JEEN (Jeen O’Brien) is a talented, successful and established singer-songwriter and musician from Toronto, Canada with quite an impressive resume. According to her bio, her songs have been used in commercials for such companies as Google, Panasonic, Estée Lauder, Kraft, BlackBerry, KIA, Rogers, MasterCard and Molson, as well as various movies and television programs, including Cook Off, Republic of Doyle, Instant Star, Ruby Gloom, Degrassi, Killjoys, Hockey Wives, Workin’ Moms, MTV Catfish, and MTV Are You the One. Though we’ve followed each other on Twitter for a while, she somehow slipped under my radar until a few days ago, when she reached out to me about her latest single “On and On“. I liked it at first listen, and agreed to feature it on this blog.
Before I’m able to properly review music by an artist I’ve not written about before, I check out their website and various social media accounts to learn as much as I can about them (alas, I’ll never be able to shake the research methods I learned in grad school), and try to listen to at least some of their music catalog to better familiarize myself with their sound. In searching through JEEN’s, I was amazed by her tremendous music output over the past eight years. After starting out as a member of Toronto alternative pop-rock band Cookie Duster (who released a fine album When Flying Was Easy in 2012), she went solo and released her debut album Tourist in 2014. Since then, she’s put out scores of singles and four more albums, most recently Dog Bite last October (2021). Her music is so good, I found myself going down a rabbit hole of binge-listening to her back catalog. Her alternative pop-rock music style and sound are somewhat similar to a few other female artists I’ve heard, yet also distinctly her own.
“On and On” is the first single off JEEN’s forthcoming sixth album Tracer, due for release in October. For the recording of the single and album, which were co-produced by JEEN and her frequent collaborator Ian Blurton, JEEN played rhythm guitar, bass and synths, Ian played lead guitar and Stephan Szczesniak played drums. The song was also engineered and mixed by Ian, and mastered by Brad Boatright. JEEN says the song is “about breaking points and falling down more times than you’re willing to get back up. I wrote this song last year when everything was grinding me down and nothing seemed worth it.”
The song is a lively banger with a hint of punk undercurrent, driven by Stephan’s urgent thumping drumbeats and JEEN’s throbbing bass. Ian and JEEN lay down a colorful mix of grungy and chiming guitars, accompanied by exuberant sparkling synths, creating a rousing backdrop for her echoed, somewhat mumbled vocals, which are backed by her own soaring harmonies as she laments “Everything got so complicated. Every day’s so intoxicating. Anyway I tried a hundred times (and on and on and on). And I think you must be blind, when you say everything’s fine (and on and on and on).Hey I’m sorry that I lost my place, started running but I fell on my face.” I like the gnarly instrumental fade out at the end, as if to signify someone becoming emotionally deflated like a tire losing air.
For the rather trippy video, JEEN’s chosen a fascinating way to show her lyrics, including written in lipstick on a bathroom mirror, in ink on her hand and arm, crumpled scraps of paper, mylar balloons, an old sneaker and concrete walls, and typed out on a computer screen.
One of the perks (and there are a few downsides as well) of being a blogger who writes music reviews is getting to know a lot of musicians and bands from all over the world, some of them on a personal level. High on my list of favorites, both as musicians and humans, is Chicago-based rock band The MillionReasons. Though I’ve never met them in person, I seriously love these guys and consider them friends who honestly care about me as a person, rather than simply a blogger who can be of use to them. A few of them actually check in from time to time to ask how I’m doing, which means a lot to me. It also makes me an intensely loyal fan.
The Million Reasons originally formed in 2016 as a trio comprised of Scott Nadeau on lead vocals, and Ken Ugel and Mike Nichols on guitars. They were joined a year later by drummer Colin Dill, then bassist Jason Cillo in 2018. I first learned about them when they followed me on Twitter in July 2018, around the time they released their magnificent single “Dizzy”. It was love at first listen, and I quickly became a big fan of theirs. Without question one of the most beautiful rock songs I’ve ever heard, I was happy to write a review of “Dizzy”. I loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ultimately ranked #69 on my 100 best songs of the decadelist.
The guys went on to release a few more singles, then in August 2019, Scott decided to leave the band. Fortunately, they quickly found a phenomenal replacement in singer-songwriter Taylor Brennan, a close friend of Colin’s, and the band lineup was complete again. Taylor brought not only his impressive vocal talents, but also great songwriting skills and years of experience, which have expanded The Million Reasons’ musical horizons quite nicely. Whereas their music had primarily been classic rock/rock’n’roll oriented, some of their new songs venture more into progressive rock territory.
All five band members are highly accomplished musicians, several of whom are also involved with other projects. Taylor is vocalist for alternative-progressive rock band Polarizer (who’s brilliant album Love From the Underground I reviewed last November). Ken is guitarist for rock bands Guardrail and Wild Gravity, and Colin and Jason are members of covers band Dad’s Night Out. Having five members, including two guitarists, their sound is dynamic, heavy and melodic, consistently delivered with incredible riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals – everything we lovers of rock want to hear.
With their new lineup, the band set to work writing new songs, as well as re-working a few song ideas from their previous iteration that had never been fully-developed. This culminated in the release of their EP If Not For the Fire in February 2020, which I also reviewed. The title single “If Not For the Fire” also climbed to the top of my Weekly Top 30 chart, and ended up at #20 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list.
Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic cast its ugly pall soon after the EP’s release, hindering the relatively new lineup from touring or performing live to promote it. Also prevented from gathering together to record more songs, the guys soldiered on remotely, often struggling in the process. In the hopes of getting their music out to a wider audience, they signed with Pavement Entertainment in summer 2020, and once Covid restrictions were lifted, got back into the studio to continue recording songs for what would become their debut full-length album Haven, which finally dropped April 15th. It’s a beautiful work that was definitely worth all the blood, sweat and tears it took them to finally get it done and released.
