WILD HORSE – Album Review: “When The Pool Is Occupied”

I’ve commented more times than I can remember on this blog about the staggering amount of musical talent that continues to emanate from the United Kingdom. One of the many British acts I’ve been following for more than four years is the charismatic young rock band Wild Horse. Based in Heathfield, East Sussex, the talented trio consists of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin, and their long-time friend Ed Barnes. Now in their early 20s, the guys are already seasoned musicians who’ve been writing and recording songs since forming in 2013 when they were barely teenagers. Both Henry and Jack are multi-instrumentalists who play guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as sing vocals, while Ed plays drums and percussion, sings backing vocals and plays guitar on a few tracks.   

While presenting a fun, lighthearted image with their high-energy and eclectic punk-infused style of blues rock, the guys take their music very seriously. Their dedication and drive, fortified with thoughtful lyricism, ace musicianship and a mature approach towards the music business, have taken them far and brought them both critical acclaim and a loyal and growing fan base. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters who’ve penned hundreds of songs over the years, and now have five albums to their credit. 

Their debut album It’s Begun, featuring songs recorded when their average age was only 14, was released in January 2016 by a New York-based record label they were signed with at the time. (Henry sang lead vocals on that album, where he sounded alarmingly like a young Mick Jagger.) Working independently since 2017, the guys subsequently released three EPs from late 2017 to early 2018, then followed that June with their second album Songs About Last Night. They’ve continued to drop a new album every year since then. In April 2019, they released their third album DANCE!! Like An Animal, which I reviewed, then followed up in July 2020 with their fourth album WE ARE IN AN IDENTITY CRISES…BUT WE LOVE IT, featuring 16 tracks. Now they’re back with their fifth album When The Pool Is Occupied, which dropped November 18th. Their most ambitious work yet, the album contains a whopping 18 tracks!

Before I get to my review, I want to include a few thoughts about the album the guys shared in an interview for Brighton and Hove webzine BN1. “The album name ‘When the Pool is Occupied’ is actually a metaphor for self-love. We realised that this was the theme of the album quite late into the making of it. When we started writing the album, we were not in the best place personally, with lockdown giving us anxieties about the future and the direction we were going in our lives. As we neared the end of making the album we were in a much better place, as the whole process actually taught us a lot about ourselves, and we decided to make it our most honest record. So the album has become a musical imprint of our journey to self-love and happiness, which we hope everyone who listens will be able to relate to!

This album is definitely more mellow and that is down to a few things. Firstly, we didn’t want to be perceived as just a rock band anymore, and wanted to push the boundaries as much as we possibly could. We wanted our first record back after covid to be one that would make people dance, hence the strong disco and 80’s influence. Also, we took a new approach to writing and creating music in not only taking the reins on production, but also because Jack (our main songwriter) taught himself piano over lockdown and began writing songs on [piano], which gave us a whole new feel. From there, synths became a much more integral part of our sound, and we became really obsessed with creating an atmosphere in our music. Our previous albums were all recorded quite quickly, whereas this one took us over a year. The main difference is that every single tiny note and lyric on this album had so much thought put into it, which is why we’re so proud of it.”

Well, let me say that Wild Horse has created a near-epic album running just over an hour in length, and featuring 18 wonderful tracks that span across genres from rousing post-punk bangers to angst-filled piano ballads to bouncy dance-pop gems. The songs explore issues related to growing up in the modern world, relationships, struggles with addiction and mental health, and the long journey towards self-acceptance and self-love.

Opening track “Happy Love Songs” is a short and bittersweet piano-driven tune that sets the tone for the album. In his quirky endearing vocals, Jack plaintively laments “Why are there never happy love songs anymore? It takes two to fall in love, but it only takes one to fall apart. And then there’s never.” The song immediately segues into “Freaky Together“, a catchy, lighthearted earworm celebrating the liberating freedom of a no-strings-attached approach to relationships and life (ah, the joys of youth). The guys layer jangly guitars and woozy synths over a delightfully funky bassline and thumping drumbeats to create a fun and sexy dance beat that aims straight for the hips. Jack croons “Baby, I know that you could never need me. But come on let’s get down and dirty. Oh yeah, Oh, give it to me.” The sweet video nicely showcases the guys’ youthful charm and charisma.

The guys keep the lively vibes going with the delectable “Pornstar Martini“, an irresistibly bouncy mashup of punk, disco and funk, then later slow things down with “Coffee In The Morning“, the first of several romantic piano ballads. Jack’s heartfelt vocals are raspy and vulnerable as he sings of his ardor and desire to a potential romantic partner: “I’m sitting in my dirty University room. Haven’t slept for days now. And I was hoping that you could come around and stay, for 17 days.” But once they’ve become a couple, cracks appear in their relationship, which are explored on the lovely but bittersweet “Feel“: “I wanna talk to you about last night. You know I hate it how we always fight. But if you saw the world through my eyes, then you would understand about the way I feel.” And on “Symphony of Broken Hearts“, Jack sings of the pain he’s feeling over a broken relationship: “You said forever, and then you couldn’t stay. You said forever, until you walked away. And now I’m lying on my own, feeling sorry for myself.

