Calling themselves a “half decent band from the sonic wastelands of Warrington“, British indie rock trio 32 tens are an assault on the senses, but in a good way! Named after the classic 90’s Nokia phone, and influenced by such acts as Jack White, Jamie T and The Arctic Monkeys, 32 tens play a fierce and gritty brand of indie post-punk that’ll immediately shake away whatever ennui that might be plaguing you. Making this awesome noise are Max Vickers on vocals and guitar, Sam Glancy on lead guitar and Danny Hall on drums, with Ed Dowling of alt-rock band The Zangwills (another terrific band with a lead singer also having the surname Vickers but no relation, who I’ve also featured on this blog) as guest bassist.
I recently learned about 32 tens when their manager Jackie (who also manages The Zangwills) reached out to me about their latest single “This Just Ain’t My Year“, and it knocked me for a loop. I was so intrigued, I had to go check out their back catalog of songs, and immediately became hooked on their high-octane edgy sound and Max’s unusual vocals. I love their music, and have been listening to them nearly on repeat the last few days.
From what I can tell, they’ve been releasing only singles since 2017, and have garnered some very impressive streaming stats. Their 2017 single “Lost” has racked up over 2.1 million streams on Spotify alone, with six other singles earning over 100,000. “This Just Ain’t My Year” is their 15th single, and has already been named Record of the Week on XS Radio, and last week, it garnered the top spot on Tom Robinson’s Fresh on the Net.
The song’s a rip-roaring banger, storming out of the gates with a torrent of shredded guitars, hard-driving basslines and explosive drums. The pace is fast and relentless as 32 tens blow our minds and ears for two minutes and 51 seconds. It’s the kind of song you want playing when you feel like breaking some shit. The one brief moment we’re able to catch our breath comes in the bridge at 1.37, where we hear only the wonderful thumping rhythm of Ed’s bass and Danny’s drumbeats. Max’s warbly vocals are a thing of wonder, at once both sweet and raw, a winning combination that’s perfectly suited to their dynamic and gnarly sound.
The lyrics touch on the struggles of the everyday person trying to make it through a difficult time: “Hard to see what’s real when you’ve been living by sin and I know you’re tired. People only really give in when there’s no fight left. Everytime you’re getting close, just enough fear to face my ghost. I swear, this just ain’t my year.”
“This Just Ain’t My Year” is another fantastic single by this amazing band, and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next!
Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Beck Black is a veritable dynamo, possessing immense quantities of imagination and creativity, with a colorful persona to match. She’s been releasing music since 2014 (including a terrific album Hollywood Blvd in 2021), both as a solo artist and as a band under the Beck Black moniker, with the help of drummer Adam Alt and guitarist Mo Matatquin. Her music spans across multiple genres ranging from alternative, rock’n’roll and punk to country and pop, and everything in between. Listening to her music catalog, I’m struck by the fact that no two songs of hers sound alike (I adore her 2019 country song “Don’t Call Me Darlin'”). In addition, with her love of make-up and dressing up, she’s continually changing her style, such that she looks vastly different from one photo to the next, and I love it!
Beck has recorded songs with Ringo Starr (“Who’s Gonna Save Rock & Roll” in 2020) and Tony Valentine of The Standells (“Another Dimension” and “You’re Never Gonna Stop Me!” in 2021), and is also is part of the duo JYNX, with two songs licensed to the Netflix film Dumplin. She and her band have played some of L.A.’s most iconic venues like the Troubadour, The Echo, Whisky a Go Go, The Viper Room, and The Satellite. Besides making music, she has appeared on TV, films and many online shows including S.W.A.T., Grey’s Anatomy, and Ruth & Lori.
I first learned about Beck last month when I heard her marvelous cover of David Bowie’s song “Aladdin Sane”, which she recorded for the album Forget That I’m 50, a magnificent cover of Bowie’s entire album Aladdin Sane, produced by Julian Shah-Tayler. Now she’s back with a delicious new single “Puppet Show“, accompanied by a delightful video. Written and produced by Beck, the song is originally from the album Hollywood Blvd, but has now been released as a single. Beck sang vocals and played keyboards, Mo Matatquin played guitar and Adam Alt played drums. The track was mastered by Magic Garden Mastering.
It’s a lively banger, with an emphatic foot-stomping groove overlain with swirling cinematic synths, intricate edgy guitars and thunderous percussion. The infectious synth-driven melody reminds me a bit of the great 1982 song “Wishing” by A Flock of Seagulls. Beck’s vibrant lilting vocals are wonderful as she sings the lyrics that seem to be telling us that life is like a puppet show, with some people trying to control or influence our thoughts and actions, but we can choose to cast off those strings and life on our own terms: “Telegram the words to me, a puppet sings. People pulling at your strings and other things. Dancing with a back and forth motion, to and fro. Wearing shiny, sequin clothing a puppet show. Chances are interesting a puppet dreams. Reality is what you make it wearing strings.“
The brilliant video for the song, created and produced by Beck, co-directed with Justin L. Smith, and filmed by Eli Wallace Johansson, is utterly charming. It features Beck as a human marionette, along with a marionette miniature of her, created by Rasputin Marionettes. Both Beck and her marionette doppelgänger are dressed in matching hot pink sequined dresses and wigs. Beck is shown singing the song and playing her keytar in a vast outdoor field while the marionette acts out the lyrics. Eventually freed from their strings, they both jump into a lake, where they savor their newfound independence “Swimming in a deep blue ocea, ebb and flow. Life can be your pearly oyster, a puppet show.”
We Are Aerials are a rather enigmatic indie rock collective from Donegal, Ireland who, like a few other artists and bands I’ve written about, choose to remain fairly anonymous. Fronted by a man identified simply as ‘Me’ on their Bandcamp page (though I know him as ‘C’ through his Twitter messages to me), who sings lead vocals and plays electric and acoustic guitars, keys, programming, and chime bars, We Are Aerials also includes Paul Casey on bass, electric and acoustic guitars, ukulele, keys, and programming, and Liam Bradley on drums and percussion. Lauren Doherty sings additional vocals and John McCullough plays piano and keys on selected tracks. C told me they do not perform live or post photos of themselves anywhere, as they “love making music and found a while back that the self-publicity side of things was killing that passion for it. There are a lot of artists posting pictures of their haircuts; it’s not for us.” Also, the only social media platforms they use are Twitter and YouTube. and they do not use music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music because they’re a terrible deal for artists.
