre Azaria’s soundtracks, Bono for a U2 Tribute, and a rock’n’roll clown for the musical stage troupe Les Franglaises.

The coronavirus brought all these activities to a halt, which then led him to conceive of a new project based on the idea of a ‘cadavre exquis musical’ (or ‘exquisite musical corpse’), and that could be created virtually and remotely. Enlisting the help of two other musicians, bassist Francesco Arzani and drummer Louison Collet, Clint set to work on an album entitled Dragons, which dropped today, January 4th. He wrote the music and lyrics, sang vocals and played acoustic and electric guitar, keyboards, stylophone and percussion. He also produced, mixed and mastered the album. Louison also played glockenspiel on “Dark is Wire” and Clint played bass on “Obstacles”.

Dragons was inspired by Clint’s love of David Bowie’s album Earthling, which he explains “allows itself to digest Drum&Bass, Jungle and electro and to spit them out totally transfigured in a unique result. It’s thanks to this album that I realise the importance of breaking genres and codes, like listening to Mike Garson’s jazz out piano parts on the volcanic electro/rock “Dead Man Walking” or Reeves Gabrels’ string after string guitar solo with alien like sounds on “Looking For Satellites”. It also allowed me to discover William Burroughs and the Beat Generation, Bowie explaining that he applied the cut-up principle to several songs. But what is cut-up? It’s a process created by the surrealists where words written in the course of thought or newspaper clippings were mixed in a bowl and randomly drawn to create new phrases. It is a way to shake up inspiration, to renew oneself, to explore the unconscious and to play with meaning or nonsense.” Clint told me Dragons is a kind of love letter to artists and explorators he admires.

Work on Dragons took place between May and July 2020. Clint would compose the music, working as quickly as possible to keep from overthinking while he recorded melodies, riffs or suites of chords. He then sent them to Louison and Francesco without giving them any more information than an audio clip, chords and a BPM, which allowed them to add their own touches without knowing what the other did. The rules were simple: Be spontaneous and think as little as possible, record yourself three times maximum and get out of your playing habits. Once he received their tracks, Clint added them to the guitar parts and then distorted everything until the original idea had been transfigured or even supplanted by the new sounds. Each track was given a random name, which was then entered into a word generator to find the lyrics, flirting with nonsense, abstract and surrealism.

The result is a totally unique, fascinating and eclectic collection of songs that (in Clint’s words, as I couldn’t possibly say it better myself) “winds between styles, genres and atmospheres to propose a new journey through the unconscious and surf on the wave of the moment. The nine songs of the album are as many monsters and chimeras to discover and tame.” The album opens with “Sunset, Nova and Earth“, an interesting track that starts off with Clint rapping over an almost dubstep beat, accompanied by clicking sounds, then settles into a languid folk rock vibe with bluesy guitars. As promised, the lyrics are abstract and surreal: “You noisy capture birds to get the galaxies, the warm aurora of unseen specific lights. Recognize in us storytellers. Raw change might help sunset, Nova and Earth.”

David Bowie’s influence can be heard on “Reconciliation TV (The Love Tides)“, which to my ears also has a strong Pink Floyd vibe, thanks to its sweeping organ riff and colorful mix of jangly and distorted guitars, followed by relatively calm, introspective interludes. Clint’s knack for sounding like Bono is evident on the hauntingly beautiful “Ghost America“, a song that seems to allude to an America now past its glory “The rise of the greatest worldwide team. Theft beyond trading. The ghost of America, America.” “Dead Noise” has a somewhat cinematic feel as it builds to a dramatic crescendo, while the brooding “Dark is Wire” seems to channel Radiohead. With its combination of delicate synths, strummed guitars and Glockenspiel layered over Francesco’s moody bass line, the captivating song is one of my favorites on the album. And once again, the lyrics are obscure: “Nothing to die / dark is wire / shortcuts useless / a crisp stark pink interface.”

The Sixth Trip Plan” is a melodic and upbeat track based on a twenty seconds long riff on two very simple chords that Clint developed, and enhanced by a bass riff created by Francesco. I really like this video showing each of them performing independently, but sounding fantastic together. The lyrics are rather non-sensical, but make for a fun listen: “Fresh self-respect / Carbon exchange / Join the flowers of a hundred dictionaries / Double bread crown for twin Spanish horses / Challenge the last dance call that’s the sixth trip plan.”