The word ‘haven’, defined as a place of safety or refuge, is the perfect title for The Million Reasons’ new album, as it encapsulates all that got them to this point. The album features 11 tracks, including the four previously released on the EP, which have been re-engineered and mastered with a bigger and fuller sound. Though I did not conduct an interview, each band member beautifully articulated their own thoughts about the album, some of which I’d now like to share in order to provide some context.
Taylor: “It’s an intensely personal album for me. But I/we always hope that our songs connect with people, whether it’s an individual or a crowd. I like to think there are enough overarching themes to speak to someone else going through the emotions represented by the songs; the highs, the lows, or especially if it’s both. It’s about one’s journey through highs and lows, no matter the obstacles, no matter the duration of the tumult. One of my favourite lyrics on this album is ‘It’s not over til it’s better’. It updates on the ’til its over’ aspect because to me the original phrase implies a potentially negative finality. The point being, I now believe there is always “better”. Even if the body shots keep coming, even if it feels like death by a thousand shots, even if “better” is achieved incrementally…if you keep going…if you work on yourself and surround yourself with love and support…it will get better. To me, that culminates in ‘Haven’. Haven is the place where you finally feel safe. The place where you finally feel home. The place where you finally feel better. The place where you finally feel like ‘you’.
To me, the album represents that natural chemistry cannot be denied. That’s obviously a theme of the lyrics, but the band also lived that. We have a great time together when we get together. Musically, we gel. I think we had the rocky start that could have ended some projects before they had a chance to get going. But we made it through and now we know what we are capable of. I love the record, I am as proud of it as anything I have done. When you have to work hard to get through adversity, the end result is that much sweeter. We’ve done that, and we like each other and this band more now than we did when we first met, I feel. So while this feels like our peak right now, like a penultimate record, I think it also represents that we’re in this together and we have what it takes to see this through indefinitely. We are a band, and a fucking good one. And we’re just getting started.”
Colin: “‘Haven’ is the culmination of 5 years of songwriting, practice, shows, line-up changes and hard work, all finally pieced together to create the true foundation and spirit of The Million Reasons as a band. The spirit being defined by keeping Rock N’ Roll alive and well and having a damn good time doing it. COVID impacted our timeline and motivation greatly. It was extremely challenging to find time to finalize writing and recording each piece whether at the studio or on our own. There were absolutely discouraging times that we would never quite get there, but we persevered and are absolutely ecstatic at the end product. I’m very proud of this album and release. I love the guys in the band like family and it’s so exciting to have this release finally happening. “If Not For The Fire” and the passion of the group, there would be no album!“
Jason: “This really is a culmination of all the band’s work. Some of these songs were written during the first iteration of the group (Mike & Ken being the only remaining members) and then re-done with new vocals. I personally joined the band where the music was already mostly outlined for about half the album and the other half was written together. We write the music completely separate from the lyrics and let Taylor write on top of what we came up with. A lot of these songs came from jams or specific writing sessions in Ken’s apartment. Ken and I paired off a lot to write in a more rigid, methodical way, while Mike and Colin would go into the rehearsal space and jam with something recording them and then we’d converge on those ideas. I hope that [the album] gets in front of people who will enjoy it. I’ve never felt better about music that I’ve worked on and I know it’s good, it’s just a matter of showing the world that. Truthfully, I just want people to enjoy it and for the band to play some more shows to see that in-person.”
Ken: “‘Haven’ is our defining moment as a group and the place where we’ve established our sound. This is our base, and acts as the beginning of something special. The journey to find our ‘Haven’ over years of songwriting, lineup changes, and a pandemic; has led us here: our safe place, where we are coming into our own. The metaphorical and physical start of this new chapter of TMR. I truly believe if these songs were played to a wider audience and given the attention it deserves, we’d break out of the ‘only friends and family’ listening parties. I’d hope to start opening up for some bigger acts and get in front of new people over the next year. ‘Haven’ showcases everything the band is about and just to boost my self-esteem up a bit: I think it’s a damn good album!“
Mike: “‘Haven’ is about overcoming adversity, from being at your lowest point and attaching your focus from one silver lining to the next in order to escape your rut. It’s an emotional story from Taylor’s point of view, but to me it can also represent the journey the band has gone through over the last few years. There’s darkness, but there’s light to bring us out of it. Lyrically, ‘Haven’ delves into love, loss, and self-doubt, followed by hope, confidence, and triumph over hardship. Musically, the album explores the spectrum of rock music we grew up listening to, from the poppy sensibilities of “1985” and “Alone With You”, to the high energy of “Oh, Tranquilizer” and “If Not For The Fire”, to the anger of of “All You Can’t Afford” and “Only Human”. “No North Star” might be a standout track on the album, easily distinguished by being melancholic and acoustic, but it also reads as a flashback, setting the scene for how we’ve arrived at the emotional state that came to influence the rest of the record. Track by track, there’s something for everybody. Everything about this album is overdue, it’s about time the world gets its ears on The Million Reasons. I want people to hear the album and love it. I want to play on stage for those people. I want this album to inspire people to create. ‘Haven’ is the catalyst that turns our dreams into reality.”
Well, I’ve heard the album loud and clear, and I love it more with each listen! Haven kicks off with “Oh,Tranquilizer!“, a rousing blast of atomic energy that both Ken and Mike name as one of their favorite tracks to play. And no wonder, as they deliver an onslaught of scorching riffs, fortified by Jason’s pummeling bassline and Colin’s explosive drumbeats. Taylor has a commanding tenor voice, dazzling our earbuds as he sings about our failing to clearly see what’s important amid all the noise: “Oh tranquilizer, this will be our year. You soothe the symptoms of this mania. We’ve got a lot to lose. Pay attention to the signs around. You’ve got a lot of nerve, to hear the noise but miss out on the sound.”