One of my favorites on the album is “Anxiety“, a joyful, upbeat song about the emotional roller-coaster ride we willingly take when attraction for another hits us like a ton of bricks, rendering us helpless in the throes of passionate longing. I love the exuberant synths, funky dance grooves and the guys’ beautiful vocal harmonies. Jack’s plaintive vocals sing of emotions we’ve all felt at some point in our lives, fearful we’ll make a fool of ourselves: “Petrified by the things you say (petrified). I only met you yesterday (yesterday). But really I’m fine. I’m just going with the groove. Only been preparing for like 24 hours through.”

Another favorite is the ebullient and sexy “Pray 89“, in which the guys sing the praises of a seemingly more innocent time (although those of us who were already adults in 1989 know it really wasn’t) and the freedom of living a life where self-love without emotional attachments is prioritized, but with an appreciation of the beauty in other people. The lyrics include the album’s title: “You bring the fire and sexy eyes. I bring the smoke to stay alight. When we go party we’ll do it right, like we belong in ‘89. Dance on the table to New Order’s new song. And we’ll be feeling alright when the pool is occupied.”

The guys’ willingness to venture out of their musical comfort zone is exemplified by the bluesy hip hop track “Confidence“, on which Henry’s backing vocals are more prominent. On the poignant “Just About Enough”, they turn tinkling piano keys into a true percussive instrument as they combine them with assertive strummed guitar notes and pounding drumbeats to become a powerful driving force, before finishing things off with gorgeous bluesy guitars, accompanied by Jack’s fervent vocals. And on “One Night Robbery“, Jack does a decent job rapping some of the verses letting a former girlfriend know he doesn’t appreciate how she used him and only wanted his money after all the nice things he did for her.

Hands down the most charming track on the album is “Record Collection“, a delightful pop-rock song with a retro 60s power pop vibe. The sweet lyrics speak of connecting with someone you meet on a night out and taking them home, not because you want to have sex with them, but because you like their taste in music and want to share your record collection with them: “I don’t wanna be your lover. I just wanna show you my record collection. I don’t wanna get under the covers. I just wanna know if you like Mott the Hoople. I don’t wanna touch your hand. Just tell me your favourite band. Oh, the only thing I’m turning on is the record player.” I love the jangly guitars on this song.

Kelsie” is a shining example of how a kiss-off song can still sound sweet. “Kelsie, you’re much happier on Twitter. But you want me back on tinder. And I just laugh and smile ‘cause I’m finally over you. Have you noticed I don’t care what you do? When you tell me you’re getting drinks bought for you. Shit, me too.” The track has a mellow, head-bopping melody with subtle hip hop elements, making for a really pleasing tune. The guys close the album on a positive note with “Thank You (It’s Gonna Be Alright)“, a minute-long piece with a church-like organ riff accompanied by Jack’s echoed vocal repeating the words “It’s gonna be alright“, followed by “The pool is occupied.” As the music abruptly ends, he says “And that was the album, thank you very much. Woo!

Woo indeed! What a fun, delightful and brilliant album this is! With When The Pool is Occupied, Wild Horse pushed themselves into expanding their songwriting and sound in the hopes of making their most honest record yet, and I think they’ve succeeded quite nicely. It showcases their continued growth and maturity as songwriters and musicians, while their sense of humor and playfulness remains fully intact.

Connect with Wild Horse:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

SODA CRACKER JESUS – Single Review: “Kaleidoscope”

Soda Cracker Jesus is the solo music project of the wildly imaginative and enormously talented singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane, who’s also become a regular of this blog. The Tacoma, Washington-based musician has been actively involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years, with his hands in many projects, including serving as front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, whose music I’ve written about numerous times. Earlier this year, he created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his more punky power pop side, calling the project “the spiritual and creative personal space that he goes to just be his musical self, a space where no matter which creative juices flow, whatever sonic creations are born, he knows that they come from an honest and personal place.”

Regan’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. With an undying sense of optimism, he creates music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past, and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. Since April 1st, he’s released four singles, beginning with the foot-stomping power pop banger “My Anthem”, followed by “Drug My Soul”, “Kill it Tomorrow”, and now his latest single “Kaleidoscope“. I reviewed the first two singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post. He released “Kaleidoscope”, along with a lyric video, exclusively on Bandcamp, on October 27, but the song will be officially released on all music streaming platforms November 2nd.

