After being unable to perform live or even see one another during most of 2020, Vancouver, Canada-based alt-rock band Bealby Point are having quite a productive 2021. Starting with the release in February of their debut single “I’m So Bummed Out Right Now” (which I featured in a Fresh New Tracks post), they followed up in April with their second single “Telescope”. On July 15th, they dropped their third single “Talk To Me“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. All three songs will be included on their forthcoming EP, due out later this year.
Named after their favorite beachside vacation spot, Bealby Point consists of four childhood friends, Jack Armstrong (lead vocals), Jordan Studer (bass), Clayton Dewar (lead guitar) and Zack Yeager (drums). Drawing inspiration from fun times spent at Bealby Point, the guys aim to create music “that captures the most cherished memory of your favourite summer and turning it into the perfect sound.” Their buoyant, high-energy garage rock sound has earned them favorable comparisons to The Strokes.
As with their previous singles, “Talk To Me” was recorded with veteran producer Matt Di Pomponio. About the song, the band explains “It’s about balancing heavy emotions with stifled logic – doing something you have reason to believe is wrong, but it feels right because you want it. The track follows a pair who previously revealed their intimate feelings to each other. Now, they have closed off their real feelings and resist the urge to speak from an open heart, in order to save themselves from the perceived consequences of revealing their true thoughts. They long for things to go back to how they were.”
The song opens strong with a wonderful swirling guitar riff, accompanied by a superb rhythm section, courtesy of Zack’s assertive thumping drumbeats and Jordan’s prominent chugging bassline, which is fucking fantastic! The dual guitar work by Clayton and Jack is brilliant, highlighted by what I’m guessing is Clayton’s blistering guitar solo in the final chorus. Jack’s colorful, emphatic vocals are marvelous, with a hazy lo-fi quality that reminds me a bit of The Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas, even when they soar to a falsetto. We can feel his exasperation when he implores his partner to just communicate with him in an open and honest fashion: “Talk to me and I’ll talk back. I never lied to you. I don’t want that. But if you have to lie to me then I’ll lie back. And that’s the back and forth I can’t stand.”
“Talk To Me” is a terrific song, and with three excellent singles to their credit, Bealby Point have firmly established themselves as one of Canada’s best indie bands. Hell, they now rank highly among my own favorite indie bands as well. I look forward to hearing their upcoming EP.
Band photo by Sam Fazio, and single artwork by Quinlin Gustin.
As I’ve stated in previous posts, one of my favorite indie artists is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jake Mimikos. Based in Fairfax County, Virginia, Jake is an enormously talented guy with a kindness and sense of humor to match, and I’m quite fond of him both as an artist and human. Since 2015, he’s released an impressive amount of music both as a solo artist and as a band under The Frontier moniker, and we’ve been following each other on social media for nearly that long. As with many bands, the members and lineup of The Frontier have varied over the years, but the act is at this time mostly his solo project. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is always incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted.
I’ve featured The Frontier several times on this blog, most recently last December when I reviewed his gorgeous single “Sleep”. (You can read that and previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Since then, he’s been on a mission to release new music as often as possible, and followed a month later with an acoustic version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, then a live EP, followed by “Can We Go Back” in March. “Sleep” went to #2 on my Weekly Top 30 and “Can We Go Back” is currently in the top 10, and between the two songs, he’s continuously appeared on my Top 30 since mid-January! In May, he dropped his single “Ghost” and now he returns with another brand new single “Shattered“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
About “Shattered” Jake confides “It’s about trying to understand how someone can say they love you and then leave you, and trying to find clarity after a difficult break up. It’s really just about these strong emotions I was feeling at the time and trying to process through writing about it. I imagine a lot of people will be able to relate or have experienced this type of heartbreak before. These last few songs have been the most personal and vulnerable I’ve written to date.”
I’ve enjoyed seeing The Frontier’s musical style progress over time, and it’s clear his musicianship and songwriting continue to grow stronger and stronger. His skill for crafting uniquely distinctive melodies ensures that each new song sounds totally different from the rest. He’s also gotten quite adept at programming synths to create captivating soundscapes that quickly draw us in, then hold us in rapt attention all the way to the finish. The chiming synths combined with what sounds like a strummed ukelele at the opening of “Shattered” instantly let us know we’re in for something special, and as the song unfolds we’re not disappointed. The song is exquisite and haunting, and I love the mix of ukelele and guitar that add such rich texture, as well producing a sunny vibe that contrasts with the darker lyrics about feeling abandoned by a loved one. As always, Jake’s vocals are heartfelt and genuine, conveying the hurt and despair expressed in the lyrics. It’s another winning tune.
She said it doesn't matter
All the feelings that I had for you
Now my heart is shattered
And I'm drowning in a sea of blue
Why you got to run away?
What are you really running from?
All you had to do is say we could be lying in the sun
Some people tell me, love is just a four-letter word
Nobody seems to understand
All these lines get so blurred
What is love without lust?
What is lust without us?
You just lit up a fire, girl
Just so I could get burnedShe said it doesn't matter
All the feelings that I have for you
Now my heart is shattered
And I'm drowning in a sea of blue
Why you got to run away?
What are you really running from?
All you had to do is say we could be lying in the sunHere is my confession
I was ready to die for you
You were my obsession
It's not healthy but it was so true
There is some pleasure in pain
There is a measure to save
I know we both had our issues
But who doesn't these days
It’s time for another installment of Fresh New Tracks, as there’s so much great music being released. Some of the best of it continues to come from the UK, so I’m dedicating this edition to that island kingdom. I’ve chosen three outstanding new singles from British acts I’ve grown especially fond of: Young Decades and Liam Sullivan, both of whom I’ve previously written about on this blog, as as well as The Banshees, who I’m thrilled to feature for the first time.