On the fiery (no pun intended) title track “If Not for the Fire”, the guys unleash their inner beasts, letting loose with an electrifying barrage of thunderous musical mayhem. The song is a rock masterpiece, and a highlight of the album. Taylor says the message behind the song is simple: “Do not settle. We get one go at this. Whatever makes you happiest, whatever makes you feel most alive, whatever lights you up, go fucking get it.” And once again, he raises goosebumps as he passionately wails of his need for an intense, almost obsessive kind of love that thrills and excites: “I came for the curse of, I came for the kiss of, A love divine that paralyzes. What did you come for, if not for the fire to light you up this way.”
The powerful video, filmed and directed by Philip Goode, shows Taylor seated at a table and struggling to write, juxtaposed with scenes of the band performing the song and working their magic with their respective instruments. Their energy and charisma are clearly evident.
Perhaps the most upbeat track on the album is “1985“, a bittersweet love song with an infectious and pleasing pop-rock sensibility that sets it apart from the others. I love the bouncy, guitar-driven melody, soaring harmonic choruses, and especially Colin’s spirited drumbeats. Taylor plaintively reminisces about lost time he could have enjoyed with a loved one: “Take me to 1985. I’d do it all again with you. I learned too late, the only priceless thing is time. Bring me back to 1985.“
The guys get back to business churning out hard-rocking bangers on the next several tracks, starting with “Coup De Grâce“, a blistering song about a toxic and abusive relationship featuring lyrics with boxing metaphors: “Back in the ring again, absorbing the body shots. Jab to a cross then uppercut, sends me back to my corner.” I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but wow, these guys know how to deliver the rock goods, nearly blowing out the speakers with rampaging riffs and explosive, stomping rhythms. And it goes without saying that Taylor rises to the occasion with his jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics.
“Shine On” has a bit of a Meat Loaf vibe, with it’s frantic galloping beat and aggressive guitar work, but especially in that Taylor’s vocals sound at times like those of the late, great singer. “Alone With You” is a proper rock tune with a catchy melody, intricate guitars, and thumping rhythms. Essentially a love song, Taylor sings of the joys of being with the woman he loves: “Anything to be alone with you. Where you go, I’m locked beside you babe. I don’t think I can get enough of you. And we are only getting started.” “Ride Or Die” starts off with a grunge vibe, highlighted by Jason’s gnarly bassline, but eventually explodes into a full-blown rocker with blazing riffs and heavy chugging rhythms every bit as good as some of the iconic rock songs of the late 70s and 80s. And on the poignant “Only Human“, Taylor pleads with a friend to not surrender to the pain that threatens to overwhelm them: “We’re far from done. But please hold on. You’re going to make it. Remember, it’s not over ‘til its better.”
“Pretty Ones” is a brilliant track, with a complex melodic structure and intricate, yet powerful instrumentation that give it a monumental prog-rock feel. Mike and Ken’s dual guitars are really spectacular here, and Colin’s drums are perfection. Taylor’s vocals are filled with intense passion as he sings the lyrics touching on restlessness and the internal struggle between putting down roots in one place or with one person vs. the desire for freedom, believing the grass is greener somewhere else or with someone else, but also fearing that perhaps we’re just running away from ourselves: “Ever after chasing down the pretty ones / Right back to the place where I am running from / In motion, stuck in motion / I fear it’s just my nature.”
Without question the most beautiful song on Haven is “No North Star”, a powerful and melancholy ballad about a man ready to give up all vestiges of hope. The song opens with a mournful cello played by Alyssa Laessig, accompanied by a lovely acoustic guitar as Taylor forlornly laments about mistakes he’s made: “Four on the floor / As the shower head pours heat on me / Praying to the god of sorry / I’m sure she has questions for me.” The music gradually grows more expansive until reaching a dramatic crescendo at the end, at which point he passionately implores: “Stare in the sunken-in eyes of a ghost of a shell of a half of a half of a man / Saying what good can I be if I couldn’t be better for you / I couldn’t lie when you asked me to lie / But I’ll die if you ask me tonight / I’m going to die anyway / I might as well do it for you.” Along with “If Not For the Fire”, it’s my favorite song on the album.
The final track “All You Can Afford” is a dark and heavy kiss-off to a lover who’s pushed the relationship beyond the breaking point. The guys deliver a torrent of blistering psychedelic riffs and crushing rhythms during the first three minutes of the track while Taylor rails “I’m taking the keys to my heart and your car. I’ll leave you behind, hoping you’ll find all that you can’t afford, my love, anymore.” The music then transitions to a gritty, almost cinematic instrumental for the remainder of the song, punctuated by a rather ominous, barely intelligible male voiceover and a mix of sirens and other harsh sounds.
What more can I say that I haven’t already gushed about, other than to proclaim that Haven is a spectacular album and a glorious feast for the ears. The five talented lads of The Million Reasons have outdone themselves, and should be quite proud of what they’ve created here. This band deserves to be successful, and I hope this review will encourage my readers to give this album a listen. And if they like it even half as much as I love it, my efforts will have been worthwhile.
Alexis Gerred is an engaging and multi-faceted artist based in London, England. He began his career on stage, performing in productions of American Idiot, Our House, Dreamboats and Petticoats, The West End Men, and Rooms, but his true passion is for music and singing. I last featured him on this blog in November 2018, when I reviewed his wonderful debut album Alexis (which you can read here). Now, I’m pleased to share his new double single “Unbreakable“, featuring vocals by MiG Ayesa, along with “Mary Go Round“, a cover of the song originally recorded by The Struts.
