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.
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.
After being unable to perform live or even see one another during most of 2020, Vancouver, Canada-based alt-rock band Bealby Point are having quite a productive 2021. Starting with the release in February of their debut single “I’m So Bummed Out Right Now” (which I featured in a Fresh New Tracks post), they followed up in April with their second single “Telescope”. On July 15th, they dropped their third single “Talk To Me“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. All three songs will be included on their forthcoming EP, due out later this year.
Named after their favorite beachside vacation spot, Bealby Point consists of four childhood friends, Jack Armstrong (lead vocals), Jordan Studer (bass), Clayton Dewar (lead guitar) and Zack Yeager (drums). Drawing inspiration from fun times spent at Bealby Point, the guys aim to create music “that captures the most cherished memory of your favourite summer and turning it into the perfect sound.” Their buoyant, high-energy garage rock sound has earned them favorable comparisons to The Strokes.
As with their previous singles, “Talk To Me” was recorded with veteran producer Matt Di Pomponio. About the song, the band explains “It’s about balancing heavy emotions with stifled logic – doing something you have reason to believe is wrong, but it feels right because you want it. The track follows a pair who previously revealed their intimate feelings to each other. Now, they have closed off their real feelings and resist the urge to speak from an open heart, in order to save themselves from the perceived consequences of revealing their true thoughts. They long for things to go back to how they were.”
The song opens strong with a wonderful swirling guitar riff, accompanied by a superb rhythm section, courtesy of Zack’s assertive thumping drumbeats and Jordan’s prominent chugging bassline, which is fucking fantastic! The dual guitar work by Clayton and Jack is brilliant, highlighted by what I’m guessing is Clayton’s blistering guitar solo in the final chorus. Jack’s colorful, emphatic vocals are marvelous, with a hazy lo-fi quality that reminds me a bit of The Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas, even when they soar to a falsetto. We can feel his exasperation when he implores his partner to just communicate with him in an open and honest fashion: “Talk to me and I’ll talk back. I never lied to you. I don’t want that. But if you have to lie to me then I’ll lie back. And that’s the back and forth I can’t stand.”
“Talk To Me” is a terrific song, and with three excellent singles to their credit, Bealby Point have firmly established themselves as one of Canada’s best indie bands. Hell, they now rank highly among my own favorite indie bands as well. I look forward to hearing their upcoming EP.
Band photo by Sam Fazio, and single artwork by Quinlin Gustin.
As I’ve stated in previous posts, one of my favorite indie artists is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jake Mimikos. Based in Fairfax County, Virginia, Jake is an enormously talented guy with a kindness and sense of humor to match, and I’m quite fond of him both as an artist and human. Since 2015, he’s released an impressive amount of music both as a solo artist and as a band under The Frontier moniker, and we’ve been following each other on social media for nearly that long. As with many bands, the members and lineup of The Frontier have varied over the years, but the act is at this time mostly his solo project. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is always incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted.
I’ve featured The Frontier several times on this blog, most recently last December when I reviewed his gorgeous single “Sleep”. (You can read that and previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Since then, he’s been on a mission to release new music as often as possible, and followed a month later with an acoustic version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, then a live EP, followed by “Can We Go Back” in March. “Sleep” went to #2 on my Weekly Top 30 and “Can We Go Back” is currently in the top 10, and between the two songs, he’s continuously appeared on my Top 30 since mid-January! In May, he dropped his single “Ghost” and now he returns with another brand new single “Shattered“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
About “Shattered” Jake confides “It’s about trying to understand how someone can say they love you and then leave you, and trying to find clarity after a difficult break up. It’s really just about these strong emotions I was feeling at the time and trying to process through writing about it. I imagine a lot of people will be able to relate or have experienced this type of heartbreak before. These last few songs have been the most personal and vulnerable I’ve written to date.”