From what I saw on their Bandcamp page, they’ve been releasing music for nearly three years, beginning in October 2020 with their debut album Maps, which features a beautiful cover of Bruce Springsteen’s haunting masterpiece “Streets of Philadelphia”. They followed in March 2022 with their second album Silences and on May 5, dropped their latest album Every Architect of Ruin. Featuring ten outstanding tracks, the album was written by C, recorded by C and Paul Casey, and also mixed and mastered by Paul. The artwork featuring two hands that was used for the album cover was drawn by Rebecca Foster.
The album had somewhat serendipitous origins resulting from the discovery of an old battered guitar in the attic of a house C had recently purchased. After commenting to friends that he’d never been up to his attic, joking it was probably haunted, they goaded him for months to go up there and check it out. Finally relenting, he entered his attic one night and discovered a beat-up Mexican-made Fender Telecaster electric guitar in a worn-out acoustic guitar soft case. He recalls “I became obsessed with reviving the thing and brought it to a luthier. Got a new pick up and replaced the switch. Did his best with the neck but it still wasn’t right. Brought it to another luthier and he fixed it up good. It’s not the best guitar in the world; not well made, not well looked after, but once the luthiers were done with it, it sang. Some instruments just have a feel to them. Tim Henson of Polyphia calls it mojo. I don’t know if it’s a sentimental thing, or because I spent time and money on it, but this guitar has mojo. It started giving me songs almost the moment it was fixed. First ‘Echo’, then ‘Theft’, then ‘Empire’. Six months later, we have a new album. Attics are weird. And magic. And sometimes haunted.”
Though many of the songs on Every Architect of Ruin touch on darker themes like depression, duplicitous political leaders who prey on us, and the negative aspects of social media, the album is sonically arresting and beautiful. It opens with “Echo“, a gorgeous six and a half minute-long fantasia of reverb-drenched chiming guitars and thumping drumbeats. C’s soft, ethereal vocals, which register in the higher octaves, are enchanting as he croons “You know all I hear, oh… You know all I hear is echo, echo, echo.” At 2:45, the music expands with more dramatic guitars, then abruptly slows at the four-minute mark to a languid tempo, with fuzzy riffs accompanied by a spoken-word monologue by Yasmin that was recorded for an art project called “London is Lonely”.
Next up is “Theft“, a compelling rock song calling out people and forces who take from us until we’re bled dry: “Greed and brazen theft until there’s nothing left. Leave us all bereft, forever in your debt. Repelled, I cannot express myself.” Fueled by a galloping bassline, the song features shimmery psychedelic guitars, sweeping synths and crackling percussion. On the lovely piano-driven “Christopher“, C reaches out to a friend who’s going through a difficult time emotionally: “Hey Chris, reach out. Alleviate the doubt. The amber warning sounds for you, and I know something’s wrong here.”
“Tuar na hAimsire” is a sweet and gentle song about just wanting to be with a loved one while a storm rages outside, with lyrics sung both in English and Gaelic: “A rumble of thunder, a flashing of light I watch from my bedroom. Tá an aimsir go yikes. Tá sé an-scamallach. Is dorcha an spéir. Ach níl eagla orm. I am not scared. Not a night to go outside. I’ll stay inside with you.” “Song With No Name” seems to speak of society’s struggle to make sense of the plethora of conflicting information and ‘facts’ found on TV and the internet: “The machine, a ruse to get you seen. Oh, balanced views, is nothing particularly true? Oh, what a time, devoid of reason and of rhyme.” The song has a bit of a late 60s/early 70s pop vibe, with gnarly psychedelic guitars and pleasing piano keys set to a sunny melody.
“Everyone’s Unique Except You” is about not fitting in with the crowd and feeling insecure and inferior about yourself, when the truth is, you don’t really want to be like them anyway: “You’re not good enough to join that club. (You’re not enough) You’re not good enough to win their love love love love. (You’re not real enough) You’re not good enough to join their club.” Musically, the song is a pleasing blend of dream pop and folk, with a beautiful mix of acoustic and reverb-soaked jangly guitars.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Geese Teeth“, an enchanting piano ballad about an unpleasant encounter with a gaggle of aggressive geese. The lyrics are wonderful, so I’ll quote a fair amount of them: “Out to the wetlands to see the geese. Found a gaggle in the marshes. Edged closer for a better view./ A sudden honk I look up to see an angry bird. It stares. I give it a curious glance. And the thing puffs out its chest and spreads its wings, making itself big in attempt to warn me off. But as if I’d be intimidated by a stupid goose. I’m bigger than him. I glare back, puff out my chest and spread my arms out in imitation of his own gesture. And he charges me. I hadn’t banked on that. Next thing I know I’m being chased, by a whole load of waterbirds. Pecking and biting me with their geese teeth as I retreat, feet slipping everywhere on their filth. I reach the car, get in. I beep the horn. The geese scatter in a cloud of feathers.” The instrumentation on this song is really stunning, especially the piano, strings, guitar and what I’m guessing are chime bars played by C, and I love his spoken vocals where his Irish brogue really shines through.
“Empire” continues on the theme introduced by the earlier track “Theft”, calling out duplicitous political and business leaders whose greed and avarice cause great harm to their citizens and countries. The lyrics include the album’s title: “Got a hand in every pocket and a knife for every throat. (You think we don’t see through you) Every architect of ruin with excuses and their scapegoats. I can see that our time has long expired. Failed in your fallen empire.” The song is a dream rock gem, as is the following track “Tides“, with its bouncy melody and more of those stunning reverby guitars. The lyrics seem to be addressing someone who’s toxic behavior and actions have left damage in their wake: “This is your glass house. These are the shards. This is your poisoned heart. These are your scars. Here are your ocean’s tumbling waves.”
Another favorite of mine is the final track “Ghostlight, a darkly beautiful song with breathtaking cinematic orchestration and gorgeous guitar work. I have no idea what the song’s about, but I love how it sounds. The fascinating video for the song was filmed and directed by Paul Casey, with footage of the mysterious woman applying her garish make-up by Pam Ede.