The song has been beautifully described by Mark Platt of online radio station Radio Candy as “Lennon-meets-Bowie-meets-Peter Gabriel in a dark alley“, which I cannot argue with, as I definitely hear the ghosts of John Lennon and David Bowie. Regan states that the song was influenced by “late-era Beatles psychedelia and Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett years”, which is strongly evident in the beautiful, though somewhat spacey, atmospheric soundscapes. The soothing, ballad-like feel of the song is a departure from the harder-driving punk and power pop sound of Soda Cracker Jesus’ previous singles, and I like it! I love the lush, shimmery synths and gorgeous keyboards, which were played by Lee Gregory, as well as Regan’s chiming guitar notes. The subtle bass was played by Ray Hartman, and backing choruses were sung by fellow Strangely Alright bandmember Sean Van Dommelen. Regan produced the track, which was mastered by his longtime collaborator Todd Ensminger.

Regan wrote “Kaleidoscope” after his father passed away. He told me “My dad and I had a complicated relationship, but before he passed we were good. This song is about the emotions and feelings that come with that. I think anyone at any age can relate to dealing with loss. I don’t usually bare my soul but this is as close as it comes.” The lyrics are filled with meaning, but written with enough ambiguity so that each listener can interpret them as they see fit. In spots, the lyrics display a youthful innocence that seems to come from a child’s perspective: “I sure love my bicycle. It takes me where I need to go. And all the raindrops let me know the wind is at my back.” But later in the song, the wisdom that (hopefully) comes with age is apparent: “Father’s ghost has let me know I’m okay, we all get broken. What we get is just a token of what we give away. Kaleidoscope inside my head. Reflections of the hope I have. I look back but now is where I stand.”

Connect with Soda Cracker Jesus:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase his music on Bandcamp / SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

New Song of the Week – GUARDRAIL: “Social Meteor”

While Chicago-based rockers Guardrail don’t take themselves too seriously – they describe themselves as “the world’s first Diet Punk band, just a combination of ‘pop’ and ‘punk’ that uses Splenda instead of real sugar, and because of that, until you get used to us, we’re going to leave a bad taste in your mouth” – they’re quite serious about making the best music possible. Their hard-hitting, high-energy style of rock is a happy blend of punk, pop and metal, which on some songs reminds me of such acts as Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41 and even the Beastie Boys. Formed in 2014, the band has undergone several changes in lineup, and now consists of Kevin Andrew (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar, vocals), Alyssa Laessig (bass, vocals) and Doug Brand (drums). (Ken is also guitarist for Chicago bands The Million Reasons, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog, and Wild Gravity.)

They released their debut EP Wordswords in 2015, which they followed two years later with Par at Best. Since cementing their current lineup in 2018, they’ve released several singles and in September 2020, dropped their third EP Yikes. Now they’re back with a new single “Social Meteor“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. True to form, Guardrail delivers a relentless barrage of jagged riffs, chugging bass and explosive drums to drive home their timely message of our cultural addiction to social media, and its pernicious effect on our sense of identity and self-worth.

Kevin and Alyssa sing the biting lyrics with forceful intensity, powerfully expressing their exasperation with things and feelings of helplessness to do anything about it: “There’s real human contact beyond my fingertips, but I couldn’t give a shit. There’s an object unidentified approaching me (Oh wait!), it’s just my self-doubt and uncertainty. Why can’t I come back down? I’m stuck in the stratosphere. My lack of satisfaction left me stranded out here. How should I know what they expect from me? I’ll just write another paragraph and run away from my fear.”

“Social Meteor” is a rousing banger of a tune, and I think it’s one of Guardrail’s best songs yet. The fun video shows snippets of each bandmembers individually performing the song, as well as serving as judges of a low-budget talent show.

Connect with Guardrail:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music / Napster / Soundcloud / YouTube

TOUGH ON FRIDAYS – Album Review: “A Fantastic Way To Kill Some Time”

Tough On Fridays is a female-fronted grunge-pop rock band based in Georgetown, Texas, a mid-sized city 30 miles north of Austin. Since forming in 2017, they’ve built an ever-growing fan base through their infectious music, relatable lyrics and high-energy live shows. Blending the best of indie, alt-rock, pop and grunge, they create their own unique style of edgy rock ‘n roll . Making the music are Caleigh on vocals & guitar, Carly on bass & vocals, and Chris on drums.

Since 2017, they’ve released numerous singles and EPs, and beginning this past March, they dropped a series of three double-singles – “Simplicity I”, “Simplicity II” and “Simplicity III” – every two months. On September 4th, they released their long-awaited debut album A Fantastic Way to Kill Some Time, featuring the six previously-released singles along with two new tracks. Showcasing their most mature and refined sound yet, the album was recorded at Empire Sound in Carrollton, TX under the direction of Matt Kennedy, who engineered and mixed the tracks. The album was produced by Eric Nielsen, and mastered by Justin Perkins at Mystery Room Mastering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The album touches on the myriad challenges of young adulthood like self-identity, mental health, and the perilous minefield of relationships and dating. Opening track “Party Scene” sets the tone from both a musical and lyrical standpoint, with urgent riffs of grungy guitars, driving bass and pummeling drums creating an angst-filled vibe for the lyrics decrying the downsides of the party scene. Caleigh bemoans of her general distaste for parties, and how going to them makes her feel more lonely than when she’s alone: “I don’t know why I go all on my own where no one really knows you. Everyone acts drunk too. I just wanna go home all alone / The Party Scene it’s so obscene. The Party Scene it’s not for me.”

