Hailing from beautiful Holy Island, situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales roughly halfway between Dublin and Liverpool, alternative psychedelic rock outfit Holy Coves is the brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden. Since its formation in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing group of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn on New Years Day 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.
After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians to record his third album Druids and Bards, due for release this coming August via his label Yr Wyddfa Records. These musicians are (with previous acts they’ve played with in parentheses) John Lawrence on guitar (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci), Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths (WE//ARE//ANIMAL, Hippies Vs Ghosts, The Heights), Jason Hughes on bass (The Painkillers), and Spike T Smith on drums (Morrissey, The Damned, New York Dolls). Marsden told me “It was a honour to work with them. I’ve wanted to work with all of them since I was a teenager. I’m very lucky. They are all geniuses.” He wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered the album. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the header photo are friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.
In late March, Holy Coves released their first single from Druids and Bards, the brilliant “The Hurt Within”, which is currently enjoying a run on my Weekly Top 30. Now, only a month later, they return with the second single “Desert Storm“, and it’s another brooding cinematic stunner. Over a stomping, mesmerizing groove, they layer mysterious, psychedelic synths, crisp percussion and an arresting blend of droning and jangly guitars to create a dark and moody soundscape, but with a hint of optimism. Marsden has a clear and pleasing singing voice, and his slightly echoed vocals have a somewhat ethereal quality here as he earnestly details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from severe drug addiction.
What you see is what you get
What you needs irrelevant
It's time we need to heal my friend
Let's go until we reach the end
Look how far we've come
We've only just begun
You're holding onto me
But I'm so far goneWere coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
I come to feel her love again
And take away all the pain
It seems like everyday I fight her now
It's tearing us apart
Right now I'm falling hard
Let's go back to the start
I'm falling off again
She's got me hook line babe
“Desert Storm” is a marvelous track, and if it and “The Hurt Within” are any indication, Druids and Bards is guaranteed to be a spectacular album.
To coincide with their album release, Holy Coves will kick off their 24 date Druids And Bards UK Tour on August 19th in Wrexham.
As some of my regular readers and Twitter followers know, my recent bout of serious burnout caused me to decide, for the second time in six months, to quit writing music reviews. The fact that I actually do not enjoy writing, combined with a relentless and often overwhelming flood of submissions and requests for reviews from artists and PR firms, have time and again caused me tremendous anxiety and stress. On the other hand, I do enjoy lending support to indie artists and bands who follow me on social media in whatever small ways I can. Obviously, giving them a bit of press is an important part of that support. I’d like to continue doing so, but the challenge is finding a way to accomplish that without burning myself out again.
In order to continue featuring new music, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Fresh New Tracks’ series, which has been on a hiatus since I last wrote one in October 2021. For the series, I feature three or four new songs by various artists, with a few paragraphs about each one, rather than a full-blown review. Though they were generally well-received, I got the sense that some artists were not happy sharing the limelight with other artists or bands. But as more than a few musicians have told me, artists and bands should be grateful for any press, especially when I’m giving it to them for free.
Also, many of my reviews tend to be rather wordy and long, and being a slow, meticulous writer, they take me quite a while to get done. This seems to be a counter-productive approach in this day and age, where most people have the attention spans of a gnat. Although most artists and bands love when I write extensive and detailed reviews of their music, I’m guessing that few people actually read those long reviews in their entirety. Therefore, a short, concise description of each song would seem to be more appealing to a lot of readers who are pressed for time. With that in mind, I will make a valiant attempt to write a Fresh New Tracks post each week going forward. Today I’m featuring songs by three outstanding rock bands with great names from the UK, two of whom, Amongst Liars and FloodHounds, I’ve previously written about, as well as one that’s new to me, Mount Famine.
AMONGST LIARS – “Cut It”
Hailing from Brighton & Eastbourne, Amongst Liars play a fiercely aggressive style of melodic hard rock, forged from a powerful trifecta of alternative rock, grunge and punk. Comprised of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums), they formed in September 2019 from the ashes of two successful previous bands – Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Not only are they all highly accomplished and talented musicians, they’re nice guys too. Ian in particular has been very supportive of me and my blog, which of course makes me a loyal fan who’s more than happy to support them as much as I can.
I first learned about them in early 2020, and was immediately blown away by their explosive debut single “Over and Over”. In the two succeeding years, they’ve followed with six more outstanding singles, many of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. Their latest is “Cut It“, a clarion call for people to stand up to abuse in all its forms. While they don’t consider themselves a ‘political’ band, Amongst Liars are not afraid to tackle some of the biggest socio-political issues of the day, including war mongering for financial gain, poverty, greed, fake news, deceitful politicians, election fraud, human rights abuses and climate change, and they’ve been outspoken advocates for social justice on several of their songs. About “Cut It”, the band explains: “These are difficult times behind many closed doors – words and actions can cause a lifetime of damage. Speak up for those being abused and bullied, and be kind – always.“
The song is a ripper, overflowing with the signature searing riffs and pummeling rhythms we’ve come to love and expect from Amongst Liars. Then there’s that droning bass riff by Ross, creating a menacing vibe that chills us to the core. Ian has a beautiful singing voice that turns deadly when he needs to get his point across: “This violence bleeds silence, bleeds silence / Pray, lead us astray! Pray, just cut it!” I love the dark video, which shows the band performing the song surrounded by curtains of sheer fabric, creating powerful feelings of suffocating claustrophobia. “Cut It” will be included on their forthcoming self-titled debut album, due for release July 8th.
FloodHounds are a terrific rock band from Sheffield who play a high-energy style of guitar-driven alternative rock, drenched in blues, punk and grunge influences. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Jack Flynn on guitar and vocals, Lauren Greaves on drums, and Anna Melidone, who replaced Joel Hughes on bass in summer of 2021. I’ve been following them for nearly six years, and they’re among the earliest bands I wrote about when my blog was still in its infancy, way back in October 2016 when I reviewed their excellent EP Look What You’ve Started.