Folks, Every Architect of Ruin is an exquisite album filled with beautiful, meticulously-crafted songs that make for a pleasurable listening experience. I can safely state that We Are Aerials’ music most definitely speaks for itself.
Pylon Poets are an alternative indie rock band from the southwestern England town of Torquay, Devon. Consisting of brothers Dan (lead vocals, guitars & synths) and Nathan Hughes (bass, backing vocals), and Sam McIver (drums), Pylon Poets have been putting out high-energy melodic rock for several years, with relatable lyrics touching on such issues as pop culture, love and politics. They’ve toured extensively and have played several music festivals throughout the UK, sharing the stage with such artists as Reef, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Scouting For Girls, Republica and ASH.
Beginning with their debut album Spirit, Love & Higher Meanings in 2016, they followed two years later with a five-track self-titled EP, and since then have dropped many more singles, including a second EP Lucid Hallucinations in late 2020. Today, they release their latest single “In The End“, about which they say “focuseson the battles of mental health, and the feelings and thoughts that accompany it whilst keeping an optimistic outlook on the future.” The track was engineered, recorded and produced by Sugar House at Catalyst Studios, and mastered by Fluid Mastering.
Pylon Poets get right down to business, opening “In The End” with a blast of reverb-drenched guitars and shimmery synths. The music then settles into a strong thumping groove, accompanied by some nice guitar noodling in the verses as Dan calmly sings “In the end, there is a new beginning. There is a time for living. In the end, there’s something beautiful. A godsend or something cynical. In the end, it’s all collateral. In the end.” As the song continues, the gentler verses alternate with exuberant choruses, in which Dan’s vocals turn more impassioned as he sings of struggling with his conflicting emotions: “Losing control, taking the reigns, fighting the tide inside my mind. Burning alive, breaking the chains, one by one nothing remains.” It all serves to create a contrasting sense of excitement and tension, making this a terrific rock song.
Pylon Poets have lots of tour dates planned, so click here for details.
April 7, 2023 seems to be a big day for releasing new music, as scores of artists and bands I follow are dropping new singles, EPs or albums today. Because my time and energy are of limited supply, I’m able to only write about a tiny fraction of it. With that in mind, I’ve chosen three new singles for my latest edition of Fresh New Tracks, all by British acts. They are, in alphabetical order, singer-songwriter Eleanor Collides, psychedelic alt-rock band Future Theory, and indie rock band THE Q’s. I’ve previously written about Future Theory many times, whereas Eleanor Collides and THE Q’s are new to me.
Eleanor Collides – “Pantomime”
Eleanor Collides is the solo music project of London-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Nick Ranga. After having written songs for many years, Nick finally decided during one of the Covid lockdowns in March 2021 to start recording them under the moniker Eleanor Collides, the name of his childhood imaginary friend. Working with a group of like-minded London musicians named The MusiCollective, Nick recorded songs with such acts as Pisgah, Colin Tyler, Corporate Drone and Lucoline. That July, he released a four-track EP How to Make Friends, then followed in March 2022 with his debut album People are Taller in Real Life. Since then, he’s released a series of six singles, the latest of which is “Pantomime“. All six singles will be included in his forthcoming second album, due for release later in the year.
Drawing influences from some of his favorite acts like Depeche Mode, Alice in Chains, Hole and Manic Street Preachers, he melds alternative, indie and dream rock with synth pop to create his distinctly melancholic, yet beautiful sound. A great example of his signature sound can be heard on “Lifeboats”, one of my favorite Eleanor Collides songs. His latest single “Pantomime” is even more enchanting, with dreamy atmospheric synths layered over a throbbing bassline and accompanied by gentle percussion and subtle guitar notes. Nick’s smooth vocals are comforting, but with a quiet vulnerability that’s nicely complemented by his own backing falsetto.
He states the song “started life on acoustic guitar, with a four chord loop in the Dorian mode which lends the track a mysterious, melancholy sound, andis about going through the motions and feeling insignificant.” The lyrics describe a couple being driven apart by unseen forces, unsure of how to fix things: “I can be there if you want me. I can give you space if you need time. Floating away on the breeze. Replaying this old pantomime.What time did love arrive? When did affection slip out of the room? But we’re just two people, and what the hell can we do?“
I’ve been following British alternative psychedelic rock band Future Theory since early 2017, and was immediately impressed by their intelligent songwriting and strong musicianship. Blending elements of alternative and progressive rock, psychedelia, grunge, shoegaze and funk, they fearlessly create arresting music characterized by complex melodies and arrangements, and delivered with lavish instrumentation and mesmerizing vocals. Like many bands, the Lincolnshire-based foursome has experienced changes in lineup over time, and now consists of Max Sander on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Moore on lead guitar, Jacob Brookes on bass and Rohan Parrett on drums.
Almost exactly six years ago, I reviewed their superb debut EP Fool’s Dream, and have written about them and their outstanding music many times since. It’s been a pleasure watching them mature and grow as artists, and their music keeps getting better and better. One of their singles “One and the Same”, from their 2022 debut album Future Theory, spent 18 weeks on my Weekly Top 30 chart and ended up ranking #42 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.
Future Theory have been hard at work over the past several months recording a new batch of songs with Corsican producer Yves Altana (Peter Hook & The Light, The Chameleons), and will be releasing a series of singles throughout 2023, as well as touring in Northern England and Scotland in June. The first of these singles is “Why“, a dramatic and powerful song about a dysfunctional relationship that’s breaking apart. And what a spectacular song it is! First off, the jangly and chiming guitars by Chris and Max are breathtaking in their beauty and intricacy. Then there’s Jacob’s deep, resonant bassline, keeping the rhythm in perfect time with Rohan’s muscular drumbeats. Topping it all off are Max’s distinctive, emotion-packed vocals I love so much as he plaintively croons “Say, for me and you there’s really no in-between. We either set sail or crash and burn the dream. Get up before I scream. You’re breaking my heart./ Tell me why, would I lie? Tell me why.” The music builds to an electrifying crescendo of gnarly guitars and explosive percussion that continues to the end of the track. I can’t wait to hear their upcoming singles.