I’ve enjoyed seeing The Frontier’s musical style progress over time, and it’s clear his musicianship and songwriting continue to grow stronger and stronger. His skill for crafting uniquely distinctive melodies ensures that each new song sounds totally different from the rest. He’s also gotten quite adept at programming synths to create captivating soundscapes that quickly draw us in, then hold us in rapt attention all the way to the finish. The chiming synths combined with what sounds like a strummed ukelele at the opening of “Shattered” instantly let us know we’re in for something special, and as the song unfolds we’re not disappointed. The song is exquisite and haunting, and I love the mix of ukelele and guitar that add such rich texture, as well producing a sunny vibe that contrasts with the darker lyrics about feeling abandoned by a loved one. As always, Jake’s vocals are heartfelt and genuine, conveying the hurt and despair expressed in the lyrics. It’s another winning tune.
She said it doesn't matter
All the feelings that I had for you
Now my heart is shattered
And I'm drowning in a sea of blue
Why you got to run away?
What are you really running from?
All you had to do is say we could be lying in the sun
Some people tell me, love is just a four-letter word
Nobody seems to understand
All these lines get so blurred
What is love without lust?
What is lust without us?
You just lit up a fire, girl
Just so I could get burnedShe said it doesn't matter
All the feelings that I have for you
Now my heart is shattered
And I'm drowning in a sea of blue
Why you got to run away?
What are you really running from?
All you had to do is say we could be lying in the sunHere is my confession
I was ready to die for you
You were my obsession
It's not healthy but it was so true
There is some pleasure in pain
There is a measure to save
I know we both had our issues
But who doesn't these days
It’s time for another installment of Fresh New Tracks, as there’s so much great music being released. Some of the best of it continues to come from the UK, so I’m dedicating this edition to that island kingdom. I’ve chosen three outstanding new singles from British acts I’ve grown especially fond of: Young Decades and Liam Sullivan, both of whom I’ve previously written about on this blog, as as well as The Banshees, who I’m thrilled to feature for the first time.
“Mediterranean” by Young Decades
Born from the ashes of Liverpool-based band COLOUR, Young Decades formed at the early onset of the Covid pandemic. Like every other artist and band around the globe, they were unable to tour or perform live, so they made the most of their down time by setting themselves on a mission to build up a catalog of songs, and I can emphatically state that they’ve succeeded quite nicely. They released their beautiful debut single “Islands” in April 2020, then quickly followed with four more excellent singles, as well as several collections of remixes and alternative versions. On March 5th of this year, they released an EP Let You Down, which featured all five singles, then soon dropped their sixth single “Sinner” on April 23 (you can read my review of “Sinner” here.) The stunning anthem has spent the past two months and counting on my Weekly Top 30.
They also gained, then quickly lost, a drummer, but in April they recruited a replacement, so their current lineup consists of James Tidd (vocals), Scott Harvey (guitar, keyboards), Liam Downey (bass) and Lee Cameron (drums). The various band members are scattered about the Midlands and North West England, but meet up for rehearsals and recording in the city of Stoke on Trent. Now the prolific group is back with a wonderful new single “Mediterranean“, a jubilant celebration of being able to travel more freely again. The band elaborates “Think back to that one perfect trip: the first dive into the water and the feeling of escape. With travel limited, the need for escapism has reached fever pitch. ‘Mediterranean’ is a blistering expression of that bottled-up feeling. Starting like some beachside dream, it kicks you right back to everything good about getting away and the lyrics are dotted with glimpses of holiday life: sleeping on the beach, burnt skin, foreign coins, full moons on open sea and diving into some warm Mediterranean waves. Another anthem built for live gigs… somewhere warm.”
All Young Decades songs are uplifting, melodic and beautiful, with exuberant synths, driving rhythms and stellar guitar work. But for me, the real highlights of their music are Scott’s dramatic piano keys and James’ impassioned vocals that make their sound distinctive from any other band and instantly recognizable as only Young Decades. They don’t disappoint with “Mediterranean”, delivering another top-notch song and a fine addition to their perfect string of exceptional singles.
