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.

Follow Morgendust:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / Amazon

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.

Follow That Hidden Promise:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Tidal / Napster
Purchase on  iTunes /  Amazon / Google Play

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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Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

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.

Follow Beating Hearts Club: Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: Google Play / Amazon

SEPRONA – Single Review: “Rose Tinted Eyes”

Seprona is a British indie pop-rock band based in the music city of Liverpool. I first learned about them when they recently followed me on Twitter, and I’ve had their music on repeat all weekend! From what I’ve been able to gather from their social media accounts, the five-piece formed in 2010, and currently consists of front man Daniel Badger on vocals, Lewis on guitar, Christopher on bass, Niall on keyboards and Mike on drums. Together they make outstanding music that’s lively, melodic and catchy as hell.

They released their first single “Monsters” in 2015, then followed up with a series of terrific singles, culminating with their impressive debut self-titled EP Seprona in 2018. 2019 saw the release of the beautiful and rousing “The World’s End”, followed a year later with “Lost in the Lonely Hearts”, a wonderful, hard-driving track. In August, the guys returned with their latest single “Rose Tinted Eyes“, and it’s a deliriously infectious slice of dream rock.

The song has a bit of a retro 80s new wave/punk vibe, with an exuberant dance beat that grabs us firmly by the hips. I love the swirling riffs of chiming guitars, shimmery keyboards and galloping drum beats that build to a frenzy in the choruses. They all work in tandem to create an electrifying soundscape for Daniel’s sultry, emotionally-charged vocals.

The bittersweet lyrics speak of having chronic wishful thinking, and viewing a dysfunctional and dissatisfying relationship through ‘rose-tinted eyes’: “As I replay the tears baby I fantasize through rose tinted eyes / I create an illusion maybe / Though I try baby, I just cant believe you’re too blind to see / I’ll recharge those batteries / Through all your lies baby I think I must concede that my self esteem is detached from reality.

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Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

BLACK BEAR KISS – Single Review: “Reach Up Higher”

I think pretty much everyone would agree that 2020 has been a terrible year on many levels, particularly for the music industry. Artists and bands have been unable to tour or perform live for over six months, and it’s unlikely that will change any time soon. That said, many have used this down time to channel their creative energies into writing and recording new music, some of it reflecting the social, cultural and political upheaval we’re experiencing in many countries around the world. I’ve recently reviewed a fair amount of music touching on these issues, and my latest entry is the new single “Reach Up Higher” by British alternative garage-rock band Black Bear Kiss, which dropped August 28th.

A favorite of this blog, I’ve featured Black Bear Kiss numerous times over the past few years, beginning in April 2018 when I reviewed their terrific debut single “Hooks”. (You can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this post.) With their exhilarating, 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. Comprising the band 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.

Their first new single in a year, “Reach Up Higher” marks a change for the band, who recorded the song at a new studio and with a new producer; Gavin Monaghan at Magic Garden Studios has worked with artists such as Robert Plant, Editors, The Twang and The Sherlocks. The result is a tighter, more polished sound while still delivering the band’s signature high-energy grooves and driving rhythms. Haden and Jones intertwining guitars are electrifying as they rip through the airwaves with their fast-paced roiling riffs. Sach keeps the driving rhythm on solid footing with a strong thumping bass line while Bagnall pounds out the head-bopping beat with an aggressive – and impressive – pummeling of his drum kit. “Reach Up Higher” is a real banger, and I think it’s their best work yet.

With the song, Black Bear Kiss seeks to shine a spotlight on the dominance of mainstream media and its influence on people. Band vocalist Chris Leech explains: “The song addresses some of the big issues, both home and abroad. The press and public figures in positions of power need to understand the influence they have – their opinions should not be treated as gospel. ‘Reach Up Higher’ is about trying to do better and not believing everything you read, especially on social media”. I love Leech’s warm, smooth vocals as he fervently implores: “Times change / People move incompletely out of their mouths / You won’t prove you pick up the press and now want to read it again / Don’t reach up higher. Reach up higher. Don’t hold me back, yeah don’t divide / Way out a line, way out a line now we’re stepping.”

Black Bear Kiss always put out terrific videos, and the one for “Reach Up Higher” is no exception. The video was produced and edited by Jack Walker Media and stars Joshua Griffiths as a man obsessed with and stressed out by media, and doing what he can to avoid reading it, including getting drunk, furiously working out, burning his newspaper, smashing his mobile phone and escaping into the countryside.

Follow Black Bear Kiss:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their songs on  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes / Google Play

VICIOUS ROOSTER – Single Review: “The Moon is Dancing”

Vicious Rooster is the music project of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Juan Abella. Born and raised in Argentina, Juan began learning to play guitar at the age of ten, and played in bands and wrote songs while in high school. In college, he juggled his business studies with guitar lessons and playing in bands, then after graduation he temporarily set aside his music dreams to focus on his business career and long-term relationship. After the relationship ended, and experiencing stress over some family issues, he made the decision to quit his job and pursue his dream of becoming a musician. He adopted the moniker Vicious Rooster, and relocated to Los Angeles in 2016 to study music business at the renowned Musicians Institute in Hollywood.

