NOREiKA – EP Review: “Still Falling”

Peter Noreika

NOREiKA is Peter Noreika, a singer/songwriter from western New York state, near Buffalo. He started out his music career as a guitarist for a few heavy metal bands, but eventually quit the business to become gainfully employed, get married and start a family. He never lost his passion for music, though, and eventually picked up his guitar once again and returned to making music, this time as a solo artist. In 2015 he released his debut EP METACOUSTiFOLK, a three-track work in which he combined his love of heavy metal and acoustic guitar and interpreted it in a folk music style. As he describes in his bio, “I’m a blue collar guy in a white collar world. I’m a heavy metal shredder with an acoustic guitar. The music I write and play is not of the style I typically listen to. I stopped trying to be specific things, and instead started going where the wind would take me. I’m not bound by genre. I’m free to do what I want, and that’s what I’m going to do: Make “MY” music. 

He followed METACOUSTiFOLK a year later with Throw the Switch to Begin, featuring four acoustic and melodic rock songs. In 2017, he released his third EP BoXaRoX, on which he departed from the fuller sound of his previous EPs by stripping down the music to just acoustic guitar and vocals. I also reviewed that EP, which you can read here.

Keeping to his pattern of releasing a new EP each year, NOREiKA has just dropped his latest effort Still Falling. The new four-track EP sees a return to heavier instrumentation, with the addition of electric guitars and synthesizers, as well as more serious subject matter. As with his previous releases, he wrote and performed all music (guitar, bass and synths) with the exception of drums, which were played by the legendary Joe Goretti (who also played drums on the first two EPs).

Noreika EP

Finding My Way” kicks off the EP with layers of fast-paced intricate guitars, accompanied by just the right amount of percussion to keep the beat, while letting NOREiKA’s awesome guitar work shine. In his urgent vocal style, he sings about the struggles of being an aging rock musician. Not one to handle the routine of a 9 to 5 career, you’re living your dream of doing what you love and playing music, but time and the endless grind of touring and performing take their toll on the body and spirit too.

Living the dream, I never run out of steam. 
Get to pick and choose, I got nothing to lose. 
I can do no wrong when I’m rockin’ my song. 
Having a blast, when I’m playing fast. 
Then it’s off the stage to turn the page, 
on another day, in my own way. 

It faded away and left me in decay. 
There was nowhere to go, after the show. 
So I roamed for a while, mile after mile. 
Time passed by with no reason to fly. 
I never did jive with the 9 to 5, 
but it sucked me in and here I begin. 

How do I find my way back home? 
It’s been too long, and I’ve grown too old. 
How do I find my way, to where I belong? 

Tightrope” is a rather dark sounding song with chugging riffs of jangly and chiming guitars, spooky synths and a powerful thumping beat. The hopeful lyrics offer encouragement to a loved one to have faith, be honest, and not give up in their search for their own truth and path forward. “Moving on, facing fear, to soar you will defy. Speak your mind, say your truth, and never, ever lie. Closer to the other side, claim the prize that you can’t buy.”

The subject definitely turns darker on “Moment in Time,” a song about coming to terms with one’s self-destructive behavior and the damage it’s caused to his life and relationships. “Tried to tell me, but I walked on past, to one more day that could have been my last. You had enough, and taken all you could, so you gave up on me though I never thought you would.” The hard-driving beat and NOREiKA’s muscular, layered guitar riffs make this a real banger of a track.

On “View From the Heights,” NOREiKA sings of the rebelliousness of youth and the yearning to be free:

Hitting the streets, not sure where we’ll meet. 
I got a place in mind that’s hard to find. 
In the back of the park where it’s always dark. 
We can take a toke and share the smoke. 
I can see the lights coming. 
Got to run to be free. 
I can see the lights coming. 
Won’t they let us be. 

Once again, he dazzles our senses with his skillful guitar work, weaving together multiple textures to create a rich, guitar-driven soundscape that’s both dynamic and incredibly satisfying to lovers of guitar rock like me. I love Goretti’s aggressive drumming on this song, and the well-placed wobbly synths are terrific as well, lending a bit of a psychedelic vibe to the track. In fact, all four tracks are superb, and I think Still Falling is NOREiKA’s finest work yet.

Connect with Peter:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Reverbnation / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

REVOLUTION RABBIT DELUXE – Album Review: “Tales From Armageddonsville”

Revolution Rabbit Deluxe

Being a music blogger who’s earned a reputation for writing reviews, I receive a continuous stream of requests from indie artists and bands to listen to – and hopefully review – their music. So it was a pleasant surprise when I was contacted by Welsh band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe (is that not a great band name!) about their debut album Tales From Armageddonsville. I gave a few songs a listen and was immediately intrigued by their lively, Brit-rock sound and deep, thought-provoking lyrics.