One of the standout artists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in the past year or so is singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan. The Leeds-based musician is a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice that’s both beautiful and comforting. His music can generally be classified as alternative rock with folk and singer-songwriter elements that make for an incredibly pleasing listen, and I love every one of his songs. Liam’s been writing and performing music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and, more recently, as a solo artist with a back-up band of musicians he assembled to help bring his poetic lyrics to life.
Like Young Decades, Liam has set for himself an ambitious goal of releasing a new single roughly every 6-8 weeks. While he hasn’t quite met that frantic schedule, he has released six singles over the past year, the latest of which is “Jerusalem“. (I’ve reviewed three of his previous singles, most recently his beautiful song “Stadium and Churches” in April, which you can read here.) The song has a harder rock vibe than his last several singles, with a faster tempo, a stronger driving rhythm and edgier guitars. Liam’s always emotive vocals have an even greater sense of urgency here as he sings about his faith and spirituality using biblical references. The song was inspired by his being asked to be a godfather to his friend’s twin babies. While he never considered himself to be religious, he was greatly honored and took being a godfather very seriously. It prompted him to explore what it means to have faith in a broader sense, and also search for answers and question his own faith and spirituality. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt song.
The Banshees are an indie alternative pop-rock duo based in Liverpool, and comprised of Vinny Pereira on vocals & guitar and Paul Holligan on lead guitar. The two met through a mutual friend at a party in Liverpool, hit it off and eventually formed as a band in December 2018. They soon began playing gigs in Liverpool and in May 2019, released their debut single “Self Medicated”. Over the next two years, they’ve continued to release a string of outstanding singles, earning praise from critics and fans alike, along with features in prominent music publications and websites like NME, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Kerrang, Guitar Player, Stereogum and Spin, as well as TV music stations MTV and VH1. Their sound has been favorably compared to The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and Talking Heads. I love all three of those acts, and after having The Banshees’ music on repeat in preparation for writing this review, I can confidently state that I love their music too.
On July 1st, they dropped their latest single “4AM“, a song the band describes as “harking back to the club scenes of the 90s panic, punk and angst all mixed up into a journey of the mind. Nobody wants to be nobody, or maybe it’s just that now we live in a world where self perception of importance carries more weight than the bigger life picture of just being happy.” To my ears, the song has an almost punk aesthetic, with a frenetic dance beat, a strong, thumping bassline, and emphatic gnarly guitars. The guys’ superb musicianship really shines through, with first-rate production values and powerful pulsating rhythms pulling us willingly into an exhilarating soundscape that compels us to throw all our preconceived notions and bullshit out the window, just let loose and be. With a wry matter-of-fact tone, imbued with a touch of cheekiness, Vinny emphatically laments “The habits you created to survive will no longer serve you when its time to thrive. No focus on yourself for a change. Woulda’ coulda’ shoulda’ kept your goal in range.I’m so tired of bein’ tired. I’m so hard to please. Just gimme the truth, so I can go back to sleep.” Give me more of this!
One of the most prolific and generous artists I’ve encountered in my nearly six years of blogging is Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Craig Mapstone. Since the beginning of the year, he’s faithfully released a new single every week, and as I write this, he just dropped his 27th single “Here Comes Trouble”. At the end of each month, he bundles the four singles from that month into an EP, which translates to six EPs thus far in 2021. Here’s the cover art for his latest EP, simply titled June EP.
Based in South Wales, Craig has been writing songs and playing in various local bands over the years, primarily as a drummer. He was content to remain mostly hidden behind the scenes playing drums, but hadn’t been in a band for quite a while. As with virtually all musicians around the globe, the covid lockdowns prevented him from performing live and leaving him with lots of time for introspection, but also impacting his overall sense of well-being. He told me “After the crazy year that was 2020, I found myself refocusing what was important to me, and music was always a big part of my life. It was also my lifeline as it helped me with my anxiety. During last year I found myself playing guitar more and coming up with lots of ideas with no real focus as to what to do with them. Then literally a few days before the end of the year I just decided that I was going to create a band and then try and write/record a new song every week. I set up my YouTube channel and Instagram account and went from there.”