The darkly beautiful “Obstacles” is another favorite, with stunning guitar work that Clint states was recorded in a single take shortly after he composed it. He adds that the song “mourns a world that has become as cold as steel“, as expressed in the lyrics “A wireless force / Dangerous events holding the web, focused / You offer everything / Stealth warranty / Candidates multiply instantly.” Though the lyrics are rather foreboding, his vocals are warmly comforting.

On the futuristic “Systems and Batteries“, Clint uses wobbly industrial synths, throbbing reverb and a skittering beat to create a harsh, yet dreamy otherworldly soundscape for his droning vocals, augmented by electronically-altered vocals speaking the lines “Imperial common unit / Imperial views / Theoretical tools and technology measure something here.” The final track “Smash” is an exhilarating guitar-driven progressive rock song that ends with the album title as the last word: “Update the leaders, compatible with riders / Commit together, contact the dragon.”

Dragons is an unusual but sonically satisfying album that I found immensely enjoyable. I applaud Clint for his imaginative approach in the creation of this unique work, proving that – even in isolation – musicians are capable of producing some really innovative and compelling work. If you like music that ventures outside the norms in terms of melodic structure, lyrics and sound design, you will enjoy this album.

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VICIOUS ROOSTER – Single Review: “Something Goin’ On”

This past September, I featured Argentine-born and now Los Angeles-based artist Vicious Rooster on this blog when I reviewed his darkly beautiful single “The Moon is Dancing”. The music project of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Juan Abella, Vicious Rooster draws inspiration from some of his favorite bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes, Guns’n’Roses and Alice in Chains to create his own unique style that’s a wonderful melding of classic and Southern rock, folk and grunge. Both his guitar playing style and vocals sound like he’s from Nashville or Austin, rather than Argentina. On November 25th, he released his follow-up single “Something Goin’ On“, delivering three raucous minutes of bluesy Southern rock goodness for our listening pleasure. The song was mixed by Mikal Reid, who’s worked with renowned artists such as Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper, Ben Harper, and Kenny Wayne Sheperd.

“Something Goin’ On” has a harder rock edge than “The Moon is Dancing” and I like it! Abella is a fine guitarist, and he lets er rip, slicing through the airwaves with an onslaught of layered gritty and bluesy guitars, punctuated by tasty little flourishes of distortion and highlighted by a scorching solo in the bridge. A throbbing bass line and explosive percussion keep the driving rhythm firmly on track. His fervent vocals keep pace with the intensity of the instrumentals as he exclaims to his love interest of the powerful effect she’s having on him: “Let me tell you baby, you’re breaking me in two. But there’s something goin’ on between me and you.”

If Vicious Rooster keeps putting out excellent records like these two singles and his previous album The Darkest Light, I’m confident he’ll have a long and successful career.

To learn more about Vicious Rooster, check out his website

Follow him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon 

BLACK BEAR KISS – Single Review: “When I Break”

Since the release of their terrific debut single “Hooks” in the spring of 2018, British alternative garage-rock band Black Bear Kiss have consistently put out a series of stellar singles – all of which I’ve written about on this blog. (You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) With their exciting guitar-driven sound, strong charisma and rowdy live performances, the talented five-piece have built a loyal following in their home base of the West Midlands/Shropshire region of England and beyond. Making this great music are Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on lead guitar, Rob Jones on rhythm guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums.

Following up on their last single “Reach Up Higher”, an excellent song decrying the dominance of mainstream media and its often negative influence on the public, Black Bear Kiss are back with their latest single “When I Break“, which dropped October 30th. The song is a stylistic departure from their usual harder rocking sound, with a mellower, more introspective vibe, though the band once again serve up a memorable melody and the outstanding instrumentation we’ve come to expect from them. Highlights for me are the bluesy guitars and those beautiful keyboards that come in late in the song.

And then there are Chris’s warm, distinctive vocals that are particularly stunning on this track. He told me the lyrics are somewhat reflective, but he seems to question his relationship and his lover’s commitment toward it: “So we get somewhere we wanted / When does this feeling of fulfillment begin? Are we there, you know I’m counting on you, but this funny little feeling goes / So when I break darling, everything you take will wash over me.

With “When I Break”, Black Bear Kiss keep their perfect score for producing great singles intact.

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DYING HABIT – Album Review: “Until the Air Runs Out”

From the picturesque Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales hails alt-rock band Dying Habit, who in mid-October released their debut album Until the Air Runs Out. Officially formed in 2016 after a few years of informally playing together, the band now consists of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and Alan Hart (guitar). Influenced by some of their favorite bands such as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock with progressive undertones.