Last, but certainly not least, are THE Q’s, an indie rock band based in Leeds. Formed in 2014 while they were all in secondary school, the five-piece consists of Leo Grace on lead vocals, Freddie Franchi on rhythm guitar, Dexter Burningham on lead guitar, Mattia Paganelli on drums, and Ben Woolford on bass. Apparently possessing a cheeky sense of humor, the guys released their first single “IN NEUTRAL” on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2021, followed by “TRANQUILO” on Valentine’s Day 2022. Both are really good! Listening to their songs I would generally describe their sound as a happy blend of indie, rock’n’roll, punk and shoegaze.
Now they’re back with their third and latest single “MOVIES“, a sweet, upbeat song about young love, and the trials, tribulations and second-guessing that come with it. I really like the bouncy punk groove, exuberant guitars and snappy drums, and that funky little bass riff in the bridge is terrific. Leo’s vocal are perfect for the song, conveying just the right amount of youthful angst when he sings “But I don’t mind when you make a scene. You make life feel like a movie. And when you’re lying there with me, love life feels like a movie. You’re quite a find. Make life feel like a movie.” But later in the song, he pleads for her to cut him some slack, admitting that he’s partly to blame for their misunderstandings: “Don’t hang up that phone. I know that you’re at home. We’ll sort this out tomorrow, c’mon just let it go.I’m a dickhead, yeah, I know.”
Morgendust is an engaging and talented Dutch alt-rock band based in Zwolle, Netherlands. Formed in 2018, the quintet is comprised of Marco de Haan (lead vocals, guitars, drums), Ron van Kruistum (guitars, backing vocals), Iwan Blokzijl (keyboards, backing vocals), Dario Pozderski (bass, backing vocals) and recent new member Patrick Pozderski (drums & percussion). All seasoned and accomplished musicians with years of collective experience playing in other bands and as session musicians, their music has a maturity and worldliness expressed through intelligent, thoughtful lyrics that tell stories everyone can relate to, and packaged with exquisite rock melodies, outstanding instrumentation and beautiful vocals.
They released their stunning debut EP Storm Will Come in September 2019, and since then have dropped a string of excellent singles, as well as their wonderful 2022 album 14, in which they reimagined eight iconic songs from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s that had a major impact on each of the band members when they were 14 years old. I reviewed both the EP and album, as well as several of their singles, some of which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.
Now they’re back with the self-titled Morgendust, their first full-length album of all original songs, which dropped March 24th. The guys wrote, recorded, produced and financed the album all by themselves, making it a true DIY indie effort: “We wrote over 30 songs, rented an old school, stuffed it with the best gear and started recording. We had no restrictions with time, budgets or record labels telling us what to do.” Morgendust includes what they’ve deemed the 13 best tracks of the bunch, and after listening to the album, I can’t take issue with any of their selections, as they’re all solid songs that nicely showcase their signature sound and strong storytelling abilities. The album was expertly mixed by Guido Aalbers (Coldplay, Muse, Queens of the Stone Age) and flawlessly mastered by Andy VanDette (David Bowie, Deep Purple, Beastie Boys, Steven Wilson).
Many of the songs on Morgendust have a distinct 80s feel, which makes sense since most of the band members came of age in that decade. (I came of age in the early 70s, but I love a lot of 80s music.) The guys tackle a variety of topics, including oft-covered subjects like life, love and emotional well-being, but also socio-political issues of particular relevance today, as evidenced by the powerful opening track “No Clear View“. The lyrics seem to address the conundrum of social media, namely how addictive it is and how it elevates and rewards those who shout the loudest, or are the most outrageous and selfish, leaving many of us feeling disoriented or alienated: “When there is no clear view, you stumble over your shoes. There’s something out there with the size of Donald’s ego. We all want a piece of fame, and what it can or won’t do. And when our 15 minutes fade, we’ll star in fake news. There’s one thing better than no view at all, and that is no clear view. Heaven holds a place for those who waste.” Musically, the song features a strong guitar hook that instantly grabs our attention, keeping hold of it as the song’s melody and instrumentation ebb and flow.
One of my favorite tracks is “1982“, a beautiful and rousing radio-friendly anthem that Marco wrote to honor the memory of a childhood friend who suddenly disappeared. The story is set against a background of global and national political and cultural issues of that time, some of which are still topical today. Events touched upon in the song include the Falklands war and political demonstrations, the film E.T., and The Clash song “Rock the Casbah”. I love the swirling synths, driving rhythms and gorgeous guitar work, as well as the video of the guys performing the song, which shows their endearing sense of playfulness.
Those 80s vibes are particularly strong on the melodic pop-rock track “Modern Daydream“, while affairs of the heart are explored on “Would it Hurt You?“, in which Marco makes a heartfelt plea to a romantic partner to make more of an effort to salvage a troubled relationship: “Would it hurt you to try a little more?” And on “The Losing End“, the guys employ a grungier, harder rock sound with tortured psychedelic riffs, heavy bass and thunderous percussion to drive home their point about how life seems to be stacked against most of us: “All the sinners here scream away their fears. I hope you won’t forget we’re on the losing end.”
Another favorite of mine is “We Set Sail“, an exuberant anthem with a commanding foot-stomping beat, gorgeous bluesy guitars and soaring vocal harmonies. The lyrics, which Marco delivers with an arresting emotional fervor, speak of setting off on a search for a brighter future: “Grab your belongings. Take hold of your loved ones. Fight for a place in line. Face the adventure and prepare for failure. But hold on to your hearts. Chasing the clouds. If the time is right, and the spirit’s high, we’ll come out of our homes tonight. We set sail. New land is all we hope for.”