And thus, Secret Postal Society was born. Each week, Craig writes (or co-writes) and records a brand new song, playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocal parts himself (with the notable exception of some solo guitar and backing vocals from Rev Rabbit (of Welsh indie rock band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, whose three albums I’ve previously reviewed) on the song “Now Is The Time”. In addition to Secret Postal Society, Craig is also co-founder (with Raj Chand) of Weird Triangle, a business that offers design services for digital video projects, logos and promotional materials, and their own line of T-shirts and hoodies. Through his involvement with Weird Triangle, Craig designs most of the artwork for the Secret Postal Society single and E.P. covers, along with limited edition T-shirts for each song. He also creates most of his videos using free and publicly available footage he finds on the internet, then edits it to fit the particular song.
Secret Postal Society was not only a way to help Craig through a difficult time, but he also uses it to help others. Accordingly, he donates 100% of the profits from the sale of each T-shirt (with the E.P. designs) to a different charity each month. Thus far, he’s supported the following charities: MS-UK (January), Cystic Fibrosis Trust (February), Velindre Hospital (March), Mermaids UK (April), The Prince’s Trust (May) and Umbrella Cymru (June).
The very first song he released, on New Years Day, was “It’s Not Over“, an old song he originally wrote and recorded back in 2006. He said the song got him through some difficult times over the years, and felt it was the right track to launch Secret Postal Society. It’s a good example of his laid-back singer-songwriter music style, which is primarily pop-rock infused with touches of indie folk. But as I’ll show in this post, his music is actually quite eclectic, exploring elements of progressive, experimental, grunge, post-punk and alternative rock. Most of his songs are really good, but I’ve chosen a few of my favorites, as well as ones I think give a good representation of his extensive stylistic range.
On his next single “Happy Sad“, he delivers a somewhat heavier rock vibe, with some fine jangly guitar work. He almost reveals his entire face on the video of him performing the song.
One of my favorite songs by him is “Choices“, a dramatic and moody track released in February. On this song, Craig seems to delve more deeply into progressive and experimental rock, using distorted psychedelic guitars, somber keyboards and horns to great effect in creating a darkly beautiful soundscape for his ominous droning vocals. The video was produced by Rubén Velasco and edited by Craig.
His follow-up single “I Like You” has more of a grunge/psych rock vibe, with some terrific reverb-soaked gnarly guitars. His electronically-altered vocals sound almost robotic as he drones “Your love it isn’t science. My love isn’t art. We must redraw the line, cause you’re tearing me apart. Cause I like you. Yeah, I like you.” The cool animated video was produced by Cottonbro.
Continuing on a grunge theme, but with more alternative and electronic elements, is the pleasing track “Numb“. Released in April, it’s another one of my favorite Secret Postal Society songs. Craig’s synths are wonderful, and I also love his guitar work in this track, which reminds me a bit of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups. The beautiful video was once again produced by Cottonbro.
“Half Way There“, released in late June as his 26th single, marks the halfway point of his opus 2021 endeavor. It’s a beautiful guitar-driven track featuring some lovely keyboard synths and Craig’s soothing vocals. The optimistic lyrics speak not only to his half-year milestone, but also metaphorically of a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment. And we finally get a good look at Craig on the video, which shows his creative process and him performing the song.
I’ll end with his latest single “Here Comes Trouble“, which dropped July 2nd. The song has a late-90s alt-pop/rock vibe, reminiscent of songs by artists like Duncan Sheik, Eagle Eye Cherry and Deep Blue Something. Once again, it showcases the breadth and variety of Secret Postal Society’s musical style. There’s literally something for just about everyone in his discography, and I’m dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song week in and week out is amazing in itself, but to have such high quality in nearly every track is quite an accomplishment. I hope Craig will be able to maintain the creativity and stamina to continue releasing a new song per week for the remainder of 2021, and look forward to hearing what he comes up with next!