I’ve previously written about Dying Habit a few times on this blog, first in July 2018 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Unrealities”, then again this past May when I reviewed their single “Solutions”, one of the tracks featured on Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) About the album, which dropped October 16th, band front man Nathan Jones explains: “Almost a year in the making, this album portrays our passion for music, grunge, and a 90s feel which has been given a contemporary makeover. It also explores the difficulties of how our world changed in 2020, as well as mental health, loneliness and how even in the darkest of times there is always hope.”

It’s an ambitious work, featuring 13 tracks and running a total of 46 minutes. There are quite a few gems here, and I’ll touch on the ones that most resonated with me. Kicking things off on an ominous note is “The Prey“, a dark track with heavy stab-like riffs of grungy guitars, spooky synths and a grinding, wobbly bass line, all of which succeed quite nicely in creating a menacing vibe. I really like the instrumentals a lot, and my only criticism is that Nathan’s vocals are sometimes overpowered by the music, making it difficult for me to understand much of what he’s singing.

Lost On You” is a great example of Dying Habit’s superb songwriting and musicianship. I love the meandering melody that goes from a moody, Nirvana-esque groove to a dramatic crescendo, highlighted by a torrent of fiery buzz-saw riffs. I cannot gush enough over Alan’s phenomenal guitar work, and Nathan does a great job on both bass and vocals here as he sings of his frustration to a partner who doesn’t value or appreciate him: “I will never burn these bridges / What are we hurting for? All my reasons, all my conscience, must be lost on you.” The beautiful track “Solutions” speaks to feelings of regret over past mistakes and hurts inflicted toward others, and yearning to make things right but not fully knowing how: “Whatever my mistakes were / Whichever lies I told / The heat is overwhelming but my skin’s remaining cold / This serenity engulfs me yet the world keeps passing by / I long to find solutions.”

I like when bands leave unintended sounds at the beginning or end of their songs, so the belch heard at the beginning “The World’s Too Big For Us” is perfectly fine by me. That said, it’s a terrific progressive grunge rock song, with a chugging start-stop groove, highlighted by a cacophonous mix of super-gnarly and distorted guitars, heavy throbbing bass and spacey synths. Along that same vein, “Red Lines” delivers a wonderful fantasia of grungy as hell riffs, accompanied by pummeling bass, Mark’s crashing percussion and wild psychedelic synths that make for a dramatic and fascinating track.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Out of My Hands“, an enchanting song where the band shows their softer side. The chiming guitars are simply gorgeous, and accompanied by a subtle bass line and just the right amount of percussion that allow the guitars to shine. Once again, it’s hard to make out many of the lyrics Nathan sings, but the exquisite instrumentals more than make up for it.

The title track “Until the Air Runs Out” is another great track that’s heavy on progressive grunge vibes. The song starts off with dark, ominous sounds that conjure up images of an impending battle in a sci-fi movie, then a driving, bass-heavy rhythm ensues along with wailing buzz-saw riffs as Nathan begins to sing. As the song progresses, Alan introduces an upbeat melodic riff that ends things on slightly more optimistic note. “Scared of the People We Love” is a moody six-minute-long tour de force, with an extended instrumental segment that nicely showcases Dying Habit’s outstanding musicianship and skill at playing as a tight unit. And the mesmerizing melody, stunning guitar work, and hypnotic drum beats on album closer “Nowhere to Run” are fantastic.

I must admit that I’m generally more a fan of melodic and dream rock than heavier grunge or progressive-style rock. Nevertheless, I still have a great deal of respect and appreciation for those genres, and do enjoy a fair amount of it. Dying Habit have packed quite a lot of complexity and nuance into their songs, and it took a couple of listens for me to fully get into Until the Air Runs Out. But once I did, I fell head over heels in love with this excellent album. I’ve been following this band pretty much since their beginning and I’m so proud of them. I know they worked hard on this album, and their skill and dedication for producing quality music really shows.

Nathan is also a talented visual artist, with a number of remarkable paintings to his credit. Inspired by their lyrics, album, lockdowns, and anxiety, he created this wonderful abstract oil painting titled ‘Until The Air Runs Out’:

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FOUR THOUSAND MILES – Single Review: “Demon on the Run”

Four Thousand Miles is a unique rock band with an international pedigree, in that each of its four members are from a different country, hence their name ‘Four Thousand Miles’. They started out as a collaboration over the internet, and grew to become a music project after finding that each of their own unique styles blended well together. The four band members are Alex Fearn from Liverpool, England on vocals and rhythm guitar, Lionel Pacreau from Bordeaux, France on lead guitar, Alex May from Atlanta, Georgia, USA on drums, and Liam Sibbald from Prestatyn, Wales on bass.