Revolution Rabbit Deluxe began as a solo act by guitarist & vocalist Revolution Rabbit (RR), but eventually grew into a four-piece band with the addition of three very talented ladies: May Dupp (guitar, vocals), Una Corne (drums, vocals) and Chanda Lear (bass, vocals). How can you not love a band with such a sense of humor? In their bio, they describe themselves thusly:

Revolution Rabbit Deluxe live in one house, just like the Monkees, and in between writing, recording and gigging, they tour the world looking for suitable crimes to solve. They lost their summer jobs as archaeologists on Time Team after a drunken lunchtime argument with Tony Robinson led to an unfortunate incident with a toilet, some dynamite, and a very angry, wet, red-faced, tender-assed TV host. To this day, Tony twitches violently when he passes a lavatory.

The album kicks off to a rousing start with “Tarred and Feathered,” a pointed attack on racism and inequality that are institutionalized by the state: “When you’re judge and jury to approve but are disapproving. / Our best qualities are arrogance and pride.”  The band delivers chugging riffs of gritty guitars set to a hard-driving beat and strutting bass line. The piano keys used throughout the track provide a nice melodic counterpoint to the guitars, making for quite an exciting and powerful song.

The band takes on cultural and media mind-control on “Pavlov’s Dogs,” driving home their message with a barrage of punchy guitars, fuzzy riffs, screeching synths and thumping drumbeats. RR fervently laments of the false expectations we fall victim to: “See that girl, she’s so unhappy. Thinks her life should be like the silver screen. Sometimes she wants to scream./ The video is so seductive. Feeds the dream, but denies the needs.”

One of my favorite tracks is “In God We Trust,” a song that calls into question one’s faith in God with an air that exists somewhere between a catchy Beach Boys-esque vibe and a darker psychedelic tone. RR implores “Save me, why don’t you save me?” He goes on to ask why not save a whole assortment of entities that society deems ‘undesirable’ – like the hookers, the pushers, the pimps, the dealers, the one-parent family and the union local. He finally caustically beseeches “And while you’re at it, you can save the man. And while you’re at it, save the man in the moon!

I Can’t Change Your Mind” speaks to mental illness, with jangly guitars and spooky synths that lend a strong 80s feel. RR laments of his feelings of loneliness and irrelevance: “I’m alone here in the dark. / Please don’t throw in scraps of hope. / Fade away, I fade away. A shadow lost on sunny days” while a backing chorus whisper/sings the refrain “I cannot take much more. I cannot change your mind” throughout the track.

The terrific lo-fi guitar-driven tracks “Going Solo” and “Chords Played All Wrong” would have been right at home on the Beatles’ White Album, and “Blackwood Calling” has a throwback 60s Brit-rock vibe, but with an early 80s New Wave sensibility. More grungy lo-fi goodness abounds on “Helen Needs,” a song about a woman looking for relief from her negativity and self-pity. “Helen needs another love song. Spitting sweetness from her headphones.” I especially like the quirky little guitar notes and powerful drumbeat that continue throughout the track.

Another favorite of mine is the hard-hitting and provocative “Whore?” – a song that, in the band’s words, “deconstructs the modern Western family and asks why so many people in the Third World suffer to give us our standard of living.” “You perfect family, for you it’s milk and honey, while for others it’s a river of blood.” The song has a bit of a Depeche Mode vibe, with its strong, crunchy guitars, spacey synths and the kind of heavy, mesmerizing beat that I love. “Catechisms Cataclysms” urges us to change our wicked ways for the betterment of the world, delivered with a barrage of gritty guitars and a hard-driving beat.

Armageddonsville” closes out the album with an ominous warning of the consequences of our wicked ways. The track opens with late 80s-sounding techno synths and a strummed guitar as RR cautions: “It’s getting hotter and they say we’re gonna fry. The ice is melting, polar bears are gonna die. Spilling blood for oil, it makes me want to cry.”  The guitars, bass and drums intensify to become a tumultuous onslaught, driving home the seriousness of the subject matter. RR wails “Welcome stranger, take a seat and say a prayer. There’s nothing else to do in Armageddonsville.”

Tales From Armageddonsville is a fine work, and succeeds quite nicely as a concept album that speaks to a number of thorny issues currently facing Western societies. The songwriting, lyrics, instrumentation and arrangements are all exceptional, and I enjoyed this album immensely.

To learn more about Revolution Rabbit Deluxe check out their Website and follow them on Facebook & Twitter
Stream on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

THE SILENCE KIT – Album Review: “Fall Protection”

The Silence Kit2

The Silence Kit is a Philadelphia-based band that plays dark indie alternative rock inspired in equal parts by post punk, shoegaze, neo-psychedelia, goth rock and avant-garde. Formed in 2002 by singer/guitarist Patrick McCay, the current lineup also includes Justin Dushkewich on bass, Darren O’Toole on drums & percussion, James Gross on guitar, and Bryan Streitfeld on synths. The band has released a number of albums, EPs and singles over the years, and in late October, they dropped their fifth album Fall Protection, which follows their acclaimed 2014 album Watershed.