“Mediterranean” by Young Decades
Born from the ashes of Liverpool-based band COLOUR, Young Decades formed at the early onset of the Covid pandemic. Like every other artist and band around the globe, they were unable to tour or perform live, so they made the most of their down time by setting themselves on a mission to build up a catalog of songs, and I can emphatically state that they’ve succeeded quite nicely. They released their beautiful debut single “Islands” in April 2020, then quickly followed with four more excellent singles, as well as several collections of remixes and alternative versions. On March 5th of this year, they released an EP Let You Down, which featured all five singles, then soon dropped their sixth single “Sinner” on April 23 (you can read my review of “Sinner” here.) The stunning anthem has spent the past two months and counting on my Weekly Top 30.
They also gained, then quickly lost, a drummer, but in April they recruited a replacement, so their current lineup consists of James Tidd (vocals), Scott Harvey (guitar, keyboards), Liam Downey (bass) and Lee Cameron (drums). The various band members are scattered about the Midlands and North West England, but meet up for rehearsals and recording in the city of Stoke on Trent. Now the prolific group is back with a wonderful new single “Mediterranean“, a jubilant celebration of being able to travel more freely again. The band elaborates “Think back to that one perfect trip: the first dive into the water and the feeling of escape. With travel limited, the need for escapism has reached fever pitch. ‘Mediterranean’ is a blistering expression of that bottled-up feeling. Starting like some beachside dream, it kicks you right back to everything good about getting away and the lyrics are dotted with glimpses of holiday life: sleeping on the beach, burnt skin, foreign coins, full moons on open sea and diving into some warm Mediterranean waves. Another anthem built for live gigs… somewhere warm.”
All Young Decades songs are uplifting, melodic and beautiful, with exuberant synths, driving rhythms and stellar guitar work. But for me, the real highlights of their music are Scott’s dramatic piano keys and James’ impassioned vocals that make their sound distinctive from any other band and instantly recognizable as only Young Decades. They don’t disappoint with “Mediterranean”, delivering another top-notch song and a fine addition to their perfect string of exceptional singles.
One of the standout artists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in the past year or so is singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan. The Leeds-based musician is a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice that’s both beautiful and comforting. His music can generally be classified as alternative rock with folk and singer-songwriter elements that make for an incredibly pleasing listen, and I love every one of his songs. Liam’s been writing and performing music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and, more recently, as a solo artist with a back-up band of musicians he assembled to help bring his poetic lyrics to life.
Like Young Decades, Liam has set for himself an ambitious goal of releasing a new single roughly every 6-8 weeks. While he hasn’t quite met that frantic schedule, he has released six singles over the past year, the latest of which is “Jerusalem“. (I’ve reviewed three of his previous singles, most recently his beautiful song “Stadium and Churches” in April, which you can read here.) The song has a harder rock vibe than his last several singles, with a faster tempo, a stronger driving rhythm and edgier guitars. Liam’s always emotive vocals have an even greater sense of urgency here as he sings about his faith and spirituality using biblical references. The song was inspired by his being asked to be a godfather to his friend’s twin babies. While he never considered himself to be religious, he was greatly honored and took being a godfather very seriously. It prompted him to explore what it means to have faith in a broader sense, and also search for answers and question his own faith and spirituality. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt song.
The Banshees are an indie alternative pop-rock duo based in Liverpool, and comprised of Vinny Pereira on vocals & guitar and Paul Holligan on lead guitar. The two met through a mutual friend at a party in Liverpool, hit it off and eventually formed as a band in December 2018. They soon began playing gigs in Liverpool and in May 2019, released their debut single “Self Medicated”. Over the next two years, they’ve continued to release a string of outstanding singles, earning praise from critics and fans alike, along with features in prominent music publications and websites like NME, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Kerrang, Guitar Player, Stereogum and Spin, as well as TV music stations MTV and VH1. Their sound has been favorably compared to The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and Talking Heads. I love all three of those acts, and after having The Banshees’ music on repeat in preparation for writing this review, I can confidently state that I love their music too.
On July 1st, they dropped their latest single “4AM“, a song the band describes as “harking back to the club scenes of the 90s panic, punk and angst all mixed up into a journey of the mind. Nobody wants to be nobody, or maybe it’s just that now we live in a world where self perception of importance carries more weight than the bigger life picture of just being happy.” To my ears, the song has an almost punk aesthetic, with a frenetic dance beat, a strong, thumping bassline, and emphatic gnarly guitars. The guys’ superb musicianship really shines through, with first-rate production values and powerful pulsating rhythms pulling us willingly into an exhilarating soundscape that compels us to throw all our preconceived notions and bullshit out the window, just let loose and be. With a wry matter-of-fact tone, imbued with a touch of cheekiness, Vinny emphatically laments “The habits you created to survive will no longer serve you when its time to thrive. No focus on yourself for a change. Woulda’ coulda’ shoulda’ kept your goal in range.I’m so tired of bein’ tired. I’m so hard to please. Just gimme the truth, so I can go back to sleep.” Give me more of this!
One of the most prolific and generous artists I’ve encountered in my nearly six years of blogging is Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Craig Mapstone. Since the beginning of the year, he’s faithfully released a new single every week, and as I write this, he just dropped his 27th single “Here Comes Trouble”. At the end of each month, he bundles the four singles from that month into an EP, which translates to six EPs thus far in 2021. Here’s the cover art for his latest EP, simply titled June EP.
Based in South Wales, Craig has been writing songs and playing in various local bands over the years, primarily as a drummer. He was content to remain mostly hidden behind the scenes playing drums, but hadn’t been in a band for quite a while. As with virtually all musicians around the globe, the covid lockdowns prevented him from performing live and leaving him with lots of time for introspection, but also impacting his overall sense of well-being. He told me “After the crazy year that was 2020, I found myself refocusing what was important to me, and music was always a big part of my life. It was also my lifeline as it helped me with my anxiety. During last year I found myself playing guitar more and coming up with lots of ideas with no real focus as to what to do with them. Then literally a few days before the end of the year I just decided that I was going to create a band and then try and write/record a new song every week. I set up my YouTube channel and Instagram account and went from there.”