They’ve gathered together on a number of occasions in Liverpool to record music and film videos, and released their excellent debut single “Lonely” this past Valentine’s Day. The followed up in April with “Reflections”, which I reviewed, and are back with their third single “Demon on the Run” which dropped on Halloween. Like their previous singles, the song was mixed and mastered by Simon Jackman at Outhouse Studios in Reading, Berkshire, and delivers more of their outstanding hard-hitting melodic rock. 

The guys are all terrific musicians, and really up their game with “Demon on the Run”. It’s a beautiful rock song, with stellar dual guitar work by Pacreau and Fearn, highlighted by gorgeous chiming guitars in the verses alternating with bone-crushing riffs in the choruses. Sibbald drives the powerful rhythm forward with a deep, pulsating bass line while May smashes his drum kit with impressive force.

The heartfelt lyrics are a plea for help from someone experiencing an emotional breakdown, feeling isolated and alone in their struggle to try and overcome their demons. Fearn’s powerful vocals rise to the occasion as he passionately wails “Do you know, do you know at all, what it feels like to lose control? Do you know, do you know at all, what it was like when I needed a miracle, to help myself. There was nobody, nobody else. I was lost and scared, but never running away. A miracle. Nobody else was saving me from myself.

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Stream/purchase their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Amazon

THE METAL BYRDS – EP Review: “Life in 20”

Like Tough On Fridays, who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, The Metal Byrds are a female-fronted rock band from Texas. Based in the music city of Austin, the band formed in 2018 after a chance meeting between London-born singer-songwriter Suzanne Birdie and guitarist Sly Rye Dovey. Both were in other bands at the time, and one night, at the urging of a mutual friend, Suzanne sat in on Sly Rye’s rehearsal with his band. He asked Suzanne to sing any song she wanted and she began singing “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. That was all it took, and she soon joined his band and began performing with them. His band was having internal issues however, which ultimately led he and Suzanne to create their own project together as The Metal Byrds. They were later joined by bassist Kevin Kurts and drummer Alex Romanov to complete their lineup.

The Metal Byrds play a dynamic style of rock infused with healthy doses of rock’n’roll and power pop, along with enough metal in the mix to give their songs a dark, edgy quality. They released their debut EP The Song Byrd in April 2019, then quickly followed two months later with a second EP Byrds on a Wyre. On October 2nd, they dropped their latest EP Life in 20, and listening to all three works, it’s clear that their songwriting and musicianship have gotten stronger with each release.

As the title would suggest, the opening track “The Ganges” starts off with Suzanne singing what sounds like an Indian chant, accompanied by jangly Indian instruments lasting around 15 seconds. Suddenly, the song blasts open with a juggernaut of Metallica-esque riffs, gnarly bass and pummeling drums that takes the song deep into hard rock territory. Sly Rye’s guitar work is truly impressive as he shreds the hell out of his six-string, laying waste to the airwaves with rapid-fire noodling and wailing distortion. Suzanne’s aggressively fervent vocals demand our full attention as she sings of feeling overwhelmed as if drowning, while making references to maharajas, brahmins and ghats.

Dreamin’” is a full-on rock’n’roll banger, with furious riffs and explosive rhythms that really showcase what The Metal Byrds are all about. Suzanne emphatically implores a love interest to give her a little consideration: “Can’t you see I’m standing right here in front of you / But you don’t even notice.” Keeping with that theme, “Tell Me” is about coming to terms with the fact that, no matter how hard you’ve tried, the person you pinned all your hopes on just doesn’t feel the same toward you. Suzanne’s emotion-filled vocals convey the sad resignation expressed in the lyrics “Tell me I’m wrong, you’re not the one. I don’t need convincing.” Musically, the song starts off as a folk ballad but gradually transitions into a terrific Southern rocker, with lots of great twangy and distorted guitars. It’s my favorite track on the EP.

The rousing title track “Life in 20” has a Pat Benatar vibe, with a frantic driving beat and more of Sly Rye’s fantastic riffing. In fact, the song reminds me a bit of Benatar’s “Heartbreaker”. In their notes, the band states the song “is a generalization of what the year 2020 has been like. A diary of events and feelings, of sorts. The guitars wail, along with lead singer, Suzanne Birdie’s voice, to evoke feelings of struggle and inequities that we have experienced during the past year.” Suzanne mournfully laments “Everything could end, you don’t know. One step from letting go.”

