EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO – Single Review: “Cosmic Joke”

Formed in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic, talented British five-piece Express Office Portico is comprised of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums). In cleverly naming themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, England, it follows that they would not be afraid to address all sorts of relevant and timely issues, including those related to mental health and emotional well-being. Their debut single “I Like it Weird”, released in late January 2021, dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how it can exacerbate feelings of jealousy over past lovers. Their second single “Mishmesh” explored the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits, while their third single “Then Wave” addressed abandonment and trust issues.

I really like their brand of dreamy synthpop with an edge, and have reviewed all three of their previous singles, which you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post. Now they’re back with their fourth single “Cosmic Joke“, which has a mellower vibe than their previous singles, as well as a more lighthearted message. They’ve provided a bit of background on their creation of the song: “‘Cosmic Joke’ came about by trying and failing to work out the chords to the 70s classic “I’d Rather Be with You” by Bootsy Colins. As big fans of artists immersed in RnB and funk like Erykah Badu, Yellow Days and Steve Lacy, we began thinking, how would an Express Office Portico track with these accidental chords sound? ‘Cosmic Joke’ evolved from there, with other influences such as Men I Trust, Beach House, Yellow Days, Rex Orange County & Mac Demarco adding to its creation. We love comedians that go on long rants that are more like philosophical monologues than stand-up. Bill Hick’s famous ‘It’s Just a Ride’ piece, being the perfect example. From here we decided on using this framing device for the track.

The title comes from an idea in philosophy that the entire universe and life in general is just one big joke. A trick played on humanity by existence itself, or God, or whatever you wanna call it. ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more’. The lyrics are essentially about having an existential crisis and the utter confusion of being a conscious human in the physical world. Everyone is searching for meaning, but life is fundamentally meaningless. So, we might as well just laugh about it all, and try to enjoy it as much as we can! During the recording weekend, we booked ourselves an Airbnb to house us all. After a mild night of drinking, our guitarist Roo had a bit too much nicotine, which resulted in a fairly violent bout of sickness, starting with us all sat around the TV. Who knew too much nicotine could do that to you hey?

The song opens with Olly’s assertive drumbeats, then silky keyboards enter along with Ben’s funky bassline and Reuben’s beautiful shimmery guitar as the music settles into a delicious R&B groove. In her sweet, lilting vocals, Tara cheekily croons “Sit back, relax. As the curtains draw, the microphone stands upon the stage floor. Out walks a comedian. The crowd we roar. Out walks a comedian, and they say ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more. Your ticket’s already pulled, so you may as well just laugh and applaud’.” The song is filled with great moments like the quiet little interlude halfway through the song during which Ben’s funky bass really shines, and Tara and Billy’s wonderful harmonies in the final chorus.

With “Cosmic Joke”, Express Office Portico keep their perfect score of putting out stellar singles fully intact.

Connect with Express Office Portico:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / deezer

Purchase on Bandcamp / Amazon 

EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO – Single Review: “Then Wave”

In naming themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, England, it’s no surprise that British synth-pop band Express Office Portico do not shy away from tackling relevant and timely issues. Since forming in early 2020, the talented five-piece consisting of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums), has released three singles touching on mental health and well-being.

Their first, “I Like it Weird”, dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how it can exacerbate feelings of jealousy over past lovers. Their second, “Mishmesh”, explored the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits. (I reviewed both of those singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) Now they’re back with a new single “Then Wave“, which addresses the struggle of coping with abandonment and trust issues. The track was produced and mixed by Joshua Rumble and mastered by Fluid Mastering. The beautiful artwork was created by Antonio Pacelli.

With “Then Wave”, Express Office Portico gifts us with another beautiful synthpop song, overflowing with their signature swirling synths and Tara and Billy’s captivating harmonies. The sounds of theremin, accompanied by Ben’s throbbing bass notes and Olly’s perfect drumbeats, creates a dreamy backdrop for Tara’s enchanting vocals as she plaintively sings the lyrics describing someone struggling to reach out for affection amid their fears and anxiety over letting people get close to them. As she sings the verses, Billy repeats the words “Can’t get up” over and over, driving home the feelings of anxiety and helplessness in overcoming one’s insecurities:

Let me be swallowed by my own self doubt
Nauseous from constantly spinning around
   (Can't get up)
Time to sit with my shame
   (Can't get up)
Feeling flows through my brain
   (Can't get up)

You are infecting my very body
So close I can feel you inside of me
Time to sit with my shame
   (Can't get up)
Feeling flows through my brain
   (Can't get up)
I stop calling your name
   (Can't get up)
Then wave, calling your name
   (Can't get up)

Connect with Express Office Portico:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundclouddeezer

Purchase on Amazon

New Song of the Week – EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO: “Mishmesh”

Six months ago, I reviewed the marvelous debut single “I Like It Weird” by British synth-pop band Express Office Portico (which you can read here). Formed in early 2020 and named after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, Express Office Portico consists of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums). Now the talented five-piece are back with a gorgeous new single “Mishmesh“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The band states “Mishmesh” (whose title means a collection or mixture of unrelated things) explores the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits. To drive home their message, the band starts with a rapid, pulsating synth line, then adds deep bass and punchy drumbeats to produce a powerful hypnotic groove that quickly draws us in. Soon, the song expands with lush swirling synths and gorgeous layers of chiming and jangly guitars, creating a hauntingly beautiful backdrop for Tara and Billy’s stunning vocal harmonies. The song is really breathtaking, and I’m blown away by the bandmembers’ exceptional musicianship.