A song that particularly resonates with me from a lyrical standpoint is “The Years“, as it speaks to the inexorable passage of time and how life’s disappointments can add up: “The years will slowly get you. Months of slow decay. Weeks we’ll never see the sun. Days will wash away. The hours will crawl and turn on you. Minutes melt away. Midnight makes a new day.” After the rather bleak introspection of “The Years”, “Red Handed” comes blasting through the speakers with a barrage of roiling guitars and driving rhythms. Marco emphatically sings from the perspective of a Machiavellian figure who envisions himself as a savoir “My philosophy will save the world“, when in actually they’re an opportunistic oppressor: “Who knew my new heresy can chain the world? I’m bad enough, sad enough to blame the world. Caught red handed while I claim the world.” Sounds like some of the vile and nefarious political leaders we’ve had recently…
On the electrifying stomper “Racing the Clouds“, Morgendust sings the praises of the excitement of cities “Lights in the city, shine so bright. Life in the city at night. Clouds keep filling my head with all these sounds.” I really like how the song calms at the end with a beautiful closing piano riff. In sharp contrast, “These Shadows” sweeps in upon an eerie soundscape of menacing industrial synths and edgy distorted guitars, but then brightens with melodic piano chords in the verses, lending an optimistic vibe before the grungy guitars return in the chorus, only to fade out again. Marco passionately sings of his hope for better days ahead: “I hope for us we’ll lose our fear of all these inner storms. I pray our love won’t fade away. I hope my love. I hope for us. I hope for you these shadows disappear.”
The gospel-like “A Way Out” closes the album on a contemplative note, with hopeful lyrics about climbing out of a depressive state of mind: “I’ve tried to fill the days with love and laughs and play. I’m not there, although my heart gave me a warning, shook up my senses… I will find a way out, a way out of here.” It’s a fine ending to a superb, wide-ranging album from this very talented group of men. Morgendust have outdone themselves here, and should be immensely proud of what they’ve achieved.
Morgendust will embark on their upcoming New Land Tour ’23 starting on April 15th. Here’s the schedule:
Martin Saint is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist based in Montreal. Active in the local music scene for many years, he’s also currently the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Montreal-based alt-rock band The Ember Glows. He’s released a fair amount of music as a solo artist, including a spoken word EP Fly Tales in 2019, an album One Word Away in January 2020, an EP Last New Year’s Eve in March 2021, and this past November, he dropped an excellent cover of Leonard Cohen’s song “The Law”, which I featured in a Fresh New Tracks post. Now he returns with his second album Radio Murmurs, featuring eight exquisite tracks, most of which deal with various aspects of love, relationships lost, and emotional well-being.
About the album, Martin explains “This new collection emerged during the pandemic with the specific intention to produce a full-length album. The goal was to achieve a result similar to David Bowie’s ‘Low’ album, with half the record featuring more accessible pop hooks and the other half more atmospheric and texture-driven. As always, lyrics aim at standing for themselves outside the music, as a major cornerstone of the ensemble. Glimmers of Nick Cave, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Simple Minds and The Doors infuse most of my work and ‘Radio Murmurs’ displays these references a little at a time.”
For the album’s recording, Martin enlisted the help of several musicians and vocalists, including fellow The Ember Glows members Richard Bunze, Kevin Hills and Dan Stefik on a couple tracks, Guillaume Thoreau, who played Mini-Moog on “Scenes from Cars”, singer-songwriter Ursa Minor for the duet on “I’ll Be Your Stranger”, Delphine Dupont for backing vocals on “No Hard Feelings” and Sarah Emilie for backing vocals on “Last Lights” and “No Hard Feelings”.
There’s a lot to like on Radio Murmurs, particularly the darkly beautiful and mysterious aura of many tracks, lush arrangements, outstanding instrumentation – especially the gorgeous chiming and jangly guitar work, and Martin’s poetic lyrics. The album kicks off with the splendid “In the Universe“, a stunning song highlighted by the aforementioned chiming guitars and affecting piano keys. Martin’s smooth vocals, which remind me at times of the late, great Scott Walker, are pleasing as he plaintively asks a friend for their love, comfort and support: “Will you sit by my side, and be the last face I see. Will you run and hide when the gods take back what they’ve lent me?“
On the lovely duet “I’ll Be Your Stranger” with Ursa Minor, Martin sings of the loneliness and ennui he (and many of us) experienced during the Covid lockdowns, hungry for love, empathy and companionship: “Exiled at home in digital solitude. Time is crawling and I swing from mood to mood. When all that I want is to hide naked in bed./ I’ll be your kind stranger. Passing by for a minute or more. The one you won’t need a mask for.” Ursa Minor’s ethereal vocals both contrast and complement Martin’s quite nicely.
“Last Lights” is an outlier, thematically, with lyrics addressing historic socio-political strife and the rise and fall of authoritarian regimes: “Invaders’ songs fill the old streets. Join The Party, march to the beat. Smokestack steel fuels the strife. Sad Slavic eyes bound for exile. And nations rise from relic. Nations fall brick by brick.” Musically, the track has a mesmerizing synth-driven groove reminiscent of some of Depeche Mode’s songs. I’m not sure what “Wet Road” is about, though its lyrics speak of driving in the rain at night with a loved one, with mention of the album’s title: “Exits fly by, mile by mile. The engine purrs. Over our silence, the radio murmurs. In the soft rain, the velvet night is rocking me. In her foggy bliss she cradles me.” I really like its mysterious vibe, highlighted by sharp, eerie synths, sparkling piano keys and deep bassline.
“The Double” is a great tune, with an arresting toe-tapping beat accompanied by a throbbing bass groove, otherworldly synths and delicate jangly guitars that are simply fantastic. Martin’s doesn’t have a strong voice, but his vocals sound particularly good on this track. “No Hard Feelings” is one of my favorite tracks on the album, with an opening strummed guitar lick that immediately reminded me of Oasis’ great classic “Wonderwall”. The lyrics speak of a couple in the final throes of a relationship that’s over, saying their last goodbyes to one another without acrimony: “Happy rest of the road is what you meant to say, I saw it in your smile. No binding words to relive old days, this is our last mile. We can try but we all know it’s not the same. But no hard feelings.”