The Silence Kit album

Their music has been compared to bands like The Cure, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, Nick Cave, and Television, but they’ve forged their own signature sound over the years, and Fall Protection sees the band continuing to grow and evolve, fusing together the atmosphere and intensity of early 80s post-punk and goth rock with the spirit of early 90s grunge and indie rock. In the recording of the album, the band had assistance from guest musician Kristin Kita, who played guitar on tracks #1, 7, 9, 10 and synths on #3, 5, 6, 8. The album was recorded and mixed by band front man Patrick McCay and mastered by Dave Downham.

Supermarket” kicks off the album with dark, almost psychedelic synths and grungy guitars propelled by a strutting bass line and infectiously melodic drumbeat. McCay’s vocals are wonderful, with a vulnerable urgency as he croons “In the glow of the supermarket. I wanna feel like I’m in my own dream…again. I miss the kiss of your first attraction. I want to be in deep and sleepless love…again. Time and time again, I will find you. / Lucky me, you found me too.” “New Year’s Eve” speaks to the random nature of our lives year in and year out: “There’s no such thing as karma, or what other’s like to call fate. What you give is irrelevant, and what you get is random…” The music features exuberant layers of fuzzy and jangly guitars and powerful drums.

This Time” serves up a deep, thumping bass line, delicious jangly guitars and the kind of strong, pummeling drumbeat that I love in songs. McCay’s emotionally wrought vocals seem to channel The Cure’s Robert Smith on this track. And the stunning chiming guitar work and sweeping melody on “Can We Skip This?” really showcase The Silence Kit’s strong musicianship. By the fifth track, the stellar, hard-hitting “Everything You Feel Good About,” I’m pretty well hooked on this band’s arresting music style and McCay’s slightly off-kilter but always captivating vocals.

The phenomenal “Wound” is another great example of what I’m talking about. The dark song starts off with a melancholy piano riff, accompanied by ominous synths, a deep, buzzing bass line and chugging guitars as McCay sings with a low, almost menacing voice. “I got this one thing on my mind. I’ve got to keep from losing you. / I wear this like it’s my own, a fine wound, so much to lose.” Two thirds of the way in, the tempo speeds up to a frantic pace as guitars rage and McCay screams “Don’t say a word” several times, then the music slows back down through to song’s end.

One of my favorite tracks is the brooding “Worry,” with its reverb-heavy layered guitars, sweeping psychedelic synths and tumultuous percussion that create an immense backdrop for McCay’s intensely passionate vocals. Another standout is the monumental six and a half minute-long “Never Say Goodbye.” Its haunting melody, lush, soaring instrumentals, and intricate guitar work are all positively breathtaking. The band keeps dazing our senses with raging riffs, dark synths, thunderous drums and raw vocals on “How Does it Feel?” and “Tablecloth.” McCay’s vocals sound decidedly British on the former track as he wails “How does it feel when you’re down and you find out everyone loves your best friend now? How does it feel when you’re gone?”

They seem to pull together all the elements of their signature sound and put them on full display on the gorgeous album closer “Discard.” The stunning reverb-heavy jangly guitars that open the epic track and continue throughout are fantastic, serving as the foundation for this magnificent song. Waves of sparkling, psychedelic synths wash over the guitars, aided by a deep bassline and layer upon layer of crashing cymbals and turbulent drums. It’s a massive song and the perfect ending to an equally massive album that leaves me awestruck.

Connect with The Silence Kit:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

JETSTREAM – Single Review: “Delta Blues”

The other day my friend Susan tweeted about a new song “Delta Blues” by a band I’d not heard of before called Jetstream, tagging me along with several other music-loving friends as she customarily does to help spread the word about indie bands. Well, let me say that every single one of us were immediately blown away when we clicked on the YouTube link and listened to the song. Wow, “Delta Blues” is one hard-rockin’, foot-stompin’, gritty blues-rock mutherfucker! And though Jetstream sound like they’re from Tennessee or Mississippi, they’re in fact originally from the Rock of Gibraltar, and now based in the UK!

Jetstream
Photo by Eye Candy Photography

Like many bands, Jetstream has undergone some personnel changes since their formation in 2008, but the current lineup consists of Nolan Frendo (vocals), Stu Whitwell (guitars, keys), Tristan Tonna (drums), Justin Pou (bass), Aaron Ignacio (guitar) and Tristan Tonna (drums). Among some of their many musical influences are such greats as Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Kooks, Counting Crows, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Coldplay and Green Day – all awesome bands I also love. They released their first EP in 2014, and have followed with a number of singles since then, the latest of which is “Delta Blues,” which dropped on October 26 (a date that interestingly saw a tremendous number of new releases by several artists and bands, a few of which I’ve recently reviewed).