Barring any last-minute changes, those of you in the UK can catch Express Office Portico at one of these upcoming shows:

Friday, August 6 - Chameleon Arts Cafe, Nottingham, w/Oliver Marson & Ben Bickley
Thursday, August 12 - The Lexington, London, w/Oliver Marson & Conspirators
Thursday, August 28 - The Bodega, Nottingham, w/Swim School, Scuttlers & Grayce

Follow Express Office Portico:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream I Like it Weird on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase on Amazon

BLIGHT TOWN – EP Review: “Blight Town”

Blight Town are a five piece alternative/math rock band based in Nottingham, England. Formed in 2019, the band consists of brothers Jake (vocals) and Sam Hough (guitar), Will Emmerson (guitar), Scott Taylor (bass) and Joseph Smith (drums). Together, they combine elements of progressive, math, pop and metal rock with bold instrumentation, complex time signatures and a dramatic mix of screamo and melodic vocals to create their wildly explosive sound. In short order, they dropped their debut single “Jejunum” in September 2019, but since then have taken their time releasing new music. Nearly a year later in August 2020, they followed up with their second single “Argument Bargument“ (which I reviewed), and now return with their self-titled debut EP Blight Town, which dropped July 16th. The EP features the two aforementioned singles, plus two new tracks.

The guys get right down to business with the opening track “Frostilicus“, instantly demanding our attention both musically and lyrically with an unrelenting thunderous barrage of grungy guitars and pummeling drums as Jake screams “She needs to listen to us right now!” I have no clue as to what the song’s title means, but the lyrics seem to be about confronting a duplicitous and self-destructive person: “Such whack shit is going down. The bullshit she’s churning out. If you don’t say the words to her then I will. Such a shame that you haven’t got the guts to still. Tell me where do I go? I wish that I didn’t know. A slave to the wages of sin. Where do I begin?” The scorching, intricately layered guitar work is fantastic, and a testament to the guys’ impressive musicianship.

Jejunum” continues on a similar theme, delivering another onslaught of fearsome riffs and explosive percussion, accompanied by a marvelous, almost skittering bassline. Once again, the intense, richly-textured guitars are mind-blowing, turning hauntingly beautiful at the breakdown that occurs at the 1:06 minute mark. Jake’s vocals are downright fearsome throughout much of the song, but also soften to an enchanting ethereal calm in the interlude. As for the song title, a quick Google search revealed that ‘jejunum’ is a part of the small intestine in both humans and most higher vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, and birds, so it’s anyone’s guess as to the title’s meaning. The lyrics seem to speak to a similar type of unpleasant person we were introduced to in “Frostilicus”, who Jake roundly denounces: “You already know you made my life a living hell.

The cheekily-titled “Argument Bargument” is a prog-rock gem, opening with an atmospheric strummed electric guitar that gradually becomes enveloped in wobbly reverb. Suddenly, we’re hit with a burst of chaotic gnarly riffs, throbbing bass and aggressive drumbeats as the song evolves into a rousing, melodically complex and discordant banger. Amid some terrific guitar noodling punctuating the otherwise tumultuous proceedings, Jake’s vocal gymnastics are a thing of wonder as he transitions from pleasing croon to scary screams. The band states that the song is “A wistful retrospective on the transient nature of modern relationships and the lengths we will go to in order to rationalise our lived experience.” Jake emphatically snarls “You never wanted an argument, well now you’ve got it. And that’s why they call me the cynicist.”

The guys unleash their full arsenal of sonic weaponry on the final track “Don’t Touch Me I’m Covered in Poisons“. The instrumentals are heavier and more intense than ever, with Sam and Will’s dual intertwining guitars laying waste to the airwaves while Joseph nearly blows the speakers with his smashing drumbeats. Then there’s Jake’s feral vocals, which are positively spine-tingling as he screams like a wild beast. It’s a wonder he has any vocal cords left!

Blight Town is a great little EP, a literal bundle of explosive TNT packed into 12 minutes and 51 seconds, beautifully showcasing this band’s outstanding songwriting and composition talents, as well as their impressive technical skills. Though their music is both complex and intense, it’s still surprisingly accessible and melodic.

Blight Town also offers an array of merchandise, including tee shirts, hoodies and caps made from sustainable and vegan-friendly materials, which you can purchase at https://slugapparel.com/.

Follow Blight Town:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes

EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO – Single Review: “I Like it Weird”

Given all the political, social and economic upheaval of the last couple of years, greatly amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that so many artists and bands are writing songs addressing some of the anxiety and stress impacting their – and our – collective mental health. I’ve featured a fair amount of those kinds of songs over the past many months, and my latest is the wonderful debut single “I Like it Weird” by British synth-pop band Express Office Portico, which dropped January 29th. The Nottingham, England based five-piece, who named themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of town, consists of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums).

The song was inspired by band member Billy Townsend’s struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), combined with emotions of love and jealousy about previous lovers. The band told webzine IndieCentralMusic.com, “Once Billy was able to realise that OCD massively exaggerates events, which in most cases may not have even happened, he was able to detach the OCD and the intrusive thoughts that came with that from his emotions, resulting in the inspiration for the song.” The band coupled their hopeful lyrics with a dreamy, upbeat vibe to drive home their message and reassure us that overcoming our personal demons and challenges is possible.

“I Like it Weird” is really quite marvelous, opening with a terrific little bass riff that serves as a strong rhythmic foundation for the song. Soon, our ears are bathed in a lush soundscape of sparkling synths, subtle guitar notes and crisp percussion, all melding together beautifully to create a captivating backdrop for Tara and Billy’s gorgeous harmonies. I’m a big fan of dreamy synth-pop, and this song hits me in all the feels, both musically and vocally. Express Office Portico have struck sonic gold with their debut single, and I cannot wait to hear more from this very promising group.

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Stream I Like it Weird on SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Amazon