And thus, Secret Postal Society was born. Each week, Craig writes (or co-writes) and records a brand new song, playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocal parts himself (with the notable exception of some solo guitar and backing vocals from Rev Rabbit (of Welsh indie rock band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, whose three albums I’ve previously reviewed) on the song “Now Is The Time”. In addition to Secret Postal Society, Craig is also co-founder (with Raj Chand) of Weird Triangle, a business that offers design services for digital video projects, logos and promotional materials, and their own line of T-shirts and hoodies. Through his involvement with Weird Triangle, Craig designs most of the artwork for the Secret Postal Society single and E.P. covers, along with limited edition T-shirts for each song. He also creates most of his videos using free and publicly available footage he finds on the internet, then edits it to fit the particular song.
Secret Postal Society was not only a way to help Craig through a difficult time, but he also uses it to help others. Accordingly, he donates 100% of the profits from the sale of each T-shirt (with the E.P. designs) to a different charity each month. Thus far, he’s supported the following charities: MS-UK (January), Cystic Fibrosis Trust (February), Velindre Hospital (March), Mermaids UK (April), The Prince’s Trust (May) and Umbrella Cymru (June).
The very first song he released, on New Years Day, was “It’s Not Over“, an old song he originally wrote and recorded back in 2006. He said the song got him through some difficult times over the years, and felt it was the right track to launch Secret Postal Society. It’s a good example of his laid-back singer-songwriter music style, which is primarily pop-rock infused with touches of indie folk. But as I’ll show in this post, his music is actually quite eclectic, exploring elements of progressive, experimental, grunge, post-punk and alternative rock. Most of his songs are really good, but I’ve chosen a few of my favorites, as well as ones I think give a good representation of his extensive stylistic range.
On his next single “Happy Sad“, he delivers a somewhat heavier rock vibe, with some fine jangly guitar work. He almost reveals his entire face on the video of him performing the song.
One of my favorite songs by him is “Choices“, a dramatic and moody track released in February. On this song, Craig seems to delve more deeply into progressive and experimental rock, using distorted psychedelic guitars, somber keyboards and horns to great effect in creating a darkly beautiful soundscape for his ominous droning vocals. The video was produced by Rubén Velasco and edited by Craig.
His follow-up single “I Like You” has more of a grunge/psych rock vibe, with some terrific reverb-soaked gnarly guitars. His electronically-altered vocals sound almost robotic as he drones “Your love it isn’t science. My love isn’t art. We must redraw the line, cause you’re tearing me apart. Cause I like you. Yeah, I like you.” The cool animated video was produced by Cottonbro.
Continuing on a grunge theme, but with more alternative and electronic elements, is the pleasing track “Numb“. Released in April, it’s another one of my favorite Secret Postal Society songs. Craig’s synths are wonderful, and I also love his guitar work in this track, which reminds me a bit of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups. The beautiful video was once again produced by Cottonbro.
“Half Way There“, released in late June as his 26th single, marks the halfway point of his opus 2021 endeavor. It’s a beautiful guitar-driven track featuring some lovely keyboard synths and Craig’s soothing vocals. The optimistic lyrics speak not only to his half-year milestone, but also metaphorically of a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment. And we finally get a good look at Craig on the video, which shows his creative process and him performing the song.
I’ll end with his latest single “Here Comes Trouble“, which dropped July 2nd. The song has a late-90s alt-pop/rock vibe, reminiscent of songs by artists like Duncan Sheik, Eagle Eye Cherry and Deep Blue Something. Once again, it showcases the breadth and variety of Secret Postal Society’s musical style. There’s literally something for just about everyone in his discography, and I’m dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song week in and week out is amazing in itself, but to have such high quality in nearly every track is quite an accomplishment. I hope Craig will be able to maintain the creativity and stamina to continue releasing a new song per week for the remainder of 2021, and look forward to hearing what he comes up with next!
Sometimes the best things are born of chance encounters, and that’s exactly the case with the new EP The Silent Sea, a collaboration between French artist Clint Slate and Scottish singer-songwriter Iona James. Coming from different worlds, the two met serendipitously in early 2021 after entering a songwriting competition hosted by a radio station. The two hit it off professionally, and decided to write songs and record them together. The four-track EP The Silent Sea is their first in a series of planned releases.
For a bit of background, Clint Slate is the musical alter-ego of French singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gregg Michel. Based in Paris, the versatile fellow has been involved in numerous projects as a singer, musician and actor over the years, and created Clint Slate (a variation of ‘clean slate’) in 2015 to further explore a more experimental side. He’s released three albums, beginning with this debut work Before the Dark, an exploration of his feelings of grief and loss after the death of his father. He followed in 2017 with his exquisite second album Woodn Bones, which was recorded in a single take and premiered in a live performance on the internet with a full band plus choir in a theatre. This past January, he dropped his third album Dragons, an innovative and imaginative genre-blended work inspired by his love of David Bowie’s album Earthling, which was itself based on the idea of a ‘cadavre exquis musical’ (or ‘exquisite musical corpse’). The brilliant album was created virtually and remotely, with the help of two other musicians, bassist Francesco Arzani and drummer Louison Collet. You can read my review of Dragons here.
Iona James is a nurse from Scotland with a life-long love of music. As a young child, she’d sing along with her mum to songs by the Bee Gees, Jackson 5 and Cyndi Lauper, then learned to appreciate classical music while playing in her school band. She later grew to love such diverse acts as Nirvana, Enya and The Cranberries, and began writing her own songs while learning to play guitar. She eventually joined the army and became a nurse, but continued to feed her passion for music by writing songs in secret. Iona made an attempt to satisfy her craving to be involved in music by joining the Scottish military wives’ choir, but it was her father-in-law urging her to do something she loved that finally compelled her to take a songwriting course. Meanwhile, working as a nurse during the pandemic brought anxiety, stress and dread, causing insomnia for her. She found solace in writing songs, and made a new year’s resolution to record one of them, which led to the release of her first single “To the Moon” this past January.