“Unbreakable” was written by Gerred and produced by TylaJoe Connett, and is the lead single from his forthcoming EP, due for release later this year. The song features guest vocals by MiG Ayesa, the acclaimed Australian-Filipino singer and actor who’s performed on Broadway and London’s West End in such mega hits as Rock of Ages, Thriller Live, Annie, and We Will Rock You. It was Ayesa who’s responsible for inspiring Gerred to become an entertainer himself.
When Gerred saw his very first musical We Will Rock You, based on the career and music of Queen, in London’s West End and starring Ayesa, it was a revelation. He recalls: “I watched MiG Ayesa take to the stage and his delivery, passion and charisma flipped a switch inside me. Although I had never even attempted singing a note before, I knew I wanted to emulate him and follow a path that would one day see me up on that stage, too. I’ve followed his career and plucked inspiration from so many things he’s done. One that stands out in particular was his time on ‘Rockstar: INXS’ where I loved his rock ‘n roll style of showmanship.”
Having Ayesa record a song with him was a dream come true for Gerred, as not many artists get the opportunity to collaborate with the star who inspired them to make music to begin with. And let me state that the combination of these two talented and charismatic vocalists results in sonic fireworks. “Unbreakable” is the hardest rocking song Gerred’s ever done, and he really summons his inner beast to great effect, his raw vocals nicely contrasting and complementing Ayesa’s somewhat smoother vocal delivery. Musically, the song has an aggressive stomping groove and deliciously funky vibe reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love the thunderous, driving rhythms and blistering guitars that hit full throttle in the bridge, highlighted by a screaming guitar solo that’s matched by note for note by the guys’ explosive vocal alchemy. Wow!
Collaborating on “Unbreakable” with Ayesa is even more meaningful given the personal nature of the song, which is based on a negative experience with a former acting agent. The song is about staying driven and focused on one’s dreams, an important message for many of us in today’s challenging, uncertain world. Gerred elaborates “This song is about resilience and determination. If I can inspire someone to take charge of their own lives and bounce back from adversity, that’s my goal.”
On his beautiful cover of the Struts song “Mary Go Round”, Gerred does great justice to the original, while making it his own. His vocals are a powerful combination of vulnerable and raw, beautifully conveying the feelings of pain and heartache of a broken relationship expressed in the poignant lyrics. “How long before my little pill starts kicking in. How long before your broken heart starts giving in? Here we go up, here we go down. Mary go round and round and round.”
It’s great to see Alexis Gerred back and sounding better than ever. Both “Unbreakable” and “Mary Go Round” are superb, and if the rest of the tracks on his upcoming EP are even half this good, it’s going to be a winner.
I recently learned about Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Rick Sabatini when he reached out to me on Facebook about his album There Goes the Van Man. Released on New Year’s Day, the album features nine wonderful tracks with lighthearted relatable lyrics addressing the emotional minefields of romantic entanglements and responsibilities of young adulthood. It’s his second album, marking an eight-year span since the his first release Album 1 Demos back in November 2013. A delightful collection of lo-fi acoustic songs, Album 1 Demos is available for free download on his Bandcamp account.
Rick, who’s also been a member of The Band Sheep for the past several years, told me he composed most of the the songs for There Goes the Van Man five or six years ago on his iPad, but didn’t have the money to properly record it in a studio at the time. So, he started his own business doing painting and carpentry to earn money to fund the record, as well as earn a living, since he’d gotten married and had a child along the way. He finally recorded the album in a studio with the help of session musicians, and the result is a really enjoyable and well-crafted work.
Rick’s pleasing, highly accessible music can generally be described as indie pop with elements of folk, rock and jazz, and characterized by catchy melodies, lots of great guitar work and his endearing laid back vocals. The album opens with “At Your Service“, a sweet song about finding romance while working at a shoe store: “Just another day at the shoe store, the meet and greet, the fit your feet and send you out the door. Some of them I know by first name, and last name too. / If there’s anything that I can do for you baby, I’m at your service like a godat your church while you’re preachin’.”
Next up is “Van Man“, a terrific auto-biographical song about Rick that also serves at the de-facto title track, given its refrain “There goes the van man.” He croons about his workday routine “I was the van man today, I took the van real far away. I did stuff and got paid. I brought something that I made. I blasted sports radio. That’s just the way that I go when I’m driving down the open road.” The song is fantastic, with a wonderful, breezy melody and lots of cool instruments like organ, banjo and exuberant sax, adding nice Americana and jazz elements, as well as incredible texture to the overall sound. If all that’s not enough, there’s also a great guitar solo in the bridge too.
“The Office” is a fun Americana song with a lively piano-driven melody and more of that great banjo. The cheeky lyrics speak to the drudgery of working at a dead-end office job: “I don’t like to drive when it’s dangerous. Roads are pretty treacherous, but the boss man, he doesn’t give a shit. He says ‘I want you in’, well if I crash would you pay for it? I’m desperate, strapped for cash, and I can’t afford another accident. It’s a lot to risk, just to waste my day away in the office.“
On the bouncy “Tax Return“, Rick sings of the joys of finally being able to treat his girl to a nice evening out, now that he’s gotten his tax refund: “Baby relax I got my tax return. Girl let’s go out, I got some cash to burn. We’re gonna find somewhere nice to eat. The government paid me real good this week.” The musical highlights of the track are the great bassline, guitars, organ and piano keys, and I love the vocal harmonies.