In the years since, they’ve released numerous singles and a second EP Always in Sight, in 2019, and have toured extensively throughout the UK, including performances at the Isle of Wight and Liverpool Sound City festivals in 2019, as well as twice in Paris. FloodHounds remained active during the repeated lockdowns, putting out live streams and sessions for platforms such as Jagermeister, God Is In The TV Zine and Wentworth Festival, as well as self-producing a 10-track acoustic album. They also made the final shortlist of Record Store Day’s national video competition, and their innovative video for their single “Take It Too Far” garnered high placement at the London Music Video Festival 2020. Also in 2020, they released a brilliant single “Something Primeval“, a hard-hitting song about tapping into our inner resolve to survive in this world, which I also reviewed.
Now FloodHounds are back with “Panic Stations“, a stomping banger fueled by Jack’s jagged fuzz-soaked riffs, Anna’s grinding bassline and Lauren’s fearsome drumbeats. The biting lyrics call out those who spread lies and misinformation to sow fear and divisiveness, urging them to instead put their energy into trying to bring people together for a common good. “Panic Stations touches on the air of uncertainty we’ve all been labouring under“, explains Jack. “I wanted to write a song that echoed us roaring out of lockdown, and back into real life. The takeaway is that sticking together will serve us better than alienation and blind panic. It’s great fun to play live, it’s heavy but catchy, so people seem to really get on board with it.” In his arresting vocals, Jack emphatically implores “Give me something with meaning. And I will show you something to believe in. But if you just try and deceive me with all the lies that you hear blaring out your TV. It is your mission to heal division, so go and rally all the people who will listen.” It’s a great song.
Jack is also a photographer and graphic artist, and created the artwork for the single.
MOUNT FAMINE – “Distance”
Mount Famine are a rather enigmatic post punk/synth infused indie rock’n’roll project based in Derby. From what I can tell, they formed in 2019, and according to their bio, their sound is inspired by 80s bands such as The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and Pet Shop Boys (all of whom I personally love too), and 90s bands like Manic Street Preachers, Pulp & Suede, along with “the same desire to tell stories that produce the adrenaline-fueled highs of indie disco dancefloors.” They have no photos of themselves on any of their social media, and I was told by band member Martin Stanier that they’ve steered away from photos, wanting the focus to instead be on their music. They’ve released four outstanding singles thus far, beginning in January 2020 with “Faith”, followed that July with “Pulse”, then “Lost” in February 2021, and now “Distance“, which dropped March 11th.
Martin reached out to me about “Distance” after seeing posts of my recent Top 30 song lists on Instagram, thinking it would be to my liking. Well, he was correct, as it’s right up my alley. With it’s rousing, guitar-driven melody, swirling cinematic synths and exuberant dance groove, all creating a glorious 80s-influenced wall of sound, it’s exactly the kind of sound I love. The band says the song was written and recorded on an old Roland synthesizer and beaten-up drumkit, which gives it that wonderful vintage 80s feel. The lyrics speak to the speed of life, and how it passes by with the blink of an eye, a sentiment they beautifully capture in the frenetic video.
Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. (the suffix D.C. in their name stands for Dublin City, to distinguish them from L.A.-based alt pop-rock band The Fontaines) formed in 2017, but it wasn’t until summer of 2020 that I learned about them, when I heard their mesmerizing single “A Hero’s Death”, from their brilliant second album of the same name. I loved it at once, and after listening to the entire album, I became a fan of this exceptional band. Comprised of Grian Chatten (vocals), Carlos O’Connell (guitar), Conor Curley (guitar), Conor Deegan III (bass), and Tom Coll (drums), Fontaines D.C. met while students at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute in Dublin, and bonded over their common love of poetry. They began recording and self-releasing singles, as well as performing locally, and were ultimately signed to Partisan Records in 2018.
Since the release of their debut album Dogrel in 2019, Fontaines D.C. have garnered widespread critical acclaim as one of the best bands making music today. The album was named Album of the Year on the record store Rough Trade’s website, voted Album of the Year by presenters on BBC Radio 6 Music, and nominated for both the Mercury Prize and the Choice Music Prize. Their second album A Hero’s Death, which was written and recorded in the midst of extensive touring for Dogrel, was nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2021 Grammy Awards, losing to The Strokes’ The New Abnormal. They just released their darkly beautiful single “I Love You“, which I love so much, I’ve chosen it as my New Song of the Week.
The song is the second single from the band’s forthcoming third album Skinty Fia, due for release April 22. The album’s interesting title translates to “the damnation of the deer” in English. Fontaines D.C. bassist Conor Deegan III further elaborates about the band’s intent: “The Irish giant deer is an extinct species, but ‘skinty fia’ is also used as an expletive, in the way you’d say ‘For fuck’s sake’ if you bang your arm on a table or whatever. We just thought there was something really beautiful about that, because it’s representative of Irish culture in some sense. We were interested in the idea of something really precious or sentimental and attached to family, but also something that’s been taken away from us. Which doesn’t mean we can’t cherish it.”
“I Love You” follows lead single “Jackie Down The Line” which was released a month ago, and is described by band frontman Grian Chatten as “the first overtly political song we’ve written”. In one sense, it’s a love song to their home of Ireland. Chatten, along with the rest of the band, relocated from Ireland to London to further their music careers, and the first two verses of the song address his guilt at becoming successful and leaving his beloved homeland. He explained to Rolling Stone: “I’m in a position there where I’ve made something of a career from trying to connect with and render the culture and country that I come from and try and express it, [and] in doing so, understand it myself and help other people understand it. [But] I’ve moved from that country, and I’m now living in a country that is responsible for a lot of the chaos in the country that I’m from, that still kind of looks down on that country. I feel guilty for having left. I feel like I’ve abandoned Ireland to some extent. Not that it can’t survive fine without me, but I feel like I’ve taken all this crap from it creatively, and then I’ve just left. I have this kind of strange feeling of guilt toward my leaving of Ireland.”
But the song also speaks to Chatten’s seething anger and disappointment over the current political climate in Ireland – expressed in the lyrics condemning two of its major political parties: “I will tell them ’bout it all / About the gall of Fine Gael and the fail of Fianna Fáil“- as well as one of Ireland’s grimmest historical atrocities, namely the decades of tragic brutality at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in Galway, where a mass grave containing the remains of 800 babies was later discovered decades after the home’s closure. He rebukes both those responsible for the atrocity, as well as those who turned a blind eye, which he references in the scathing words “This island’s run by sharks with children’s bones stuck in their jaws.”