Impossible” is another excellent hard-rocking tune, with the kind of powerful driving beat that I love. Kevin and Alex deliver aggressive thumping rhythms guaranteed to get your blood pumping and hips moving, and Sly Rye layers a lively mix of staccato riffs and screaming distortion that would satisfy even the hardest metal head. Suzanne gives her lover an emphatic kiss-off: “I’m leaving tonight to get on this flight like a thief in the dark to protect my own heart / You’re impossible to love, and still too blind to see.”

Life in 20 is a great little EP that gets better with each listen. The Metal Byrds sure know how to rock, and I think this is their finest work yet. As I noted earlier, the quality of their songwriting, production and musicianship have gotten stronger on each release, and I’m confident they’ll continue on this upward trajectory.

Note: The version of the EP on Bandcamp features five tracks, however, the one on Spotify and Apple Music also includes a sixth track, a radio edit of “The Ganges” without the 15 seconds of Indian chanting at the beginning.

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New Song of the Week -“Hands” by Morgendust

Since forming only two years ago, Dutch indie alt-rock band Morgendust  have made quite an impression both at home and abroad with their superb music. The Zwolle, Netherlands-based quintet is comprised of Marco de Haan (lead vocals, guitars), Ron van Kruistum (guitars, backing vocals), Iwan Blokzijl (keyboards, backing vocals), Dario Pozderski (bass, backing vocals) and Job Noordmans (drums & percussion). All are talented and accomplished musicians with years of collective experience playing in other bands and as session musicians, imparting their music with a maturity and worldliness that comes from having lived on this earth for a while and experiencing the joys and pains of life, love and relationships. Through intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, they tell stories that everyone can relate to, and package them with exquisite dark-edged rock melodies and beautiful instrumentation.

In September 2019 they released their outstanding debut EP Storm Will Come, then followed up this past May with a powerful and timely single “Alien”, inspired by the story of band member Pozderski, who as a young man fled his war-torn homeland of Bosnia. (You can read my reviews of the EP and single by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) In July, they released another great single “Sundays”, and now return with their latest offering, an inspiring and lovely new single “Hands“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The song is a tribute to all the craftsmen and women around the world who take care of us. About the song, Morgendust explains: “Making, building and creative hands. At work and at home. Helping, stroking and saving hands. By caring and loving in families and relationships. Hands can make what our eyes can see. Hands can make or break our relationships. We tell a story with our hands. Hands are valuable tools. For the makers who help shape and keep our society running and for all of us to support each other. Or the encouraging handshake as soon as the rules allow it again. Making, building, creating and connecting hands.

As a band we pay tribute to these crucial limbs by celebrating craftsmen from our hometown Zwolle. The stories of a chef, farmer, furniture maker, artist, motorcycle mechanic, baker and tattoo artist all come together in the new video clip shot by (Dutch 3FM / Radio 2) photographer and filmmaker Bullet Ray (Raymond van Olphen). The release of ‘Hands’ is accompanied by a fan contest, in which the fans participated by singing the chorus “build it with your hands” and doing something with their hands.”

“Hands” is an uplifting, celebratory song that just makes you feel good. It’s an affirmation that the world and the people in it are basically good and that everything is gonna be okay. To convey the sentiments expressed in the hopeful lyrics, Morgendust starts with an upbeat melody, then layers a mix of sunny guitars, humming bass, swirling synths and lively percussion to create a joyous backdrop for Marco’s warm, earnest vocals.

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THAT HIDDEN PROMISE – Album Review: “Who Knows Now?”

That Hidden Promise is the music project and alter ego of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee. Based in Somerset, England, he’s been recording and performing under that moniker since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, plays acoustic and electric guitar, and creates all his own music, including beats and percussion. He’s produced an extensive catalog of outstanding alternative and pop-rock music over the past nine years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix. The result is a varied and eclectic sound, delivered with exceptional guitar work and distinctive vocals that remind me at times of a young Bob Dylan.

I’ve featured That Hidden Promise on this blog a number of times over the last three-plus years, most recently just two months ago when I reviewed “You Can Have the World”, the lead single from his new album Who Knows Now?, which dropped October 2nd. The album is an ambitious and meticulously-crafted work featuring 12 tracks that, in Lee’s own words, “explores what it is to be in these times, through the joys, the frustrations, the anger, injustice and how do we even know what our place is in this world anymore?” The album was recorded and entirely self-produced, mixed and mastered by Lee between March-May 2020.