One of my favorite tracks is “Talk to Me“, with its smooth and sophisticated jazzy vibe. I love the intricate, funky guitars, cool keyboards and subtle snare drums, but for me the biggest highlight are Rick’s lovely soothing vocals, backed by gorgeous Beach Boys-esque harmonies. This song really showcases his strong songwriting, musicianship and vocal abilities. “Colleen” is another great song, opening with a gospel-like organ riff and Rick’s voiceover speaking as an airline pilot to a plane full of passengers. That wonderful organ riff continues throughout the song, serving as its driving force and overlain with guitar, strings, sax and crisp percussion. Rick sings to a woman named Colleen of his desires for her affection: “Colleen, I might not be your man right now, but someday I will.“
“Devils” is a fascinating track, and much darker than the other songs on the album. Musically, it has a languid trip hop beat, with spooky synths, somber piano keys and skittering drumbeats, and in the background can be heard a man’s voiceover, speaking about LSD. It all serves to create an unsettling vibe. Rick’s vocals, which remind me of Mark Foster of Foster the People on this track, have a sense of sad resignation as he laments about trying to overcome drug addiction, or possibly a relationship that’s falling apart because of a partner who’s either addicted to drugs or cheating on him: “I’m trying to quit the devil, but he’s got his grip so tight on me it’s hard not be deceived and made of fool of. Well I’m wrestling with the devil. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but do you have to be so loud in the restaurant? I’m just trying to get back to normal.Well I caught you with the devil. You smelled like his cologne. All those moments you were alone, his smoky breath, the telephone. I thought we were getting back to normal.“
On the upbeat “Principal Problems“, Rick sings from the perspective a high school kid frustrated with his principal, who’s trying to make him quit his aggressive behavior that’s earned him a reputation as a tough guy on campus: “I’m gonna punch my principal in the face, if he tries to stop my fight with Tony Robinson./ You’ve got an occupation, I’ve got a reputation to hold up.” And on the delightful album closer “Tel Aviv Blues“, he sings of a woman he loves and how her ambivalence is making him crazy: “At night I’m wonderin’, about what you’re doing. You’re my baby, but only in my dreams. Only kissing me when I fall asleep. I told my best friend, a real good Christian, he said ‘You don’t need her love, you need the Lord’. But the Lord ain’t never kissed me good before. I’m back to drinkin’, I’m tryin’ hard to rid you from my mind.” The song has a lively Southern rock feel, with a colorful mix of twangy guitars and banjo, accompanied by swirling organ, sax and a great toe-tapping rhythm.
There Goes the Van Man is a marvelous album, and I’m so glad Rick reached out to me about it. He’s a talented guy who knows his way around a song, and here he delivers nine superb tracks. Each one is different from the next, a testament to his eclectic sound and the quality of his songwriting. This album needs to be heard by as many people as possible, and I hope some of my readers will enjoy it as much as I do.
One of my favorite humans on the planet is Marc Schuster, who’s not only insanely creative and multi-talented, but also incredibly generous, funny and kind. I first got to know him several years ago through blogging (he has a terrific WordPress blog called Abominations), and he’s been among the most consistently loyal supporters of me and my blog.
A true renaissance man, Marc is an educator, author, literary critic, songwriter, musician and even a pretty decent visual artist. In addition to teaching English at Montgomery County Community College in southeastern Pennsylvania, he’s written several books, scripts for two short films, and numerous book reviews. He’s also a prolific musician, writing songs and recording music both as a solo artist and as part of multiple music projects. In just the past six months, he’s not only released several of his own singles and EPs, but also recordings by The Ministry of Plausible Rumours, a joint project with his cousin Vincent Zabielski, who put out a terrific album Summer Again last October, an outstanding improvisational instrumental album Simmons and Schuster that he made with fellow musician/educator Tim Simmons (you can read my review of that album here), and the single “In the Pink” by his collaborative music project Plush Gordon this past December.
Though Marc likes to experiment with different sounds, styles and textures, most of the songs he records as a solo artist have a delightful, indie bedroom-pop sensibility. Not only are his songs infectiously catchy, he has a wonderful knack for putting a youthful, often tongue-in-cheek perspective on everyday situations and problems many of us have faced at one time or another. On his new EP There Is No Down, which dropped February 2nd, he delivers five optimistic tracks (actually four plus an acoustic demo of one of them) assuring us that, no matter how crappy things may seem at the moment, there’s always reason to celebrate. For the recording of the EP, he was assisted by Paul Sanwald and Tim Simmons, who I’m guessing played piano.
Case in point is the trippy opening track “Funky Underpants“, wherein ‘funky’ refers to colorful and fun, not, well, you know… Over a languid bass-driven groove, Marc layers some lovely shimmery guitar notes and thumping drumbeats to create a jazzy, psychedelic backdrop for his dual auto-tuned vocals, half of which sound like Mick Jagger. He sings of wanting to pull himself out of the doldrums by letting loose in a pair of funky underpants: “Wishing I could dream, dreaming I could fly. Waiting on a world where we never die. I could be a saint or I could live in sin. I could live forever if my life would just begin. I want to sing. I want to dance. I want to wear a pair of funky underpants. I’ll take a drink. I’ll take a chance. I’ll take the world on in my funky underpants.”
Along a similar vein, “Feel Free” explores misbehaving, even if just for the night, in order to have a bit of fun: “Everyone says we should know better, but I never could tell wrong from right. Let’s hit the town like we won’t remember it. Let’s disappear into the night. I’m up to no good, and you’re just as bad. This could be the best time I ever had. I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me. Is this what it’s like to feel free?” Musically, the upbeat song has a bouncy pop-rock sound with a lively mix of jangly and fuzzy guitars.
“All We Are” has more of a rock vibe, with Marc’s marvelous fuzz-coated reverby guitars taking center stage. On this song, his vocals sound a bit like the late, great Tom Petty as he sings about the impermanence and brevity of our lives on this earth, and that we might as well make the best of things while we’re here: “The clouds roll in. The seasons change. We disappear. The world remains. All we are is right now.”
I think my favorite song on the EP is “Elevators“, a bittersweet piano-driven affair. I love the melancholy but beautiful piano keys, and the electric guitar solo in the bridge is superb. The lyrics speak of reminiscing about what seemed like simpler, more innocent times, yet not wanting to wallow in the past, but instead remain hopeful about the future: “So keep the fire burning to get us through the night. The wolves are creeping closer, but I think we’ll be all right. We used to ride in elevators, look down on the world below. We used to ride in elevators though we had nowhere to go.”
