New Song of the Week – ROADKEEPER: “Enemy Mine”

One of my favorite American indie bands is alt-rock quartet Roadkeeper, who since forming in 2018 have released a string of exceptional singles. Based in the eastern Texas city of Tyler, the band consists of songwriter/producer John Hetherington (vocals, synths, rhythm guitar), Trevor Tull (lead guitar), Nick Cogdill (drums) and Daniel Griffith (bass), all long-time friends. Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio, and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament. Blending dreamy shoegaze and dramatic psychedelic rock with complex melodic structures, they craft lush soundscapes that are a perfect backdrop for their intelligent, socially conscious, sometimes political, and always topically relevant lyrics that give us something to think about.

I’ve featured them three times on this blog over the past two years (you can read my reviews under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this article). I love all their songs, but two that stand out for me personally are “Old Man’s War”, a beautiful track about anxiety and worry over things, both real and imagined, and “Downs”, stunning song about impostor syndrome and not finding one’s place within the cultural and sociopolitical milieu. “Downs” went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranked #15 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list. Now they’re back with their 7th single “Enemy Mine“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. While still featuring their dream rock elements we’ve come to love from Roadkeeper, the song is darker and more sonically intense than their previous singles, befitting the politically-charged lyrics.

The band doesn’t shy away from making their progressive-leaning views known, and states that the song “is about the far right radicalization of vulnerable young people in the U.S. by white nationalist professional pundits who are fed viewers and readers by algorithms on social media and YouTube. There is an organized effort to convert impressionable young people into radical white supremacists and encourage them to undertake radical action against marginalized people and progressive political movements. ‘Enemy Mine’ is about the dissonance between the perceived realities of radical white supremacists and that of everyone else.”

The track opens with ominous cinematic synths that build for nearly a minute, then pounding drumbeats ensue along with wailing guitars, only to calm back down as John begins to sings the verses in his beautiful falsetto. John and Trevor’s blend of jangly and psychedelic guitars are enveloped by shimmery synths, while Daniel and Nick drive the rhythm forward with their thumping bass line and aggressive drums. Everything erupts into an electrifying crescendo of wailing guitars, screaming synths and explosive percussion in the bridge, continuing through to the end of the track for a powerful climax to a gorgeous rock song.

 Even words we never say 
 Turn their heads from soft to something strange 
 Waiting on some kids to sign on 
 Twisting up their roots to point their sharp to Zion 
  
 Their undeveloped brain’s distastes 
 For things they’ve never seen are set in place 
 It’s such a shame 
  
 Bitter little loners 
 Look to those who look like them to find themselves 
 Born without a purpose 
 Led to think they’re worthless until now
 Feed their doubt 
  
 Give them some kind of god to worship 
 Weapons always find their way to 
 Enemies’ front lines 
 Spreading lies, blacking flags 
  
 Even if they hesitate there’s 
 No way that they’re ever coming back 
 Safe behind the soft glow waiting 
 Self appointed sergeants have their backs 
  
 Faceless basement 
 Terrorist replacements 
 Holy war, hiding places 
 The worst of them will steal our words  

The dramatic video, produced by Robert Woodward, shows digitally-altered footage of recent political protests juxtaposed with old footage of 50’s films, atomic blasts, space exploration and scenes of the band performing the song.

Connect with Roadkeeper:  Facebook / Twitter  / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

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