The album opens with “Intro“, an ominous instrumental track with a harsher and more psychedelic feel than any previous songs I can recall hearing by him. The spooky industrial synths and mix of wailing and distorted guitars set a darkly beautiful tone for what’s to come, and I love it. Next up is “You Can Have the World“, and as I wrote in my review of the song, Lee’s intricate layered guitar work is nothing short of spectacular as he delivers an explosive torrent of ever-changing textures that go from melodic to aggressive buzz-saw to screaming distortion. It’s an electrifying and powerful wall of sound for his plaintive vocals, driving home the urgency expressed in his biting lyrics that speak to finding strength through one’s confusion and rage over a corrupt and unjust system in order to survive and ultimately rise above it: “You can have the world if you’re gonna pay / Though have you got the nerve to fail again and again / Those who lead won’t keep you down / They may seek acclaim but it’s clear / If I win, If I fail in this world, Ain’t a damn thing to do with them.” I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded.

On “Your Own Enemy“, he urges us to live our own truths and forge our own paths forward in life: “Cut out all the voices, all the actions not working for you / Act free Act simply Act in your best interest / Forego your ego / Your shackles, release them / Construct your own self, not one projected for you.” Over a driving rhythm of throbbing bass and urgent toe-tapping beats, he layers a mix of gnarly and jangly guitars, all of which makes for a rousing and satisfying folk-rock song.

Caught in Yesterday” is a breezy and pretty tune, with lots of great guitar work and pleasing horn synths. The lyrics are an assurance of unconditional friendship, acceptance and standing by someone,: “You’ve got nothing to prove to me / If the world should split in two I’d be on the side with you / If the world should break in four we’d belong for evermore.”

Following on that thread, “End Game” is pre-apocalyptic, and speaks to finding acceptance and peace of mind when the end does arrive: “As we reach the end game / As we near our time don’t let fear sweep over / Just learn to free your mind / So take me with you to paradise / Away from conflict Away from these times.” It’s a musically complex and stunning song, and a real testament to Lee’s impressive songwriting and musicianship. The song opens with an ominous-sounding drumbeat, accompanied by gentle industrial synths, then a lovely strummed guitar enters along with shimmery synths, softening the mood as Lee begins to sing. Eventually, the languid vibe is briefly interrupted by a flourish of screaming guitar, only to calm back down. This back and forth continues through to the end, punctuated by some really stellar guitar work. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

As the album progresses, I’m struck by how really good every track is, as well as the variety of melodies, textures and sounds he’s used. It holds our interest from one track to the next, keeping the record from ever feeling monotonous or predictable. “One Day Other Than This” is a melancholy but lovely song with his heartfelt vocals accompanied by gentle string synths and beautifully strummed guitars, whereas the gorgeous “Stop Praying For the Sun” has a sweeping cinematic feel like a song you might hear in a Western movie soundtrack. Lee explained to me that lyrics are about not waiting for things that are out of your control to happen (praying for the sun), and also whether what you’re doing or where you’re headed is just delusion: “A new delusion of false design / If the best of times will come / Stop praying for the sun.”

Not In This World (Or the Next)” has a folk/Americana vibe, with a bouncy, head-bopping beat and lively riffs of jangly guitars. That Hidden Promise seems to ponder about our purpose on this earth: “I’ve given more than I can take / How much longer should I have to wait? / There’s time to come, there’s time to try / You give your all, but is it right? Alright.” The hauntingly beautiful “What Lies Beneath” is another favorite of mine, thanks to its eerie melody, piercing synths, and incredible guitar work.

That Hidden Promise turns more hopeful with “Calling All You Seekers“, a poignant ballad about holding on to our sense of adventure and optimism, and never giving up: “Calling all you seekers / The places yet to go / The majesty of wanderlust forever taking hold.” And even more so on “In the Night Time“, a celebratory folk-rock song about grabbing hold of one’s dreams and trying to make them real: “In the night time I’m inspired, and I just can’t settle / On fire / And this fever burns inside.

The closing track “Screaming in My Soul” seems to be somewhat auto-biographical, or at the very least, touches on some of the demons that plague musicians and songwriters if I’m reading these lyrics correctly: “Do you know what’s it’s like? To have a demon strip your soul / Well I know /All the songs that are trapped in my head / All the words that are lost in some black hole / I wish I could know how to bring them home / Got a screaming in my soul now.” Over a pulsating hypnotic groove, he layers swirling synths and a mix of intricate guitar riffs and textures to create a mesmerizing track.