Musically, the song is gorgeous and brooding, opening with Conor Deegan III’s somber bass riff, which is soon joined by a glorious mix of O’Connell and Curley’s shimmery and jangly guitar notes reminiscent of The Cure. As Chatten begins to sing “I love you, I love you, I told you I do” in his signature captivating drone, the music expands with Tom Cull’s assertive thumping drums, keeping perfect rhythm with Deegan’s immaculate bassline. A little past the two-minute mark, the song turns darker, with heavier instrumentals and an intense repetitive drumbeat to match the rising anger in Chatten’s vocals, in which he practically spits the bitter lyrics, eliciting chills in the process.
I love you, I love you, I told you I do
It's all I've ever felt, I've never felt so well
And if you don't know it, I wrote you this tuneTo be here loving you when I'm in the tomb
I've eddied the heart now, from Dublin to Paris
And if there was sunshine, it was never on me
So close, the rain, so pronounced is the pain
YeahWell, I love you, imagine a world without you
It's only ever you, I only think of you
And if it's a blessing, I want it for you
If I must have a future, I want to with you
Systеm in our hearts, you only had it before
You only opеn the window, never open up the door
And I love you, I love you, told you I doSelling genocide and half-cut pride, I understand
I had to be there from the start, I had to be the fucking man
It was a clamber of the life, I sucked the ring off every hand
Had 'em plying me with drink, even met with their demands
When the cherries lined up, I kept the spoilings for myself
'Til I had thirty ways of dying looking at me from the shelf
Cloud-parting smile I had, a real good child I was
But this island's run by sharks with children's bones stuck in their jaws
Now the morning's filled with cokeys tryna talk you through it all
Is their mammy Fine Gael and is their daddy Fianna Fáil?
And they say they love the land, but they don't feel it go to waste
Hold a mirror to the youth and they will only see their face
Makes flowers read like broadsheets, every young man wants to die
Say it to the man who profits, and the bastard walks by
And the bastard walks by, and the bastard walks by
Say it to him fifty times and still the bastard won't cry
Would I lie?I love you, I love you, I told you I doIt's all I've ever felt, I've never felt so well
And if you don't know it, I wrote you this tune
To be here loving you when I'm in the tomb
System in our hearts, you only had it before
Echo, echo, echo, the lights, they go
The lights, they go, the lights, they go
Echo, echoSelling genocide and half-cut pride, I understand
I had to be there from the start, I had to be the fucking man
It was a clamber of the life, I sucked the ring off every hand
Had 'em plying me with drink, even met with their demands
And I loved you like a penny loves the pocket of a priest
And I'll love you 'til the grass around my gravestone is deceased
And I'm heading for the cokeys, I will tell them 'bout it all
About the gall of Fine Gael and the fail of Fianna Fáil
And now the flowers read like broadsheets, every young man wants to die
Say it to the man who profits, and the bastard walks by
And the bastard walks by, and the bastard walks by
Say it to him fifty times and still the bastard won't cry
Would I lie?
The dramatic, beautifully-filmed video was directed by Sam Taylor, and shows Chatten strolling through a dark, candle-lit church as he sings the first few verses. Two minutes in, he abruptly turns to face the camera, whereupon he launches into his scathing attack on the things that infuriate him about the country of his birth. By the video’s end, blood can be seen issuing from his chest.
Jonny Ash is a wonderfully-named band from North Wales who make an exciting, hard-driving and melodic style of indie rock. Comprised of brothers Callum (lead vocals, guitar) and Dan Gaughran (bass), Peter Roberts (lead guitar) and Mike Jones (drums), their big, high-energy sound is influenced by some of their favorite acts like The Stone Roses, Thin Lizzy, Oasis, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Formed only a year ago, they wasted no time getting down to business by releasing their fantastic debut single “We Are The People” in August, followed two months later by the ripper “Boys With Black Eyes”, quickly earning them recognition throughout the UK, and radio play on BBC Wales, XS Manchester and Amazing Radio.
Now the Wrexham four-piece are back with a rousing new single “Disco“, a banger of a tune the band states has already become a favorite among their fans. Though the song sounds nothing like typical disco, the band says its BPM is the same as actual disco music, however, most people hearing the song would never realize it as they fall in line with the driving beat. Band lead guitarist Peter Roberts elaborates: “We are really excited to release our new track ‘Disco’, as it’s one of our favourite tunes to play live, based on the interaction we get from our amazing crowds. It’s usually saved to the end of our set because of how well It goes down regardless of where we are playing.”
The song opens with Dan’s super gnarly bass riff, to which a nice tapping of Mike’s drumstick is added before the music explodes into a roiling barrage of grungy riffs, throbbing bass and pummeling drumbeats, all of which become even more intense in the choruses. Peter lets loose with a blistering guitar solo in the bridge, leaving no doubt this is anything but a disco song, but rather a full-on rock stomper. Callum has a terrific singing voice, with the perfect amount of sexy swagger the song requires.
Like many songs of the disco era, “Disco” is about having a good time and letting loose at a club, having drinks, dancing to hot music and flirting with people you’re attracted to. “I see you come in all the time. If I had three wishes, then I would make you mine. Come on get closer, get right in my face. I want to see you dancing all over the place. The bar’s still open, the night is only young. When you get home, say hi to your mom. / And I fell in love with you at the disco.“
“Disco” is a great track, and along with the guys’ two previous singles, showcases their impressive musicianship and skill for putting out solid rock songs. I’m happy to have learned about Jonny Ash, and look forward to hearing more from them soon.
Unquiet Nights is an outstanding rock band with a somewhat unusual career trajectory. Originally started in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a solo project by singer-songwriter and guitarist Luke Mathers in 2006, he began recording tracks with help by Rodger Firmin on drums for what would become the first Unquiet Nights album 21st Century Redemption Songs. In 2010, Luke relocated to Italy, where he eventually finished and released the album.