The first track “No Way Out” was released in advance of The Silent Sea on May 24th. The song opens with shimmery strummed guitar chords backed by spooky ethereal synths and handclaps, then Iona’s lovely vocals enter, accompanied by a warm bassline. Her vocals are soon joined by Clint’s as the music expands into a luxurious, moody soundscape, punctuated by jangly guitar and enchanting keyboards. The interplay between Iona and Clint’s vocals is really wonderful as they complement and play off each other in perfect harmony. The powerful lyrics seem to touch on dealing with personal demons and regrets over past mistakes: “Stranded alone, alone in the crowd. Prisoner in my own head. Can’t seem to find my way out. This haunted memory, merry go round. Grasping the last piece of straw. Can’t take this no more.” It’s beautiful and haunting, and I think it’s my favorite song on the EP.
“Tell Me Now” is a pleasing folk-pop song, with an opening guitar riff that sounds a bit like that in the 1978 hit “Reminiscing” by the Little River Band. The sunny, upbeat melody contrasts with the simple, bittersweet lyrics spoken between a couple coming to terms with the fact their relationship appears broken beyond repair: “Loving you was easy, but loving you could be so damn hard. I didn’t know trying to hold on would tear us apart.” “The Ticking Tide” is the longest and most musically complex of the four tracks, starting off with quirky synths that are replaced by a piano driven melody, which gradually evolves into more of a rock feel with urgent guitars and heavier percussion. Lyrically, the song touches on the relentless passage of time, and our powerlessness in its wake. Everything that’s happened in our past continues to shape who we are going forward, but we cannot let those things imprison us: “The ticking tide, waits for no one. Tomorrow is today. The ticking tide it tempts me, I’m drifting away. The ticking tide one day will set me free. Time is an ocean. We’re helpless, but time is in motion, forging us.”
The Silent Sea is a lovely little EP, and a fine debut effort by this talented duo. Iona and Clint are both great songwriters and vocalists in their own right, and their combined efforts have paid off nicely in the creation of these wonderful songs.
The special edition includes the EP, four alternate versions called ‘The Naked Sea’, a Radio Edit for ‘The Ticking Tide’ and the digital booklet.
As someone who has zero musical aptitude or talent, I’m always impressed by those who do, and even more so when they’re as young as the guys in the band Stargazy Pie. Formed in 2019, the Tacoma, Washington-based foursome are all still in their teens, ranging in age from 15-19, but their music and lyrics have a level of quality and maturity well beyond their tender years. In January, they released their debut album Butterfly Hand Grenade, and I must say that it’s quite good! I also love that they named their band after a traditional Cornish fish pie. Traditionally, stargazy pie is filled with potatoes, eggs and whole pilchards (sardines) – yuk! – and baked with the fish heads poking though the pastry crust so that they appear to be gazing at the stars. Hence the band’s logo:
Making the great music are Jack Stoker (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Logan Chernoske (lead guitar, bass, backing vocals), Logan Neville-Neil (bass, piano, backing vocals) and Sulli Olson-Rexroat (drums). The album was produced and engineered by Regan Lane and Sean Van Dommelen of the band Strangely Alright, whose music I’ve also featured a number of times on this blog. The beautiful album art was created by band guitarist, Logan Chernoske, who edited together two NASA photographs of butterfly nebulas with a shadowy image of the lead singer Jack.
The album kicks off with “Kinda Lame“, a rousing tune that takes me back to the 90s with a groove that reminds me a bit of songs by the Gin Blossoms or early Jimmy Eat World. The upbeat, driving rhythms contrast with the more serious lyrics that speak to the disappointment of unrequited love and coming to terms with the fact that the one you love just doesn’t feel the same about you. The instrumentals are all top-notch, and Jack’s vocals are in fine form, transitioning from smooth croons to soaring entreaties with ease as he laments “I think you’re making a big mistake. But I know that we can’t control these things. And baby if you just don’t feel the same, I think that’s kinda lame.”
“Paranoid” is a terrific hard rock song, with marvelous chugging riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, accompanied by galloping rhythms that create a heavier, more urgent sound for the bitter lyrics giving someone who’s betrayed you the big kiss-off: “So don’t come crawling back in shame. Cause I just can’t be friends with someone who wants to see me in pain. But now I’m Paranoid, Cause I know what you’ve done. If I can’t trust you then I can’t trust no one.” Once again, Jack’s vocals are outstanding.
The wonderfully-titled head banger “why’dyouleave(girl).wav” really channels Jimmy Eat World, with frantic rhythms and rapid-fire riffs a la “The Middle”, only faster and with lots more distortion. Jack’s vocal dexterity is impressive as he feverishly spits out the lyrics in perfect sync with the frenzied pace of the instrumentals as he implores ” Why’d you have to walk away? All I need is one more day. So much more I had to say. Things will never be the same. It didn’t have to end this way, oh I just want you to stay.”
The next three tracks address the guys’ anxieties and experiences as a young band, and once again I have to say that I’m both impressed and touched by their intelligent and introspective songwriting, especially given their young ages. The buoyant “Constellations” speaks to the healing powers of making and performing music: “I can’t erase these things that I’ve done. I’m on the run, oh I’m on the run. And I just won’t face what I’ve become. None of it’s fun, oh none of it’s fun. But I’ll go to waste if I don’t move on. I’ll make a name, I’ll be someone. Oh I know a place where we belong. We will be constellations. And we will sing to the nations.”
“$25 Guitar” is a sweet and poignant ode to the singer’s very first guitar that got him where he is today musically, and though it makes him sad, it’s now time for him to move up to a better model: “My twenty-five dollar guitar. Oh I knew you were a star. And it must be so very hard to hear, but my twenty-five dollar guitar, you just weren’t up to par. So leaving you shouldn’t leave me in tears.” In keeping with the sentimental subject, the song’s arrangement is more laid-back, with charming strummed guitars, however, the rhythm section is still rather spirited, though it doesn’t detract from the track’s mellower feel.