“Wide Open” has a strong Simple Minds feel, as the song has shades of their song “Alive & Kicking”. Kevin Hills provides some great fuzzy bass on this track The lyrics are directed toward someone who’s fallen far down and letting them know that, despite their self-destructive behavior, your door is still open if they need a friend: “How low have you now sunken, friendless, broke and broken? What are you now reaping that you have long been sowing? Where have we watched you take your long road to perdition? When did your last mistake become your next decision?“
Martin saves the best for last, as the stylish and sultry “Scenes from Cars” is my favorite track on the album. The song’s captivating music is courtesy of a fake pedal-steel sound by Dan Stefik’s guitar and Mini-Moog synths played by Guillaume Thoreau. Martin’s smooth croons have an ethereal sultry feel as he touches on various romantic and non-romantic scenarios between people while driving in cars: “Sunday morning drive. A family of five or a weekend dad and child. Backseat in the dark. A teenage hand pushed hard. Love is still a bridge too far. Predator and prey roam lost highways or city streets today./ Lovers in a car. A loner in a car.” It’s a superb ending to a very fine album.
As much as Twitter drives me crazy at times, one of the things I do like about it has been the thousands of musicians and bands I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past seven-plus years I’ve been active on that platform. A great many of those musicians and bands are enormously talented, and some are also genuinely gracious and kind, and one act who checks both boxes is Morning Fuzz, an outstanding rock band from Long Island, NY. Formed in 2009 by singer/songwriter & guitarist Frank Fussa and bassist Chris Johanidesz after the breakup of their previous band Ultra High Frequency, Morning Fuzz was a short while later joined by longtime friend and guitarist Michael Cullari, then went through several changes in drummers (something that’s plagued many a band I’ve written about). Between 2009 and 2013, they released two EPs and an album Chasing Ghosts, then went quiet for a few years, I’m guessing largely due to work and family obligations.
They returned to making music in 2016, and since then have been releasing singles in fits and starts. They followed me on Twitter in early 2017, and shortly thereafter released their single “Silent Sun”, a fantastic song I reviewed and liked so much, it ended up ranking #69 on my 100 Best Songs of 2017 list. They followed up with a Christmas single “Magical Christmas Time”, and another single “Fellow Creep”, then went quiet again after yet another drummer left. They appear to have finally struck gold in 2018 when drummer Dan Leonardi came on board, and their lineup has remained intact since then. In 2019, they released a terrific single “I’ll Be Around”, which I also reviewed, and which also charted on my Weekly Top 30, ending up at #71 on my 100 Best Songs of 2019 list. They dropped another single “Field of Frowns” later that year, then in February 2020 returned to the studio to record their second album Wherever We Go, and we all know what happened next. Halfway into the recording process, Covid hit and everything came to a halt.
Once restrictions were lifted, they went back to working on the album on weekends or whenever the studio was free, finally finishing with recording in late 2020. Frank then set to work mixing the album himself. He recalled “I would come home from work everyday and just start mixing until all hours of the night. Then we sent the album out to The Lodge to get mastered. It took another year just to get that done and the vinyl copies produced. In the meantime we released three singles from the album and filmed a video for ‘Don’t Wait Up’. Then we did a live video for ‘Love To Hate You’ from our band studio, then shot another video for ‘Vigo’ (which they released this past December). After releasing only singles since our debut album, we wanted to make a full album that was meant to be heard as a whole, even though that seems to be dying out these days. We wanted to make a no skipper album with every song solid and engaging. Hopefully we lived up to the task. I think we did.”
Well, after listening to Wherever We Go several times, I certainly think they’ve succeeded, as all 11 tracks are superb. In preparation for writing this review, I went back and re-listened to their entire back music catalog, and was reminded of how good this band is. It’s also remarkable how long – with the exception of their drummer – this band has been together. In addition, they’ve written and recorded at least 37 songs over the years, which I think is a heck of a lot for a band that’s gone through a few periods of inactivity.
The album blasts open with the aforementioned “Vigo” a rousing rocker that sets the tone for the album, both musically and thematically. Frank told me the album is essentially about time, both in terms of how it seems to be moving way too fast, but also the need to try and make the most of it while we’re here. It also addresses his constant struggle to be more positive. All those subjects resonate strongly with me, and these lyrics really hit the mark: “We were young and we had high hopes. Where did all of the time go? Fazed out amongst the people. Left out, wherever we go. We’re chasing moving cars, forgetting who we are.Sold out the lucid dreame. The grass is never greener.” I love the hard-driving rhythms, fortified by Dan’s smashing drumbeats, Chris’s aggressive bassline, and Frank and Michael’s blazing guitars. I also like that all members of the band sing, with Chris, Michael and Dan’s backing harmonies beautifully complementing Frank’s raw, impassioned vocals. Finally, several aspects of the song, at least to my ears, call to mind some of the music of the Foo Fighters and Thirty Seconds to Mars.
Next up is “Don’t Wait Up“, which Frank says is “about the ever changing world with fads, styles, opinions, and everyone trying so hard to fit in or be a part of something because they feel like they have to. The message is, be yourself, do what you love, and don’t be pressured to try to fit in.” The song opens with Chris’s tasty little bass riff, then explodes with raging guitars and crashing percussion as Frank alternately croons and wails the lyrics: “It’s hard to sit through all of this noise. Everyone’s in love with their own voice. They jump the line and can’t sit still. Run along now, go get your fill. Don’t wait up.” I like that their videos feature mostly footage of them performing their songs, rather than trying to act out some some silly plot line, and this one nicely showcases their energy and charisma.
“Love To Hate You” is another terrific banger, with a stomping groove overlain with gnarly and jangly guitars and more of Dan’s explosive drums. Frank’s vocals are more emphatic than ever here, as he wails the lyrics about a person who’s deeply devoted to and wrapped up in something or someone, but that no matter how how they try, they cannot reach their goal or gain acceptance from that other person. Despite repeated attempts that go unnoticed or keep getting beaten down, the frustrated individual just can’t give up or let go, no matter what, often feeling caught between conflicting feelings of adoration and loathing. “It’s hard to face you. But we are going to make it after all. Because I love to hate you. I’ve hit a hundred walls, but I’ll climb a hundred million more cause I was made to.”
I think my favorite track on the album is “Sailing In“, a beautiful rock song with gorgeous chiming guitars and vocal harmonies. The song speaks to that rapid passage of time addressed earlier, and also how people come in and out of our lives, leaving their imprints on our souls and psyches: “Foot steps, reverse, come back, it all just starts to blend. Old memories or deja vu that comes again. I feel the wind, I feel like I’m just sailing in to find myself stuck in that same old bar of sand. Who knows where we are? Fools gold in our hearts, no time to play pretend. These faces come and go.”