“Delta Blues” kicks off with Tonna’s pounding drumbeat as Whitwell and/or Ignacio lay down deadly riffs of gnarly guitar, backed by a sinister pulsating synth and Pou’s throbbing bass line that set an ominous tone. Frendo’s gritty vocals deepen the tension as he tells the unfortunate tale of a woman named Delta Blues who swept him off his feet, only to betray him.

Way down in Mississippi I found the sweet Delta Blues
She strut so very pretty, I knew I had nothing to lose
She made her name in this town when her mama was 17
Knocked down a whiskey jigger, make eyes across the room
Be first to pull the trigger, don’t trust what you assume
She made a name in this town when her mama was 17

The guys dial up the heat of the instrumentals to boiling as Frendo passionately wails the chorus, sending chills up and down our spines:

And I, I met her in a dusty tap room
I kissed her in the Southern sun
I shot her in the darkest alley
I miss her in another’s arms

The rampaging guitars, bass and drums continue laying waste to the airwaves as Frendo’s raw vocals keep heaping new layers of chills upon us straight through to the end. What a great song! Take a listen and dial up the volume to full-blast!

Connect with Jetstream:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes Google Play

THE MILLION REASONS – Single Review: “Battle of Sound”

The Million Reasons New Lineup

I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands lately on this blog, and today I’m featuring another one for the second time – the incredible Chicago rock band The Million Reasons. The band is comprised of Scott Nadeau (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar), Mike Nichols (guitar), Colin Dill (drums) and their newest member Jason Cillo (bass). Following up on their outstanding 2017 debut EP The Runaround, they released their gorgeous single “Dizzy” in July, a magnificent song that went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 (you can read my review here). Today they return with another fantastic single “Battle of Sound,” which I’m pleased to review.

The song has a hard-hitting old-school rock vibe, starting off with punchy riffs of gnarly guitar that provide the driving force for the track. The song expands as layers of guitar are added, accompanied by a solid bass line and power drums, then suddenly erupts into a furious maelstrom in the bridge as the guys let loose on their respective instruments. It all makes for an exhilarating and highly enjoyable rock song.

Scott has a wonderful singing voice, with a raw power that’s perfectly suited to the music and biting lyrics that speak of a relationship that’s irreparably broken to the point that further communication is now impossible.

I didn’t know that we were fighting
I didn’t know that the lines were drawn
But here we are with our weapons at the ready
And the sides have been decided upon

If it’s a battle of silence, I’m winning
Never see me come around again
If it’s a battle of sound, I’ll take the crown
You’ll never see me come around again

You didn’t come prepared for battle 
You didn’t expect me to react 
You didn’t know that I own moments like this 
Where the lights go out and the power blows 
You’re in the black 

Who do you think kicks the power back on? 

The humorously charming video opens with the guys pulling up in a van, where they pick up a guy waiting by the curb who’s the new band member Jason Cillo. They hand him a bass guitar, whereupon he immediately gets into the groove as they all begin to play the song, heads furiously bobbing to the beat. As the video progresses, they’re shown alternating their seating positions and instruments, while the poor drummer Colin Dill gets tossed around a bit in the back as he tries to play his drums. The guys clearly had fun making this video.

Connect with The Million Reasons:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

THAT HIDDEN PROMISE – EP Review: “Drifted Hope e.p.”

That Hidded Promise EP Cover

I always find interesting the artistic monikers that musicians come up with for their music projects, and I’ve featured quite of number of such artists on this blog. My latest is That Hidden Promise, whose new EP Drifted Hope e.p. drops today. Based in Somerset, England, That Hidden Promise is the artistic alter ego of singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee, who’s been performing live and recording under that name since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, creates all his own music, including beats and percussion, and plays acoustic and electric guitar.

He’s produced an extensive catalog of alternative rock music over the past seven years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix, resulting in a highly eclectic sound. In May 2017, he released a single “All Things, All Will Come,” an upbeat rock song with exuberant guitar, percussion and synths, which I reviewed. Now, with Drifted Hope e.p., That Hidden Promise delivers five all-acoustic tracks that are darker and more introspective.

He kicks things off with “If I,” a song that seems to ponder the meaning of his existence within the universe, which in and of itself is almost beyond comprehension to me. His strummed guitar chords are strong, clear and lovely, and his vocals earnest as he wistfully sings the thoughtful lyrics:  “If I could sit still for a minute more than I can. Would I lose all of myself for that minute, though now it’s gone, it’s gone. But now, if I had that minute back, what’s the point in that? / Why should I think the universe contracts a while to a single point of nothingness. And is this cycle infinite? Can we know?