Pleased to Meet You” speaks to the anxieties that often occur when meeting new people, that perhaps they won’t like us. At the listening party for the album, Caleigh said “Pleased to Meet You” is a callback to their previous song “Summer” about being a burden, and is a sort of warning to people you meet that they may not want to know you because of your faults and shortcomings: “Maybe I’m different. Maybe I’ve changed. Maybe I’m just a little sad and deranged.” The gnarly guitars on this track are really good.

On “Out of the Blue (The Deep End)“, Tough on Fridays addresses body dysmorphia, a mental condition in which a person obsesses about a perceived flaw or defect in their appearance that’s either non-existent or so minor that others can’t see it. In a late night phone call, the singer expresses her insecurities to a friend: “Dear friend, are you up tonight? I just don’t feel quite alright. I know it’s out of the blue, but I got another shit tattoo. Haven’t slept since god knows when, and I think I’m going off the deep end. / You know it’s hard to stay beautiful.”

Problematic relationships are the subject of several tracks on the album, starting with “My Favorite Mistake“. The song was written and sung by the band’s previous bassist Kelly, who was a senior in high school at the time. (She has since graduated and is now in college at Belmont in Nashville.) To a rousing beat and heavily-strummed grungy guitars, she wistfully sings to a former boyfriend of her conflicted feelings: “You were my favorite mistake. You were the feeling that I love and that I hate. Still think about you, but I still feel you in these walls.”

On “Last Chance to Lose Your Keys“, Caleigh gives her undependable boyfriend the kiss-off: “I shoulda seen it all along. It’s guys like you that make me think I’m better off home on a Saturday night with all my doors locked up tight. I won’t be thinkin’ about you, baby.” The song was originally written by the now defunct band Brand New; Tough on Fridays bought the rights to the song so they could record it and Caleigh spun the lyrics. And on “Patches“, she laments of a boy she’s crazy about, but doesn’t think he feels the same toward her: “All he seems to be, a fucking mystery. Do I mean anything? ‘Cause to me you are everything. / You know you have me. You’ll always be my mystery You look so good to me.” The gentle jangly guitar gives this song more of a folk-rock feel.

Lonely Eyes/Pines” is a low-key grunge song with reverb-soaked fuzzy guitars and restrained percussion that create a somber backdrop for Caleigh’s melancholy vocals. The poignant lyrics speak of regrets over past mistakes and wanting to find a little peace of mind, yet knowing that she’ll keep fucking up: “The sins I repent I will commit all over again. And these pines I will frame. I know it’s seen better days.” “Bad Memories and Wishful Thinking” is a grungy little tune that perfectly encapsulates those times when you feel like everything sucks and you just want to wallow in your misery and self-pity: “If it would rain all day I would be happy just for one day. And I will change my name. For one day if only it’ll rain.”

A Fantastic Way To Kill Some Time is a fine debut album from this hard-working and earnest young band. I like the honesty that shines through in both their relatable lyrics and down-to-earth style of grunge. Plus, it’s always gratifying to see women making great rock music.

Follow Tough on Fridays:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudReverbnation

Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

New Song of the Week – YARD OF BLONDES: “Lowland”

Yard of Blonds LOWLAND

Yard of Blondes is a French alternative rock band now based in Los Angeles. They started out as a folk pop act made up of singer/songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Vincent Walter Jacob and bassist/vocalist Fanny Hill, and after relocating to L.A., they expanded the band lineup with the addition of guitarist Burak Yerebakan and drummer Forrest Mitchell. They were featured on the 2016 compilation I love you all the time, along with Eagles Of Death Metal, Florence & The Machine, Kings Of Leon, Jimmy Eat World and many more. All the proceeds were given to the victims of the Paris attacks.

I featured Yard of Blondes last July (2019) when I reviewed their marvelously upbeat bilingual single “Je veux danser tout l’été”, along with two other alternative versions, a remix by French superstar DJ and producer Joachim Garraud, and a grungy home demo. The remix was produced in Garraud’s 100% solar-powered RV turned into a recording studio, in the middle of the Mojave desert which is documented in the music video for the song. Since then, they’ve been writing and recording new music for their first full-length album Feed the Moon, due for release later this year. The album was produced by Billy Graziadei (Biohazard, Powerflo), mixed by Michael Patterson (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and mastered by Maor Applebaum (Faith No More).