Drawing inspiration from such bands as The Beatles, The Black Crowes, Guns’n’Roses and Alice in Chains, among others, Vicious Rooster melds elements of classic rock with Southern rock, folk and a bit of grunge to create his own unique style. He writes, sings and produces his songs, and plays guitar and harmonica. Using songs he’d previously written as well as new compositions, he released his excellent debut album The Darkest Light in 2017. It’s an ambitious and impressive work, featuring 12 tracks and running over an hour in length. Nine of the songs are more than five minutes long! Many of the song lyrics address moments where he felt lost during the transition from his past life and what became his present one.

After a three year long hiatus, he returned in August with his latest single “The Moon is Dancing“, a dark and powerful song with roots firmly planted in Southern rock. The song opens with a melancholy harmonica riff accompanied by a gently strummed guitar, evoking images of the Old West. As the song progresses, Vicious Rooster adds layers of chiming, gnarly and wobbly distorted guitars, along with heavier percussion, all of which build to a thrilling crescendo. He has an arresting and resonant singing voice, and his heartfelt vocals rise along with the intensifying music to impassioned screams that bring goosebumps.

The lyrics speak to feeling overwhelmed by worries, anxiety and loneliness: “The tension’s rising / My mind is going insane / And my defenses slowly crumble down / The moon is dancing / My thoughts are rolling to nowhere bound“; and searching for peace of mind and a sense of purpose in life: “I hope to find some peace along the way / I’m gonna rest my soul / I’m gonna keep on living life like there is somewhere I belong.” It’s a fantastic song.

To learn more about Vicious Rooster, check out his website

Follow him on FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  BandcampAmazonGoogle Play

OCEANOGRAPHY – Single Review: “Rainbow Records”

Oceanography is the music project of Oakland, California-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Brian Kelly. I recently learned about him when he followed me on Twitter and reached out to me about his music, which I liked at first listen. Drawing from an eclectic mix of styles and genres such as alternative rock, garage, rock’n’roll, punk, folk and pop, and expressed though exquisite guitar work, intelligent lyrics and arresting, emotion-packed vocals that remind me at times of Bono, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows or Robert Smith of The Cure, Oceanography creates melodically beautiful and incredibly compelling songs. Why he’s not more well-known is a mystery to me, as he’s really good!

He released two EPs, the first in 2011 simply titled EP1, followed a year later by the excellent Parachutes of Plenty, receiving critical acclaim from numerous Bay Area music critics. Then, after a seven-year hiatus, he dropped his brilliant debut album Collier Canyon in 2019. Named after a winding road in the hills outside of Livermore, California, a small city east of Oakland where Kelly grew up, he was inspired to write the album after some life-changing events. He explains: “I had planned on moving to LA, but then everything took a turn for the worse. First I was laid off from my job, then my girlfriend (and bandmate) broke up with me. So instead, in my mid-30s, I moved back in with my mom. It was a depressing situation. When I needed to clear my head, I’d take a drive in the hills outside of town.”

For the production and recording of Collier Canyon, Oceanography consisted of Kelly on guitars, bass, synth and vocals, Brock Bowers on drums, and Scott Barwick on keyboards. The album was mixed by Peter Labberton and mastered by Mike Wells. Filled with melancholy but lovely songs about loss and a nostalgia for the past, the album is an outstanding work, and I highly recommend my readers check it out on one of the music streaming sites listed below.

One of the singles Kelly released from the album is “Rainbow Records”, a bittersweet song about missing someone with whom you once had a romantic relationship, but still haven’t gotten over. Back in the days when cassette tapes were popular, many of us would record songs we liked from the radio onto mix tapes we’d make on our portable tape recorders. With this in mind as he thinks back on his own breakup, Kelly wistfully laments: “I’m thinking of you now / I can’t put out the torch, it has to burn out on it’s own / So I pull out your old Maxell tapes and play some radio songs.” He recalls happier times, while quickly acknowledging they’re now gone forever with the passage of time: “I remember you in ’84 knocking it around to ‘Purple Rain’ in the record store / Playing songs we can’t afford, now the tipping point has tipped and our fountain of youth has turned to shit.

Musically, “Rainbow Records” has a pleasing folk-rock vibe, but with a rather sorrowful undercurrent that makes for a surprisingly impactful track. Kelly’s guitar work is superb, starting off with a beautifully strummed acoustic guitar, over which he layers jangly electric guitar notes along with a humming bass line. Bowers beats the toe-tapping rhythm on drums while Barwick does a fine job with his subtle keyboards. Kelly’s fervent vocals have a strong vulnerability that nicely convey his feelings of heartache and longing expressed in the lyrics.