This theme is further explored on “Calling All Cars“, in which Frank emphatically admonishes another to stop wasting their precious time: “I hear, you hear all those same words but in different tones. You see, I see the same world in a different light. You choosing your fights. Our minds, we’re losing our minds. Your time, you’re wasting you’re time and your life!Cars, calling all cars! Your time is precious, follow your heart.” I really like the stark contrast between the lilting harmonies and aggressive wails in the bridge.
Another favorite is “Last Night, Today’s Dust“, a lively, melodic rocker about sticking together through good times and bad: “We were caught in the rain. We will get through these days. We can’t force all the stars to align, but I’ll always be by your side. We will live in the now. We’ll erase all the doubts. No ifs, no buts, no other way.” This song has a strong Foo Fighters vibe, and Frank’s vocals even sound a bit like Dave Grohl’s in spots.
One of the most powerful tracks on the album is “Give Me Electric“, which articulates some of Frank’s songwriting challenges: “[it] probably comes from the most negative state of mind out of all of the songs. Struggling to feel inspiration, every day felt like groundhogs day. Creativity was not flowing. But life gets like that and it always jumps back.After hearing the song recorded, I felt fucking great!” The lyrics speak of wanting to feel those sparks – whether they be creative, romantic, or whatever – that inspire us to do better and feel alive: “Give me electric. Shock me up so I can feel alive, because I fear that I’m fading away. Because I feel that I’m fading away.”
“Test Fire” is a poignant song acknowledging the pain caused to another, and asking for forgiveness: “I bottomed out, I let you down. For all the grief I’m sorry. Turn the page, don’t turn away. If I should shout please drown me out.” As it’s title suggests, “Manic Dramatic” features a frantic beat and lyrics touching on the risks of always living life on the edge: “We can be so erratic. We’re manic, dramatic./ As we pick a vice, we pay the price, oh do we. Somewhere down the line, our fate is blind, we’ll see. Worry all of our lives. Will we be alright?“
Wherever We Go closes with “Strange Nights“, a beautiful, bittersweet rock song that’s also the longest track on the album. The song starts off gently, with a brief spacey synth that’s soon replaced by a delicate acoustic guitar and Frank’s plaintive vocal. Eventually the music ramps up as he laments about a relationship broken beyond repair, adding that he never intended to hurt his partner: “Right way, wrong way. Too tough to balance out. My way, your way, it doesn’t matter now to me./ There we were with all we had. Holding on to something that was wrong. And here I am, with all I have. I never meant to cause you any harm.“
Morning Fuzz have come roaring back with Wherever We Go, a stellar work that further solidifies their already impressive rock credentials. They’re a great band, and I’m so proud of them for putting out such a strong, expertly crafted work as this.
I love dream pop with an alternative bent, and the music of singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Darksoft fits the bill quite nicely (and his first name also happens to be Bill!). Originally from Seattle, where he was active in the local music scene both as a solo artist and a collaborator with other musicians, he relocated in late 2021 clear across the country to Portland, Maine. Deftly blending elements of dream pop, shoegaze and alternative rock, he creates music that’s both sumptuous and pleasing. His compelling lyrics, addressing timely and relevant issues related to technology, social media and disillusionment, are delivered with his enchanting and soothing ethereal vocals. The imaginative, talented and creative artist has released four concept albums thus far, the latest of which is Beigeification.
I previously featured him and his music three times on this blog in 2019, first when I reviewed his brilliant debut album Brain, a concept work named for the very first computer virus to attack the internet back in 1986, with each track titled after infamous viruses that followed. I later reviewed two singles, “WannaCry”, which addressed the deep cultural and political divide in America, fed by our tendency to stay stuck in our own echo chambers, and “Cybersecurity“, which questioned whether all our data floating around out there in cyberspace was somehow being kept safe. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.) He followed with Meltdown (which includes the two aforementioned singles) in 2020, then Cryo in early 2022. They’re all excellent albums, but Beigeification is my favorite of them all.
Released on January 13th via Darksoft’s own label Look Up Records, Beigeification was produced and recorded entirely by him, mixed by Brian Fisher (Hibou, Éclo, Eastern Souvenirs), and mastered by Stefan Mac (Cold War Kids, No Vacation, Sea Lemon). He describes the album as “a postmodern dose of beigey moods and pastel phrases to match the disillusionment of our age.” For the album cover, he decided to use only a single beige color. He further elaborated in an Instagram post on his thoughts and inspiration for creating the album:
“When producing an album, I find that having a consistent theme is really helpful to inform the overall sound, lyrics, progressions, melodies, and instrumentation. For lyrics, I’m using a lot of ‘thought-terminating cliches’. These annoying, overused phrases and idioms have the effect of ending a conversation, because they are vague, universal truths. What’s also interesting is that grammatically they say absolutely nothing but they carry a lot of weight in context. Examples are ‘it is what it is’, ‘you gotta do what you gotta do’, ‘win some lose some’, ‘only time will tell’ and ‘to each their own‘.
This theme has been fun to play with, and I think fits the general attitude after watching the world over the past few years. I don’t want to encourage inaction, but when so much negativity piles up, it’s like ‘whaddya gonna do?’ To stay sane and functional as a digital being, you sort of have to accept that an endless barrage of bad news will always be at your fingertips, and then focus on what matters to you. Also, remember when everything got beigeified? Perhaps your parents painted the walls beige to increase the ‘resell value’ of their home (even if they weren’t selling it). Or think of Carmela Soprano’s Etruscan-themed living room, or how beige was used for conformity reasons on workplace PCs for most of the 20th century. I want these songs on Beigeification to carry nothing too heavy, say something without saying anything, and sit in the background of everyday life, like how sand fits around your toes at the beach, passive like the color beige, and worn-out like these idioms.