And on the boisterous garage rocker “Going Under“, they touch on the perils of falling prey to acting like a ‘rock star’, being full of yourself and disrespecting others and, ultimately yourself. “Lars Ulrich, he’s a prick. Ain’t got no talent on him. I think he’s full of it. But maybe that’s my problem. I can say you’re not great but you can say the same thing. Why do we wanna hate when we can just walk away? Making me wonder am I going under?/ It’s not about what you decide to do with your life. It’s more how you treat stuff and if you do what is right. Don’t hate me, if you’re angry. Cause that’s exactly what I do. I hate that I’m angry and I keep disrespecting you.” Jack and Logan C. set the airwaves afire with face-melting riffs, while Logan N. and Sulli deliver non-stop pummeling rhythms.
The guys slow it back down on the title track “Butterfly Hand Grenade“, a lovely, bittersweet song about missing someone special. “Butterfly hand grenade. Got me feeling this way. Never know what to say cause I get lost when you smile. / Falling deep in denial. And it feels so wrong cause my heart still longs. And you’re not here.” The instrumentals are quite gentle, consisting mainly of strummed guitar and warm keyboards. When the song seems to end at around 2:48, the music returns with added percussion as Jack sadly ponders “So oh, I gotta know. Was this all real? Or was it for show? Oh, I gotta know. Was this all real? Or was it for show?”
Everything comes full circle on the closing track “Pretty Great“, a call-back to the opening track “Kinda Lame”. Jack now concludes that he’s okay with the way things ended in the relationship after all, and that he’ll be alright: “Don’t worry about me, I’ll find someone who’ll be, oh all that I’ve dreamed. I once had this feeling, but now that I’m healing I’m finally set free. And that’s not to slight you. I still adore you, just not in that way. And now, everything is pretty great.”
Pretty great is an apt description for this delightful album. Butterfly Hand Grenade is a solid work, and a very impressive debut for this remarkably talented young band. Of course, some credit must be given to producers Regan Lane and Sean Van Dommelen. Still, it’s heartwarming to see a young act put out such a well-crafted work as this, and I hope we’ll be hearing more great music from them.
I just reviewed musician Michael Lane, a singer-songwriter who was born in Germany, raised in America and now living in Germany. Now I’m writing about another musician based in Germany named Rod Fritz, who’s actually an Australian born and raised in Hobart, Tasmania, but now living in Germany as well. Rod has been involved with music for nearly 30 years, both in bands and as a solo artist. He started out in the early 90s playing saxophone with Australian band Death & Disease. After they disbanded, he began writing songs and recorded his first solo album Send Help in 1996. He later re-recorded many of those songs, plus some new tracks, for his 2011 album Clouded, which garnered critical and commercial acclaim, as well as airplay in Australia and beyond. In 2014, he embarked on a world tour that took him through the U.S., UK and Germany. His mother is originally from Germany, and while there he visited her and a number of family members. While playing a show, he met a woman with whom he eventually entered into a relationship, and he’s been in Germany ever since.
Hi pleasing music style draws from country, folk, pop and rock, with memorable and often catchy melodies, heartfelt lyrics and bold instrumentation. He followed Clouded with two more albums, Fritz in 2014 and Hold On in 2018. Since then, he’s released a number of singles, the latest of which is “Take the World with Me“. It’s an upbeat, feel-good song with a bouncy melody and joyful vibe similar to the Jawaiian (a Hawaiian style of reggae) sound of the Jason Mraz hit “I’m Yours”. Rod employs a lively mix of jauntily strummed guitars, sparkling synths, finger snaps, xylophone and other charming little instruments to create a carefree, sunny soundscape. His smooth, light-hearted vocals are comforting as he assures a loved one to have faith in him, and that he’ll be there to take care of and protect her: “Come and take the world with me, and I’ll be right there by your side. Come and take the world with me. Don’t cry, everything will be alright.”
It’s a sweet and happy song, and can’t we use more of those right now?
As a lover of music, I listen to a lot of it, often for several hours a day. As a music blogger, I also learn about at least one new artist or band a day too. And every now and then, I come across a particularly good one who’s been around for several years, wondering how I could have possibly not known about them earlier. One such act is Michigander, an alternative rock project from Michigan (obviously) who makes some of the most consistently good melodic rock I’ve heard by any act in a long while. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bingeing on their back music catalog, and can honestly say that I love every one of their songs – a rarity for even some of my favorite artists and bands. They dropped their latest EP Everything Will Be OK Eventually on March 19th, and I love it so much that I want to shout about it from the rooftops.
Michigander is the brain child of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jason Singer. Originally from the central Michigan city of Midland, in 2014 he moved to Kalamazoo, where he started his music career playing in dive bars and open mics. He released his wonderful debut single “Nineties” two years later, followed by several more singles and two outstanding EPs, Midland in 2018 and Where Do We Go From Here in 2019. I first learned about Michigander in late 2019 when I heard his single “Misery”. One of the songs from Where Do We Go From Here, “Misery” spent many weeks on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart, peaking at #20, and has been streamed more than 3.5 million times on Spotify.
Over the years, Singer has been joined by other talented musicians for the recording and performing of his music. The current Michigander lineup includes guitarist Jake LeMond, bassist Connor Robertson, and drummer Aaron Senor. (Senor also has his own music project Dawning, whose gorgeous EP Petals I reviewed last month.) Singer has also recently relocated to Detroit.
Everything Will Be OK Eventually, released through C3 Records, was produced by Singer and long-time collaborator Jake Rye, recorded at Social Recording Company in Adrian, Michigan, and mastered by Mike Cervantes. I think it’s Michigander’s finest work yet, with a fuller, more polished sound, thanks to a greater use of electronic elements than on their previous music. In an article about the EP in BrooklynVegan, Singer explains his approach for the creation of this record: “In the past, I didn’t want to write anything I wasn’t sure we could pull off live. This time, I didn’t care. I incorporated programming and samples that went beyond being a rock band. I became more sure of who I am, what I want to do with music, and how I want to go about it. I tried to be more vulnerable and make something I’m very proud of. I got to add in everything I always wanted to.”