He was later joined by Italian musicians Francesco Piciucchi on bass and keyboards, and drummer Matteo Bussotti for live shows, though Rodger still played drums on their recordings. In 2015 they released their beautiful and compelling second album Postcards in Real Time. One of the tracks from that album, “George Best City”, which was never released as a single but was used in the Federico Buffa Racconta documentary series, landed them several live national appearances on Italian TV stations. Their best known and most successful song, it’s now garnered more than 355,000 streams on Spotify. Luke moved back to Belfast in 2016, where he continues to record and release music with Rodger and Francesco as Unquiet Nights.
I first learned about them in early 2018 when Luke reached out to me about their superb single “Promise of You”, which I reviewed. They quickly followed with “Young Believers”, then a year later they released another stellar single “Four Winds“, which I also reviewed. I enjoyed that song so much it ended up ranking #76 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list.
Now Unquiet Nights are back with a new single “In Spite of ItAll“, which they’ve released in conjunction with their third album First Ten (2012-2022). A sort of ‘greatest hits so far’, the album commemorates the ten year anniversary of their debut album 21st Century Redemption Songs, in recognition of their impressive body of work over the past decade. The album features ten songs they feel are an important part of their musical journey up to this point, including two songs from 21st Century Redemption Songs, three from Postcardsin Real Time, the three standalone singles listed above, and the new one written especially for this collection, “In Spite of It All”. As depicted in the art work for the album, all ten songs are gems, written and produced by Luke, and flawlessly mixed and mastered by Neal Calderwood.
Though not quite as hard-hitting as their last three singles, “In Spite of It All” is a beautiful rock song nonetheless, with a somewhat gentler, more melodic sound. As always, Luke’s guitars are gorgeous as he lays down an intertwining mix of urgent riffs and chiming notes over a hypnotic driving rhythm, courtesy of Francesco’s beautiful humming bassline and Rodger’s propulsive drumbeats. Francesco’s sparkling synths are the added jewel in the crown, beautifully complementing Luke’s swirling guitar to create an enchanting and exciting backdrop for his clear, plaintive vocals.
The lyrics seem to address the fact that the journey of life can be difficult and full of obstacles, and to make it, you shouldn’t follow the crowd, but instead forge your own path forward, learning from your mistakes and staying true to yourself: “You don’t have to jump just ’cause they tell you to jump. You don’t have to dance just ’cause they call you up. You don’t learn to walk before you learn to crawl. But you keep moving forward still in spite of it all.”
And here’s the full album, available for purchase on Bandcamp at a very reasonable price. I just bought mine!
I’ve been following Nashville alt-rock band The Ivins for nearly five years, and have had the pleasure of featuring them several times on this blog. I first wrote about them back in June 2017 when I reviewed their excellent debut album The Code Duello, then again in April 2019 with a review of their single “Certain”, followed a year and a half later, in November 2020, when I reviewed their single “Bloom” (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) This past November, the talented four-piece dropped their second album Conditions, and like The Code Duello, it’s an ambitious work, featuring 13 stellar tracks.
Consisting of brothers Jim and Jack Ivins (with Jim on guitars & vocals and Jack on drums), Hatton Taylor on lead guitar, and Regan Akers on bass & vocals, the engaging four-piece plays a hard-hitting, guitar-heavy style of melodic rock. Their intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics are delivered with Jim and Regan’s earnest and raw, yet pleasing, vocals, backed by intricate riffs, sturdy basslines and aggressive percussion (courtesy of Jack’s athletic agility on his drum kit). On Conditions, the guys really pushed themselves further than they ever had before, and the result is an exciting, melodically complex and beautiful rock album. They were assisted by Michael Zuehsow on engineering and production, Robert Venable and Zach Scott on mixing, and Duncan Ferguson on mastering. Additional last-minute mixing and mastering were done by Caleb Sherman and Andreas Magnusson.
Before I get to my review, I want to share some heartfelt words Jim wrote about the album on his Facebook page: “I have never tinkered, worked harder on or been more emotionally invested in a record than this one. And it certainly beat the hell out of me. From that first day, it’s been a slog full of intense writer’s block, songs changing in editing, songs changing in mixing, re-writing lyrics, re-playing guitar parts long after they were “finished”. I had to go to a damn one-room cabin in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness alone for several days just to get the lyrics out (and that would prove to be just the first draft). And all of this drama is only fitting given the content. Going back to the beginning, this record started with a panic attack. A truly frightening, paralyzing episode the likes of which I had never before experienced and where I legitimately thought I was going to die. The ensuing mania that defined the next several months had me convinced that my girlfriend was about to go running for the hills. Sooooo that’s kinda what this record is about…..OK, maybe not entirely. But it’s basically a snapshot of my life from when I was turning 30, and all of the anxiety and fear that I had never experienced is the nucleus of it all. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are legitimately HAPPY songs on here! A few! I wrote a true love song for the first time in a decade after I had literally forgotten how to do it (I thank Matt Nathanson for showing me the way, writing for his last album that his goal was to write something sincere about his wife without sounding like a Hallmark card).
This record is also significant because it may be the only real “band” album that I have ever made. While Jack and I made the last one, this one was made by the FOUR of us – Jim, Jack, Hatton & Regan. ‘Conditions’ shines because of that and I am so so proud of it. I’ve been making records since I was 15 and have made something like ten or so and this very well may be the best one I’ve ever made. I’m not sure yet. I’ve lived in it way too long to see the forest from the trees and objectively make that determination. But if you are looking for a really interesting 46 minutes that takes you on a journey, I implore you: give this album a listen. I really think it’s great and that you will enjoy it.“
Well, I gave it a listen all the way through from beginning to end, and let me say I was dutifully impressed, which doesn’t happen very often when I first listen to an album. All 13 tracks are strong, with no filler or toss-offs, and I’ll touch on most of them in my review. Things kick off with “Better Days“, a rousing rocker that serves not only as the opening track, but also as an introduction to the album’s overall theme. The lyrics speak to feelings of inadequacy and that your efforts don’t matter in the scheme of things, but hoping that will all change: “I long for better days. Days that haven’t happened yet. A future’s past worth remembering./ Because the only thing worse than worry is indifference.” The song features an abundance of time and melody changes that make for an arresting listen, and I love the shimmery guitars and atmospheric vibe in the bridge, during which Jim softly croons the line that makes me think the song is about him wanting to be valued as a musician – “Waiting for you to understand that rock’n’roll ain’t dead yet” – before everything erupts into a raging crescendo in the final chorus. It’s a great song.