Every song on Beigeification uses only one chord progression over and over! I was trying to simplify with less is more. I realized I could just add or remove layers to change the vibe. Or change the playing/strumming slightly or use different chord inversions. This approach keeps things cohesive and was totally different from how I used to write, which was different chord progressions from section to section. It’s more carefree. It is what it is.“
The album contains nine wonderful tracks, starting with “It Is What It Is“, which was also released as the first single. The song has a fun, bouncy vibe, highlighted by Darksoft’s beautiful jangly guitar notes and breathy vocals singing the cliche lyrics he alluded to above: “Say what you will. When you know you just know. All’s well that ends well. What goes around comes around.” The charming video for the song, showing him barefoot and dressed all in white, doing a simple dance move in front of empty, nondescript office parks around Portland, Maine, was filmed on VHS recording equipment, giving it a vintage lo-fi quality.
“Only Time Will Tell” has an 80s new wave sound that calls to mind some of the music of Joy Division, New Order and The Cure, but with a modern twist. I love the lush jangly and chiming guitars and snappy percussion, and Darksoft’s silky vocals are both comforting and sensuous. The lyrics speak of being patient and taking things slowly and deliberately, aware that ‘good things come to those who wait’: “You got to learn to walk before you learn to run. Everything will come to the one that waits. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Only time will tell.”
Next up is the languid “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do“, a song so beautiful and soothing that I’m now besotted with this album. Once again, Darksoft’s guitar work is gorgeous, as are the sparkling synths and gentle percussion, and his layered breathy vocals are sublime. The way he strings together so many trite cliche sayings into something beautiful and compelling is quite clever: “You gotta do what you gotta do. You gotta be who you gotta be. Do or don’t, live or die. You never know until you try.” The beautiful video, directed by Brett Davis Jr. and filmed by Gerald Davis, shows Darksoft singing the song at Two Lights State Park and Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
The great songs keep coming. “Win Some Lose Some” is a return to the breezy new wave vibe we heard on “Only Time Will Tell”, which nicely serves to reinforce the ‘c’est la vie’ sense of resignation over life’s hiccups that Darksoft is getting at on the album – “Reap what you sow. Take what ya get. Better luck next time. Win some lose some. Win some lose others. If it’s not one thing then it’s another.” “Whatever It Takes” has a lively, toe-tapping beat, neat fuzzy guitars and colorful synths, and, as always, beautifully-layered sensuous vocals.
I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but my gosh, “Stones Unturned” is so gorgeous I can barely contain myself. Darksoft’s delicate jangly guitar work is stunning, accompanied by ambient sounds of a distant thundershower and beautiful swirling synths. His comforting ethereal vocals have been electronically altered in spots, giving them a fuzzy, otherworldly feel. The lyrics seem to be about – to use yet another cliche expression – ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’: “Some stones are best left, left unturned. Some words are better left unheard. Somethings you don’t need to see. Some views look better from dreams. Sometimes the road less traveled is leading nowhere.”
A fantastic dominant bassline takes center stage on “There’s Always Something Going On“, a song about how there will always be some unpleasant issue or problem to deal with in life: “There’s only so much I can do. There’s always something left undone. Even after we’re all dead and gone. There will be something going wrong.” And on the peppy “Fast Lane“, Darksoft sings of the perils of living recklessly: “It’s a short way down, but a long way back. Take a shortcut in the fast lane and you just might crash.” The album closes with “Such Is Life“, a pleasing song of resignation that sometimes shit happens in life, and we just have to accept it and do the best we can as we move on: “Such is life. Guess that’s the way it’s gonna be. C’est la vie.”
I don’t know what more I can write about Beigeification that I haven’t already gushed about, other than to say that I think it’s one of the best albums of 2023 so far. I love it so much I bought my own copy on Bandcamp, and so should you!
I recently learned about Welsh singer-songwriter and musician Dom Thomas when he followed me on Instagram. A talented and busy guy, he works as a librarian at Cardiff University, is founder and editor of VAINE Magazine (a Welsh literary and arts magazine for emerging artists and writers), and a poet who’s had one of his works published. He’s been writing and recording songs for his forthcoming EP, and released his wonderful debut single “Everything I Own” on November 11th. I liked it the instant I heard it, so much so that I want to both share it with my readers and give Dom a bit of press.
A deeply personal song, Dom explained in an Instagram post how he came to write “Everything I Own”: “I wrote the song in July 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. I was staying at home with my mum at the time, and I remember having all of my stuff packed up in the middle of the bedroom. And I was there playing this guitar which a friend lent me a few years ago. I remember thinking about how all of my stuff in the world was in that room, and how one of the main things I had (the guitar) wasn’t even mine. I just started thinking about that strange feeling you have sometimes in your 20s when you’re kind of sifting for your purpose in life, and trying to find out who you are. So, this song was the first one I wrote for the EP, and it gave me this idea to write some songs that were really personal.”
For the recording of the track, Dom sang vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars, bass and keyboards, Alec Rees played drums, and Mike Winters played viola. Jordan Roberts and Mark Lowe produced the track, with additional arrangements by Toni Madrid and Jacob Davies, and Eddie Al Shakarchi handled the mixing and mastering. Together, they’ve created a really lovely and melodic song. Dom’s layered guitar work is sublime, nicely accompanied by Alec’s relaxed drumbeats. As the song progresses, the music expands with the addition of Dom’s bold piano keys and Mike’s stirring viola, Dom’s comforting vocals turning more emphatic and emotional as well. Though the song has a rather melancholy undercurrent, Dom’s lighthearted “doo doo doos” in the choruses add glimmers of optimism, giving the song an overall pleasing vibe.
The poignant lyrics speak to feelings of impermanence, sadness, and dreams unfulfilled, whether they be material, artistic or romantic.
Everything I own
Feels like its borrowed
And I can’t give it back
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul
Everything I feel
Feels a bit too real
And I can’t turn away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul
And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door
Everywhere I go,
it feels like I’m followed
And I can’t get away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul
And everything I touch,
Feels a bit too much
Like it’s turning to stone
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul
And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door
Everything I know
Fills me with sorrow
And I can’t switch it off
My heart my dreams my love and my soul
And everything I do,
Makes me think of you
And I just can’t forget,
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul
And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door
The endearing video, directed by Daniel Evans and filmed by Alex David, who also did the editing along with Dan Cuddihy, shows scenes of Dom playing his guitar and singing the song while walking through the streets of Cardiff and the surrounding countryside, alternating with scenes of him setting up and performing at a small auditorium.