The terrific video he produced for the song shows a parade of old mix tapes, behind which is an ever-changing background of both real and surreal images, interspersed with footage of Kelly singing the song and playing his guitar.

Follow Oceanography:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music

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REVOLUTION RABBIT DELUXE – Album Review: “Myths and Fables”

Revolution Rabbit Deluxe (RRD) is an indie alt-rock rock band hailing from south Wales. Their innovative and sometimes unorthodox music style and sound draw from Brit-rock, pop and punk influences, with meaningful lyrics tackling topical issues ranging from politics, culture and environmental justice to mental health. RRD started out as a solo project for founder and guitarist Rev Rab, but gradually evolved into a four-piece band that now includes Rev Rab on guitar and lead vocals, Dan on guitar and backing vocals, and Ben on bass and backing vocals. Their drummer Nick, who played drums on their latest album, recently left the band.

With two previous albums under their belt – Tales From Armageddonsville and Swipe Left (you can read my reviews by clicking on the Related links at the bottom of this page) – RRD is back with their third album Myths and Fables. Like their previous albums, Myths and Fables is a concept album of sorts, in that its overall theme addresses politics, the media, and societal myths like celebrity and fame that people blindly accept as truths. It also has a darker and edgier feel, both lyrically and vocally, with Rev Rab sounding angrier and more frustrated than ever.

The album kicks off with “Generation Voyeur”, a song about the addictive allure of social media, specifically a person who documents everything from what they last ate, to their most intimate personal dramas and trauma. But in a broader sense, it speaks to the voyeuristic nature of society and our attraction for watching a personal train wreck: “There’s a time and a place and a space for disgrace. And then we took a look. He fell down from the ledge as we pushed from the edge. And then we took a look. She cried out to above as she died without love. And then we took a look.” The strong pulsating beat is overlain with spooky psychedelic industrial synths and rolling riffs of gnarly guitars, giving the track an almost sinister vibe. 

On “Killswitch”, RRD decries the cannibalistic profiteering by corporations in monetizing and selling our personal information: “Turning the on switch off / They tell you it’s progress, it’s progress baby / Stealing your life away / They tell you it’s progress, it’s progress baby. They’ll thrill you, betray you, then they’ll bill you / It’s big business now.” I like the song’s urgent chugging psychedelic groove and mix of sharp chiming guitars and grimy distorted riffs, along with the shrill sounds of what seem to be steel train wheels breaking on a track.

The title track “Myths and Fables” sees RRD railing about tired and ubiquitous old saws and platitudes people have repeated for years like “it’s better to have love and lost” or “all roads lead to Rome”, and how they’re just meaningless bullshit that never result in action: “It’s time for truth, open eyes, no secret lies / It’s time to choose, we’re outa time / The planet burns and we choose lies.” And on “Channel 5” he laments about the depressing effects of TV news: “And you’re watching it live, on channel five / You’re taking me down, taking me down down down / I don’t want to drown.

One of my favorite tracks is “Pretty Escarpment”, with it’s bouncy yet melancholy opening piano riff and ensuing galloping rhythms. The lyrics speak of a past love who wasn’t a good match, but whose memory still haunts you: “Too many memories in your shade / Too many echoes from your walls / Do I get up and walk away or stand at the edge and plunge into the pretty ravine that held my eyes / The pretty escarpment built from lies...” “Superstar” is a cheeky take down of superstar celebrities, with their superficial and often excessive lifestyles: “You drive a big fast car / You travel ‘round with your harem of young blondes / You say they keep you young / Any younger you’ll reenter your mother’s womb.”

“Battle Hymn (Of the New Republic)” seems to be an attack on the nationalistic attitudes that resulted in Brexit and the election of leaders like Boris Johnson and Trump. Lets take care of ourselves and screw everyone else. “The track’s jaunty melody contrasts with the biting lyrics “Tell me you feel safe in this land of hope and Tory / Will anybody stand or take the cheque and plead the fifth / We excuse ourselves, denying our responsibility / Taking all we can, we screw the system / It’s do or be done or be damned.

This theme continues on “TV Junkies”, with RRD calling out politicians and the media for feeding us an endless stream of fear and lies to keep society divided and angry, not to mention upping their ratings:  “In darkened rooms throughout the land TV junkies get sky high / They throw us targets for our hate / They fan the flames and toy with fate.” I think we can all identify with the powerful sentiments expressed in this song, regardless of our political persuasion. 

While I don’t think Myths and Fables is quite as strong an album as Tales From Armageddonsville or Swipe Left, it’s still a solid work filled with songs featuring timely and compelling lyrics, along with some terrific instrumentals.

Follow RRD on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase here / Bandcamp Google Play