On the hard-driving “All I Want“, Jim issues a plea for a return of the love he thought was his: “All I want is to feel the love you laid aground“, while the catchy ear worm “Begin Again” finds him ruminating about his feelings that his life is an endless cycle of disappointment: “Love only gives what you deal out, but you can’t leave out yourself. You can’t, you can’t begin again, when you find your middle never had an end.” The jangly guitars and and swirling synths gives the song an 80s feel.
One of my favorite tracks is “Love Tonight“, thanks to its infectious dance groove, Regan’s wonderfully sultry bassline, Jim and Hatton’s scorching riffs and Jack’s thumping drumbeats. Another standout is “Hide & Lie“, inspired by Jim’s difficulties with making small talk, and how he’s used alcohol to loosen up, as he elaborated to Gerard Longo for Nashville webzine Underground Music Collective: “When I was single, I was never the guy who could effectively do bar banter. Finding, talking and picking up girls from a large group of people? Not my thing, no matter how much I wanted it to be. Same goes for regular interpersonal relationships — never very good at networking, never very good at getting past that initial 30-60 second ‘how’ve you been?’ phase of conversations. So, simply put, alcohol was, is, my security blanket.”
The entertaining and humorous video for “Hide & Lie”, filmed at the Old Glory bar in Nashville, shows the band playing an audition performance at a bar where they’re having a hard time impressing the owner. To help them play better, they indulge in a bit of liquid courage served up by a sexy bartender played by Monique Staffile of Nashville rock band HER.
The great tunes keep coming. “Growing Pains” is a beautiful, melodically complex song highlighted by a flourish of wobbly distortion that would make Jimi Hendrix proud. The anthemic and pleasing “Patient” features some really pretty guitar work, nicely accompanied by Jack’s assertive drumbeats that give the song considerable heft. “Canyons” is a hauntingly beautiful rock song about missing a loved one who’s gone: “So what if I stayed in a dream? Would it make me closer to you, or would I just sleep. Because I know if I open my eyes, I’ll lose you again.” As always, the guitar work is fantastic, highlighted by gorgeous chiming notes. The grungy, anthemic “Scream” speaks to not allowing fear and complacency to rule your life: “It’s hard to let go, when comfort is controlled.”
The album closes on a powerful note with “Chameleon“, one of the darkest, most intense songs The Ivins have ever done, and I love it. The guys pull out all the stops on this song, unleashing a barrage of gritty, reverb-soaked riffs, pummeling rhythms and soaring choruses. The guys’ intricate, textured guitar work is really spectacular, and I love the spooky industrial synths throughout the track. My only criticism is that the instrumentals are so big and bombastic, they overpower the vocals, making them difficult to understand. But my guess is that they’re about politicians – or anyone without conviction really – who talk out of both sides of their mouths, trying to please everyone with their doublespeak, but pleasing no one in the end.
Conditions is an outstanding, beautifully-crafted album that nicely showcases The Ivins’ growth and maturity as both songwriters and musicians. They’re a talented, underrated band who deserve to be more popular and successful. Hopefully, this review will bring them at least a few more fans, which is what I aim for at the end of the day.
I’ve commented more times than I can remember on this blog about the staggering amount of musical talent that continues to emanate from the United Kingdom. One of the many British acts I’ve been following for more than four years is the charismatic young rock band Wild Horse. Based in Heathfield, East Sussex, the talented trio consists of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin, and their long-time friend Ed Barnes. Now in their early 20s, the guys are already seasoned musicians who’ve been writing and recording songs since forming in 2013 when they were barely teenagers. Both Henry and Jack are multi-instrumentalists who play guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as sing vocals, while Ed plays drums and percussion, sings backing vocals and plays guitar on a few tracks.
While presenting a fun, lighthearted image with their high-energy and eclectic punk-infused style of blues rock, the guys take their music very seriously. Their dedication and drive, fortified with thoughtful lyricism, ace musicianship and a mature approach towards the music business, have taken them far and brought them both critical acclaim and a loyal and growing fan base. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters who’ve penned hundreds of songs over the years, and now have five albums to their credit.
Their debut album It’s Begun, featuring songs recorded when their average age was only 14, was released in January 2016 by a New York-based record label they were signed with at the time. (Henry sang lead vocals on that album, where he sounded alarmingly like a young Mick Jagger.) Working independently since 2017, the guys subsequently released three EPs from late 2017 to early 2018, then followed that June with their second album Songs About Last Night. They’ve continued to drop a new album every year since then. In April 2019, they released their third album DANCE!! Like An Animal, which I reviewed, then followed up in July 2020 with their fourth album WE ARE IN AN IDENTITY CRISES…BUT WE LOVE IT, featuring 16 tracks. Now they’re back with their fifth album When The Pool Is Occupied, which dropped November 18th. Their most ambitious work yet, the album contains a whopping 18 tracks!
Before I get to my review, I want to include a few thoughts about the album the guys shared in an interview for Brighton and Hove webzine BN1. “The album name ‘When the Pool is Occupied’ is actually a metaphor for self-love. We realised that this was the theme of the album quite late into the making of it. When we started writing the album, we were not in the best place personally, with lockdown giving us anxieties about the future and the direction we were going in our lives. As we neared the end of making the album we were in a much better place, as the whole process actually taught us a lot about ourselves, and we decided to make it our most honest record. So the album has become a musical imprint of our journey to self-love and happiness, which we hope everyone who listens will be able to relate to!
This album is definitely more mellow and that is down to a few things. Firstly, we didn’t want to be perceived as just a rock band anymore, and wanted to push the boundaries as much as we possibly could. We wanted our first record back after covid to be one that would make people dance, hence the strong disco and 80’s influence. Also, we took a new approach to writing and creating music in not only taking the reins on production, but also because Jack (our main songwriter) taught himself piano over lockdown and began writing songs on [piano], which gave us a whole new feel. From there, synths became a much more integral part of our sound, and we became really obsessed with creating an atmosphere in our music. Our previous albums were all recorded quite quickly, whereas this one took us over a year. The main difference is that every single tiny note and lyric on this album had so much thought put into it, which is why we’re so proud of it.”