The fifth track “All We Are (Demo)” is an acoustic version of the third song on the EP, with only Marc’s gentle vocals and guitar. The spare treatment of the song nicely fits the simple and direct message expressed in the lyrics: “All we are is right now.” It’s a fitting finish to a lovely little EP.
Branwell Black is a charismatic young singer-songwriter, producer, dancer and model who creates alternative electro pop-rock influenced by some of his favorite artists like Kate Bush, Madonna, Charli XCX, Kerli, Evanescence and Tokio Hotel. Born in Oxford, England, raised primarily in France, and now based in London, Branwell has recorded music both in French and English as a solo artist, and as part of the band Brothers Black/Posie that he formed with his brother Morgan. Both he and Morgan developed a love of music at a young age, as their father was an accomplished rock drummer.
In September 2019, Branwell released his debut single “J’attends L’amour”, then quickly followed up with “What You Want”, as well as an EP Posie with his band Brothers Black/Posie. In May 2020, he released his sultry single “Love Life” (which I reviewed), then followed that October with a marvelous electronic cover of the Verve classic “Bittersweet Symphony”. Now he’s back with “Lay On Me“, the first single from his forthcoming Lay On Me EP, due for release by the end of the month. That EP will also feature a rave remix of “Lay On Me”, as well as a live version of “What You Want”.
About the new song, Branwell explains: “‘Lay On Me’ is the first song I’m releasing which features my live band [with] Harvey on guitar and my insane drummer Alexandra. It’s a sonic reintroduction of sorts, as it’s a little heavier than my original music, and also a tease into the direction I’ll be going. We’ve been touring the UK and have grown our sound into something even more exciting as a bridge between rock and pop. The song also takes influences from the Vogue scene with elements of ballroom vogue songs, and is a sexy number about taking control of situations and appreciating your beauty and knowing how to use it. The lyrics ‘But I’ll be me’ represent a realization that you’re always in control of your own enjoyment and knowing what you want.“
When I first listened to “Lay On Me”, it seemed to be primarily a catchy dance-pop song. But with repeated listens, the brilliance of Branwell’s songwriting was revealed as I detected elements of house, trip hop, electro and psychedelic rock he’d artfully injected into the mix. Though the song’s driving dance groove is undeniably hypnotic, it’s the variety of stylistic elements and textures that make it such a compelling and sonically fascinating track. I love the thick synth bass groove, Harvey’s funky riffs, Alexandra’s galloping drumbeats, and the colorful blend of gnarly and spacey industrial synths. Branwell’s bewitching and breathy vocals have an understated seductive quality that perfectly complements the captivating instrumentals. It’s a terrific song.
Six months ago (in July 2021) I wrote a feature article about Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Craig Mapstone, in which I focused on his intent to write and record a new song every week throughout 2021 (read my article here). At the time, he had successfully reached the halfway point in his very ambitious goal, with 27 songs under his belt. Well, I’m happy to report that Craig fully achieved his objective of faithfully releasing a new song every week, and by year’s end, he’d put out a total of 53 songs, including two Christmas-related tracks. He’s now asked his followers to let him know what our five favorites of his many songs are, and I’ve decided to write this post to tell him!
Before I get to my picks, I want to say a few things: First off, Craig is one of the kindest, most gracious and humble musicians I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know as a music blogger, and I’ve become quite fond of him both professionally and personally. He’s also incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working, and his discipline and ability to remain laser-focused on his goal puts many others – including me – to shame. Which leads to my second point, that I’m absolutely dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song – along with an accompanying video – week in and week out for an entire year is amazing in itself, but to achieve such a high level of quality in nearly every track is nothing short of astonishing.
Though his sound can generally be described as singer/songwriter-oriented pop and soft-rock, infused with touches of indie folk, his music is actually fairly eclectic. Some of his songs feature elements of grunge, progressive, post-punk and alternative rock, so there’s something for just about everyone in his discography (other than for fans of R&B or hip hop). It was extremely difficult winnowing down my list of favorite Secret Postal Society songs to only five, but herewith are my top five picks, followed by six honorable mentions that could all have easily been among my top five. Worth noting is that most of my favorites were written and recorded in the latter half of the year, an indication that Craig’s songwriting and musicianship grew better and stronger the more songs he wrote.
Though Craig doesn’t have an especially powerful voice, its comforting warmth is well-suited to his generally laid-back musical style, and no more so than on “Fly“, my favorite of all his songs. His 21st song, released last May, it’s his longest track, running over six minutes, and also his most beautiful. Craig’s twangy strummed guitar notes, accompanied by lovely strings, xylophone, and what sounds like a mellotron, create a hauntingly beautiful soundscape. His gentle vocals exude a deeply heartfelt sense of sadness as he sings the bittersweet lyrics expressing pain and regret over a relationship that’s ended, but remembering glimmers of what brought you both together in the beginning: “The ones we love are the ones we hurt the most. We fly so close. We fly so close. I kissed you once, and it took my breath away.”
The accompanying video is courtesy of The Internet Archives, and features footage from the classic 1923 silent film SafetyLast!, directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor and starring Harold Lloyd.
