EWAN PATRICK – Album Review: “Forever Love”

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.

Connect with Ewan:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

New Song of the Week – SHIPS HAVE SAILED: “Love in October”

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.

Follow Ships Have Sailed: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Pandora
Purchase:  iTunes  / Amazon

THE PETAL FALLS – Single Review: “I Won’t Be There”

British rock act The Petal Falls has had a frustrating history since its beginnings in the mid 1990s. The brain child of singer-songwriter Keith Leahy, the band was originally formed to provide a performance platform for his music, and ultimately consisted of Leahy and four other musicians: Robert Harpum (guitar), Dave Richards (guitar), Marius Ryndziewicz (bass) and Robin Tucker (drums).. Based on their early success, they signed with a mid-tier music label, thinking it would lead to even greater success, but instead, it only resulted in their ultimate undoing. The label ended up stifling their creativity and stalling their career for several years, which led to a great deal of frustration among band members and their eventual demise, without ever having been given the opportunity to publicly release any of their prodigious output of songs.

Thankfully, a few years ago their music catalog once again became available for release, and Keith jumped at the opportunity to re-master the original recordings by the original The Petal Falls lineup into four albums, with help of his friend and producer/engineer/drummer John King. The first of those albums, Workin All Night Workin All Day, was released a year ago, on July 31, 2020. Public and critical response to the album has been pretty phenomenal for an act that had long ago been given up for dead, and collectively, the album’s ten tracks have garnered over 430,000 streams on Spotify alone. The album’s success has inspired Keith to resurrect The Petal Falls as a solo project, recording and releasing new music in collaboration with King, who has vast experience both as a producer/engineer and as a drummer with such bands as Legacy, White Lightning, Tru Blues, Bad Habbits and Colonel Kurtz.

Now Keith is set to release his second album All These Years on September 3rd. In advance of the album, he dropped the first single “Liberated” on July 2nd, and now follows today, August 6th, with the second single “I Won’t Be There“. The song is a re-mastered version of the original recording by the full band, with added keyboards by Duncan Lowe and backing vocals by Sharon Wallace. The song is a powerful kiss-off to someone who’s hurt and disappointed you far too many times. Keith’s vocals are spine-tingling as he passionately rails “I can feel the poison, ripping me apart. Self pity overwhelming me, and creeping through my heart. You gonna need me. Gonna come a time gonna come a day when you need me. All you gotta do all you gotta say is you need you need me. Gonna come a time gonna come a day,
and I won’t be there, I won’t be there.”

Musically, “I Won’t Be There” is a beautiful and intense, melodic rocker, with an exuberant driving beat, lush synths, sharp percussion, and layer upon layer of intricate guitars, all building into an intoxicating wall of sound. The guitar work is spectacular, from the grinding buzz-saw riffs that continue throughout the track, to the lovely little chiming guitar notes, to the wailing burst of distortion in the bridge. I love Keith’s deep, resonant vocals, which remind me a little of Whitesnake lead singer David Coverdale. In fact, the song has a discernable 80s rock feel, which is fine with me, as I love a lot of music from that period. Both it and “Liberated” are superb songs, and I’m certain All These Years will be another solid album.

Connect with The Petal Falls: WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud 

New Song of the Week – BEALBY POINT: “Talk To Me”

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.

Follow Bealby Point:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase:  BandcampiTunesAmazon

New Song of the Week – THE FRONTIER: “Shattered”

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 burned

She 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 sun

Here 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

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / Apple Music
Purchase: Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

Fresh New Tracks Vol VIII

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.

Follow Young Decades:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: Bandcamp / Amazon

“Jerusalem” by Liam Sullivan

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.

Follow Liam:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp

“4AM” by The Banshees

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!

Follow the Banshees: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud YouTube

Purchase:  Bandcamp

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT – SECRET POSTAL SOCIETY

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!

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CLINT SLATE & IONA JAMES – EP Review: “The Silent Sea”

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.

On the captivating “Believe“, the two admonish us to not live in the past or fall prey to all the noise we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, but to instead remain cognizant of that which is good and meaningful in our lives: “Be free of what you see In the fake news you read. When your heart controls your mind. Embrace what you have, not what you had.” The song is really lovely, with a gentle melody built around watery chiming guitars and delicate percussive sounds. Clint’s vocals sound a lot like Bono’s here (he in fact performs as Bono in a U2 tribute band), and once again, he harmonizes beautifully with Iona’s clear, resonant vocals.

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.

Follow Clint:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

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Stream her music:  SpotifyApple Music 

STARGAZY PIE – Album Review: “Butterfly Hand Grenade”

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.

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ROD FRITZ – Single Review: “Take the World with Me”

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?

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Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud / Reverbnation  

Purchase:  Bandcamp