Well, let me say that Wild Horse has created a near-epic album running just over an hour in length, and featuring 18 wonderful tracks that span across genres from rousing post-punk bangers to angst-filled piano ballads to bouncy dance-pop gems. The songs explore issues related to growing up in the modern world, relationships, struggles with addiction and mental health, and the long journey towards self-acceptance and self-love.
Opening track “Happy Love Songs” is a short and bittersweet piano-driven tune that sets the tone for the album. In his quirky endearing vocals, Jack plaintively laments “Why are there never happy love songs anymore? It takes two to fall in love, but it only takes one to fall apart. And then there’s never.” The song immediately segues into “Freaky Together“, a catchy, lighthearted earworm celebrating the liberating freedom of a no-strings-attached approach to relationships and life (ah, the joys of youth). The guys layer jangly guitars and woozy synths over a delightfully funky bassline and thumping drumbeats to create a fun and sexy dance beat that aims straight for the hips. Jack croons “Baby, I know that you could never need me. But come on let’s get down and dirty. Oh yeah, Oh, give it to me.” The sweet video nicely showcases the guys’ youthful charm and charisma.
The guys keep the lively vibes going with the delectable “Pornstar Martini“, an irresistibly bouncy mashup of punk, disco and funk, then later slow things down with “Coffee In The Morning“, the first of several romantic piano ballads. Jack’s heartfelt vocals are raspy and vulnerable as he sings of his ardor and desire to a potential romantic partner: “I’m sitting in my dirty University room. Haven’t slept for days now. And I was hoping that you could come around and stay, for 17 days.” But once they’ve become a couple, cracks appear in their relationship, which are explored on the lovely but bittersweet “Feel“: “I wanna talk to you about last night. You know I hate it how we always fight. But if you saw the world through my eyes, then you would understand about the way I feel.” And on “Symphony of Broken Hearts“, Jack sings of the pain he’s feeling over a broken relationship: “You said forever, and then you couldn’t stay. You said forever, until you walked away. And now I’m lying on my own, feeling sorry for myself.“
One of my favorites on the album is “Anxiety“, a joyful, upbeat song about the emotional roller-coaster ride we willingly take when attraction for another hits us like a ton of bricks, rendering us helpless in the throes of passionate longing. I love the exuberant synths, funky dance grooves and the guys’ beautiful vocal harmonies. Jack’s plaintive vocals sing of emotions we’ve all felt at some point in our lives, fearful we’ll make a fool of ourselves: “Petrified by the things you say (petrified). I only met you yesterday (yesterday). But really I’m fine. I’m just going with the groove. Only been preparing for like 24 hours through.”
Another favorite is the ebullient and sexy “Pray 89“, in which the guys sing the praises of a seemingly more innocent time (although those of us who were already adults in 1989 know it really wasn’t) and the freedom of living a life where self-love without emotional attachments is prioritized, but with an appreciation of the beauty in other people. The lyrics include the album’s title: “You bring the fire and sexy eyes. I bring the smoke to stay alight. When we go party we’ll do it right, like we belong in ‘89.Dance on the table to New Order’s new song. And we’ll be feeling alright when the pool is occupied.”
The guys’ willingness to venture out of their musical comfort zone is exemplified by the bluesy hip hop track “Confidence“, on which Henry’s backing vocals are more prominent. On the poignant “Just About Enough”, they turn tinkling piano keys into a true percussive instrument as they combine them with assertive strummed guitar notes and pounding drumbeats to become a powerful driving force, before finishing things off with gorgeous bluesy guitars, accompanied by Jack’s fervent vocals. And on “OneNight Robbery“, Jack does a decent job rapping some of the verses letting a former girlfriend know he doesn’t appreciate how she used him and only wanted his money after all the nice things he did for her.
Hands down the most charming track on the album is “Record Collection“, a delightful pop-rock song with a retro 60s power pop vibe. The sweet lyrics speak of connecting with someone you meet on a night out and taking them home, not because you want to have sex with them, but because you like their taste in music and want to share your record collection with them: “I don’t wanna be your lover. I just wanna show you my record collection. I don’t wanna get under the covers. I just wanna know if you like Mott the Hoople. I don’t wanna touch your hand. Just tell me your favourite band. Oh, the only thing I’m turning on is the record player.” I love the jangly guitars on this song.
“Kelsie” is a shining example of how a kiss-off song can still sound sweet. “Kelsie, you’re much happier on Twitter. But you want me back on tinder. And I just laugh and smile ‘cause I’m finally over you. Have you noticed I don’t care what you do? When you tell me you’re getting drinks bought for you. Shit, me too.” The track has a mellow, head-bopping melody with subtle hip hop elements, making for a really pleasing tune. The guys close the album on a positive note with “Thank You (It’s Gonna Be Alright)“, a minute-long piece with a church-like organ riff accompanied by Jack’s echoed vocal repeating the words “It’s gonna be alright“, followed by “The pool is occupied.” As the music abruptly ends, he says “And that was the album, thank you very much. Woo!”
Woo indeed! What a fun, delightful and brilliant album this is! With WhenThe Pool is Occupied, Wild Horse pushed themselves into expanding their songwriting and sound in the hopes of making their most honest record yet, and I think they’ve succeeded quite nicely. It showcases their continued growth and maturity as songwriters and musicians, while their sense of humor and playfulness remains fully intact.
Since forming in 2016, Annapolis, Maryland hard rock band VEER have made a name for themselves in the mid-Atlantic region through their hard-hitting melodic rock and riveting live performances, earning awards and an expanding fan base along the way. Comprised of brothers Ronald (vocals & guitar) and Jon (drums) Malfi, Ryan Fowler (lead guitar), and Christian Mathis (bass), VEER hit their stride in 2018 with the release of their debut album Apocalyptic, Baby, which nabbed a spot on the Amazon Top 100 Rock Albums list. That same year, they won a Maryland Music Award for Best Rock Band, then went on to win Best Rock Song for their 2017 debut single, “Come Clean,” by the World Songwriting Awards.