On November 1, 2019 they released the first single “You and I & I” from the forthcoming album, and returned on Valentine’s Day with a second single “Lowland“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The single is accompanied by the release of a wonderful video produced by Fanny and Vincent, featuring footage filmed at LAX and Disneyland on their phones. About the song, Vincent explains “‘Lowland’ depicts the dark place we always go to when we are distressed. It’s the place where all our monsters live. In the song I feel I’m going back to that dark place, but this time you’ll accompany me to get out of here, just like Orpheus going to get Eurydice from death, except here the roles are reversed because Fanny is the one who is pulling me out from inside.”

The song features chugging riffs of exuberant layered guitars, propelled by hard-driving rhythms. Vincent and Burak’s guitar work is superb, and Forrest’s drums are spot-on, assertive yet restrained where needed. Fanny lays down a solid bass line while lending her soft backing vocals to the mix. Vincent’s beautiful, plaintive vocals convey a strong sense of vulnerability as he pleads for emotional support. Everything explodes in the bridge into a maelstrom of blistering riffs and thunderous percussion, Vincent’s raw, impassioned vocals rising to the occasion, and covering me with chills. It’s a fantastic, exhilarating track.

I got a one way ticket going back to Lowland
Keep me awake before I fall into the quicksand
Every plane I take
Every train I ride
Finally always lead me to that same old place

You take my hand
Sing a lullaby
Light the fireflies
Light the fireflies

I’m on my very own land I know every corner
I know exactly where is hiding the coroner
The tiger is here
Beside the lake of tears
I know exactly though the sun never rises

You take my hand
Sing a lullaby
Light the fireflies
Light the fireflies

Drifted eyes in fear
Scary palms shaking
All around

You take my hand
Sing a lullaby
And light the fireflies
Light the fire
You make me feel alive
Pull me out from inside
Your eyes are like a lighthouse
As you feed the moon I cry

Connect with Yard of Blondes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play / Amazon

BLUE VINES – EP Review: “Fever Dreamy”

Blue Vines

Blue Vines is a young indie rock duo from New York City, comprised of singer-songwriter Nick Gonzalez on vocals, guitar and drums, and Andrea De Renzis on bass. A new act who only formed earlier this year, they released their debut EP Fever Dreamy this past August. It was recorded at Cobra Sun Studio in Staten Island, N.Y., engineered and produced by Gary Nieves Jr., and mastered by Josh Kaufman at Local Legend Recording in Grand Rapids, MI.

Fever Dreamy is rather short, running just under nine minutes total, but its five tracks are so musically intriguing and packed with deep meaning they made quite an impression on me. With their vibrant indie pop-punk sound, Blue Vines’ songs seem to touch on themes of youthful angst, romance and self-doubt. The titles of all five tracks are interesting in that none of them are actually included in their song lyrics, which themselves are somewhat ambiguous, requiring a bit of imagination and concentration on my part to decipher as to their meanings.

The EP opens with the 43-second-long title track “Fever Dreamy“, a sweet tune consisting of just a simple acoustic guitar melody and Nick’s lovely vocals as he searches for meaning in his life after a period of painful unrest and awakening: “Ill equipped inquisitor descending over everything I do. Shine your light upon a year laid bare, and salt the wounds.

Next up is “Lanch Party“, which seems to speak to the fears and anxieties one feels when becoming romantically involved with someone, worrying about whether they’ll still like you as they get to know the ‘real’ you: “Do you still regard the statue as a work of art, once you’ve spotted all the cracks? Maybe a work in progress? I’d settle for that.” The track has a bass-driven, kick-drum beat with flourishes of gnarly guitars, accompanied by Nick’s urgent vocals.

Great Kid! Don’t Get Cocky!” is a bouncy rock tune that seems to be about struggling to keep it together in an increasingly bewildering world: “Breaking, climbing up the walls, start shaking. Skin begins to crawl. A tin can phone between our padded rooms. I’ll forever call for you.” Nick’s layered guitar work and emotion-charged vocals are great. I’m guessing “I’m A Whole Damn Town” is about the healing power of love: “Call it whatever. Things of the heart could put back together and mend what was pulling apart.” To a frantic punk-rock beat, Nick lays down intricate riffs of swirling and jagged guitar while Andrea keeps a steady rhythm with a smooth bass line.

The final track “Big Knife” is a terrific post punk tune, with a rapid guitar-driven beat that gives it a bit of a Green Day vibe. The lyrics seems to express the crippling self-doubt many of us have experienced while growing up (or even later in life like I have): “Despite a focused regimen of mental calisthenics, I could never hope to comprehend what it’s like to feel settled”, but gaining comfort through the presence of a loved one at your side: “I’m always on the edge of hyperventilating. It’s your hand on my hand that helps me breathe easy again.” Nick pours the full force of his emotions into his vocals here as he goes from a heartfelt vulnerability to plaintive wails.

Fever Dreamy is an amazing little EP that packs a lot into its 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Every track is relatively brief, yet each one of them makes an indelible impact in their economical running time. We’re left wanting more as each song ends before launching into the next lively track. Nick and Andrea are fine musicians, and Nick is quite the poetic wordsmith and vocalist. I’m anxious to hear more from this talented duo.