The Drop” has a melodic folk-rock vibe, with heavily strummed guitar and slightly off-kilter vocals that seem to channel Bob Dylan. He sings of how he’s done with someone who won’t give him a break: “You know I don’t know what I did to offend you. Seems if you could bring me down you do it. You sneaky little sh**.”  On “The Gallery of Drifted Hope Acoustic,” he laments over past mistakes that have taken his life down the wrong path, negatively impacting friendships and his future: “And I remember when the world seemed bright and new. Now see a gallery of drifted hope, of things I blew away.”

Though essentially an acoustic folk song, “See, Hold It, Feel” has a slight Pearl Jam grunge vibe, at least to my ears. It’s a wonderful and moving track, with some really fine intricate guitar work. “We Can Come Together Acoustic” is an upbeat, hopeful song about putting aside petty differences and focusing on the good in each other: “We can’t do much about deception. We can’t do much about the lies. Misinformation all around us.So put your arms around me, I’ll put my arms around you. And we can dance all night and we can gaze at the moon. And when it’s all said and done, we might not agree. But I believe that we can come together.” Positive words that I could do well to follow myself in these rather divisive times.

Drifted Hope e.p. is a solid work by That Hidden Promise. I really like his contemplative lyrics, and his ace guitar work is sublime. His vocals can be a little flat in spots, but at the same time they reflect an honest vulnerability that’s very appealing, and work well with his emotive acoustic style.

To learn more about That Hidden Promise, check out his Website and connect with him on Facebook & Twitter
Stream his music on  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Tidal / Napster
Purchase on  iTunes /  Amazon / Google Play

STRANGELY ALRIGHT – EP Review: “Stuff”

Strangely Alright Stuff

As all of us who use it know, social media can sometimes be a major source of aggravation, but it also has its rewards, one of which – for me at least – has been to connect with scores of musicians and bands from around the world. With some of them, that connection has run deeper and become more personal for a myriad of reasons, but most often due to the warmth and magnanimity of the artists themselves. One such band is a five-piece from Seattle, Washington with a delightfully quirky name – Strangely Alright. Not only do they play great rock music, they also project a strong message of love and acceptance in their songs, while clearly having a lot of fun in the process.

The band is headed by Regan Lane, who does most of the songwriting and sings lead vocals, Sean Van Dommelen (lead guitar, vocals), Ken Schaff (bass), Raymond Hayden (keyboards, vocals) and Jason Bair (drums). Their wildly-entertaining style of punk-infused rock is inspired by various generations of British iconoclasts such as David Bowie, T.Rex, the Jam, Suede, the Buzzcocks and Supergrass.

They’ve released a number of recordings over the past several years, including their terrific album The Time Machine is Broken in 2013, and a compilation album of singles All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) earlier this year.  On September 20, they dropped a fantastic new EP simply titled Stuff. The band describes the EP as “six songs about love, working together, setting boundaries, the digital age and the change that’s coming.” The tracks were written in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and speak to “walking the tightrope of acceptance and resistance, of not giving in to the overwhelming forces of hatred and turmoil.” I could sure use some pointers on that subject.

The opening title track “Stuff” speaks out against our materialistic ways, namely, our thinking that acquiring more things will bring us happiness when, at the end of the day, it’s the love and support we extend to others that will bring our lives meaning and a real sense of contentment: “And I have learned through the trials and the times. That I need to look inside if I want to stay alive. All of the things that I gather are things I will leave when I am gone. It’s all just Stuff. It ain’t enough. Without the love in my heart it’s all just Stuff.

I love the silly opening with ukelele and a bit of jibberish, and how it then erupts into an explosion of gnarly and screaming guitars, set to Jason’s infectious hard-driving rock beat that grabs us by the hips and gets our asses moving! The guitar work is so good and, combined with the gritty synths, throbbing bass and Regan’s feisty vocals, “Stuff” is one hell of an awesome rock song!

Building Bridges” is an admonishment for us to work together to build things up rather than fighting to tear things apart. The track starts off with a portion of the famous and moving speech given by Bobby Kennedy at the time of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.” It then launches into a thunderous volley of gritty riffs, assertive keyboards and pounding drums that form a lively soundscape for Regan’s fervent, at times distorted, vocals.

The kiss-off song “Wave Goodbye” starts off with Regan saying in an almost smarmy voice-over “Dinner is served,” then organ synths and fuzzy guitars take over as he sneers: “I thought you were my friend but I can see you’ve been pretending from the snide remarks that drip from you tongue.  Walking with a shovel, you’re surprised that you’re in trouble while you’re piling dirt on people you love./  Even when you say you can change. hey, we don’t trust you. Maybe you should just float away./ Wave goodbye.