Last December (of 2020) they released their single “Red Tide“, a dark, grunge-influenced song addressing the repetitive nature of people who continually make the same mistakes over and over (read my review here). Now they’re back with a terrific new single “Science“, which dropped on November 13th. Both songs will be included on their forthcoming second album Soft Machines, due for release in Spring 2022 if all goes according to plan. Engineered and co-produced by Steve Wright (Slipknot, SR-71, Future Islands), the song features VEER’s signature hard-edged, guitar-driven grooves and pummeling rhythms, but presented with greater sheen and a stellar arrangement.
The song starts off with distorted psychedelic guitar notes layered over an otherworldly backdrop of spacey undulating synths, setting a rather unsettling mood appropriate to the title. Around 45 seconds in, the song shifts gears as the music explodes into a dramatic barrage of gnarly riffs, throbbing bass and thunderous drums. Ronald plaintively sings with increasing emotional intensity as the song progresses: “Angelina says it wasn’t right for me to look up at the stars. Far above, the atmosphere is clear, we’re on our way to Mars. Well I find you inside out, kick it over, hear me shout, I’ll shout again. Well you find me upside down, you kick it over, hear me shout.” His vocals soar into a full-blown anthemic chorus as he implores “Science! Return my pride.” It’s a great song that’s easily one of their best.
About “Science”, Ronald says it’s “about fact versus fiction, hard science versus fantasy. Strangely enough, it was written prior to the pandemic, but listening to the lyrics now, it’s eerily prescient. A song about living with your head in the clouds now has a more cynical and poignant meaning.” The beautifully done, surreal video, which was created by band drummer Jon Malfi, has a futuristic, space themed feel, in keeping with the song’s subject matter. He states “It was important for the video to compliment the song, but also for it to stand alone visually, on its own merits. It’s telling its own story against the backdrop of our music.” I think it brings VEER’s lyrics to life perfectly, and more.
Polarizer is a phenomenal five-piece band from Chicago who play a progressive style of alternative rock they appropriately describe as “loud, spacey epic rock”, earning them comparisons to bands like Muse, Rush and Jane’s Addiction. Formed in 2011, they’ve undergone a few changes in line-up over the years, and now consist of singer-songwriter Taylor Brennan, Stan Tencza (keyboards), Ian Palmer (guitars), Chris Shen (bass) and John Schiller (drums). (Brennan is also vocalist for Chicago rock band The Million Reasons, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog.)
Polarizer released their debut EP Lightscapes in 2013, followed by a 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 their long-awaited second album Love from the Underground, but the pandemic interrupted their progress for several months. Finally, in August 2020, they released their single “One for One”, then followed six months later with a second single “Metronome”, which I reviewed. Both singles are included on Love from the Underground, which dropped November 11th.
Two years in the making, the album is most definitely worth the wait. It’s a dark, beautiful, and utterly magnificent work that marks a triumphal return for Polarizer. While none of its 12 tracks can be described as “catchy”, they’re all incredibly melodic and meticulously-crafted. Overflowing with nuance, the songs are highlighted by deeply compelling lyrics, jaw-dropping instrumentation and Brennan’s arresting tenor vocals. It’s not often that I love every single song on an album, especially one as long as this, but that’s exactly the case with Love from theUnderground. I’ve listened to it more than ten times, and still feel almost giddy at the arrival of each song. This has also been one of the more challenging album reviews I’ve ever written, as there’s a lot to unpack, both musically and lyrically.
Like a lot of albums, this one also features songs addressing such oft-covered topics as love, loss, familial relationships and even politics. Kicking off the album is “Sink intothe Ghost“, an intense rock song that, along with closing track “Dead Can Sing“, as well as the hard-hitting gem “We’ll Meet Again“, speak of coming to terms with losing people that helped shaped you, who with their deaths took a piece of you with them, and leaving you wondering whether you could have done anything to change the outcome. On “Sink into the Ghost”, Brennan passionately implores “What if I sing aloud the right words? What if I sing aloud, could I really be heard? It won’t bring you back. It won’t make me whole. Until the dead can be, I will sing no more.”
One of the highlights on an album full of them is “Metronome“, a truly spectacular song calling out the divisive and destructive ways of many of our leaders, and urging newer generations to rise up against those forces to build a better future, with a lyric from which the album’s title comes: “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.” Everything about the song is perfection from start to finish, and when the music erupts into a monumental crescendo, bolstered by Brennan’s impassioned vocals that almost sound like another instrument in themselves, I’m left covered with goosebumps. I love the song so much that it spent 20 weeks on my Weekly Top 30, going all the way to #3. I love the video too, which shows the guys giving a socially-distanced yet electrifying performance in a Chicago studio.
Continuing on a similar theme, “One for One” is a scathing takedown of those who traffic in conspiracy theories, intolerance and extreme political views, nicely delivered with hard-driving rhythms, grungy riffs and psychedelic synths. Brennan’s vocals are almost chilling as he sings the biting lyrics: “I’m fluent in this psycho talk. I speak the party’s opinion. Last one in on the lie and the lie’s all yours. I am a nightmare in the dark. Turn on the lights I come to life. Melody never taught that you can’t catch falling stars. I’m all for one and one for one. The story ends. You’ve lost your friends to the party’s opinion. There’s a lot on the line. So where is your line crossed?” Man, those last three lines really resonate with me, as recent political trends have greatly strained or ended several friendships and familial relationships.
Polarizer ventures toward metal rock on “Eventually You Get Caught“, with an opening guitar riff that reminds me a bit of “Enter Sandman”, though the song sounds totally different, both melodically and structurally, than the Metallica classic. And the flourishes of distortion at the end are definitely metal-esque. The hard-driving “Everything is Mad” is heavy and intense, though Brennan told me it’s meant to be a joyful song about a parent feeling so stunned and humbled by bringing a new life into the world, but also left wondering what this responsibility and joy means when they aren’t living their own truth. Will the compromises they need to make in order to experience true happiness be reachable?