With “Who Know Now?, That Hidden Promise has created his best work yet. It’s an exquisite album filled with exceptional songs, and his impressive songwriting, musicianship and production skills are evident on every track.

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THE RARE OCCASIONS – Single Review: “Alone”

I recently got a notification in my inbox for the new single “Alone” by an indie rock band called The Rare Occasions. Being the dutiful music blogger that I am, I gave it a listen and liked it so much that I started delving into their impressive music catalog. Well, I’m happy to report that I love their music and am now a big fan. Fashioned with colorful melodies, sparkling arrangements, exuberant instrumentals and endearing vocals, but with contemplative and often biting lyrics, their songs are immediately memorable and deeply addictive. It’s not surprising they have a sizable following; their song “Notion” has been streamed over 1.7 million times on Spotify, with another six of their songs garnering between 100,000-800,000 streams.

With origins in Providence, Rhode Island and now based in Los Angeles via Boston, The Rare Occasions was formed by childhood friends Brian McLaughlin and Luke Imbusch after they moved to Boston to form a band. They soon met bassist Jeremy Cohen and guitarist Peter Stone, and with McLaughlin on vocals and Imbusch on drums, their lineup was complete. In 2013, they released their debut EP Applefork, then followed up a year later with Feelers. Their song “Dysphoric”, one of the tracks from Feelers, won the ‘Song of the Year’ award in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. They released more singles and a third EP, the wonderful Futureproof, in 2016.

Fiercely independent, the band has always recorded and produced all their own music, getting help only with final mastering. Wanting to devote their full energies and earn a living from music by doing studio session work and songwriting, they relocated to Los Angeles in 2017, and would go on to record their exquisite full-length album Into the Shallows, which they released in 2018. After a national tour to promote the album, The Rare Occasions saw the amicable departure of guitarist Peter Stone. Now forced to reinvent themselves as a three-piece, they continued writing and recording new songs featuring, in their own words, “three-part harmonies, wall-of-sound instrumentation, and a pointed sense of cheekiness.”

Since becoming a three-piece, they’ve released three singles, “Control”, “Set It Right”, and their latest “Alone” which dropped September 16th. It’s an infectious, anthemic banger, highlighted by an aggressive foot-stomping beat and explosive instrumentals. The thunderous mix of jangly and gnarly riffs, punctuating by lunging guitar notes, and driven by Jeremy’s powerful buzzing bass line and Luke’s smashing percussion, create an electrifying wall of sound that serves as a dramatic backdrop for Brian’s wonderful plaintive vocals. I especially love the soaring vocal harmonies in the choruses. It’s a fantastic song.

The lyrics are a defiant repudiation of an affluent and controlling parental figure who wants their son to toe the line and adopt their status symbol-based materialistic lifestyle, or face being cut off from the family fortune:

I take time kicking it down the line
I don’t know where I’m going where I’m going
I think twice before taking your advice
‘cause I can see your ignorance is showing

you say “real estate is what you need
a little place beside the sea
if you don’t fall in line
then you’re no son of mine”

so I swing my shoulder through the thick of it
and face tomorrow alone
because you own me and I’m sick of it
but you don’t own me no more

where’ve we seen this before?
the age was gilded; cronuts weren’t to blame
your world is purely transactional
why don’t you look around and think
before you blurt out gems like:

“jewelry is what you want
a sterling piece that you can flaunt
if you don’t fall in line
then you’re no son of mine”

so I swing my shoulder through the thick of it
and face tomorrow alone
because you own me and I’m sick of it
but you don’t own me no more

And here’s a cute video of them performing the song at their virtual release party:

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BEATING HEARTS CLUB – Album Review: “Freedom & Rebellion”

One of the benefits (and challenges) of being a music blogger is discovering lots of music by an ever-expanding number of indie and up and coming artists, more than I could possibly ever write about, let alone listen to it all! There’s a surprising amount of real talent out there, and I’ve had the pleasure of writing about quite a few artists and bands who are making some truly great music. And every now and then, one comes along that stands out among the crowd, such as Australian folk-rock band Beating Hearts Club. Since learning about them this past April, they’ve become one of my favorite indie bands. I’ve already featured them twice on this blog earlier this year, when I reviewed their singles “Black & White Love” and “Round the Bend” (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post). I’m now pleased to review their stunning debut album Freedom & Rebellion, which drops today, September 18th.