Strangely Alright takes on misinformation and fake news on “Information Game.” The track has a wonderful T.Rex glam rock vibe, with psychedelic synths and layers of distorted and wailing guitars. Regan’s vocals actually sound a bit Bolan-esque as he snarls: “Liars thieves and pretty faces. TV stars that run the nation. Maybe there’s a quiz at the end. Same old show a different station. Fairy tales and race relations. Cherry pick the good and the bad. The more I see the less I know. The less I know the more I see. It’s clogging up my brain.

Whatcha Gonna Do?” is straight-up rock’n’roll with an irresistible head-boppin’ beat, and one of my favorite tracks on the EP. Keeping with their penchant for quirky intros, the track opens with what sounds like a merry-go-round , symbolizing the circus-like atmosphere we now seem to be living in. Sean’s guitar work is fantastic, as are Raymond’s jazzy keyboards, Ken’s bass and Jason’s drums. And Regan seems to channel early David Bowie on this track as he croons: “Well I vote in the elections and I feel no real connections with the humans that we trust with our lives. Baby baby It just feels like lies lies lies lies. Who hoo hoo hoo. Whatcha gonna do? when it all just breaks in two.

The EP ends on a upbeat note with the psychedelic-rock “Don’t U Know.” The lyrics speak to the optimism of youth, and that change for the better is coming, even though those of us who are older may feel cynical and pessimistic about it: “Well my children tell me that a change is gonna come. Hiding in the sunlight is the truth that we are one. Open doors of freedom. Doors of dialogue. Freight train and I feel it’s coming coming coming.

I have to say that the more I’ve listened to their music, the more I’ve come to love Strangely Alright – not only for their uniquely quirky sound and impressive songwriting and musicianship, but also for their humanity and kindness. Stuff perfectly exemplifies all those admirable qualities that make them a very special band indeed.

To learn more about Strangely Alright, check out their website
Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple MusicReverbnationSoundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

CHIO – EP Review: “Unlearned Lessons”

Chio EP

Chio is the artistic name of singer/songwriter Anthony Chiofalo, and this is his debut EP Unlearned Lessons, which dropped in August. The New York City-based artist plays rock music influenced by a whole assortment of alternative, grunge and garage bands, but with a style all his own. He recently had this to say regarding his sound: “People continue to ask specifically what artists my music sounds like. Fair enough, but I’m usually at a loss with that question. I had come up with some answers, but nothing that felt accurate. I also didn’t like to try to fit what I did into some other artist’s slot. That’s missing the whole point of writing original music. I have influences. Tons of them. But I never want to imitate, replicate or steer too close towards someone else’s creations. Otherwise I might as well just play their songs.

Well, to these old ears of mine, I hear bits of the Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows (specifically the vocals of Adam Duritz), and Tom Petty – all great bands I really like, so it would follow I’d like Chio’s music. He wrote all the lyrics and music, arranged all the songs, and played guitar, keyboards and sang on Unlearned Lessons. Jerome Giancola played bass and Justin Hofmann played drums, and both guys produced, recorded and engineered the songs.

About the EP’s title Unlearned Lessons, Chio explains that it comes from a lyric in one of the tracks called “Into the Waves“: “We all still feel it, subtle heat. Unlearned lessons, always repeat.” It’s the final track on the EP, but I’ll discuss it first. He goes on to state: “The song… is about growing up and feeling the pressure of so many different aspects of life, and getting fed up to where you just want to get away from it all. In the chorus, I use surfing as a metaphor for escape, singing ‘I just want to jump into the waves.’  Surfing’s my metaphor, but the line itself represents anything that helps you get away from the seemingly endless challenges we all have to deal with. It seems that until we figure out how to remove ourselves from whatever cycle we’re playing out, and find a way to move past the continuous and familiar problems we face time and time again, there is only temporary escape in whatever you do to get through it. Until you understand why you’re going through the same patterns and what’s at the root of it, your ‘unlearned lessons’ will always repeat.

Using layers of fuzzy and jangly electric guitars, Chio creates a palpable sense of tension, made even stronger with the addition of his own eerie electronically altered backing vocals.

The opening track “The Rebel Inside” touches on his self-image as a badass, at least while he was coming of age, but also that he has a vulnerable side, and his loved one’s hurtful actions may turn him away: “So maybe I’m not as hard as I thought I was at age 15 when I caught my first real buzz. But that don’t mean my mind won’t break when you put my pride at stake. But you seem to see right through me. You’re all that I’ve got and it’s gonna consume me. But I know it’s good to be choosy. Watch out maybe you’re about to lose me.” The track starts off with a gritty, reverb-heavy guitar riff and Chio’s earnest vocals setting a rather dark mood, then the music breaks open with gnarly guitars, humming bass and heavy drums and loads of crashing cymbals. It’s a great rock song.