The lovely artwork for the EP was created by Nick’s cousin Ryan Gonzalez.

Follow Blue Vines:  Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon / Google Play

SECOND PLAYER SCORE – Album Review: “Glorified”

Second Player Score Glorified

Second Player Score is a terrific rock band based in Vancouver, Washington (located across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon), and nice guys too. They play hard-driving, melodic music they humorously refer to as nerd punk, influenced by two of their favorite bands Green Day and Bad Religion. Making the music are Brian Tashima (guitar, lead vocals), Daniel Downs (bass, backing vocals) and Kyle Gilbert (drums/backing vocals). The guys released a fine debut album Fortress Storm Attack in late 2014, and followed up two years later with the monumental Nobody’s Hero (which I reviewed in July 2017). They’re now set to release their third album Glorifed on June 21st via No Pants Records.

Like Nobody’s Hero, Glorified is another concept album. Band drummer Gilbert explains, “The heroine of the story is a woman named Gloria. She was raised to be the best soldier of her generation, and ends up fleeing her oppressive hometown and reluctantly helping people as she traverses a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of answers about her past. The story is similar to other stories like the latest Mad Max and Alita Battle Angel.”

Eye of the Needle” kicks off the album in a big way with an onslaught of chugging, gnarly riffs. crushing bass and tumultuous percussion. As Tashima shreds his guitar nearly to bits, he fervently sings the lyrics spoken from Gloria’s perspective, in which she comes to the realization that she can’t take any more of the oppressive bullshit she’s been living under: “I’m always such a good little soldier, following your every command./ But I don’t need this anymore./ Cause now I see just how sweet it is to be living free of all your drama and your sorrow. I don’t know why it took so long to go. But I’m finally looking forward to tomorrow.” He then lays down a scorching-hot riff while Gilbert beats the crap out of his drum kit. These guys know how to rock!

Next up is the hard-driving “Ragged Town“, which sees Gloria bitterly decrying her town and the people who live in it: “One day you’ll see reality lies somewhere out beyond this ragged town./I hate you now, I always will. You’re like the ones I love to kill. But tonight you’ll be my clown. Something’s wrong, something’s amiss. I don’t know why I feel like this, but burning scars have worn me down.” The guys deliver more of their signature furious riffs and aggressive rhythms, providing a thunderous backdrop for Tashima’s impassioned tirade.

They slow things down a bit on “Broken Ecstasy“, though it’s still a great rock track. We now find Gloria addressing her broken spirit, not knowing exactly what’s next for her, nor where she’ll go: “Don’t ask where I’m going to go. I said that I do not know. Don’t analyze or fantasize. Just relax and enjoy the show./ Be sure that you comprehend there is no goal, I have no soul. On that you can depend. I don’t want to see your face. We’re all just a big disgrace.

The guys dial it back up to full throttle on “Liberty’s End“, with chugging riffs of fuzzy guitars, heavy bass and speaker-blowing drums. Gloria laments about her shitty world and wanting to escape both it and herself: “Don’t you know the world cannot be saved. With good deeds the road to hell is paved. I just want to live my life for me, and wallow in my pit of apathy. Hello, I’m running from liberty’s end.” Brian makes great use of the talk box in the bridge, providing another texture of sound to the track. The amusing video shows the guys’ playful side, as they act zany in scenes of them running a race, interspersed with them performing the song in a garage.

Gilbert’s fantastic pummeling drums are a highlight on “The Last Trigger“. Wow, this man is a beast on his drum kit, giving new meaning to the term “power drummer”! Tashima’s scorching guitar and Downs’ powerful bass are pretty damn amazing too, as are their vocal harmonies. “Shiny Rebellion” sees Gloria confronting her oppressors and vowing to lead the fight to defeat them: “See I know that underneath your fancy crown, is a skull that’s full of nothing but decay. So I go, cause I can’t take this lying down. I’m a leader in the war against your way.”

The guys continue on their sonic rampage with the hard-driving “Into the Ruins“, in which Gloria assesses the wasteland before her: “Welcome to the ruins of a paradise gone wrong”, and the dark”Desolation“, with its tortured riffs, grinding bass and blasting drumbeats. Tashima snarls the bitter lyrics spoken from Gloria’s point of view: “And I don’t care how much you might stare now. It doesn’t matter anymore. No. Cause I don’t care now!” “More Than I Can Give” starts off like a heavy metal ballad, then explodes into a storm of frantic riffs and rapid-fire drumbeats, with a melody that reminds me a bit of Green Day’s “Bang Bang”.