Based in Sydney, Beating Hearts Club is comprised of Duncan Welsh (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Ciaran Loughran (lead guitar/backing vocals), Lukas Thurner (bass) and Trent Miller (drums), who joined the band a few months ago after their previous drummer left. With their shared love of rock, folk, country and blues, the talented foursome create exceptional music characterized by beautiful melodies, stellar arrangements and intelligent lyrics, and delivered with superb instrumentation and Duncan’s sublime vocals.

As suggested by the title, the album’s theme seems to be about the ups and downs of love and relationships, and the eternal struggle between wanting freedom and wanting to belong to someone. The album opens with “Heroin“, the very first single the band released back in April 2019. It starts off as a gentle ballad, with Duncan’s earnest vocals accompanied by strummed and chiming electric guitars as he sings to a loved one who’s saving him from falling into a downward spiral: “You are my heroin, a shot to the veins / You’re my therapy, you’re the cure.” Then the song expands into a full-blown rocker, with rapid-fire riffs of reverb-soaked guitars, humming bass and thumping drums. Duncan’s vocals rise to the occasion, become more impassioned in their urgency, and Ciaran’s blistering guitar solo in the bridge is fantastic.

Next up is “Black & White Love“, a gorgeous love song that instantly became one of my favorites of the year. I love it so much it’s spent the past four months on my Weekly Top 30, recently going all the way to #1. The instrumentals are stunning, with some of the most achingly beautiful guitar work I’ve heard in a long while. Duncan’s plaintive vocals are lovely and heartfelt, and when the music builds to an anthemic crescendo in the final chorus, I’m covered with goosebumps. The moving lyrics speak of how finding true love in the right person can be a force for healing in our sometimes broken lives: “Could you be the reason? You know I need you, Seen my last chance die but I’m still breathing / Do you feel what I’m feeling? You know I need you shook me upside down and I saw meaning.”

When I didn’t think the guys could top “Black & White Love”, along comes “Crying Wolf” and I’m quickly blown away. What a magnificent song this is, with lush, intricate guitar work and beautiful layered vocals. I also love the mournful organ riff in the outro that gives the song a country rock vibe. The lyrics are about being stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with a partner who constantly complains and threatens to leave, but never does: “Thought I’ve heard, heard it all before / You got me shook, shaking to the core / Why am I the subject, why am I the cries? / Well everybody knows you’re the one who made you cry.

Beating Hearts Club are adept at making both hard-rocking bangers and gentle ballads. A great example of the former is “First Sight of the Rain“, a dark rock’n’roll song about a romantic partner who’s afraid of commitment and wants to bolt from the relationship at the slightest hint of a problem: “You’re running from yourself, it’s you who won’t make a change and no one else / You gave it all to me, then turned and ran away.” The exuberant, hard-driving rhythms and fuzz-coated guitars that break into a scorching solo in the bridge are sensational. Likewise, “Homemade” and “Round the Bend” are rousing folk-rock tunes with resonant jangly guitars and galloping drum beats, punctuated by terrific guitar solos, pummeling drumbeats and ample flourishes of wildly crashing cymbals that make for a lively and highly satisfying listen.

Turning to the ballads, one of my favorite tracks is “Freedom Pt. 2“, a lovely Americana song with strummed acoustic guitar, beautiful piano and strings, and is that a didgeridoo I hear in the background? I may be way off, but the lyrics seem to speak of a man who’s been released from prison, and facing his newly-found freedom with some apprehension: “Heaven knows that I’ve paid my dues / Bring back a feeling, I forgot to use / And from here we’re going wherever I might choose / I know, it’s gonna take a lifetime.” “Olivia” is an equally beautiful song of love and devotion, highlighted by gorgeous strummed guitars and sparkling piano keys.

As the album continues to unfold, it’s clear these guys can do no wrong, as every track is perfect. I’m sounding like a broken record, but on “The Reaper“, the intricate guitar work is spectacular, and when combined with the organ at the beginning and the mournful piano later in the song, the results are breathtaking. Special mention must also be given to Lukas for his wonderful bass line that gives the song such incredible depth. Album closer “Stockholm” is a hard-rocking song about being in an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship similar to Stockholm Syndrome. I love the frantic riffs of grimy guitars and strong, driving beats that nicely convey a sense of tension expressed in the lyrics: “Stockholm Syndrome’s got a hold of me / She takes me down and she won’t let me breathe / I don’t believe in anything I see.”

What more can I possibly say to gush any further about this beautiful work of musical art? Freedom & Rebellion is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and I love every one of its tracks – something that doesn’t happen very often. It’s an impressive debut from this extremely talented band, and they should be very proud of their magnificent accomplishment.

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Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: Google Play / Amazon