Out of My Head” is a hard-driving kiss-off song, and Chio’s terrific guitar work is on full display. With bitter resignation, he tells is ex he’s done with her: “I think I’ll take it easy on myself and keep you out of my head. We threw so many words upon each other. Petty things better left unsaid. Now I only feel peace in myself. This moment’s my only future, and there’s no time left for you.” And speaking of kiss-off, he really goes for the jugular on “Haunted“: “There’s a special place in hell for people like you. The ones that take my heart, but don’t see it through. And I’m just vulnerable if you look too close. A sheet in a dark room, but you think that I’m a ghost. Now I’m haunted. I’m haunted by your ghost.” It’s an interesting track, beginning with a funereal organ synth that seems to represent the feelings of being haunted by the death of the relationship. The song then blasts wide open with shredded guitars and heavy drums, intensifying the emotions expressed in the lyrics. I especially like the catchy little guitar riff Chio plays in the choruses.

Chio tackles obsessive, unrequited love on “Long Distance,” where he addresses someone who’s obsessed with a guy she’s never even met: “You know you love him, but you won’t say a word. And if you love him well, why hasn’t he heard. Know the reason why you keep your feelings inside. When you see him, you run and you hide.” I love the Tom Petty-like guitar work on this track.

Unlearned Lessons is a great little EP and an impressive debut effort from Chio that should make him proud. His honest, thoughtful lyrics are written from the heart, and his ability to set them to dynamic melodies and bring them to life with his skillful guitar playing make for some very solid rock songs.

To learn more about Chio, check out his Website/Blog

Connect with him on Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

9fm – EP Review: “Little House”

9fm - Jarrod Pedone

I recently learned about an outstanding musician who goes by the artistic name 9fm – short for Ninth Floor Mannequin – after he posted his music on my friend Roy’s music sharing website Chatsong. 9fm is the moniker for the solo music project of New Jersey-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone, and I was instantly moved by his arresting sound the moment I heard it. He melds folk with alternative rock, injecting bits of synth pop here and there to create incredibly pleasing music that seems to draw influences from such artists as Fleet Foxes, Paul Simon and Sufjan Stevens. And not only is his music brilliant and captivating, his poetic lyrics are so deeply compelling and filled with meaning that they seem almost Shakespearean. He’s just released a five-track EP Little House, and it’s marvelous.

Before getting into the EP, a bit of background about Jarrod to provide some context for his music, in his own words:

Before 9/2/12, I was a full-time musician, recording engineer and composer. On that evening while out for a run, I was struck by an intoxicated driver. I suffered a laundry list of injuries, the most concerning of which was the traumatic brain injury. When I eventually woke up, I learned that outpatient physical and mental therapy understandably left something to be desired in regard to musician’s skills recovery. I naturally resumed my career path. Little did I know that creating music was now going to be by far the most significant source of therapy that I’d experience.”

9fm2

9fm writes, performs, records, mixes and masters all this own original music, and to my ears, I’d say he’s recovered from his injuries quite admirably. He released his debut album Green & Blue for Blackness in 2016, and followed in late 2017 with the EP 5 Characters (In Search of an Exit), both of which are superb. Little House dropped on September 3.

The title track “Little House” kicks off the EP with layers of shimmering synths and fuzzy guitars set to a galloping drumbeat, gently transporting us into to a dreamy soundscape. Jarrod’s warm vocals are lovely, and even more so when backed by his own soaring harmonies as he plaintively sings of letting down his guard and being honest with his true feelings – that he wants to settle down and be married to the one he’s loved for a long while: “To say it all aloud. The things that I had thought for years. I wouldn’t want a change. I wouldn’t change. I want a little house & rings.”

Tin God” sees him coming to the realization that his lifelong quest to be the best, to be on top, to win, has come at a price, and in the end, did not bring the happiness he’d expected: “The goal was clear from day one. Perfect the game, sharing first place with no one./ Sleep in the hall. No time at all for love now. A legend or a tin god. I risked my life for just one try to dethrone. Well in the end, I did win best of all time. Not worth my time, you keep it, you can keep it.” The track has a progressive rock feel, with reverb-heavy chiming guitars, industrial sounding synths, assertive percussion and echoed vocals. I love the rather haunting melody that weaves throughout the song.

And speaking of melodies, “Allow Me” has one that’s absolutely captivating, in stark contrast to the song’s dark theme. The track opens with glittery, pulsating synths, then expands into a gorgeous soundscape of delicate guitar chords and sparkling keyboards, led by a gentle, driving beat. Jarrod’s layered harmonic vocals are beautiful, bringing chills as they soar. The biting lyrics speak to the facades people create to mask their fears, phoniness and uglier sides, and that doing so only diminishes them: “Lies & smiles are all we are. I think that I can’t keep up. Allow me to let loose, to scream it all. It feels so good to yell out all the truth & the hate that we hold.