As its title suggests, the EP offers positive messages of hope in these troubled times, delivered with dreamy, upbeat melodies and gorgeous instrumentation. Singer confided on his Instagram page: “I am so happy that these songs are now out in the world for you to hear. Each one of these tracks was a labor of love that my friends and I worked so hard on for over a year. I hope this EP finds a special place in your heart for the years to come. I hope it becomes the soundtrack for this time in our lives as we are slowly healing and returning to some sort of normalcy. I couldn’t have made these songs without the help of my best pals and my incredible team.”
He further elaborates in his comments for BrooklynVegan: “Even though there was so much uncertainty, I found peace in the fact we were all in it together. It was straightforward about the times we’re in, but it was meant to be peaceful. I’ve said the title over and over again to all of my friends; eventually, we’ll get back to normal, and everything will be alright. Personally, I’m very optimistic and hopeful about everything to a fault. You can hear it in the music. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing though.” It certainly isn’t, and the result is a stunning collection of songs that make you feel good, even in the sad parts.
The EP opens with “Better“, an exuberant yet poignant song about loss and wanting to be a better person; “Cause life might be good, but I wish that it would be better. Just want to be better. / Cause you tried to love me and I probably should have let you. Cause things would be better. Things would be better with you.” The song is gorgeous, with a swirling torrent of jangly and chiming guitars, driven by a pulsating bass line and urgent drumbeats, all melding into an electrifying wall of sound. The dual guitars of Singer and LeMond are quite breathtaking.
The touching video for “Better”, which was released concurrently with the EP, shows a man, played by Alex Wells, missing his former wife or girlfriend and trying to straighten out his life and become a better person, while Singer lurks in the background (or foreground) as he sings the song. At first it appears the man missing his wife or girlfriend is making himself better in the hopes of winning her back, but at the video’s end, it’s revealed that she had passed away. About the video, Singer explains: “I’ve wanted to do a video that doesn’t feature me as the focus. So when [director] Tyler [Appel] pitched a story-driven narrative for this one I knew right away it was the right vibe. I think it really captures my personality as the video is goofy but also makes you cry. It’s emotional. ‘Better’ is probably my favorite song off the new EP, it’s the type of song I’ve always dreamed of writing and sounds the closest to what I think Michigander embodies.”
Next up is “Let Down“, the deliriously-catchy lead single for the EP and the band’s highest-charting single to date, peaking at #8 on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart. I love this song, which is currently enjoying a long run on my own Weekly Top 30. The track’s arrangement and production values are superb, and a close listen reveals so many wonderful touches like Senor’s ace drumbeats, LeMond’s rousing guitar solo in the bridge, and the haunting piano keys in the outro. The lyrics speak to those optimistic feelings one gets when meeting a possible new love interest, but also the nagging fear that it won’t work out: “Well I feel like I’ve known you. Even though I’ve only met you. I don’t wanna mess it up, I’m probably gonna mess it up. / Cuz I got high hopes, I got high hopes. But they let me down, they usually let me down.” The sweet video shows Singer’s playful side.
“Saturday” starts off gently, with strummed guitar and delicate percussion as Singer softly croons “Well it always feels like Saturday when I’m next to you. / And it’s all downhill from here, the minute that you walk away.” Soon, the song expands into a beautiful guitar-driven Kings of Leon-esque anthem. Singer’s heartfelt vocals remind me of Sir Sly front man Landon Jacobs as he plaintively sings of his fear of losing the things he values: “I heard my voice on the radio for the third time this week. So scared to death of losing it, I can’t breathe. And It’s all downhill from here, the minute that you realize that we’re all living in fear. And it’s something that we can’t hide. Well I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna let you slip away. Let you slip away.”
The beautiful tunes keep coming with “Headlights“, a bittersweet song about a lost love that Singer co-wrote with LeMond. Once again, the arrangement and instrumentals are stunning, with glittery piano keys and synths, over which LeMond’s layers chiming guitar notes. And as always, Singer’s vocals are deeply moving and lovely as he sings “Cause I can’t get over you. And I don’t think I want to.” “OK” is a bouncy, lighthearted tune with somewhat dark but optimistic lyrics that speak to wanting to be with the object of one’s affection, but also acknowledging that it’s alright to be alone, at least once in a while: “You’re the only one that I want to see right now. But since you’re not here, I think I’ll just go home. Kicking up the dust as I wander around downtown. I’ll do anything to not go home. It’s OK to be lonely. It’s OK to be alone sometimes.” I especially like the interplay between the jangly guitar chords and tinkling piano keys that take the edge off what could be an otherwise melancholy message.
Closing track “Together” is a charming song about coping with the anxiety and isolation many of us experienced at the outset of the global pandemic: “Well oh my god, the world is ending. Do you still want to meet me for dinner?If the world’s gonna fall apart, maybe we could fall together. If the world’s gonna fall apart, I’ll stick with you.” Musically, the song has an exuberant, sweeping melody, highlighted by glittery synths and jangly guitars, giving it a bit of a Coldplay vibe. The blaring trumpet notes add a lovely sophisticated texture to the track as well. At the song’s end, Singer wistfully laments “Wish I could be with all my friends, but I’m feeling all alone again.”
Well, what can I add about this beautiful EP that I haven’t already gushed about? Everything Will Be OK Eventually is a stunning, flawlessly-crafted work, and easily one of the best EPs of 2021. I now count Michigander among my favorite artists currently making music, and look forward to hearing more stellar music from them for years to come.
Michigander will open for Mt. Joy at a socially-distanced Detroit show on May 7 (tickets).