The band’s extraordinary musicianship is showcased on virtually every track, highlighted by Palmer’s virtuoso guitar work, Tencza’s colorful keyboards and the tight rhythmic grooves of Shen and Schiller not to mention Brennan’s gorgeous resonant vocals. Case in point is “Ever a Stranger“, with beautiful riffs layered over a galloping bassline, and featuring a thrilling guitar solo by Palmer in the bridge. The lyrics touch on the loss of innocence, and realizing you can no longer rely on a relationship when your partner refuses to meet you halfway. “Fear the attraction, harder to trust. You’re calling it love, but your love’s not returned. /And I need you now, how I knew you then, but strangers still have a way to go.”
The centerpiece of the album is “Le Drama Des Os” (The Drama of Bones), a stunning five-minute long celestial masterpiece that tells the romantic saga of Black Hole and Nova. Brennan explained the meaning behind their characters: “Black Hole is the more isolated loner, living day to day, not pushing himself to find happiness, just floating about, not taking chances. The ‘black hole’ title means that this character needs light and joy in his life he hasn’t seen before. Like a black hole when he receives this light, this energy, he can’t get enough of it, consuming it at all costs. And Nova is the opposite, an endless giver of light and energy, who meets Black Hole at the time when he needs her most, but the mutual need and attraction is almost unsustainable, its almost destructive. It’s like two magnets being pulled apart slowly but that attraction being too strong to break it apart. They get together at all costs, and it either is the most beautiful love ever on record, or it ends the world around them as they know it.“
The song opens with Palmer’s glittery guitar riff, accompanied by Shen’s gentle bassline as Brennan softly introduces us to the two characters: “Black Hole was proud to be alone. He never had to give a piece away. Nova had pieces on her mantle, that never added up to anything. The Big Bang they felt was catastrophic challenged everything they thought they knew.” The music explodes like a supernova in the choruses with a riotous mix of raging and swirling guitars, thumping bass, otherworldly synths and thunderous drums, before calming back down in the verses as Brennan concludes the story: “Finally their eyes met from a distance. The bigger bang had stolen from their core. As the world around them faded into darkness, nothing of the pieces that they were. Traveling the path of least resistance. Compromise with the best intentions, still halfway to nowhere.”
The great songs keep on coming. “Phases of the Moon” is a full-blown rocker, loaded with a chugging barrage of gnarly riffs and explosive rhythms. Brennan’s vocals sound lower and more muscular on this track, and I love how they trail off to a low growl at the end. The darkly beautiful “Time of Death” has a strong Muse vibe, thanks to its eerie piano riffs and shredded guitars. Brennan passionately laments “Throw me a line, I feel insane. Does it seem that way to you? It falls away, it’s all the same. Another hour I’m making mirror deals selling out my future self. High hopes are put off until tomorrow.” And the marvelous Alice in Chains-esque “Glow”, with its fierce, jaw-dropping guitar work and explosive rhythms, speaks of being drawn to someone so intensely that you can barely function.
The dramatic album closer “Dead Can Sing” brings things full-circle with a blend of shimmery and gnarly guitars, sparkling keyboards, pummeling bass, tumultuous percussion and soaring vocals, giving the song a wonderful anthemic quality. In the final chorus Brennan plaintively sings the refrain “Until the dead can sing and be heard, where do I turn to? And in the end when it’s my turn, how will I find you?” as the song fades off in a trail of spooky synths and military drumbeats.
What more can I say about this spectacular record that I haven’t already gushed about? Love from the Underground is a marvelous, flawlessly-produced album, and one of the best of 2021 in my humble opinion. I love Polarizer’s music, and hope my readers will give this album a listen and enjoy it as much as I do.
Hailing from Chicago, post-punk band a million rich daughters play a unique and fascinating style of, in their own words – “garage/industrial/horror inspired alternative post-punk – music that transcends the typical boundaries of the observable universe.” Founded by brothers Brett and Jake Grant, with Brett on vocals, guitars and synths, and Jake on drums, the four-piece now includes Matt Clepper on guitar and Dani Putrino on bass. (Brett also has a solo project under the moniker brett.grant.5.) Exactly two years ago to the day – November 15th also happens to be Brett’s birthday – they released their brilliant debut EP Hidden Parents, which I reviewed. Now they’re back with a haunting new single “Left Behind“, their first new music release in two years.
Brett was inspired to write “Left Behind” during a painful separation from his wife Ashlee (which thankfully was only temporary, as they’re both very special people who I’ve become quite fond of, albeit by long distance). He elaborates “In the broader sense, it’s about the helplessness of being left behind by someone who has outgrown you, and the feeling of betrayal that comes with that. One thing about this song is it’s all just AAA format. It’s a single verse repeated over and over as the music builds around it to the climax at the end. I intended for it to convey the whole concept of ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ When I was going through all that, I was literally just stewing in my emotions, self medicating with whatever I could get my hands on, and I felt unable to break out of the cycle. Add to this, this ALL happened right at the beginning of Covid. So I was going through all this, and suddenly I couldn’t leave the house or see anyone.“
The song is darkly beautiful and melodic, with more of a dream pop sound than most of their previous songs. It opens with a simple, rather somber guitar riff as Brett forlornly laments “Well, I’ll swallow my pride and ‘ll eat my mistakes. And I’ll throw up the memory if that’s what it takes. Devour the regret, I’ll gorge on the shame. If it means in the end you’ll absolve me of blame. Your words when you left me been plaguing my mind. Now I’ve been vanquished, you’ve finally left me behind.”
Approximately 50 seconds into the track, Matt’s gorgeous swirling guitar enters, accompanied by Dani’s gently thumping bassline and Jake’s measured drumbeats, creating a dreamy but haunting backdrop for Brett’s increasingly impassioned vocals, backed by lovely soaring harmonies. Everything continues to build to a dramatic crescendo, replete with a blistering guitar solo in the final verse before trailing off in a outro of spooky synths as Brett sadly concludes “Your words when you left me been plaguing my mind. Now I’ve been vanquished, you’ve finally left me behind.” I love this song, and think it’s their best one yet.
The wonderful artwork for the single was created by Brett’s beautiful and creative wife Ashlee.