Good People Bad” was inspired by a Twilight Zone episode called “The Shelter.” In a nutshell, a group of neighbors are at a dinner party at the home of the only family to have installed a bomb shelter (nuclear war hysteria was rampant in the late 50s-early 60s). After hearing a news bulletin warning of an impending nuclear attack, the neighbors panic and turn against the family that installed the shelter and, eventually, each other. (Quite frankly, this episode should be required viewing for everyone right now.)  Once again, the song’s hauntingly beautiful melody and music contrast with the dark lyrics. “The radio sent us all a noose. We pass it around ’til it’s right. The power of numbers can drive good people bad. Left no choice but to fight.”

The meaning of the final track “Absences V2.0” was a bit ambiguous to me, with my best guess being that it’s about how we identify ourselves and others through the prism of all the factors that comprise our belief systems and biases. But 9fm told me it relates to his accident, specifically about getting blood transfusions and how he lost some of his senses that were damaged: “We exaggerate the loves we lost on the way. Missing less each day, the pain, smell, touch & taste. The times that we had seems like they were fine. The saying isn’t true. Absences & hearts go fine.” Musically, the song is the most experimental of the five tracks, with mesmerizing chord progressions, otherworldly synths, and interesting guitar work.

To sum up, I can’t gush enough over this beautiful little EP. I love everything about 9fm’s songs; his lyrics, melodies, instrumentals, vocals, track arrangements and overall production values are all exceptional. I am a dedicated fan!

Connect with 9fm:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloud / iTunes
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

DVR – EP Review: “Down”

DVR pic

DVR is a studio project by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olav Christensen. Originally from Denmark, Olav is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and writes, records, produces and masters all his music. He’s been recording music for a number of years, and began releasing singles in 2015, and dropped his first full-length album California in 2016. That work was inspired by memories collected by Olav when he lived in Santa Monica, and was a collaborative effort with bassist/synth musician Ancelmo James.

In late July, he released a new EP Down, which he describes as “five depressing songs for the kids, guaranteed to make you feel better.” While the songs’ themes do address the down sides of love and relationships, his wonderful music is generally upbeat, having the effect of softening the raw emotions expressed in his dark, poetic lyrics.

The first track “Precious Little Time” is a lovely pop-rock ballad that seems to be about regret over past transgressions that resulted in the loss of a loving relationship. The instrumentals are a pleasing mix of acoustic, electric and slide guitars, accompanied by gentle percussion, that perfectly complement the wistful lyrics:

Precious little time makes me lose my head
It’s not that you did wrong, I’m just hanging by a thread
Running out of time and I keep slowing down
Beat and broken down, knees to the ground
I’ll send you love from the great beyond
To take the edge off breaking my bond

Low” has an edgier rock sound, with fuzzy and psychedelic guitars, heavy bass and industrial synths set to a driving beat. DVR’s electronically distorted vocals give the track a bit of a Peter Gabriel vibe. It’s a brilliant song, and probably my favorite on the EP. “Another Year” is a soulful pop-rock track with some fine, intricate electric guitar and a strong thumping drumbeat.  His smooth vocals are really nice, as are his own backing harmonies, which he very effectively uses on other tracks as well. He sings about his shortcomings and how he always fails to live up to his best intentions: “I won’t make no resolutions. There really is no point. Cause when it comes to execution I just disappoint.”

He speeds things up on “Your Shoes,” a peppy, upbeat-sounding rock song with great guitar work and decidedly dark lyrics. Spoken from the point of view of someone who’s completely cynical and emotionally dead, his words offer a bit of empathy to another who’s suffering, though from what we’re not told. His earnest, emotionally-charged vocals almost reach a falsetto level at times.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow 
But I’ve been dead for a while 
My spirit’s dull and hollow 
My soul is dark and vile
But here 
Close to the ground 
Flat on my back 
Nothing to lose 
Here 
I realize what it’s like 
To be in your shoes

On “Undetected,” DVR employs a wide assortment of rich guitar textures, and layers them over a thumping bass line and strutting drumbeat to create an uptempo backdrop for his heartfelt vocals. With a sense of sad resignation, he laments about how the object of his desire doesn’t seem to care about him:

I’d like to be on your radar
It’s my favorite place to be
But all the while, here you are
Not looking for me
I’m always undetected
As I drift across your scope
I’ll always be neglected
Here at the end of my rope

Down is a great little EP that left me wanting more from this versatile artist. Though he refers to himself as a “shitty” guitarist in his Twitter bio, I’d say he’s a pretty good one! And given his rather prolific output over the past few years, I’m sure we’ll be hearing new music from DVR soon.

Connect with DVR:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify
Purchase Down on Bandcamp