2. A Thousand Times
Released in July as his 31st song, “A Thousand Times” is a perfect pop tune, with a breezy vibe reminiscent of songs by such bands as Fleetwood Mac, The Outfield and the Gin Blossoms. Craig’s jangly guitars and sunny synths are delightful, and the song is just so catchy and feel-good that it makes me happy. The lyrics seem to speak of a budding romance between two people who’ve been playing emotional footsie with each other for a while: “We both have secret smiles and glances. We play games young lovers still play. I believe we deserve second chances. I’ll wait a thousand times for you love.“
While it might not be one of Secret Postal Society’s most interesting songs from a musical standpoint, “Alive” is nevertheless one of my favorites because of Craig’s thoughtful lyrics, not to mention that it was released on my birthday in August as his 35th song. Many of his songs speak not only of romantic love, but love for humankind and each other, and this one’s a fine example of that. He acknowledges that while he may not be all that important in the scheme of things, he’s glad to be alive, and urges us live our lives with love and understanding for one another: “So we fight to survive through the lows and the highs ’cause we’ve got to keep going. So I look in your eyes. You know it’s OK to cry. I’m just grateful that you are alive.” It’s a warm and pleasing track, and the guitars and keyboards in the bridge are really lovely.
4. I Will Follow You
Released in October as his 40th song, “I Will Follow You” has a strong R.E.M. feel, which is why it appeals to me so much. Craig’s a fine guitarist, and his work is especially good on this track. The lyrics are spoken to a loved one, assuring them that they’ll always have your love and support: “Time and again I was always with you as a friend. But I guess that I never told you. I know that life’s hard. No one said it was easy at all. But we’ll be fine, and I will follow you.” The beautiful video was produced by Yaroslav Shuraev (Pexels).
5. Something From Nothing/Points of Light
Released in November as song #47, “Something From Nothing/Points of Light” is sort of a couplet, like having two songs for the price of one. With its urgent, intricate riffs and driving melody, “Something From Nothing” has a Foo Fighters vibe, but unlike the Foos’ similarly-titled song that ends in an explosive crescendo, Secret Postal Society’s ends on a calm, lovely and contemplative note with “Points of Light”. I like that Craig’s young son Reuben sings these optimistic closing lyrics along with him: “Don’t you let your sun go out. And never let the others dim the shine of hope you have inside. I see in you the light eternal.”
Very Honorable Mention:
Numb – A terrific alt-rock song with swirling synths and a great guitar riff reminiscent of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups
Hurt – A darkly beautiful, grungy track with industrial-sounding synths and fantastic reverby guitars.
Halfway There – A lovely guitar-driven track featuring shimmery keyboards and Craig’s soothing vocals, with optimistic lyrics addressing both his half-year milestone, but also a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment.
A Song For Leaving You – A great kiss-off song with a captivating hip-swaying beat, spacey synths and some really gorgeous guitar work.
What’s Up Dude? – A languid and cool alt-rock song co-written and sung by Craig and his young son Reuben, with lyrics directed at slackers, encouraging them to get busy: “This is not a game of chance, you have to do the work, SO DO IT!“
It’s Not a Christmas Song(Unless the Sleigh Bells Are Ringing) – A thoroughly delightful contemporary Christmas song that’s as good as many I’ve heard from major artists. And once again, we’re treated to Reuben’s sweet vocals.
Craig is now enjoying a well-deserved rest from his exhaustive songwriting and recording schedule, and isn’t quite sure where he’ll take Secret Postal Society going forward. But I for one hope he’ll continue putting out more great songs, albeit at a more reasonable pace.
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 “OneNight 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 WhenThe 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.
Ewan Patrick is a talented and thoughtful singer-songwriter from Edinburgh, Scotland who’s had music in his blood for much of his life. He studied contemporary classical composition at Napier University in Edinburgh, then earned a graduate degree in Music Production at Leeds College of Music. He’s also played in many bands over the years, performing extensively across the UK, including at a number of major music festivals. More recently, Ewan has recorded some of the songs he’s written over the years that he says “never quite found their place in any of the bands I’ve played in.“
In October 2020, he released his first double A-side single “Retrospect/Hurricane”, then followed this past February with a second double A-side single “Feels Good To Be Alive/Two Hearts“, which I reviewed. Now he returns with his debut full-length album Forever Love, featuring 10 wonderful tracks touching on the universal subjects of life, love, loss, family and current affairs. The four previously-released singles are included on the album, along with six new songs, all of which beautifully showcase Ewan’s outstanding songwriting, performance and production skills, as he records, mixes and masters all his music by himself.
His songs are a pleasing mix of acoustic, folk rock, piano ballads and anthemic rock, nicely sequenced in a way that gives the album a balanced, fresh-sounding flow. Ewan has a strong, clear and beautiful singing voice too, which sounds great on every style of song he sings. The album opens with “Feels Good To Be Alive“, an uplifting rock song about recognizing the things that really matter and that, despite one’s problems, life is still worth living: “Nothing’s working but I’m feeling carefree. I’m still hurting, yet it doesn’t bother me. Why? Because I’m still alive. It feels good to be alive.” The song starts off low-key, with his acoustic guitar accompanied by gentle percussion, then explodes into a torrent of electric guitar and crashing cymbals for a dramatic finish.
Next up is “Hurricane“, a rousing guitar-driven rock song about standing up against oppression: “No longer hiding in the shadows. No longer afraid of speaking up. The winds of change are gradually building, and we’re looking just like a hurricane.” Another politically topical song, and one of my favorites on the album, is “Not Invincible“, which Ewan says was written during the first lockdown, after the murder of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis. It’s a hauntingly beautiful track, with sweeping cinematic synths, highlighted by mournful piano keys and stunning guitars.
Like the opening track “Feels Good To Be Alive”, several songs explore various aspects of making the most of our time on this planet, and successfully navigating through both good times and bad. “Law of Life“, which sounds like a song that could have been recorded by Tears For Fears, addresses the inevitability of change. Ewan gives us something to think about: “It’s a law of life. Can’t fight the changing tide. What will you sacrifice? Will you be left behind? Are you looking forward to a better past?” On the beautiful piano ballad “Be Strong“, he encourages us to remain steadfast and resilient in the face of those changes: “You wait a lifetime, and then one moment can change your life. So many questions, keep searching for answers that aren’t easy to find./ Be strong, you’re stronger than you’ll ever know.” And on the bittersweet folk-rock track “Retrospect“, he speaks to the heartache and pain of moving on from a relationship that’s ended. “To say goodbye is the hardest part, but like the continents we drifted apart. The broken promise brings a tear to our eyes as we kiss for the very last time.”