On “Long Road Home” Tashima really shows us what he can do with his guitar, delivering killer riffs that set the airwaves afire, while Downs aptly lays down a bass line so heavy we feel it in our cores. And it goes without saying that Gilbert nearly blows our speakers with his frenzied drumming. The lyrics speak to Gloria’s determination to stand up and fight in her lonely mission to defeat the evil forces: “When this all started I fled and I ran. Now I must finish what they all began. I understand your master plan. Nothing can stop me when I’m all alone. I’m going home to claim your throne.” “Death and Glory” is a continuation of Gloria’s plan to vanquish her oppressors once and for all: “Now this time you’ve gone too far. It doesn’t matter where you are. I’ll be coming after you. You won’t even have a clue./Cause I am here to end your story. Drown your fear in death and glory. Close your eyes, this might get gory tonight!

They close the saga and album with “Some Of Us Were Meant To Be Alone“, an eight and a half minute long epic that ties things up without an actual resolution or happy ending. To a somber, gritty guitar riff, Tashima sadly wails: “There’s nothing left to say. I don’t know why it has to be this way. There’s nowhere left to go. I didn’t think that time would fly so slow. I hate to say the answer’s still unknown. Why some of us were meant to be alone. I’m giving up it’s true. Sometimes that’s all I ever want to do. I know it isn’t fair. I wish I could forget I even care.” At around 3:40, Tashima begins shredding his guitar and Gilbert pummels his drums at full blast to the same forlorn, start-stop melody as before.  Then, at 5:39, the song erupts into a fury of shredded and distorted guitars, pulsating bass and hammering drums that continue to the end. It’s a breathtaking finale to another monumental album from this badass band!

Track listing:
Eye of the Needle
Ragged Town
Broken Ecstasy
Liberty’s End
The Last Trigger
Shiny Rebellion
Into The Ruins
Desolation
More Than I Can Give
Long Road Home
Death And Glory
Some Of Us Were Meant To Be Alone

Here is a link to the email list sign up that will provide a free download to the full Glorified album:

https://t.co/dqu9CcdeGF?amp=1

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Purchase: Bandcamp / iTunes

THIRD TIME LUCKIE – Single Review: “Love and Violence”

Third Time Luckie single art

Third Time Luckie – is that a great band name or what? – is a 3-piece alternative rock group based in the southern England resort town of Bognor Regis, Sussex. Formed back in 2006 by founding member Chris Horner (guitar & vocals), like many bands, Third Time Luckie has undergone some personnel changes in the intervening years, and now includes Carl Swietlik (drums) and Andy Clare (bass & vocals). Drawing influences from some of their favorite bands like Blink-182, Green Day, Alkaline Trio and Sum 41, they play a high-energy style of melodic pop/punk rock.

The band has recorded a number of fine tracks over the years, including their recent single “Wide Eyed Thinking” (you can check them out on their Soundcloud page). Their latest release is “Love and Violence“, a terrific song that will be included on their forthcoming EP Face the Beast, due out later this Spring.

Starting things off with a flourish of drumbeats, they quickly hook us in with an arresting guitar riff overlying a driving bass line and accompanied by a gentle drumbeat. The music then explodes into a stirring crescendo in the choruses, thanks to a speaker-blowing barrage of raging guitars, wildly crashing cymbals, and deep, buzzing bass. The guitar work is fantastic, and there are some nice piano keys in the final chorus as well, providing another texture of sound that makes for a really interesting and highly satisfying listen. Chris has a pleasing vocal style that sounds great whether he’s earnestly crooning the calmer verses or passionately wailing the dramatic choruses. The guys’ backing vocal harmonies in the choruses are wonderful too.

The poignant lyrics are a plea from one partner in a fraying relationship to another, urging her to stay with him and try to work out their problems. The words “love and violence” represent the highs and lows – the good times and bad – of a relationship.

Stay with me now
Cause I know we’re forever
And evermore it’s you and I in love and violence

Cry with me know
It doesn’t really matter
We’re living for today
Come on let’s run away

The guys’ skill at songwriting and crafting memorable melodies is strongly evident on “Love and Violence”, and they’ve got a bonafide hit on their hands. I really like this band, and am looking forward to hearing Face the Beast when it comes out.

Connect with Third Time Luckie:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes

OCTOBERS – EP Review: “Summer Waste”

Octobers EP

Octobers is an alternative/dream pop/postpunk band from British Columbia, Canada who formed in 2015. Comprising the band are brothers Nick and Joel Ellsay (guitar, synths, vocals), Hayden Shea (drums) and Liam Rhynolds (bass). They released their excellent debut Misfits EP that same year to positive reviews, also garnering airplay on indie and college radio stations throughout Canada and the U.S. The band went on a brief hiatus in 2017 after a few major life changes, but are now back and better than ever with a new EP Summer Waste.

The EP kicks off with the sunny and upbeat “California“. The song opens with a blast of drumbeats, then settles into a pleasing soundscape of chiming guitars, sparkling synths and a humming bassline that evokes images of a summer day at the beach. The pace quickens in the choruses with an exuberant jangly guitar solo and pummeling drums. The song lyrics seem to have dual meaning, with the singer possibly expressing his love for both ‘California’ a girl and the state: “Hey California. Something about ya. You are the sweetest sound. California, always did love ya. You’re the summer all year round.”