Dunkie is the whimsically-named music project of Welsh singer/songwriter and musician Anthony Price. Based in the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Price has written and recorded songs for many years, and in late December 2019 he gifted the world with his exquisite debut album Working to Design. An ambitious and monumental work, the album is a stunning, meticulously-crafted labor of love featuring 17 tracks. Partially inspired by the books and works of author Richard Matheson, Working to Design is a concept album, filled with heartfelt songs exploring the oft-covered subjects of life, love, the passage of time, death and loss, but also healing, hope and rebirth. (You can read my review here.) It was also a collaborative effort, involving contributions by more than 30 other musicians and vocalists who performed on various tracks, most notably Wayne Bassett, a fellow Welsh musician and producer, who played numerous instruments on several tracks, and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album.
Now Dunkie returns with a lovely five-track EP The Vanishing and Other Stories, another wonderful collaborative effort featuring an eclectic mix of stylistic elements ranging from rock, folk and pop to electronic and alt-country. For this work, Price co-wrote, arranged, produced and mixed the songs with Wayne Bassett. As with the recording of Working to Design, he once again enlisted a dozen other musicians and vocalists to add their talents to various songs. And the album artwork was again created by their friend, Welsh Figurative Artist Michael Gustavius Payne. Recorded at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales, The Vanishing and Other Stories is being released on Friday, March 19 through South Wales music label Dirty Carrot Records, and is available for purchase on Dunkie’s Bandcampprofile.
Having different musicians and vocalists performing on various tracks gives the EP more of a compilation feel, although the common thread running through the entire work is Price and Bassett’s superb songwriting. The songs address various aspects of loneliness, isolation and fear – emotions many of us have experienced or grappled with over the past year. About the EP, Dunkie explains: “Reminiscent of 1950’s & 1960’s short story anthologies, collected together in the world of Corgi and Penguin paperbacks, we’ve aimed to create a similar aesthetic with this EP. These songs/stories are grounded in the mundane yet heightened by a haunting, terrifying and sometimes surreal reality that surrounds us, present with despair for human lives, searching for hope in humanity and our own existence within it. Standalone stories, that exist in the same storytelling world we write.” He’s also provided a line or two of commentary for each song.
The beautiful opening track “The Vanishing” touches on feelings of emptiness that often stem from isolation, and ponders whether love can be a healing force. Dunkie elaborates “When lives begin to pull and push away from gravity and humanity, can one collective last breath of society prevail? Maybe only love can fill the hole within the soul…” The song is absolutely stunning, with lush, sweeping instrumentals highlighted by glittery synths, marvelous guitar work by Price, Bassett and Adam Price, and shimmery mellotron played by John Barnes. Anthony Price has a gentle and distinctive singing voice that sounds like a blend of Thom Yorke and Neil Young, and his vocals are deeply moving as he croons “I could disappear and leave without a trace from this world. I’ve left the human race. Nobody sees me, nobody sees me, sees me anymore / You’ll miss me when I’m gone / Only love can fill the holes within your soul.”
“Shadows On The Sun” is an incredibly pleasing folk-rock song with a catchy and upbeat toe-tapping melody, and featuring more of the gorgeous guitar work played by the same three who also dazzled us on “The Vanishing”. Dunkie explains the song’s message: “How long can a surface hold its form before cracking? In a world where darkness rises and lights dim, one earthly, broken figure can no longer take it anymore…“
Dunkie takes us off in a different direction with the haunting and contemplative “Choke“. Seven musicians play instruments on this mesmerizing track, highlighted by Terry Payne’s bewitching flute and Jennifer Drew’s inventive percussive textures. Mali Davies sings the captivating lead vocals, supported by gentle backing vocals by Anthony Price and Rob Lear. The lyrics seem to address the fear and desolation of facing one’s impending death, yet the music is ethereal and soothing, conveying a sense of peaceful resignation: “A fading lifecycle.. Visions searing the skin.. and the figure screams as the silent walls close within a room.. Choking the tears begin, again.” The song seems to end at around 4:42 with sounds of a person drawing their final breath, accompanied by a monitor indicting no heartbeat. But then the music abruptly returns, as if to signify the release and rebirth of the person’s soul into another dimension.
“Deep Dark Heart” is a bittersweet song about a relationship in which both parties have drifted apart, becoming almost like strangers and afraid to be honest with each other: “Blinded by inner demons a mute couple attempt to feel what one each feels, but this comes with a price and begins to pull them from underneath… and slowly takes seed.” The song was co-written by Price and Bassett, along with contributions by Mark Purnell on music and Joanne Jones on lyrics. Purnell also played acoustic and electric guitars and sings vocals along with Sarah Birch. Another reviewer, Grayson Jones, compared their vocals to those of Cat Stevens and Stevie Nicks, and I have to agree. Their wonderful vocals are tender and heartfelt as they sing of doubts and unease toward each other: “Is it in my head? Or is it in my heart? Questions go unanswered through the tether of your bark.” Musically, the song has a haunting alt-Country vibe, thanks to the twangy guitars and Terry Payne’s mournful violin.
On “The Vanishing Shadow“, we have the pleasure of hearing lovely vocals by a third female singer, Lauren Coates. The song has a peaceful, atmospheric soundscape, thanks to shimmery synths, delicate strings and gentle percussion. Coates’ soft, captivating vocals perfectly fit the ethereal vibe, which is broken only by the piercing synth sounds at the end. The lyrics seem to speak to people losing touch with each other through fear or indifference, leaving us to wonder if our lives have any meaning at all: “When lifeforms fall out of reach from one another, into an endless pit of fear, the emptiness in space appears… and they question if they are really… gone.” Coates’ sings “The hardest thing to do, is to prove you exist. With every single coat that you paint erased…and I’m gone.”
Those who purchase the EP will get a sixth bonus track, an alternative version of “The Vanishing”, recorded at an Abertawe Road Studio session. This version is somewhat stripped-down, with richly-layered guitars, magical synths, and Price’s sweet vocals the only sounds we hear. But what sounds they are! The jangly and shimmery guitars are deeply resonant, with a fullness of sound that’s incredibly impactful.