Then there are the songs that are the most deeply personal for Ewan. The title track “Forever Love” is a lovely piano ballad written for his young daughter, and expressing the joy she brings him: “And every day you give me is a little miracle. Cause you’re my forever love.” Along a similar theme, the poignant “You Don’t Get A Second Chance At Life” is a conversation between a parent and child, in which the parent offers advice for living their best life: “So fall in love. Try to be kind. But speak the words that are on your mind./ Spread your love and share your time. Leave all your dark thoughts far behind. You don’t get a second chance at life.” The hard-driving rocker “The Call of Home” is a heartwarming ode to his beloved home town of Edinburgh: “Around every corner, another vista to break your heart. We’ve been apart far too long. I feel the call of home.” His guitar work is particularly good, a colorful mix of shimmery notes and thunderous riffs.
Perhaps the most personal song of all is album closer “Two Hearts“, which Ewan composed while writing his own wedding speech. He recalls “I was not for a minute trying to contrive a love song for my future wife but it just kind of happened.” The song is appropriately beautiful and heartfelt, with him singing of his love and devotion, and how his bride has made him a better man. “You took my hand. Made me a man. You’ve made me better than I’ve ever been. Come walk with me through hopes and dreams, and together we’ll take the world head on. Two hearts will beat as one.” It’s a fitting song with which to end this wonderful, uplifting album.
Forever Love is a first-rate, meticulously-crafted work, and a very impressive debut by this talented musician. I hope we’ll be hearing more great music from Mr. Patrick soon.
One of my very favorite indie bands is Los Angeles-based duo Ships Have Sailed. The brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Will Carpenter, who originally formed the band in 2012 with a few other musicians who’ve come and gone over the succeeding years, Ships Have Sailed has for the past five years or so consisted of just him and drummer Art Andranikyan. They play a pleasing style of alternative pop-rock characterized by beautiful melodies, intelligent, uplifting lyrics, and sublime arrangements and instrumentation. I love their music, and have written about several of their songs on this blog over the past three years. Two of them – “Escape” in 2019 and “Breathe” earlier this year – have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30, with “Escape ranking #19 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. And their last single “Take My Money” is currently enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30. On September 30th, they dropped a brand new single “Love in October“, which is so special, I’ve chosen it as my New Song of the Week.
Will told me the song and its accompanying video were born out of both a long daydream of his, and their 2020 tour that was abruptly cut short by the Covid pandemic. He elaborates: “A lot of my songs come from a real, personal experience, [but] that actually isn’t the case here. This loss I’m describing in ‘Love In October’ didn’t happen in real life, it happened in a long and involved daydream (kind of a waking nightmare if you will) that prevented me from making a series of decisions that would have led straight to the actual situation. I’m grateful for that and for the fact that such a beautiful song came out of it.”
One of the many things I like about Ships Have Sailed is that every song of theirs sounds uniquely different. Some of them, like “Escape” and “Breathe”, are uplifting ballads, while “Skin” has a laid-back folk vibe, and “Take My Money” is fun, bouncy pop. “Love in October” is one of their most musically complex songs yet, with a dramatic blend of cinematic and alternative rock elements that make it particularly compelling.
The song begins with a gorgeous orchestral instrumental intro that slowly builds into an almost religious experience. At about 55 seconds in, a rather haunting guitar note enters as the song transitions to a mid-tempo beat, accompanied by the introduction of bass, percussion and more guitar. Will’s beautiful vocals are heartfelt and vulnerable as he gently sings to a loved one, admitting he’s made mistakes and asking her to not abandon their relationship “Don’t walk away, I want you back. It seems I’ve stumbled in the wrong direction, on the train but off the track again. Ooh, I’d do anything to keep the leaves from falling. You know I’m all in.” When the chorus arrives, the song explodes into a full-fledged rock track, with blazing guitars, driving bass and Art’s aggressive drumbeats. Will’s vocals rise with emotion along with the more intense instrumentals as he fervently implores “How did we get here, love in October. Same old sun is so cold. But I don’t wanna let go.”
“Love in October” is a stunning track from start to finish. The gorgeous instrumentation and vocals, dramatic arrangement and flawless production make it one of their best songs yet.
With regard to the video, in March 2020, after much planning and preparation, Ships Have Sailed embarked on what was to be a 10-show tour across the Southwestern U.S. with fellow L.A. band Quitting Whitney. After playing only the first show in Las Vegas, their tour came to an abrupt halt the next day as Covid suddenly began spiraling out of control. Will explained “When we realized (in Denver) that our tour was going to completely fall apart, we had a choice to make: turn around and slump back to LA, or follow our non-refundable tour route and create as much content as possible along the way…really telling our story. We were sharing a van and all gear with another duo (Quitting Whitney) and we all agreed to find a silver lining and create some content and art along the way. We outlined two music video treatments on our way from Denver to Albuquerque, one for them and one for us, and I had Danny (my co-producer on ‘Love In October’) print me the rough production of the song (which wasn’t even totally finished yet) so we could have playback.”
Each band shot video of the other playing their instruments at the AirBnB where they were staying, while the owner, who was staying in an adjacent guest house, thankfully didn’t mind the noise. They captured film footage from the road, and managed to turn a ‘ruined’ tour into something of an adventure, making two new friends in Matt and Ryan of Quitting Whitney along the way, and Will and Art becoming closer through the experience as well. Will also said that this is their first video that his wife Payal (via their wedding photos) has ever been willing to appear in.