Sunshine” has the singer pondering the love that brightens his world: “Are you my sunshine? Are you my starry sky? Are you these glowing lights, cause you burn so bright.” I love the thunderous jangly guitars and percussion, and the Ellsay brothers’ vocal harmonies are really marvelous. The sunny vibes turn darker with “Be Still“, a heartfelt plea to a loved one to try and meet him halfway, and salvage their damaged relationship: “Just be still, don’t say a word, cause you’ve been talking all your life. The tables turned, now tell me what that feels like. / Lay down your gloves, I don’t wanna fight.” Once again, the guitar work is fantastic, and the rhythm section nicely complements with pulsating bass, thumping drumbeats, and lots of crashing cymbals.

Summer Waste ends on a positive note with “Higher“, a jubilant anthem about not giving up, and reaching as high as you can to reach your goals: “Once you start you never can stop. You go higher and higher and higher. Oh yeah!” Their jangly guitars on this track sound a bit like The Cure, which is never a bad thing. Overall, it’s a terrific little EP, with a title that could be misleading as it’s anything but a waste. The lyrics, while not necessarily deep, are honest and heartfelt, and the instrumentals are all outstanding, as are Nick and Joel’s sublime harmonies. Nicely done guys!

Connect with Octobers:  Facebook /  Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

DRAFT EVADER – EP Review: “Cashed”

Draft Evader Cashed

Draft Evader is an earnest and talented young musician from Chicago who I’ve been following for a while, and it’s been gratifying to watch him grow and mature as an artist. An interesting name for the music project of singer/songwriter and guitarist Ryan Loree, Draft Evader aptly describes his independent and rebellious nature. I first featured him on this blog in December 2017 when I reviewed his single “The Devil’s Disguise”, and at the time he explained “the name ‘Draft Evader’ is kind of a middle finger to the whole system, like ‘you can’t tell me what to do.’ So in a sense it means freedom. Freedom to be who you are and do what you love, no matter what anyone says.

Draft Evader plays a dynamic and accessible style of what he calls “pessimistic punk rock”, with rock’n’roll and grunge overtones. He writes all his songs, plays guitar and sings all vocals, and his good friend Joe Scaletta plays bass and drums, as well as mixes and masters the tracks. His deeply personal lyrics are brutally honest and always relatable; he openly addresses his struggles with depression and self-doubt, something a fair number of musicians and others involved in the arts also experience (as does yours truly).

He released a great little EP Hound Dog in the fall of 2018, featuring four stellar tracks – one of which, “In My Mind” was particularly outstanding. I loved the song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 last December. On February 12, he dropped a new two-song EP Cashed – a double-sided single of sorts. Interestingly, both tracks are 2:36 minutes long. Cashed was inspired by Ryan’s involvement in a car accident: “Ever get into a car accident during an existential crisis only to lose your job right after? Me too, and I wrote a couple songs about it.”

On the hard-rocking title track “Cashed“, he candidly speaks of depression and self-destructive behavior that often leads to additional problems, contributing to a cycle of ever deeper depression. Yet he also yearns for comfort and reassurance from a older and wiser voice. Ryan’s an impressive guitarist, and he delivers an onslaught of gnarly riffs from the get-go, driving home the seriousness of the subject matter. His scorching little guitar solo in the bridge was written by fellow musician Martijn Frazer, and I love his soaring vocals in the chorus. In fact, Ryan’s vocals have really improved with time and experience, and here he beautifully conveys the frustration and anger expressed in the biting lyrics:

Cashed my check to fill my tank up
Slow down over one more speed bump
Blowing stop signs with no license
Crash my car then stepped in dog shit
Covered in shitty ink
What would my grandma think
Kill for an old-school opinion
Pickin’ up missing teeth until my knuckles bleed
Falling deeper into a depression

On “Sunnyside“, he addresses the self-doubt about his music that sometimes plagues him. He released an EP Heel Turn in April 2018 (a very respectable effort that I also reviewed) but being a perfectionist, Ryan wasn’t satisfied with the songs or EP artwork. He incorporates the EP and song titles in the opening verse of “Sunnyside”, describing his struggle with self-confidence and feelings of not belonging:

Heel turn, I’m on a warpath
If I stutter more, I’ll complain less
All I have are some petty songs
Trying to write out all my wrongs

And I think I died in the old world
Because here I just don’t belong
And I left my soul in the old world
Behind yellow bars and heineken

Once again, he lays down chugging riffs of gritty guitar, while Joe handles the rhythm section with skilled precision. Both tracks are excellent, with catchy melodies that immediately hook us in, and driving riffs to keep us in thrall while we enjoy the ride. It’s a testament to Draft Evader’s continuing growth and ability to put out terrific rock music. I admire this young man and am happy to help promote him and his music however I can.