To sum up, I must say that Dunkie has gone and done it again, creating another work of musical art that’s as perfect as it could possibly be. The Vanishing and Other Stories is a gorgeous, expertly-crafted little EP, and a testament to the impressive talents of Price, Bassett, and everyone else involved in its production.
New music continues to gush forth from the creative juices of too many artists and bands to mention, and here are three great new tunes, all released on March 12th, by (in alphabetical order) French dance/rock band DeStijl, featuring British singer Liam Croker, British singer-songwriter Flo Gallop, and Florida alternative pop-rock band Infinite Eights.
“F.O.S. (Howie B Remix)” by DeStijl featuring Liam Croker
DeStijl is a dance-rock band originally from Montpellier, France, but now split between Montpellier and Manchester, England, where their new lead singer and drummer reside. Their music is strongly influenced by such bands as New Order, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Editors, Primal Scream, Doves, Kasabian and Massive Attack, and they’ve released six albums over the past 25 years (with a 10-year break lasting roughly from 2000-2010). Liam Croker is frontman and lead singer for Manchester-based electro/dance-pop/funk bandThe Winachi Tribe, whose terrific music I’ve written about several times on this blog. Howie B is a legendary Scottish composer, producer and DJ who’s worked with artists such as Björk, U2, Tricky, Massive Attack, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Soul II Soul an Robbie Robertson.
De Stijl and Liam Croker collaborated on the electro/dance-pop track “F.O.S.” (along with a few other songs released in 2020), and have now released an exciting new remix by Howie B. The single will be included on a forthcoming collaborative EP by DeStijl and Liam, due for release later this year. The track was produced by Howie B and mastered by famed mastering engineer Peter Maher.
“F.O.S.” (full of shit) is a cheeky take-down of the egotistical blowhards Liam’s met over the years who are full of themselves – essentially full of shit. The original version is a great song, with an infectious and strong pulsating dance groove, punctuated by spacey synths and shimmery guitars. For the remix, Howie B shaves 47 seconds off the song, and modifies the dance beat with trip hop elements. He also emphasizes the spacey aspects, adding subtle industrial synths that give the track a darker, somewhat more menacing vibe. Liam’s saucy croons have a bit more echo, adding to the track’s overall air of mystery.
London-based singer-songwriter & self proclaimed comedian Flo Gallop was raised around music. Her father was a songwriter, so she grew up learning to emulate him, scribbling words into her diary that she would eventually translate into songs. Drawing influences from some of her favorite artists like Oasis, The 1975, Bastille, and Tom Odell, she writes honest lyrics set to catchy, upbeat melodies. A natural-born artist and sociable soul, she loves to perform – something that’s been impossible over the past year of lockdowns and such. Like all musicians, it’s driven her crazy, but that hasn’t stopped her from writing and recording songs.
She’s previously collaborated with the likes of Tom Fuller and Will Thompson, but in late January, Flo released her debut single “21”, then followed a month later with a Rob Savage-produced remix of the song. Now she’s back with her new single “Can’t Be Friends“, a fun and flirtatious track about falling for the wrong person, and blithely ignoring the consequences. In an interview with the webzine PopDust, Flo confided: “The song was written when I was in that headspace of just not being able to cut someone out who was no good for me. It’s also about making the excuse of ‘being friends’ when you know that’s just never gonna happen with that particular person, but you use it as your defense to keep seeing them.” I can attest to the folly of this approach, as I’ve ‘been there, done that’!
The song has an infectious, trap beat-driven groove, highlighted by a great little guitar riff, and accompanied by shimmery synths, a tasty thumping bassline and snappy drums, all of which build to an exuberant crescendo in the chorus. Flo has a distinctive and lilting vocal style, which she uses to great effect in expressing a playful sense of both resignation and exasperation over her inability to quit the guy who’s never gonna be right for her: “We always played this game, until we’re fighting fires again. It’s how we know we’re both to blame. This is why we can’t be friends. You always blurred the lines and I can never cut these ties.”
Formed back in 2012 while young teenagers, Infinite Eights is a charming and talented indie alternative pop/rock band based in Tampa, Florida. They were one of the very first bands to follow me on Twitter back in the fall of 2015, when I was just starting out as a music blogger and still a complete unknown. At the time, two of the band members, Parker Wilkson (guitar, keyboards & vocals) and Tyler Hanks (drums & percussion) were still in high school, and Davin Norman (bass) was in college. I was impressed by the excellence of their songwriting and musicianship, as well as their kindness, professionalism and gracious humility, rare qualities in musicians that young.
In addition to their studies, they’ve released numerous singles over the years, as well as a six-track EP Unfound in 2015. They’ve performed in several music festivals alongside some of the biggest names in music, and have opened for Kaleo, AJR, In the Valley Below, and The Relationship. I’ve featured them twice on this blog, the first time in April 2016 (which you can read here). It’s been a pleasure watching them grow and mature as musicians, and their music keeps getting better and better.
Infinite Eights have just dropped their latest single “Nausea“, delivering more of their signature gorgeous melodies and dreamy instrumentation we’ve come to love and expect from them. Parker has become a programming wizard, producing a lush, swirling soundscape of glittery synths, over which he layers intricate guitar notes, while Davin and Tyler drive the pulsating rhythm forward with their commanding bass and drums, respectfully. Parker’s warm vocals have also matured quite nicely too, and he’s never sounded better. His plaintive soaring falsetto in the choruses is beautiful and deeply moving. Though I cannot make them all out, the lyrics seem to speak to the stomach-churning emotional roller coaster aspects of love and relationships. Parker told me he drew inspiration from Jean Paul-Sartre’s novel of the same name: “The song is an exploration of the feelings that arise when a period of existential dread is punctuated by an encounter with a potential romantic partner. Those feelings may be best summed up as ‘parasitic’ – attaching yourself to someone as a means of finding direction and escaping a sense of purposelessness.”